“I think I would not have achieved so much in my life without my disability,” said Doaa Qashlan, a Gaza university graduate and disability rights activist. Doaa, who was born with a physical disability and uses a wheelchair or scooter to get around, has a supportive family. In fact, she was the first in her family to go abroad. But at home in Gaza life became more and more difficult.
Doaa uses her mobility scooter to drive through the inaccessible streets of Gaza. “They are my legs,” she says of her aids. Doaa’s scooter was damaged a few months ago. She still has not been able to repair it as many necessary parts cannot be found in Gaza and there is a lack of expertise to repair damaged equipment. This is partly due to the lifting of Israeli restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza. Today, Doaa says, she feels trapped at home.
Doaa nonetheless has a sense of humor, perseverance, and the hope that things will change. She is a member of the Public Relations and Media Committee of the Palestinian General Union for People with Disabilities and has worked with international and local organizations in Gaza to raise awareness about disability rights. Their work is proof of their perseverance. Even so, life in Gaza can be difficult.
New research released on International Day of People with Disabilities describes how the 13-year shutdown of Israel and the lack of services or efforts by Hamas authorities to make public spaces accessible are helping tens of thousands of Palestinians with disabilities in the To make life extremely difficult in Gaza. “The situation [in Gaza] it’s bad, ”said Doaa. “Do you see how the people of Gaza are suffering? People with disabilities suffer twice. ”
Power outages are Doaa’s greatest daily concern. She has to keep her mobility scooter charged. Due to the chronic power outages in the Gaza Strip, due to restrictive Israeli policies and disputes between Palestinian authorities, residents only have five hours of electricity per day and up to 15 hours of electricity on the best days. For Doaa and other people in Gaza with disabilities, these blackouts pose serious barriers to daily life – especially for those who rely on electrically powered devices such as elevators and scooters.
Even if she can get out of the house, Doaa has difficulty living in a relatively inaccessible area that can be difficult for her to move around, and many in her community do not understand her needs. “Our neighbor built a speed bump in our area to slow down cars. He wasn’t aware that this could hurt us. “
Doaa, like other people with disabilities in Gaza, especially women, faces a deeply ingrained stigma. There are few to no career prospects and their social circles are small. Even things that society places great value on, like marriage, are largely inaccessible. For Doaa, this stigma is a constant source of frustration. “One day a group of girls was talking about marriage. You mentioned that a girl with a disability got married. One of them asked jokingly, “I wonder how she got married?” I got angry and asked her, “Did someone ask you how you would get married?” The girl did not answer. “
Even getting an education was a challenge for Doaa every step of the way. In fifth grade, Doaa’s muscles weakened a lot and walking became a challenge. She recalls an incident in sixth grade when she was using a walker. “I wanted to go to the bathroom. To get to the toilet, I had to walk a long distance on an unpaved, rocky path. Some students pushed me while walking and I fell and got wet. “When her father came to pick her up, he took her from school. Only at the urging of her mother – her mother even left the house until her father gave in – Doaa returned to school.
Doaa’s mother is a constant source of strength for her and her younger sister Abeer, who is also physically disabled and uses a mobility scooter. When Doaa went back to school, she would arrive early to switch from her mobility scooter to her wheelchair, and sometimes her mother would go over her schoolwork with her while they waited for class to start. One day a group of people saw her and one of them said to Doaa’s mother, “Why are you teaching her, you think she will succeed? She is half human, go and give birth to a complete human. “Doaa says that when she was feeling depressed and didn’t want to go to school at all, counselors would sometimes visit her for psychosocial support. Doaa later found out that her mother had arranged this herself.
Doaa was given the opportunity to participate in a training program in the United Arab Emirates as part of a United Nations program for young people with disabilities. But after two years, Doaa made the difficult decision to return home. She was upset when she returned to Gaza but enrolled in a university program in the office administration. At one point, Doaa had to leave university for a year because she and Abeer had to share a mobility scooter, and Abeer needed it to finish high school.
Disability in Gaza can sometimes be life threatening. During the war between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in 2014, Doaa was constantly afraid of being unable to escape danger in the event of an Israeli air strike. “Every time I got into the bathroom, I was afraid that an escalation would take place nearby and that I had to flee quickly, I couldn’t. I was already slow. “Doaa and her sister sometimes even overheard family members saying things like,” Your family might flee and forget you at home. “
During the war, Doaa’s and Abeer’s family were forced to evacuate their home. They lived with their aunt, whose house was not accessible. Doaa couldn’t use her wheelchair around the house and had to crawl to move. However, she was embarrassed to do this in front of her male relatives in the house and she would avoid moving when they were home.
And what if she and her sister had to flee an attacked building or quickly escape? The stress of the fighting, coupled with ignorance of what would happen to her and Abeer if her family had to evacuate, left her emotional. “The hardest part was when I heard my sister say, ‘I don’t want to die and leave you alone. I don’t want you to die and leave me alone. ‘“
Today Doaa draws hope from her friends, all of whom are also disabled, and from her desire to change the situation in Gaza. Before her scooter was damaged, Doaa spent her time with the General Union to work on disability-related activities or to attend training. She is happy about the efforts of local organizations to help people with disabilities, especially women and girls. “Focus on youth and double focus on girls. Girls need support because they are incredibly marginalized. You need to get a space to express yourself. “
One organization has already made a huge difference in its life. Recently, the non-government group Humanity and Inclusion upgraded Doaa’s home to make the kitchen and bathroom more accessible. “Now I can go into the kitchen and make food for myself and my family.” This small improvement has had a tremendously positive impact on Doaa’s life and demonstrated how modest efforts to improve accessibility can help remove the immense barriers that people with disabilities face when trying to lead an independent life.
When asked what the Israeli and Palestinian authorities should do for tens of thousands of people with disabilities in Gaza, Doaa had a simple message: “Remember, we are human.”
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