Peta interviews Haya Rawi, a 29-year-old woman from Lebanon who has an upper limb amputation and works as an inclusion advocate and influencer on Instagram. Haya discusses the challenges she faced growing up with a disability, including being the only one in her school and her journey to becoming a disability inclusion advisor for a humanitarian organization.
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Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast. The podcast answering your questions on what life is like when you have a disability. My name is Peta. I have cerebral palsy and I'm your host. This week I have to say really makes me love Instagram. I came across an amazing person named Haya Rawi. Haya lives in Lebanon and I was so excited when she said that she'd sit down and chat to me to better understand what it's like for her living with a disability. It's one of those things that I think, my goodness, it's so amazing to think that we could connect purely because of Instagram and this podcast. So without any further ado, let's hand over to Haya.
Haya [00:01:00] Hello, Peta. Thank you so much for inviting me. My name is Haya Rawi. I am from Lebanon. I am a person with a physical disability. I have upper limb amputation. I am 29 years old. I work with the humanitarian organisation International Committee of the Red Cross. Also, I am an inclusion advocate and influencer on Instagram and I try my best to support other persons with disability and to show the real image of how people with disability can live their lives and to be included in the society.
Peta [00:01:45] So why is disability inclusion so important to you Haya?
Haya [00:01:51] I have my disability since birth, so I have been through many challenges, ups and downs. Also, I had many opportunities to to improve, to challenge myself and to overcome barriers that people with disabilities face. So I believe that inclusion is so important. Although I understand it's not easy. Inclusion is a process that should be done by different actors, starting from the person to the society, to the work to the school. It's it's a long process, but we need to all work together. Even persons with disabilities or disabilities to ensure the inclusion of persons with disability.
Peta [00:02:34] What was it like for you growing up with a disability? Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?
Haya [00:02:41] It was a normal childhood. I've been treated like my sisters. I feel that I am lucky person having parents who are not so much protective. It was a different situation. They were raising me to be independent, to do things alone. I went went to school, which was not dedicated for persons with disabilities or specialised because of my case and I was raised like my sisters. So whenever we do something wrong, we all we all got the punishment. [laughs] But of course, this is at home, but of course, going to school when we meet other children. So when they see my hand. Some of them, they were scared, so scared of it. So it wasn't easy. Sometimes I wanted to I felt angry. I wanted to show them my hand and tell them I was born like this. It's something that we can't control. So, yeah, it wasn't easy, but we we. We get through it.
Peta [00:03:56] And I don't know what it's like for you in Lebanon, but for me, in Australia, particularly when I was little, I was the only one in the room, only one in my class, often with a disability. Were you often the only one?
Haya [00:04:10] Yes. Yes. In the whole school, I believe. Yeah.
Peta [00:04:14] Do you think that was beneficial to you or do you think that was a disadvantage?
Haya [00:04:20] Disadvantage because in society you should they should see more persons with disability, I believe now inclusion and disability better than before. I can say here in Lebanon and Middle East for now, we are seeing more persons with disability in public spaces, in malls and in restaurants. Depends on the accessibility, but it's really it's getting different. But of course, definitely I would prefer if I have someone else because not to be the or the only different person among the other children.
Peta [00:04:55] I also find when I'm the only one, it means that it's up to me to educate everyone about what it is to be disabled. And as far as I know, just because I have cerebral palsy doesn't mean I know what it's like for you.
Haya [00:05:12] Yeah, exactly.
Peta [00:05:15] So tell me about your experience of getting your first job.
Haya [00:05:19] So I have an architecture background. After graduation. I started with I worked for only two months as an architect, but then I moved to, by coincidence, to the humanitarian field to work and the inclusion for persons with disability. They would ask for a person with disabilities to have this position, to have this a job because they wanted to to to have a person submitted to acting as an inclusion adviser. And I was the only one applying for this position. I was using my architectural background in terms of accessibility for the standards, like the grab bars that address those physical accessibility standards. So this was useful. Then until now, I I've been working in this field since 2016, and now I'm the disability inclusion advisor.
Peta [00:06:17] You say you were the only one applying, but I would say you're the only but the best. And that's what's important. I'm really interested to know because I have a degree in tourism, so my heart always lies with travel and exploring new places. How accessible is Lebanon?
