Jordanian initiative Ibni empowers disabled citizens to secure their rights
Instead of feeling happiness at her daughter’s kindergarten graduation, Noor only felt sadness. What was meant to be a happy day was spoiled by the fact that her daughters’ twin brother, Tamim, could not be on stage alongside her due to his disability, Spastic Cerebral Palsy.
Noor went back home that night and resolved to accept her son, with all his differences. This meant celebrating every small step Tamim took, at his own pace. However, finding the right treatment for Tamim in Jordan was an arduous and – above all else – expensive process.
That is when Noor found “Ibni,” a social initiative created and led by people with disabilities and their families.
"Around one in ten people – or a little over 1 million people – in Jordan have a disability"
The initiative, advised by the community organising NGO “Ahel,” aims to help provide free treatment to individuals with disabilities, create awareness about the rights of disabled people and engage in advocacy to ensure that the Jordanian government lives up to its obligations to people with disabilities.
The initiative is non-hierarchal and a way for individuals and families to support one another, both in practical concerns and through morale-boosting.
“We started thinking about how to claim our children’s rights. The group was filled with love and the stories of our children brought us closer,” Noor said.
“Our main goal is to provide free rehabilitation services for people with disabilities,” she added.
Laws on paper, little in practice
Around one in ten people – or a little over 1 million people – in Jordan have a disability, in addition to the elderly and temporarily injured, who also might need accessibility accommodations. The streets and infrastructure in Jordan are often not accessible for those with disabilities, especially in rural areas.
In 2017, Jordan passed a law to define and protect the rights of people with disabilities. The law, among other things, guarantees inclusive education, medical and development treatments, and measures to boost employment among disabled individuals.
The legislation is wide-ranging, and on paper, provides a solid foundation for an inclusive society for people with disabilities in Jordan.
The reality, however, is much different. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Jordan has consistently failed to implement the law and its provisions. For at least the first two years after the law’s passage, several government ministries failed to apportion any funding to disability rights initiatives.
Other ministries, like the Ministry of Education, paid little more than lip service to support inclusivity for people with disabilities. In 2019, for example, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Public Works and Housing allocated less than 1 percent of their budget towards related initiatives.
"To help produce a systemic change, Ibni participants began to engage in grassroots activism, pressuring the Ministry of Health to fulfil its obligations and provide disability treatments in its public health facilities"
Critically, the Jordanian government has not lived up to its obligation to provide healthcare and developmental treatment to people with disabilities.
“There is a lack of basic services, especially public services. These services are only available in the private sector, and they are very expensive. The economic obstacle is the biggest challenge that faces families of children with disabilities,” Anas Damra, one of the participants in the Ibni campaign, told The New Arab.
Damra added that this was the initial reason for the launching of the Ibni campaigns. By providing group treatment, families could “shoulder a burden they couldn’t handle themselves.”
Early intervention for children with disabilities is key. If children get access to treatment early on, the severity of a disability can be lessened and behavioural therapy is more effective. Still, for many families, the cost of private treatment is prohibitive, and public services are not nearly adequate.
To help produce a systemic change, Ibni participants began to engage in grassroots activism, pressuring the Ministry of Health to fulfil its obligations and provide disability treatments in its public health facilities.
The initial group of activists started at just 42 leaders. By the end of the campaign, there were over 13,000 people participating in the movement to provide inclusive healthcare to people with disabilities.
The campaign was ultimately successful. In the fall of 2021, the Jordanian Ministry of Health opened a health centre in the capital city of Amman with a full services suite for people with disabilities. The ministry also pledged to rehabilitate 12 health centres in Jordan – one in each governorate – by the end of 2022.
Combatting stigma, creating awareness
While administrative and policy changes are important, societal changes are key to ensuring people with disabilities receive their rights.
In Jordanian society, there has traditionally been a stigma against those with disabilities, with some families going so far as to hide away children that have disabilities.
"Before, when we heard someone talk about their child who has a disability, it would be about the challenges they face. Now they are speaking about their child’s rights"
This stigma still exists, but it is “decreasing in a big way” Damra said.
“This stigma comes from ignorance and as a result of the lack of representation of people with disabilities in media and public life,” he added. Campaigns to make disabled people more visible and normalize the concept of inclusivity have helped raise awareness in Jordan which has helped “reduced the stigma.”
While awareness campaigns for the public are important, families of those with disabilities and the disabled individuals themselves also benefit from learning about their rights.
Damra described how families learned about the rights their children are entitled to, and how it changed their perspectives.
He cited an instance when a Jordanian broadcaster used hate speech against people with disabilities. The family of Ibni organized and managed to get the media platform and its presenters to apologize for what happened.
“Before, when we heard someone talk about their child who has a disability, it would be about the challenges they face. Now they are speaking about their child’s rights. Families are demanding that the state fulfil its duties and responsibilities,” Damra said.
William Christou is The New Arab's Levantine correspondent, covering the politics of the Levant and the Mediterranean.
Follow him on Twitter: @will_christou