Children with disabilities (CWDs) are one of the most marginalised and excluded groups of children. Defined and judged by what they lack, rather than what they have, they experience widespread violations of their rights that result not from the intrinsic nature of disability but from the social exclusion that arises from it (UNICEF, 2013). Palestinian CWDs typically face a particularly dire situation, given the levels of cultural stigma directed at disability and the protracted conflict that surrounds them, which has devastated infrastructure, fractured the economy and overwhelmed service providers. This situation analysis and needs assessment, commissioned by UNICEF State of Palestine, adopts a lifecycle approach that captures difference at the individual, family and community levels. Paying attention to differences in age, gender, disability type and family characteristics, our study explores how Palestinian CWDs are marginalised and excluded, the obstacles they face in fulfilling their rights and what mechanisms might be put into place by the government, donors and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), communities and families to better support their development and their rights.
Mixed methods approach
ODI’s mixed-methods approach combined an extensive literature review with primary quantitative and qualitative data in seven governorates in Gaza and the West Bank. The literature review, which pulled together national reports about disability in general and CWDs in particular, allowed us to assess the evidence base and design our research instruments to augment the known and address the unknown. Critically, as not all CWDs are registered with the Ministry of Social Development (MOSD), meaning existent reports likely have significant blind spots, our quantitative sample used both government and nongovernment databases and explicitly aimed to be inclusive of a wide variety of children. The 851 children (and/or their caregivers) who completed our survey comprised boys and girls, children of varying ages and in- and out-of school children. It also included a wide variety of disability types.
Given that Palestinian culture tends to silence both children and those with disabilities, our qualitative work aimed to capture the unique voices of CWDs. To this end, we used a wide variety of adaptable participatory tools, recruited researchers with extensive experience working with CWDs and brought on board sign language interpreters to reach out to children with speech and hearing difficulties. While we acknowledge that, given limited resources, our research could not achieve full inclusivity, we believe it better captures the diversity of CWDs’ experiences and needs than any research in Palestine thus far. In total, our qualitative sample included 62 key informants at local and national levels and individual and group interviews with 241 individuals who were either CWDs or siblings/caregivers of CWDs.
Once the fieldwork was completed—and after the preliminary analysis was available—ODI organised and facilitated a number of regional and central-level participatory workshops in each area (four in Gaza and three in the West Bank) in order to be able to undertake a causal and capacity gap analysis to further enrich research findings. These workshops engaged participants to give their perspective on findings and to generate additional information about the causes of poor access to services and support.
Policy, institutional and legal landscapes for Palestinian children with disabilities
While the Palestinian Disability Law dates to 1999, and ostensibly guarantees Palestinians with disabilities the same rights as those without disabilities, the disabilityrelated legal framework is generally regarded as unspecific and weak. However, the sector strategic plans adopted by the Palestinian Authority since 2011 have begun to operationalise government responsibilities for meeting the rights of citizens with disability. For example, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE) is moving towards inclusive education and the Ministry of Health (MOH) provides all citizens with a disability with a comprehensive set of basic health care services. Critical to understanding both the successes and the failures of these plans is the fragmented way in which services are delivered in Palestine. Basic services are provided by both the government (for non-refugees) and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) (for refugees), and disability-specific services, ranging from community-based rehabilitation (CBR) to special education, are most often offered by a crowded field of NGOs, usually under contract to the government and UNRWA.