A US senior official on disability affairs has indicated that the Arab world has become more attentive now towards the rights of persons with disabilities than any other time, noting that Kuwait stands at the forefront among Arab countries in terms of involvement in the issues of the disabled.
"Countries are now paying attention to the rights of persons with disabilities, where it has not always necessarily been the case. I think countries are interacting more with people with disabilities," Commissioner Lynnae Ruttledge, member of the US Commission on Long-Term Care and Co-Vice Chair of the National Council on Disability, stated in an exclusive interview with Kuwait News Agency (KUNA).
"Kuwait is further ahead in terms of the involvement of other non-governmental organizations in disability issues, which is something I did not see as much evidence of in some countries," Ruttledge noted, pointing out at the same time that some Arab countries are starting now to look at how persons with disabilities can be leaders, identify their good practices, and share those practices with their neighboring countries and the world." Ruttledge, on her first visit to Kuwait, said that her visit comes as part of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a UN recognized annual event that is celebrated on December 3, in which she will take part in a three-day conference, organized by Training Gate International, (TGI) a Kuwaiti non-profit organization specialized in training and skill development for people with disabilities, which is slated to kick off this evening at 5:00 pm at the headquarters of National Library of Kuwait (NLK) on Arabian Gulf Street.
"My goal this week is to help hear about what is going on in Kuwait and then share my suggestions, recommendations, and acknowledge many of the good work that is going on," the US commissioner noted, adding that "I will have the chance to meet with some of the community non-governmental organizations, be able to see what people are doing, and share some of my expertise on having been in public service in the United States, as well as doing work on a global level as I do many of international work with other countries." Ruttledge explained that her message during this visit to the country is about the role that young people with disabilities can play in their societies, stressing importance of maintaining a sense of optimism about the future of the disabled youth as it could pose a challenge and an opportunity at the same time.
"We have an opportunity to have high expectations about what the future can be for young people with disabilities, as well as to engage with them, listen to what their hopes and dreams are, and continue to challenge ourselves in thinking of what can we do to assure young people with disabilities that they are the leaders of tomorrow, how can we continue to increase their leadership skills, how can Kuwaiti youth be the leaders in the region for a more inclusive society? I think that it is both a challenge and an opportunity," she said.
In addition, the US commissioner indicated that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a human rights instrument to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities and ensure their equality and participation, is probably the most critical piece of legislation that applies to everyone with disabilities around the globe, including Kuwaitis.
"You are very fortunate in Kuwait that you have already signed and ratified the Convention as it commits you to looking at your policies and practices, and being open to recommendations from an international committee about what you are doing well, which allow the country to improve," Ruttledge said, adding that one of the real benefits of having the UN to be actively involved in promoting disability awareness for over 30 years, is raising that level of awareness in many countries around the world.
However, the US commissioner pointed out that many countries have not yet changed their attitudes and views towards persons with disabilities as some of them still have a medical model of viewing people with disabilities and trying to move to a more socially rights model.
"The challenge is that many societies still view people with disabilities as having to be cared for because they are special and need to be coddled, rather than viewing them as young adults who are ready to go to careers and can still be productive. Therefore, we still have a lot of to work on," she said.
"Persons with disabilities are coming to the table and saying we want to be included, we want to be treated equally, we want the opportunity to have access to education, transportation, housing, public buildings, we want to address issues about what are our rights in our countries, and we want to be treated with dignity and respect," added the US commissioner.
On possible future cooperation between the United States and Kuwait regarding disability affairs, Ruttledge expressed her hope in making that a reality, noting that this subject was one of the conversation points she had discussed with the US Ambassador to Kuwait Matthew H. Tueller during their meeting yesterday at the Embassy.