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Round Table Discussion: Visually Diabled Persons Talk about their Study at Higher Education in Sudan & Japan

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Mohamed Omar ABDIN:
Born in 1977 in Khartoum, Sudan. Student at the Peace and Conflict Studies, Graduate School of Global Studies, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Totally blind.
HOSHIKA Ryoji (Japanese): Born in 1975 in Ehime. Assistant Professor, Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, The University of Tokyo. Totally blind.
AOKI Shintaro: Born in 1981 in Osaka. Graduate Student, Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Sciences, Ritsumeikan University. Part-time Lecturer, Faculty of Human and Life, Hagoromo University of International Studies. Only right eye has a weak eyesight.
FUKUCHI Kentaro: Born in 1984 in Osaka. University of Tsukuba. Totally blind.
SAITO Ryoichiro : (Chairperson) Born in 1955 in Kumamoto. Executive Director of Africa Japan Forum

Organizers: Africa Japan Forum, Global COE Program Ars Vivendi
@Place: Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, The University of Tokyo
@Date: Autust 9, 2007 2:00pm - 5:40pm

This summary was published in Africa NOW on October 20, 2007.
@Full text in Japanese is also available online.

Last March, students with disabilities from Sudan and others established the Committee for Assisting and Promoting Education of the Disabled in Sudan (CAPEDS). The Organization for African Unity (now, The Africa Union) started the UN African Decade of Persons with Disabilities in 2000, and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is working on capacity building for African people with disabilities. Assisting people with disabilities is one of the important topics among "Human Security", a basic principle of Japanese international cooperation. Today, we have Abdin and Fukuchi, the core members of CAPEDS; Hoshika, who is studying Disability Studies in Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, The University of Tokyo; and Aoki, who is studying the techniques of support for students with visual disabilities in the Graduate School of Ritsumeikan University. We'd like to learn the significance and problems for students with visual disabilities to learn in higher education, and to consider how we can assist students with visual disabilities in Sudan. All participants except the chairperson have visual disabilities in this round table discussion today. We'd like to thank the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology for offering the venue, and the Global COE Program Ars Vivendi, the Graduate School of Core Ethics and Frontier Sciences at Ritsumeikan University for letting Aoki come to join us from Kyoto.

Because this is the first challenge of this kind, and the time is limited, so we'd like to focus on your experience in education till high school, your achievements and difficulties in studying higher education, your future plan especially about your job, and your thoughts about higher education and international cooperation. The readers of Africa NOW, who is going to read the summary of today's discussion, are not familiar with the situation of schools accepting students with visual disabilities, or assistive techniques. It takes too long to discuss the details of technical matter, we will do that in another oppertunity. So we'd like to hear your experience mainly today. First, can Mr. Hoshika talk about your experience from elementary school to high school?

Which is better: regular school or school for the students with visual disabilities?

I am Hoshika, and I study on barrier-free here at the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology. I was born in Ehime prefecture, and grew up there until I entered the university. I lost eyesight of both eyes at the age of five when I had an operation. My parents wanted me to go to a regular school, but they had to struggle with the board of education, who was reluctant to accept me because there had been no case of a student with visual disabilities attending to a regular school. I managed to enter a regular class, but the school continued to put pressure on me to transfer to the school with visual disabilities even after I entered the school. Because I was the first student with visual disability to attend a regular school in Ehime, a TV team had filmed me and made a TV program when I entered the university.

When I began my elementary education, my mother came to school with me and I used the textbooks and reference books transcribed into Braille by volunteers. At first, I could manage my study with the help of Mother and volunteer friends, but as I grew older I needed to use the national network of support to cope with more difficult contents which requires to write mathematical formulas or chemical formulas in Braille. When I was in high school, the volunteer person transcribed the exam questions into Braille, so I could take the exam on the same day with other students. I answered questions in Braille except Math and Science, which I used a raised-line drawing system. Still, I graduated from regular elementary, junior high and high schools. Then, I continued my study in a university and a graduate school, and now I'm working in this Research Center.

