ATMIA Foundation is a non-profit organization, whose mission is to educate and foster the independence and self determination of people with disabilities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) thereby acknowledging that every person, regardless of difference, has the potential of being a valued and contributing member of their community. It does this by developing programs and services which will support the needs and goals of children and adults with disabilities and their families. The Foundation strives to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities at school, work, and home, with a special interest in developing programs in the Arab world and other countries where there is a great need to create and build supports for people with disabilities. It is the mission of the ATMIA Foundation to expand awareness, education, training, rehabilitation and supports by developing public and private funding so that persons with disabilities and their families will have the same opportunity to function independently in the city or town where they choose to live.
HISTORY OF THE FOUNDATION
The founder of the ATMIA Foundation, Lily Bandak, is originally from the Middle East and, after taking numerous trips to different countries has seen that there is much work needed to advance the quality of life of people with disabilities, especially in public awareness, education and employment.
The first person who encouraged Ms. Bandak to continue her work was Princess Haifa Al Faisal of Saudi Arabia. With her financial support and encouragement, Ms. Bandak was able to make her first trip to the Arab world in a wheelchair. Her Majesty Queen Noor, was the first woman in power in the Arab world who encouraged Ms. Bandak by inviting her to take photographs in Jordan, even though she was in a wheelchair. That was in 1994.
Throughout her travels in the last 15 years, Ms. Bandak could see that very little thought was given to disabled people in most places. First, there were very few wheelchair accessible ramps in the streets. Second, people with physical disabilities that used wheelchairs and people with other types of disabilities were rarely seen in public places. Third, public, private, and government buildings and offices were not wheelchair accessible in almost every country. Schools that Ms. Bandak visited took a long time to get into because there were no ramps and there were no students with disabilities studying in these schools. This means that disabled children are segregated from the rest of society. In fact, very few disabled children even get an education, especially if they are severely disabled. What is wrong with our human race? Aren’t people with disabilities human too? Don’t they deserve the same opportunities as everyone else?
There are many people who are disabled in the Arab world and the ATMIA Foundation thinks that it is time they are accepted as an integral part of society and the work force. More attention needs to be paid to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities so that they may have equal value with other citizens and be incorporated into society.
IMPLEMENTATION OF MISSION
To begin to accomplish its mission and its short and long term goals, the Foundation would like to begin the first Center for Assistive Technology in the Arab world. Knowing that assistive technology is costly and not many people who are disabled in the Arab world can afford it, ATMIA plans to do a fundraiser in every Arab country in order to raise money for assistive technology to help the disabled.
Assistive technology can be simple, very inexpensive devices such as a special spoon or medication or it can be more expensive such as a wheelchair that can navigate steeper inclines. Assistive technology devices have helped Ms. Bandak return to the work she loved, photography, after eleven years! Ms. Bandak thought that with all of her disabilities she couldn't do it but she found that with assistive technology, almost anything can be done! There was hope for her and there is hope for anyone to do what they desire and live their dreams with the proper motivation and support. Steven Hawking is the greatest example of what a person with a disability can accomplish with not only assistive technology, but also with a strong determination.