In today's world, people are increasingly facing various challenges, a number of which affect their well-being and lifestyles. Muslims with disabilities are at times faced with barriers within their own Muslim communities. Recently, the Muslim Social Research Network launched a global study to understand the needs of Muslims with disabilities within the U.K, U.S. and Canada. The findings will be used to educate Muslim organizations about the challenges their community members with disabilities face and provide recommendations concerning how to improve communication, services and inclusion.
Imagine being limited to going outdoors or interacting with others because you have a disability or impairment. Imagine being unable to obtain general education because the school or organization does not have the resources or staff required to teach people with disabilities. Imagine wanting to learn about your faith - to include how to pray and recite words from the verses of the Quran Al Kareem, yet there is no one to teach you because there is a lack of people who are willing to educate Muslims with disabilities. Imagine going to the masjid, only to be directed to pray in an isolated area, not in congregation, because the facility does not provide ease of access for people with disabilities who have medical equipment, or pets to aid them.
At times, the challenges for Muslims with disabilities are not due to structure, but due to a simple lack of awareness from other board members and patrons. We live in a world filled with imagination, yet we do not realize some of those thoughts might actually take place in our own communities.
A place of worship is usually thought of as being a kind, safe and a welcome home to anyone, to include people with disabilities. Sadly, this is not always the case. In fact - Muslims with disabilities, as well as their caregivers, tend to face challenges when trying to participate in:
The struggles of people with disabilities also extend to gaining access, participating with, or obtaining resources from other Islamic organizations and centers. The world is not perfect and people with disabilities might face barriers at even non-religious facilities. As faith-based organizations missions; however, typically connect religion with improvement of society, it has become ever more important to understand The concerns and challenges of Muslims with disabilities within Muslim organizations.
Like many Muslims - despite disability, Heather Albright would visit the masjid with the hope of learning about Islam, engaging others and performing her obligatory prayers in congregation. Instead, Heather often times found her experience to be stressful because she was bombarded with, 'off the wall,' questions concerning her blindness and ability to learn and be independent. In the same way, Misty Bradley, a single mother who is also blind, found that many underestimated her abilities due to her inability to see.
Misty stated, "People didn't realize that blind people were capable of doing things on their own." Although masjid patrons are friendly, they often make Muslims with disabilities and their caregivers feel ignored, as though they do not belong, or as though they are unable to move without assistance. It is important to note that this is not the case in all masjids as some actually promote inclusion and expect engagement of Muslims with disabilities in activities. Nonetheless, these experiences combined with the lack of resources to create, support and sustain the inclusion of Muslims with disabilities are relevant and should be addressed.
According to Yusuf Abdul-Qadir, who provides care for his senior mother who is losing her sight due to glaucoma, "going to pray at a masjid is hard particularly when they are not user friendly. I don't think we have the resources, not because they are unavailable to us but because we do not place enough value in it."
Misty's challenges associated with Islamic organizations and her disability affect how she is able to engage in her daughter's education. Islamic school teachers failed to adhere to her request for alternative communication methods. Her request to communicate and keep her informed through e-mail, so that she could use her JAWS for Windows software which enables screen reading the information to her, was ignored. The situation was troublesome as Misty was invested in her daughter's education – yet found herself missing special events because of a lack of communication.
Muslims with disabilities are not the only ones to bear the stress of the barriers they endure in their Muslim communities. Caregivers of Muslims with disabilities have witnessed similar obstacles. Nicole Epps has realized her Muslim community lacks the resources needed to provide her five year old daughter Sarah, who has spastic cerebral palsy, with an Islamic education. Sarah does not attend any type of Islamic school; not by choice, but rather because many Islamic schools, including weekend programs in North Carolina, do not accommodate students with disabilities or special needs. Nicole is not alone; Chess Conners has four children with some form of disability. Her oldest has autism, while another has a physical disability affecting her legs. As with Nicole, Chess found that the Islamic schools are not equipped to educate children with special needs.