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From a highly paralyzed immigrant child without a school-leaving certificate to a research assistant with a double degree and doctorate at Bielefeld University: his electric wheelchair played a major role in his career, says Dr. phil. Faraj Remmo. His example shows that it is possible to achieve ambitious goals even in a wheelchair.

For Dr. Faraj Remmo, his chin-controlled power wheelchair is much more than just a means of transport. The vehicle gives the quadriplegic person the greatest possible freedom of movement and action: "With my electric wheelchair I can move around independently and without assistance. This is very pleasant, especially at work. This way I can drive around my work area alone and pay a visit to my colleagues, for example." Thanks to his e-rollis, the research assistant can interact with his students during teaching and enjoys not having to stop at one point during a lecture. For the educationalist and sociologist at Bielefeld University, his profession stands above all for "self-realization", as he says. It meant a lot to him because in his position he could actively work with students at the university as well as at other educational institutions. In terms of content, Dr. Faraj Remmo is particularly concerned with topics such as inclusion, integration and participation.

The profession - a path to self-realization

The Kurd, born in Lebanon in 1969, has been committed to the concerns of the migration society and the problems of people with disabilities for many years. He is a sought-after speaker and consultant for cities, organisations, associations and individuals. With his language skills he has helped many refugees and migrants with translations: Dr. Remmo speaks Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish, French, English and German. In 2018, he was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit for his many and varied activities.

It can be said that the 49-year-old has put his scientific career on the backburner against practically every probability. In 1980, at the age of eleven, he fled with his family from the civil war in Lebanon to Germany. She lives in Berlin in refugee homes, the children go to primary school. Faraj attends secondary school for another six months and his asylum application is rejected. The family returns to Lebanon: "With dignity. My father did not want to be deported in a night and fog operation."

Imaginably bad starting conditions

After a bomb attack, which Faraj and his brother Samir barely survive, the father sends the boys back to Berlin alone. They are placed in a youth centre, but are not allowed to work. After a one year basic training as a carpenter his situation improves. Faraj gets a work permit and a residence permit. The young man changes to gastronomy and takes it from the dishwasher to the waiter. In August 1990 the accident happened with a high degree of paralysis as a result. When the parents come to Germany for his brother's wedding, they stay to assist Faraj. The family lives together in a refugee camp near Herford - without facilities for the disabled, without a wheelchair or other aids. The family was not familiar with such topics. "If you don't know your rights, you won't be protected," says Dr. Faraj Remmo today.

Decisive impulses through exchange

This gradually changes after several months of rehabilitation due to a kidney problem. Faraj met people in a similar situation, who were in the middle of life, knew their way around and exchanged ideas with him. The new electric wheelchair with chin control brought back the longed-for freedom of movement. He sought out a disability counsellor, learned to fight for his rights and ask for help. Then it all happens in one fell swoop, especially when he received German citizenship in 1998. Within a few years he caught up on all his school qualifications. At the age of 31, Dr. Remmo had his secondary school diploma in his pocket, then the secondary school diploma and the Abitur. He began a double degree course at the University of Bielefeld. In 2005 he received his diploma in pedagogy, in 2006 in sociology. He completed his dissertation with a grade of 2.0. His most beautiful reward: that he was able to give something back to his mother in this way.

One building block: a barrier-free environment

Bielefeld University proved to be a "relatively ideal environment" for the wheelchair-bound student for his studies: "I had everything I needed for everyday university life. There were also few structural barriers, so that I had access to lecture halls and seminar rooms, for example". Because the buildings of the University of Bielefeld include a kind of market place with the Forum, Faraj Remmo was able to use various facilities such as a bank, bookstore, grocery stores or stationery shops without having to travel a long way. Practically also: The Job Center was affiliated with the university, so it didn't need a big action to look for assistants. "Accordingly, I was already able to perform many necessary everyday tasks at the university," says Dr. Remmo. In one respect, he says, it was even easier for him as an electric wheelchair user than for the users of a manual wheelchair: "At the time of his studies, electric door openers were not yet available everywhere. While his assistant was able to open the door for him, the fellow students in wheelchairs had to ask other people for help or even look for it first. Because there are still some barriers today, Dr. Faraj Remmo founded the Department for Students with Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses in 2005, together with some fellow students. The unit worked out suggestions and proposals, developed measures and implemented them. In the meantime, a "Diversity Policy" is in place at the university - you can read about it on the website of Bielefeld University (www.uni-bielefeld.de).

Assistance and aids

Dr. Faraj Remmo: "One of the reasons why our suggestions were taken up was because we regularly drew attention to the topic of "Studies and Disability" in the university hall. The department (RSB) demanded structural changes from the university in this regard with regard to the inclusion, diversity and participation of students with disabilities or chronic illnesses, which were ultimately implemented through the benevolent attitude of the Rectorate. In addition, the attention and support of various university groups made it possible to gain more opportunities for co-determination and co-determination in the political university landscape. How does the scientist organize his everyday life? "A regional

The funding agency provides me with work assistance that supports me in my everyday life at university," explains Dr. Faraj Remmo. "My research assistant also performs the scientific tasks for me that I cannot do with my hands. This includes working on the PC, writing notes for committees, work and events and preparing presentations."

Objective: Implement the mitigation approach

At home, too, aids make everyday life easier: for example, the ceiling lift for transferring from bed to wheelchair and the height-adjustable nursing bed. With the help of an ambient voice control device, Dr. Remmo can make phone calls, operate the television and switch the lights on and off without any assistance. The scientist operates the laptop with the help of an Integra mouse with his mouth. What is Dr. Faraj Remmo's current goal? "My goal and great desire is to implement the approach of enabling, which I became aware of at the Protestant University of Applied Sciences Ludwigsburg, at our University Bielefeld. At the core of this is the design of the university as a place of learning, work and living in such a way that students and employees who are affected by disabilities or disadvantages can study or work with or without assistance as a matter of course and without barriers.

Text: Brigitte Muschiol

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