Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
24 March 2017
The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today concluded its consideration of the initial report of Cyprus on its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Introducing the report of Cyprus, Christina Flourentzou-Kakouri, Director of the Department for Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities at the Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance of Cyprus, said that Cyprus had signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 and had ratified it in 2011. The ratification of the Convention was a milestone on how Cyprus understood and dealt with disability and a roadmap for further actions in the next decades. The Convention had led Cyprus to two major innovations, namely the establishment of the Department of Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities as a new Department under the Ministry of Labour in 2009, and the approval by the Council of Ministers of the first National Disability Action Plan in 2013. The second action plan for 2017-2020 was currently being prepared. The Constitution of Cyprus safeguarded fundamental rights of all persons and established the principle of equality for all. The rich legal framework consisted of 12 laws specifically regulating rights of persons with disabilities and another 25 laws containing regulations for the rights of persons with disabilities.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts asked a series of questions regarding the inclusion of persons with disabilities in society; accessibility; full and inclusive education; de-institutionalisation; legal proceedings; cases of sexual and other abuse especially towards women and children with disabilities; monitoring and implementation of the provisions of the Covenant; electoral rights; the right to work; discrimination issues; the issue of raising awareness; and other issues. In particular, Experts were concerned that the special education culture was deeply rooted in the educational system in Cyprus. Experts were also concerned about the fact that persons with psychosocial or intellectual disabilities did not have the right to vote. In addition, they inquired about the drafting process of the report, which had allegedly been selective; and wanted to know more about the consequences of budget cuts on policies regarding persons with disabilities; the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty; and the rights of refugees and asylum seekers with disabilities.
In her concluding remarks, Ms. Flourentzou-Kakouri thanked the Committee for the fruitful dialogue, in which the Delegation had felt challenged, and at the same time motivated to acknowledge what further steps were needed to ensure the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities.
Theresia Degener, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for coming to the dialogue with an open mind and heart.
The delegation of Cyprus included representatives of the Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance, the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Health, and the Permanent Mission of Cyprus to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Monday, March 27 to begin its consideration of the initial report of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CRPD/C/BIH/1)
The initial report of Cyprus can be read here: CRPD/C/CYP/1.
Presentation of the Report
CHRISTINA FLOURENTZOU-KAKOURI, Director of the Department for Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities at the Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance, said that Cyprus had signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 and had ratified it in 2011. The ratification of the Convention was a milestone on how Cyprus understood and dealt with disability, and a roadmap for further actions in the next decades. The Convention had led Cyprus to two major innovations, namely the establishment of the Department of Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities under the Ministry of Labour in 2009, and the approval by the Council of Ministers of the first National Disability Action Plan in 2013. The second action plan for 2017-2020 was currently being prepared. The Constitution of Cyprus safeguarded fundamental rights of all persons and established the principle of equality for all. The rich legal framework consisted of 12 laws specifically regulating rights of persons with disabilities and another 25 laws containing regulations for the rights of persons with disabilities. Continuous efforts to modernize and harmonize existing legislation were in place, and the ratifying law by which the Convention had been incorporated into national law was superior to any other law.
Ms. Flourentzou-Kakouri underlined that 21 percent of Cypriots over 15 years old had declared having a long-term mild, moderate or severe limitation in their activity. A national database on disability was gradually being constructed though Disability Assessment Centres, which provided aggregated data. Outlining the numerous developments in the area of rights of persons with disabilities, she referred to the progress in terms of women and children with disabilities; accessibility; equal recognition before the law; liberty and security of the person; living independently and being included in the community; education; health; work and employment; adequate standard of living and social protection; and international cooperation. Some specific steps in that respect included a draft law prepared in 2014, introducing the concept of self-advocacy and supported decision-making; a working group set up in 2015 for further consultations; de-institutionalisation of the majority of persons in the Psychiatric Hospital; the Guaranteed Minimum Income introduced in 2014 to protect from poverty; and an upcoming Conference, to be held in Nicosia on 27 and 28 March, in cooperation with the Council of Europe, where the new Council of Europe Strategy on Disability for 2017-2023, entitled “Human Rights: a Reality for All,” would be launched.
