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Play teaches tolerance toward, and advocacy for the disabled

Tonight, 29 March, at 7:30pm is the final showing of “Listen up! Theatre for political and social rights for people with disabilities,” at Nahda Association for Arts and Science. The series of light, touching and blisteringly funny skits are designed not to highlight the suffering of the disabled, nor to place the blame for their disadvantaged position on one entity, but to point out the negative attitudes that permeate society and the role that each of us should play as an advocate in daily life.

In the first scene, a sister begs her father to allow Warda — her hearing-impaired sibling — to attend a special school for the deaf. The father is skeptical at first, sitting in front of the television in his galabeya, perhaps representing the large segment of society that is unaware that such opportunities exist. But the sister persists, and when she finds a school close to home, the father concedes.

The skits follow Warda and her new classmates through their life events. In each scene, they confront unique challenges, such as a football coach, unwilling to allow Muhi on the team, since he cannot hear the whistle without his father’s guidance from the sidelines. We watch Warda and Muhi’s romance develop, from video phone calls in which they communicate with sign language, to their hunt for a flat with a dismissive real estate agent, to their wedding day.

A factory scene shows Warda and her old classmates, including Muhi in conflict with the foreman, who, instead of trying to communicate with them, just yells louder. Warda’s sister intercedes once again to convince the boss to hire a translator. He accepts in the end — though he only wants the sister’s number; the scene highlights the need not only for enforced regulations, but relentless advocacy.

In real life, the actress that plays Warda is hearing impaired, and she works in a factory with no translator.  She explains humbly and emphatically this obstacle to the audience. A media presenter addresses the issue from the other side, explaining that the lack of a translator is often solely due to a manager’s indifference to the idea — not a lack of resources or knowledge. She stresses that we cannot only point to the government, but must also examine our prejudices as a society.

A miscommunication between a speaker and a deaf cast member during the question and answer session raised another critical issue; that speaking through a mediator is often fraught with misunderstandings and the frustrations of not being able to respond independently.

A woman from the audience — a doctoral student in teaching techniques for the deaf and a mother of two deaf sons — took the opportunity to turn a tense moment into a teaching one. She explained that disabled people are commonly seen as hostile or anxious, but this is because translation is not always accurate, leaving space for confusion.

Notwithstanding the encouragement of family and peers, and in spite of the opposition of members of society, each individual in the play displays a unique and persistent personality. Through universal humor, the actors show that excluding or ignoring people with disabilities is to miss out on our common humanity.

Following the reception, where members of the deaf community congratulated their peers, a short film is shown about the making of the skits, featuring interviews with the director, producers and cast. The question and answer session, a raw and touching part of the evening, allowed the audience to enter the world of the disabled and their families.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the theatre as one actor’s father, eyes welling with tears, told the narrative of his son’s upbringing—and his own education. Each parent of a disabled child goes through an initial shock, he explained; he had always assumed his son would be a burden. Today, the father said with dignity, it is his son who supports the family.

This was not simply the story of one family and their obstacles and anxieties in raising a disabled child; it spoke to the wider society, which assumes that children with disabilities cannot perform like others, and berates them for this assumption. In reality, as this father articulated, the disabled have the same potential, if they are only given the resources to achieve it.

Schools should teach sign language alongside English and French, one speaker emphasized. With handicapped people composing up to 15 percent of the Egyptian population, this would be a worthy step toward greater social and political inclusion.

To watch the young cast members, at ease among their deaf peers and those whose lives they have touched, is to witness a bond that is both unique and universal. The play empowers audience members, showing that we can all play a role as an advocate for the rights and dignity of others.

Produced by Noon Creative Enterprise and You Can, with support from the British Council, the play will show again tonight at 7:30pm. The venue is wheelchair accessible and sign language interpreters are provided.

Address: 15 Saif El Din al-Mahrani Street, al-Fagala (across from J├ęsuites), Ramses, Tel: Nairy Avedissian 011-1791-1133, Email: [email protected]

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