In Egypt, endurance athlete Michael Haddad leads inspiring walk to call for inclusion of persons with disabilities, advocate for assistive technologies
the Egypt Walk is the first of a series, which Michael Haddad seeks to perform across the world, under his initiative "Stepping Ahead of COVID."
“Just look behind you and you would be able to see that, thousands of years ago, man was able to make a miracle; the Pyramids,” Endurance sports professional, Michael Haddad used these inspiring words to refer to the promise of new assistive technologies, as he addressed some fifty Egyptian differently abled athletes who prepared to complete the "Egypt Walk for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities.
Aimed at highlighting the importance of assistive technologies in expanding horizons of independence and public participation of persons with disabilities in Egypt, the 5-kilometers walk took place on Friday, December 18, at the Pyramids of Giza plateau, with high-level participation of government, UN and media officials.
Haddad is an endurance athlete, who was paralyzed from the chest down as a child. He has devised his own unique “step-to-gait” method of movement, using a high-tech exoskeleton to stabilize his chest and legs. His method currently inspires research at the American University of Beirut and the Lebanese American University, among others, which holds promise to millions of people with similar disability.
“That technology helped me to stand before you today, and that technology also will help millions more even walk”, Mr. Haddad, who is also the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Goodwill Ambassador for Arab States, said, noting that technology has the promise to empower more than 12 million persons with disabilities in Egypt, along with about 50 million in the Arab region to become constructive members of society.”
Outside his home country Lebanon, the Egypt Walk is the first of a series, which Michael Haddad seeks to perform across the world, under his initiative "Stepping Ahead of COVID." The walks aim to raise awareness and mobilize resources to help mitigate the negative impacts of the pandemic on the most affected groups - especially persons with disabilities - and to call for a green and inclusive post-pandemic recovery. Haddad is performing the series as part of his role as UNDP’s Regional (Arab States) Goodwill Ambassador of for Climate Action.
Persons with disabilities represent 10-15% of the world’s population, exceeding a billion people, of whom about 12 million live in Egypt. They depend on various kinds of assistive technologies, which help them perform basic daily functions that otherwise may be difficult or sometimes seem impossible. These technologies range from simple ones, such as movement-supporting aids, including crutches and hand-wheelchairs, to intermediate and advanced technologies, including computer- and mobile-phone-based devices and software to aid hearing, vision, speech and memory, and state-of-the-art electronic and mechanical artificial limbs and prosthetic devices.
"Egypt has made great achievements in the past few years to integrate and empower persons with disabilities and safeguard their rights, which we will celebrate next week in the annual presidential conference entitled “Differently Abled,” said Dr Ashraf Sobhy, Minister of Youth and Sports under whose patronage the walk was organized.
The Egypt walk for Inclusion gives a regional and global dimension to the ‘Differently Abled’ presidential conference, and sheds light on Egypt’s efforts towards the empowerment and inclusion of Persons with Disabilities”, according to Amal Mobadda, Chairwomen of the Egyptian Sports Federation for Intellectual Disabilities, which organized the walk in partnership with UNDP, under the auspices of the Ministry of Youth and Sports and in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities.
“In adopting Agenda 2030 and its associated Sustainable Development Goals, world leaders made a solemn promise to inclusiveness and to leaving no one behind. Assistive technologies that facilitate the lives of persons with disabilities and enhance their participation in their communities, play an important role in achieving that promise," said Randa Aboul Hosn, UNDP Resident Representative in Egypt. “We are pleased to cooperate with all relevant authorities to support efforts aimed at providing appropriate assistive technologies for all, developing them and producing them locally," she added.
The Friday walk, taking place at the Giza Pyramids complex, confirmed Egypt's commitment to rendering its most revered global cultural heritage monuments, accessible to all humanity, without barriers, according to Dr Kahled ElAnani, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities. “Disability-inclusive tourism is not only one of our most important products, but we consider it, as well, a moral responsibility and a commitment to ensure that all Egyptians, and all citizens of the world, enjoy and appreciate the achievements of the world's most ancient civilization,” he said.
Echoing his remarks, Mr. Haddad said "there is no other place that I would have wanted to start this global endeavour from other than Egypt—mother of the world, as we say, which occupies a very special place of appreciation in my heart, shared by many in the region and globally."
He added that he, together with fellow differently abled Egyptian athletes, send a message of hope and determination to work tirelessly to promote the full participation of persons with disabilities in Egypt, across the Arab region, and indeed the whole world, in all aspects of life, in equality and without barriers.
In a tribute video message to the walk, UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner praised Michael and his fellow Egyptian differently abled athletes, noting that through their walk today, the are “the best people who can demonstrate the importance of putting such potential of technology at centre stage.”