Bahrain’s Friendship Society for the Blind

Brent Lends a Helping Hand to the Unemployed and Disabled

Brent Elder visiting the Friendship Society for the Blind in Bahrain
Brent Elder

Meeting with the Arab Press

Hana Al-Saeed at the U.S. Embassy connected Dr. Bradshaw and me with a conduit to the Arab speaking population via journalist Rasha Al Ebrahim. We met at the Royal University for Women, where we discussed the lack of employment and educational opportunities for people with special needs; the necessity of family supports for people with special needs; the successes and challenges we have faced, and the results we want from our efforts in Bahrain. Hana and Rasha expressed an interest in aiding our endeavors to increase public awareness of the importance of inclusion by connecting us with local TV and radio stations, as well as the Ministry of Information.

As a response to a lack of appropriate support for families who have children with special needs, some proactive parents opened a school in Riffa called Al Rahma Centre. Dr. Bradshaw and I plan to contact these families to see if we can collaborate and make their efforts more inclusive in Bahrain.

Our progress here is beginning to garner attention. Sami Ghazwan, from the U.S Embassy, advised me that he has an entire list of community organizations that have heard of our work and are requesting that Dr. Bradshaw and I come and speak to their members as soon as possible, namely the Friendship Society for the Blind. Simply by creating opportunities for people to speak about their experiences with inclusion – or lack thereof – helps people become more aware of the needs within their community. If given a forum to express concerns and questions about inclusion, people can start to shift their perspective from a deficiency model (e.g., “This person with special needs does not belong here.”) to a strength-based model (e.g., “What can this person do to contribute?”).

Visit to the Friendship Society for the Blind

Dr. Bradshaw and I had to be escorted to the Friendship Society as we were lost on dirt roads that had no signs. Shortly after arriving, we met with the president of the society, Hussain, Hana (a committee leader in the Society for the Blind), Nasser (a man who was laid off from his job after losing his vision), and another member of the society, named Mohammad.

Hussain, who only spoke in Arabic, explained the history of the Friendship Society for the Blind and what it had to offer its members; namely an on-site school for children who are blind and have multiple significant disabilities, a computer lab, an art room, and a main meeting hall. The location serves as a meeting place for people with vision impairments twice a week.

A recurring theme throughout our dialogue was the absence of opportunities that could be afforded to people with vision impairments in Bahrain. Presently, the only jobs available to people with vision impairments are telephone operators and positions at facilities like the Friendship Society for the Blind. As a result, most of the people with significant vision impairments are unemployed. Although these individuals have a passion to work, Hana stated that, “society continually breaks their dreams.” Nasser, who recently lost his vision, is a prime example. He worked at the Bahrain airport for many years and lost his vision rather suddenly. As a result, he was asked to step down from his position at the airport. His employer said he was “useless” due to his acquired disability. This “useless” man has a wife and three children who rely on his income.

Vision impairment does not equal cognitive delay, so we are looking at a highly competent resource of willing and eager employees. Hana will provide me with a list of members of the Friendship Society who would like to gain employment. I intend to assess the community for employers who would be open to the idea of having someone with vision impairment work for them.

Meeting with this population of individuals was very enlightening, as we are finally tapping into what I feel is the unseen population of people with disabilities in Bahrain. When I say unseen, I do not imply that the other people we have collaborated with this summer do not have urgent needs for support; I mean that we are finally reaching people who speak limited English, if at all, people who do not necessarily have the resources to afford private services, and people who have been even more marginalized from society despite the fact that they are willing and able to contribute. Again, there is such a huge need for support for this population, and it is hard to even know where to begin.

However, it was encouraging to see how much hope the people I met had for their future. It was infectious:


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