By Nemeh Al-Sarraj, Engage Minnesota
For six years, Nemeh Al-Sarraj struggled with university. “I was at North Hennepin,” in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she said. “And I kept changing my major every week. I picked almost every major possible.”
“My family was so annoyed.”
School was always a struggle for Al-Sarraj, who wasn’t properly diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) until she was nineteen. After that, she said, life began to grow a lot clearer, but she still had a lot to learn about herself and others. She also had to learn to come to grips with her diagnosis, and to “stop hiding the fact that I have a disability.”
There was a long struggle, and then “I took a year off. I transferred to Metro State and looked at all the degrees.”
It was at Metro State, Al-Sarraj said, when education finally clicked. “I took my first disability-awareness class. And loved it.”
Last fall, Al-Sarraj triumphed in her long struggle, graduating with a Bachelor’s of Human Science degree in Disability Studies. But even before she graduated, Al-Sarraj’s life had markedly changed. She had seen how much a diagnosis changed her life, and how she’d struggled before she’d gotten it. As a Palestinian-American, a Muslim, and a person with cognitive differences, she knew how much work there was to do in disability awareness. She wanted to contribute.
Al-Sarraj didn’t want to wait until she had her degree. Clearly, once she has a clear idea of what she wants, Al-Sarraj sets about getting it done. She has difficulties with communication, reading body language, and social situations. But, through this, her single-minded determination shines.
By Nemeh Sarraj, Engage Minnesota
On Wednesday, June 29th Disability Awareness Project held it’s first ever fun day event for Muslim kids with disabilities and the Muslim community with a Minion theme.
The event went really well Alhamdullilah (Thanks to God). We expected only three kids to come up as Muslim families who have a loved one with a disability generally don’t like going out to events due to stigma reasons.
We had five kids with disabilities show up and fifteen “typical” kids. It was a blast.
Per parents request, some children were not included in the photo.
One mom who has two kids with autism stated that this was her kids Eid outing because it’s almost impossible for her kids to do anything on Eid because either there’s too many people or because other families “forget” to ask her to come. The organization has received requests to do more events and activities.
Nemeh Al-Sarraj is a graduate of Metropolitan State University. She completed an undergraduate degree in Bachelors of Human Services in Disability Studies. As someone who has lived with many different disabilities throughout her life, Nemeh has both academic and personal knowledge and understanding of what it means to have a disability and has spent the past nine years raising awareness about different disabilities like autism, throughout the community. A strong champion of rights for Muslims with disabilities, her goals include educating the community about different disability topics and issues and helping Muslims with disabilities in the community feel welcomed and included. In 2014, The Arc Greater Twin Cities has honored Nemeh Sarraj of Spring Lake Park with its “Changing Attitudes” Changemaker Award.
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