Questions by Experts
STIG LANGVAD, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Cyprus, regretting that civil society organisations were not represented at the dialogue, underlined the importance of webcasting, and told the delegation that the focus of the dialogue would be on what was being done wrong or could be done better, rather than focusing on the positive matters. Noting that he sincerely sensed that Cyprus wholeheartedly recognized that international obligations had to be implemented and incorporated into national laws and become part of the daily life, he nevertheless had a feeling that politicians and civil servants relied upon an assumption that almost everything regarding the Convention would come true by itself if one waited long enough.
He regretted not being able to commend the State party because the necessary muscles had not been allocated for the implementation of the Action Plan, which had resulted in an unsatisfactory level of implementation, with less than 50 percent fully achieved. He further noted that it seemed as if the State party did not fully live up to protecting all persons with disabilities from being discriminated on the grounds of disability. Mr. Langvad deemed it extremely important to underline that no one should be deprived of their right to vote or stand for election, regardless of their personal capability. For persons with disabilities, it was important to be recognized as ordinary human beings.
The Rapporteur asked the delegation to address a series of questions. How were organisations of persons with disabilities involved in the preparation of the Conference to be held in Nicosia in cooperation with the Council of Europe? What role were they expected to play in the Conference itself? How would organisations of persons with disabilities be involved in the review of the Sustainable Development Goals in the upcoming high-level political forum where Cyprus had volunteered to be reviewed?
Discrimination could take many forms and needed to be addressed in all forms of life. That was also true when taxis charged more for bringing along a wheelchair, and when children with disabilities were not forced to live in institutions, including in institutions for the elderly.
He urged the State party to remove the existing reservation to the Convention, as there was no reason to maintain a reservation like that in 2017, when it had to be possible to find jobs for persons with disabilities everywhere, even within the military. Human rights were for everyone. The Expert hoped that the dialogue would result in the elimination of any form of discrimination within Cyprus.
Another Expert inquired to what extent international and European standards were implemented in the legislation of the country to guarantee a united standard regarding accessibility for persons with disabilities in Cyprus. How were organisations of persons with disabilities involved in the development of international, European and national standards?
What measures were in place to promote the rights of women and girls with disabilities? Were there any effective measures to address multiple and intersectional discrimination? Could data be provided on violence and abuse? How were their rights mainstreamed in the society and given opportunity on an equal basis?
Question was asked on how persons with disabilities and their representative organisations were involved in awareness-raising efforts. What efforts were made to have media portray persons with disabilities in a favourable light in the Cypriot society?
Another Expert asked if and how persons with disabilities, including persons with intellectual disabilities, had been involved in the drafting of the Disability Action Plan.
Were training and awareness programmes offered for persons with disabilities, and how was it ensured that they were making a difference in their lives?
Another Expert asked the delegation to explain to what extent the concept of reasonable accommodation was applicable outside the area of employment. Was denial of reasonable accommodation considered a discrimination? Did the State party take into account the Sustainable Development Goals while implementing the Convention? Another Expert asked whether there were effective and decisive sanctions in terms of reasonable accommodation.
Question was also asked on what was entailed in the range of horizontal social services, specifically in view of rights of girls and women with disabilities?
An Expert, commending the State party for having undertaken a swot analysis, asked which legal initiatives had been undertaken to ensure that refugees had equal access to disability schemes in Cyprus.
Another Expert asked whether resources had been earmarked for the National Action Plan for 2013-2015 and what role was played by persons with disabilities in its drafting.
The Committee had received information that the drafting process of the report had been highly selective, and that the Cyprus Confederation of Disabled Persons had not been consulted. Organisations were discriminated against and not treated with an equal footing. The delegation was asked to address that issue.
How had concrete legislation been modified as a consequence of the process of ratification of the Convention, an Expert inquired.
How was the procedure of law-making organised so as to ensure that persons with disabilities were sufficiently heard and were able to provide the necessary guidance?
Another Expert asked whether any of the cases addressed to the Ombudsman concerned multiple or intersectional discrimination regarding women and girls with disabilities.
What percentage of buses were equipped with low-floors to ensure accessibility to persons with disabilities? How was personalised assistance provided to persons when they were using public facilities within the State party?
Question was asked about measures to ensure a higher level of protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, as in Article 4 of the Convention. Did measures taken against discrimination of persons with disabilities take into consideration all types of disability-based discrimination?
Another Expert wished to know what kind of support was provided to organisations of persons with disabilities, so as to enable them to participate in policy-making, including formulation, implementation and monitoring.
The number of complaints filed against the private sector was very low. What was the reason behind that and had there been an attempt to analyse such a low figure?
