This month, HANDS welcomed a group of young Egyptian and Tunisian professionals to Chicago as a part of our Professional Fellows Program (PFP). The program, funded by the U.S. Department of State and other generous HANDS donors, aims to develop the skills of emerging leaders in the Arab world. The current group works on the economic empowerment of people with disabilities, an important task due to the fact that people with disabilities are one of the most marginalized groups in the Middle East.

With the help of HANDS’ local partner WorldChicago, each participant is placed in a three-week fellowship with a Chicago-based civil society or governmental organization that best fits their skills and goals. The host organizations, leaders in the field of disability rights and economic empowerment of people with disabilities, include: Access Living, Aspire Illinois, State of Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services, University of Illinois Chicago Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Second Sense, El Valor, Anixter Center, J.J.’s List, and Chicago Lighthouse.

One of the many inspiring fellows HANDS is pleased to be hosting is Mr. Amr Deabes. Amr is the CEO of the Ability Contact Center in Egypt, a call center that employs people with disabilities, including in management positions. He also actively advocates for increasing the range of employment for people with disabilities, arguing that they should not be limited to vocational employment alone.

Amr’s passion for empowering people with disabilities began when a friend was fired after becoming blind. Amr worked with his friend to help him learn to use assistive technology, so that eventually the friend successfully proved his ability to his employer and was rehired. Not long after this, Amr quit his job in the telecom industry to start the Ability Contact Center.

For his fellowship, Amr has been placed at Chicago Lighthouse, a non-profit organization that, among other services, expands job opportunities for the visually impaired and advocates for their rights in the judicial and education systems. Amr will work alongside Chicago Lighthouse staff to provide services to people with visual impairment in Chicago, while also learning about job expansion and training techniques used in the U.S. and brainstorming new mechanisms that can be employed in Egypt.

After their fellowships in Chicago, Amr and the ten other participants will travel to Washington, D.C. for the Professional Fellows Congress, where they will join nearly 200 other Professional Fellows from over 47 countries, attending professional development workshops, meeting with State Department officials, and presenting their important work during a public poster show at the conclusion of the Congress.

HANDS would like to thank the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, WorldChicago, the Chicago-based host organizations, and our global base of supporters for making it possible for these disability rights leaders to gain experience in the U.S. that can help improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities in the Middle East.


This story originally appeared in our May 2014 e-Newsletter. If you wish to stay informed about our programs and events, please join our mailing list.