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Disabled ‘still underserved’

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Participants make their way through the National Rehabilitation Center for the Disabled yesterday where nearly $1 million was pledged to a rehabilitation and prosthetics program. Vireak Mai

Disabled ‘still underserved’

The Cambodian government has made significant strides towards improving the daily living situation of people with disabilities through the adoption of the National Disability Strategic Plan (NDSP), but a lack of proper enforcement, according to some officials, has led to chronic problems that continue to plague the sector.

An example of the improvements made is the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation’s gradual takeover of services provided by Veterans International Cambodia (VIC), an NGO that offeres free rehabilitation and prosthetics to the disabled, said executive director Keo Rithy during a press conference yesterday where USAID committed funding in support of his organisation’s initiatives.

“In the last four years the government has taken an interest in the disability sector, so it’s slowly improving,” he said. “So far, it has taken over 60 per cent of the VIC’s services.”

Established last July, the NDSP aims to “eradicate all barriers” for persons with disability in Cambodia through offering them job placements, increasing their access to health, educational and vocation services, and providing them with special work accommodation.

It also pushes for stricter enforcement of provisions outlined in the 2009 Law on Protection and Promotion of Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“There has been a huge improvement from before,” said Sem Sokha, secretary of state at the Ministry of Social Affairs.

“The government has been working very closely with a lot of organisations to provide free services for persons with disability, especially those who are poor.”

The government aims to fully fund and control the programs, which run in VIC’s three rehabilitation centres in Phnom Penh and Prey Veng and Kratie provinces, by the end of 2016.

In the interim, USAID has earmarked $968,000 to run VIC’s rehabilitation and prosthetics program for 18 months.

Rithy, however, that the sector continues to face challenges.

“A big problem is the implementation of the 2009 law,” he said.

“Everything in the law is good, but its enforcement is not 100 per cent because they lack the capacity and budget.”

According to Rithy, the law mandates that persons with disabilities must make up 2 per cent of new recruitment in government bodies and 1 per cent in private institutions.

“But this has not been strictly followed.”

Another problem, said USAID deputy head of mission Julie Jung, is the lack of access to services.

“Many people with disabilities still need job training and a lot of places don’t have the capacity to handle those with wheelchairs,” Jung said.

“They have made a lot of progress in the past few decades but … I think there’s still a long way to go, as with many countries.”

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