I remember someone once told me that we need to create a society where being legless would be irrelevant. This is the world I aspire to create, where people with intellectual disabilities would not be judged on their disabilities but on their potential to achieve what everyone can and sometimes, even more!
I was in university when I came across Special Olympics Pakistan. I was the Vice President of a society called education and community service during that time. A friend came up to me one day and told me about a unified sports event by the Special Olympics, where people with and without intellectual disabilities could play together on the same team. At first, I was sceptical, I did not understand how it would be possible. After our final meeting, we decided to give it a shot.
When the match started, I experienced for the first time in my life, the true joy of football. While we were playing to win, the greater goal was in playing together for the love of sports, making sure that no team-mate was sidelined, and simply enjoying the camaraderie of the team. It was a life-changing moment. I decided then to participate in more such events and even interned with Special Olympics for a while.
After my graduation, I worked for a company for a year but was looking for something more meaningful. That’s when Special Olympics came into my life full time. I had applied for a job and got through. It’s been more than 4 years working with the team and it has been an amazing journey.
It has been difficult at times because not everyone understands the importance of inclusion but having Haseeb by my side has been a plus because his journey has been such an inspiring one.
Haseeb Abbasi is a Special Olympics athlete leader with autism from Pakistan and I have been working with him for over 3 years now. We have worked on so many memorable projects together and have since forged a valuable friendship in the process.
One of our most memorable projects was a unified hike in Islamabad that we organised together. We invited people with and without ID to hike alongside one another. It was a magical experience witnessing everyone come together as strangers but leave the event as friends. There were no barriers between people with or without disabilities; only kindness and mutual understanding.
Haseeb has taught me so much about life and inspired me with his passion, grace, and never-say-die attitude. As a person with autism, he has faced rejection and discrimination all his life. But he’s never given up chasing his dreams. Today, he is an entrepreneur and an active advocate, travelling the world to spread awareness of issues faced by people with ID.
Haseeb’s success is proof that in an inclusive society, we can all fulfil our potential and have the opportunity to live our dreams. The young people of today, who are the leaders of tomorrow, have a key role in creating such a utopia. Hence, it is important that we inculcate the feeling of love, compassion and tolerance among our youth right from the start.
People with ID are seen as different, people feel that they perceive things differently. But don’t we all?
The next time you see someone with ID, don’t shun them. Go up to them, talk to them, get to know them. They might take time to open up but trust me, they are more receptive to love and affection than any one of us. All they need is an equal opportunity to live, work, play, and achieve their dreams.