Latifa, 24, has muscular dystrophy, which affects her arms and legs.
I was diagnosed 14 years ago, and finding a way to cope with the changes was quite a roller-coaster. But after a while I found my rhythm and formed an incredible support system. I developed a routine and learnt to be assertive about my needs. Once people understand what you need, they become accommodating and life becomes a lot easier.
In school, it was hard to manage a social life and fitting in. I couldn’t go to some of my friends’ houses because they weren’t accessible, for example. But my friends and year group were great – I was struggling with my identity and it was new territory for them too, but they did what they could and I loved that. I think the hardest thing about being disabled is the assumptions people make about you. When
I was at school, I had people encouraging me to drop out because they thought I wouldn’t cope with study. I was lucky to have great teachers, and when I was first diagnosed, they could see I was stressed and so were lenient about homework and being late to class. But as time went by, they got tougher and had the same expectations of me as everyone else – and thanks to them, I went on to university.
I still come across people who assume that I can’t work, which sucks. People see my wheelchair and automatically assume that I’m not up for it. I’ve realised the only way to change those attitudes is to continue to live my life and make diversity more visible. I think most people would be surprised to know that all I want is to be able to live my life without barriers. I’m no different to every other young woman out there dealing with discrimination.
If I could offer advice to others, I would say it gets easier. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good – there is no shame in cutting toxic people out of your life.