We All Have “Suspended” Disability

On love and marriage among people with special needs.

(Photo: Wheelchair lovers [Svennevenn/via CC BY-NC 2.0])

“In ar-Raqqah, a woman’s opinions and ideas are often disregarded no matter how educated she is, especially in terms of marriage , let alone when the man is handicapped!”

div>(Rif Dimashq, Syria) Physical disabilities become more common in wartime, especially among youths and children. The fighters are usually young men and the victims of their battles are often children. Figures show an increase in the number of physical injuries caused by wars in general, and those affected among young men and women need to move on with their social lives and marry if possible. They may even be already engaged when they have an accident.
In August 2015, in a meeting on war disabilities, a high-level security officer in the Administration and Policy Direction Department stated before a group of intellectuals that, according to the Administration’s figures, 4.3% of youths between 18 and 26 years old in the Syrian coastal region, particularly among Alawites, suffer from physical handicaps. This is considered a large number given that this age group is decreasing in size due to migration, death, and military recruitment, and it now represents a very small percentage of the coastal population.
On 18 August 2015, feminist activist Doha ad-Dibs mentioned in a post on the Syrian Women’s Network website, a Syrian women’s NGO, that there were one million cases of motor disability in Syria. Taking into account that 6.5 million have fled the country over the past four years (out of the overall population of 22.5 million in 2011), according to statements made by the governmental Syrian Commission for Family Affairs in early 2015, the actual number of remaining residents in Syria would be 16 million. Therefore, roughly 6.5% of the Syrian population suffer from motor disability. Moreover, a statement by the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces revealed that 270,000 cases of permanent disability were recorded until 4 December 2014.
Marriage is one of the topics of the Specialised Psychosocial Support curriculum, offered in Syria by humanitarian organisations that are dedicated to people with special needs to help them adjust to their new physical condition. In this regard, various cases of disability are considered, since certain handicaps prevent disabled people from marriage, especially those who are mentally, behaviourally and physically challenged, such as people suffering from autism, cerebral palsy, hyperactivity, generalized convulsive epilepsy, Down syndrome and tetraplegia. People with special needs rarely marry in general as they are particular cases.
Over my five years of experience in working as a social researcher with many humanitarian organisations across Syria, I have established a standard for the success of marriages among people with special needs by answering the following questions:
1. Does the disability hinder marital life, i.e. living conditions, caring for one’s home and family, intimate relations and procreation?
2. Does it hamper relations with the family’s social surroundings, such as neighbours, relatives and friends?
3. Is it genetic or accidental? (If genetic, the couple should not procreate.)
4. Is there acceptance, agreement and desire between the couple, or was the marriage coercive?
Next, I shall give two different examples related to this standard, both of which I have followed during my research. The first is about a disabled person who married in spite of his handicap and whose strong will helped him during his journey. The second example, on the other hand, is about a man who was already married before he was injured, and whose life began falling apart as he lost his will.
Ahmad (1) is a teacher in his thirties from ar-Raqqah. He suffers from congenital paralysis in his leg, but he has adapted to his situation which did not prevent him from teaching or from his favourite activity: love. The teacher fell in love with a colleague of his, and she loved him, but her parents refused their marriage because of his handicap. “In ar-Raqqah, a woman’s opinions and ideas are often disregarded no matter how educated she is, especially in terms of marriage , let alone when the man is handicapped!” Ahmad explained. Similarly, her thoughts would be ignored even if she was disabled, although it is easier in this case, because the suitor would have already agreed to wed her and her parents would marry her away immediately to safeguard her honour. “We all have suspended disability,” he added mockingly, since anyone could become disabled.
As for Abu Hussein, he is an army officer in his thirties from Tartus. He was ambushed and hit in his sacral vertebral bones, and has been paralysed for a year and four months. He is married and has a four-year-old girl, but he has not made peace with his disability. “My wife and I got married out of love, but today she complains of having to care for my needs, and her eyes aren’t as tender. It’s probably because she’s still young and I’m completely disabled,” he said. For her part, the wife, Umm Hussein, added: “We became poor since we did not receive the disability indemnities and medications aren’t available locally anymore, so we have to buy them from Lebanon at high prices. My husband adds insult to injury with his depression and weak will.”
A healthy person becomes disabled without a strong will, and disabled people can overcome their handicap with strong will and determination. Every disability can be a motivation to find, be, or prove oneself, so as not to become victim of one’s disability. Had man not known that, he would not have developed his life or strived for what is better. Adjusting to your disability is the first step to instill a strong will, just as the school teacher did.
The teacher finally married the woman he loved. His disability was not genetic, nor did it prevent the completion of his marital life. The couple’s love to one another triumphed as they defied their society. Meanwhile, although the officer’s injury did not affect his social or marital life except during his recovery, his depression and anxiety led him to believe that his wife had changed. However, the wife only complained of her husband’s weak will and many demands despite their harsh financial situation, yet she never refused to care for him, nor does it seem that her feelings toward him have changed. After providing the couple with the necessary consultancy in a psychosocial support clinic in a humanitarian organisation, their behaviour changed and they grew to accept their new situation. The officer is now learning how to repair cell phones to open his own shop.

Pseudonyms were used for security reasons.