Friday, April 24, 2009

People with disabilities, advocates gather in Qatar to push for more employment opportunities

From the Voice of America:

A host of famous personalities came to the Gulf state, Qatar, to highlight the obstacles faced by people with disabilities. Cherie Blair, the former British first lady, Olympian Carl Lewis and Hou Bin, China's Paralympic high jumper, were on hand to challenge the belief that people with disabilities are not employable.

Ibrahim al-Hammadi says he is not that different from other boys his age. He likes hanging out with his friends. He is soon to finish high school and he is looking forward to the future.

His learning disability does make him somewhat different from other people. But he says that should not stop him from achieving his dreams.

He says he hopes to be a security guard, because he want to give back to his family who has given him so much support. A desire to sweep away the barriers to employment for people with physical and learning disabilities brought al-Hammadi and hundreds of other people to the Achieving Independence forum in Qatar.

Olympian Carl Lewis campaigns for people with disabilities. He says the problem lies with the public, at large.

"People think 'Oh my goodness, they may get hurt or they may have problems or they can't handle it,'" Lewis said. "But just because they have an intellectual disability doesn't mean they can't do a lot of things . They can be involved in sports, activities and jobs."

Cathy Meade has Down's Syndrome (pictured). She knows she can contribute. She has found a job and, through that, independence.

"Being independent means something different for everyone," Meade said. "For me, being independent means taking the bus to and from work, taking care of my dog, Buddy, traveling around the world, going out with my friends on my own. I showed that somebody with a disability can be a leader."

The World Health Organization says roughly 600 million people worldwide have disabilities. Eighty percent of them live in developing nations where disabilities are often viewed as shameful. British former first lady Cherie Blair, a rights advocate, spoke at the conference. She says accepting the reality of disabilities is the first step towards inclusion.

"I know in the Middle East that this has been something that has been behind closed doors," Blair said. "So families have had disabled children, but they have been left to cope with it very much on their own. And, it is not something that has been talked about. This doesn't happen only in the Middle East. This is a problem across the world."

Chinese Paralympic high jumper Hou Bin says he came to the meeting to show kids that being different is not anything to be ashamed about. He says people often only see the disability and not the person and that it is time to realize the value and contribution a disabled person can provide.

Al-Hammadi says events like this one have helped him believe in himself. In one program, he trained as a security guard. Now, a local company is planning to hire him when he completes high school later this year. He says he hope people see him and realize that people with disabilities can contribute.

Organizers say getting people with disabilities into the workforce will not only help them achieve independence, it will foster greater inclusion in the larger society.