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Society 'turning a blind eye...'

Bahrain needs to do more to help the blind, according to an activist who criticised the lack of facilities and support.

Bahrain Friendship Society for the Blind president Hussain Al Hulaibi, who is completely blind and deaf in one ear, said there is a chronic jobs shortage among blind people.

In addition, he criticised the lack of school books printed in Braille, which blind students desperately need.

Mr Al Hulaibi said when blind students graduate from specially-designed programmes - such as those run by the society and The Saudi Bahraini Institute for the Blind, in Isa Town - they have to go to regular schools that do not meet their requirements.

"In other countries such as Kuwait, specific government organisations deal with the printing of school books in Braille," said Mr Al Hulaibi, who was speaking on the occasion of White Cane Safety Day, which falls today.

"But in Bahrain, we are the only ones doing so and have a hard time to meet the large demand."

Mr Al Hulaibi said help was needed to acquire better printing equipment and more resources.

"Printing books in Braille is very costly and our society is having a hard time to offer this much-needed service," he said.

He added that students at regular schools face other difficulties because teachers are allegedly unco-operative.

Mr Al Hulaibi said some teachers ignore blind students and occasionally make rude or humiliating remarks about them - a claim that was denied by the Education Ministry.

"Blind people just want a chance to prove themselves, but can't without steady financial and moral support," said Mr Al Hulaibi.

"Even blind university students face similar problems."

At Bahrain University, he said the only programmes available to blind students are social services and education.

When they complete the programme, the only jobs available to them are teaching.

However, Mr Al Hulaibi said blind graduates are either not given jobs or are given jobs that they are overqualified for - such as telephone operator.

"The lucky few who do manage to get jobs are discriminated against," he said.

"Bahraini society does not believe in the contribution the blind can make."

Mr Al Hulaibi said another problem facing the blind is transportation.

That is partly because they need drivers to take them to work and help them live a normal life.

The Bahrain Friendship Society for the Blind was established in 1981 and was one of the first organisations for disabled people in the county.

It aims to instil positive values in blind people and allow them to interact more with society.

There are now over 130 members, including able-bodied volunteers of various nationalities and professions.

It is hoping to develop the skills and talents of the blind through cultural, social, educational and athletic activities.

Society activities and programmes include field trips, Braille reading, swimming classes, weekly educational lectures, table tennis, dominoes tournaments, computer classes, handicrafts, pottery and keyboard and guitar lessons.

However, Mr Al Hulaibi says the society desperately needs sponsors to support its activities.

Most of its funding comes from the National Establishment for the Disabled and other occasional donations.

One of the society's major achievements, its nursery, is now becoming a major burden due to a lack of funding.

The first and only institution of its kind in Bahrain, the nursery is taking up a large portion of the society's premises, as well as almost half its budget.

The nursery, which trains blind children to become aware of their surroundings before entering school, needs more funds to pay the salaries of teachers - which is very costly because they need one teacher for every two students.

"We do get some support from the Education and Social Affairs Ministries, but need more from private organisations," said Mr Al Hulaibi.

Meanwhile, he warned families who discover children are suffering from any form of sight disorder to report it immediately so the problem can be dealt with early.

A major concern for the society is children who suffer from dual disabilities.

The nursery currently cares for seven of these children, who are now over 15 years old.

"They have not left the nursery yet because their cases are complicated and require time," said Mr Al Hulaibi.

The blind also face discrimination when it comes to relationships, especially women.

"People think that all blind women give birth to blind babies, but that is not necessarily true and marriage screening could shed light on this," he said.

There have been instances where blind couples have met at the society and ended up getting married, but this is not always ideal.

"We are worried about families where both parents are blind and usually encourage blind people to marry a non-blind, so that living together will be easier," said Mr Hulaibi.

"But we can't stop people who are in love from getting married - even if both are blind. Some cases have worked out well."

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