Improving Disability Inclusion One Puzzle Piece at a Time
- Vientiane Capital, 9 December 2020 – Globally one in 160 children has autism, which begins in childhood and tends to persist into adolescence and adulthood. Autism is a condition along a spectrum. Many people with autism can live independent and fulfilling lives with minimal support, yet there are also those that require ongoing and more intensive care and intervention. Access to adequate services is often not available and people with autism continue to face a wide range of social, cultural, economic, institutional and physical barriers that prevent them from fully enjoying their rights.
In Lao PDR, autism is neither well-recognized nor well-defined. The disorder is yet to be classified as a disability in Lao PDR, making it difficult for families to gain access to specialized services, including health care, screening services and education professionals.
As part of the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, the UN in Lao PDR visited the Laos Association For Autism (AFA) to gain a deeper understanding of the opportunities and services available for people with autism and how the UN and others can work with CSOs, like AFA, to better support people with autism and their families here in Lao PDR – particularly during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
AFA outlined that as a parents’ organization, there is still much to be done to improve the lives of children and people with autism in Lao PDR. This includes educating people about autism and expanding access to education in schools, including to vocational education and training in preparation for adulthood, to break down stigma and allow children with autism to actively learn alongside their peers and the right to lifelong learning.
It cannot stop with early education as revealed by the impacts of COVID-19. Both the UN and AFA agreed that people with disabilities should have equal access to training and employment opportunities as the country looks to rebuild the jobs market. To enable equal opportunity, industry needs to work alongside Disabled People’s Organizations to ensure that basic accommodations are met, and placements made available.
Parents with children with autism often report having limited personal time, feeling stressed, frustrated and isolated. Adding to this stress is the additional financial costs that to a large part, if not entirely, are born by the families themselves with not all disabilities being fully recognized in the country. During the visit, AFA showed concern for the families now experiencing additional financial hardship caused by COVID-19, which is leading to increasing mental health risks.
Representatives highlighted that it is now even more important that we create a community that encourages all people to be themselves and participate fully. It was agreed that this starts with recognition and that the introduction of a national disability identification card can be an important step in supporting people with autism and other disabilities seek specialized care without judgement, whilst improving the affordability and accessibility to essential services, like health and education.
“Communities play an important role in supporting people with autism. That is why AFA has focused our efforts on raising social awareness, promoting rights of children with autism, improving their access to appropriate services, and providing them and their families with education, therapy, and training. We see first-hand the valuable contributions people with autism can make in our communities when given the opportunity.” said Mr. Syvang Xayyavong, President of Association for Autism.
Earlier this year, the government accepted all 7 disability inclusion recommendations of the country’s 3rd Universal Periodic Review cycle and Lao PDR will soon undergo a review of its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2008) in 2021. Both frameworks provide an important platform for the UN to work alongside the Government and other national stakeholders in advancing the rights of persons with disabilities; strengthening the institutional frameworks, policies and development investments to ensure that people of all abilities are included in the decision making process and to learn from civil society organisations such as AFA of the practical implementation of such policies, making the rights real to people it concerns.
UN Resident Coordinator to Lao PDR Ms. Sara Sekkenes said “The commitment to realizing the rights of children with disabilities is not only a matter of justice; it is an investment in a common better future which leaves no one behind. The UN in Lao PDR is working to strengthen inclusion and participation for all, learning from the lived experience of persons with disabilities and finding innovative ways to partner with the networks of civil society and disabled people’s organizations that support them. The opportunities to build back better a more inclusive, accessible and sustainable Lao PDR following the COVID-19 pandemic starts with ensuring all people can engage equally”.
During the visit the UN in Lao PDR also donated essential learning development toys and school supplies to the students of the Pakse and Vientiane Autism Centers on behalf of the donations shown by partners during the UN75 Event earlier this year. AFA is currently planning to develop a more conducive facility in Vientiane to expand their reach, services and education options for children with autism.
Representatives from UNDP, UNICEF, UNIDO, and WHO also joined the event.
Universal Periodic Review:
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. The UPR is a State-driven peer review process, under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations.