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Just ordinary people
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 17 - 01 - 2018

“We do not have to be champions to stand out. We are ordinary people living ordinary lives just like everybody else,” says Raya Al-Jadir, an originally Iraqi disability rights advocate living in the UK.
Al-Jadir is the founder of Disability Horizons (http://disabilityhorizons.ae/), an online magazine aiming to change stereotypes in Egypt and the Arab world about people with disabilities. It publishes the stories of people who have sometimes been marginalised by their disability, or have been overlooked by the majority of society. The magazine introduces their hopes, ambitions and sometimes struggles.
It is for people with disabilities and written by writers often having different disabilities themselves. It stands out amongst online publishing materials on the subject and raises hopes that the Arab culture regarding people with special needs is now changing.
Al-Jadir's blog
Growing up in Mosul in Iraq, Al-Jadir witnessed at first-hand how society could discriminate against people with disabilities, regarding in many cases the whole subject as taboo. She moved to London when she was 11 because her parents realised that their daughter's needs would not be fully met in Iraq.
“My parents thought at this stage that even if I was able to cope effectively with my disability, I would be struggling with the society's prejudice against disabled people,” Al-Jadir said.
Despite not experiencing family problems herself, she can easily relate to the different ways societies in the Western and Arab world treat disability. Moving between Mosul and London, she could see the difference between a society which might lock children up at home because of the stigma surrounding a family having a child with special needs and one which provided essential facilities and access to education and job opportunities.
She was an avid reader and contributor for three years to the British magazine Disability Horizons (http://disabilityhorizons.com/) a UK-based publication for those with disabilities. When she found out that there were Spanish and French versions of the magazine, she wanted to establish one in Arabic so that it could become the voice of the more than nine million disabled people in the Arab world.
“I am always irritated at the way we are presented in the Arab media. This is why I wanted to have an Arabic version of this magazine which is rated as one of the best magazines on disability worldwide,” Al-Jadir told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Sibey
The magazine has multiple sections covering news, travel, technology, the arts, entertainment and relationships and so on. It is not designed only for people with special needs. Its readership covers everyone, since it contains material that is both entertaining and original.
Born with a degenerative muscle-wasting condition (Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy), Al-Jadir has spent most of her life in a wheelchair. Nonetheless, she has never lost the hope to live the life she wanted to lead or to pursue her dreams in writing. Her blog (http://www.accessless.com), with its thousand daily visitors, has attracted readers across continents. Holding a Masters degree in English literature and now a PhD student, she has always endeavoured to educate herself as much as possible.
When she launched Disability Horizons in its Arabic version in 2016, Al-Jadir wanted to give a platform not only for people having disabilities but also for people living with them. Her publication has proved to be an important Arab platform for any person falling victim to societal stigma.
Iman Sallam, the Egyptian editor of the magazine, commented that “when Raya posted on her blog about the need to have Arabic writers for the magazine, I wanted to write about a personal experience of one of my relatives who is disabled.”
Though she has not managed to write her personal story until now, she has written, edited and translated dozens of articles for the magazine. She has helped spread the online version to reach people in Asia, Europe, Australia and Africa.
According to Sallam, her most compelling piece of writing is probably about Egyptian swimming champions Mahmoud Safwat Abdel-Bari and Dina Tarek Saad who both have Down's syndrome and decided to get married. “Although their parents were celebrating their success and their great love story, society was against such a marriage because of the fear that genes for the disease might be passed on to the children,” she said.
“My article is a reflection on societal norms that have nothing to do with religion. Islam is not against their getting married. It is society and the fact that people do not accept difference,” Sallam added.
“We do not have the right kind of awareness about how to deal with disability in the Arab world,” said Quhtan Al-Mehanna, a contributor and reader from Iraq. He added that one of the missions of the magazine was to raise awareness about the rights, duties and challenges of people with disabilities.
“Equality should not be bought, pleaded for, or even negotiated. It is one of our basic rights,”Al-Mehanna added.
Having a disability himself, he is an activist on disability issues in Iraq and is establishing an Iraqi Society for Children with Down's Syndrome. However, as much as he believes in himself and his capabilities, he also believes that addressing these issues through multiple platforms is necessary to change stereotypes and lift stigma.
It was not easy for the British co-founder of the magazine, Martyn Sibley, to keep it going for six consecutive years. However, he realised that the more it published, the more people would find ways of doing so on their own.
“Because of the challenge of getting sustainable funding, I'm extremely proud of the team and the community for making it possible. We have inspired and helped a lot of people. My dreams are to reach more people with more useful content and to see a growth in disabled people achieving their dreams,” Sibley told the Weekly.


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