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Still lots to be done for people with disabilities, MPs say

There is still a lot of work to be done regarding the rights of people with disabilities, the House labour and human rights committees concluded on Monday after a joint session to assess the progress of the state’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

House labour committee chair Andreas Kafkalias spoke about the need for a legislative framework that supports the requests of people with disabilities, as included in the UN Charter, but also as submitted by the special committee that monitors the implementation of the specific convention.

During the session, the committees heard from a number of organisations representing people with disabilities.

Speaking on behalf of the confederation of organisations for people with disabilities (Kysoa), Christakis Nicolaides said that organisations representing the disabled were excluded by the state’s department of social inclusion from participating in committees they had previously been involved in, while the grants they received from the government were reduced.

He also accused the state of excluding people with disabilities from the job market and creating exclusionary and discriminatory policies against them.

From the Cyprus paraplegics association (Opak), Demetris Lambrianides highlighted as a problem the lengthy delays in the application process for disability benefits but also in the actual payment of the benefits, despite the decision to digitise the process, which he applauded.

He also called for a special budget for actions related to the implementation of the CRPD, pointing out that people with mild disabilities do not receive the support they need.

Ayios Stefanos foundation director Ekaterini Stogianni emphasised the importance of educating society on how to treat people with disabilities, as according to her they are usually met with fear.

It is vital to introduce lessons on diversity and empathy in order to change society’s mentality around disabilities, the committees heard, as well as creating a network of personalised care structures to avoid institutionalisation.

From the association of people with autism, Tasoula Georgiadou said that current state subsidies are not enough to cover the services organisations offer to their members, “which normally should have been offered by the state itself”.

Department of social inclusion director Christina Flourentzou-Kakouri said the department is in close cooperation with the labour ministry and Kysoa to address the issues mentioned, adding that the National Strategy 2018-2028, includes 135 actions to be implemented by eight ministries and three deputy ministries between 2021 and 2023.

House human rights committee chair Irene Charalambides agreed that services and care for the disabled must be expanded, saying that “Our goal as committees is to try and manage the issues at hand and push in the direction of their implementation.

“As a state we must understand that the UN provisions on people with disabilities must be adopted universally, with respect for diversity and a level of education involved”.

The main conclusion to be drawn from the joint session is that the state continues failing to meet its obligations under CRPD which it has been tied to since 2017, Kafkalias said after the end of the session.

“As we have just heard, there is still loads of work to be done for the Republic of Cyprus to comply with these recommendations,” he said.

He stressed the importance of introducing separate, new legislation for people with disabilities, “to end their suffering and give them the basic allowances and services they are entitled to but are being deprived of”.

Lastly he said the committees will expect a roadmap within the next two months outlining the state’s suggestions for substantial legislative changes, which must be drafted through consultation with Kysoa.

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