What sanction measures against non-compliance with accessibility standards were there in place; what were they, and were they effective?
The delegation was also asked about support schemes, including early intervention. What measures were employed to strengthen the participation of children and their families in decision-making processes regarding the assessment and allocation of support?
An Expert asked what status the sign-language had in Cyprus. Were there State programmes to train sign language interpreters, and to what extent was such assistance available? What number of sign language interpreters and trainers was involved in the education of deaf children?
Another Expert asked the delegation to inform the Committee on measures undertaken to establish a human rights framework on the concept of disability in relation to Convention.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation stated that information and communication technology was being used at airports and on the websites of the national tourism agency and the department for antiquities to inform tourists coming to Cyprus on which sites and beaches were fully or partly accessible.
One third of all buses were accessible, and measures to increase the number of accessible buses continued, informed the delegation. The Government subsidised the adjustment of accessibility in personal vehicles, and provided up to 4,000 EUR for the purchase of an accessible car. An initiative for the New Accessibility Act was ongoing at the European Union level, and Cyprus was part of the working group on it. There were mechanisms in place to monitor accessibility compliance. For buses, it was the Road Transport Department which was responsible, while for airports it was the Airport Authority. The delegation was not aware of any sanctions or penalties imposed for non-compliance.
Blind persons were allowed a stipend of 317 EUR per month to enable them to employ a personal assistant. Persons with tetraplegia, paraplegia and motor disabilities were also given a monthly stipend to that effect. There was a special telephone line which allowed a person with disabilities to call and order a bus at any time.
Refugees enjoyed the same rights when it came to disabilities. There was a high-level governmental decision to reinforce what was already in existence so that those persons should be treated as other Cypriots, even with regard to disability allowance.
The “special needs” term was used in many European and international fora, as in, for example, the “European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education.” The term referred to students with either general or specific learning disabilities or other learning difficulties that they might have in school.
Severe penalties were in place for discrimination, the delegation confirmed. If a person with disabilities wished to complain or take a legal action, they could do so via the courts, the Ombudswoman’s Office, and the European Court of Human Rights, as well as the Office of the European Commissioner for Human Rights. They could also complain to the Committee for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Media were forbidden to broadcast content that was discriminatory on any basis, and a number of media outlets had been sanctioned or fined in violation of that regulation.
The National Health System Plan to be enforced in June 2020 would be a system based on non-discrimination and social equality.
The legislation in Cyprus promoted the rights of women on three levels, namely equal pay, equal treatment at the workplace, and protection of maternity rights. That included women with disabilities. In 2015, Strategy for Equality between Men and Women had been launched in Europe, promoting equality between genders. Particular attention was paid to “children with silent disabilities.” The legislation also protected women from forced sexual and reproductive health procedures.
The delegation stated that there was no gender or age differentiation in social benefits for persons with disabilities.
On the rights of children, it was explained that there existed an Independent Commissioner on Children’s Rights, who had executive power, including the power to sanction or penalize perpetrators of violence against children. Additionally, there was a Strategy for Protection of the Sexual Abuse of Children, and training of teachers and civil servants in that domain took place.
Prevention and early intervention were taken extremely seriously, and rehabilitation hospitals had started to offer early detection of neuro-intellectual disabilities, such as autism. Parents were notified and could be present at the assessment procedure. The Department of Social Inclusion funded non-governmental organisations to provide rehabilitation professionals in order to provide young children with this service. A committee provided early childhood intervention services to about 1,000 families. In line with that was also the “keep me safe” programme enforced by the Ministry of Education. The child’s and parents’ assent was taken when rehabilitation measures were recommended.
Several awareness-raising actions had aimed to minimize discrimination, foster employment education of persons with disabilities, and ensure that, already from the young age, children would know about the Convention. The Convention was taught to all persons with disabilities.
Regarding sign-language, the State recognized the right of deaf people to have their own language of communication. For that reason in 2006 the Cyprus Sign Language Law had been adopted. A committee had developed the core vocabulary and a grammar book. There were sign language interpreters, and the Department for Social Inclusion also subsidised the Cypriot Deaf Federation to offer services of sign language interpreters. Trainings for sign language were offered and open to the public.
Five laws had been amended since 2013, and 15 were pending amendments, all with a view to harmonising them with the Convention.
The concept of reasonable accommodation was harmonized with relevant European Union directives, and covered a wider scope than employment. Factors that constituted a “disproportionate burden” had been abolished in 2014. The law also provided for sanctions and penalties for non-compliance with reasonable accommodation measures, with up to 7,000 EUR or imprisonment of up to six months.
