Disability Rights Movement Makes Progress in Tunisia


Almost three years has passed since the Arab Spring began in Tunisia and people with disabilities are working as hard as ever to advance their rights and radically change the way people see disability in their country. Manel Mhiri, head of Handicap International’s LEAD (Leadership and Empowerment for Action on Disability) project in Tunisia, explains the steps taken so far and the challenges ahead for Tunisian society.

The old regime wasn’t interested in discussing the rights of people with disabilities. In fact, it didn’t want to hear about anyone’s rights. So people with disabilities faced the same challenges as everyone else in Tunisia.

Things have changed considerably since the fall of the old regime. People with disabilities have set up their own organizations and started to advocate for themselves. Seeing how much energy these organizations put into advancing their rights is probably what motivates me the most.

The disability movement is making its own way, we’re just here to assist them. Thanks to the efforts made since the elections of October 2011, measures have been put in place to ensure people with disabilities can vote, whether they’re in a wheelchair, visually impaired, deaf, or have another kind of disability. In February 2012, the movement went a step further by setting up the Tunisian Organization for the Advancement of the Rights of People with Disabilities (OTDDPH), which is leading the campaign to include an article on the rights of disabled people in the new constitution.

But it takes more than institutional reform to bring about change. If people with disabilities are going to alter the way they’re seen by society at large, they need to run campaigns in every town and village in the country and show through example that they shouldn’t be considered any differently from the rest of the population.  

The awareness-raising operations conducted by the OTDPH have helped to bring other people with disabilities on board. Abandoning the charity approach and showing people with disabilities that they can rise to the challenges ahead has given people hope. The people we meet are initially surprised that we’re interested in their rights, but they soon join in our efforts.

We’re aware that people with disabilities still have a lot of work to do to tackle the many forms of discrimination they still face.  For example, under the law, people with disabilities should make up a minimum of one per cent of a company’s workforce. However, this law is rarely implemented and that’s why we need to take stock of the situation.

We’re planning to launch 105 initiatives, in every field, to fight all forms of discrimination, one by one. And the solutions will come from those concerned by this discrimination—people with disabilities. Some solutions are simple, others are more complex, but I’m confident and convinced that the youth and energy of the disabled people’s movement will help us cover a lot of ground in a short space of time.

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