Exposure to disability can improve children attitudes towards involvement in their communities

Core AM kids sit with Rekan as they learn about disabilities.

In the Nablus community not all people are treated equally. Typically it is assumed such inequalities are limited to gender- but the unfortunate reality is that many other groups are pushed to the wayside as well- most particularly people with disabilities.

There are two primary reasons people with disabilities do not enjoy equal treatment in Nabulsi society:

The community does not support people with special needs. Decision-makers are too focused on addressing structural issues and economic uncertainties that special needs populations frequently slip through the cracks. The community lacks the expertise needed to support people with special needs.

So what can we do at TYO to address theses disparities? Part of the problem is that people in Nablus have not made addressing the needs of people with disabilities a priority. Even the Arabic word for ‘disabilities’ have the connotation that a person has limitations. We need to rethink the way that we approach people- everyone has potential to create lasting impact. The society instead is putting roadblocks on people to not make lasting contributions with their life. With so many other issues affecting the people in Nablus, unless there is an inherent change in the way people in Nablus approach disabilities specifically, it is unlikely that we will see any significant changes. As such, at TYO, we believe it is fundamentally important to address these issues with young children- so we can root in them the importance of understanding, empathy, and support. All too often people are mistreated because of a lack of understanding- so at TYO we teach children, starting in the Core Child Program, about different disabilities, explaining that we are all the same and should be entitled to the same rights and privileges.

On the one hand our parents raised us to feel sorry for people with disabilities—far beyond sympathy, they encouraged pity and neglect towards people with special needs. This sends a message to people living with disabilities that they are viewed as ‘less’ and ‘unequal'; If we want to reduce the level of the inequality and discrimination and improve acceptance and justice we need to focus on adjusting the mindset of children from the youngest of ages.

Research recently presented at the British Psychological Society finds that including children with special needs and disabilities in mainstream classes has a positive effect on school children.  In our center we believe in inclusion and that kids that are not exposed to new experiences lose the opportunity to learn. Last week our children in the Core AM classes learned about respect as part of better communication.  Teachers spent a lot of time talking about disabilities in their classes. We hosted a guest speaker- TYO's own volunteer, Rezan- who lost a leg in an accident and has learned to adjust to living with his disability.  Rezan reflected on the experience saying the kids approached him with much more acceptance than adults. He found that the kids should really be the ones teaching adults about acceptance—because of the openness that they approached his situation.

As our volunteer at TYO said, sometimes children are really the ones who should be teaching adults. This is why it becomes our responsibility at TYO to ensure this level of acceptance and understanding is deeply rooted with the children at our center, so that they will not grow up to take on the neglectful mindset of adults within society- this is the only way to create long-term community change.

-Suhad Masri, Psychosocial Program Manager