Initiatives seek to assimilate the disabled

Several recent initiatives have aimed to give improved opportunities to Syrians with disabilities. These include the country’s role as host for this year’s Special Olympics, a disabled-oriented job fair in Damascus in September, disabled-friendly infrastructure upgrades and new requirements in the labour law for employing disabled people.

“The situation has changed a lot in recent years,” Secretary General of the National Council for Disability Affairs Hazim Ibrahim said. “While before, support of the disabled was based on individual initiatives, Syria is now taking a more systematic and concentrated approach to the subject.”

From September 25 until October 3, Syria hosted the seventh Special Olympics for the Middle East and North Africa (SOMENA), the regional games for people with intellectual disabilities. With more than 2,000 athletes from 23 countries participating in 15 sporting events, this was the biggest such event since its launch in 1999.

“This event isn’t only about sport,” Ibrahim said. “It’s about building the self-esteem of people with intellectual disabilities. Families that used to feel embarrassed having a disabled member are now starting to enquire how they could help their disabled member to practice a sport. People have started to realise the potential of people with disabilities.”

To better integrate people with disabilities into society, SOMENA also organised the Syrian Job Fair for People with Disabilities on September 25 and 27.

A signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Syria has also recently taken measures to make the country more disabled-friendly. It established the National Council for Disabilities Affairs in 2004. The council endorsed a national plan focusing on the rehabilitation of people with disabilities in 2008, drafted by AMAAL, The Syrian Organisation for the Disabled.

The plan includes preparing a building code to make the country accessible for the disabled and importing handicap-accessible buses by the end of 2011. So far, the most visible effects of the plan are audible and tactile signals that have appeared on traffic lights throughout the capital.

Further, according to the new labour law that went into effect in April, 2 percent of jobs in every company that has more than 50 workers should go to disabled people.

This was published in Syria Today magazine