By Mostafa Kamal
I am a disabled activist and researcher born in Egypt, who lived through many barriers and deprivations that face disabled people in accessing basic services. At my segregated boarding school for blind students in Egypt, I gained many experiences of independence and how I could think of many creative solutions to overcome both the educational and social challenges that I faced during my educational life. The blind education system at that time had many problems, for example lack of tactile mapping or audio descriptions of the physical word. As a result of this we were not allowed to study geometry, shapes etc.
Despite this, I managed to reach and complete my undergraduate studies at an Egyptian university (English Department), where neither assistive technology nor personal assistant schemes were part of the higher education system. As a result, blind and physically impaired students faced various barriers, and deaf students were not even allowed to join higher education. This is not even to mention our difficulty of being included in university life at a social level. It’s also worth mentioning that I was denied access to join the media and communications department and the Arabic Music Institute due to my impairments, despite being qualified for both of these. This was especially frustrating as I played keyboard in bands in Egypt from the age of 18 (a story that I would love to share in another blog post).
Starting in 2004 I worked in the field of disability for over ten years, joining the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood – both policy making organisations. Through various scholarships I was accepted to travel widely to continue my academic career (MA and PhD in Disability Studies) and to take part in academic conferences, fellowships and disability activism over the globe. My MA was the first time for me to travel outside of Egypt, an interesting and challenging experience as a blind person that I will definitely share in future. In 2011 I lived through the events and consequences of the Egyptian revolution, where we, disabled people, fought for inclusion by participating in marches and demonstrations. Immediately after the revolution, I was engaged in the creation of many national discourses e.g the Egyptian Constitution of 2014 and new Egyptian disability law. In addition to these, being a member of many global alliances of the disability movement assisted me to become more involved with disability challenges at the global level.
This may help to structure a more unified global activism, merging different disability movements together and providing solutions towards more inclusivity and equality for disabled people. Although this blog is not purely academic, it will learn from the academic world, which I currently work in, and this may lead to further research and encourage scholars to consider disabling barriers across borders.
My story is indicative of many of the barriers that I have no doubt that other disabled people across the world, may have faced. The upcoming blog entries will contain a focus on each of these barriers, which will be enriched by your opinions and experiences.