Trip to the Lebanon

17 April 2019

It started as a blind date at @connectBETT, a way of connection BETT devised to put fellow colleagues together.In January 2019  I met Maha, a business development manager for the American University of Beirut and she gave me an invitation to come and speak on Assistive Technology at their ABLE Summit Conference in Beirut.

 

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Venue for the Summit next to the Med

So began the adventure. I have never been to the Middle East and never had the chance to speak outside of the UK. Maha was taking a risk as she has never heard me speak. So it was a surprise and honour to do this as well as an opportunity for BATA to play a part in raising the awareness of Assistive Technology in the middle east.

 

I soon learnt a few things:-

 

  • Driving in Beirut is scary
  • Red lights are a mere suggestion
  • So you need to be careful crossing the road
  • Beirut is not the dangerous place it used to be
  • It's situated on the Mediterranean in a bay with a beautiful snow-capped mountain in the background which is a ski resort
  • So its perfectly possible to ski and go to the beach on the same day!

 

I was not here for that purpose. Joined by texthelp's Patrick Mcgrath and James Ball as exhibitors our mission was to spread the word about what assistive technology can do and how it can be applied to schools and universities.

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Fellow colleagues from Texthelp also here - Patrick and James

The situation in the Lebanon regarding disability is not dissimilar to the UK many years ago where attitudes are limiting and sometimes derogatory and bigoted. There are 25 different people and religious groups in the Lebanon so bringing a unifying goal in this country is not going to be easy. Yet in the Middle East Lebanon  is more stable politically than some of its neighbours.

 

The conference, the first of its kind in the Lebanon, is a prelude to making a seedchange in the country. The aim was to establish a conscensus and find the next steps into making the dream of inclusion and integration a reality in the Lebanon. This is not going to happen overnight but there is avwilling bunch of strategic people there commited to making this a reality. And we at BATA are playing a part. I hope to continue my input if a successful bid goes through to the EU for the Autumn. Here is one example of how the EU can be a powerful force for good in this region. The country has poor infrastructure and resources in education. Most of the help comes in the form of special schools for people of all disabilities. The dream is for inclusion at all levels of society.

 

So i did my bit. I waved the BATA banner and spoke about each person there being an agent of change. A workshop followed we looked at the technology in more depth. I recommended apps, software and study skills software from our members and others. Patrick gave his inspirational talk on inclusion. There was no hard selling by anyone as a constant theme of " right thing to do and smart thing to do " echoed through out the two day conference.

 

I hope that actionable consequences will follow. Ratification by the Lebsnese of their EU directives on special education is needed. Political will turning to action in laws is needed so that they can enforce change and progress can be made in this complex, fascinating society to making it more incousive for everyone.

 

I came home feeling very positive about this event and the adventure I had. I can cross " international speaker" off my bucket list too!

 

By Myles Pilling, Council Member and Co- Director of BATA