Workshops: Visual Impairment in the Muslim Community and an Introduction to Arabic Braille
Kitaba held its first set of workshops aimed at raising awareness and interest about issues relating to visual impairment. There was a good level of interest in the workshops, mainly stemming from teachers and eye specialists, who wanted to know more about the practical side of visual impairment and how it related to the experiences of the Muslim community. Participants were of all ages and it was encouraging to discover the interest and enthusiasm shown by the younger participants.
The two workshops were each approximately an hour in length and were held consecutively. The first workshop consisted of an introduction and overview of Braille whilst the second workshop concentrated on ocular conditions that result in visual impairment.
Maha Khechen, a teacher taking great interest in Special Needs and a Braille user her self, ran the first workshop and introduced the participants to Braille. The workshop started with a simple question “what do you hope to achieve from these workshops?” to which many answers were given – ranging from teachers wanting a better understanding on how to help their students with visual impairment to a young teenage boy who wanted to figure out what it means to be visually impaired and how to go about helping those with visual impairment. This discussion nicely eased the group into learning about one of the ways people with visual impairment adapt to their environment, i.e. by learning the method of Braille. She explained how Braille functions, what its structure is, and taught everyone the composition of a Braille cell. She went on to speak about the similarities and differences of English Braille and Arabic Braille, which later was made into a workshop where participants were tested to see whether they could identify the Arabic letters from a Braille cell composition. Maha projected a few letters using a portable Braille cell and asked the participants to call out which dots were used and thus what letter of the Arabic alphabet had been projected. Participants demonstrated a very good understanding of Braille as 95 percent of the responses were correct and most of the answers came from the younger participants. Maha then went on to talk about Braille production and showed the participants a Perkins Brailler, a machine used to manually produce Braille.
Considering the participants were initially unfamiliar with Braille, from feedback they found the session intriguing and particular interest was demonstrated by the teachers who may require the use of Braille with their own students.
The next session was conducted by Asma Arif, a practicing Orthoptist, who talked about various eye conditions that can result in visual impairment. Using the overhead projector, wall mounted posters, and special eye visors, she explained the development of sight and the visual systems during infancy and early childhood. Later she described the symptoms and affects of various eye conditions whilst providing participants the opportunity to look through the visors in order to understand and experience firsthand the change in vision that particular conditions would produce. Asma explained how some conditions could be rectified and stressed the need for better understanding and early diagnosis. In the last part of the session, Asma related some real life incidents that had occurred where perfectly healthy people had suddenly, through accidents, damaged or lost their sight. One incident that particularly stood out was of a Muslim child whose eye had been bitten into by the family dog. This made participants particularly aware of how quickly someone may lose their sight and how that would change their lives.
The feedback was very encouraging as participants left with a better understanding of the visual system, the visual and social difficulties that certain ocular conditions can cause, as well as the solutions available for people with visual impairment to adapt to their own environment.
There have been queries about future workshops to be conducted, and even though nothing has been planned, as of yet, Kitaba hope to hold similar workshops in the future to make the community more aware of visual impairment and the ways that people with visual impairment can feel empowered within their society.