What an ordinary day looks like through the eyes of a blind person is hard to imagine, isn’t it?
From making his morning coffee to using public transportation, 27-year-old Noah Al Hadidi, who is currently studying computer science at Colorado State University, in the United States of America (USA), shares how he spends his daily life while enjoying the company of his service dog, Amiga.
An interesting fact about this interview was that it was conducted via email. Advanced technology has definitely helped him continue to lead a normal life, but what stands out is strong will.
As a baby, Noah was perfectly healthy, though that was soon to change. Seven months after his birth, he lost his eyesight as a result of Retinitis Pigmentosa and it never returned. “It is not curable, at least with the technology and science we currently have,” says Al Hadidi.
Noah starts his day waking up to his iPhone, which he uses as an alarm clock. Although he does have a talking alarm clock, Noah prefers his smart phone as is he can choose the tone of the alarm.
First thing in the morning, Noah uses a talking microwave and a touch screen espresso machine that has a fingerprint recognition option which helps him store his favourite drinks on the coffee maker’s profile. He puts sticky raised dots on each button to identify its function.
Ordering food can be a serious challenge in the life of a blind independent man, but Noah has pushed the envelope and cooks for himself and for his friends every day. His menu consists of chicken biryani, chicken tandoori, Enchilada and even cheesecakes.
But, how does he do it?
“I use the stove like a normal person, and my talking thermometer is more than enough to accomplish the daily task of cooking,” says Al Hadidi.
Ability defeats disability
If you ever thought that sports is an intimidating challenge for a blind individual, Noah can prove you wrong as he practices several kinds of sport such as swimming, biking, hiking in addition to camping, skiing, ice skating, and playing goalball, an exclusive sport for athletes with visual impairments according to the paralympic movement
Noah usually organises things in order of importance. If he is not sure about an item, he uses his talking bar-code reader device (IDMate) or an app on his iPhone that does the same function to know what it is.
Asked about the process of choosing the colour of his wardrobe, Noah mentions that all his shirts have Braille tags that read the colour’s name and help him to match his shirt to his pants.
So, when it comes to money, is it easy to fool a blind person?
Since US dollar bills are all the same size, Noah used to ask people about the currency to understand the denominations. Now, with the money reader app on his iPhone, he can easily recognise the money.
“Previously when travelling, I had to ask the driver about the bus number,” he says.
But since last year, the route numbers and information are automatically announced. Noah was one of the people who helped start this system in the city of Fort Collins.
“We now also have an iPhone app,” he adds. He also uses taxis from time to time.
Since his bus ride lasts 45 minute, Noah does not mind reading the morning paper during the trip. “They do not have Braille copies at the news stand. Fortunately, I have other options,” he says. Noah calls the NFB news line service via his cell phone and has the news read out to him automatically.
As the Omani programmer reaches the computer science department at school, taking the elevator is a breeze as most of them have Braille labels by the buttons.
So, getting to the right fl oor is not a problem. Noah points out that while he has not seen any elevators without Braille in the USA, he has seen just a few in Oman.
With an iPhone and a computer which have screen reader software, Noah communicates with the outside world easily like anybody else. A screen reader is a software application that converts text to speech. “Most of the computers which the university has are useless to me. Nowadays, you can get a Mac, which comes with a screen
reader by default. However, if I use a PC-based system with the most popular screen reader, it will cost about $1000.”
Noah says that it is very difficult to find an accessible cell phone because he cannot interact with most of the phones by default.
“I can either buy a simple phone which I can use without looking at the screen, but then I will be way behind the others, who are able to use all the cool features and functionalities,” he says.
There are more simple phones which have a calendar or a contact list feature with speech functionality, but the problem is that they only relay part of the information.
Noah uses an OrCam, A breakthrough technology which is a camera device that responds to a simple intuitive gesture – a point of your finger or the press of a single button.
According to its official website, an OrCam is a “portable, wearable visual system with ‘human-like’ capabilities for blind and visually impaired persons, via the use of artificial computer intelligence and augmented reality.”
So for a blind person, what are the main differences between studying in the US and Oman?
“Education in the US is different from what it is in Oman. The major difference is the culture. There are a lot of international students from all over the world unlike universities in the Middle East where the majority of students are eastern,” said Noah.
“People in the US are very friendly and helpful. If they know that you have a disability, they will try to help as much as they can to make you succeed, not to mention that they are very respectful and they like to know about other cultures,” he adds.
Noah said that in order to make educational materials accessible, all the universities in US have resources or disability services for disabled students. “So, I will always get an equal opportunity along with everyone else to succeed,” he said.
Hopes and dreams
Noah, who was recently accepted to the Master’s Programme in Computer Information Systems in the US owes his success to Her Highness Sayyida Aliya Al Said, patron of the Al Noor Association for the Blind and Barka Al Bakry,
the IAVE national representative of the Sultanate of Oman.
He is hoping to get a scholarship to help make the fi nal stretch towards his goal.
“After I graduate with my Master’s degree, my goal is to continue developing technologies for the
blind. I would like to start here in the US, but I hope to bring equal access to Oman.”