The evening kicked off at about 7:30 P.M on a calm July 7th weekend with a Quran recitation by Omer Yousuf. The sweet, deep notes of the first chapter, Al Fatiha, rung through the main hall of ADAMS Center’s main hall in Sterling, Virginia.
Everyone took a few minutes to think and remind themselves of why they were here and how important this evening was to every single person present in that room. Mr. Mohammed Yousuf, President of EquallyAble Foundation; Co-Chair ADAMS Accessibility Committee and a survivor of polio, gave a short welcome and highlighted the issues to be addressed in the seminar.
With that, the first speaker was invited to the stage to speak about a very important topic—education. In her speech, Sister Muneera talked about a few important terms and concepts, including one called “People-First Language”. She explained that instead of saying, “an autistic child,” a person using People-First Language would say, “a child with autism,” therefore putting the child/person first. Mrs. Fontaine also shared with us a pilot study she’d conducted surveying Muslim parents on how included they felt in their communities. Out of 45 parents, only 1 said that they felt completely supported by their Islamic community. This was a shocking number to everyone in the room. In conclusion Sister Muneera said that our children are given as trust from Allah (SWT) and it is our duty as parents to make sure they are treated just as any normal human being would.
The next speaker was Catherine Motivans from the Loudon County government to speak about resources available to families of those and people with special needs. Catherine Motivans is the Accessibility Services Manager for Loudon County. She shared several useful resources and services.
The next speaker was Dr. Navid Rashid. We all know that coping with stress is not easy in general, but even more so when you have someone with a disability in your family. Dr. Navid Rashid, a psychiatrist at the clinical faculty at George Washington Mental Health Institute, shared with us his thoughts and insight on this very important issue. He suggested engaging in a hobby or talent as a way to get rid of stress.
To wrap up the evening, Mr. Yousuf came up on stage again to share some of his personal stories. He also showed a slide to the audience in which there were four circles to represent the person with the disability, family, friends, and then the community. He shared with us a story to go with each circle. One of the most touching stories was one of his earliest memories, where a physician visiting his town had helped him gather up his courage and go outside the house. The evening ended with a call to the evening prayer, and every single person left with renewed spirit, firmer intentions to increase awareness for those with disabilities, and a lighter heart.