Disability rights activists from Lebanon visited the University of Illinois

Fadi El Halabi, Dr. Pat Malik, Zeinab Karouni, Mario Abou Zeid

(L-R) Fadi El Halabi, executive director, Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network; Dr. Pat Malik, director, Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services; Zeinab Karouni, member, Youth Association for the Blind; Mario Abou Zeid, advisor, Ministry of Social Affairs.

Disability rights activists from Lebanon visited the University of Illinois campus this week as part of the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. It was one of several stops for the group in the United States to learn about disability services programs, in hopes of implementing positive changes in Lebanon, where accessibility is low and stigma is high for people with disabilities. They spent time with staff from the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services, toured the Beckwith Residential Center and the Chez Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education, and observed the men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams practices. Mario Abou Zeid, an advisor with the Lebanon Ministry of Social Affairs, said that Lebanon is far behind the United States in accommodating people with disabilities, and that there are still significant cultural hurdles to inclusion to overcome. He hopes to affect change within his ministry to better serve the needs of many vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities.