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Blind Moroccan Student’s Journey to a Ph.D. Inspires Hopes for Others with Disabilities

After years of patiently enduring many hardships, Hamid Nabil, a blind Moroccan student, has obtained a top doctoral degree in English from the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences at Morocco’s Mohammed V University of Rabat.

His doctoral thesis, called “Representations and Moroccans’ Positions on Radio Production”, analysed the content of several Moroccan radio stations, including the popular “Mohammed VI of the Holy Quran” station.

With this step, Nabil has become the first Moroccan student with special needs to obtain such a high academic degree for a scholarly study in English. His achievement also draws more attention to the challenges that blind students face in Moroccan universities, which advocates hope will lead to reforms helping other students with disabilities.

Nabil told Al-Fanar Media that his ambition to obtain a doctorate coincided with the loss of his eyesight at the age of 18. He felt that he had to try to adapt and strive to prove himself. “I had great energy after I felt that this was my destiny,” he said.

With a penchant for foreign languages, Nabil decided to focus on French, and later English. “This was with the support of my mother, who always believed that I would achieve my dreams,” he said.

Obtaining a doctorate became a goal for Hamid Nabil after he lost his eyesight at the age of 18. “I had great energy after I felt that this was my destiny.”

He chose the media as the subject for his doctoral thesis because of his childhood passion for radio, from which he learned the principles of language through continuous listening. At the same time as his postgraduate studies, Nabil was studying at  Casablanca’s Institute of Journalism and Communication, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in media, in  French.

Language as a Lifeline

Nabil said learning English became a lifeline for him after joining the Alaouite Organization for the Protection of the Blind. Communicating in English made him feel proud, he said. It also widened his academic opportunities and enabled him to study at the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences.

Nabil, who works as a secondary school English teacher and conference translator, says that he used advanced computer programmes designed specifically for the blind to teach himself to speak English. Thanks to these programmes, he was able to access international libraries that helped him enrich his study and research.

Perseverance and Ambition

Yamina El Kirat El Allame, a professor who supervised  Nabil’s doctoral thesis, said that his success came after a long journey of patience, ambition, and hardship.

She told Al-Fanar Media that supervising Nabil’s doctoral experience had been a personal challenge and a dream for her as well. It was not easy for either the student or her, in part because the Covid-19 pandemic greatly delayed Ph.D. discussions.

El Allame said Nabil had taken a dual approach to his doctoral research, mixing quantitative and qualitative methods, even though the fieldwork would have been difficult enough for any student, disadvantaged or not. She said Nabil had recruited more than 500 participants in the research survey for his thesis.

Blind students in Morocco face “a bitter reality, because they do not receive special courses in braille … and there are no references they can rely on.”

El Allame said she was hurt that one professor had refused to supervise Nabil’s thesis because he was blind. At that moment, she felt moved to become more heavily involved in helping him because of “the lack of encouragement and support for this group of people with special needs in the university corps.”

Impetus for Reform

Activists and others who work with blind people in Morocco hope Nabil’s achievement will kickstart debate about the educational rights of people with disabilities in the kingdom. They hope his story will draw more attention to the needs of disadvantaged students in higher education and encourage efforts to find ways to overcome the obstacles that stand in their way.

They also advocate legislation related to the care of visually impaired people, especially since Morocco was the host signatory of the Marrakesh Treaty, which guarantees people with visual disabilities access to cultural publications around the world. The treaty is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organisation, which is one of the 15 specialised agencies of the United Nations.

‘Bitter Reality’

Omar Ajabboun, president of the Moroccan Association for the Integration of the Blind, believes that blind students in Morocco face “a bitter reality, because they do not receive special courses in braille, nor in other languages, and there are no references they can rely on, especially at the university education stage.”

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Ajabboun told Al-Fanar Media that most blind students confront many difficulties at university. Some professors “do not allow the blind to record lectures,” so students must find solutions on their own without the help of the Ministry of Higher Education.

He added that there were no official statistics about blind students in Moroccan universities but said it was likely there were more than 700.

The association Ajabboun heads started work in 2007. One of its current initiatives is to establish the first kindergarten for blind children in Morocco.

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