Celebrating the Brilliant & Resilient: Teuta’s Story

Portrait of Teuta
photo credit: www.kiefelphotography.com
Teuta Halilaj, an alumna of MIUSA’s Women’s Institute on Leadership and Disability (WILD), shares the story of her journey as a disability rights activist in Albania.

"I got so tired of people crying for me every time I ventured onto the streets of Albania in my wheelchair that I decided it would be better to just stay home. I was only twenty-five when I was in a terrible car accident that caused irreparable damage to my spinal cord. As a result, I am now a paraplegic and a wheelchair user.

At such a young and wonderful age I was completely shocked that in just a few short moments my life turned upside-down and how I was viewed by others could suddenly change in every aspect. I discovered first-hand that women with disabilities are quickly ushered out of society, badly prejudged with no opportunities to live life but stay home and die slowly.

My life changed drastically. Because of the accident, I was divorced. There is a very high rate of marriages that end in divorce when the wife becomes disabled. After a period of self-doubt and frustration, I learned that if you want life to smile for you, you must smile first. We women with disabilities must make that first step and change our outlook on life.

I have become open and even proud of my disability. I have learned that though it may have affected how others view me, it has not affected my ability to be an advocate for myself and others who have disabilities. There is a noticeable void of strong and capable women in leadership positions representing disabled persons and it has become my goal to change that. I met strong women like myself and we created a group of intellectuals who are advocates in our communities and hosted the first conference for women with disabilities in Albania.

My true passion is teaching. After teaching geography for many years, I was fortunate to win a scholarship to study one term of intensive English in the United States. Through this experience, I was encouraged by the accessibility of classrooms and other university amenities for people with disabilities. For the first time, I saw an interactive educational model where I was able to give presentations and actively direct my learning. I was determined to bring this opportunity to my students in Albania. I added a ramp to my teaching facility and began reaching out to families who have children with disabilities.

I am now an English teacher to more than fifty students with and without disabilities. Learning and teaching English has not only given me a voice; it has allowed me to give others a voice. I want to show my students that through awareness, tolerance, advocacy, and knowledge that communities can change."

(Story excerpted from Brilliant & Resilient: Celebrating the Power of Disabled Women Activists)

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Author: 

Teuta Halilaj