The U.S. Constitution was written 228 years ago by James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and their fellow founding fathers. The new Tunisian Constitution, adopted on January 26, 2014, was drafted in part by HANDS Fellow Imed Ouertani.
Imed, the General Coordinator of the Tunisian Organization for the Defense of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, participated in HANDS Professional Fellows Program in the fall of 2013. Several months later, he found himself elbowing his way through crowds of Parliamentarians, urging them to include important elements in the constitutional article related to people with disabilities.
Imed gleaned some of these proposed ideas through his HANDS-organized fellowship with Access Living, a center where people with disabilities can seek help in navigating through potential barriers they may encounter in everyday life. Through Imed’s fellowship, he was exposed to the American Disability Act (ADA). The ADA promotes equality and prohibits discrimination for people with disabilities, and it works to help people with disabilities have equal employment opportunities, access to goods and services, and participation in state and local government programs and services. Through exposure to this legislation, Imed, as a visually-impaired individual, was inspired to push for similar initiatives in Tunisian society.
Due to Imed’s experience with Access Living in the U.S., he returned to Tunisia with a focus on impacting how people perceive individuals with disabilities and has become part of a movement to develop transformative legislation to improve the life of disabled communities in Tunisia. In Tunisia, Imed says, “people view disabled persons as people who cannot do a lot of things and always need charity or help. People treat the disabled like they are a superhero if they just do normal things.” Most recently, Imed’s organization has been actively involved in campaigns that spread awareness, in Imed’s words, about how, “We [the disabled] are just like you; disabled do a lot of good things and bad things too.”
Imed believes that it is critical to encourage people with disabilities to make important political and administrative decisions. For this reason, he recently submitted a big project proposal to create a community-centered program that allows for persons with disabilities to seek help while living independently. This program will reflect ideas and approaches that inspired Imed during his experience in the U.S.
What does the future hold for Imed? With the help of his former supervisor at Access Living, Imed is seeking a scholarship for a Master’s program that emphasizes the rights of persons with disabilities so that he can learn how to implement policies that can further help the disabled community.
Asked where he sees himself five to ten years from now, Imed laughs and says he hopes to be, “the first [Tunisian] president with a disability.” More immediately, his future aspirations are to work for an international NGO or the United Nations, helping organizations understand people with disabilities and their rights.
HANDS is honored to be a part of helping write history in countries like Tunisia through our fellows, including Imed Ouertani.