A few months ago, I was contacted by a person from the UK who uses an electric wheelchair and was interested in visiting Jordan. He heard about Accessible Jordan from a friend and thought I could help him in planning his trip. One of his biggest concerns was finding accessible transportation because he uses a power wheelchair that does not fold and weighs about 150 kg, and needs one that has a ramp so he can get in and out of the vehicle easily. We spent a month contacting every disability organization and individuals with disabilities in Jordan asking if they know any person or place that might have an accessible vehicle he can use during his trip with no success. We only found one tour bus but the cost to rent it was too high. Unfortunately, the person had to cancel his plans to come to Jordan because of this issue. This experience opened my eyes to a major issue facing the disability community in Jordan, especially people with physical disabilities, that is the lack of accessible transportation.
In Jordan, it is crucial for all people to have cars or use public transportation to be able to get from one place to another. For people with physical disabilities, this is a major issue, especially people who must use electric wheelchairs and can’t transfer themselves in and out of normal vehicles. Many people fall under this category, such as people who have spinal cord injuries, ALS, MS, cerebral palsy and more. A lot of these people can only use electric wheelchairs that are not foldable and do not fit in smaller cars and as a result would need vehicles equipped with ramps. In these cases, it is very difficult for such people to even rely on public transportation or companies such as Uber and Careem, as none offer vehicles that are wheelchair accessible. For those interested in purchasing accessible vehicles, they must import such vehicles from abroad and hope they don’t have to pay a hefty amount in customs fees.
Accessible transportation is key for people with disabilities to be able to live independently and be integrated in their communities.
When I lived in California, the main reasons I was able to live independently were because I had a wheelchair accessible van and used an electric wheelchair. It was critical for me to purchase this car to be able to live independently because my electric wheelchair was not foldable and due to my physical disability, I can't transfer in and out of a car independently and so I bought a van that had a ramp for me to easily get in and out of the car. In addition, buses and trains were also equipped for wheelchairs making it easy for me to travel independently. I was able to go to work, hang out with my friends, go shopping and live my life more independently than I have before.
When I moved back to Jordan, I lost a lot of my independence because I was forced to use my manual chair since I no longer had my accessible van that can accommodate my electric wheelchair. I started having to depend on my family to drive me everywhere because they were the only people who knew how to transfer me in and out of a car and I began having to depend on people to push me around in my manual chair because my car didn't fit my electric wheelchair. I am one of many people in Jordan who faces this challenge daily.
It is important to point out that accessible transportation doesn’t only benefit people with disabilities. Elderly people and passengers that are temporarily encumbered in their movements, such as parents with small children, travellers with heavy luggage, pregnant women and injured people can all benefit from accessible transportation. It also benefits Jordan’s private and public sectors.
The lack of accessible transportation prohibits a big portion of the world’s population from visiting Jordan. We can boost Jordan’s tourism dramatically by increasing the availability of accessible transportation to various tourism sites. For example, by offering wheelchair accessible carts in Petra or accessible tour buses to Madaba or other tourist attractions in the country, we can encourage more people to visit Jordan.
Increasing the availability of accessible transportation can result in great socio-economic benefits in Jordan. It can result in economic growth as more people in Jordan will be able to work reducing the unemployment rate and improving labor force participation, earn an education and contribute to their communities. This will improve social inclusion as well as reduce the stigma attached to disability and reshape discriminatory and stereotypical views of disability. In addition, there will be a boost in tourism as more tourists will be able to travel around Jordan resulting in employment growth in industries producing goods and services for the tourism sector like wholesalers or the manufacturing industry.