The General Director of Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services (SCHS) Mrs. Mona Abdel Karim Al Yafei has appreciated the recommendations of The International Conference 2019 in Tunisia, which was organized by Djerba Branch of the Tunisian Union for the Help of Mentally Impaired Persons. The Union has organized the conference from January 11 to 13, in collaboration with SCHS, the International Federation of Integration, Tourism, and Recreation for All, Gulf Disability Society, and the Centre National Mohammed Vi des Handicapes.
Activating the laws and international conventions ratified by countries and not implemented was the main recommendation of the conference. The conference has confirmed the importance of issuing national regulations to grant the right of persons with disabilities to tourism and publishing a brochure containing universal design standards for facilities in order to grant accessibility to persons with disabilities.
In addition, the conference recommended the doubling of funds for the centers for persons with disabilities and raising workers in tourism and transportations awareness of the proper way to handle persons with disabilities. There is also a need to create a database for all tourist institutions qualified to host persons with disabilities. Moreover, governments must work in order to change the negative attitudes towards persons with disabilities throughout mass media, social media, and education. The tourist sector must recruit persons with disabilities among their staff. The sector must use the right to tourism as a means of integration and training for persons with disabilities, which grant them respect and preserve their dignity. To do this, they should organize special workshops with qualified cadres and use educational means that suits the needs of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities should also be involved in planning, implementing, and offering services to beneficiaries when it is possible. It is necessary to confirm the importance of rehabilitating means of transportation so persons with disabilities could use it easily.
The main objectives of the conference were integrating persons with disabilities throughout tourism, give those jobs in this field, identifying the challenges that face them in this field, and the need to rehabilitate and empower tourists’ institutions. There is a need also to improve the services offered to them in airlines and transportations in general by working to issue an Electronic Tourist Manual to persons with disabilities.
The conference received active participation from Inclusion International, International Labor Organization, UNICEF, Child Rights International Network, International Disability Alliance, International Federation of Integration, Tourism, and Recreation for All, Global Peace Games, the Tunisian Ministry of Social Affairs, and Ministry of Youths and Sports.
Notably, Mrs. Mona Abdel Karim presented a working paper in the conference under the title (Persons with Disabilities Tourism, Reality and Hopes). She has confirmed that modern societies have shown more understanding and care to persons with disabilities tourism and to providing all the requirements needed to achieve this goal due to its importance. This is a good reason for the institutions working in tourism in the Arab world to reconsider this matter, which needs a lot of professionalism and high quality services.
The working paper referred to the Federal Law No. (29) For 2006 regarding the rights of the disabled, as amended by Federal Law No. (14) For 2009. Article 20 and 21 of Chapter 2 and Chapter 4 on Public Life, Culture and Sports that stipulates that several measures must be taken by the state to achieve the participation of disabled persons in cultural, sports and recreational life. She also referred to the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the ninth Article, which focus on accessibility and enabling persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in every area of life.
Al Yafei talked about the role of Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services in the establishment of the International Union for Integration, Tourism and Recreation for all in November 2008. The union works to promote the idea of tourism for persons with disabilities at international level, create interaction, and strengthen ties of cooperation among different countries within the framework of Arab, regional, and international levels to achieve the principles of sustainable development.
Al Yafei has confirmed that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 15% of the world's population (more than 1 billion people) live with some form of disability. The World Tourism Organization affirms that everyone's access to tourists’ facilities, products, and services must be part of any responsible and sustainable tourism policy.
She spoke of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes 17 goals of sustainable development. Goal 11 focuses on the principles of "Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. She pointed out that this goal attracts tourists by calling for applying Universal Design and accessible transportation systems, comprehensive urbanization, and access to green areas and public spaces.
Mrs. Mona explained a number of procedures, which Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services does before visiting any destination inside or outside the country. First, SCHS determines the destination and inquires if there is any facilitation available according to disability type. Then, SCHS sends a person to this destination in order to see its readiness to host persons with disabilities and if the place is suitable for children with disabilities. Then, SCHS corresponds with the people responsible of these places to inform them of the number of visitors, types of disabilities, and accommodation requirements such as (hotels accessibility, food, and transportation. SCHS demands the presence of trained personnel in airports in order to deal with any emergency that may happen during the journey).
The General Director of SCHS mentioned some types of tourism organized by SCHS for its students with disabilities. It included cultural tourism such as cultural exchange program with AMASAT Center in the Kingdom of Morocco and religious tourism. SCHS has already organized five Umrah trips and one pilgrimage trip for its students. As for recreational tourism, it included a tourist trip to Matmata in Carthage, Tunisia and participating in the International Camp VIII for Persons with Disabilities in Morocco.
After that, Al Yafei presented a detailed explanation about Al Amal Camp in Sharjah, which SCHS has been organizing since 1986. This makes SCHS the first organization in the region to incorporate the principle of recreation as a means of developing persons with disabilities capabilities.
In addition, SCHS has organized a number of Sports Tourism such as the participation of SCHS athletes in UAE Special Olympics team competing in Los Angeles Paralympics in 2015. Moreover, UAE Special Olympics team took part in Shanghai China Paralympics in 2007. SCHS also organizes scientific tourism. For example, SCHS students visited the School of West Hartford for the Deaf – Connecticut to learn about teaching techniques. They also visited University of Gallaudet in Washington, D.C., in order to share experiences, enhance cooperation with SCHS’s Al Amal School for the Deaf in order to stay up to date with the developments in Educational field for the deaf.
In addition, the press has interviewed two of Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services students and asked them about recreational, scientific, and religious tourism.
To conclude, the General Director of SCHS stated a number of advantages for people with disabilities tourism such as increasing self-confidence, independence, knowledge through learning about other countries and cultures. It would enhance their self-advocacy, make them gain social skills, reach integration, making new friends, and motivate officials to make decisions that will improve the life of persons with disabilities by making buildings and public places accessible.