During Ramadan, the daily practice of salaat (a form of meditation), is not only nourishing for the mind and body, but it also helps develop and nurture greater self-awareness and inner happiness.

The process of self-awareness requires a commitment to stop, think and to consciously make a change. Change can take many forms; curbing negative language, challenging beliefs or looking for opportunities to learn and grow.

For me, my work life has led me to the disability sector, and it has truly enhanced my life for the better. What a privilege it is to gain a deeper understanding of this extraordinary community.

In such a short time I have learned about the barriers and challenges people with disability face. As a devoted and dutiful daughter, my limited experience revolves around my elderly father – more so because he suffers health and mobility issues.

What became clear to me is that disability isn’t about what you can’t do – but rather making the most of what you CAN do.    In fact, in my co-caring role of my father, I actually am now aware of my language “you can’t”, “you shouldn’t”, etc.  However, with assistance, he CAN indeed do things for himself.  So, as a sibling, I have learned to allow him the freedom to exercise his independence and for making choices in life that are not mine, but his.

I, amongst 290 million other YouTube viewers, recently watched a clip from “America’s Got Talent” where a visibly blind and audibly autistic 22-year-old, Kodi Lee, majestically played the piano and sang “A song for You”.  The judges reacted with utter disbelief and tears of joy; Simon Cowell said, “What just happened here was really extraordinary”.  A second judge and recent mother said, “I get it, as a mum you just want to give your child the moon, the stars and the rainbows”.

Why are so many people drawn to this clip?   Basically, people hold a disability stigma and Kodi challenged every perception we all hold.  In society we appear to carry such ‘negative’ beliefs around people with physical and intellectual disability and community have become conditioned to see people with disability as being different from ‘normal people.’ Sadly, people still look at disability as something to be ashamed of or to hide.

Let’s face the facts – 20 percent (1:5) of our population is disabled.
People living with a disability are more likely to experience poverty, have low levels of education and poor quality of life and reduced productivity due to increasing mental health illnesses.

Islam teaches us that humans are created different (30:20-23) and Allah (God) ordered us to never look down, label, or ridicule others – such as people with disabilities – because “perhaps they may be better than them”. (49:11)

If, in the eyes of Allah humans are all equal, then why the disability stigma?
As Muslims our duty and obligation for caring of the family must not restrict them from independence, autonomy or choice, leaving them feeling isolated, frustrated and confused. The change needed is to nurture their physical and mental well-being. Take a leap of faith and curb culture, wrong interpretations and any negative misconceptions against people with disability.

How different is Kodi’s world?  A world where he is not judged but rather encouraged, supported and guided to find greater control, choice and inner happiness.

I am forever grateful for the opportunity to work with Sunnyfield Disability Services to help build and strengthen person-centred practices. I aim to help brighten the future of people with disability.

So, I challenge you to awake for pre-dawn pray and meditation and ask yourself, “How can we as a community help create attitudinal change and minimise disability stigma?” Let’s open our eyes and hearts and give those living with a disability a chance to have the moon, the stars and the rainbows.