Continuous and gradual efforts were in place to take into account the scope and definition of disability in the Convention in all legislation. There were adjustments in the definitions related to the scope of the programme and scheme in question. For example, guaranteed minimum income was defined as in the Convention, but was adjusted in that persons with physical, sensory, intellectual and mental impairments, in combination with barriers in the environment, were entitled to a minimum income if they had a severe disability, following an independent assessment.
Assessment reports for the blind included proposals for allowances in terms of financial assistance for any software programme that may be needed, for a car, for an employment scheme subsidisation, and other factors.
Regarding the National Disability Action Plan, the delegation explained that among the factors that had limited its implementation to 40 percent was the understaffing of the public services and retirement of civil servants. The actions that had been implemented included the de-institutionalisation of eight persons who had been living in psychiatric hospitals for decades. They were now living in their own homes in the community with all services available to them. Another action included a survey of public services buildings, which had established the need to make them accessible and acted as a learning process. A third important action that had been implemented was the development by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labour of a new mechanism to support children during their last year of school, to assess their employment capabilities and preferences. The aim was to include them in either a supported employment programme, an entrepreneurship programme, or a vocational training programme. Financial resources allocated to the National Disability Action Plan had been severely limited due to the financial crisis. Since the financial moratorium had been lifted, there was hope that the new Action Plan would be given more financial resources.
Involvement of organisations of persons with disabilities in political processes was ongoing, said a delegate. There was a specific law in place which regulated consultations with the Cyprus Confederation of Disabled Persons. The Confederation had been involved in the drafting of the National Disability Action Plan. From 2013 to 2016, 38 meetings had been held to draft the report and monitor the implementation of the Plan.
The coordination mechanism consisted of 80 contact points in all services. The organisations of disabled persons had participated in the drafting of the report and the National Disability Action Plan, but had taken the decision to withdraw from the process in June 2015, as they considered the meetings not satisfactory and effective. The delegation stressed that withdrawal from consultation was not a solution. They invited the organizations to suggest improvements in the consultation process and they would welcome the continuation of the consultations for the development of the Second National Disability Action Plan.
Questions by Experts
An Expert asked what legal procedures were available for those living in institutions.
Another Expert asked about measures in place, such as hotlines, for persons with disabilities, during humanitarian situations.
An Expert asked what measures were in place for effective access to justice in judicial premises, and procedures, such as ramps, the provision of Braille, sign language, and easy read for blind and deaf persons and persons with psycho-social disability.
Question was asked about efforts to provide training for mobility aids and assistive devices for persons with disabilities and their teachers.
Were women sometimes subjected to intrusive or medical treatment without free and informed consent, asked an Expert.
More information was sought on the draft law on self-advocacy and supported decision-making. Were persons with disabilities involved in the consultation process?
What assistance was provided to persons with disability within the justice system?
An Expert wanted to know about plans to ensure that people still living in institutions were able to live in the community, and choose where and with whom they lived.
Another Expert, referring to the Law on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, asked how many sanctions had been handed down for disability-based discrimination.
How were persons with disabilities, especially those with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities, supported in decision-making, in exercise of their legal capacity?
Was there a mechanism in place to ensure that in times of financial difficulties, allowances granted to families of persons with disabilities were used for those persons and not for other purposes?
Another Expert was concerned that the grouping of homes for persons with disabilities was equivalent to living in institutions, rather than living in the community and in their choice of residence. What measures were in place, other than money, to enable living in the society?
Were deaf persons allowed driving licences, asked the Expert.
Was sterilization allowed, and what measures were undertaken to ensure that no persons were exposed to medical or other treatment without their full informed consent?
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation informed that the National Plan to Address Risk and Humanitarian Emergencies covered all persons and included a crosscutting project to take into account persons with disabilities. SMS or electronic messages were sent to persons with disabilities as early warning for an upcoming disaster, while in parallel, civil defence officers were sent to assist persons with disabilities in need.
Consultations were ongoing for a new law on legal capacity and supported decision-making, said the delegation.
There were 74 persons with disabilities still living in mental health hospitals. There were also 500 persons in non-governmental homes and 48 persons in State homes. The total number of persons with disabilities in institutions was less than one percent of the population, and most lived at home or with their families. A remaining challenge was enabling persons with severe disabilities to live in a community setting where their needs would require specially trained nurses on a 24-hour basis.
