Somalia has not given people with special needs the attention and focus they deserve. Their needs remain not factored in the design of infrastructure projects, including roads, new buildings, and public transport. Additionally, the law is yet to take its cause to ensure that all standards for people with special needs are adhered to. Although President Mohamed Abdullahi ‘Farmaajo’ signed the National Disability Act in December 2018, no due consideration is given to the needs of disabled people. This has made them face significant barriers that complicate their lives.
Studies show that the people living with disabilities make up 5 percent of the total population in Somalia. Among people with special needs in Somalia are the blind. The biggest difficulty this severely disadvantaged group faces is the educational institutions that rarely cater to their special needs. They have harrowing tales regarding their daily struggles to access quality education. Since the government is not taking up its role as outlined in the National Disability Act, society also cannot handle the needs of people living with visual impairment. Most of the schools, colleges, and universities throughout the country are not able to cater to the needs of those with visual impairment.
Challenges and barriers faced by people living with visual impairments
The life of the blind person living in Somalia is a daily struggle. People with visual impairments are particularly marginalised and at risk group within Somali society. This is due to numerous attitudinal, environmental, and institutional barriers they face, as well a lack of public awareness and concerted efforts to address these challenges.
Ahmed Abdirizaq Ahmed who lost his eyesight when he was 14 years old says the biggest challenge is living with being stereotyped by other people. “The biggest problem is the concern by the parents of the blind who are worried that they will be hit by a motorist if they are left alone on the road and will be discriminated,” said Ahmed who has just completed his first year at the university. He believes those who don’t study are more problematic than the blind. He adds that there are successful people across the world who are blind. “No one was born with skills and knowledge, it is through school,'” Explains Ahmed who resides in Garowe in the Nugal province. He urges parents not to hold the disabled in the house but rather enroll them in schools.
The National Disability Act has very good provisions that promote the rights of the disabled in Somalia. Article five (5) of the law tasks the National Disability Authority to create a government plan that identifies opportunities for the disabled.
The role of the education sector
Going by the standard set so far, it seems Somalia’s education institutions don’t factor in the needs of people who are blind. There is one school for the blind in the entire Mogadishu, the country’s capital that hosts an estimated three million people. The Al-Nur School for the Blind provides education to blind people and is proudly supported by Hormuud–Somalia’s leading Telecom company. Over the years, Al-Nur has produced hundreds of students who are well regarded in the job market. “We were very much fearful and concerned to go to the existing schools. Then Hormuud encouraged us,” says Shukri Ahmed Mohamed who graduated from Al Nur School for the Blind in 2017.
For Shukri, the possibility of accessing education while being blind is invaluable. “I am happy that I was able to go to school. Hormuud has played a big role in my life.” Shukri’s father, Ahmed Mahmud who has also had two other students graduating from Al-Nur, is very happy with the care and quality of education his children received at the school. “The day she reported at high school, the teachers said they will not be able to teach them. I told them to read aloud what they write on the blackboard, I know the children will learn,” says Ahmed. He adds that two of his children including Shukri were the top achievers in their class and are now pursuing their university education.
The role of the community and the government.
The government should play a very critical role in addressing the needs of people living with disabilities. However, priority should be given to the blind. It is important that the existing laws, especially the National Disability Act that was enacted in 2018, are operationalized to address the needs of this severely disadvantaged group. The most important of all this is to grant the blind access to quality education by setting up government-funded schools that address their special needs.
The public mainly those who lobby for the rights of the disabled can take a significant role in championing and rescuing the lives of many blind individuals who are facing severe challenges in their lives. These challenges also include significant discrimination by the society who have very little understanding of the situation and needs of the blind members of the society.
The media and effective communication channels can play a role in educating the public on how to relate to those living with disabilities. There should be widespread awareness campaigns across the country on the rights and the experiences of people living with disabilities, especially the blind. Finally, the public can play a greater role in establishing schools for the blind to avoid a lost generation. Through these tangible steps, the educational barriers of the visually impaired could be reduced and their role in aspects of political, social, economic, and cultural life and the broader society could be more emphasized.