Saudi Arabia's blind and partially sighted are enjoying the benefits of a scheme first established to help visually impaired students. Hussein Shehedah reports.
The Director General of Riyadh's audio library or "the talking library" as it is more commonly known has a personal knowledge of the difficulties of being a student with impaired vision. "Thirty years ago I went to ordinary schools. I sat among students endowed with eyesight, and relied on my sense of hearing and memory to successfully complete my education," explained Mustapha al Khalaf. These days 2,000 blind students inside the kingdom, as well as about 3,000 further afield have the backing of the talking library to help them maintain a common educational level with those in ordinary schools.
The idea to establish this kind of library with the aim of integrating the blind and visually impaired into ordinary schools alongside sighted students was first raised in 1976 by the then director general of the Special Education Department at the Ministry of Education, Abdul Rahman al Abdan. He, and a team of experts from the ministry carried out a detailed study. Similar research was conducted by specialists from Unesco in Paris before receiving the go ahead from the Ministry of Education.
"I came into the picture in 1978 when the project was already under construction," explains Mustapha al Khalaf. "I was the Director of Education for the Blind before being appointed director of this library. I contributed to the final phase of this project by acting as an adviser," he continued.
The audio library was inaugurated in 1986 with a budget of almost $8m. One of its main services is the recording of student curriculum material on ordinary cassettes. Vision impaired students are supplied with their copies well in advance of each academic year in order for them to keep up with classes for sighted students.
The five storey audio library building comprises a large library of books in the basement, while the ground floor houses four recording studio cubicles. Each self-contained unit is designed to accommodate one reader, one technician and a linguist in a sound and echo proof environment. This is where the early part of the work is done by readers transferring information from books onto tapes.
The building also contains a number of editing rooms as well as...