‘Our rights are violated:’ Jordanians with disabilities struggle with inaccessible buildings

(Photo: Unsplash)
(Photo: Unsplash)
AMMAN — Over a million Jordanians are physically disabled. Despite this, the country is woefully ill-prepared to accommodate these citizens in its services and buildings. From schools to government buildings and hospitals, people with disabilities are left out of Jordan’s physical spaces. اضافة اعلان

“As of now, there are only a few buildings prepared for people with physical disabilities,” said media spokesperson for the Higher Council for the Rights of Person with Disabilities (HCD) Raafat Zitawi in an interview with Jordan News.

“Facilities overall are not fully designed for the physically disabled, especially since the Law for Persons with Disabilities [which stipulates] commitment to the building code designed for such cases is still new,” added Zitawi.

The Code of Requirements for Special Construction for People with Disabilities was created under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act in 2017. The code regulates public buildings and facilities, such as sidewalks, streets, parks, hospitals, schools, and mosques and churches.

New buildings and those under construction are examined by the Civil Defense, which verifies whether they fit the standards of the special code or not.

In contrast, old buildings pose a difficulty because they are mostly governmental rentals and are not renovated unless the landlord allows it. Renovations to make the buildings accessible are costly for the older buildings and in some cases, the parameter of the building constricts the ability to provide the necessary needs of people with disabilities, requiring alternative solutions for which the council provides technical support.

Due to the challenges related to the renovation of old buildings, the law sets a deadline of 10 years, at the end of which 60% of these buildings will be modified.

In the meantime, many buildings are partially or completely inaccessible to those with disabilities.

Accessibility in schools

Education is a basic human right guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But students with disabilities, who constitute 5.4% of those in educational institutions in Jordan, often struggle to access to the same resources as their peers. The inaccessibility affects students with a wide variety of disabilities.

“In the field of education, a high percentage of deaf people are illiterate due to the lack of education to which they were exposed,” sign language expert Ashraf Hamoodeh told Jordan News.

Very few public schools are prepared to welcome physically impaired students. The private schools that are accessible are often very expensive, and students may still face stereotypes and stigma because of their disabilities.

“During my university years, my peers and I campaigned to advocate education for people with disabilities and to provide them with accessibility,” recalled Abu 30-year-old Hadeel Abu Soufeh, a consultant and trainer for disability rights and a wheelchair user, in remarks to Jordan News.

Visually impaired students also struggle to access educational resources. While some schools do provide books in braille for blind students, they usually do not provide a supportive or accessible environment for the visually impaired. 

Computer subjects and mathematics are not taught to the blind as part of a formal exemption from the Ministry of Education.

In an attempt to make at least some buildings more accessible, some hospitals and universities are currently working on creating structures that fit the needs of those with physical disabilities.

“We are currently working on a project that prepares four model universities, distributed among the north, south, and center of the Kingdom, providing the necessary service to the physically impaired,” said Zitawi. “It is still a new idea and a work-in-progress.”

‘Our rights are violated’
“The majority of our governmental institutions are not prepared for people with physical disabilities,” said visually impaired 42-year-old Omar Haniyeh. “The ones that supposedly are, are done in an inconvenient manner because the special building code for people with disabilities was not used properly. It was more diligence on the part of the contractor than an engineering matter.”

“Safe passages are not provided for the visually impaired in most places in Jordan,” he added. “As a blind person, I face many struggles with the sidewalks, as they are unevenly placed and contain electric poles in randomly selected places.”

Public facilities such as malls and hospitals often place glass doors, which may cause injury for a visually impaired person, at the entrance or exit.
“Bright colored adhesive tape must be placed on these doors to act as caution for the blind,” suggested Haniyeh. “Civilians are very ignorant when it comes to seeing a blind person on the street. I personally get bombarded with questions regarding my disability and am often irritated by people when they forcefully offer a helping hand.”

“As a visually impaired individual I make sure to invest in technology that provides a speaking program, which can assist me.”

Lack of acceptance of and support for his disability has also affected Haniyeh’s career path. “As a professor in the Arabic language, I am unofficially employed (rather than formally employed with the protection of the labor law) due to my disability as a blind person,” said Haniyeh. “And this is one of the issues and rights that we demand.”

Deaf and hearing-impaired Jordanians similarly struggle due to a lack of public resources and spaces. “Institutions lack in providing sign language experts, which limit deaf people’s accessibility to any services,” said Hamoodeh, the sign language expert.

But there is a solution: “Institutions can hire a sign language interpreter in the main building in coordination with the call center of all other institutions through a video call,” he explained.

“Our facilities are not prepared to serve people with physical disabilities, and speaking on behalf of wheelchair users, our rights are violated,” Abu Soufeh said.

“As a person in a wheelchair, I face trouble entering Carrefour due to the consecutive poles fixed in front of the doors, restricting me from doing so,” she explained. “Unfortunately, the contractor responsible for this didn’t take into account the people with physical disabilities, and avoided executing a universal design for all,” she added.

“On a day-to-day basis, I face challenges that don’t allow me to live like any other civilian and restrict me from accessing public facilities,” she said.

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