Her Excellency Sheikha Jameela bint Mohammad Al Qasimi, Director General of Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services, has confirmed that simplified reading, or so-called in English language (Easy Read) is a method the city seeks to establish in the Arab world as a method of easy reading such as Braille or Physical or audio books, etc. This method aims to provide information to people with intellectual disabilities and those with learning difficulties and enable them to have easy access to knowledge using simple and uncomplicated vocabulary and pictures that help to understand the content. The city does all of this within specific criteria.
This came in the speech delivered by Her Excellency Sheikha Jameela Al Qasimi on Wednesday, May 26, 2021 at the opening of the Al Manal Forum (Simply. Easy Read and Disability), which the city organized to celebrate the entry of Al Manal magazine in its new year. It is the first monthly magazine of its kind that has maintained its continuity, stability and development, which Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services has been issuing monthly since May 1987. . Today, it has become 35 years old, working for a better future for society in general and for persons with disabilities and their families in particular.
International specialists from 12 Arab and foreign countries participated in the forum to address the challenges facing accessible books through capacity building, formation of a network of partners, and implementation of initiatives.
The editor-in-chief of Al-Manal magazine pointed to the great effort made by the city’s team during the preparation for the forum, consulting experts, holding workshops, qualifying cadres, and preparing documents in a simplified reading manner. The most important of these documents are those that help employees with mental disabilities to know their rights and duties.
On this occasion, Sheikha Jameela announced the launch of the Arab Standards Document for Easy Read from Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services after returning to different international standards. This document came because of the workshops in which a group of specialists from different Arab countries participated. She confirmed that the document is available on the city’s website, in addition to a number of Easy Read documents for use.
She also announced the launch of a new service provided by the city aimed at various institutions to simplify documents in order to reach those with intellectual disabilities and learning difficulties.
The Director General of Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services mentioned the memory of Mr. Osama Nadim Mardini, who worked as managing editor of Al Manal Magazine in its paper form and then electronic for more than twenty five years. He passed away last March, after great achievements, which established quality practices in the organization of conferences, publishing and raising awareness.
She expressed her hope that the participation today will affirm the right of persons with intellectual disabilities and learning difficulties to obtain knowledge. It is just common sense to enable them to have this right. She also expressed her hope that the participation in the forum will be a quantum leap in enabling people with intellectual disabilities and learning difficulties in the Arab world to have their right to access knowledge independently and easily, thus enhancing their role in community development.
She thanked the sponsors of the forum (Sharjah National Oil Corporation, JEPCA and Mega Mall) for their continuous support to the activities of the city. She also thanked the artist Raouf Kray for volunteering to design the forum's logo. Stressing that the city will continue to work in cooperation with partners to promote and define the concept of simplified reading so that it can be a daily practice in various institutions in order to reach comprehensive inclusion for all segments of society.
Speech of the President of the Emirates Writers Union
After that, the guest of the forum, the Emirati writer, Sultan Al Amimi, President of the Emirates Writers and Authors Union, delivered a speech in which he confirmed his happiness in attending this cultural event associated with an important segment of society. He thinks that the services provided by Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services in all fields deserve full respect and appreciation.
Al-Amimi explained that the city's interest in the topic of simplified reading directed to people with intellectual disabilities and learning difficulties is an indication of high-level of professionalism. He pointed to the importance of employing technology in achieving this goal due to the great importance that reading represents in the renaissance and progress of society. He praised the civilized character of the Emirate of Sharjah and the United Arab Emirates in a way to serve all segments of society.
The speech of self-advocate, Sheikha Al Qasimi
For her part, the self-advocate Sheikha Al Qasimi, the representative of self-advocates in Inclusion International for the Middle East and North Africa MENA, gave a speech in which she thanked all the participants of the Al Manal forum and their interest in the rights of persons with disabilities, including the right to easy access to knowledge through simple reading.
She explained that the United Nations always urges everyone to support the rights of persons with disabilities in all areas and achieve the principle of equality. She stressed that empowering persons with intellectual disabilities in the field of knowledge contributes to achieving their independence and learning more about their capabilities.
At the conclusion of the forum, participants emphasized the importance of (Easy Read) and raising awareness of the need to include it among the means of easy access to knowledge for people with disabilities in local and federal laws. They also asked to provide a service for preparing simple reading documents in Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services to support government departments and institutions in Sharjah and the state. This would support accessible content and simplify government documents and transactions, instructions and laws
The recommendations also affirmed the training of workers with persons with intellectual disabilities and learning difficulties or institutions that direct their services to people with intellectual disabilities to acquire skills for preparing simplified reading documents. They should publish the Arabic standards for simple reading that Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services worked on for reference in preparing Arab simplified documents. They should update it periodically, which will be available on the city website.
In addition to empowering persons with intellectual disabilities and self-advocates of their role in the process of preparing simplified reading documents, and inviting publishers' unions and associations in the Arab world to find and create mechanisms and means of support for publishing houses and institutions working to produce accessible books. Especially in the simplified reading method.
The activities of the forum started with a session under the title (Simplified Reading in Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services) during which specialists discussed the outcomes of simplified reading in the city and the concept of simplified reading and its importance and awareness of the need to include it within the means of access to knowledge for people with disabilities. This contributes to empowering them cognitively, socially and economically and enhancing their independence.
Martin Dibson - Director of Easy Read Online Limited - from the United Kingdom, Dr. Suzan Abu Ghaida - Researcher and Academic - from Lebanon, and Muhammad Al Nabulsi - Technical Operations Officer - Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services - UAE talked in this session, which witnessed fruitful discussions with the audience.
Eilish Hardley, Self-Advocacy Coordinator - Inclusion International - UK, moderated the second session. It discussed the question of listening to persons with disabilities and the importance of listening to them and the techniques followed to provide accessible books in particular.
In this session, Mrs. Mona Abdul Karim Al Yafei, Director of Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services, artist Raouf Karay, painter and designer of tangible books from Tunisia, Dr. Loburga Froehlich - Managing Director of Atempo GmbH - in Austria and Mark Marimba, Representative of Self-Advocates in the Africa Region of Inclusion International (Malawi) spoke.
The session discussed a set of questions related to the reality of easy-to-read books, their users, and standards for easy reading. In addition to successful practical experiences in easy reading around the world, the role of people with intellectual disabilities in the process of simplifying reading and their willingness to buy or acquire accessible books for the purpose of education and ease of access to information.
Third Session (Commercial Solutions for Accessible Books)
Within the third session (Commercial Solutions for Accessible books), speakers discussed the eligibility of publishing houses to actually work with accessible books and their need for specialized institution initiatives. Moderated by Professor Muhammad Nabulsi, speakers were Iman Bin Shaiba - Editor-in-Chief of Sail Electronic Magazine - Vice President of the Emirates Publishers Association, Alexia Black, a trainer in easy reading and a consultant at Inclusion International from New Zealand, and Lyndall Thomas, Founder and General Manager of Foundation the Information Access group from Australia. In addition to Nabil Eid, an International Researcher and Expert on Accessibility and Assistive Technology from Syria, and Paula Gilonchi, Lawyer And Human Rights Defender, Co-Founder and President of Visibilia, from Argentina.