Report: Disabled Arabs suffer extreme difficulties

Women suffer from isolation, shame.

disabled child 88 (photo credit: Alyn)
disabled child 88
(photo credit: Alyn)
Arab women with disabilities suffer more than men in terms of their image and the way they are treated by society, according to the first comprehensive study on the status of the disabled in the Arab sector. Published on Sunday - the UN's International Day for Persons with Disabilities - the study was commissioned by the Joint Distribution Committee Israel's Unit for Disabilities and Rehabilitation. Arab males with disabilities face extreme difficulties, the study reported, but women with disabilities are socially isolated, unable to marry and, in many cases, confined to the home by their own sense of shame, social pressure and the family's reluctance to be seen with them in public. "Some of the women with disabilities are illiterate, which limits their access to information and increases their dependence on relatives. Among Beduin women in the Negev who have disabilities, the situation is even bleaker," said the report. "The situation with disabled women in the Arab sector disturbed me every time it came up," Avital Sandler-Loeff, who authored the report along with Yiffat Shahak, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview. "Women with disabilities are forced to stay at home and are really not involved at all in the community," she said. Sandler-Loeff was quick to add that while the situation is far harsher than in the Jewish community, she was continually surprised by the positive elements that do exist in the Arab sector. "There is great potential here. There are programs and groups with which we can work and really move forward to improve the situation," she said. The report will be used as the basis for a JDC project known as Masira, or Journey, aimed at advancing the status of people with disabilities in Arab society. The Arab sector has a higher proportion of children with special needs and of adults with disabilities than in the Jewish community. According to the report, the challenges people with disabilities face are exacerbated by Arab culture. "One theme that stands out is the low image that people with disabilities have of themselves, and their low image in Arab society. This is accompanied by prejudices and stereotypes about people with disabilities, who perceive themselves and are perceived by society as weak. The handicap is often viewed as something embarrassing, which affects not only the people with disabilities but also their families, to the point that they refrain from assisting the family member with disability because they are afraid of being exposed," the report reads. "In the Jewish community, disabled people really raised their profile during the 1980s when they held a series of protests outside the Knesset," said Sandler-Loeff. "That has still not happened in the Arab community, especially for the women." She said another disturbing aspect was the lack of clear information in Arabic that would help the disabled understand their rights and encourage them to improve their condition. "One community we visited in the Negev did not have data or provide programs for any of the people there with disabilities," she said. The report listed a range of other problems including lack of accessibility, poor employment opportunities and a severe shortage of appropriate educational institutions for children with disabilities. Sandler-Loeff said that an anonymous foundation had approved a four-year project to promote the status of disabled people within Israel's Arab society. Between 2006 and 2010, JDC Israel plans to collaborate with government ministries, local authorities, associations established by people with disabilities for others with disabilities, and other funding sources in efforts to improve the situation, she said.