I began to enjoy school classes around the fifth grade. I was fortunate to have an interesting teacher at that time. I began to enjoy commenting on his teaching and making my classmates laugh, or asking him difficult questions to make him embarrassed during the class. For that purpose, I began to listen to the class hard, and my grade went up, starting with social studies. I began to enjoy correctly answering in the exams and the satisfactory feeling with educational achievement. I think good grades formed the base of my identity when I was a junior and senior high school student.

Neither schools nor the board of education prepared textbooks or educational materials for students with visual disability in regular schools. Why your parents wanted to place you in a regular school so much?

I had my operation in Tokyo. In those days, many students with visual disabilities went to regular schools in big cities like Tokyo, Saitama and Osaka. My parents knew that, and I think they had contacts with people who were encouraging students with disabilities to go to regular schools.

How was the case for you, Mr. Aoki, in Osaka?

I study on People with Disabilities and Higher Education in the Graduate School of Ritsumeikan University now. This year, I also teach about Techniques of Support for Students with Visual Disabilities in a social welfare college. I have weak eyesight, unlike the other three participants. I also use Braille, but most of the time I read normal text by wearing special glasses for weak eyesight or displaying characters in huge size on computer screen. Like now, I'm using this computer, showing huge characters on the screen.

I was born with weak eyesight. Many people ask me how the world looks like with weak eyesight, but I cannot tell them because I don't know how it looks like to other people.

Also, I can see only with my right eye, so I used to be pictured sideways when I was little, because I faced to the camera with my right eye. Eventually, I learned that a camera can take my picture from the front if I look at a point a bit right of the camera. Then, the photos show my face from the front, but my eye always pointing slightly to the right.

I was born and raised in Osaka. I remember being tested how much I could see when I entered a public kindergarden, but there was no problem or questioning when I entered the elementary school just opposite of the kindergarden. Many of my classmates knew me since the kindergarden until I moved to another school at the fifth grade. Everybody knew that I can walk with other children but cannot pick up an eraser from the floor. So I had no problem because of the weak eyesight.

However, after I moved to another school, people around me didn't understand about weak eyesight properly, and some students began to bully me.

After that, I went to the junior high school and high school for students with visual disabilities. My parents thought I could have a better chance to go to a university if I receive small-group education special for students with visual disabilities. One class had only four students there, and sometimes I was taught alone in an elective course. There were lots of textbooks and educational materials with huge characters, and I became to like studying.

When I was a high school student, I also went to a cram school to prepare for university entrance examination. In that cram school, I explained to teachers and staff what kind of support is necessary for weak-sighted person to study. I had to explain that repeatedly. I think I was trained to organize my needs and tell them to other people.

We need to change the preconception of people with visual disabilities always use Braille, and consider how to support people with weak eyesight, too. Mr. Fukuchi was also born and raised in Osaka, aren't you?

I am a students at the University of Tsukuba. I lost my eyesight when I was two years old, so I have lived with visual disability for 20 years. I was born in Osaka, but I went to a kindergarden in Kagoshima because my family moved there for my father's job. However, the board of education in Kagojima would not accept me in a regular elementary school. My parents wrote to newspapers and talked to the school, but it was difficult.

We gave up, and I came back to Osaka, my mother's hometown, and entered a regular elementary school in Hirakata City. The public support was not enough in Osaka, either. For example, they depended on volunteer work to transcribe textbooks into Braille.

Teachers and students in the elementary school and junior high school that I went began to learn Braille because of me. They transcribed educational materials, test questions and notices into Braille. I began to play guitar in junior high school, and went to a high school which had a well known light music group. When I was a high school student, I heard the seminar of Thai lady who grew up in slum areas, and that made me recognize the importance of education. Then, I began to aim to continue my study in a university.

I understand that although regular schools in Hirakata city accept students with visual disabilities, they lack public support for textbooks or educational materials. Now, let's hear the story of Mr. Abdin, who was born and raised in Khartoum of Sudan and came to Japan at the age of 20.