Social benefits for assistive technical devices included subsidy of up to 80 percent of the cost of a variety of equipment, such as wheelchairs, communication software, smartphones and so forth. There was decreased valued added tax of five percent on specific types of assistive technology. In recognition of the need for people with disabilities with increased care or nursing 24 hours at home, a new scheme financed by the European Union Social Fund had been launched as a pilot project. A financial mobility allowance was in place to enable persons with disabilities to get taxis or pay for petrol. Two other measures for accessibility and mobility had been launched: the European Disability Parking Card, which allowed for parking at preferential spaces near buildings, and the European Union Disability Card, which aimed to enable persons and tourists with disabilities to travel and enjoy certain services in the country of visit.
All persons were entitled to applying for a driving licence.
All universities had special accommodation for persons with disabilities and gave them priority in the acceptance process. Persons involved in training were also involved in research and academia, and used scientifically researched methods in their materials.
Special provisions were in place for persons with disabilities that were undergoing arrest or any legal proceedings, which stipulated that they had to be informed of their rights and granted those rights in an accessible manner. Legal advisors and interpreters were also provided, and complaint procedures possible and stipulated in a 2014 law. The same services and rights were available for refugees and asylum seekers.
Regarding physical access, the delegation said that new buildings were being built, for example that of the Superior Court, which was fully accessible.
Involuntary institutionalisation or hospitalisation was used for persons with disabilities who posed a threat to their own life or the life of others. There were safeguards in place to ensure that the procedure did not happen abusively. That involved an independent health committee which protected the lives of persons who were involuntarily hospitalized. Persons were given the choice of where they would be treated.
The following month, consultations were planned in order to review the possibility to amend the Mental Health Law in view of harmonizing it with the Convention, especially with Article 14.
Torture was forbidden by the Constitution. Access to places of detention by independent bodies was provided for in the law. In psychiatric hospitals, a safeguard was in place whereby persons with disabilities were always taken care of by more than one person, so as to avoid abuse. Additionally, staff in institutions were trained on how to detect abuse. Staff were obliged by law to report instances of abuse, and were liable to sanctions when they did not do so. Patients had the right to report formally or informally if there was ill-treatment by staff, and those complaints were given serious consideration. Recently, two such instances had been reported, in one of which no ill-treatment by staff had been found, while in the other a staff member in a mental hospital had been found guilty. The independent health committee oversaw instances of torture, and perpetrators were liable to sanctions as well as acquittal from professional duties.
Social welfare services provided a range of horizontal services, including services for the prevention of violence in the family, especially towards women and children. The Sexual Abuse, Sexual Exploitation and Child Pornography Law also protected children with disabilities from abuse.
There was a 24-hotline for reporting instances of violence; the number was 1440.
Experimental treatments and methodologies were against the law, and subject to sanctioning, stressed the delegation. There were safeguards in place to protect against that, including an ethics committee.
Questions by Experts
An Expert hoped that the Government understood that forced institutionalisation and forced treatment were harmful practices.
Another Expert lamented that special education culture was deeply rooted in the educational system in Cyprus. The belief was that children received better education in specialized settings. Those educational policies and practices were highly focused on specialized and not inclusive education. Could the delegation comment on that, and address policies when implementing inclusive education?
How was accessibility and availability of services ensured for persons with diabetes, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, dementia and other chronic disabilities?
Another Expert asked whether information and accessibility was available in voting places. What was being done to ensure that persons could participate in elections and public life on an equal footing as others? What was being done for those living in rural areas and who had no access to voting booths? Were they represented in the Parliament?
Noting that he was a former athlete, and that he held sports issues dear, the Expert asked what specific measures were in place to ensure the development of sports to deaf people and access to persons with disabilities to sports facilities. Also, what was being done to fully realize the creative potential of persons with disabilities? How accessible were museums and other cultural institutions?
What measures were in place to follow-up the implementation of the Convention, asked the Expert, who also wanted to know if persons with disabilities had been involved in the drafting of the report.
Was braille taught and used effectively in the State party?
The delegation was asked to provide disaggregated data on efforts to include children with disabilities in inclusive education.
In light of the weaknesses recognized in the electoral process, what concrete measures had been developed since the report to rectify those? What had been done to amend the law so as to enable persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities to vote?
Were persons with disabilities receiving support to enable them to become parents, an Expert inquired.
