Disabled: ‘We refuse to be treated like this’ [Archives:2006/953/Reportage]

June 8 2006
Some students like to help disabled people.
Some students like to help disabled people.
Photo from archived article: photos/953/report1_2
Photo from archived article: photos/953/report1_2
By: Samar Mujalli
[email protected]

Upon entering Al-Salam School for the Handicapped, one can see how cooperative its students are. Those who can walk help those in wheelchairs, as students there understand each other's needs and try to help as much as possible.

The situation for the handicapped has changed for the better in recent years, as nowadays, education and more work opportunities are available to them. Unfortunately, such positive changes didn't include respecting and treating them normally.

“The disabled should be respected and admired for their determination in overcoming the daily challenges they face,” said head of the Yemeni Society for Rehabilitating the Physically Handicapped, Ali Wijeeh, paralyzed in an accident 30 years ago. “The biggest dilemma the handicapped face – and mostly cannot overcome – is the wrong perception others have about disability. For many, disability equals not being able to do anything.”

According to a survey conducted in 2006, there are 1.37 million handicapped individuals in Yemen, however, this number cannot be verified as accurate because many still deny having handicapped members in their families. Many disabled, especially in rural areas, spend their lives in locked rooms, never going out. They spend their lives alienated from people and alienated from their own abilities. In some families, the handicapped die without others even knowing of their existence.

Having a disabled family member may give a family a less honorable position in society and might subject them to laughing and sarcasm by others because for many, disability is a shame. Some families believe having a handicapped individual in the family will drive away others and marriage might become an obstacle because of the disabled.

“For the handicapped to live a simple life and learn and work like anyone else, they must work twice as hard,” said Nabil Al-Amari, a disabled teacher at the Yemeni Society for Rehabilitating the Physically Handicapped. “In order for the disabled to succeed, they must overcome their disabilities by socializing with others,” he added.

Although mingling with non-disabled students is good, such students subconsciously may discourage and depress the disabled by feeling sorry for them. Also, their fellow students daily remind the handicapped about their disabilities. Because socializing with others is the main reason for depression and self-despising, many handicapped choose not to suffer through it and eventually give up their education and ambitions.

“When I was studying in public school, I couldn't take the way girls looked at me when I walked. Before that, I didn't mind how long it took me to walk. Now I try to avoid people; therefore, I dropped out of school,” said 20-year-old high school student Moshera Al-Dobase, who has an abnormality of her left leg.

Unfortunately, the handicapped don't only receive pitying looks in schools, but rather everywhere they go – even in their own families. When asked how others' attitude should be toward her and the disabled in general, Al-Dobase said, “I want them to understand that disability is my problem not theirs and if they want to help me, they should treat me normally.”

According to 2002's Disability Law No. 2, five percent of the total workforce should be reserved for those with disabilities. At the Yemeni Society for Rehabilitating the Physically Handicapped, the physically challenged receive training for jobs that suit their abilities, like learning to use computers and the internet. Additionally, women learn sewing and handcrafts. Their ability to work has been proven during many competitions held between computer and language institutes, as the disabled students were so good and hardworking, they exceeded the other students.

However, work remains difficult for the handicapped. Gaining access to services and provisions remains restricted by many institutional disabling barriers. Inability to access the workplace leaves the disabled limited work opportunities; therefore, many social, political and cultural measures must be put into place in order to provide a suitable work environment for the disabled.

Mostly missing is acknowledgment and appreciation for disabled individuals' work, as many citizens refuse to buy their handmade products. In many cases, the handicapped stop working due to not finding a market for their products.

“We demand people judge our products by their quality and not by our disabilities. We need markets for our products and we need companies and factories to be cooperative and provide us with work,” said 13-year disabled teacher Zenab Al-Fagih, who wants to work and provide work for her students.

“Everywhere we go, we are insulted. When we try to sell our products at exhibitions, we hear people tell each other to buy from us because we're handicapped. By saying that, they mean our work is bad and they only buy it as charity. If we wanted charity, we would beg in the streets instead of working,” disabled college student Fathea Al-Girsh said. “If our work is bad, we'd rather people told us so we can do better next time,” she added.

Currently there are three specialist safety nets serving disabled individuals: the Social Welfare Fund (SWF) providing financial assistance to the needy including the disabled; the Social Fund for Development (SFD), a capacity-building organization, and the Fund for the Welfare of the Disabled (Disability Fund – DF), which provides funding for various disability rehabilitation projects.

Their disabilities are not what's keeping the handicapped from living a normal life in Yemen. In most situations, those around them are the ones responsible for isolating them destroying their dreams. The disabled believe that they undoubtedly are capable and productive and that it's about time others treat them that way.