Blind, visually impaired Saudis see dismal job opportunities

Getting a job remains a challenge for the blind, who say they haven’t experienced any changes or improvements regarding this issue despite new regulations

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Many of us complain about our current jobs and long for the job that we want but don’t have, but regardless of personal preferences, employment opportunities for most people are plentiful. The same, however, cannot be said for the blind and visually impaired.

Abdullah Mohammad Essa, who has a bachelor’s degree in media and public relations, knows what it is like to navigate a job market where opportunities for people with disabilities are virtually non-existent.

“The public sector offers some opportunities to people with special needs to work as teachers in the disciplines they have studied.

However, it is very unlikely the same happens in the private sector unless the person has ‘wasta’ [connections]. Sometimes, the only way we can get anything done in the Kingdom is through connections,” said Essa.

No accurate statistics are available on the number of blind people in the Kingdom. However, estimates put the blind and visually impaired at 160,000 though this figure is of little help as it does not reveal important information such as age group, marital status, education or employment status.

Getting a job remains a challenge for the blind, who say they haven’t experienced any changes or improvements regarding this issue despite new regulations to support and employ individuals with special needs in both the public and private sectors.

Sundos Mahmoud Qoqandi, a customer service employee at Ibsar Foundation, said the few companies that do employ visually impaired people only do it to gain benefits without taking advantage of the full capabilities of people with special needs.

“I wish society was more aware of people with special needs and show them more respect, especially the visually impaired. Don’t pity them but give them a chance to prove themselves. The visually impaired may have lost their eyesight but they have other faculties that enable them to offer unique talents to the world. All they need is a chance,” she said.

Luluwa Al-Abdullah, a broadcaster at Jeddah Broadcast, said people with special needs mostly find jobs teaching at special needs educational institutions. Their other option is to work at a call center.

“Their job spectrum should not be limited as they have studied a variety of disciplines from psychology to sociology to media,” she said.

“If we are to claim that humans are the strongest of creations then surely we must come to the realization that our strength does not come from our physical traits but our intellect, perseverance and will power. Lions are physically able to eat humans but it is the human’s ability to tame the lion that makes us superior,” she added.

Hosni Bogus trains massage therapists and he said there are many visually impaired people who work in professions they are not qualified for but they are hired so companies can boast that they have people with disabilities on their payrolls.

“Such companies do not have any interest in the individual’s capabilities and what he has to offer,” he said.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Friday, Oct. 17, 2014.

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