Haya [00:06:38] Yeah, unfortunately it's not accessible because it's a it's an old country with a lot of old cities. You know, the the architecture of the cities with the narrow road. We have some old spaces and buildings. However, we have in our laws related to construction, new buildings, guidelines for making and accessible places. But unfortunately, it won't. It doesn't work in all the sites and cities, it's really different from urban to rural areas. But we can say that, uh, in some places like the public spaces, like malls or some public spaces, it is accessible. All the universities. When we study architecture, they should focus more on accessibility standards and they should encourage more the students about the importance. Because if you start from this, if you start educating and make it mainstreamed, and then of course this architect, architect or engineer, after graduating, it's in his head and he's totally absorbing the information when he will be designing. So he will, of course, take into consideration the needs of persons with disabilities. So maybe if we can start from the beginning, from the education to put that in the curriculum so and also to have it as courses in the university, advanced courses in the university.
Peta [00:08:09] You said that you didn't stay in architecture for very long and you went into inclusion. So tell me about your important work that you do for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Haya [00:08:21] Though we tried our best to to support two persons with disabilities in different programs, for example, in health and livelihood. Sheltered wash because he had four in Lebanon. We have as well the refugees the refugees with disabilities. So we tried to support the community. Currently with the ICRC. We work for the sports for people with disabilities, which is a very interesting programme, which is focusing on wheelchair basketball activities. And we also work for the employment of persons with disabilities. We train them on how to apply for jobs, how to do KPIs, how to conduct interviews. So we focus on different fields as much as we can, and we have capacities to ensure that social inclusion.
Peta [00:09:11] That was why I asked you about what it was like to apply for your first job. Because I know for myself, with a disability, it was very difficult. Is that very common over in Lebanon? What are the sort of barriers that people are facing in gaining employment?
Haya [00:09:29] I think this is the problem minimally related to persons with disabilities and without disabilities, because here in Lebanon we have financial situations, crisis problems, finding a job, and the salaries are not so high. It's not easy to find a job. As I mentioned, for persons with disabilities or without disabilities. But for me, in my case, it wasn't. I don't feel that my disability affected me from finding a job because I tried my best to to to really show that even with one hand I can do all the software and computer things that are needed in the architecture. I was practising a lot to be fast, to be, to have the full knowledge, so I didn't try to work on my skills not to show that my disability. It might affect me and the expertise or the technical part. But as I told you, it was only two months I worked as an architect, but then I directly moved to the humanitarian field.
Peta [00:10:40] And so when you're working with people with disabilities now to try and get an employment. What sort of areas do you really focus on in helping them?
Haya [00:10:50] Yeah, the areas is that we always tell them, don't feel that you are the victim. Going back to the to the social model, that the problem is only with the society. We always tell them no. Also, you have a job to do. You have to improve your skills. You have to work on yourself. You have to. First step is do your CV, prepare yourself for an interview, search for a job, attend trainings. Now we are there. We can open online courses. You can learn online. It's easy. Everyone has a phone. So I always tell them, don't always blame society, don't always play. I know that is the challenges, but to be as a person with a disability, we should do something. We should learn. We should improve our skills in order to find a job.
Peta [00:11:39] And you also mentioned that the International Committee of the Red Cross are also focusing on the importance of sport. So what sort of things are you helping people with disabilities in that area?
Haya [00:11:51] Yeah, for sports it's really important because it's really affecting the mental health of persons with disabilities, their lives. They feel that they are doing something, they are famous, they are the players. We do games, we do events, we take pictures they posted on their social media platforms. We do participate in international tournaments. For me, honestly. A few years ago before joining ICAC, I was only fearing that employment and basic needs and education are more important than sports because I don't know, maybe it's due to them, to the culture or what we have been through because we have. Unfortunately, persons with disabilities are the most vulnerable and they are poor soul and they are facing financial problems. So I feel that give them money, give them a word. Maybe it's important, but when we conducted all the activities related to two sports, I really felt how it can affect the mental health and also the health, the physical health of persons with disabilities and the motivation, the feeling it gives them. So it was really, really and an important aspect and field to focus on.
Peta [00:13:09] Are there specific barriers that are unique to disabled people in Lebanon or the Middle East in general that you think Western societies need to better understand?
