Twenty-five years ago, my eldest son, Ahmed, who suffers from severe hearing impairment and wears hearing aids despite his ability to lip-read, joined a public school. It was not easy at all, but we did not want to enroll him in schools for persons with disabilities. Those schools were called “Al-Amal” Schools. The Arabic name means hope in English, but they gave little hope for any student wanting to proceed to higher education.
I used to teach him the lessons before they were taught to him at school to help him overcome communication difficulties. He was diligent and eager to communicate with his classmates. He used to ask a colleague to write down the teacher’s questions, so he could raise his hand to answer. The teacher would be surprised by his correct answer, while his classmates applauded. This used to bring an unforgettable smile to Ahmed’s face.
However, in his fourth grade of primary school, the school decided not to allow him to continue his education at the regular school and transferred him to a school for persons with disabilities. This was a great shock. However, we did not give up and continued to teach him at home.
Ahmed passed his exams successfully and graduated from high school. But the joy was cut short because of government policy. Egypt’s Supreme Council of Universities determines which colleges students with disabilities can join based on the nature of the disability rather than on the student’s exam results. We did not believe that this policy would give our son the rights that are guaranteed to him by the Constitution. (See a related article, “Options for Special-Needs Students Are Few at Egyptian Universities.”)
Since early childhood, Ahmed has shown a remarkable talent for drawing. So we tried to help him complete his higher education in applied arts. A senior official at the Supreme Council of Universities was impressed by his desire to study applied arts, but said, “Be thankful to God that he can study law or literature.” Another official expressed her surprise that Ahmed had been able to pass his high school exams at all. After that we were left with no choice but to go to an expensive private institution.
At the Higher Institute of Applied Arts, Ahmed escaped his primary school nickname (Ahmed Simma’at), which means “Ahmed Hearing Aids,” and chose his own nickname—Ona. Here he was able to study the subject that he loved. The Institute helped him with his communication problems and provided most of the lectures in written form. During examinations, the teachers gave him written instructions. He also had individual sessions with assistant teachers to answer his questions in some theoretical subjects.
Ahmed’s professors and colleagues provided him with a supportive and affectionate community. They made sure that he understood the lectures and included him in all the Institute’s activities. His fellow students elected him to the Students Union.
Ahmed received a bachelor’s degree in applied arts with a very good grade despite residence in a city far from his family. This and his talent for design enabled him to get a job at an international company with multinational and multilingual staff members. They communicate with each other in written English. This minimizes the problems of communication for him.
I believe in my son’s talent and strong will. I also recognize the importance of the support we gave him as a family and the role we played in securing a good education for him. However, I realize that this is not available to all students with disabilities. There is a need for government policy that guarantees educational opportunities for all students, including those with disabilities.
Suhair Abdul-Hafeez is a writer with a Ph.D. in education and a specialist in the empowerment of persons with disabilities.