The Arab Deaf Week on the Road to Inclusion By Dr. Ghassan Shahrour

                                              Ghassan AFOWDeaf Seventh Conference Berut Nov 1995

            Every year, the Arab Deaf Week is celebrated by the Arab Federation of Organizations Working with the Deaf AFOWD, its national associations and their affiliates regionally during the last full week of April

            The AFOWD which has been based in Damascus, Syria since 1972 is a regional federation composed of forty member organizations including ministries, national associations of the deaf and specialized medical associations in the Arab states. Every year, AFOWD chooses a new theme for the annual week which is highlighted by the activities of the week throughout the Arab states. Since the first Arab Deaf Week ADW in 1976, the chosen themes have covered many issues including deafness prevention and intervention, the rights of persons with deafness, how to promote their access to education, and access to information technology and services. They also highlighted the potentials and the contributions of people with deafness

            The message of ADW is very simple: people with deafness have the right of full participation in life and have to work together in order to achieve better accessibility. Themes have also focused on the main message: “All of us as citizens have to recognize that we are all one though we are not the same”   

            The observance of the Arab Week of the Deaf includes events that range from a small event such as a themed exhibit in one school to a full week of events and celebrations scheduled throughout a given city or country. The week may include performing artists, lectures, workshops, art exhibits, film festivals, booths and signs in area shopping malls, as well as different sport competitions and shows

            At the end of the week, many AFOWD member organizations usually send their reports about the activities that were conducted throughout the week. Exchanging such materials in AFOWD events is very useful and informative for all deaf organizations as well as the workers with the deaf

ADW and the Media

            In the past years, the public media has been active in covering the activities of ADW through magazines, newsletters and other publications of disability organizations

            It is worth-mentioning that Al-MANAL, the monthly magazine which is published by Sharjah city for humanitarian services in the United Arab of Emirates, has covered the activities of the ADW in the different parts of the Arab countries. The role of such a pioneer magazine has been very crucial in empowering persons with disabilities and all the organizations of and for the disabled in order to ensure that persons with disability enjoy their fundamental right to live fulfilling lives in their communities. What amazing in this magazine is the contribution of volunteers and non-profit organizations as well as the persons with disability themselves. It has been not only a magazine but also an active forum for persons with disabilities, advocates and campaigners in all Arab countries working together to make sure that their voices are heard and their messages are received. You can say that Almanal regional magazine has not only taken hold of the name of a young extraordinarily successful girl who was born with deafness and acquired later severe physical disability due to painful road accident, but also the hopes and rights of persons with disabilities for a better future

              During the last two decades, TV programs have played a growing role in covering the activities of the week. It is also quite encouraging to know that many TV programs about disability have been established in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, United Arab of Emirates, Syria and other Arab countries. They also offer sign language interpretation. These programs have succeeded in raising the public’s awareness of the needs and the rights of persons with deafness

            As in all parts of the globe, online social media networks have become a common part of the social and professional lives of many young people. However, the majority of students with special needs in our region are not provided with adequate opportunities to participate.  With more than 800 million active users around the globe, including more than 50 millions in the Arab countries, 70% of them are persons below 30 years of age. However, due to the growing use of social media in our region, many Arab deaf persons and their organizations as well as other civil societies have succeeded in widespread sharing of the activities of the week during the last few years 

Highlights from the Last Annual Weeks

              One of the most prominent events of the most recent ADW was in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia when the Saudi Committee of the Sport of the Deaf, an AFOWD member, organized the eighth AFOWD Scientific Symposium (April 28-30, 2008) during the ADW. It was a very successful and unforgettable event organized by a deaf organization in our region due to the active participation of the Arab deaf persons, especially the deaf women, and also because of the widespread participation of others, including government representatives and professionals in health, education and human rights fields

            In 2010, the theme that AFOWD chose was “Enabling the Deaf Woman through The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD)”. It aimed to urge governments and societies of the deaf throughout the Arab states to fully comply with the new UN convention and convince their national legislations to empower women with deafness and to promote their complete participation. It also highlighted the tangible contributions of many women with deafness toward their families and their societies as well. AFOWD received positive responses from many organizations in the Arab states especially from women organizations and local organizations as well as the media. Many productive and informative activities were conducted by the national societies of the deaf and led by the deaf women

