Enabling the differently-abled
Egypt last week celebrated the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, an opportunity to remind society of the abilities and needs of the differently-abled, now 11 million in the country, according to General Supervisor of the Egyptian National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD) Ashraf Marai.
On the occasion, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi announced a package of executive measures targeting the welfare of people with special needs, including drafting legislation that would allow donations to the Differently-Abled Fund, in addition to directing the government to include Egyptians with special needs under the umbrella of the Decent Life national campaign.
The welfare of people with special needs, according to Marai, would only be realised by enacting laws governing their rights such as Law 10/2018. This is in addition to making their inclusion in society easier by, for example, upgrading transportation for more accessibility.
The Maadi district has revamped 28 sidewalks to make it friendlier for people using wheelchairs by building slopes and lowering pavements. “We are looking forward to seeing such initiatives in all Egyptian governorates,” according to Marai.
The president did not only call for more specialised training for teachers working with children with special education needs, but he also directed preparing training programmes and workshops for Egyptians with special needs to help them qualify for job opportunities.
“The NCPD recently published a book specialised in the management of persons with special needs that we expect to be distributed and taught in all schools nationwide,” Marai said.
Also, the NCPD has held many workshops to train and teach sign language for teachers in certain departments of the Ministry of Education to enable them to deal with deaf students, according to Marai.
Out of the belief of the importance of full inclusion of people with special needs in society and the labour market, the NCPD held several workshops for people with special needs, including one linked with the German Hans Seidel Foundation and other organisations to develop self-employment skills and teach how to manage small and medium-sized projects.
Another important step on this path is the newly passed legislative amendment that toughens penalties against bullying people with special needs, which was proposed by MP Mohamed Mustafa Al-Sallab and approved by parliament in October.
The new article states that those convicted of bullying a differently-abled person will be sentenced to one year in prison and fined from LE50,000 to LE100,000. According to Al-Sallab, if bullying is committed by one of the victim’s relatives, one of those responsible for his care or upbringing, or those who have authority over him, the penalty can be increased to up to two years in prison and the fine raised from between LE100,000 to LE200,000. If the action is repeated, the penalties can be doubled.
“Lately, I have noticed an increase in cases of bullying people with special needs. Several videos of this kind have been disseminated on social media networks, a matter that really requires urgent legislative intervention to stop this phenomenon,” Al-Sallab told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Although the tightening of penalties is important for the law to be more deterrent, no law can tackle on its own a phenomenon that often has societal reasons and aspects, Al-Sallab said, adding, “it’s necessary to rely on other means such as awareness campaigns.”
Norhan Al-Sheikh, a writer with special needs, said she notices the initiatives aimed at making the life of people with special needs better but added “this will be all useless if they are still discriminated against by society in day-to-day interactions.
“Our goal is not to put them in jail or to get compensation, but in fact we want respect and that the society itself treats us in an equal way.”
Al-Sheikh called on employers to give people with special needs work-from-home jobs to make use of their capabilities.
She said obligating employers to include a certain percentage of their payroll to people with special needs should be enacted. “I myself suffered a lot from this problem until I lost hope in being hired,” Al-Sheikh told the Weekly.
“It is necessary to work on the awareness of society against the unacceptable actions which contradict laws, human principles, and all international charters on human rights ratified by Egypt,” Al-Sallab said.
“Awareness is the responsibility of all the country, civil society, religious and educational institutions, and the media,” MP Al-Sallab said. “It is also necessary to raise awareness of the people with special needs themselves of their right to denounce this kind of inhumane action and defend their rights.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.