Palestine Story 33: An advocate for the visually impaired
A single room with sparse furniture. That is how Hala Badri started out, over fifteen years ago, in her mission of helping the visually impaired. She has since dedicated her life to helping the sightless see with their other senses, and is glad to note that things have improved tremendously vis a vis awareness and resources.
She is a woman of many firsts. She started the first charity in Amman that offered rehabilitation to the visually impaired through trained community volunteers. She has also supervised, or been directly involved with, teacher training programmes all over the Arab region. She was instrumental in setting up the Sharjah Humanitarian Services- an organization that later transitioned to Dubai. At present juncture, she is working with the Ministry of Education as a supervisor for inclusion.
Hala is a staunch advocate of early intervention, preferably from preschool years. Building a community is important, she says, and the first order of business is usually to train parents to offer needed support and encouragement.
“I try and give them [the visually impaired] light. In whichever way I can. If not through the eyes, then the other senses. We focus on the family – on developing a support network first and foremost. I believe in putting children in a natural environment as opposed to treating them differently, or as pariahs. Specific orientation, body and mobility training can follow later.”
Hala moved from Jordan to the States, where she studied her Masters in Special education at the Michigan State University. She recalls that an Arab woman working with special needs education was quite unheard of at the time. “Fifteen years ago, the concept of inclusion and special needs education, had not yet permeated into mainstream thought. And to have an Arab woman specialise in it was unheard of,” she comments.
Hala, originally from Nabulus in Palestine, says that while her Palestinian roots are important, her work is global and nation-neutral. Her calling is for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality.
“I want to make a difference wherever I possibly can. I am a Palestinian, and I want to change the entire world for the better. Every visually impaired person is deserving of help, of respect and dignity. And I want to help, in any way that I can.”
She believes in a brighter future for those lost in the grey of sightlessness. “There have already been monumental changes in outlook and acceptance,” she says. Five to ten years from now, there will be even less residual shame, embarrassment and awkwardness. More awareness will mean more people will understand, and care. The visually impaired will feel more included, less marginalized and more a part of mainstream society.
“It will be less about what you see, and more about who you are,” says Hala. And one imagines pre-conceptions, notions and prejudices groaning, shifting and finally crumbling under her intensity.