Lat­ifa, 24, has mus­cu­lar dys­tro­phy, which af­fects her arms and legs.

Girlfriend - - GF FEATURES -

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.

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