Symposium draws attention to challenges, opportunities of people with special needs

The Special Needs Committee at Birzeit University, together with the Star Mountain Rehabilitation Center, held a symposium to raise awareness on the social and economic realities of people with special needs on Tuesday, October 16, 2018. 

The symposium, “People with Special Needs: Disability Between the Reality and the Future,” featured Azim Assaf, head of the Special Needs Committee and a professor of English language and literature at Birzeit University; Riham Sama’neh, a representative of the Star Mountain Rehabilitation Center; and Ziad Amro, a special needs activist and member of the Independent Commission for Human Rights. 

Assaf gave a brief overview of the Special Needs Committee, saying that for the past 10 years, the committee has been bridging the gap between students with special needs and their colleagues, and adapting the environment to their needs. 

During his talk, Assaf noted that there are two aspects to the support for students with special needs: the tangible part, and the emotional part. The tangible part means the actual physical equipment, devices, and services that the committee offers the students, such as braille embossers, desktop and laptop computers, fixed and mobile text magnifiers, portable braille note-takers with braille displays,  voice devices that record and play lecture recordings and text files, text magnification software, and print-to-braille-conversion software. 

He remarked that the committee also offers spaces where special needs students can obtain these services: the Special Needs Lab in the Faculty of Arts, and the Special Needs Resources Room in the main library. 

The intangible part, Assaf added, is the emotional support provided by the committee and the Birzeit community as a whole for its students. The committee, he said, offers group activities, trips, and guidance and counseling. 

On her part, Sama’neh introduced the attendees to the services offered by the Star Mountain Rehabilitation Center, a non-governmental institution operating since 1981. The center provides rehabilitation, training, and societal integration services to people with mental disabilities of both genders and all ages through a multitude of programs, Sama’neh told the attendees. She added that the center presently serves 190 people, 80 of them hosted inside the center. 

Amro discussed the concept of disability, the challenges faced by people with special needs, and their rights in local and international laws. A person with special needs, he clarified, is someone who is facing difficulties that coincide with challenges or impediments, which can be classified into three types: financial challenges, social challenges, and institutional challenges.