Don't Dis My Ability; The Growing Acceptance of Disabilities in Arab Society
By: Holly Johnson/Arab America Contributing Writer
Disabilities impact the daily lives of over 1 billion people, or 15% of the World’s Population, according to a 2019 statistic by the World Bank. Disabilities come in a variety of forms, affecting individuals differently, depending on the type, and severity of the disability. While disabilities can occur at any time in life, they are most often present at birth and can increase in severity with age.
Life in the U.S.
In the United States, disabilities are recognized as a common occurrence in society, with impacted individuals treated with the utmost respect and aid. It is not unusual to see rows of handicapped spaces at your nearest grocery store, ramps and elevators at tourist attractions and public institutions, or braille menus at the local McDonalds. Although physical and intellectual disabilities were once thought of as detrimental to society, and those afflicted shunned, immense progress has been made in the quest for equality.
As Americans with Disabilities are one of the largest minority groups in the United States, it is no surprise that acceptance and aid are inextricably tied to the nation’s unequivocally high standard of universal human rights. Recognizing the proverbial embrace that disabled individuals are receiving worldwide, there is an emergence of societal acceptance and civic support throughout numerous Arab countries, prompting cheers of accomplishment and tears of joy.
Progress in Yemen
In Yemen, a burgeoning country recording rapid industrial growth, poverty is abundant because of the recent war that has devastated the historic country that at one time has immensely to world civilizations.
In Yemen, Islam is practiced diligently; religion is a major component of everyday life. Common in Arab culture, families are close-knit, as living in a multi-generational household is a prominent aspect of living. Although individuals living with disabilities in Yemen were historically cared for by the large family in which they reside, centers for the afflicted have begun appearing in hubs throughout the country. Inspired by religion, assistance is offered with everything from common chores to personal hygiene, counseling, and entertainment. Many of these centers are funded by non-governmental organizations that are dedicated to furthering education and acceptance of those living with disabilities, thus lessening the financial burden of the families of patients receiving care.
Organizations such as Handicap International, The Yemen Center for Autism, and The Altahadi Foundation have been revolutionary voices of change in the country, prompting the government’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labours to pass a series of laws and funds allotted specifically for individuals living with disabilities who are at high risk of experiencing rejection due to their limitations. Additionally, although the Ministry of Education in Yemen struggles with funding, it has created a number of schools for children with disabilities throughout major cities in the country and is looking into partnering with NGOs for further assistance.
Although those living with disabilities in Yemen are seeing an increase of helpful resources, still, somehow, the societal stigma which has marred their experiences remains. Thankfully, this continues to be challenged by the continual creation of aid through various NGOs, as well as recognition by government officials. Similarly, those living with disabilities in the Arab country of Jordan, are receiving increased recognition by their government as numbers of disabled citizens continue to rise.
More acceptance at last …
Jordan is another Arab country that is making a leap in the area of helping its handicapped populations. Jordan has often been described as an increasingly westernized Arab society and is known for mirroring United States values through government actions. Following the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1993 in the United States, the Ministry of Social Development and The National Council for the Affairs of Disabled People worked in conjunction to invoke a similar law in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Citing the Jordanian Constitution, the World Declaration on Human Rights through the United Nations, and the International Declaration of Disabled Persons, Jordan set a precedent for not only Arab society but the world and became a formidable example of how to achieve societal affirmation. Despite challenges to their commitment to societal equality and better standards of living, Jordan continues to seek aid for those impacted. Like Yemen, it relies on assistance from various NGO’s and private donors to fund their relief efforts, however, disabilities are increasingly viewed as common in society. Unlike Yemen, efforts are in place to equip public goods with disability-friendly options, including playgrounds (Za’atari Refugee Camp designed by UNICEF has spurred the construction of other disability-friendly playgrounds around the state), schools, government buildings, and public transportation.
Despite discrimination and societal acceptance of decades past, the Arab world, and modern-society, in general, are taking steps to ensure that equality, and aid, are available for those in need. In the words of famed astronaut Neil Armstrong, this is “one small step for man, yet, one giant leap for mankind.”
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