Omar Al-Turk in an interview with Raafat Al-Zitawi – Media spokesman and director of Accessibility and Universal Design at the Higher Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Treating People with Disability… Care is Not the Demand
In the amusement park, I met Ali*. I was supposed to spend an hour playing and caring for him, but I did not know how the hour turned into about half a day. Ali was the first autistic child I dealt with directly, and in fact, I could not see anything different about him. He feels joy and sadness and laughs like any other child. He was not any different with his feelings, but perhaps the way he interacted with the surrounding environment was a little different, that is all.
When the topics were presented to the Generation 01 blogging team members, I chose inclusion above all topics. I thought of Ali and my college classmate Mira* who used a wheelchair when she told me: “I do not drink water at the university because I worry about using the bathroom.” I also thought of other people with disability, who were never different in terms of abilities, but in the quality and quantity of opportunities, unfortunately.
After a session of discussion for Generation 01 team, we asked a set of questions for which we would like to get answers regarding the issue of including people with disability on the level of Jordan. I had the chance to interview Mr. Raafat Al-Zitawi, Director of Accessibility and Universal Design at the Higher Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the media spokesperson for the Council and have a lengthy discussion about the importance of inclusion and empowering this segment in different areas of life.
What are we missing here in Jordan? Are we on the right track to shift from the concept of “care” to the concept of “empowerment”? How to deal with a colleague with disability? And finally, are work environments safe for them?
First of all, let’s not call them “people of determination”
At the beginning of the interview with Al-Zitawi, I started by asking about the simplest things that we all have to pay attention to when addressing this segment: Of all the labels we use, what label guarantees objective addressing that does not cause any harm?
First of all, Al-Zitawi indicated that we cannot abstract the designation from the word “person”, commenting that the most accurate and approved designation around the world is “persons with disabilities.” Secondly, we cannot call them people with special needs. Al-Zetawi says: “Look at yourself and look at those around you. Each one of us has special needs that are different from others. You may like the air conditioning cold while others like it warm. Diabetics and blood pressure patients have special needs. We all have special needs and requirements that differ in different areas of life. Using this name allows everyone to claim the rights of people with disabilities, and this creates a kind of chaos.”
He also shared an interesting idea: “Why shouldn’t we call them people of determination? Because this is an exaggeration. Let’s not forget that people with disability are part of the social diversity, just like tall, short, dark, brown people, there is someone with disability. This person’s motivation may be high, medium, or low… We don’t know… The name “People of Determination” reflects a caring style and approach that aims only to raise morale in an exaggerated manner, which is what we seek to stop when dealing with people with disabilities. We demand equality, not discrimination.”
The issue of naming does not depend on us as media professionals or those interested in the field of journalism when writing or preparing reports, but there are also different etiquette and methods of communication that we all have to know and be aware of.
Al-Zitawi also pointed out to the guides available on the Council’s website, such as the guide to hospitals, banks and media communication methods, which helps us to communicate in a positive and objective way with people with disability.
The legal status, between the enactment of legislation and its implementation, where do we stand?
Jordan ratified the International Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities in 2008, which means that it has become binding and any legislation that violates it must be amended. In 2017, the Law on the Rights of People with Disabilities was passed, which fights all forms of discrimination against them, and it sets out for all state institutions, governmental and private, the requirements that they must provide to protect these rights. Since that time, the Supreme Council has been reviewing and amending legislation based on the law. But the question remains: Are the laws applied properly?
Al-Zitawi believes that we have accomplished a lot since 2018, adding: “There are three main factors to consider when applying laws, first of all the awareness/ignorance of laws, second, not wanting to change, and third, the natural course of applying a law. Advanced countries in terms laws related to people with disability, such as Japan and Sweden, did not reach this stage until after a long period of work, challenges, and struggle. In my opinion, we are on the right path, we have succeeded in changing laws and procedures. The penal code for those who practice violence against people with disability has been changed to double the penalty. Today’s work includes a provision to appoint 4% of people with disability from the total team in public and private institutions. Take a look at the shape of public buildings and facilities before and after the law. So, we are taking good steps, but more change is required.”
