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Accessibility for all

Sep 13,2014 - Last updated at Sep 13,2014

Why are people with disabilities often absent from the workforce, and when included, they are few and often regarded as a novelty?

“The Thirty Questions Guide: Achieving Equal Opportunities in the Workplace for Persons with Disabilities” clearly demonstrates that the lack of access to inclusive services and other facilities that are normally open or provided to the public is, sadly, one of the reasons.

Developed by the Jordan Civil Society Programme (CSP), and implemented in collaboration with the Higher Council for Affairs of Persons with Disabilities (HCD), the “Thirty Questions Guide” provides a set of guiding principles that are based on those within the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), addressing the concepts of accessibility and reasonable accommodation, as well as the roles and responsibilities of both governmental and non-governmental organisations in realising “a workplace environment that is free of physical obstacles and behavioural barriers for [people] with disabilities, and where the values of human rights, diversity and the acceptance of others prevail in a manner that achieves equal opportunities and eliminates discrimination for all” — in line with Article 9 of the CRPD.

According to the guide, accessibility in the workplace is “a set of architectural and technical measures and procedures taken” to ensure that people with disabilities “can easily access the workplace and its facilities with free internal mobility and independence, in accordance with the Code of Requirements of Special Building” of 1993, based on the Jordanian National Building Code.

Reasonable accommodation, in turn, is “[a]ll the needs of people with disabilities including tools, equipment, communication means, physical conditions and time requirements that allow them to exercise their rights and freedoms on an equal basis with others”.

The provision of both is a must. It is the responsibility of the country, whether government, entities, organisations, including voluntary and private institutions, or indeed individuals, as stipulated in the Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Number 31 for the Year 2007.

It is a participatory and collaborative effort, for and by all, to enable people with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life.

These are our commitments as signatories of the CRPD.

But in spite of being one of the first countries to sign and ratify the United Nations Convention, Jordan’s achievements in this area are still below the benchmark we have set for ourselves — that is, despite having the supportive and enabling legislative framework (i.e., the building code) and a binding law that sets out what needs to be done in practice.

So why are such measures not implemented?

Perhaps one of the main reasons is the lack of knowledge and understanding of this subject matter by both the public, in general, and the decision-making community, in particular.

Governmental organisations have not yet properly included disability issues, nor have they grasped the concept of accessibility, both of which are development issues that must be included in national work strategies and plans of action.

That is why many of our national institutions are still bearing the costs of adapting and making accessible fully functional facilities, as opposed to embedding access requirements and reasonable accommodation at the initial planning stages of said facilities.

Owners of inaccessible businesses are also paying the price. They are forced to pay the fines incurred upon them because they are violating building code requirements. And yet, they continue doing so, simply because they can!

Consequently, even the access approval permit, issued by the Jordan Engineers Association, approving the floor plans of any facility, becomes ineffective and is often overlooked.

What is needed, in such cases, is for the Greater Amman Municipality to enforce a more stringent policy, prohibiting any violating entity from seeking a work permit through which water and electricity facilities and sanitation may then be installed.

It is therefore essential to develop a national and comprehensive action plan with a specific focus on the removal of physical, communication and information obstacles and behavioural barriers, as well as the compulsory activation of the building code requirements, which are currently being reviewed and updated to conform to modern day requirements and needs.

Other countries have already done so, successfully, benefitting not only their citizens with disabilities, but also each and every individual who may require such accessible measures and reasonable accommodation.

In Japan, for example, the concept known as “universal design” has been implemented, whereby the requirements of people with disabilities have been imbedded in the original design of products, so that they would not require any adaptions and/or modifications, thereby reducing the overall cost of such products in the long run.

Fellow Jordanians with disabilities repeatedly say that what works for them, works for all.

Let us all work together, with them, and with the awareness and responsibility that is needed, towards a safe, accessible and inclusive Jordan for us all.

The writer is president of Jordan’s Higher Council for Affairs of Persons with Disabilities (HCD) and special envoy to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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