Years ago, at a much younger age, I would complain to my mom that there were too many channels for “old people” on our television subscription box. She explained to me that to remove them would mean elders would be cast aside, and put into another world altogether. These words stayed with me into adulthood as I met and interacted with people from all walks of life.
As a community, we need to view individuals with disabilities as dynamic beings with varied talents, interests, and needs. We need to view them beyond their exceptional needs and include them in the workplace, at school and at the masjid (mosque).
And although we’ve come a long way, we still have got a long way to go.
Here are some simple ways to make your place of worship or school more welcoming and accessible:
1) Take notice of and understand the obstacles that stand in the way of parents and families with a child or a youth with a disability.
Example: There is a ramp on the brothers’ entrance of the Masjid, but not the sisters’. This deters sisters with children in wheelchairs from coming to the Masjid, denying access to community programs, congregational prayer and socialization.
2) Be mindful of elongated or frequent glances.
Example: Sometimes a child with exceptional needs is loud or talkative, especially when entering a gathering or new environment. A good way to respect the parent or family is to welcome them normally, without hovering around them or frequently staring as they settle down.
3) During Ramadan and Eid festivals, take the time to create inclusive games that allow children with disabilities to compete with other children. Create games that involve the partnership of a child and adult, for example, so that all children may have a fair chance to compete and win.
As we reflect on the last month of Ramadan, let us recall it as being a deeply spiritual month - of rejuvenation, faith, and community that we must continue to practice moving forward. To pray in a masjid, participate in Ramadan workshops and religious circles, and attend community suhoors (meal before fast begins) and iftaars (meal at sunset) are an integral part of the spiritual experience. But ensuring that children and youth with exceptional needs have equal access to games and programs is equally as important. Ensuring their parents’ can focus on their worship is a duty that must be collectively shared by the community.
Rahima Adeel is a graduate of Criminology and English from the University of Toronto and is passionate about community development, social services, and human rights.