A long road to inclusion
Intuition for pressure points: How the blind physiotherapist and ifa CrossCulture fellow Yassine Rihani promotes human rights in Tunisia.
Intuition plays an important role in the life of Yassine Rihani. The 34-year-old Tunisian lost his eyesight in 2006 and has been working as a physiotherapist ever since. As a human rights activist, he also has a feel for the pressure points in society and works to promote the rights of people with disabilities. From October to December 2017 he worked as a CrossCulture Programme fellow at the physiotherapy training centre at Nuremberg Education Centre for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
In his spare time he is also actively involved in promoting the rights of people with disabilities. As former President of the Regional Blind Union in Tunis he was an important voice in the struggle for recognition and equal rights for blind and visually impaired people. After many years as President, Yassine now devotes his attention to the inclusion of visually impaired people in the country's National Library.
Yassine spent his time in Germany at a physiotherapy training college in Nuremberg. It forms part of the city’s Education Centre for the Blind and Visually Impaired and enables young people to complete a three-year vocational training course that allows them to work in practices, clinics or as independent physiotherapists. “Many blind people have a very strong sense of touch”, explains Gertraud Luce-Wunderle, doctor and teacher at the college. This is why it is often a good idea for them to train to be physiotherapists. “Mr Rihani is no exception. I was very impressed by the way he uses his hands on the patients' bodies”.
It is normal to be different
“Inclusion is not a one-way street”, explains Karin Gätschenberger-Bahler while crossing the campus at the Education Centre. This concept has particular resonance for the deputy head, as the principle of inclusion has now become an important aspect of all educational institutions. The physiotherapy training centre does not only welcome visually impaired and blind people but also sighted students who would like to embark on a training course.
According to Gätschenberger-Bahler, this creates a learning atmosphere in which equality and respect are not just empty phrases but an integral part of the day-to-day work. “We are proud of the fact that we are able to integrate all our vocational students into the labour market”, says the deputy head, because a permanent job is vital for active participation in society.
A revolutionary milestone: Article 48 of the constitution
In Nuremberg, Yassine picked up lots of new ideas and gained a renewed sense of optimism for his voluntary work in Tunisia. Fortunately he can now put this enthusiasm to good use as the situation in his home country is currently much more positive. In today’s post-revolutionary Tunisia it is possible to do things that were unthinkable. “Seven years after the regime’s overthrow in 2010/2011, many observers see Tunisia as a beacon of the ”Arab spring“ in the Middle East and North Africa.
In October 2017, dozens of deaf and mute people demonstrated in Tunis to remind the government of its commitment to the right to work and education. At the same time, Yassine wants to stress the importance of the politically independent work of civil society actors in the country. The mistrust of state intervention since the overthrow of 2011 appears to be rooted too deeply.
Looking to the future
Yassine knows exactly what still needs to be done once his visit to Nuremberg has been completed: ”We have a lot of plans for Tunisia. There is still a long way to go before we can talk of real inclusion. We must continue it with great courage and perseverance.“ For example, there is still a great deal to do with regard to local transport and schools in order to enable or simplify access for people with disabilities. Albert Einstein's words give him strength: ”Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.“
”Mr Rihani was a real asset to the college. Of course there were language barriers, but we were still able to learn a great deal from each other. His particular approach to pain therapy, the ‘painkiller’ method, was something new for us“, says Luce-Wunderle. They are both very focused on the future, stressing that the road to inclusion is never-ending. But the main thing is that the road is being trodden – in both Germany and Tunisia.