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Disability in the Arab Countries: Time to Promote Identity Awareness8 min read

Disability in the Arab Countries: Time to Promote Identity Awareness

Disability is a multi-dimensional development and human rights issue, and many people with disabilities are consistently left out of development gains.

Excluding people with disabilities from social and economic activities has negative consequences not only on the individuals concerned but also on their families and community. 

Discriminatory attitudes limit their full participation in society and contribute to a rise in inequality.

This article examines identity disability in the Arab countries and Its purpose of opening the door to new ideas and initiatives that will help identity disability development in their communities. 

This article attempts to articulate the importance of disability identity, culture, and acceptance while advocating for the inclusion of disability culture in the conversation about diversity and inclusion.

Raising identity awareness is an essential step towards integration and accommodation of people with disabilities into the labor market and ensuring participation in all aspects of life, including education, vocational rehabilitation, and employment.

The general condition of people with disabilities in Arab societies is invisibility.

old building facade with arabic ornament in town
Photo by Maria Orlova on

The percentage of people with disabilities in Arab countries is unrealistic and does not reflect the actual situation.

One billion people of the world population are estimated to be living with a disability, which is increasing. By contrast, Arab countries report the comparatively low prevalence of disability, ranging from 0.4 to 4.9 percent of the population, which evidences widespread differences and difficulties in data collection, research, and analysis.

One of the main challenges facing recognizing the rights of people with disabilities in the region is identifying disability itself. Without accurate and reliable data on the size, scope, types, prevalence, and causes of disability, there can be no appropriate services or programs and no proper response to the needs.

Additionally, the wars and armed conflicts in which the region has been embroiled for many years have directly affected some countries more than others.

More than 10 million people have been displaced in the Middle East since 2011, many fleeing active conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Sudan, and Libya. Not surprisingly, disabilities are more prevalent among groups escaping war than the estimated 15% of the world’s population living with some form of disability.

The countries in the region vary both to a greater and lesser extent from each other in social, political, and economic characteristics. Those characteristics affect how the governments and society respond to disability and people with disabilities in those countries.

Efforts are constantly being made to build the capacity of, strengthen and support civil society organizations in the Arab world.

Poverty and disability are inextricably linked and form a vicious cycle; therefore, without ensuring inclusion and involving people with disabilities in every aspect of social life, it is unlikely that all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be met. 

Most governments in the Arab States region have signed or ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Thus far, many governments across the region have cited disability inclusion as a priority in Universal Periodic Reviews of Voluntary National Reviews.

Disability as a Cultural Identity

Identity and diversity represent both a challenge and a richness in Arab countries. The cultural and social norms constitute both an advantage and a disadvantage for people with disabilities.

There are also issues specific to the culture that has affected women with disabilities in many countries.

Women with disabilities do not stand a chance. They are not considered marriageable, and often their non-disabled siblings are also overlooked in marriage because of association.

Naturally, all these factors in people with disabilities would affect how identity is dealt with and the social and official attitudes towards identity development.

Disabilities come in many degrees of visibility. Although it may seem that only those with hidden disabilities can play the game of ‘passing,’ all people with disabilities are socially pressured to cover their differences and emphasize their normality. Some work through life to prove their validity at the cost of burn-out, fear of failure, and, ultimately, the lack of a comfortable identity.

Within modern societies—where people often interact with others they do not personally know—the ability to provide trusted proof of your identity is essential to daily life.

Fear of judgment, denial, embarrassment and ignorance is why people with disabilities do not disclose, discuss, or seek understanding of their disabilities.

A crucial case of the human quest for integration is identity development.

The inclusion of the identity of people with disabilities within a broader cultural and development context will help people with disabilities to develop a clear positive, healthy, and cultural identity.

Redefinition of self and reconfiguration of relationships to others and society improve integration as a foundation for identity.

Therefore, for inclusion to be effective, a wholesale change is necessary for our communities.

Identity development for integration on both individual and group levels. In the context of minority identity development, the steps toward achieving a sound disability identity concern intrapsychic, interpersonal, and social dynamics.