I have been studying in Japan since 1998. I belong to the Peace and Conflict Studies, Graduate School of Global Studies, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies this year.

I lost my eyesight by progressive illness. My elder brother and younger brother lost eyesight because of the same illness. I could see when I was little. I lost eyesight gradually, so I experienced weak sight and total blindness, too. I went to a regular local elementary school.

I was born in Sudan's baby-boom generation, so there were 70 students in an elementary class. I remember the classmate in a wheelchair who could not fit inside so was left outside of the classroom. The classrooms in Sudan have very small windows to avoid sunlight because the temperature can go up to 40 degrees. So it was dim inside the classroom, and I could see the blackboard only when I sit in the very front.

I used to be a good soccer player, but I could not play it anymore without my eyesight.

Children respect those who can play soccer, who is strong, or who is good at studying. So, I worked hard to get good grade after I could not be a good soccer player.

I could read printed text when I was an elementary school, so I read lots of history books and others. After I could not read with my eyes anymore, I worked hard to remember what I heard during the classes and the contents of textbooks Mother read out for me. I could get good points because I remember what teachers explained in detail or repeated importantly. Both of my parents had higher education, so they could read out textbooks of high school, too.

Mathematics and Science were difficult for me because I could not see formulas or graphics. They were difficult to understand by hearing only. So I remember previous Math tests of 40 years to pass the graduate examination of high school. As you can hear, I have good memory.

Only after I entered the University of Khartoum I had the opportunity to learn Braille. Until then, I passed most of the exams by asking other students to read out the questions, and write down the answers for me.

Isn't there any school for students with visual disabilities in Sudan?

There is only one school. I had heard of Braille but I didn't know what exactly it is until I learned it in the university. I also thought people with visual disabilities mean completely blind people. I think the problem is that there is no system to provide information on Braille, or information on support for people with weak eyesight.

Higher Education and People with Visual Disability

All four participants today have studied at universities. Can you tell us the significance for students with visual disabilities studying in a university, and about experienced you have had in a university?

The University of Tokyo, where I studied, had had two more students with total blindness before I entered. The support system or know-how for them had been lost, but the spirit of supporting students with visual disabilities were still there. Faculty members and classmates all supported me to study in various ways.

I studied in the University of Tokyo for 11 years, as an undergraduate student and a graduate student. When I was in the graduate school, the university established the Disability Services (http://ds.adm.u-tokyo.ac.jp/) and began to systematically support students with disabilities. This service gave me a great relief because I didn't have to ask my classmates who are busy with their exams anymore. With the Disability Services, I could ask support to the staff hired by the university.

The university education requires more study to think and research, which is different from high school study with textbooks and given materials. The major problem was how to find the reference materials I needed. It was stressful that I cannot check reference materials widely, because I had to arrange reading-out, recording or transcribing into Braille in order to read any printed material.

On the other hand, I learned a lot because I began living alone as I entered the University.

My parents wanted me to go to the school for students with visual disabilities although it took more than one hour from my home, because they wanted me to go to a university. After graduating the high school, I went to Doshisha University for the bachelor's and master's degrees. I'm in the doctor's course in Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto this year.

In Doshisha University, faculty members supported me by preparing enlarged copies of delivered materials or explaining about the video by sitting next to me in the class. Computers were becoming the necessary tools in campus when I entered the university. The University had a computer room, but their computers were difficult for students with visual disabilities to use. We needed to change the setting and they didn't have screen reader.

In Ritsumeikan University, where I go for doctoral course, there is some support from the research center, but the support from the university is very limited. We need to discuss who should bear the cost, the student with visual disabilities, the university or the society, transcribing and recording reference materials, or inputting data, which are important for doctoral study.

I chose the high school which light music group was famous, and I devoted myself to music with my group for about half of my high school years.

