Jordan’s disabled struggle for acceptance and opportunities in society

Wheelchair-bound Ali Sawalmeh raising the Jordanian flag on Mount Kilimanjaro. (Provided by Roufan Nahhas)

Breaking down barriers. Wheelchair-bound Ali Sawalmeh raising the Jordanian flag on Mount Kilimanjaro. (Provided by Roufan Nahhas)

AMMAN – Jordan has made progress in bettering the lives of people with disabilities but still needs to introduce changes to facilitate acceptance of the disabled and improve their access to the job market.

Muhanad Azzeh, secretary-general of the Higher Council for the Affairs of Persons with Disabilities (HCD), which supports activities that serve the disabled in Jordan, said there was still much work to do.

“We estimate that 11-15% of the population suffers from disabilities, amounting to more than 1 million people,” he said, citing figures of the Department for International Development.

HCD President Prince Mired Raad Zeid al-Hussein noted that more than 500,000 disabled people under the age of 18 lack proper education. “Jordan does not have schools that could place disabled with non-disabled children. We need to do more,” he said.

Jordan’s people with disabilities (PWD) society has helped many disabled persons rise to be role models. A notable case is Ali Sawalmeh, a wheelchair marathon athlete who has become an inspiration to disabled Jordanians.

“I never thought of my disability as a barrier and wanted to change the image people have of the disabled. With determination and strong will, we (PWD) managed to overcome the challenges and now the society sees us as role models,” said Sawalmeh, who works at Jordan’s Public Security Department.

“I love sports and I love challenges. I have been grabbing advanced positions in marathons in Jordan, Dubai and other places,” he added.

Sawalmeh was the first paraplegic to summit Mount Kilimanjaro in a wheelchair in 5 days, a feat he undertook to raise awareness of the rights of PWD.

“My message was that, if you dream, you can do things and that PWD deserve to be seen and heard and to have access to life like everyone else,” he said.

Anton Nassar became executive director of a morning television programme at Jordan Radio and Television Corporation despite losing an arm in a car accident when he was 5 years old.

“It was so challenging for a 5-year-old child to lose one major part of his body but, little by little, I managed to overcome it and do everything alone. I can dress alone, button my jacket alone, et cetera,” said Nassar, who is married and participates in sports, including swimming and basketball.

“Society around me has been so supportive and my family, too, but more effort is needed to integrate PWD in the labour market. The private sector needs to contribute more and give more job opportunities,” he said.

There are more than 150 societies and centres that care for people with disabilities in Jordan. Their common goal is to help PWDs gain acceptance and enjoy opportunities in society.