Having any kind of disability can be a challenge, not only for those who cannot see, walk, hear, learn, speak or do other everyday things but also for those around them. While some disabilities are temporary, others can be permanent and lifelong. It could be something that an individual is born with, or it could have happened after an accident or as part of an illness.
Whatever the disability is awareness is key!
People with special needs- just like anyone else - have abilities, aspirations, and can make valuable contributions in the community they live in. Nurturing relationships with loved ones and closes friends- as well as the chance to explore new things and discover other places – are some of the things they want, just like those around them.
In this article, we will talk about people who are blind or visually impaired, how we can help them live comfortably, what Qatar is doing to facilitate them and what more we can do.
To understand the situation of the blind people around us, we've put together a list of the challenges they face on a daily basis:
There is no proper signage for the blind, no signs indicating the right way or potential danger and no blind-friendly indicators in public places. There is lots of visual representation for potential dangers, which way to go, and so on and so forth, but unfortunately, these are useless for someone who is blind or visually impaired.
This is probably the most critical problem that blind people encounter in their daily lives: going from point A to point B. They cannot cross roads and walk hassle-free around the country without being in some kind of danger. So, often, these people prefer to stay at home or go out only when they have someone to guide them. In many countries around the world, roads and pavements have braille dots on them to guide those that are blind or visually impaired and enable them to crossroads and walk around without worrying.
Sometimes, people forget that blind individuals also have feelings and emotions that need to be addressed and accepted. They should be treated normally because the only thing that's different about them is that they don’t have sight. Minor mishaps often become a big deal, e.g., a blind person stumbling and knocking over a glass of water in a restaurant. Something like this can happen to anyone; sight or no sight But, some people see it as their inability to do things properly. Just because someone has sight, it doesn't mean that they always see. Everyone is unique in their own rights and even individuals without sight. In fact, those who can't see often have a more heightened sense of the world.
In a fast-moving and competitive world, blind people are often perceived as a liability in the work area. They often find it hard to get a job because companies don't want to hire them, despite the fact that they may be highly qualified and able to complete their tasks. As a result, many visually impaired people suffer from low self-esteem. Having little to no work opportunities cripples their economic independence.
Living in the dark takes time to get used to or accept, and many a time, blind people collapse emotionally. When they reach this stage, they, sometimes, start to isolate themselves from others and live on their own.
In Qatar, the main law governing the rights of persons with disabilities is Law No.2 of 2004, commonly referred to as the Special Needs Law including blindness.
Based on this law: blind people should be provided with:
To make life comfortable and safer for people with visual impairment, the government, private sectors, and companies, and even concerned organisations are striving to find ways and solution to address their special needs. Of course, there are still things to improve and plans that need to be turned into actions, but these efforts to make their lives easy are important first steps. Here are the things that these groups and sectors have done for the blind people of Qatar.
Many may not have noticed these dots, but yes, they exist in all Doha Metro stations in Qatar. To make it more convenient and safer to the blind people, dotted metal guides are fixed on the floor. They form a line depending on the key places to go inside the station like escalators, elevators, cashier, comfort rooms and in the entrance going to the train itself.
Braille reading materials are not just limited to specials books provided for blind people, because in everyday living private companies are starting to incorporate them in their products. Here in Qatar, some medicines that are sold in pharmacies have braille readings in their packaging. By having this, blind people can now identify which medicine to take at a certain time because they can read it instantly.
The Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology (ictQATAR) has taken a major step towards ensuring all of Qatar experiences the full benefits of technology with the introduction of Qatar’s first e-Accessibility Policy.The policy aims to ensure people with disabilities in Qatar have equal access to technologies that can enrich their lives, and covers a range of e-Accessibility issues, including websites, telecommunications services, handsets, ATMs, government services, access to assistive technologies and digital content.
