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Can the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 mean greater visibility of children with disabilities?

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Sabika Shaban, a QF staff member, parent, and inclusion advocate, pens her experience with disability and the social change she hopes to see post-World Cup

DOHA: Without understanding what constitutes a disability and everything that is contingent on it, how can anyone reflect on questions of equity, access, and inclusion of children with disabilities? How will prejudices, preconceptions, and mistruths be addressed if there is no incentive to reflect?

Here are just a few pervasive mistruths about children with disabilities: Having a child with a disability is a tragedy. Children with disabilities are not capable of learning at school. 

Accessibility stops after a ramp and an accessible washroom. The only efficient form of inclusive education is keeping children with disabilities separate from students who are “typical.” Children with disabilities are unable to engage with or appreciate art, sports, entertainment, play, relationships, and every facet of life that many people take for granted.

Accessible for all

When it comes to a blazing light of hope, the FIFA World Cup in Qatar is more than “just” a mega sporting event. As a resident in Qatar, I have been just as much swept away with the force of anticipation and planning, with tickets to multiple matches, and signing up as a volunteer. 

As a parent of two neurodiverse children, however, it is what is different about the tournament this time around that holds greater significance. It is a World Cup that is meant to make history in terms of its accessibility, including accessibility for people with disabilities. 

The designing of the stadiums and the overall fan experience, the integration of sensory rooms and sensory havens, and the engagement of accessibility representatives have all raised the bar for future mega-events globally. 

Accessibility volunteers

Qatar Foundation is in the process of training a sizeable force of accessibility volunteers who will then be able to support spectators with specific needs and contribute to an enabling accessible ecosystem. I am excited to be an inaugural accessibility volunteer and to be a part of this endeavor that has been curated with spectators like my children in mind. I am even more fascinated by the potential social legacies that this grand plan will spur onwards, especially the movement around equity, access, and inclusion.

It would be naive to believe that the post-FIFA legacy will be a panacea for all the inequities faced by the disability community, which exist not only in Qatar but is systemic across the region and the world. However, if done right, I, as a member of the community, believe in its potential to effect social change; and in fact, for Qatar to become a leader in driving this change. If there is one thing that Qatar has proven, it is that when its people put their collective minds to something, dreams become reality.

What could this reality look like? It can start with every member of the accessibility force learning something new about the disability world. It can mean conversations surrounding greater visibility of diverse children across schools, recreational centers, and public spaces. It can lead to creating intentional encounters between the deeply divided populace who have and do not have disabilities. It can mean a more sensitized, informed, and compassionate society in which members extend their hands not only out of benevolence but humbled that they will receive a dividend in kind. It can mean that every child with a disability would have a place where they are welcomed, understood, and truly “seen” for who they are.

Meanwhile, my family, including my two incredible and wonderfully wired children, will be claiming our seats on that opening match, and hopefully experiencing this event together with all our different accessibility needs to be met and embraced. This moment will not only be exhilarating because we are finally witnessing the start of a much-anticipated tournament, but also because it is a kickoff to a brighter future for mine and all other children with disabilities across the country. 

'It’s Only Football if it’s For All'

Additionally, Qatar Foundation recently unveiled a line-up of events and activities that will be taking place at Education City ahead of and during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, which are open for everyone to enjoy. 

Qatar Foundation’s World Cup campaign titled 'It’s Only Football if it’s For All' reflects how the first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East and the Arab world is intended to be the most accessible ever, and the organization’s own commitment to providing inclusive opportunities for everyone to explore and benefit from.

Sabika Shaban is a researcher and an academic journals and publications specialist at the College of Islamic Studies, Hamad Bin Khalifa University – a member of Qatar Foundation. She is also the founder of Qatar Disability Resource, a community-building platform that ties together more than a thousand stakeholders in Qatar to address information scarcity in the disability community.

Source: The Peninsula

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