            Also, the same topic was discussed in AFOWD general congress in Tunisia that was conducted during the period of November 25-27, 2010 and it was very encouraging and inspiring to see speeches from the deaf women as well as their organizations. That was why AFOWD decided, for the first time, to choose the same theme again in 2011 in order to enable many people, organizations and the media to highlight this important issue in the Arab region where we believe that societies should take more measures to ensure the full development, advancement and empowerment of women 

            In 2012, The 37th ADW was observed on the topic of “the right to work”. The objectives were to highlight the main aspects of work and employment of the deaf persons in the Arab region including ways to prohibit any discrimination on the basis of deafness and how to promote employment opportunities including the promotion of opportunities for self-employment 

             In spite of that, some national deaf organizations added new themes in their observance of the week. For example, some non-profit organizations and societies of the deaf in Syria decided to provide free hearing examinations in kindergartens and arranged for children with hearing impairments to meet Syrian celebrities. They also conducted their national ceremony with the participation of the ministry of labor and social affairs

            In UAE, the week was organized by Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services (SCHS), Ministry of Social Affairs, and Zayed Higher Organization for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs in Abu Dhabi. During the week, the first artistic festival for the deaf was launched under the Directorate of Sharjah Medical Zone, at Al Razi Theater in the University of Sharjah. Director of Al Amal School for the Deaf in addition to Post Center of Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah, and a number of school students of Sharjah Educational Zone organized a play in sign language entitled “Photographs”.  The week also included a variety of events such as ‘My Little Project’ at Al Qasba Canal, a film contest, a march, and various contests in Abu Dhabi Cornish on the Gulf beach. ‘My Little Project, was made by deaf students and organized in collaboration with Sharjah Municipality. In addition, several informative lectures were delivered to students of various grade levels. A painting workshop in which each ordinary child drew a portrait expressing his/her hopes and feelings was organized at Bait Al Serkal, Arts Area.  Informative posters about deafness were placed at shopping centers and distributed brochures to visitors. A short film about deafness was displayed in a number of public departments and hospitals in order to raise public awareness. Students from the University of Sharjah who were incredibly impressed praised the deaf students’ performances. Appreciation was given to Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry for its annual sponsorship for the ADW, and several other institutions such as the University of Sharjah

            That observance of ADW in UAE has provided all of us with leading and inspiring example of the productive partnership among private, nonprofit and government sectors in many activities of the week  

            There were also many other interesting activities that were conducted in other Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Jordan and Morocco  

The Arab Deaf Week In 2013:  Early Intervention

            Hearing is critical for the development of the aspects of speech, language, communication skills, and learning.  The earlier that hearing loss occurs in a child’s life, the more serious the effect on the child’s development is. Also, the earlier the hearing disability is identified and intervention begins, the more likely the children achieve betterin all these aspects.

          Early intervention services for infants and toddlers are family-centered, and are designed to ensure early detection of hearing disability and help the families of children with hearing disability to stay on track with his or her speech, language, and communication skills. Parents will also keep track of their child’s progress and make decisions for intervention and education each step of the way as the child develops.

              On this occasion, AFOWD has urged all governments to ensure that early intervention programs are widely implemented in both urban and rural areas.

Challenges to overcome  

            Although many steps to shift the approach from care to rights have been taken during the last three decades, many children with deafness in the Arab countries still have limited access to education as well as information and communication technology, and this is especially true for the deaf women. Many deaf people are still waiting for jobs and employment. We have kept these challenges in our minds, and continue to renew and enhance our efforts and hopes for a better future and to enable the deaf persons in the Arab countries to enjoy their rights of full participation in their society

     written by Dr. Ghassan Shahrour, Executive committee secretary, Arab Federation of organizations working with the deaf

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About Dr. Ghassan Shahrour

Dr. Ghassan Shahrour is an expert in medicine, and disability issues with long-term management and operational experience at diverse levels Dr. Shahour was trained at Damascus University, with further training at the University of Birmingham and other education centers He has published many articles, conference papers and presentations. He is a member of a number of national, regional and international professional and civil society associations. He is a prolific writer on health, disability, humanitarian and cultural issues in diverse media.
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