The Abu Dhabi Satellite channel recently ran a live opinion poll on the employment of people with special needs. The majority (53 percent) of people that participated in the survey were against their employment, leaving 47 percent of people being in favor of the employment and social integration of people with special needs. Can our societies really be that hard-hearted? The same societies that are labeled as “emotional voters”, when voting in favour of Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, due to their hatred for America and their love of slogans! But the reasons for what seems to be a heartless result may be more complicated than this.
The majority vote against people with special needs is the strongest evidence that we have not yet understood the concept of human rights. Nor do we recognize our responsibility towards our children; the next generation. We are societies that shout about the value of social solidarity, and yet we refuse to support the people within our society who want to establish independence that will help them progress with their lives.
According to Arab health organizations, there are about 20 million people in the Arab World with special needs. In Egypt the figures indicate that 6% of the population has special needs, whereas the figure is 9% in the Gulf and approximately 7% in the North African region. This is a large number of people to exclude from public life.
Youssef Al Hajeri, a 25 year old Saudi man, had dreamt of going to university to study Mechanical Engineering, a subject he loved. However, he was involved in road traffic accident, which left him in a wheelchair. This major trauma inevitably had a great impact on Youssef’s life, however with time and determination he set himself new attainable goals. Youssef succeeded in gaining a university degree in Languages and Translation, as well as a diploma in Computer Networks Management.
Youssef described the difficulties he faced; “the worst phrase I heard was ‘we are sorry, we cannot accept you’, just because I walk with a stick, despite the fact that the job did not require physical effort. He added, “When I used the wheelchair I was provoked by the looks of pity. It was this that led me to seclude myself, only going to university and returning straight home. It was disheartening that the environment at university, a place that should reflect higher awareness, was also backward in its approach. The campus did not provide support for people with special needs; some of the professors and students even parked their cars in the disabled parking spaces because they were closer to the building”.
It was not just at university that Youssef faced these difficulties, “Even shopping centers fail to take this segment of society into consideration, with most shopping centers only having stairs. There are no entertainment facilities with special needs services, and so inevitably life is difficult”.
Youssef is a man of determination and strong will; as the doctors were explaining the possibility of him losing his life due to the accident, he fought to live and began using a wheelchair. When he was told that the wheelchair was the best he could hope for, he worked hard to be able to walk with a stick. It goes without saying that he is a positive example for others, and a man who deserves respect and admiration. His abilities should not be judged based on his disability, and neither should his personality.
Dalia, a student in Management and Economics, in the same situation as Youssef, said, “If one of us becomes distinguished in our line of work or studies, the media races to interview us, just because we are disabled in their eyes. They believe that the success of a disabled person is an exception to the rule. Do we not have souls too?”
Surely their successes are not an exception to the rule, since the rule should be “opportunity is available to all”. People with special needs have a right to live a dignified life, it is a moral, human and patriotic obligation. Why can’t people with learning disabilities be integrated into society through employing them in positions they are able to do? Why not offer them qualifications for these jobs? All jobs need specific qualifications, so why are people with disabilities exempt from these opportunities?
The final question I want to pose is to those that voted against the employment of people with special needs. I ask you, what would your view be if one of your children belonged to this excluded section of society? A salute to the emotional Arab societies.