ICT helping children living with disabilities

[Jordan] Children living with disabilities at a school in Amman.
Children at a class run by the Al-Hussein Society, which is using pioneering technology to help develop the skills of those with disabilities (IRIN)

Hadeel, a 12-year-old girl who suffers from muscular dystrophy - a disorder which causes the degeneration of muscle fibres, sits in her wheelchair at a computer in an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) class in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

But the classroom is not in an ordinary school, which Hadeel would be unable to attend because of her disability. It is part of a specially equipped centre for the physically disabled run by a local NGO, the Al-Hussein Society, which is using pioneering technology to help develop the skills of those with disabilities.

To further develop her abilities, Hadeel has been trained to use special ICT equipment and computer programmes. "There is an infra-red device on the top of the lampshade pointing at her forehead. The pointer on the screen moves when her head does and she clicks by smoothly pressing a special device on her hands," Rana Konqar, her occupational therapist at the centre, told IRIN, noting how new technologies were helping physically disabled children to improve their lives.

In the same classroom, some children enjoy playing games with the computers while others practise their school subjects.

"They can practise their reading, do their homework and they practise other school subjects," Selam Jalal, teacher for the second grade, told IRIN, explaining that they individually studied each case to find out the most suitable way for children to use the PCs. "Through the use of computers they can study and further develop their skills. For instance, some of them can't hold a pen for writing, but with the computer writing is easier," Jalal added.

Massimo Fusato, programme manager with the Italian NGO Associaizione Volontari per il Servizio Internazionale (AVSI), which is implementing the project in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), explained that the use of computers was having a direct impact on children's self-esteem.

"They study and further develop their skills as well as improving their own perception. They feel they are able to do something recognised by other people, which is very good for their self-esteem," Fusato told IRIN.

Statistics show that there are 7,150 children in Jordan living with physical disabilities. However, the Al-Hussein Society only reaches 1,000 of them in centres throughout the country.

The centre that this society runs in the west of Amman is one of the largest for the physically challenged in Jordan, with places for 96 children. Other than education, it also offers a wide range of activities, including medical rehabilitation, outreach programmes and special workshops for disabled women. The society aims to equip the children with skills they need to integrate and eventually to attend ordinary schools if possible.

According to the law, government schools are obliged to accept physically challenged children, Eman Abu-Rous, executive director of the Al-Hussein Society, told IRIN. But in reality someone like Hadeel would find it difficult, he said.

"When our kids leave here to go to regular schools they face several problems. They don't have ramps, lifts or bathrooms adapted for the disabled, which makes it impossible for our kids to attend regular schools," Rous explained, noting that further cooperation with ministries was required to integrate these people into society.

Rous also hopes that giving the children such training will help them gain employment in the future. "We work with computer companies to cooperate with them on raising awareness on employing disabled people," she said. "But we still have a long way to go and we hope they [the disabled] will eventually become increasingly integrated into society and have more opportunities."

According to Jordanian law, in every private company with over 50 employees, 2 percent of the workforce should be made up of those with physical disabilities. However, the law hasn't been widely implemented so far, Tania Jordan, poverty analyst with UNDP, said.

"It is not clear what kind of support the government would provide to these companies. For example, if they need any extra facilities a disabled person would need it is not clear who would accommodate or support such changes," Jordan told IRIN. "For the company it's an extra cost. That's why they don't really implement this law," she said.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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