Blind World Magazine

United Arab Emirates.
Parents demand facilities for visually impaired kids.

Khaleej Times - Dubai,United Arab Emirates.
Friday, February 17, 2006.

By Meraj Rizvi and Eman Al Baik.

DUBAI - Absence of proper facilities for visually impaired children at the Al Noor Training Centre for children with special needs in Dubai may have forced 13-year-old Ayesha Zarnosh, a Pakistani expatriate girl to stay home, but the inability to accept such children by centres catering to children with special needs in the UAE has raised concerns about the future of education for blind children in the country.

Centres offering education facilities for visually impaired children do exist in several parts of the country, but lack of awareness on such centres and the intake procedures are the big problem facing parents of children with vision impairment, complained Zarnosh Khan, father of Ayesha.

The Al Noor Training Centre has no information on the existence of special schools for the blind in Dubai or the Northern Emirates, he complained, adding that lack of awareness about such centres has forced many expatriate children like Ayesha to stay home with bleak schooling prospects.

Isphana Al Khatib, Director of Al Noor Training Centre, told Khaleej Times, that she was unaware of the existence of any school for the blind in the country.

"However, we do not have the facilities for visually impaired children at Al Noor and therefore were forced to make Ayesha graduate since the facilities available at the Centre was not benefiting the girl," said Isphana.

An official of the Ministry of Education also said she was unaware of any special schools set up for blind children in the UAE. The official said she was aware of some centres for the handicapped run by the Ministry of Labour but they were shut down a few years ago, forcing children to seek places in public schools in the country which lack special facilities such as books in Braille and specialist teachers to teach these children.

However, an official at the recently formed Ministry of Social Affairs disclosed that the ministry ran a centre each in Dubai, Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and Dibba-Al Fujairah, catering to blind children in the UAE.

The source from the Ministry's Special Categories Department said that the ministry offers education to blind children up to grade 3. After that these students are transferred to pursue their learning in government schools, but the ministry continues supervising them via its instructors.

"The instructors visit these children at their schools twice a week to help them if they have any difficulties," she said.

The ministry organises the text books in Braille in coordination with the UAE Red Crescent, she noted, adding: "We follow up with all of the ministry's centres to know about the number of blind students and to the level they are promoted to, in order to arrange with the Red Crescent their textbook copies for each level in Braille."

"These centres have the capacity to accommodate any number of blind students," she noted, denying any shortage in educational services for the blind.

"We do not have a waiting list for blind children as well as those suffering from other disabilities. In the past there was a waiting list at Ras Al Khaimah centre in particular. But the waiting list was only for children who suffer from mental disorders. After the expansion of the centre, this problem was solved and the ministry caters to all children with special needs," she said.

Jasim Habib Al Khalfan, Director of the Dubai Rehabilitation Handicapped Centre, said that currently seven blind children were studying in the centre in grades one, two and three. Other 15 blind students were referred to different government schools and are studying from grades 4 upwards.

They are studying in different government schools including Al Maaref, Dubai Modern Education, Asma bint Amis, Hotteen, Al Maktoum, Ibn Al Haitham, Alwaham Women Association, and Al Noman bin Basheer schools.

The transfer is aimed at merging these children into society and enable them to communicate with other children and society in general, she noted.

"Instructors from the centre visit the 15 students twice a week to ensure that all their problems are solved," he said.

"The Ministry of Education's textbooks are prepared for these children by the UAE Red Crescent in coordination with the Ministry of Social Affairs," he added.

"We supply the ministry with the names of those blind children who are still studying in the centre or those who were transferred to public schools, as well as the levels they are promoted to in order to arrange for them the needed textbooks," he said.

There are some blind students who are currently studying at Ajman University Colleges and the UAE University while some others are seeking to pursue their studies abroad, said an official from the Ministry's Special Categories Department.

There are some students who obtained their bachelor's degrees from Sharjah University and Al Ain University specialised in sociology, English literature, history and Islamic Shariah and law, she said.

These students study with the help of computers custom-made for the blind. Others use tape recorders to tape the lectures, she explained.

She said that these students did not face any problems in their education, especially now that Tamkeen - a centre set up in the Knowledge Village by Dubai government - helps empower the blind with short courses in computer and English language enabling them to study easily and communicate with the world.

However, several parents of such children still believe that there exists very little information on such centres catering to the blind. "We don't know whether the existing centres for the blind cater to expatriate children as well," said the parent of a blind boy in Dubai.

"We only hope that the authorities look into the issue more carefully and, like other developed countries, build more centres and schools dedicated to imparting proper academic education to the visually-impaired children in the UAE," said the parent.

Claim, counter-claim

Authorities say there are adequate schooling facilities for the blind in UAE and that they are being given special care and attention.

But the parents of such children beg to differ: they feel even if the claim is true, there is not sufficient information on facilities for blind students in the country.

Expatriate children with blindness are thought to have dim schooling prospects.

Authorities are asked to build more centres and schools dedicated to imparting proper academic education to the visually-impaired children.§ion=theuae&col=.

End of article.

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