(MENAFN - Jordan Times) More media reports are covering the sensitive issue of physical abuse of disabled children in Jordan, including the BBC documentary that exposed violations at two private special education facilities in Amman.
Following the BBC report, His Majesty King Abdullah tasked a committee headed by Muhyiddine Touq, former director general of the National Commission for Human Rights, to look into these abuses and to ensure that the rights of disabled Jordanians are up to the best international practices.
The committee issued a report on May 27, recommending a number of fast-track solutions that I, as someone who has spent 20 years in the field of special education, feel are temporary fixes that cannot be sustained.
Although urgent action was needed to control the abuse reported at specific special education centres, the real change must be brought about by setting long-term goals to foster meaningful reform.
I would like to make a few suggestions to achieve long-term behavioural change.
1. The "rights of the disabled" should be an obligatory subject taught at university to students who have chosen a career in teaching, either children with special needs or regular. In addition, it would be highly advisable to include "human rights" as an obligatory subject for all university students. The passing grade for both subjects should be 70 per cent, not 50 per cent as is the current passing grade for other university subjects.
It is important to realise that abuse is not limited to special education centres. Children with learning difficulties in mainstream schools run by the Ministry of Education are also subjected to emotional abuse and mistreatment.
What is the use if teachers enter the profession of special education and are unaware of the details regarding the rights of the disabled? The enlightenment of university students will bring about gradual change that will have sustainable effects.
Eventually, those university students will become parents. Imagine if every year a small percentage of them teach their children to accept the rights of others! Wouldn't this be regarded as a success and a conduit for promoting democratic values?
2. Career assessment should be used as a generalised tool to measure the personality and attitude of people. The results can suggest the academic fields in which students might excel. Such assessments should become mandatory before students are admitted to the teaching profession. In other words, those entering the profession of teaching are chosen.
3. A medical assessment needs to be enforced to help minimise the incidence of disabled children. Unfortunately, one cannot control handicaps that results from car accidents, illnesses or child delivery complications, for example. However, what can be controlled is that once a handicapped child is born, there should be an obligatory medical assessment to advise the parents about the probability of having other disabled children.
If the case is heredity, the parents should be advised to stop having children. There have been many instances in which parents have threatened to throw four or five of their disabled children onto the streets because they claim the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Health or the Higher Council do not support them medically and financially.
Although, the state is responsible for the overall welfare of its citizens, there are factors that cause limitations to offering free services to the disabled. One needs to take into consideration that proper services for the disabled are costly and budgetary limitations cannot cover all these expenses, especially since the majority of disabled children are born into underprivileged families.
On a related note, raising awareness about inter-family marriages, still a social taboo, is necessary. Research has confirmed that inter-family marriages are a major cause of handicap.
4. There are numerous vocational training options for the visually and hearing impaired, as well as the physically challenged. With their determination and the support of their parents and the community at large, they can achieve their aspirations.
However, vocational training choices for the mentally handicapped are limited. The Ministry of Social Development or the Higher Council should compile a thorough study to determine the areas in which the mentally handicapped may be trained to increase their chances of finding employment in the community where they live.
5. The media can help raise national awareness by reporting on abuse of the disabled, be it inside homes, schools, centres, universities or at workplaces.
Following the screening of the BBC report in May, the Jordan Press Association should have acknowledged its limited role in reporting such abuses or made a public commitment to report any cases of abuse in the future.
A look at the history of disability and education in Europe and the United States of America shows that the right to education for the mentally handicapped was endorsed in the 1960s and 1970s, at a time of economic and political stability.
The basic needs of the common people - food, clothes and shelter - had been met, therefore, the rights of the disabled had a chance to move forward.
We need to acknowledge that the current political and economic situation in Jordan remains a major determining factor when setting goals targeting the disabled.
Working only on the area of disability and aiming for high standards would be unrealistic. Other aspects, such as upgrading the educational, health and transportation systems goes hand in hand with upgrading the services for the handicapped.
Such fundamental changes in the socio-economic fabric of our society are long-term projects that require thorough planning, discussion, legislation and research.
The Higher Council has already set guidelines on the hierarchy and organisation of special education centres. We should start by applying them, and then take it from there. Sustainability is the key. We should work on awareness, not through lectures, but by practice.
The writer, a special education specialist, contributed this article to The Jordan Times.