ABU(Senior group) Fine Work
Inclusive society for persons with visual impairment, How?
Afghanistan Parwana Jamshedi (28/Female)
Every society where normal people and people with disabilities, especially visual impaired live side by side and get advantage of an integrated and happy life can be called inclusive society. In inclusive society, visual impairment does not prevent one from pursuing high goals of his/her life and provides necessary opportunities – in all aspects of life – for everyone. Since sun’s shining, flowers sweet smell, and rain’s soul-touching drops share their gifts equally with everyone so human beings should also pay equal respect to everyone. Every society should be inclusive as it is a vital need of modern life. Nonetheless, there might be many hurdles for achieving this goal; however, it does not mean that we should not work towards achieving it.
It is a reality that visual impairment causes many problems in every society regardless of country, ethnicity, or age; but there are certain steps which can be taken for overcoming these problems and making our societies inclusive. I will explain the problems first, especially problems which we face in Afghanistan, and will come to solutions later. As an Afghan, I can say visually impaired people face more problems here compared to almost any other country. Problems start from first day of life and last for lifetime, and will get worse if visually impaired person is female. The reasons behind all these challenges and problems are low level of education, less/no awareness, a number of problematic customs, and poor economy.
When the word society is used, we automatically think of family, neighbors, playground, school/university, and work environment. In non-inclusive societies, each component creates certain problems for visually impaired person. Families don’t tell others about their new child’s visual impairment for long time because they feel embarrassed for having such a child. When the child grows and wants to go out of house for meeting and playing with other children, family does not leave him to go outside as long as possible, most likely because of the same reason, embarrassment. So these children grow in limited, and usually, bitter environment of their family.Even if these children go out for playing, they are mistreated by other children in the out-of-family environment which encourages them to stay at house.
Families do not allow their visually impaired children to schools saying: “A visually impaired child can’t go to school alone and a normal family member should take this child to school every day which is almost impossible”. Hence, illiteracy rate is too high among visually impaired in Afghanistan and they do not have the necessary skills for finding appropriate jobs. As the time passes, their family members, especially parents pass away and the illiterate visually impaired people have to beg for their remaining lives. The problem gets more serious when visually impaired person is female. Visually impaired females are kept away from schools, social gatherings, and work opportunities because of our custom which does not allow women to go out of houses alone, especially in rural areas. Thus, they have turned into Living Stones with a dependent life. They can breathe but most of them do not know ways of living.
Transforming our society into inclusive society is a goal which needs constant efforts, struggle, and time. In my point of view, work needs to be done for changing people’s mentalities since societies are made of people; and families, educational institutions, other social structures, and even governments are components of a society. Civil society Organizations (CSOs), with technical assistance and financial support of international community, can play a vital role in bringing this change through Public Awareness and Advocacy. CSOs should focus on families and educational institutions, as well as, governmental officials in order to bring positive changes in our society.
Increasing public awareness about visual impairment, rights of visually impaired people, responsibilities of ordinary people and governments in this issue, and importance of integrating them into different levels of society is the first and most crucial step for achieving our goal of inclusive society. It is very clear that media – print, video, and most importantly the audio media, since majority of rural dwellers have access to radios – is the most effective and efficient tool for increasing public awareness. Experience has shown that trainings, workshops, seminars, and conferences are also helpful. Nonetheless, religious leaders and local influential figures can be very effective in Afghanistan since they are very much respected at grass root level.
As discussed, a society is comprised of different components, and family is its most important one. Families should pay special attention to their visually impaired members by providing educational opportunities to them. Visually impaired people should be given the chance to play with normal children, as well as, taken to parks, picnics, and most importantly social gatherings. Families should not humiliate their visually impaired member. In addition, families should teach them the way of living, respect them, and build their self-confidence. What is necessary here is utilizing above mentioned tools for increasing families’ awareness about visual impairment.
Educational institutions is other component of a society which should be targeted by public awareness programs. The first step in this regard is inclusive education which should start from primary school (An advocacy component is also needed besides public awareness). This will assist in social integration of visually impaired people and will bring them in close and direct contact with others. CSOs which work in the area of visual impairment can assist schools by awareness campaigns and preparing curriculum. These organizations can help visually impaired students with talking computers, braillers, slates and styluses, other educational equipment and materials, and trainings (mobility, educational, and vocational).
Advocacy is the second most important component for changing our society into inclusive society. CSOs must advocate for rights of visually impaired people at local, national, and international level. Afghan parliament and ministries are areas which needs advocacy. Since advocacy is a collective effort, all CSOs should lobby and have a common voice at parliament in order to pass necessary laws for ensuring rights of visually impaired people. Ministries, provincial councils, and local authorities should also be targeted for advocacy for policy influence, i.e. providing quota to visually impaired people in all governmental institutions plus discounts in fees and fairs.
In conclusion, inclusive society is the only way of addressing visually impaired people’s needs. As a matter of fact, it needs public awareness and advocacy to achieve this goal which is, indeed, a time-consuming approach. However, we should carry on our efforts as long as we have inclusive society. On the other hand, 21st century is the era of globalization and we can’t be part of it unless we have inclusive society. Therefore, CSOs should conduct public awareness and advocacy programs targeting families, educational institutions, other social structures, and governmental institutions in order to find feasible solutions for recent complex problems and challenges in the way of achieving our goal, inclusive society.