I began to want to study on education in a university after I heard a seminar of Thai lady who grew up in a slam and studied in a university with the support of Japanese NGO. She emphasized the importance of education. Since then, I studied hard with support of people in school and around me, and entered the University of Tsukuba.

The University of Tsukuba has the support system that students with disabilities look for paid volunteers with the help of the Disabilities Services. I took last year off from Tsukuba, and went for training in the USA and Thailand. The Georgetown University, where I stayed for three months, had very different support system from Tsukuba. In the University of Tsukuba, students with disabilities themselves have to recruit and train the paid volunteer supporters, although the university helps it. The objective behind this system is that students with disabilities should learn how to coordinate volunteers and to request support, while other students learn how to deal with people with disabilities and to support them. Today, about 10 students with visual disabilities study in the University of Tsukuba, and the PCs with screen reading software and Braille printers are available, too. On the other hand, American universities and the University of Tokyo also hire paid volunteers, but the university take the burden of recruiting and training them. The idea behind is that students with disabilities have the right to study as well as other students, so they should not worry about recruiting volunteers or take responsibility coordinating them. In the Georgetown University, I was advised not to worry about support, but spend that time on social activities, or with friends, like other students do. At the same time, the university's support is strictly limited to study in America. Both Tsukuba and Georgetown share the basic principle that universities have the responsibility to secure the study environment for students with disabilities. However, they have different ideas how the university should do so, I think.

I followed my brother's step, who lost eyesight by the same illness, until I entered the Faculty of Law at the University of Khartoum. My brothers were only people with visual disabilities I knew directly until I went to the university. My elder brother is a lawyer today, and he has many clients because he can speak English. I believe people with visual disabilities should achieve high level of skills and certifications in higher education so that they can get good jobs.

The University of Khartoum noticed I have visual disabilities after they accepted me to the university. Then, they delayed my entrance procedure and I could finally complete my registration to the university after lessons were started, by signing the written oath that I do not demand anything special to the university.

In my freshman's year, the university went on a long strike because of civil conflict in Sudan. When there was no class for about half a year, I learned about exchange program to study in Japan and I applied for it. I was worse in Braille among four applicants, but I was chosen because I could speak English. So I came to Japan and studied at the Fukui Pref. School for the Blind as I learned Japanese. It was not easy, however. I failed the entrance examination because I had to take it in less than a month since I came to Japan. Some teachers supported me saying that I came all the way from Sudan to learn at the school, so I was accepted.

I learned Braille there, and for the first time in my life, I could read books whenever I wanted. As I said before, until then I read books by asking another person to read it out face to face, so I could read books only when I had such person. It was impossible to do overnight cramming for exams. Then, after I learned Braille, I became able to read books when I woke up in the middle of night! Another important change is that I became able to communicate with other people who do not use Braille by using computer because I can type normal text with it.

Fukui Pref. School for the Blind trains students to be practitioners in acupuncture and moxibustion. I wanted to study more things, so I went to the Tsukuba College of Technology to learn about computer, then went to the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, and today study on peace and conflict at its Graduate School of Global Studies. Thanks to Braille I learned at the school for the blind, I achieved more freedom in information access. In addition to that, I can access to the Internet or information center of the university by using computer. I have to re-study mathematics with Braille textbooks to understand the mechanism of important statistics used in social science. I emphasize it again; I wish I had the opportunity to learn Braille at earlier stage of my life.

Higher Education, Job Opportunity and International Cooperation of People with Disabilities

The number of students with disabilities who study in Japanese higher education increased in last three decades. Today, I understand the quantity and quality of support varies greatly according to the institution. It may not be today's topic, but it is interesting point as well. The Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology in the University of Tokyo has Associate Professor Fukushima, who is a blind deaf, and Assistant Professor Hoshika, who has visual disability. The University of Shizuoka has a professor with visual disability, and Nagano University has a professor with cerebral palsy. So there are some faculty members with disabilities in Japan. How is the situation in Sudan?

