If I were to ask you to think about what the life of a blind person is like, or what they contribute to society, I am sure that you will reply that the visually impaired are useless for society and Totheir family. And to some extent, I would have agreed as well. Nowadays some visually impaired people are going to university and doing government or other high-level jobs.
But the numbers of such successes are very low and are more considered to be exceptions rather than examples. It would not be surprising if people think that visually impaired people stand in the street asking money from passersby, or that they stay in their home performing their religious duties.
Why do people think in that way about visually impaired people? It’s nobody’s fault for having these notions. Such ideas are prevalent in our society because people are not seeing enough role models. Visually impaired people who exhibit their talent are the minority; if people know about them at all, they consider them an exception, little short of a miracle. And so the common image of a visually impaired person fails to change.
How can we change the image (and reality) of visually impaired people? The answer is simple: through education. You might be wondering—didn’t I say that visually impaired people are going to the university and getting good jobs, yet now I’m saying that through education we can change the image and life of visually impaired people? It may sound contradictory, but at the moment the education that our visually impaired people are getting is neither sufficient nor necessarily very useful.
The blind are getting general education at normal schools, colleges, and universities, but this education is not sufficient to truly enhance their knowledge.
At the school level, these special children do not get proper attention from the teachers. Nowadays our government and development organizations are giving more emphasis on inclusive education. I am not against inclusive education, but I have a feeling that if we enrol a visually impaired child to normal school from the very beginning of his or her educational life it might be wrong.
At the moment the education that our visually impaired
people are getting is neither sufficient nor necessarily
very useful. The blind are getting general education at
normal schools, colleges, and universities, but this
education is not sufficient to truly enhance their knowledge.
For one thing, general schools do not provide mobility training which is essential for a visually impaired person. By mobility training, I mean how to see through touch and sound, how to read braille, and most importantly, how to communicate with other people. Whether they were born blind or become blind later, a person with impaired vision has special feelings and needs.
If we throw her into an environment where she has to adapt, in some cases she will not be able to cope up. She may simply drop out. Our government does not have any statistics on the number of people with disabilities who are enrolled and how many drop out.
A special school can teach a visually impaired child how to talk to others (remember, he will get no visual feedback from those around him), how to walk, and how to face bullying—because not everyone will be sympathetic towards a visually impaired person. We see that special schools get special attention from the government.
In some cases going to the special school is compulsory. At least primary education should be compulsory. At the high school level, inclusive education makes more sense. At the moment our special schools face some problems like insufficient teachers or teachers without proper training. In order to bring out the special and unique talent in each person with a disability, we need skilful, sympathetic, and well-trained teachers.
Currently, education for people with disabilities is not under the Education Ministry. It is the Social Welfare Ministry that looks after the entire education of people with disabilities, which is wrong.
The Education Ministry should look after our education and the Social Welfare Ministry will ensure our necessary equipment.
But there are still some problems. When a visually impaired person studies, she does not get the necessary books. Our current government has taken an initiative to provide accessible books for class one to nine, which is a very good initiative. We appreciate it, but the quality of the books is very poor.
The books do not have tactile photographs. When a visually impaired student reads, she finds it difficult to understand. Another problem is the lack of equipment for general science and geography for the visually impaired. Further, the teacher's training institution does not have any kind of curriculum or course on how to teach a person with a disability.
Another serious problem is that the visually impaired cannot study science and commerce at the secondary level. We do not have books, technology, or teachers. We can only study in the humanity department. As a result, visually impaired people cannot study science and commerce at the college level, and at the university, they cannot take business education; science-related subjects are far from their reach. As I mentioned earlier, we need role models to eradicate misconceptions about the visually impaired; only education can create those role models. But for education to be successful, we need proper education facilities.
This might all sound too difficult, but I assure you in our digital Bangladesh, it should be possible. With the right policy, with the allocation of sufficient funds, with an emphasis on good training, we can fix the problems in our educational system.
Once they have widespread access to good education, I assure you that our visually impaired people can make significant contributions to their family, society, and to the nation-building process. I look forward to the day when it will be common knowledge that blind people, just like others, can play a major and positive role in these spheres.
Talukder Rifat Pasha is assistant project officer and working with Better Bangladesh Trust