As a media graduate, I believe that the awareness that Al-Zitawi mentioned at the beginning is the key, where a great deal of responsibility should be taken by us, as youth and journalists.
It is not enough to highlight success stories or initiatives. Rather, the media discourse must be transformed into a human rights discourse, which works first to educate society, people with disabilities, and their families about their rights, and then pressures to demand their empowerment and open opportunities for them.
Al-Zitawi asked me: “In the last census, the number of people with disability over the age of 5 in Jordan reached 1 million and 200 (11.2 % of the population). Imagine that we can either turn this figure into an economic and social burden for the state, or turn it into a source of support for productivity and the economy, what would choose?” Then I asked: How can we choose the second one?
Inclusion in education and work
It starts with providing and inclusive education where the environment is prepared comprehensively, including educational curricula, infrastructure, tools and technologies, students, and teachers, so that students with disabilities have all the supportive rather than an obstructive environment they need.
Looking at the current situation of our public schools, it won’t be easy to include this segment, and according to Al-Zitawi: “The percentage of people with disability who don’t get any type of education is about 75%,” which means there is a gap that must be addressed as soon as possible.
Al-Zitawi also comments saying: “The simplest right a child has is having a school nearby the house, and this is what we aim to provide to all students with disability. At the moment, we are working with the Ministry of Education in 30 schools in the south, north, and middle governorates, and these schools will be considered as a model for inclusive education.”
As for college education, Al-Zitawi pointed out that the Council signed memorandums of understanding with four public and private universities to implement a plan that will be gradually applied to prepare buildings, provide sign language interpreters, and provide an access center that offers all technical support and tools needed by students with disabilities.
“We have a shortage of certified sign language interpreters; however, we were able to employ a good number of interpreters in universities, and it is worth noting that the four universities will pay their salaries according to the agreements.”
Moving to inclusion in work environments, Al-Zitawi says: “It is not about employing more people with disability, but rather to change the stereotypes about them. Competence, experience, and certification should be the criteria.”
According to Al-Zitawi, Jordan has a “worldwide best practice” regarding the employment of people with disability, which is employment through the Equal Opportunity Commission.
This committee, consisting of members of the Ministry of Labour, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Service Bureau, the private sector, and experts with disability, is responsible for issuing employment reports at the Service Bureau. Also, it defines the requirement technology and tools that the institution must commit to provide for the employee with disability.
Moreover, it follows up and monitors work practices, and receives relevant complaints in the event that people with disabilities are exposed to any violation of their rights at work.
Where are we in terms of advocacy and influence?
I believe that not all people understand the requirements that people with disability need in order to be able to reach their fullest potential more than these people themselves and their parents.
Therefore, exerting pressure on the government and private agencies to abide by their responsibilities towards this segment, in addition to demanding media professionals play their role in spreading awareness and directing attention toward human rights starts with each family and each person with a disability. Let’s also not forget that any individual step, even if it is limited to educating yourself on simple matters such as etiquette for communicating with people with disabilities, is a step in the right direction.
We have many local campaigns, such as the “Equality” campaign, which organized polling stations for people with disabilities, the campaign “Accessible Jordan” for the late Aya Agabi, and the campaign “The time has come” to prepare the University of Jordan, all of which have proven successful in attaining support for people with disabilities.
We must concentrate on the various fields and demand, step by step, without despair, their right to obtain appropriate educational opportunities, political participation, work, and all aspects of life. Let’s prove to everyone what people with disabilities lack is not ability but an opportunity.
*Nicknames were used to maintain privacy
Image: Omar Al-Turk in an interview with Raafat Al-Zitawi – Media spokesman and director of Accessibility and Universal Design at the Higher Council for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
This blog highlights the opinion of Omar Al-Turk after an interview with Raafat Al-Zitawi, one of the most prominent specialists in the field of inclusion of people with disabilities, as part of the “Generation 01” program implemented by Generations for Peace, with the support of the US Embassy in Jordan.