The primary provisions include:
Accessible Qatar is the region’s first smartphone application with a website that aims to provide those with disabilities instant information about public and touristic venues that provide ease of accessibility around the country. It combines expertly-audited data and user reviews and ratings, giving the disabled community the confidence they deserve to explore and enjoy Qatar without limits. Moreover, having accessibility information publicly available will encourage venues to make necessary modifications in support of accessibility.
The QSCCB is considered the first centre of its kind in the country to cater to the special needs of the blind. They believe that blind persons can merge into society, share their abilities and be an integral part of the community. One of their popular advocates are these new technologies for the blind.
Electronic braille notetakers are portable devices with braille keyboards that braille readers can use to enter information. The text stored in these devices can be read with a built-in braille display or the device can read aloud with a synthesised voice. These devices are handy for taking notes in class, and often have built-in address books, calculators, and calendars.
The slate and stylus are inexpensive, portable tools used to write braille - just the way paper and pencil are used for writing print. The stylus is used to punch or emboss the braille dots onto the paper held in the slate. The indentations in the slate prevent the stylus from punching a hole in the paper when the dots are embossed. Slates and styluses come in many shapes and sizes.
A braille display is a device that has a row of special "soft" cells made of plastic or metal pins. The pins are controlled by a computer and move up or down to display, in braille, the characters that appear on the computer screen. This type of braille is said to be "refreshable," because it changes as the user moves around on the screen. The braille display usually sits under the computer keyboard.
The journey towards making their lives comfortable and safer is far from being over. The government must continue to be innovative and creative in finding ways to make the blind community secure as they go about their daily activities. Here are some of the suggestions.
Not all visually impaired have someone to always assist them especially when they are walking on the streets. This may sound redundant, but the government should find a solution for making streets blind-friendly by adding indicators for the blind. This will guide them while navigating around the city.
Cross road buttons. With the help of these buttons, people with visual impairment can safely cross roads. They are placed under the traffic lights, and when it's safe to cross, they make a beeping sound, so blind people can walk across safely. When the beeping gets faster, that means, the traffic light will turn green in about 10 seconds, so those crossing the road know it's time to hurry.
Put markings before every pedestrian lanes. Apart from the cross roads buttons, this simple yet very effective marking on the pavements will keep them safe when they are outside. These markings serve as their indicator to stop which means there's a pedestrian crossing next to it. The circle marks indicate a person should stop from walking, while the straight lines suggest continuing strolling.
Tactile dots are little raised dots that stick to anything giving a physical indicator of something! Their main purpose is to help those who cannot see remember the things that they normally use every day by marking them with these stickers. For instance, you put one tactile dot on the switch of a microwave oven to turn it on and the other to the 1-minute button to heat the food. At present these dotted stickers are only available online but we hope it will soon be readily available across the country.
Big companies and businesses in Qatar should take initiative in making this solution possible. Employers should start considering blind persons as efficient and just like other normal people applying for work. Special job descriptions can be given to them if required.
It is important to understand that people who are blind want others to interact with them in the same manner as they interact with sighted individuals. According to Career Connect, here are some tips that can facilitate positive interactions between visually impaired and sighted persons:
One of the best ways to understand and respect the needs of people with visual impairment is to get involved in their activities in our community. World Sight Day is one event that people can participate in. It's an awareness event to let people know the importance of having eyesight, taking care of them the right way, giving blind people medical help by diagnosing their eye problems and curing them if possible and a lot more. The year, World Sight Day 2019 will be on 10 October 2019.
It's happy to know that slowly, people are starting to accept blindness as part of everyday living. Wherever we look, we can see blind people struggling to make it through the day. So if you come across someone who can't see, extend a helping hand. Try to fit yourself in their shoes. You never can tell, blindness, it can happen to you, so be kind always. We all have our own battles to fight and win over.
Sources: Al Meezan, Hookumi, Qatar Social and Cultural Center for the Blind, Accessible Qatar, The International Agency
for the Prevention of Blindness, Career Connect, Ministry of Transport and Communications
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