By Fuad Sultan Tamimi
"There is no better way to thank God for your sight than by giving a helping hand to someone in the dark"
1st, 2006 marked the first anniversary of the establishment of the Blind and Visually Impaired Training Centres of Al-Quds Open University (QOU) at its Hebron and Jenin locations. These centres were established in the conviction that students with disabilities have the same right to access Information Technology as everyone else. The centres provide services to all university students who are blind or visually impaired, in addition to individuals with the same disabilities from the local community. The two centres are well equipped and furnished with the latest adaptive or assistive tools backed by qualified and trained staff to enable students achieve their highest potential. This will promote the students’ independence and economic well-being and enhance their quality of life through using the latest technology combined with time-tested adaptive methods. The training centres offer both academic and work-related practical training such as computer keyboarding, typing, Windows XP, introduction to computers, word processing, e-mail and Internet. The training materials are provided either in Braille or in large print, according to the students’ needs. Screen Reader, Braille’s Display, Braille’s Converter (WinBraille) and Braille’s Embosser are the assistive tools that students use to access the world of technology. Students now have the capability to read, write, keep and retrieve records, send and receive e-mails and surf the web. Braille’s Printer or Embosser is a hardware which enables students to print out any soft copy document in Braille codes by using Braille’s converter system. These centres are the first of their kind in the southern and northern Palestinian areas, as similar centres exist only in the Islamic University of Gaza. These two centres have made a real revolution and introduced unprecedented steps in learning approaches for blind and visually impaired university students through strengthening their academic expectations and bridging the gap that has too often existed between what students with disabilities learn and what is required in regular curriculums. During 2005, the two centres were able to graduate twenty students from both Hebron and Jenin and this number is expected to increase. Al-Quds Open University took the initiative of launching such centres, but all agree that it is not enough to have only two such in the West Bank. It is hoped that other Palestinian universities will follow suit and put the interests of disabled students at the top of their agendas so they may have the same opportunities as their sighted peers. As one student commented, “The wonderful and rewarding opportunity that I had at the centre was not just an introduction to the world of technology, but an introduction to a new prospective hope and getting rid of being ignored and isolated… The computer has changed how I think and live." Unfortunately, visually impaired individuals will still face discrimination and prejudice when it comes to employment opportunities, hiring, insurance costs, etc.
Engineer Fuad Sultan Tamimi is in charge of the Visually Impaired Training Centre of Al-Quds Open University in Hebron. He can be reached at [email protected] for the centre in Ramallah contact Sa’ada Shalabi at [email protected] and in Jenin contact Akram Rabaya at [email protected].