‘I felt sad for those that cannot see’: pupils experience the daily struggles of disabled people for a day

Year 5 and 6 pupils at Al Mushrif primary school are completing a school day being blind, deaf or wheelchair-bound in an exercise to allow them to sympathise with the daily struggles of the disabled.
Saif Al Mubarak, 10, left, guides Saeed Al Mehairbi, also 10, as they take part in an exercise during Disability Awareness Week at Al Mushrif Primary School in Abu Dhabi to simulate what it would be like to be blind. Christopher Pike / The National
Saif Al Mubarak, 10, left, guides Saeed Al Mehairbi, also 10, as they take part in an exercise during Disability Awareness Week at Al Mushrif Primary School in Abu Dhabi to simulate what it would be like to be blind. Christopher Pike / The National

ABU DHABI // Imagine being a child confined to a wheelchair: or so profoundly deaf you are unable to communicate with your friends.

Perhaps you were born blind and are unable to join in everyday activities with your classmates.

That is what young pupils at Al Mushrif primary school have been experiencing at first hand.

They are going through a school day being blind, deaf or wheelchair-bound in an exercise to allow them to empathise with the daily struggles of the disabled.

Mariam Al Faheem, 10, was blindfolded to navigate the busy school corridors to a study session in the library.

“It was scary,” she said. “I was afraid I was going to bump into people or maybe hit somebody with my stick.”

It made her sympathise with the visually impaired. “I felt sad for those that can not see.”

The role of Mariam’s friend Jenna Al Riyami was to be an aide to the disabled.

“It was a little bit scary that I might make her bump into somebody else,” she said.

Abdulla Al Nuaimi, 11, was given one of the four wheelchairs on loan to the school this week from a father of a disabled pupil.

“It was hard,” he said. “I could not do things. I could not play football with my friends. If I am going somewhere with my friends and there was a huge crowd it was hard – my friends could continue but it was hard for me.”

He felt empathy for those confined to a wheelchair, he said.

Mona Sidahmed, 10, wore giant headphones to muffle the everyday sounds those with hearing disabilities struggle to pick up.

“I couldn’t really hear,” she said.

“I could hear some footsteps but no voices. And I really wanted to hear what people were saying.

The two-day exercise, which concludes at the Abu Dhabi primary school on Thursday, coincides with Disability Awareness Week.

Classmates took turns experiencing a disability, playing the role of an aide or being a reporter and conducting filmed interviews, which will be edited into an awareness video later in the school year.

The “One World, Many Abilities” exercise was the brainchild of Indera Rampersaud, an American expatriate who is a learning support specialist at the school.

“We want to bring awareness to people about inclusion into society. We want them to empathise and see there are different people out there,” she said.

The two-day exercise involved presentations from companies that deal with special needs, including KidsFirst special needs centre, HearLIFE clinic in Dubai, which focuses on the treatment of hearing loss, and the Stepping Stones special needs centre.

Bushra Kassouna, 26, an audiologist from HearLIFE, talked about the importance of protecting hearing by cleaning ears and avoiding overexposure to loud sounds.

“We wanted to make them aware of hearing loss,” she said.

“We are trying to let people know what causes it and how to prevent it. So many children have hearing problems and they don’t realise and it causes problem in all aspects – in school, in social settings.”

Renita Disouza, 24, who was born in Dubai and lives in Sharjah, spoke to the children about what it is like to live with hearing loss.

“It was important for them to understand how to protect their hearing,” said Renita, who began to lose her hearing at the age of 7.

She recalls standing in the shower and realising she could not hear the water.

“I could hear, then I could not hear. My parents were banging on the door but I did not hear them. It was a normal day, then suddenly a scary day.”

By 14 she was deaf in both ears and has since had a cochlear implant, which partially restores hearing.

jbell@thenational.ae

Published: May 28, 2014 04:00 AM

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