The University of Khartoum hires three research assistants who have disabilities. They could choose to stay and work at the university because they made great academic achievements. Recently, the President made a speech in the university's 100th Anniversary ceremony that the university provides educational opportunity for people with disabilities. A research assistant with visual disability took this opportunity to appeal the necessity of computers and information support for people with visual disabilities. This demand was accepted.

On the other hand, Sudan's unemployment rate is said to be 50% today. When even healthy people cannot find enough jobs, majority of people with visual disabilities live on family's or relative's support without any job, except a few who can earn income from music activity, or who earn income from reciting Koran by taking advantage of good memory. The social security system is underdeveloped in Sudan compared to Japan, so some people with disabilities become beggars.

Some people with disabilities turn to drinking although it is denied in the Islam society, because they cannot find any job and cannot find any meaning in their lives. My brother who cannot see at all, became a lawyer after graduating the University of Khartoum. Because he can speak English, increasing number of overseas corporations come to him as his clients. He learned how to use computer, too. So, if they gain skills or qualifications, people with disability can find a good job even in Sudan.

After I came to Japan, Sudan enforced a law to promote affirmative action for minorities or people with disabilities, so more students with disabilities are studying in the University of Khartoum today. However, it does not have the support center for them like Japanese universities.

CAPEDS has been promoting Braille education in elementary and secondary schools, by providing Braille slates to the Board of Education and key schools of education for students with disabilities. We also aim to spread blind soccer, and to provide computers with Arabian screen reader to establish Support Center for Students with Disabilities in the University of Khartoum. Surrounding countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia have better support system for people with visual disabilities than Sudan has. We want to learn from experiences of Arabian speaking countries and promote support in Sudan.

Last year, I received a training at an Independent Living Center and a university in the USA, and went to the Asia-Pacific Regional Office of the Disabled People International (DPI) in Thailand and learned about international advocacy movements and fund raising as I worked as an intern for a year. At the end of the training, I observed the preparatory committee of the UN's Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I wanted to take advantage of this experience so I applied to an international organization, which have online examination after the document screening. The problem was, this examination website could not be read by screen reader. The organization allowed me to have a supporter beside me to read out the questions and type in the answers. However, the examination time was too short when we read our all the questions and answers. Also most of the problems with charts were too difficult for the supporter to explain properly. Another organization did not provide me any information on people with visual disabilities taking job examinations, although I made enquiry beforehand. I suppose neither of these organizations expected that people with visual disabilities would apply for a job.

I'd love to hear more about experience of four participants, but the time has come so we need to stop here. For those who want to know more about the situation in Sudan, there are some leaflets made by CAPEDS. We hope to have another round table discussion or hearing survey with overseas students in Kyoto or Gifu, by working with the Global COE Program Ars Vivendi of Ritsumeikan University. I believe people with visual disabilities can contribute greatly in international cooperation activities after studying in higher education. I place my hope that international organizations accept more people with visual disabilities and provide opportunity for them to contribute for the world with their own experience and ideas as people with disabilities. Thank you very much.

Related links:

Techniques of Support for Students with Visual Disabilities
AOKI Shintaro (ed.) February 5, 2009
Report Issued by Research Center Ars Vivendi of Ritsumeikan University, Vol.6, 2009. 182p. ISSN 1882-6539

People with Disabilities and Higher Education

Committee for Assisting and Promoting Education of the Disabled in Sudan (CAPEDS)

The Secretariat of African Decade of Persons with Disabilities

Hearing Impaired Division and Visually Impaired Division at the Tsukuba College of Technology

The Disability Services at the University of Tokyo (Japanese)

Fukui Pref. School for the Blind (Japanese)

June 21, 2008 Round-table Discussion "Current Conditions and Challenges of Assistance of the Visually Disabled in Universities: What is Asked for in Sudan Now"

UP: 20100217, REV: 20100218
Translated and Prepared by HIRAGA Midori
Visual Disabilities (Japanese)@ Sudan (Japanese)@ Archive