AMMAN—After spending years to get her postgraduate degree at Jordanian universities and working at Saudi institutions, Helena Hamad, a professor of educational psychology who uses a wheelchair, is left without a job.
“I am no less able than anyone. I obtained my bachelor’s and master’s degrees with honors from Yarmouk University,” she said. “After teaching in Saudi Arabia, I returned to Jordan and became jobless. Just because I am a special needs person.”
Hamad’s situation is similar to many Jordanians with special needs, who hold university degrees but have difficulty in finding job opportunities at Jordanian universities.
Last year, Hamad along with many of her colleagues have protested continuously in front of the prime minister’s office and the royal palaces, asking for equality in labor market.
“A representative from the Royal Diwan [The primary executive office of the king] promised to get back to us in 10 days, but nothing happened,” Hamad said.
As officials did not respond, the demonstrators began a strike in front of the American Embassy in Amman asking for asylum last October.
“After our protest at the American Embassy, the ministry of higher education promised us jobs,” said Mohamed Al-Tawalba, one of the blind protesters who has a Ph.D. in philosophy. “I was promised a job at the University of Jordan and I presented my documents there, but the university refused to hire me, without mentioning any reasons.”
Challenges and difficult conditions facing Jordanian university graduates with special needs are generally similar to those of other citizens with special needs, who still find difficulty integrating with the society and labor market, even though there is more than 600,000 of them and they represent about 13 percent of Jordanians, according to the Higher Council for the Affairs of Persons with Disabilities.
The Jordanian labor law, amended in 2010, obliges private and public sector institutions employing more than 50 persons to hire one employee with special needs. If the number of employees exceeds 50, the institution is obliged to hire persons with special needs equivalent to 4 percent of the total number of employees, according to the same law.
But the same law requires that the work environment should be suitable to those with special needs. Most employers use this pretext to avoid hiring persons with special needs, claiming that the nature of the job and the work environment is not suitable.
“The percentage of people with special needs employed in governmental institutions is not more than 1 percent,” stated a recent report by the Phenix Center for Economics & Informatics Studies, a non-governmental organization. The report, which was released December, stated that employees with special needs are abused in the workplace in some cases and having to work for up to 14 hours a day. Also, some employees with special needs work are paid below the minimum wage (USD $270) per month.
“We cannot force universities to hire people with special needs in the absence of a legal article enforcing this,” said Hany Al-Damour, secretary general of the ministry of higher education. “Hiring people with special needs at universities is a social responsibility and an ethical issue not a legal one, since laws don’t oblige universities to hire them.”
The ministry does not have accurate figures on the percentage of people with special needs working in universities or their total number. “Some universities hire a maximum of one or two employees with disabilities, while other universities employ none,” Al-Damour said.
Universities do not clearly state the reasons behind their refusal to hire persons with special needs, even though some of them have proven competence in teaching.
“People with special needs constitute an important social sector,” said Kamal El-Din Bani Hany, president of Hashemite University. “I am confident they can ably manage classrooms and efficiently teach university curricula.” Bani Hany recently approved the hiring of a blind professor.
But individual initiatives are not enough, analysts say. “We want to take up our normal rights as contributors to the society,” said Mohammed Al-Mostareehy, who is blind and holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Sharia. “We have to continue our protesting until we earn our rights,” he added.