Haya [00:13:20] We are facing the barriers just like other countries, the main barriers that are known, for example, the physical barriers, the attitudinal barriers, policies, all those barriers. I believe that the majority of persons with disabilities are facing the same barriers. However, here may be what we are facing more. I feel that things related to attitudinal barriers, for example, the stigma, the stereotype and the perception. For example, women with disability facing more things related to gender because women with disabilities here in our countries, they face a lot of challenges related to getting married or giving birth. Personally, I have been through those barriers, so I feel that attitudinal and financial barriers are the main barriers faced here.
Peta [00:14:21] You also mentioned that your influence online and you have a social media following online. What's that been like? How have you found your audience? How do you find being disabled online?
Haya [00:14:34] Yeah, it started during COVID. I thought maybe I wanted to to film myself how I put a nail polish with the nail polish with one hand. And I posted that video and my count was private. But then I saw how well my friends are resharing the post taking screenshots, so I felt maybe it's I can. What about making my account public at postcard videos to show people how I do things with one hand? So then I continued. I was filming myself, washing dishes, doing many activities, cutting vegetables. Many people were supporting me, sharing the video. And what's really interesting that I got messages from other persons with disability telling me, Hi, hi, I have the same case, but I'm shy. I don't show my hand. I wanted to learn from you and when I saw your videos, I felt more confident. And also I got some messages from caregivers and parents, and they were asking me, How was your childhood? Because I have a child with the same case. I wanted to learn from you. Maybe you can me to. It's not easy to to create always content on Instagram to have followers and viewers, because I feel that the interests of people, sometimes it's more for funny videos or for clothes. I don't know other interests. So always as a person of a disability and a content creator, we need to be so much creative and short and delivering the message quickly. So yeah, it needs a lot of work.
Peta [00:16:21] Well, I have to say, I love watching your videos and I learn from you, too. So thank you for doing that. And I know how powerful it can be to really build a community and to know that you're helping people see themselves in you. So congratulations. Is there anything you don't like about living with your disability? Higher.
Haya [00:16:43] Maybe this feeling of always an. Convincing others society that we can as a person's disability. I preferred if we would live and very normal life without trying to to convince or to show. Yeah. That we can we can as a persons with disability. And also I can say that responding to questions from people, how we live, how we deal, and also how sometimes the the stigma and stereotypes that people that we face as a persons with disabilities, what we can do, what we cannot do. They really put assumptions about our capacities without giving it to us.
Peta [00:17:35] I agree. It can be really frustrating to constantly have to prove to strangers that you're actually okay and that you can do things.
Haya [00:17:45] Yeah.
Peta [00:17:48] So is there anything you like or even love about having a disability?
Haya [00:17:54] We have some benefits as a persons with disability, you know, I mean benefits of having little arm because I showed the videos when we I can put my hand in the door or do something. So this is like a funny benefit. In their inclusion concept and approach and principle. We should deal with persons with disability like persons without disabilities, without having anything like persons. Abilities are superheroes or they. They only do the good things. They are angels. They don't do mistakes. Nor please. We do mistakes. We we. We are at the end a human being. I would love to see myself as a person with disability, like as a person without seeing others, seeing me as a as a as an angel or superhero.
Peta [00:18:44] And finally, what do you wish for the future of people with disabilities?
Haya [00:18:49] To live with dignity, without depending on others, without really always proving that we can we can as a persons with disability. And if they can have all their rights as a human being without asking for it, and of course they as a persons with disability, we should prove this and and work on ourselves not only put that all the barriers and the problems and the challenges of our society or the barriers, we should do something as well as the persons with disability not to be the victims. Let's work together on having a more inclusive society to advocate more, raise awareness on disability inclusion and and support each other and others of the persons with disability.
Peta [00:19:44] Thank you for listening to this week's episode. I hope you enjoyed it if you did. Can I encourage you to leave a writing interview on whatever podcasting platform you listing on? I always love to scroll down on my podcasting app and look up the reviews. I know some people say not to raid for views, but I've been very lucky because all you guys listening are just lovely and I really appreciate all feedback that you have. If you would like to contact me, I have an Instagram account. My handle is at Peter Hook, spelt P at ah0ke, or you can send me an email The I Can't Stand Podcast at Gitmo dot com. Until next week. Have a good one, guys. Bye. I'd like to pay my respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, but especially to the Bunarong people where this podcast was recorded.