May 23, 2021

On Wednesday, May 26, 2021, Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services organizes the Al Manal Forum (Simply. Easy Reading and Disability) through the Zoom app and the live broadcast feature on YouTube.

International specialists from 12 Arab and foreign countries will participate in the forum.  In addition, the self-advocate Sheikha Al Qasimi, will participate as the representative of self-advocates in Inclusion International for the Middle East and North Africa MENA.  She is the keynote speaker of the opening ceremony.  Mark Marimba, Representative of Self-Advocates in the Africa Region of Inclusion International (Malawi), will take part in addressing the challenges facing accessible books through capacity building, formation of a network of partners, and implementation of initiatives.

Simplified reading is a way to present information to people with learning difficulties and those with intellectual disabilities using simple and uncomplicated vocabulary and the use of appropriate graphic images that help the reader to understand the content of each paragraph through a clear design.  It is a type of easy reading.

Among the most important documents in which needs easy reading methods are (Introductory Guides such as introducing the institution's services), (Government Procedures and Evidence (such as how to obtain a service), (Laws and Instructions such as the rights and duties of the tenant), (Textbooks), (various information).

The International Forum, which is the first of its kind in the field of easy reading locally and in the Arab world, emphasizes the importance of easy reading and raising awareness of the need to include it among the means of access to knowledge for people with disabilities in local and federal laws.  This contributes to empowering people with disabilities cognitively, socially and economically, and enhancing their independence, based on the items stipulated in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services has been organizing the Al Manal Forum periodically since 1997.  It has dealt with a major topic that has not been addressed or discussed before, believing in the necessity of discussing it and uncovering the challenges it poses while proposing appropriate solutions.

The city organizes (Al Manal Forum) to celebrate the entry of Al Manal magazine in its new year, and 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.  The magazine continued in paper form until issue 259 of December 2011 and electronic until today.  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.

The beginning of the Al Manal forums was in 1997 with the Al Manal symposium (Present and Future and Al Manal Poetry Competition). Then, Al Manal Forum for Special Creativity (Artistic Illuminations) came in 1999.  In the year 2000, the city organized the Most Beautiful Pictures Competition for the Disabled and a Photography Course.  Then a course in Press Directing in 2001. Al Manal Forum in 2003 carried the slogan (Literature and Disability), (Cinema and Disability) in 2005, then (Media and Disability) in 2006, (TV and Disability) in 2008, (Theater and Disability) in 2010, and (Disability and Social Media) in 2012, (Disability and Child Literature ... The Three Apples) in 2014. In 2017, the Forum carried the slogan (Remotely ... Disability and Sports Media).

Her Excellency Sheikha Jameela bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Director General of the City, will deliver a speech at the opening of the International Forum, followed by a speech by Emirati writer Sultan Al Amimi, President of the Emirates Writers Union. Then, Self-advocate, Sheikha Al Qasimi, representative of self-advocates in Inclusion International for the Middle East and North Africa MENA will deliver a speech.

Three Themes

The international forum includes three main themes. The first would discuss (Simplified Reading in Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services) the outputs of simplified reading in the city and the concept of simplified reading and its relationship with inclusive and accessible books.  In addition, to reviewing the results of the workshops on simplified reading and presenting some examples of simplified reading documents in the city.

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 will address this topic.

Eilish Hardley, Self-Advocacy Coordinator - Inclusion International - UK, will moderate the second session.  It will discuss 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.

Questions ... Need answers

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) will speak.

They will discuss a set of questions.  The most prominent of which is, what is the reality of easy-to-read books? Who actually uses it? Are there clear and consistent criteria for easy reading? Are there practical successful easy reading experiences in the world? To what extent does persons with intellectual disabilities have a role in the process of simplifying reading? Do persons with disabilities accept the purchase or acquisition of accessible books for the purpose of education only, or for the purpose of knowledge?

Commercial Solutions for Accessible Books

Within the third session (Commercial Solutions for Accessible books), speakers will present alternatives and material challenges that address the problem of the large financial cost behind the production of accessible books.  They will talk about the reality that there is an actual publication of accessible books for people with disabilities or not, and the possibility for publishing houses to issue an easy-to-read version of their most selling books, and whether publishing houses deal with accessible books as a form of community support or as a profit-seeking product.

This topic also discusses the eligibility of publishing houses actually to work with accessible books and their need for the initiatives of specialized institutions. Do these initiatives have a specific stage that ends in a certain time, and is funding the only challenge in making these initiatives successful!

Moderated by Professor Muhammad Nabulsi, speakers will be 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.


During the forum, we will learn about the challenges that impede the development of the accessible book industry, prevent its progress and achieve the right of persons with disabilities to access knowledge.  Perhaps the most prominent of these challenges are:

There is a lack of scientific research in accessible book techniques directed at different disabilities other than visual impairments and weak skills in implementing accessible books.  The lack of documentation for the directions and guidelines of accessible books in the Arab world.  In addition to the lack of an information center or database in the Arab world or the world for accessible books, and the reluctance of Arab and international publishing houses to produce accessible books due to their weak commercial return.

Facing challenges

The forum aims to address the challenges facing accessible books through capacity building.  It is a short workshop program. Each workshop of a duration not exceeding two hours gives an overview of the workshop topic.  It introduces a specialized program of workshops that the city will present later.  In addition to forming a network of relationships through a one-day international symposium in which a group of experts and initiative owners in the field of accessible books will participate. It will conclude with the launch of initiatives by issuing simplified bookmaking directives through a session in which specialized experts will participate.

Capacity building in workshops

The date of the International Forum's workshops will be on Tuesday 25 May 2021, and participation is free of charge.  Translation is available in Arabic and English.

Martin Dobson - Founder of Easy Read Online Limited - in the United Kingdom will present the Simplified Reading workshop with the aim of introducing the Simplified Reading used with people with intellectual disabilities and learning difficulties.

Ms. Colette Bilt - Picture Books plus Foundation in the Netherlands, will present a workshop entitled (Picture Books) in which she will discuss early literacy theory, examples of techniques used, and experimental results with persons with intellectual disabilities. With the aim of introducing inclusive books aimed at children, and the image of persons with disabilities in them.

Certification fee for each workshop is 110 dirhams