Arab World: People With Disabilities Raise Their Voices!

An online campaign was recently launched to shed light on the struggle of people with disabilities and their neglected rights. Founder of the campaign, Abdallah AlShalaqi, an activist from Saudi Arabia said in a TV interview that the campaign aims at raising community’s awareness of the rights of people with disabilities; breaking media silence about it; and giving a message to government officials to take action towards this issue.

People living with disabilities suffer from marginalization and neglect to varying degrees. And those with disabilities have been campaigning for equal citizenship so that they can achieve their full potential. Their struggle focuses on accessibility (the ability to move freely in the surrounding environment), equal opportunities in education, employment, housing and freedom from violence and abuse, which they can be vulnerable to.

The campaign heavily used Twitter as a main platform to raise their voices. Twitter users were asked to reverse their avatars and to use the hashtag #للمعوق_حقوق meaning “people with disabilities have rights” to highlight their cause. A large number of Twitter users joined the campaign. Safar Al Hogbani, a player in the Saudi special needs basketball team, tweeted [ar]:

@safar_ALhogbani: المعاقون جزء من المجتمع، ومراعاة ظروفهم واجب وطني وانساني، كما ان احترام القوانين الخاصة بهم دليل على رقي المجتمع وتحضره ‎‫#للمعوق_حقوق‬
People with disabilities are part of society. Considering their circumstances is a national and human duty. Respecting their laws is an indicator of a society’s progress and civility.

Sumaya Al Ghamadi shared her experience [ar]:

@sumaya1405: #للمعوق_حقوق‬ عندما سافرت للعلاج لألمانيا لقيت إهتمام ولم أرى نظرات الشفقة,, وهنا وجدت نظرات شفقة بلا إهتمام.
When I traveled to Germany, I found attention and I didn’t see looks of pity, but here I found pity without attention.

Twitter user @jessica_2090 blamed society [ar]:

@jessica_2090: ‫#للمعوق_حقوق‬ لا يوجد شخص معوق بل يوجد مجتمع يعيق

There is no disabled person, but a society that disables.

Abo Khaled added [ar]:

@AaaAbokhaled: #للمعوق_حقوق‬ أهمها حقه في كسب قوته فالإعاقة لا تعني أن يصبح عالة على غيره
People with disabilities have rights, and most importantly the right to earn a living. A disability doesn’t mean they would become dependent on others.

Other Twitter users have been campaigning for their rights. Dr. Sohair Abdel Hafeez, who identifies herself as an Egyptian wife and a mother of five men, two of them are hearing impaired who finished their university education. Following the announcement of Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt, she tweeted to one of the members of Morsi’s campaign [ar]:

@omelregalsohair: الأشخاص ذوو الاعاقة وأسرهم جزء من الشعب المصري لهم حقوق حتى التمكين فليجعلها الرئيس أمامه في مصر بلا تمييز
People with disabilities and their families are part of Egyptian society. They have rights including empowerment. The president should keep these rights in front of himself without discrimination.

Another prominent user is Mohamed Abu Taleb, a non-sighted person who trains other people with visual impairment on computer skills. Abu Taleb tweets about overcoming his disability [ar]:

@love_life2012: على الرغم من أن بداية الإستقلالية التامة بي كانت كفيلة لتجعل مني شخص حبيس بيته لكن لم أرضى هذا على نفسي مطلقا ‎‫#إعاقة‬ ‎‫#كفيف‬
Although the beginning of my complete independence was sufficient to make me home-bound, I didn’t accept that for myself.

@love_life2012: ومع بعض التشجيع من الأسرة لي وخصوصا والدي إستطعت ان اتغلب على كثير من صعوبات الإستقلالية ‎‫#إعاقة‬ ‎‫#كفيف‬

And with some encouragement from my family, and especially my father, I was able to overcome many of the difficulties of independence.
@love_life2012: بعدها لم أجعل شيء مهما كان صعب ولا مستحيل أمام احلامي وطموحاتي التي أردت لها النجاح بيدي ‎‫#إعاقة‬ ‎‫#كفيف‬
And after that, I didn’t let anything however hard or impossible it was, to stand in the way of my dreams and ambitions that I wanted to achieve with my own hands.

Another blogger living with physical disability after she lost her leg shared her experience with sexual harassment. Randa Aboeldahab [ar] wrote:

اغرب حالات التحرش بالنسبة دايما كانت التحرش بالعربية ، يعني المتحرش كان بيستعمل عربيته كأداة تحرش وكنت فاكرة اني انا لوحدي اللي بيتعمل فيه كدا ، اكتر واقعة مش ممكن انساها لما مرة كنت بعدي الشارع وكان في عربية راكنة ادام ، بعدي من ادامها لاقيت السواق طالع خطوة وخابطني قلت اكيد مش قاصد ، رجعت اعدي من وراه راح راجع خطوة لورا، قلت اكيد مش قاصد، وثانية راح رامي جملة من اياهم ، لاقيت نفسي بمسك العكاز اللي ف ايدي وبخبط به اول فانوس في العربية ، قال جملة تانية مصحوبة بشتيمة روحت نازلة ع الفانوس التاني وهكذا لحد ما اتهمني بأني مجنونة ، مردتش غير بضربة قوية من عصايتي في نص الباب الشمال وروحت ماشية

The strangest harassment incident for me was “harassment by car”. A harasser uses his car as a tool for harassment. I thought I was the only one subjected to this. The incident I remember the most was when I was crossing the street in front of a parked car, then the driver drove and hit me, so I said to myself “this cannot be intentional”. I moved behind the car and then I found him hitting me again by the car and he said one of those harassment lines. I found myself smashing one of his car headlights with my walking stick. He cursed me so I smashed the second headlight. He said I was crazy so I hit the car door and I left.

Similar online initiatives also highlight the issues of people with disabilities such as I Am Not Disabled Twitter account and the website Voice of The Disabled, which serves as a media outlet to convey the voices of people with disabilities.

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