Seeing Without Looking

People with disabilities in Egypt were hoping for change that never happened. Heba and Somaia have something special about them—two blind women who have broken through barriers.

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Seeing Without Looking

People with disabilities in Egypt are frequently marginalized and face discrimination. They find themselves excluded from the education system, overlooked by employers, and disregarded by urban planners. Many families see disability as shaming, sometimes even as a divine punishment, and disabled children may be hidden from neighbors or held back from opportunities to integrate. Employers mostly believe that people with disabilities will either not be able to do the work, or will present a bad image of the company, and so their doors remain closed. People with a disability who do attempt a greater involvement in society are often faced with prohibitive costs, as there are few facilities— such as specially adapted transport, or assisted tuition—that would make the process easier.

Prior to the Egyptian revolution, a law was passed requiring companies with more than 50 employees to ensure that people with special needs made up at least five percent of the workforce. But the law is weakly enforced, and is often circumvented by firms employing workers with disabilities at rock-bottom wages, and telling them to stay at home. After the January 2011 revolution, the situation did not improve. A number of independent associations aim at ensuring that people with disabilities are not marginalized, but can play an effective role in society at large. One such, the NGO Banat Al Noor, provides blind women with support in education, and works to raise personal confidence and public awareness, so that they can find jobs and lead independent lives.

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