Blindness Awareness and
a Tiny Country
Awareness of Blind issues is cropping up in the United Arab Emirates, a country with a local (Emirati) population of 1.4 million and an expatriate population of 7.6 million. The UAE, as it’s called, lies on the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf. It borders Oman to east, Saudi Arabia to the South and shares sea borders with Qatar and Iran.
Since I used to live in the Emirates, news of the students observing White Cane Day in a prominent university encouraged me. In the nine years I lived there, I only met one other person who was vision-impaired and she was not Emirati. Although I wasn’t so keyed into the life of a vision-impaired person back then since I was still in denial of my own vision loss, I sometimes wondered why this topic never came up among the locals or why I never saw anyone with vision impairment on the streets. Of course, if a woman were blind or vision-impaired and wore a veil, it would have been hidden from the public. But otherwise, why didn’t I see anyone?
Honestly, perhaps I wasn’t observant enough. I wish I had gone to see what resources were available when I lived there. These opportunities rarely present themselves again.
But it looks like there’s a changing theme in this small country that I loved so much.
White Cane Day has become a symbol of strength in my own life since I use a mobility cane to find my way around. Reading that vision-impaired people are striving for the same kind of understanding that I seek connects me to them.
I applaud the vision-impaired individuals of this country for stepping out and bringing this awareness about. This is the second consecutive time that White Cane Day has been celebrated since I left nine years ago.
Several university students took part in the awareness campaign. Blindfolded, they had to eat in the canteen, navigate the hallways and study in complete darkness – exactly like the 28 blind or visually-impaired students at the university’s two campuses have to do every day.
As Loulwah Mohamed, a vision-impaired student points out, “People need to understand more about special needs.” Out of 9,000 students at the two Zayed University campuses, 100 have special needs.
Fatma Al Qassimi, director of the office of special needs at the university admits, “We are a young country and and the awareness is still young.” She shares that there is an urgency to educate people in order to initiate change – though change is slow.
This cry for education toward vision impairment is echoing around the world.
Hala Bana, an inclusion specialist at the Ministry of Education started initiating change in 2011 to develop strategies that help make schools for everyone.
I wasn’t surprised to hear that there were not many statistics of vision-impaired people in the UAE but so happy that this is changing and, as Ms. Mohamed says, “We need to make more awareness campaigns outside of the university.”
Read the article here.
Also in support of White Cane Day, the Emirates Postal Group worked in conjunction with the Emirates Association of the Visually Impaired and the Blind Printing Press, also at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi.
They recently implemented a modification in their system to aid blind individuals by producing a series of commemorative Braille stamps to bring awareness to the daily challenges. They contain the slogan “UAE with you,” written in different languages, including Braille.
Read that article here.
Now that I’m aware of White Cane Day myself, I am learning more and more about how it’s observed around the world. It’s exciting for me and I want to share that with you, my readers.
How familiar are you with the United Arab Emirates, stamps or Braille? Have you ever tried to read Braille?
You have just read “Blindness Awareness and a Tiny Country” by Amy L. Bovaird. Copyright October 20, 2015. Don’t forget to leave a comment!