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Rising above a handicap...

A BAHRAIN-based blind Indian teenager hopes to pursue his ambition of becoming a computer wiz with the necessary tools that can help him overcome his physical disability.


Ahmed Fawaz studies at the Abdulrahman Al Dakhil Intermediate Boys School in Manama and is a former student of the Saudi-Bahraini Institute for the Blind.

The 16-year-old, who is fluent in Arabic, says he may be the first blind person in Bahrain to format Windows XP without any outside help.

"As far as I know, nobody else has been able to do this, so far. It requires me to concentrate on the timing as it is very important that it is absolutely perfect," said Ahmed.

He came to Bahrain from Kerala in 2003 along with his family to join his father, who arrived in 1988 to work as a vegetable supplier.

Ahmed joined the Saudi-Bahraini Institute for the Blind after seeing an advertisement about it in the newspaper.

"Till I came to Bahrain, I never went to school, since we were not really aware of any special schools for the blind. So, I was just taught some basic stuff at home," he said.

"It was only after I arrived in Bahrain that we saw the advertisement for the institute and so I got into it. "I didn't know any Arabic when I first joined and then as I gradually started interacting with my friends, I started to learn it. "Now I am so fluent in the language that even my Arab friends sometimes ask me for help in their Arabic subjects.

"I go to a government school because I am a lot more comfortable studying in and understanding Arabic."

Ahmed said that he was first intrigued with the technology when he was introduced to it at the institute when he was in the fourth grade.

"It all started with the computer classes we had in the institute," he said.

"We started with simple programmes like MS Word, but that was my introduction to the fascinating world of computers." Subsequently, his interest to discover more about computers and their various systems and programmes grew when he got a system of his own at home.

"When I got into the sixth grade, we got a computer installed at home and it was then that I started to try installing different kinds of softwares into the system," said Ahmed.

"I also began listening to lessons and reading a lot of books related to the subject.

"I now spend around eight to 10 hours every day trying out all kinds of new software and finding information on the latest developments in this field."

He said that he was also keen to use his skills to help out his friends whenever they need it.

"My friends sometimes ask whether I can help them to install certain software or format something on their systems and I always try to do it on my own, without any outside help," said Ahmed.

"I love trying to figure it out all by myself. It's quite a nice challenge."

He is also part of a translation team that works to translate the Non-Visual Desktop Access (NVDA) screen reader, a free, open source and portable project for blind and visually impaired people, into Arabic.

"The NVDA screen reader was launched in early 2006 and since then a team of people from Britain and Egypt began translating its various versions into Arabic, in order to make it accessible to people in the Arab world as well," said Ahmed.

"I joined the team this year and help with the translation as well.

"It's been a very fulfilling experience, especially because I love helping people in any way I can.

"I think this is a really good thing since people in the Arab world use this more than any other programme and this makes it a lot easier for them."

Ahmed would also like to learn more about different operating systems like Macintosh and iOS among others.

He wishes that one day he could buy an Apple computer to help him do that.

"I would very much like to buy an Apple computer, but I can't really do that as it costs too much for me to afford," said Ahmed. "The Apple company is a great support for visually challenged people as it includes screen readers and magnifiers (devices that are used to identify and interpret what is being displayed on the screen), which definitely makes life a lot easier.

"Other companies' screen readers are not very good, we have to install them ourselves and that can be rather expensive as well."

Also on his wish list is a Braille Sense, an electronic device which can be used as a note-taker, word processor, web browser, MP3 player and digital audio recorder.

"I would really like to get a Braille Sense device, as it has many functions and would really help me to pursue my interest in this field," said Ahmed.

"It would also help me with my studies at school, but unfortunately it will always remain only a dream for me, as it is way too expensive for me to buy."

The grade seven student, who hopes to pursue a degree in Computer Science, believes that many people don't get full educational benefits from the technology.

"At least 99 per cent of the computer can be utilised to improve yourself and to further increase your knowledge about what's happening in the world around you," he said.

"Unlike what most youngsters think today, the computer can be used for more than just chatting, downloading, watching movies and playing games.

"It can very well be made use of to gather more information outside of what we have in our books.

"Unlike in the past, our generation has to realise that we have way more resources at our disposal these days, with the world of knowledge that is now available on the Internet, and it's up to us to ensure that we make the best use of it that we can.

By ANITA THOMAS , Posted on » Saturday, June 11, 2011

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