Paralympic Games revive debate on poor living conditions for people with disabilities

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Visually impaired Algerian judokate Cherine Abdellaoui won gold in the women's -52 kg final at the Tokyo Paralympic Games on August 27, 2021.

Handisport athletes left to themselves and who have all the difficulties to get into an unsuitable bus that has come to pick them up at Algiers airport. The scene which took place on Thursday, September 2, at the arrival of the first participants in the Tokyo Paralympic Games scandalized public opinion in Algeria.

Especially since these athletes have a record of twelve medals, four of which are gold. A considerable harvest compared to that of able-bodied athletes who competed in the Olympic Games in July and did not bring home any medals. “We have a problem of resources, but we had to foresee that”, recognized, Sunday, September 5, Abderrezak Sebgag, Minister of Youth and Sports who said “Shocked” by the stage.

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Since then, heads have fallen within his department. The secretary general and the director general of sports were removed from their posts and “An investigation is underway to hold each manager involved in this incident to account”, said the prime minister in a press release.

To make up for this welcome qualified as “Shameful” by the Algeria press service (APS), the official press agency, the second contingent of returning athletes from Tokyo was received on Wednesday, September 8, with flowers and honors. But the damage is done and revives the controversy over the living conditions of people with disabilities in the country.

Very insufficient allocations

“We took away their dignity. Sanctions are good, but above all we need a fundamental debate. The problem, we live it on a daily basis “, explains Younes Ala, a resident of Skikda, in the far east of the country. Suffering from cerebral palsy, he denounces ” the lack of accessibility which deprives ” disabled people “Many things”. “It prevents us from going to school, from being treated and from working”, continues the 35-year-old man.

“In my city, there is no accessible public transport or school. I was unable to continue my education beyond the first year of high school. The teachers told me that they didn’t understand anything about my writing. I ended up doing computer training ”, says Younes Ala.

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The young man was able to get a job as an administrative officer in the youth and sports directorate of his city, but his modest salary of 8,000 dinars (50 euros) deprives him of the allowance intended for disabled people.

Revalued in October 2019, it went from 4,000 dinars (25 euros) to 10,000 dinars per month (62 euros), but remains reserved for people with no income and whose disability rate is 100%. While Algerians suffering from a less severe disability can only claim assistance of 3,000 dinars (18 euros) per month.

“Rights” and not “charity”

An aberrant situation, according to Rania Benkherouf, member of the Baraka association. “The minimum wage [salaire minimum garanti] is 18,000 dinars [110 euros]. What can a disabled person do with 10,000 dinars, especially if they have children or a dependent family ”, asks this longtime activist.

Aged 45, she herself suffers from a physical handicap which she overcame to study and work. “A person who receives this allowance no longer has the right to work, to retire or to any other source of additional income. She cannot improve her quality of life when the handicap generates additional needs which are costly ”, adds Rania Benkherouf.

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In the association’s offices located in a residential area of ​​Ain Taya, east of Algiers, the photos and posters hanging on the wall tell of twenty years of struggle for inclusion and improved care. people with disabilities. “It takes so long for the mechanisms to kick in. The machine is rusty ”, let go of the volunteer.

The organization has engaged in several pleas to demand “Rights” and no ” the charity “, explains Rania Benkherouf. In four years, Baraka sponsored fifteen children in their schooling. “If the majority of people with disabilities are in a precarious state, it is because they have not had the right to education worthy of the name or to training for a job adapted to their disability”, points out Nabila Segani, national coordinator of the association.

The question of bonuses

Despite a law dating from 2002 which imposes technical standards to improve accessibility to infrastructure and public transport, “The decisions always depend on the goodwill of the person in front of us”, regrets Rania Benkherouf. ” There are prejudices which mean that the disabled person must remain invisible and compartmentalized behind a wall of obstacles, whereas if we put the human and material resources at their disposal, they can make a difference. We have seen it with these athletes who have succeeded and honored Algeria despite the pitfalls on their journey ”, considers the associative activist.

Algeria's Djamila Khemgani between two Dutch players during a wheelchair basketball match at the Tokyo Paralympic Games on August 27, 2021.

In addition to the failed reception of the first disabled athletes, the videos of their preparation conditions also aroused indignation. In one of them, we see Asmahane Boudjadar, gold medalist in the shot put and holder of a new Paralympic record in Tokyo, training in Algeria with unsuitable equipment and on a cleared ground because the access at the stadium was not allowed to him.

These athletes have been demanding for several years fairness with their able-bodied peers in terms of bonuses awarded to medalists of international and Olympic games. They finally won their case if we are to believe the latest statements from the Minister of Youth and Sports.

The latter is committed to ensuring that these bonuses are “More important than those of other Olympic athletes, for the simple reason that this category of athletes provides more effort and offers more positive results, despite the difficult conditions and the lack of means at its disposal”.

Thursday, September 9, the athletes were received by the Algerian President, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, and several members of his government. A bonus of 1.8 million dinars (11,160 euros) was granted to the gold medalist athletes, while the holders of the silver and bronze medals received 900,000 dinars (5,580 euros) and 480 respectively. 000 dinars (2 975 euros).

However, we are still far from the amount granted in 2016 to the valid athlete Taoufik Makhloufi. According to the newspaper El Watan, the middle distance specialist had received the sum of 40,000 dollars (some 33,750 euros) from the Algerian Olympic Committee for his two silver medals won at the Rio Games.