When you first meet Nawal Benzaouia, you will be captivated by her smile, her commitment to people with disabilities, and her keen business sense. She is a force in the accessibility community. Respected by her peers and clients, she has expanded her company, Massiraa, from France into Dubai, and continues to look for opportunities to help create a more universally accessible world for people with disabilities.
Nawal grew up in Saint-Louis Alsace, France. She attended college in Strasbourg, majoring in Social Science. She was always passionate about challenging conventional ways to make the environment more “accessible” for people with specific needs, so she started her career as a social worker in France, Belgium, and Cameroun. Nawal then realized that she needed to change the perception of disability and show the world that behind each disability there is an ability.
She decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Paris and it was during that time, graduating as an accessibility expert from one of the few schools providing training in this field, I.N.S.H.E.A PARIS, (the National Institute of training and research for the education accessibility of people with special needs and disability), that she launched her own company, Massiraa.
Her company offers its services to companies and public organizations. These services include Accessibility audits (following the ADA, Design for all, European, or UAE standards – based on the request), innovative projects and awareness/training sessions, inclusive Fashion Shows.
Her first successful event was a Massiraa Inclusive Fashion Show in Colombo, Sri Lanka during the Asian European Fashion Week. Organizing a fashion show in a country she barely knew, plus having to deal with significant accessibility issues for her models proved challenging. But it went off without a glitch. Models from all over the world: Africa, Greece, France, India, Belarussia, Finland participated. Designers from from the United States, Singapore, India, and France were also in attendance. The first lady of Sri Lanka and some ambassadors attended the event and were happy to be there to witness this fashion revolution.
One of the main challenges with an event of this nature is that of accessibility, especially the bathroom. During her trip to Sri Lanka for her fashion show, Nawal realized that accessibility not only meant building compliance but also education. “I can make a building fully universally accessible and respect the design for all, but if the staff is not knowledgeable about disabilities then this building is not accessible anymore,” Nawal said.
Nothing was accessible in Sri Lanka but her models were aware of the limitations and were prepared. Nawal’s assistants were available to carry the models when necessary. The locals were also understanding.
Another challenge was the designers who never had the experience of working a fashion show and having to spend so much time with people with specifics needs (mentally and physically challenged). For them, it was a huge experience , but bring designers and people with disabilities together opened up new possibilities. Nawal enjoys conducting these events because regardless of the many challenges, it raises awareness of people with disabilities. She said, “I don’t do fashion events for people with disabilities. Because I don’t discriminate, I create inclusive events. I would love to do a fashion show in New York’s Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week, and Seoul Fashion Week with Hyein Seo, Leesle Hwang, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Alexander Wang, Nicole Miller, Ibraina, and more but my ultimate goal is to give my models the opportunity to be brand ambassadors.”
Massiraa is an International Universal Accessibility Expert company in the UAE with an objective to deliver innovative, inclusive solutions through economic and sustainable models to clients.
Massiraa is the first and only company in all of the UAE and GCC countries holding a license dedicated specifically towards universal accessibility, with the approval of the Ministry of Community Development in UAE.
The people of determination are an integral part of the UAE population. Around 30% of the total population is dependent on others. To meet these diverse needs, adopting a social model approach is an effective strategy to help various institutions all over UAE.
Massiraa is specialized in universal accessibility and is active in six major sectors consisting of auditing of facilities and services, consultation, training, innovation, awareness, and events.
Adapted Communities for All
Nawal believes that communities should not be adapted only for people with disabilities but for everyone. “When we think about accessibility, we need to understand that’s not only for people with disability. It’s also for all the people with special needs, it’s for children, pregnant women, elderly population. We are talking about design for all and thinking about an environment more inclusive for all,” she explained. “I also want sign language to be recognized as a real language, so when we learn English we also learn ASL to communicate with people. We talk a lot about inclusion because now it’s “in” to talk about it, but what is the real meaning? How do we apply it? We need to focus on that.”
The Massiraa brand is now being strengthened. Nawal wants to create an inclusive line of clothing, a good quality product for people with disabilities, easy to wear but very fashionable.
She thinks people with disabilities need to share more publicly about their everyday life because many people do not really understand the difficulties they face.
Instagram : @massiraa / @massiraauae