By Guest Blogger Hanaa Shalata, Director of the Regional Center for Independent Living for Al Manal
Hello. My name is Hanaa Shalata. I was born in Sakhnin 30 years ago, the younger sister to three brothers and two sisters, in a family with limited means. My father worked in construction and my mother was a housewife.
Immediately after I was born, I was diagnosed with a severe visual condition — “blindness.”
I was raised with a complicated set of expectations as a blind Arab girl. My family was not surprised by my cognitive abilities, often this is what is expected of a person with a visual disability – abilities that compensate for the disability.
In spite of my abilities and the expectations of me, I faced limitations and environmental barriers stemming from negative attitudes and perceptions towards people with disabilities.
Following in the path laid out by my older brother, who is also blind, I studied in a Catholic boarding school in Nazareth first with children with special needs and from the age of 10 integrated into regular classes. Life in boarding school was difficult and challenging with many rules and limits that force one to develop coping abilities and to maintain calm in the face of pressure.
University studies provided me with my first opportunity to live independently and to develop my unique social circle. At university, I developed the ability to sit for long hours typing lessons and studying, and I also got used to the idea of getting around using a cane, something that is very stigmatized in small Arab towns. At university I also became aware of the discrimination I faced both as an Arab woman and as a blind person. I was exposed for the first time to feminist theories which both angered me but also provided the impetus for change.
When I finished my Bachelors degree in education and sociology, I became aware of that I had the ability and power to create change and so began volunteering and working with a number of voluntary organizations.This social action encouraged me to greater achievements and further academic studies – culminating in my Masters degree in Gerontology.
As the years passed, I became more confident in my ability to make changes in society. This is apparent in my work today – for the last six years I have been working in the disability field in Sakhnin and established together with JDC the supportive community and with Israel Unlimited I became the director of the Regional Center for Independent Living at the Al Manal Organization. As I become aware of the needs in the community around me, I find the ability to assist, to change, to help individuals, families and the community.
The Regional Center provides a variety of services for adults with disabilities, including classes in career skills and placement, peer counseling, life skills training and programs to raise awareness.
One example of the impact of the CIL on Sakhnin is the work done with the religious leadership and institutions in the town. The CIL organized a workshop for Muslim and Christian leaders on disability issues and rights which inspired these leaders to make the mosque and church accessible.
The CIL is currently operating out of a rented space. Due to the significant impact the CIL has had on people with disabilities and the community as a whole in the Sakhnin, the Sakhnin municipality has allocated a piece of land for a permanent home, and the National Insurance Institute recently approved funding for building the permanent home.
— Hanaa Shalata