From wheelchair to powerlifting championships: Emirati teen with spine condition fights for disability rights

She is determined not to let her disability stand in way of her dreams


Ahmed Waqqas Alawlaqi

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Published: Wed 1 Nov 2023, 1:05 PM

Last updated: Thu 7 Dec 2023, 1:22 PM

Fatima Lanjawi was born with spina bifida, a condition where the spinal cord doesn't develop properly. Now 17, the Emirati girl has undergone multiple surgeries and treatments over the years. But she has not let her disability define her or limit her dreams.

In 2019, Fatima set a goal to achieve greater independence and reduce her reliance on others for assistance. Encouraged by her parents, she took bold steps outside her comfort zone, embarking on her journey towards self-sufficiency. She started attending grade 8 without an assistant, despite initial resistance from the administration.

“I wanted to be more independent and not rely on someone for help. At first the school refused to let me attend without a helper, but with my parents’ support, we obtained approval from the Ministry of Education.”

Later, she joined one of Dubai Police's summer programmes and was chosen as the graduation leader, a proud moment that showcased her capabilities, despite her wheelchair.

"Becoming a leader gave me the opportunity to show people that my wheelchair doesn't stop me from leading," said Fatima.

Since then, Fatima has engaged in various volunteer programmes, courses, and work experiences, constantly seeking new ways to gain skills and help others. A memorable two-week job as a barista in 2022 boosted her confidence and sociability.

She reflects on the experience, saying, "Working as a barista not only taught me about the coffee industry but also had a profound impact on my personality. I've become more social, talkative, and assertive, moving away from shyness. It's been a significant growth in my personality."

Fatima has earned certificates in fields like health science, coding, and cybersecurity, driven by intellectual curiosity and a desire to expand her knowledge. "My curiosity and passion led me to pursue education in various fields. Enrolling in educational courses provided me with in-depth knowledge and enriched my background in various university majors."

Fatima found great fulfilment in participating in events like the 2023 Powerlifting World Championship. Surrounded by supportive mentors and friends, she gained invaluable experience and raised awareness about disability rights. Her advocacy aims to break stereotypes and foster positive mindsets. She shares, 'After the change in my personality, I became more interested in socialising with people and demonstrating that, despite my disability, I can assist others with determination and the general public.'"

Among her proudest achievements is serving on the Dubai Club for People of Determination's youth council. This opened doors for relationship-building, leadership skills, and understanding policy issues affecting the disabled community. She attributes her success to her family’ support and her strong Muslim faith for instilling self-acceptance and resilience.

Fatima has an empowering message for young people with disabilities: "Disability won't stop us from living and achieving in life."


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