For years, I lived in an overcast, dark world. Since I was a young child, I’ve had profoundly poor eyesight.
Believe it or not, I only got my severe myopia corrected more than a decade later, as a young adult. My life has been a rainbow of opportunities since!
My name is Ijlal Iqbal. I have Down Syndrome, and this is my story.
In Pakistan where I was born, children with intellectual disabilities are often seen as a curse. It is a challenge to get equal opportunities in all aspects of our lives, and even equal access to basic services like quality healthcare doesn’t come easy.
I remember my parents taking me to an ophthalmologist when I was 5. The doctor refused to treat me, and told my parents in front of everyone in the room, to take me to a place where there was special equipment to treat people like me. My parents were speechless. The incident left them in shock and deeply humiliated. The experience was so traumatic that it prevented them from taking me to another doctor after that.
So for years, I didn’t have the confidence to lead an active life, crippled by my visual impairment.
The turning point came when Special Olympics Pakistan conducted a free health screening for people with intellectual disabilities as part of their Healthy Athletes program in Karachi. My parents realized at the screening that they were not alone. Almost 98 percent of parents with children like me, who often have issues articulating what we are going through, had not sent their children for health screenings. They had no idea about the health condition of their children.
I was referred the LRBT hospital, a free eye hospital in Karachi, for further care. After going through several tests, I finally received my prescription glasses on 13 April 2017.
The moment I wore my glasses, I experienced a miracle. I moved my head in all directions and couldn’t stop blinking. I was not used to seeing the bright and beautiful colors of life. My parents said that I was pointing at the window in excitement, and then pointing at every single thing in the room. I was amazed, surprised, overwhelmed all at once. My mother shed tears of joy. I finally understood what it meant to truly see.
It was a life-changing moment. Since that day, I have been participating in all the activities at school and at home. These days, I love playing bocce and cricket with my friends. I’m also discovering my talent in art through painting and block printing. I love video games too.
I feel so thankful that I’m finally living my life, after years of living in isolation and darkness. The world is my canvas, and I’m ready to fill it with colors!