An Expert noted that participation in the Solidarity Fund for the Convention in the United Nations seemed to be one of the main activities in the State party. What ways were persons with disabilities involved in that, including drafting, projects, monitoring, and implementing activities? How did the State party aim to implement a disability-specific course with active participation of persons with disabilities and their representative organisations?
What measures were in place to augment and promote alternative means of communication to enable persons who had intellectual and mental disabilities to express themselves freely?
An Expert noted that there was a plan to provide people with assistance rather than financing, however if one had no finances they had no control over their lives. What kind of income was available to persons with disabilities so as to enable them to have control over their own lives?
What measures were in place for students to choose an inclusive school within their community, including received accessible textbooks, assistive devices, and teachers trained for persons with special needs?
The delegation was asked to comment on the availability of recreational and artistic services, such as swimming pools, museums, restaurants cafes and bars for persons with disabilities.
What was the number of persons with disabilities employed by the Government and by the private sector? What was the level of poverty among persons with disabilities, and, in particular, among children with disabilities?
Another Expert asked if tourists from other countries could use the services provided by the State.
How many deaf students were there in universities, and how many sign language interpreters were at their disposal so that they could follow the courses? Also, what measures had been taken to make universities accessible for wheelchair users? Another Expert asked if benefits of inclusive education had been researched.
An Expert, with regard to the measures to support persons with disabilities in the legal profession, asked whether disabled students served as judges and lawyers. Were they provided with reasonable accommodation so that they could properly function?
Noting the State party’s commitment to ensure availability of websites with information on persons with disabilities, question was asked on how many websites were accessible to persons with disabilities.
Regarding assistive devices and accessible curricula for persons with disabilities, how did the State party intend to reform special schools so that they acted in support of an inclusive education system? How did the State party intend to mainstream the so-called special classrooms, so that persons with disabilities were not segregated within the inclusive schools? Had the Marrakesh Treaty not been ratified, asked an Expert.
Another Expert requested more information on the guaranteed minimum income scheme and how it affected persons with disabilities in the open labour market, in accordance with the three incentives the State party had referred to in its report.
STIG LANGVAD, Committee Member and the Rapporteur for Cyprus, asked for information on the provision for persons with disabilities to receive reasonable accommodation to be used outside of the school in their leisure time.
What were the initiatives to combat discrimination against women and girls with disabilities in the health sector?
What was the number of persons with disabilities who were assessed to be able to work full or part time regardless of their level of disability, including those who fell outside the scope of disability within the legislation of the State party – the so-called persons with minor disabilities? What number of persons with disabilities were included in the labour market full and part time, and what number were assessed not to be able to work fulltime or part-time?
Question was also asked about the consequences of budget cuts following the financial crisis for persons with disabilities who were employed in the public sector.
What policies and programmes were provided for asylum seekers on equal access as others, including receiving financial support or care? What measures were taken to ensure dialogue between refugees and asylum seekers and Cypriot organisations for persons with disabilities? There were allegedly clear discrepancies between alternative and government sources.
When did the State party intend to ratify the Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and their Families and endorse the 2016 Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action?
Another Expert asked whether there was an intention to allocate an extra budget for the independent monitoring body in order to ensure its independence in full compliance with the Paris Principles.
Replies by the Delegation
Inclusive education was a priority, and the majority of children were already in inclusive classes. In 2011, a curriculum reform had been launched, with a view to improving the quality of education and reorienting persons with disabilities. Training was provided to that effect for primary and secondary level teachers, as well as general education and special education teachers.
A separate law regulated all matters regarding the identification and education as well as provision of equipment for children with disabilities. Special education teachers were in place to accommodate the needs of children; specialised software touchscreens, communications devices, computers and other assistive devices as well as the use of braille and sign language were amongst other provisions in place.
Nine special schools still existed, but only 404 children studied in them, which amounted to 0.37 percent of all children. Most of those children were with severe and multiple disabilities, including autistic children. When children attended school, their opinion was important and sought. Children were usually assessed by a multidisciplinary team which took into account their and their parents’ opinions. If they disagreed with the Educational District Committee’s decision regarding their placement, they had the right to appeal. In 2016, several such appeals had been launched and in most of them the parents’ opinion had been accepted. Segregation was minimized between special schools and normal schools, as well as between special classes and regular classes in inclusive schools, though, inter alia, activities where all children were involved. Less than one percent of children attended special classes. They followed a regular curriculum in several subjects and received more intensive special education. They participated in all extracurricular activities, and their timetable was the same as that for other children. Accessibility in schools was gradually being implemented with refurbishment projects whereas all new buildings were fully accessible. The financial crisis had not affected the budget of the Ministry of Education – rather it had increased in 2017.
