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First Internet Cafe for Blind Opens in Pakistan
World Bank and PFFB work to close technology gap faced by the visually impaired
Muhammad Jamil Bhatti (jamil)     Print Article 
Published 2006-12-23 12:04 (KST)   
A visually impaired man surfs the net in Islamabad.
©2006 Internews Pakistan

Islamabad is now the proud home of Pakistan's first Internet cafe for the visually impaired. It was launched recently thanks to funds from the World Bank and the Pakistan Foundation Fighting Blindness (PFFB).

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The World Bank granted Rs 1.5 million (US$24,679) to the project in order to close the technological gap between the visually impaired and those blessed with eyesight. The cafe will help create communication among national and international blind communities.

It will also help the visually impaired to improve their computer skills and meet other people.

During an interview, Salma Maqbool, chairperson of the PFFB, said that this is the Information Technology era, and that the Internet Cafe will prove helpful for blind students who want to study.

She added that we should all take responsibility to do whatever we can to facilitate special persons. We should not treat them as invalids and we must recognize their concealed potential. She has also been blind since birth.

Salma Maqbool, chairperson of the PFFB during the interview.
©2006 Internews Pakistan

A blind man Mr. Iqbal, a teacher by profession, came from Peshawar some 160 miles away to laud the effort of the PFFB for launching this Internet cafe. He remarked that the project would be a milestone not only in the history of PFFB but also in Pakistan's history.

Amara Amber, a young and energetic BBA student surfing the Web at the cafe said:

"If we cannot see the world then we must do something so that the world can see us."

The cafe uses the JAWS software. This wonderful technology provides voice output for every command given to the computer, enabling the visually impaired to know what their fingers are doing.

The cafe is totally free and is equipped with the latest computers, scanner, printer, and DSL connections for fast Internet browsing. Officials said that the facility would remain open from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Aqil Sajjad, the first visually impaired Pakistani to study for a PhD at Harvard, introduced the software in Islamabad in 1999. It was developed 20 years back in America.

Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) disease is common in Pakistan. It is a genetically transmitted disease that causes the progressive loss of vision. The PFFB was the pioneer of research on this disease.

After the foundation of Pakistan in 1947 the first ever department for special persons was established in 1985, and it was in 2002 that the first ever strategy for special persons was sketched.

According to the World Bank report 10 percent of the total population of Pakistan is comprised of disabled persons, including the visually impaired. Children and older person in particular make up their number.

Facilities for blind people are very rare throughout the world, but these special people have a particularly hard life in countries like Pakistan. Mostly blind people need to beg to fulfill their needs, and others are sent to religious schools where food is not a problem.

Only a few visually impaired people from good families can get an education. In the light of this situation this Internet cafe is nothing less than a ray of hope.

There is no doubt that we have started too late but we must do what we can to help these people.

Outside of the PFFB office in Islamabad.
©2006 Internews Pakistan
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Muhammad Jamil Bhatti

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