Muna Al-Fuzai

This article is a tribute to the silent group of people in society who suffer from injustice, indifference and sometimes mistreatment or lack of appreciation because they are labeled as people with special needs or handicapped, because sadly they do not have the capability to run, walk or play like others.

They need special care – unlike other individuals – because of their disabilities but that special care doesn’t mean they don’t contribute in positive and important ways to our society. The types of disabilities can vary from physical, emotional to mental disability and bring a host of health-related concerns. But the most prominent problems of people with special needs are not their health status, but the society’s view of them as inferior, lack of respect, injustice and inequality, simply because they are different. They feel insulted when others focus their attention on their disabilities, especially at gatherings, malls and restaurants. Or worse, when non-disabled people occupy parking spots designated for them or make fun of them. It is terrible and inhumane.

Moreover, many public places lack the equipment or infrastructure necessary to accommodate disabled persons in a proper and dignified way. For example, seeing-impaired persons often cannot way in the malls or use elevators by themselves because these places do not provide the necessary navigation tools. Also, roads can make a person with special needs vulnerable to traffic accidents. There are other problems faced by disabled persons – mistreatment by the family that thinks they must sit at home without regard to their right to mix with people and get a job, along with showing the respect they deserve.

So there is no doubt that there is a need to change societal attitude towards people with special needs and respect the differences in others and accept them without pity or contempt. This is a problem in the Arab world. I believe there is a need to have awareness programs targeting the society and families with disabled persons – this is the role of the media.

I recently read some good news, where MP Mubarak Al-Hajraf said there are plans to treat disabled people in the same category as those with 10 years of service for retirement. Hajraf said in a statement that the committee of persons with disabilities discussed 21 amendments to the disabled law, pointing out that there is a consensus with the government on some points, most notably the age of retirement – 15 years for men and 10 years for women. I think it is good that some are thinking about those who cannot express their rights in a clear and frank manner and are often ignored by society.

What always bothers me is that people with special needs have a right to entertainment too. They should be provided with appropriate recreational activities and their access to these places must be facilitated. It is important for any entertainment venue to have a section dedicated for special needs people. I believe they are strong to fight for their place in this life and in societies that only see their outer selves – they are heroes.

By Muna Al-Fuzai