Disabled influencer Lina on helping people to break down their own barriers

Lina Bettayeb wearing a beige hijab and grey top sat by a window with a vase containing pink and white flowers

Disability isn’t as well represented as it should be, but it’s even worse for minority groups within the disability community. We want to change that, so are interviewing a series of disabled activists and influencers from different minorities. Here, we speak to Lina Bettayeb – or ‘Lina the dreamer’, as she is known to her 5,000 Instagram followers – a 22-year-old disabled Muslim influencer living in London.

Please tell Disability Horizons readers who you are and what you do?

I would describe myself as an ambitious individual who does their best to overcome any challenges whilst also trying to see the positives of a situation.

My time is shared between studying for a neuroscience degree and trying to recover movement in my body after I was paralysed from the chest down in a car accident in 2014.

I love a good adventure and consider myself an avid adrenaline junkie. Reading in my garden has also recently become one of my favourite pastimes, along with painting and baking.

Lina Bettayeb wearing a brown hijab sat on the ground in front of a tree

You acquired a disability at a fairly young age. How did the world change for you, going from living as non-disabled to disabled?

I was 16 when I found myself in a differently-abled body. It was so surreal for so long. I even get moments today where it still feels unreal.

The fact that I know what life is like as a fully able-bodied person and a disabled person has opened my eyes to so much.

It is definitely harder when you’re not as independent and have to rely on people or things, such as ramps and elevators. There’s so much that I didn’t know about this world before my accident, and I’ve gained massive respect for anyone who deals with a physical challenge.

Did your ambitions and perceptions of life change when you became disabled?

I am naturally an ambitious person, but my drive definitely went to another level after I became paralysed. I wanted to challenge any limit or barrier that I had in my mind, or that anyone or society placed on what I ‘could’ achieve. If you don’t try, how will you ever know?

My perception of many things changed too. From my body image to family, and my relationship with God. It’s crazy how sometimes you have to feel the absence of something in order to notice its value.

With my injury and reliance on a wheelchair to get around, I’ve had to teach myself to be more patient as things take longer than before. I’m also more appreciative of what I have as it could be much worse.

I’ve become more vocal too as no one except myself knows what I’m going through and what my needs are. It’s made me more empathetic as I know what it’s like to be in a position of physical vulnerability that I never felt before.

What inspired you to become a social media influencer and how did get to where you are today?

It started around the middle of my hospital journey –  I was there for a whole year. During that time, I had started to document my feelings and progress to the people I knew.

It started with a blog, where I would share my therapy progress, as well as any thoughts I had. It was also a way for people to contact me and stay connected. I then branched it out to Instagram so that people could follow my experience and send support.Lina Bettayeb wearing a grey hijab looking over a hedge with only her eyes showing

A few years after that, I had started a movement entitled ‘knowing your true ability’. I hoped that it would encourage others to overcome their challenges and learn and achieve from them.

That resonated with a lot of people and, ever since, that has been a goal of mine – to keep sharing and encouraging this mantra.

Have you ever encountered prejudice or discrimination from your followers or the general public?

Thankfully no. I’ve mostly received support and assistance. Outside, I tend to get a lot of curious stares and pity smiles, but as much as they make me feel uncomfortable, I know they’re not ill-intended.

Mental health is often a taboo topic, but as a disabled person have you ever gone through a period of internal struggle? If so, how did you overcome it?

The internal struggle is a daily companion. I’ve had to learn to be self-aware so that I can maintain an equilibrium in my mind.

This involves recognising any triggers or draining factors, including negativity and overuse of social media, and doing things that re-energise me, such as hobbies and speaking to God.

Training the way I think and my perception has also helped massively. I firmly believe that there are multiple ways to see a situation.

I try to ask: ‘Is it worth me stressing over? Is there a silver lining in this? What is this teaching me?’, instead of, ‘Why is this happening to me?’.

Keeping myself in check but also allowing some time to recharge is what works for me.

Who do you get influenced by and who motivates you?

I gain influence and motivation from so many different places. It could be a conversation with someone or a passage in a book. But to narrow it down to two sources, it would be the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) for his tenacity and patience, and my mother for her perseverance and her love of God.

Lina Bettayeb wearing a grey hijab stood in front of a tree looking into the distance.

What is next for you both professionally and personally?

I would love to spread my message as far as I can and to as many people possible. This is what keeps me going every single day.

I’d love to work alongside other differently-abled individuals and celebrate our differences in a video.

By allowing everyone to tell their own stories, instead of having them told by someone else, I want people to really recognise the true warriors in the ‘disabled’ community. We are all more than just a label.

I am also working towards a personal dream I have had since being injured – to learn to fly a plane. I’m so fortunate to have found an organisation that can help me with working towards this with the right adaptations. I am now officially considered a student pilot.

What final message would you like to convey to people?

I hope that my experiences of living with physical paralysis can shine a light on the fact that we all face paralysis in one way or another. These might be physically or mentally through the barriers we place in our minds.

You might be paralysed by not believing in yourself, seeing the negative in everything, not being willing to try something out due to fear of failure or society saying you can’t.

These are all obstacles that can stop us from progressing. Imagine if we all lifted these from our minds – the potential we would reach is beyond worth it.

Interview by Raya AlJadir

More on Disability Horizons…

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