Offering inclusive educational opportunities to individuals with special needs is one of the best things we can do for them, said Tala Rifai, the mother of Celina Rifai, a 4- year-old affected by muscular dystrophy, during a panel discussion called ‘Understanding Disability” on Sept. 24 held at Qatar National Library.
In celebration of Muscular Dystrophy Awareness Month, Qatar National Library held the panel featuring doctors, individuals with muscular dystrophy and their family members. The discussion was facilitated by Nawaal Akram, an internationally known advocate for disability rights who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of six.
The event was held under QNL’s new initiative that seeks to ensure equal access to resources for individuals with special needs, according to Ellen Floro, an information services librarian at QNL.
The library is providing assistive equipment, software, and workshops to help cater to the needs of individuals of all ages with autism and visual, physical, and hearing impairment, through partnership with local organizations such as the MADA Assistive Technology Centre, the Al-Noor Institute for the Blind, and the Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs.
Book Club for the Blind is one initiative launched by QNL in April to help bridge the learning and accessibility gap between general members of the library and those with special needs. From there on, QNL “grew as a hub where we could offer special needs individuals with all the services they need,” said Floro.
QNL also has developed a monthly program that is focused on inclusivity, disability awareness, and offers assistive technology training workshops for the hearing and visually impaired and the physically disabled. “Our monthly program has a maximum of four and a minimum of three events focused on engaging those with special needs,” Floro added.
The library harbors a space that is specially dedicated to holding the latest assistive devices such as braille keyboards, portable electronic magnifiers, scanning pens with headphones, and much more. In addition, frequent events are organized for the families of individuals with special needs and application software that focus on visual learning for autistic individuals are freely distributed.
“It’s amazing, the initiative QNL has taken. It’s a first of its kind. I find it so saddening that because of lack of access, people with disabilities end up being excluded out of the simplest of activities,” said Akram.
Akram says disability awareness programs being held at QNL should be widely publicized around Education City, so a greater number of students with special needs can attend them.
Khansa Maria, a sophomore at Georgetown University in Qatar, recommends that in order to connect with branch campus libraries, “QNL should conduct a census of people with special needs in Education City and also start a mailing list with details of events.”
According to Floro, there is strong social stigma attached to disability that prevents individuals from coming forward. “Some parents who are hesitant in accepting special needs children need to realize that, how can we stay away from the social stigma associated with these conditions when they themselves cannot accept the disability of their children?” she said.
Akram stated that the aim of the panel discussion was to help bring together different perspectives and experiences associated with muscular dystrophy and start a dialogue between the community and those affected by the condition. “It is through communication that we can help create a society that has a better understanding of what others are going through,” she said.