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Aya Aghabi: Jordan’s new symbol of determination

Aug 29,2019 - Last updated at Aug 29,2019

On August 19, 2019, Jordan gained a new symbol of relentless resolve, brazen courage and defiant hope. Amidst adversity, Aya Aghabi racked her brain about innovative ways to conquer and soar, living her life with such purpose and vision that nothing could stand in her way. To us personally, Aya remains our best friend, role model and greatest confidante. To us collectively, across the country and MENA region, Aya Aghabi stands as a symbol of determination.

Ten years ago, Aya was in a car crash that left her paraplegic, unable to walk and relying on a wheelchair to move around. In response, Aya took time to build her upper body strength and relearn how to type. A year later, she enrolled at UC Berkeley in the United States, and, eventually, graduated with honours, determined to return home to Jordan to use her honed skills and knowledge to contribute to our country. Upon her return, she found it difficult to move around Jordan, and, again, viewing every barrier as an opportunity, took it upon herself to change the reality of inaccessibility for thousands of people across Jordan. 

The underlying vision for Aya’s work was for Jordan to become accessible and inclusive, as she viewed mobility as a basic human right that should be afforded to all. While Aya initially founded Accessible Jordan to help guide those with mobility needs, including senior citizens, parents with strollers and those with physical disabilities, she also aimed to better the lives of those who did not think twice about accessibility by advocating for the importance of societal inclusion. 

Over the past two years since its inception, Accessible Jordan swiftly grew to offer consultative services and help private businesses, government initiatives and national sites become more accessible. Accessible Jordan’s projects were more than just projects; with every ramp installed and with every architectural plan reviewed Aya fostered deep relationships and became a friend to all with whom she worked. She was a beloved member of the restaurants she frequented and whose entrances she transformed. Everyone in the valet service who helped her mom transport her from the car and up the ramp continue to ask for her. Her network of employees and directors at governmental and non-governmental agencies is so expansive, that no one person other than Aya can tell you the depth or width of the web she cast. What we do know is how much joy it brought her to make these connections. 

Inspired by her late father’s career and passion for tourism and urban planning, Aya took special interest in the heritage and tourist sites of Jordan so that wonders, like Petra, may be accessed by all across the Kingdom and the globe. Her love of life was contagious, not only to those lucky enough to have known her, but to all the people whose lives she touched through her work. It is ever present in the projects she championed, such as swings for children in wheelchairs that enabled them to enjoy accessible swings in parks for the first time.

Aya fought against systemic forces because what she was fighting for was so much bigger than any one person. Although she made it look easy, she worked tirelessly to achieve what she has. It was inspiring to watch our friend, who had initially struggled to find work because of the presumed limitations of her disability, work multiple jobs at a time, start a movement, and hire a team.

Before she got sick, Aya had applied to start a master’s programme in the UK to foster skills relevant to Accessible Jordan and, unsurprisingly, received scholarships from not one but two foundations. The truth is that Aya wanted to do so much more, and her family and friends wanted nothing more than to see her do it. Nothing could have prepared us for the shock of Aya’s passing, both as our best friend and now a perennial symbol of determination and there is no solace in the fact that she left too soon. We are left feeling like our hearts are literally about to explode and our legs cannot hold us up. We are feeling mostly for her family, who is left with a gaping emptiness where there was once sharp wit, pure joy and incredible strength. Our heart is especially with Aya’s mom, who served as her biggest support system for her entire life, but especially the last 10 years.

As Aya has done throughout her life, we too will get stronger every day and face loss with grace and humility, as that is what she would want from us. We commit to channeling Aya in our interactions and being kinder with everyone we come across. 

Before she passed, somehow, Aya was able to lay out the foundation of her vision for all of us. Now, it is our responsibility to honour her legacy. Aya remains and will always be the visionary leader of Accessible Jordan, and we pledge to continue to support her life’s work by supporting and contributing to the movement she started.

In honour and memory of Aya, we ask that you follow the work of Accessible Jordan and begin to think about societal inclusion in your daily life. If you are in a leadership position, we ask that you take the necessary steps to make your workplace accessible, whether it is a bank or a clinic or a school. If you are an employee or even a student, we ask that you raise this as an issue to your peers. We ask that through it all, you remember Aya Aghabi, as the force that is making accessibility a national discourse and priority today.

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