Personal Story

Feature Issue on Self-Advocacy for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities

Widening My Perspective


 Salma Eltabbakh is a member of Inclusion International.

As a child growing up in Egypt, I was in mainstream classes with students without a disability until I finished high school. After school, I joined the Institute of Social Work in Alexandria University. I was a volunteer in many charitable organizations for nearly ten years, during which time I took several courses, including sign language and a course about intellectual disability and autism. In 2014, I started to work as a teacher in a centre for children with an intellectual disability. I am a self-advocate and through my organization, the Alexandria Self-Advocacy Resource Centre, a member of Inclusion International, and a member of Inclusion International MENA Region. MENA Region is a union of regional organizations that work to promote inclusive values and the rights of people with intellectual disabilities.

Salma Eltabbakh, wearing a head scarf and glasses, smiles as she stands in front of presentation posters.

Employment is a key advocacy area for Salma Eltabbakh

I have worked in self-advocacy since 2014. I learnt how to speak up for myself and for others and to know my rights and the rights of people with intellectual disability through understanding about the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Self-advocacy is important to me because it has made me more independent. I can ask for my rights through the CRPD. I have taken part in Bridge training, which is in-depth training about the CRPD and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for disability advocates. Through this training we learnt about all the articles of the CRPD including health, education, work. We also learnt about the SDG’s and how people with disabilities should be included in the goals.

I have met people from different countries, which helped me to share experiences and widen my perspective.

The biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome was when I joined a mainstream classroom with students without a disability. This was really difficult, but I succeeded in reaching my goal to graduate from Alexandria University as a social worker. The second biggest challenge was how to find a job. As I am a person with Down syndrome, I was always refused opportunities without being able to show my potential. That is why I was a volunteer for such a long time. Finally, I found a teaching job in a centre for children with intellectual disability with the support of the manager at the school, who knew my potential.  

As a self-advocate, I continue to work on issues that are important to people with disabilities. The big issue we are working on now is employment. In spite of the law in Egypt, which says most businesses must employ people with intellectual disability, actually we are not able to get jobs or feel accepted at work. The second big issue is discrimination. I think to overcome this, we should let people without a disability be familiar with people with intellectual disability through the media and through the inclusion of us in the community and in schools. 

Of course, it is important for self-advocates to know their rights by understanding the articles of the CRPD and SDG. 

Empower Us helps self-advocates do this important work by giving people more information about their rights in an easy and clear way. It also gives training for self-advocates around the world. 

Being part of Empower Us gives me self-confidence and more knowledge, and it increases my relationships with other self-advocates and members in the Middle East and North Africa region.