By Mudassir Raja
The human spirit is one of ability, perseverance and courage that no disability can steal. People with disabilities all around the world continue to make extraordinary achievements and Qatar is no exception.
The world is observing the International Day of Persons with Disabilities today. It was first proclaimed in 1992 by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 47/3. It aims to promote the rights and wellbeing of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
The theme of the day in 2019 is: ‘promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda’. This year’s day focuses on the empowerment of persons with disabilities for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development as anticipated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which pledges to ‘leave no one behind’ and recognises disability as a cross-cutting issues, to be considered in the implementation of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, in his message on the occasion has said: “When we secure the rights of people with disabilities, we move closer to achieving the central promise of the 2030 Agenda — to leave no one behind. While we still have much to do, we have seen important progress in building an inclusive world for all.
“On this International Day, I reaffirm the commitment of the United Nations to work with people with disabilities to build a sustainable, inclusive and transformative future in which everyone, including women, men, girls and boys with disabilities, can realise their potential.”
As far as Qatar goes, the country makes its top priority the empowerment of persons with disabilities, through creating special programmes that cater to their needs, protect their rights, and provide them with equal opportunities, which goes in line with Qatar National Vision 2030.
Ahmed al-Shahrani, Accessible Qatar ambassador and a fitness freak in wheelchair, personifies the country as a place where the persons with disabilities are take care of. On the eve of the international day, Community caught up with the man in high spirits — and extraordinary achievements.
For Ahmed, who has been in wheelchair for about 20 years after he met an unfortunate car accident, leading to his spinal cord being fractured, this day is just like another day of the year. “The UN has estimated that 1.5 billion people have some kind of disability. I think a disability is just a highlight of certain condition of an individual that we need to pay attention to. True disability is not physical. The true disability is mental — when you think you cannot achieve something.
“This is not a thing we pay attention to for one day. We need to pay attention to the disabilities during the rest of the 364 days,” he says a touch philosophically.
Ahmed, who has been taking part in different international athletic events, said: “It is important to see how we improve the quality of life for other people. Usually, we think that my problem is my problem and other people’s problems are their problems. Well, other people need support and assistance. We need to be able to empower people who have the ability to change policies, regulations, and laws that equal the playing ground for people with or without disability to achieve something they want.
“This day (however), is one day which we should (use to) highlight the fact that we need to focus on this issue throughout the year. I think it is important to have this day to bring the issue to the foreground. This is a good day to say that, “Listen, 364 days we are working hard and this is what we have achieved. I think if we put our heads to it, within two to three years it won’t be an issue in Qatar, in particular. You can easily achieve the things that are needed to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities. It is about taking responsibility.”
Ahmed, who loves to be fit physically and motivates others to follow suit, believes having a strong mind is very important. “It is really necessary to have a strong mind whether you have some form of disability or not. Life is tough out there. Even if your parents put you in a comfort zone, they are putting you in a disadvantage. You need to be strong. Even in our religion, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) says Allah loves a strong believer. If you do not have a strong body, you can have a strong mind. If you believe that you are strong, you have already won the battle. They say there is no self-pity in the animal kingdom. If human beings can recognise that, there will be no issue. If you cannot change something, what is the point in being upset about that? I have strong faith in Allah and that helps me. For others, breaking out of their bubble can work. For example, they should read more or they should look at much more disadvantageous people. It will help you muster strength. Forget the disability to find the ability. It is a paradox. You never feel you are strong despite the fact that people tell you that you are strong. You are actually strong but you never feel it.”
Ahmed, who is the ambassador for Accessible Qatar, an initiative of Sasol Qatar, has been involved in different activities raising awareness about people with disabilities. “I am one of the three such ambassadors in Qatar. I am also an amateur adaptive athlete and sportsman. I love swimming and running in wheelchair. I enjoy shooting. I have tried bow and arrow. I also do fencing. I am an active individual, who enjoys a bit of adventure.”
Ahmed does not want people to be extra kind to him. He likes to be treated as a normal human being. “I do nothing to motivate others. I just try to enjoy my life. May be, I inspire others indirectly. At the end of the day, we are examples for each other whether in a good or a bad way. I try, and in most cases I succeed.”
Ahmed finds himself fortunate to be in Qatar. He said: “We have good and kind hearted leadership. People here are good of intent. Over the years, we, in Qatar, have made very good progress when it comes to the needs of people with disability. But, we are always looking for a better future. Whether it is our personal ambition or one dictated by religion, we need to take care of the weaker segments of society.
“However, we need to address more the issue of employment for people with disability,” Ahmed drove home.
Being an active individual, Ahmed would be busy attending different events on the International Day for Persons with Disabilities.
“For me, the key takeaway is to recognise an individual as an individual whether he or she is able or disabled. For many people, a disability is just a characteristic. The true disability is the one that you have in your mind,” Ahmed concluded.
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