Sherif Mohamed Elgindi speaks about why people’s gender, race, or disability must never lead to them being ‘labeled’.
In all my experiences in other Middle Eastern countries, I have been rejected – by most people, in public places – simply because I am in a wheelchair. And for this reason, I was overcome with fear and shyness when I had to attend the Georgetown Admissions Ambassador Program Day (GAAP).
On that day, as I went into the atrium, I was rolling around in my mobility scooter trying to get food from the cafeteria and find a table. Hesitant to make friends out of fear of rejection, I drove up to a table and decided to eat alone. Just as I began eating my croissant, a girl came up to me and asked, “Are you Egyptian?”. Shocked, I replied saying “Yeah”. She then invited me over to the Egyptian table. The fact that she looked past my mobility scooter and extended a hand of friendship was surprising to me.
From that moment on GAAP Day, I realized that this will be different.
Throughout all my years at Georgetown University in Qatar, people treated me for who I was. They did not view my wheelchair as an obstacle to spend time with me. Even if I brought up the lack of accessibility in a certain area, my friends would say “Don’t worry about it; we’ll carry you.” Though this was not a sustainable solution, I appreciated their willingness to help. They never made me feel left out of anything just because of my wheelchair.
The same was the case when I entered Hamad Bin Khalifa University for my Juris Doctorate degree. The faculty and students treated me as their equals.
After graduating, I got a job at Qatar Foundation (QF), within Community Development. As part of my role, I was to participate in the Flag Relay that was held as part of the Qatar National Day celebrations. My task was to take the flag from Machaille Al-Naimi, President of QF’s Community Development, and hand it over to Abderrahman Samba, Qatari champion athlete. A month later, I happened to find my picture from that event with a caption describing me as “a wheelchair person”.
There are many problems with this caption.
We are more than our chairs, canes, or hearing aids. We can be an employee, a student, a son, a daughter, a father, or a mother.
First, a person should never be labeled solely based on their gender, race, or disability. There is more to a person than how they look. For this reason, calling me or anyone in my situation just “a wheelchair person” is extremely inappropriate. We are more than our chairs, canes, or hearing aids. We can be an employee, a student, a son, a daughter, a father, or a mother. Yes, my wheelchair is part of me, but it is not the only thing that defines me.
Misrepresentation of people with specific needs is not just limited to the Middle East. In the media, they are either spoken for, labelled by obvious facts, or not addressed at all. If they are in pictures, it is usually for a publicity stunt. People with specific needs have all the right to be respected. Society needs to respect them by providing access to education and entertainment, so they can have a life just like their peers.
For society to be more socially and physically accessible, it must involve people with specific needs in every step of the way.
For society to be more socially and physically accessible, it must involve people with specific needs in every step of the way. Society can’t say “Okay, don’t worry; we will do that for you.” No! Only we know what we need. Society needs to adapt itself to people with specific needs, not the other way around.
Now, I call upon all members of QF to practice what they preach. QF preaches that they are here to unlock human potential. On a social level, QF is very inclusive and accommodates people with specific needs. However, QF needs to be more physically accessible. What is the point of being socially accessible if people with specific needs are unable to access areas where they study, live, or work?
QF should also spread its message of social inclusion to the rest of the community in Qatar to create a social and physical accessibility standard for the nation.
As a last thought, I want everyone to know – my name is Sherif Mohamed Elgindi, and yes, I am in a wheelchair, but I am also a Muslim – and therefore from a culture of supporting others - a QF alumni, and a QF employee. I am all those labels. And I am proud to be in a wheelchair.
Sherif Mohamed Elgindi is the ASD/Special Needs Business Support Supervisor, Recreation & Events, Community Development, Qatar Foundation