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Activist gets things moving for Jordan’s accessibility

By Camille Dupire - Nov 23,2017 - Last updated at Nov 23,2017

Aya Aghabi poses for a group photo with the high school and college students working to establish the NGO ‘Jordan Disability Foundation’ in Amman recently (Photo courtesy of Aya Aghabi)

AMMAN — When she was first interviewed by The Jordan Times two months ago, Aya Aghabi, a 26-year-old wheelchair user, had launched the website Accessible Jordan, which aims to raise awareness on accessibility in the Kingdom, only three days before, trying to kill time over the holidays. 

Far from the idea of starting a national campaign on accessibility, she was simply trying to improve the daily quality of life of physically impaired people like her. 

"I am so happy with all the changes that have happened over the past two months and the amount of awareness we were able to raise together with the community we have built," she told The Jordan Times, adding "it was truly overwhelming. I didn't expect such a huge impact”.

Since September, a number of places have reached out to Aghabi, informing her about newly installed ramps or accessible arrangements they set up at their facilities after reading about her story. 

"Many NGOs got in contact with me, as well as support groups, schools and businesses," she recalled, noting that the interest has not stopped growing, with dozens of new locations reaching out to her every week. 

Starting off with its main Shmeisani branch and HQ buildings, Bank Al Etihad's group has since announced plans to make its 44 branches accessible by the end of the year, according to Nour Taher, customer experience manager.

“Her website made me realise how we weren’t accessible as a bank. So we kicked off a project to make banking more accessible to demographics that used to be left aside, to make it inclusive for all," she told The Jordan Times, noting that 22 branches have been equipped with ramps so far, including five in governorates outside Amman. 

The Alliance School, one of the few inclusive schools in Jordan, also invited the young woman to visit their establishment, showing her the various arrangements available for children with disabilities.

They offered Aghabi to partner to spread awareness on the issue of inclusion of children with disabilities, while King’s Academy voiced its support to her awareness campaign.

Meanwhile, a team of young high school and college students invited her to discuss their plan to start their own NGO, the “Jordan Disability Foundation”, to raise awareness on accessibility in Jordan.

“I was amazed because none of these 25 kids has a disability, but they were all so eager to help and work on accessibility in Jordan,” she recalled.

“It was so great to see that so many people are now discussing the issue. Before, nobody used to talk about it, but now, everyone is sending me pictures, telling me about accessible places they find and initiatives they launched. With all those tips, I have been creating a national database that will hopefully give way to more institutionalised changes,” the young woman said.

Spago restaurant was also one of the first venues to implement changes to their facilities after the publication of the article. “The first time Aya came here, I felt so bad that she couldn’t access the place easily, so I promised her I would instal a ramp. Now, we are working on building accessible toilets which should be ready by Saturday,” said Ali Goussous, Spago’s general manager.

He commended Aghabi’s initiative, noting that “since people learned that our restaurant was accessible, we have had so many new customers coming and telling us how happy they were to be able to dine somewhere easy to enter,” he said, remembering a newly married couple both with physical disabilities, who started coming regularly.

“I discovered that there are a lot of amazing people ready to make things change,” said Aghabi, citing a team of local athletes who ran the Amman marathon wearing t-shirts to promote Accessible Jordan. 

Citing the flood of messages she has been receiving daily on social media, she said: “It makes me feel good to see that the website has been helping people. I get messages from parents thanking me for opening new horizons to their children, telling me they now have many options of entertainment to choose from.”

“Ultimately, I think you just need to put a face on the issue, this is what makes people realise the reality of things,” Aghabi commented.

However, she stressed the lack of information available on the issue, noting that some people come to ask her for advice on how to equip their venues. 

“I tried looking for information myself but it is almost impossible to find anything online regarding dimensions of ramps, technical requirements and so on. So, I have just been studying the American Disability Act to be able to give people engineering tips,” she explained. 

 

“The plan now is to register as a non-profit business and to get funding for future projects to make all of Jordan more accessible,” she said, noting that she wants to “take her time to narrow down the possibilities as she has been flooded with offers from people contacting her about tourism, schools and businesses projects”.

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