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Ayad Marhoon
Physical Disabilities

‘My framing of the perceived difficulties living as a wheelchair user changed profoundly’

Ayad Marhoon reflects on cognitive shifts on a recent trip to Iraq.

04 June 2024

As a wheelchair user living in the UK, my perspective on accessibility has undergone a significant transformation after a recent visit to Iraq. This journey highlighted the profound differences in accessibility standards between the two countries and reshaped my understanding of what constitutes adequate support for disabled individuals. 

By contrasting the UK's accessibility infrastructure with the almost non-existent provisions in Iraq, I'll explore how the psychological concepts of benchmarking, framing, and cognitive reframing have influenced my coping mechanisms and outlook on disability.

Accessibility: Contrasting the UK and Iraq

In the UK, the legal framework supporting accessibility is robust. The Equality Act 2010 mandates reasonable adjustments in public and private sectors to ensure disabled individuals have equal access to services and facilities. This legislation, coupled with ongoing advocacy and public awareness, has led to significant improvements in the physical and social environment for wheelchair users. Public transportation includes buses with ramps and designated spaces for wheelchairs, and many train stations have lifts and step-free access. Public buildings are required to have accessible entrances, toilets, and parking spaces (Barnes & Mercer, 2010).

Academic discourse further supports disability and inclusion, offering evidence-based recommendations and shaping policies for a more inclusive society (Shakespeare, 2013). Before my trip to Iraq, I often felt frustrated with the UK's accessibility shortcomings, as my high expectations led me to focus on deficiencies rather than progress. But while high benchmarks can drive advocacy and improvements, they also have potential downsides. When expectations are consistently unmet, it can lead to chronic frustration and a lack of gratitude for incremental improvements. An entitled mindset can overshadow the progress and positive changes that have been made, resulting in a lack of satisfaction and potentially reducing proactive advocacy efforts.

In stark contrast, Iraq's infrastructure for disabled individuals is severely lacking. Most buildings lack ramps or lifts, and public transportation is largely inaccessible. Pavements are uneven, with common obstacles such as steps, narrow doorways, and high curbs. The societal awareness and legal framework supporting disability rights are minimal compared to the UK. 

Navigating Iraq in a wheelchair was an immense challenge. I was dependent on companions to assist me, which restricted my independence and mobility. Everyday activities became significant obstacles, highlighting the social exclusion faced by disabled individuals in Iraq. This drastic shift in environment forced me to re-evaluate my benchmarks for accessibility, making me appreciate the relative advancements in the UK.

Changing perspectives

The contrast of my experiences in the UK and Iraq provided a new lens through which to view accessibility. In the UK, the challenges I faced seemed surmountable and often related to finer details of inclusion. In Iraq, the barriers were fundamental, impacting every aspect of daily life. This comparison underscored how far the UK has come in terms of accessibility and how important it is to continue advocating for improvements.

Cognitive reframing, a technique used in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) (Beck, 2011), involves changing the way we look at a situation to alter its emotional impact. In the UK, I framed my difficulties within a context of high expectations, often feeling entitled to demand better services. However, in Iraq, my frame of reference shifted to survival mode, where any form of assistance became a significant relief. This cognitive reframing helped me cope better with the challenges I faced, reinforcing a positive outlook and a more resilient mindset.

Upon returning to the UK, my framing of the perceived difficulties living as a wheelchair user changed profoundly. I now viewed challenges through a lens of appreciation rather than entitlement. Social comparison theory, proposed by Leon Festinger, suggests that individuals determine their own social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others (Suls & Wheeler, 2013). By comparing the UK's relative accessibility to Iraq's severe lack thereof, I developed a newfound appreciation for the progress made in the UK. This shift in perspective helped reduce my frustration, fostering a sense of gratitude for the advancements in accessibility that I previously took for granted.

Had I not engaged in cognitive reframing, the high benchmarks and sense of entitlement might have continued to foster ongoing dissatisfaction. This mindset could have led to increased stress and frustration, as constantly focusing on unmet high expectations often results in negative emotions stemming from the feeling of inadequacy in current accessibility provisions. Persistent dissatisfaction can significantly impact overall well-being, leading to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, which are detrimental to mental health. Furthermore, the constant focus on deficiencies could overshadow my appreciation for steady improvements, reducing my motivation to engage in advocacy. Unlike in Iraq where the situation is much worse, I do not find myself asking 'Where do I start?', and this is something to be grateful for. Without reframing, the emotional toll of unmet expectations could hinder the ability to appreciate progress made, ultimately impacting both mental health and advocacy efforts.

Sustaining momentum in advocacy

However, the cognitive reframing that shifted my perspective from entitlement to appreciation brought its own set of challenges. While appreciating progress is beneficial for mental health, it might reduce the urgency for further advocacy. Contentment with relative improvements could lessen the drive to push for complete inclusion and ongoing advancements, risking complacency with the status quo. The key challenge is balancing gratitude for current progress with the demand for further improvements. An entitled mindset, often seen negatively, can be a powerful motivator for change, fuelling the drive to demand better services and accommodations. Balancing this entitlement with gratitude for progress is crucial to ensure that advocacy efforts remain strong and effective.

Reflecting on my experiences, I recognise the importance of maintaining high benchmarks while appreciating incremental progress. This dual approach ensures that the fight for complete inclusion and accessibility continues without losing sight of achievements already made. Sustaining momentum in advocacy requires balancing gratitude for progress with a persistent demand for better accessibility. Cognitive reframing fosters a resilient and positive mindset, crucial for long-term advocacy. It allows individuals to cope better with challenges by focusing on progress and potential rather than solely on deficiencies. Appreciating small victories can boost morale and motivation, making the overall goal of complete inclusion seem more attainable. This balance is essential to ensure that advocacy for accessibility remains robust and effective, ultimately leading to a more inclusive society.


My journey from the UK to Iraq has profoundly changed my perspective on accessibility and living with a disability. It has made me appreciate the relative advancements in the UK while recognising the urgent need for global action to support disabled individuals in less accessible environments. More importantly, it has taught me the power of benchmarking, framing, and cognitive reframing in shaping my mental health and overall happiness. By reflecting on these contrasting experiences, I have learned to appreciate the progress made and approach challenges with a more positive outlook. 

However, this should not diminish the call to action for continuous advocacy. Let this comparative reflection serve both as a testament to the power of perspective in enhancing our well-being, and as a call to action for continued advocacy for accessibility.


Barnes, C., & Mercer, G. (2010). Exploring Disability: A Sociological Introduction. Polity Press.

Beck, J. S. (2011). Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond. Guilford Press.

Disability Rights UK. (2010). Equality Act 2010. Retrieved from Disability Rights UK.

Shakespeare, T. (2013). Disability Rights and Wrongs Revisited. Routledge.

Suls, J., & Wheeler, L. (Eds.). (2013). Handbook of Social Comparison: Theory and Research. Springer Science & Business Media.