Wheelchairs, crutches or other visual indicators of disabilities are often the first thing to come to mind when we talk about disability. But what about people with disabilities that are not so immediately apparent? The challenge of living with ‘invisible disabilities’ is something with which Haya, 19, is very familiar.

Haya, who lives with her family in Gaza, was diagnosed as being deaf-mute at two-years old. Growing up she experienced many challenges, especially when it came to communicating with people.

“When most people first approach me they think I am like them,” says Haya. “There is always an awkward pause when I don’t talk back”.

Haya, 19, is being trained by Islamic Relief‘s media department.

As a child, she did her very best to be like other children but over the years she has grown in confidence.

“Unlike others, my disability is not on display, but I also don’t hide it. It sounds corny, but I don’t want to pretend. This is me, I have a disability, deal with it.”

Passionate about education, she was disappointed when she learned that she couldn’t pursue a degree in Press and Media at her local university.

“I have always loved photography, and when I was told I would struggle due to my disability, it made me more determined to prove everyone wrong. I eventually enrolled in a specialist photography training course at another university, and I am proud that I didn’t let the naysayers hold me back,” adds Haya.

Today Haya is an inspiration to many girls in Gaza and is now doing a traineeship with Islamic Relief Palestine.

Islamic Relief has granted me a six-month training opportunity in their media department. I was so happy when I first heard the news. But then I got a bit afraid because I knew that no deaf-mute person had worked with Islamic Relief Palestine before. But the opportunity to further develop my photography skills outweighed my fears, and I decided to teach my colleagues sign language to break our communication barriers”.

Haya continues to advocate for more inclusion and visibility around disabilities. Based on her own experiences, Haya knows that when girls are educated, they become more aware of their rights. So she is pushing for more opportunities for people with disabilities and women and girls, as she strongly believes this benefits society as a whole.

“Training at Islamic Relief has enhanced my self-confidence and I am now able to say to the world that people with disabilities are no different from anyone else, we have purpose and are able to contribute at work. My experience in the Islamic Relief media department is evidence of that.”

Islamic Relief hopes that offering trainee programmes to people like Haya shows the importance of inclusion and helps change preconceptions about people with disabilities.

For women with disabilities this is even more important, as they face double discrimination. They are seen differently because of their disability and because of their womanhood. Islamic Relief is working incredibly hard to challenge that.

“I can’t fight with words as my voice does not exist, but my spirit has always been stronger than my disability. I want to show girls that we should never be limited by anything, whether it is physical or societal,” says Haya.

The United Nations had declared the 3rd of December to be the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, an annual celebration of people with disabilities.

Through advocacy, campaigns and community outreach Islamic Relief changes attitudes and ensures people with disabilities can access inclusive, quality education, work opportunities and care.

Would you like to support our work, so that we can make more dreams like Haya’s possible? Donate now.