December 10, 2007

Jordanian Disability Act - Symposium

Great news for the future of accessibility for disables. Hopefully we see Amman more democratic, giving the rights for everybody to enjoy the city: It's streets, parks, neighborhoods, and buildings.

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Symposium to highlight building codes

By Dalya Dajani

AMMAN - A new effort aimed at revitalising an important yet largely inactive law ensuring people with disabilities (PWD) a more accessible public environment will get under way in the capital today.

The two-day symposium, led by the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) and the Higher Council for the Affairs of People with Disabilities, is designed to help raise the profile and enforcement of special building codes across the country.

The Special Buildings Code Law, which obligates responsible entities to ensure specific designs for buildings for PWD, came into force in 1993 under the Law for the Welfare of Disabled Persons.

The law states that all public buildings and spaces should incorporate the necessary modifications to render them accessible for PWD.

This falls under Article 3 of the law, which stipulates the right of PWD into a suitable environment that allows them freedom of movement and transportation in a safe and secure manner.

The law supports the key basis behind the legislation, which calls for the integration of PWD into mainstream society by guaranteeing their rights to education, employment, rehabilitation, medical treatment and care.

Those responsible include municipalities, the Jordanian Construction Contractors Association (JCCA) and the Ministry of Public Works and Housing. Authorities at GAM and the Ministry of Public Works and Housing have made some changes to both existing and new infrastructure over the past few years such as roads, major traffic junctions and parks. Some buildings and hotels have also followed building requirements or modified existing structures to meet these needs.

The Ministry of Transport has also introduced buses that have a certain number of seats designated and specifically designed for physically challenged persons.

While these steps are positive, the general environment for PWD still remains weak.

Director of the special buildings code at GAM, Rana Haddadin, said ensuring an accessible and socially cohesive environment for PWD requires greater awareness and a stronger mechanism for enforcement.

“Despite the positive strides taken, enforcement of the law and implementation of these standards on a comprehensive scale has not happened,” said Haddadin.

“We need to bring all relevant authorities on board, raise awareness on the law and ensure that a mechanism is in place for enforcement,” she added.

Haddadin told The Jordan Times that the objective of today’s meeting is to actively engage partners, which include GAM, the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, representatives of other ministries, the JCCA and municipalities.

She said the latter is considered an important partner at a time when these changes are almost nonexistent in areas outside the capital where a large population of PWD still struggle to participate in society.

The Higher Council for the Affairs of People with Disabilities, the key authority on all issues related to PWD, is currently the main force in seeing these rights translated on the ground.

Enforcement of special buildings codes is among a number of issues set for implementation on the council’s action plan next year, which is essential for PWD to integrate into public life and to enjoy other rights guaranteed under the law such as employment and recreation.

Haddadin said while changing existing infrastructure is important, priorities are for new buildings and infrastructure.

“The action plan will address the needs for changes to both existing and new infrastructure, but the focus will be on new buildings, as implementation and enforcement will be be easier for those,” said Haddadin.

The complexities of modifying existing infrastructure include mechanisms and decisions as to who will finance the modification costs.

Some positive examples cited by the GAM official include the rehabilitation of Abu Huraira Street in east Amman, Al Taj road by Al Bashir Hospital and Shatt Al Arab and King Faisal roads in Um Uthaina. Others include the Zaha Centre in Tlaa Al Ali and King Hussein Park, which have been made accessible by GAM.

Haddadin said the two-day forum will include discussions on the current situation of infrastructure and the law’s requirements, while various entities will present working papers on their experiences in application of special building codes.

These include GAM, the Public Transport Regulatory Commission and the Local Building Council at the Ministry of Public Works and Housing. The ministries of municipal affairs, social development, education and tourism will also present their experiences in embracing the needs of PWD.

The participants are expected to present their recommendations at the end of the symposium.

Haddadin said she believed such important input and participation would pave the way for a new direction next year.

“Had the law been implemented properly in 1993, the Kingdom’s infrastructure would have looked very different today,” she said.

“However, I’m confident that these recommendations will be a starting point for new action next year,” she added.

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