Birzeit University symposium sheds light on challenges, prospects of persons with special needs

The Committee for Persons with Special Needs at Birzeit University has provided services and support for students with special needs for the past 10 years, both on and off campus.

Its services include the provision of specially-prepared books, labs, and rooms that meet the needs of the special needs community at the university, as well as the raising of awareness on the realities and challenges students with special needs face. 

As part of their awareness activities, on Tuesday, December 4, 2018 - marking the International Day of Disabled Persons, the committee held a symposium - that reviewed the challenges and prospects of people with special needs both at Birzeit University and in the broader Palestinian community. 

Entitled “Persons with Special Needs: The Present and the Future,” the symposium featured Henry Giacaman, the vice president for academic affairs at Birzeit University, who emphasized the importance of taking into consideration the needs of persons with special needs, noting that while the university designs buildings, activities, and academic content with them in mind, a lot more can be done both by the university and by the broader community. 

“I admire the strength and courage of our special needs students, who insist on exercising their right to education and gaining the skills that the 21st century demands,” said Giacaman. “They are active members of the community that contribute to its development and advancement. I am sure that they will be prominent ambassadors of Birzeit University when they graduate and achieve great things in their respective fields.” 

Azim Assaf, head of the Persons with Special Needs Committee and a professor of English language and literature at Birzeit University, noted how the committee subsumed the various efforts to meet the needs of the special needs community at the university into itself and began to offer support to the students through an organized, university-wide framework. 

The committee, Assaf added, works to achieve a number of objectives, mainly: to create a collegiate environment that is friendly to persons with special needs - one that gives them the same rights as other students - and reinforce their independence, bolster their confidence, and build their skills so that they fulfill their roles as active contributors to the community.

“The special needs students at Birzeit University are characterized by their high levels of confidence and their belief in the importance of their roles as members of the Palestinian community,” commented Assaf, adding that special needs students excel in their academic and social lives at the university, and figure significantly in building and forming their local communities. 

Assaf, noting the importance of Birzeit University’s open and accepting atmosphere in shaping the leaders of the future, called for the introduction of policies related to persons with special needs - both students, and faculty and staff members - and the inclusion of those policies in the university-wide strategy. Additionally, he called for the establishment of a special needs unit at the university and for raising awareness among the university’s community on persons with special needs and the obstacles they face. 

The symposium also featured a film - produced by the Public Relations Office - on the Committee for Persons with Special Needs and the university life of special needs students and faculty members, as well as a musical performance by Shurooq and Maher Shaf’i, two special needs Birzeit University alumni.  

Additionally, the symposium included speeches by Ahmad Fteiha, a professor of education at Birzeit University; Laila Atshan, an international psychology expert; Ehsan Edkaidek, a disability rights activist and director of the Arab Society for the Disabled; and Thair Odeh, chair of the Department of Audiology and Speech Therapy, on the realities, challenges, and prospects of persons with special needs at Birzeit University and in the Palestinian community.