“Why do people want to help us in minor tasks and not allow us to do them on our own,” says Ali Tareen, a first year student at Ida Rieu, a school for the deaf and blind.
Undue sympathy is not what people with visual impairments are looking for, Tareen clarifies, and complains of marginalisation. However, there are those whose assistance is welcomed by people living with blindness.
One such organisation is the Visionary Foundation of Pakistan, a group of almost 25 people who got their inspiration from a youth workshop in 2009 to work for the blind in Karachi. In a short span, the Foundation has already achieved many milestones for the visually impaired while it looks to scale greater heights.
For instance, the foundation aims to translate all the books of the Sindh Textbook Board into Braille. “We could have done that manually but it is almost an impossible task to transcribe hundreds of books for candidates appearing every year,” said Rashid, one of their members. He said that they are trying to buy Braille printers with computer programmes that can translate into Braille.
One such printer costs about Rs. 0.45 million. While data is not maintained by the government on the population of people with disabilities in Pakistan, the last figures released by the World Health Organisation and Pakistan Ministry of Health in 2006 show that there are almost 1.49 to 1.54 million blind people in the country.
Other tasks the group has undertaken are spreading awareness about the way people with visual impairments are treated and their rights. “We found that a major problem blind people faced was that public transport drivers don’t stop for them as they take longer to get on and off the bus,” said Rashid. “We coordinated with the City District Government Karachi and trained 50 drivers of the Green Buses to cater to people with disabilities,” he said. “The ultimate result was that the drivers became more patient reserved seats for them in the front row.”
Another problem that the blind face is a shortage of people to write exams for them as there are no Braille papers or examination systems in Karachi. “As soon as the date sheet for board exams comes out we have to worry about appropriate writers who are one year younger than us academically according to the Board rules,” said Tareen. “People have now made this a business and charge us between Rs2,000 to Rs8,000 for a year’s papers,” he said.
To address this particular problem, the Visionary Foundation arranged four writers who will be assisting this year’s 50 registered blind students for class nine examinations.
The foundation has since reached out to motivational speakers, doctors, government organisations and the British Council to assist in their mission. But so far almost all of the efforts have been funded by the members of the group, said Rashid. Mohammad Hussain, the National Coordinator of the Pakistan Association of Blind said that all associations serving the visually impaired have offices in cities and in busy areas. He also pointed out that the construction done in the city in the last mayor’s regime paid no attention to the needs of special people. “So what if we are blind, aren’t we part of society?” he questions.