“Identity development for integration on both individual and group levels. In the context of minority identity development, the steps toward achieving a sound disability identity concern intrapsychic, interpersonal, and social dynamics.” Dr. LaMondre Pough, CEO of Billion Strong.
Four types of integration underlying disability identity development are delineated with examples: (1) ‘coming to feel we belong’ (integrating into society); (2) ‘coming home’ (integrating with the disability community); (3) ‘coming together’ (internally integrating our sameness and differentness); and (4) ‘coming out’ (integrating how we feel with how we present ourselves).

Marginalized communities should also be struggled to resolve central dilemmas informing people with disabilities identity. People with disabilities must dazzle others with their valuable worth.

Debra Speaking at Huawei
Debra ruh

“Let us take care of women and let us take care of women with disabilities. Why don’t we all be deliberate about including everyone? For example, let us partner with women engineers to make sure they are celebrating disabled women engineers; that is important. I am going to work on it through the Billion Strong Movement, but we will use the community movement. What do I mean by that? Hundreds of great partners are already like to support and help us”. Debra Ruh, CEO and founder of Ruh Global IMPACT.

To affirm the disability experience as a positive and essential feature of identities, people with disabilities must separate and individuate from a parent culture that fears and devalues disability.

Integration between an intimate knowledge of self and the ideal image that people with disabilities wish to present to others is one of the final thresholds to positive disability identity. To feel sufficiently comfortable to ‘be oneself unwaveringly, regardless of circumstances, is a late-stage identity accomplishment for anyone. It is a particularly significant accomplishment for socially oppressed and marginalized minority groups.

The ‘coming out process is often the last step toward disability identity in a path that begins with a desire to find a place in society, continues with a discovery of one’s place in a community of peers, and builds to an appreciation and acceptance of one’s whole self-complete with disability.

Viewed another way, these steps travel a liberating arc away from society and back, moving from a desire for social integration, through a distancing from mainstream society to focus on both group affiliation and personal integration, to a renewed effort to relate to community from a position of greater self-definition. Read more details “Carol J. Gill, Four types of integration in disability identity development, Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation.”

The Arab Region needs to adopt a national identity strategy and plan of action and increase public awareness and understanding.

Policies and programs to promote an inclusive environment for people with disabilities are limited and need to be strengthened.

Formulating policies and programs to integrate individuals with disabilities into all aspects of social and economic life, including access to health services, education, employment, and participation in civil society and decision-making, is economically beneficial not only for the individuals concerned but also for the individuals concerned to the community in general. 

timelapse cityscape photography during night time
Photo by Kostiantyn Stupak on

Despite some progress over the last decade, public policies in some Arab countries do not yet promote a positive identity for people with disabilities. 

Public policies and programs on the identity development of disabilities are not well developed or systematically implemented in the region. 

Different types of inclusive education and employment policies and programs are starting to emerge in some of the countries in the region, mainly as part of national quality enhancement agendas or strategic plans.  However, these efforts remain limited in scope.

Final Words:

Everyone has multiple identities; while specific identities may be more important to each of us than others, they are part of who we are. Identities help people make sense of different and distinct features of their self-concepts.

For people with disabilities, and identity should contain relevant content and goals linked to disability. In effect, disability identity should guide people with disabilities towards what to do, what to value and how to behave in those situations where their disability stands out and those where it is not salient.

About the Authors

Nabil Eid

Nabil Eid

Director of Global ICT Accessibility and Inclusion, Ruh Global IMPACT 

His role as the CIO is to help set and lead the ICT accessibility strategy for Ruh Global IMPACT. Nabil has held several positions and worked with numerous NGOs, civil society networks, UN agencies, governments, private sector, and grassroots organizations to successfully create positive change at global, regional, and national levels.

With 20+ years of experience in disability inclusion strategies and ICT4D marginalized communities. Providing counseling, research, evaluation & monitoring, and ICT accessibility solutions and assistive technology services. Author of 8 books about disability inclusion and ICT accessibility

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