TUNIS—Walid Al-Zaidi’s path in his education and career makes him a model of success in a region where people with disabilities face a great deal of discrimination.
Al-Zaidi, now 34, lost his eyesight at a young age. Despite the challenges, he obtained a doctorate in rhetoric, has worked as a university professor and, for a brief time this year, was the Minister of Culture in Tunisia, before returning to his academic position.
“Ideas that changed the world were those produced by the mind rather than the senses,” he says. His goal as minister, he said at the time of his appointment, was to make art and culture accessible to everyone.
“My project is basically to deliver culture to the underdogs, to the forgotten, to deliver culture to children who are born in remote areas, and who face obstacles to get exposed to culture,” Al-Zaidi said in a statement. “My bet is that the citizen produces culture, regardless of his/her age or class.”
There are no official statistics on the number of students with special needs in Tunisia’s public universities. However, the Disabled Tunisians website estimates the disabled population at 208,000, of whom 46 percent have a physical disability, 27 percent have a mental disability, 12 percent are deaf, 11 percent are blind, and 4 percent are people with multiple disabilities. Although Tunisian law states the state must protect the handicapped, most people with disabilities suffer from marginalization and exclusion, with an unemployment rate of about 60 percent.