Unfortunately we rarely see a positive image of disability in films and TV drama or even books, in fact it is the opposite scenario where if you become disabled then you will fall into depression, become bitter and become isolated. I wanted to offer you an ‘alternative’ view, giving you the other side; the more realistic and positive one.
Zainab El Shaa’er, a young, ambitious and very vibrant young female from Alexandria, Egypt, who shared her story with us to show the world that life does not come to a standstill when you become disabled.
At the mere age of 18 years old, and just when El Shaa’er was enjoying her first year of law degree, she fell down a flight of stairs causing a fracture in her spine and laceration of the spinal cord and so she become a wheelchair user and resigned to life with disability.
Initially El Shaa’er had no idea as to what was happening to her as doctors and people around her hid the fact that she will be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life and kept telling El Shaa’er that with time, physiotherapy and rehabilitation she will get ‘better’ and will walk again in no time, and that this is just a temporary situation. In El Shaa’er’s point view this is a wrong approach in dealing with someone who is facing the prospect of living with disability, she says “I was deluded into thinking I will soon walk again, which is a far cry from the truth, for a long period I lived a ‘lie’”.
This made her put her life on hold awaiting for that illusive day and until now El Shaa’er insists that it is not right and one of the biggest mistakes of her life was believing what she was told. Although she acknowledges that it was their way of being ‘kind’ but as the old saying goes ‘sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind’ and had they been honest with her from the start she could have dealt with her new situation at a much faster speed. When El Shaa’er discovered the reality of her situation, she was hurt not by the fact she won’t be able to walk but to have delayed her plans for a myth that was meant to protect her but only served in harming her.
“It is important to let the person know their full situation and allow them to discover and learn their new way of life” Says El Shaa’er, who goes on to add that she went through a period of self discovery, like a baby who is learning what it can or can’t do. It is important to note that El Shaa’er was quick to point out that she is not a super human and like any person who is suddenly forced to live a new reality she went through a period of feeling low and slightly lost as to how she will cope with this change of circumstance, but she fought these dark thoughts, determined to be stronger than anything or any obstacle that comes her way. She soon went back to university, continuing her studies for a law degree at the university of Alexandria, as she realised that she had an accident and did not die, her life changed but did not end.
Like any other young girl, El Shaa’er wanted to work beside her studies and was offered a job by one of the biggest prosthetic company in Egypt, who warned her that they will give her a probation period to see if she is up to the job or not. Three years later she still works part time as a manager of the company’s branch in Alexandria that specialises in providing prosthetic limbs. Its a job that she loves, not because it makes her an active member of society but because it enables her to reach people who are in a similar situation to herself and she can spare them the things she had to endure. The company has a humane side which is rarely seen with profit making organisation, it does more than fitting and selling prosthetic limbs, it also helps the customer adapt to their new way of life and assist in their rehabilitation journey. El Shaa’er regards her work with these people and contributing to their adjustment with life beyond disability is one of her life’s biggest achievement so far.
El Shaa’er says that she lived the life of non disabled and disabled “there is a difference but not a massive one, I can still do everything that I did before, just differently; I still go the gym, go swimming, work, study, go out socially and attend various events”. In fact El Shaa’er will be giving a talk at TedEx on the 21st of March, where she will share her story and struggles, in the hope it can benefit others in her situation. All that Shaa’er wants is to be accepted and for people to stop judging others by their appearance and ability and that is why she will remain active in the hope she can change perception.
Unlike some, El Shaa’er refused to sit back and let her entire life be dictated by an accident and hopes that her experience will enable her in helping others and contributing in making this world a more inclusive one.
Follow El Shaa’er to learn all about her work within the disability field and more.
This article first appeared on Egypt Today