Man who cringed at people in wheelchairs now finds himself in one

Integrating disabled people into society is key to their self esteem, man in wheelchair says.
Members at the Zayed Higher Organization Al Ain Club for the Disabled gathered at the center for a friendly game of basketball and fellowship on Wednesday night, August 24, 2011, in Al Ain. ( DELORES JOHNSON / The National )
Members at the Zayed Higher Organization Al Ain Club for the Disabled gathered at the center for a friendly game of basketball and fellowship on Wednesday night, August 24, 2011, in Al Ain. ( DELORES JOHNSON / The National )
AL AIN // Abdullah Sulaiman used to cringe at the sight of a man in a wheelchair.

But now Mr Sulaiman, 25, from Al Ain has found himself on the receiving end of those looks after a car accident left him permanently disabled.

And although disabled people have become more visible in recent years, he has realised more needs to be done to change perceptions.

In Al Ain, some are trying.

Thebam Al Meheri, who is in a wheelchair, is a member of a club that is endeavoring to make that change, as well as providing support for people with disabilities through sports, educational and social activities.

Mr Al Meheri is one of more than 400 members of the Al Ain Club for the Disabled, which is part of the Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care, Special Needs and Minors Affairs.

He says appearances make it more difficult for people with disabilities to integrate into society.

"They need to know that [the disabled] are also people," Mr Al Meheri says, adding that includes parents and siblings.

"It usually depends on their education but if the parents are embarrassed, then the child would feel it and they too would be embarrassed."

He says families need to work together to find activities, such as sports, to participate in together to overcome any negative feelings.

"Last year at Al Ain Club for the Disabled we had a tournament where the disabled kids played games with their parents," Mr Meheri says. "It was a huge success and actually got families closer together."

He says this "reverse inclusion" is one way of easing the problem.

"Getting normal people to play sports with disabled people in clubs would help a lot with their involvement and them feeling accepted in society," Mr Al Meheri says.

"Disabled people like to come and escape at the club because that is the only place they feel accepted. They prefer staying there than their own homes."

People need to become more comfortable with the disabled, no matter how they look, he says.

"Severe disability, which sometimes involves deformities, is still hard for people to look at," Mr Al Meheri says. "But other disabilities like mine, which people get when they are older from accidents, are usually easier to look at in public."

His thoughts on lack of acceptance because of the way people with disabilities look has many cases in point.

The Egyptian mother of an Al Ain boy who is severely disabled with cerebral palsy faces a similar situation.

"My son is happy when indoors," she says. "He is smart, he loves playing. But when I take him out, everything changes. No one wants to look at him and he doesn't like being out. People are scared of him."

And staring is no better than looking away.

MA, who has been disabled since an early age after a car accident, says he prefers people to ask him how he became disabled rather than stare.

"People here just stare, they see someone disabled and they look at them in horror," MA says.

"But there are also other people who don't look at you deliberately because they caught your sight out of the corner of their eye.

"This makes us feel worse and lowers our self-esteem. If people have a problem they should approach us and understand. We are not scary."

 

osalem@thenational.ae

Published: August 28, 2011 04:00 AM

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