Lebanese-Australian Elie El Khoury Antonios is kicking goals in his personal and professional endeavours. He attributes a lot of his success to his family and his Sydney community who have stood by him through his struggles with cerebral palsy.
People with special needs have many rights guaranteed by Australian law, which are still not available in many Arab countries.
In Australia, perceptions of a person with special needs are also different, and Elie El Khoury Antonios is an example of this.
Elie was born with cerebral palsy, a physical disability that affects movement and posture. He has relied on a wheelchair to get around for his entire life.
Despite the hardships, the 24-year-old says the disability has never stopped him from living a normal life and chasing his dreams.
He completed his university studies in 2017, obtaining a Bachelor of Social Work from the Western Sydney University before completing a Masters in Research, specialising in the study of people with special needs in the workplace.
Elie now works for the public relations and government affairs division of Hire Up, a NSW service provider founded in 2015 that supports people with disabilities by finding and hiring support workers for their needs and interests through an online platform.
Elie's position focuses on raising awareness about government changes relating to services for people with disabilities and the problems they may face.
"The main goal of our work is to create a holistic and inclusive society for these people," he says.
Away from work, sport has played a major part in his life.
"I have a great passion for sports and I am one of the biggest followers of sporting events and I write and comment on matches through blogs on the Internet."
Role of the family and community
Elie stresses that a major part of his success has been the part that his family and community have played in supporting him, by ensuring he maintains his independence.
Elie's father, poet Fouad Neeman El Khoury, recalls that he and his wife experienced difficulties during their son’s youth, but believes their efforts were part of the normal responsibilities of any parents.
“My wife and I struggled for Elie to have the same opportunities as anyone else, especially in education.”
He recalls how a teacher once refused to receive Elie at an Australian school but eventually agreed following the family's insistence.
Elie also admits that he did experience some “disturbing” episodes during his childhood.
“In terms of behaviours growing up, I often noticed a lot of people would stare at me and they wouldn't actually come up and say hello I didn't particularly like that because I thought they simply saw my disability before myself as an individual.
"In terms of language, as a kid growing up I used to always hear people using the word disabled person or I like to be cared for and I don't really like it... I don't like being labelled as a disabled person and somebody that needs to be cared for I would rather be spoken about as somebody who has a disability and somebody who accesses support to be able to do what they need to do."
His father says he has never felt ashamed of his son's disability.
"We were determined to defend his rights not just because he was our son but because he was a human being like all of us,” Fouad said.
"People with special needs are special people chosen by God for a certain message in life."
Elie believes that his affiliation with the Lebanese-Australian community in Sydney has been a very beneficial and positive thing.
But he acknowledged that disability does not meet with the same degree of acceptance from all members of society.
“As you have learned this, especially since everyone in us has a disability that may be hidden and we must accept each other.”
Elie believes more can be done for people with special needs.
“The energies and experiences that they can contribute are different from other experiences, especially as they come from a different perspective so they should be utilized as much as possible.
“Overprotection limits their ability to develop their abilities and prove themselves in society, so do not deny them the opportunity to experience new experiences in various fields, from school to work and hobbies to social relationships.”
Fouad believes that the protection that the community had provided to Elie during his upbringing played a part in strengthening his self-confidence.
“Parents should allow their kid to be independent and make his own decisions because they will not stay with him for life to protect him,” he says.
“It may be difficult, but it is important to maintain a balance between our interventions to protect the boy. And let him use his wings to fly and fly."