DUBAI: Ebtehal Al-Nasir was in her first year of medical school when she lost her sight to illness. She had long dreamed of becoming a doctor, but suddenly she felt that a successful career in any field was now beyond her reach.
“I wondered what would happen to the hard work I had done for years,” Al-Nasir, from Qurayyat, a city in northern Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.
“I heard a lot of negative and depressing things at that time. Among them: I should be grateful that I graduated from high school and that a lot of people are doing well with only a high school diploma. high school, college is hard, how are you going to study when you can’t see?, and many other similar discouraging words.
“I would hear this and yet in my eyes I still saw my dreams, my ambitions, my goals, my efforts and my toil. Should it all have been in vain? At that moment, I took a decision: I said that I would finish my studies regardless of the difficulties I would face.
People with disabilities make up 7.1% of the Saudi population, according to the General Statistics Authority, of which 811,610 are classified as visually impaired.
In order to ensure a good quality of life for all citizens and residents, the Saudi government has prioritized efforts to safeguard the rights of persons with disabilities by improving the support and services available to them to ensure that their dignity is maintained. . As part of this process, it has also worked to challenge negative attitudes that can surround disability.
Refusing to allow blindness to define her or limit her potential, Al-Nasir and her family sought out charities and institutions that could help her adapt to life with a visual impairment and, later, universities suitably equipped to accept students with sight problems.
Specialists from the National Association of the Blind, also known as Kafeef, and Mubseroon, a charity for the visually impaired, taught him how to use Braille, a tactile reading and writing system which uses raised dot patterns to represent the letters of the alphabet and how to walk safely and independently with a white cane.
They also showed him how to use specially adapted digital devices, including a smartphone and a computer, using touch and sound.
These tools, along with the unwavering support of his family, gave Al-Nasir the confidence to not only return to school, but to excel among his peers.
“I went back to college and left medicine to study business administration,” she said. “I specialized in law, which I had a passion for.
“That year, I was so grateful to receive a Bachelor of Laws degree from Northern Border University’s School of Business Administration, with first class honors, and I was one of the top students in my college. “
Additionally, Al-Nasir earned a degree in English from the International Academy for Human Development in the UK and was chosen for the Qimam Fellowship, an intensive 12-day training program launched in 2018 to empower university students. with high potential in Saudi Arabia through one-on-one mentoring and career guidance.
She is also an accredited trainer with the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation, a Saudi government agency.
In total, in the seven years since she lost her sight, Al-Nasir has taken more than 60 courses and participated in a wide range of forums and events, the most important of which was representing his university in two consecutive rounds of a competition. organized by the Saudi Center for Commercial Arbitration.
She said winning a place in the Qimam Fellowship was a particularly transformative experience, which helped her redefine her life goals.
“I had the opportunity to meet inspiring CEOs” through the scholarship, she said. “One of the guest speakers who came to talk about his personal journey particularly inspired me. They also had a disability.
“When I was accepted into Project1932, I told my mentor about this speaker and he actually helped me get in touch with him directly.”
Project1932, which is designed to empower the emerging young generation of future Saudi leaders, pairs selected high-potential candidates with experienced business leaders to guide them through their early years of higher education and professional careers.
“The outreach was welcome and I found it fascinating to be able to connect with someone of his caliber and start building my network with inspiring thought leaders I met through Qimam,” said Al -Nasir.
During their one-on-one coaching sessions, she was grateful for her mentor’s honesty about the challenges she was likely to face along her career path and what development goals she should focus on.
“He gave me very specific advice,” she said. “I took him seriously and worked on his advice and made massive improvements. It really helped me develop my skills and abilities.
Al-Nasir has since interned at leading law firms and volunteered with the Princess Al-Anoud Charitable Foundation and the Saudi Association for Special Education, also known as GESTER , a scientific association of King Saud University that provides tuition and support services for people with disabilities and other special needs.
This volunteer work reflects Al-Nasir’s lifelong desire to help others achieve their goals. While studying at Northern Border University, for example, she and a few friends started a society that encouraged inclusion and lobbied for better services for students with disabilities.
“After I lost my sight, I wanted to pursue my undergraduate studies at a qualified university for the visually impaired,” she said.
“It led me to set myself a goal on the first day there, even though it was not equipped for the disabled, which was to not graduate until I raised awareness, however little , to the culture of the visually impaired.”
The Saudi government has developed a legal framework designed to protect people with disabilities from harm, promote equality in education, and provide them with social care, rehabilitation services, and health care.
The authorities have also introduced employment initiatives, mobility, transport and parking improvements, sign language support and housing and mobile services for people with disabilities, while ensuring that they can participate in decision-making processes.
The Disability Authority was established in 2018 to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities in the Kingdom and empower them to participate in society in an inclusive and effective manner.
It is part of the National Transformation Program, an economic action plan launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 development and diversification program.
“The Authority for Persons with Disabilities…was established to empower people with disabilities and enhance their role in the Kingdom,” Al-Nasir said.
She added that among other things, it “aims to enable people with disabilities to obtain suitable employment and educational opportunities, to access autonomy and integration as actors in society. which contribute to the economic development of our country”.
Today, for the thousands of Saudis who, like Al-Nasir, live with a disability, no ambition or dream is too big for them when it comes to education, employment or career advancement.
“As the crown prince said, the sky is the limit for our ambitions,” Al-Nasir said.