People always tell you not to judge a book by its cover but what they forget to tell you is how to apply this to people as well. Adam, 20, Egyptian man born with an extra chromosome, has been suffering from Down syndrome. Adam has been adapting to his disability in every aspect of his life, but what really hurts is how people treat him, fear his presence, show pity or even are sarcastic about his condition. Adam is only one of 17 million persons with disabilities in Egypt, whose lives have been according to misconceptions about their conditions and who they are as people.
‘El Nos El Malyan’, or the full half, is an educational, communication campaign within the graduation project of Mass Communication students at Misr International University. It is a campaign to educate the Egyptian public about persons with disabilities; their struggles in our society that come in the form of discriminatory behavior and how we can change these behaviors by learning simple tips on how best to deal with them without being offensive.
Adam was asked to leave his nursery several times because parents of his colleagues didn’t like having a “boy like him” around their children. Adam’s mother believes her son has had it easy in our society. She believes that the stories she’s heard from other parents she met through non-governmental organizations have been a lot worse and that she is thankful for the small battles she had to fight for Adam. “I know a mother of a person with a disability who was divorced right after she gave birth; her husband blamed her family’s genetics for his daughter’s condition”, she said.
“We have to take the permission of the principal and class teacher first, we don’t want them to panic or feel uncomfortable from your daughter” was how the admission’s officer responded to Rania when she applied for her daughter in a well-known International Baccalaureate school in Cairo. Rania described the process of finding a school that would accept her daughter as a never-ending hassle “Finding a proper education for my girl seems like an impossible mission, teachers and administrators keep monitoring her like a monster, as if they’re waiting for any action she takes so they can have a valid reason to decline her admission to their schools” Rania was even asked why she was so keen to admit her daughter to a school since she’s not going to live long enough any way.
“Teachers don’t put the children’s conditions in consideration, some teachers even taunt them” said Dr. Magda Fahmy, CEO of Nidaa’ Society Rehabilitation. Nidaa is a specified organization for sensory disabilities; it works with young children to prepare them for schools and life. “When children leave us, their parents come asking us to take them back in Nidaa, the schools and teachers do not support the children’s progress in any way”
“Hey look, that’s your wife there” was how “gentlemen” in the streets taunted Esraa as she walked to and from school every day. Esraa is a 20 year old girl with physical disabilities who is no stranger to discrimination. “Children scream at my face whenever they see me and their mothers wouldn’t even tell them anything, they sometimes try to hide their children from me”
The campaign didn’t only hear from persons with disabilities or their families, it dedicated a huge part of its research to the general public. Out of focus groups conducted with adolescents between the ages of 18 and 25, the general consensus is that they do not understand the conditions of disabilities; they don’t comprehend how a person can be born with this condition or acquire it. Because of their lack of understanding, they tend to ignore the person altogether which counts as an act of discrimination in and of itself.
El Nos El Malyan emphasizes the idea that we always look at the bright side of anything. ‘El Nos El Malyan’ focuses on persons with disabilities and their abilities and potentials. The campaign is a national campaign that highlights proper behavior of the general public towards persons with disabilities. The campaign revolved around tips on how to deal with persons with disabilities without slightly offending them. Helping a person on a wheelchair without asking their permission to help can be regarded as an offensive act as well as baby-talking to a person with Down syndrome. These actions may seem harmless but they affront them. The campaign will focus on giving tips on the proper ways to treat persons with disabilities in Egypt.
Adam’s mother, along with other parents, have been working with non-governmental organizations like Zayee Zayak that support the parents of persons with disabilities and empower them to build a better environment for their children and give them the means to face the society with all its judgements. Zayee Zayak’s founder Noha El Sehrawy, who is also a parent to a girl with Down syndrome, is a United Nations certified advocate for persons with disabilities and has been working with other parents of persons with disabilities in support groups. Noha’s activities extend to giving training in schools and companies on how best to deal with any person with disability. Zayee Zayak has bene working as El Nos El Malyan’s client in its mission to putting an end to the discriminatory practices that persons with disabilities suffer from.