Regarding sign language, the delegation assured that the need of deaf people to communicate was taken into account. Since 2006, the Cypriot sign language law was being implemented, following which a scientific committee had developed the core vocabulary and Cypriot sign language. Sign language interpreters were provided for any child who needed them in school. The Department of Social Inclusion subsidised the Cypriot Deaf Organisation in order to offer sign language to all deaf people.
All public or private universities had to accommodate the needs of their students with disabilities. There were student care offices, which gave instructions on how to approach students. All universities were accessible because they had new buildings.
The Government recognized that there was room for reform within the education system. To that end, the Minister of Education had appointed a committee of officials tasked with recommendations for reforms. Currently, the country was in the process of drafting a policy paper on reforms, which would be put up for public consultation, whereby the views of parents and children with disabilities as well as organisations of persons with disabilities, would be consulted.
The Department for Information and Technology Services was responsible for making the websites of public services accessible. Presently 55 percent of websites of public services were fully accessible, and the effort to was being made for the remaining websites to become accessible. The new Disability Action Plan would train public servants on how to input accessible data in the websites.
Regarding the Marrakesh Treaty, the delegation explained that a new European Union directive, a proposal was under development and, once approved, Cyprus would incorporate it in its domestic legislation.
On access of persons with disabilities to the labour market, the delegation said that presently 780 persons with all types of disabilities were registered as unemployed, which made up 1.9 percent of all registered unemployed persons. The Department of Labour ran projects motivating employers to recruit persons with disabilities. The Department for Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities ran 23 programmes supported through the services of a job coach; 250 persons with intellectual and mental disabilities participated in those programmes. Annually, ten new enterprises were established in the open labour market by persons with disabilities through a subsidization scheme. There was a quota system in Cyprus for recruitment of persons with disabilities. In the last five years, 107 persons had been employed in public services, mostly in teaching and education. There was no information on the private sector, and no information was available for public employment before 2016.
Regarding the employment of blind persons as judges or prosecutors, the delegation informed that there was one blind law officer, as well as one prosecutor who had retired three years earlier. A blind person served in the Ministry of Labour and worked on the Social Security Fund. Previously, there used to be a blind member of the Cyprus Parliament.
On the issue of adequate standard of living, it was explained that a person with disabilities who did not have the financial means was entitled to receiving a minimum income of up to 480 EUR per month and an additional allowance for persons with disabilities 380 EUR per month. For severe disabilities, allowances did not depend on income and could reach as much as 850 EUR per month. The level of poverty was 16 percent for the total population, and 21.8 percent for persons with disabilities. Children with disabilities were entitled to a minimum income irrespective of their family income.
No Member State of the European Union had ratified the Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and their Families and, therefore, neither had Cyprus. The Government would consider the adoption of the 2016 Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action. Regarding the upcoming conference in Nicosia to launch the new Council of Europe Strategy on Disability, it was stated that organisations of persons with disabilities had been involved in the drafting and adoption of the Strategy on the Council of Europe level. Cyprus had been one of the first contributors to the Solidarity Fund for the United Nations, albeit with a small contribution.
CHRISTINA FLOURENTZOU-KAKOURI, Director, Department for Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance of Cyprus, thanked the Committee for the fruitful dialogue. The delegation had felt challenged, and, at the same time, motivated to acknowledge what further steps were needed to ensure the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities. She assured the Committee that the Government did not take for granted that anything that had been done so far to be enough, and would remain alert and committed to hard work in order to further fulfil the rights of persons with disabilities and to better implement the provisions of the Convention. Some of the priorities of Cyprus would focus on were amending the law on legal capacity, improving accessibility, introducing a national health system, and to foster deinstitutionalisation. The delegation looked forward to hearing the concluding remarks and promised to transfer the recommendations of the Committee to all stakeholders. Ms. Flourentzou-Kakouri invited the Committee to visit Cyprus.
THERESIA DEGENER, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for coming with an open mind and heart to the dialogue. She hoped that the delegation had enjoyed the dialogue, and noted that perhaps the Committee would indeed visit Cyprus.
For use of the information media; not an official record
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