More than Meets the Eye

Karachi: Samina sits at the centre of towering piles of books. She guides her hand, swiftly, yet firmly over an etched metal sheet. She recites what her fingers interpret. She reads a verse from the Quran, chapter five. Then she suddenly stops, and says that there is a mistake; apparently one of the protrusions was not made in the proper place and they change the meaning of the word.

Samina is a proof reader at the printing press of the National Book Foundation. Hailing from Peshawar, she came to Karachi in 1985 and enrolled at the Ida Rieu School for the Blind. Completing her matriculation, she proceeded to finish her intermediate from St. Lawrence College, and later her Bachelors of Education as a private candidate from the Jinnah College for Women. In 2000, while working as a teacher at the Pakistan Association of the Blind, she was referred to the Book Foundation to replace the late Younis Jahangir. She has been there ever since. She has now been awarded the post of a Grade 19 officer and is eligible to become the Assistant Director of a Public Sector Institution.

Engrossed in her work, Samina says that the dots should all be of one level, they should not be torn or punctured, and they should not prick one’s hand. Running her hands over the plate some more she says “we have to check whether there is enough spacing between the words and that the lines make reading easy, and most importantly whether what ever that is printed, is correct and nothing should be missing”. These metal plates are then used to print the books produced by the Book Foundation at their solitary manual printing press.

The journey for Samina, though, has not been an easy one. “The first people that you have to win over are your family, as they either ignore you or are over protective due to the disability.” Society comes next, says Samina, as one has to prove to society that they are capable of standing up and being counted as the next person. “It is even more difficult for women because their parents tend to worry more, but in my case I was lucky as my colleagues, both at the PAB and the NBF, were supportive and used to arrange for my pick and drop from the bus stops.”

Samina says that visually impaired women face a challenge in first attaining marital status and then in maintaining it. She says that to her knowledge all such couples that she is acquainted with are quite happy. Samina is still single.

By far however, the greatest challenge for visually impaired people remains education. With the absence of Braille books for higher levels, Samina says her primary resource for learning was audio books. The real tests came when the board exams came and, Samina claims, being perfectly capable of giving her exam by writing in Braille to finish her paper in time, the Board’s policy of writers posed a new challenge. “Not only did we have to rely on an unknown person to help us give the paper, we were provided writers often just five minutes before the exams began, who could not even spell properly.”

Samina still maintains that with proper training and cooperation from the education boards, utilizing baillers or stylos, blind students are perfectly capable of giving their exams in Braille.

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