My Promise to the Blind in My Country
During my time in the United States, I saw many things that changed my life, including thoughts about my career. I heard about blind doctors who worked with sighted doctors to heal people. I heard that there are blind engineers.
Photo: Benay (right) encounters a service dog during a disability leadership workshop in the U.S.
At a disability leadership workshop with Mobility International USA in Oregon and at my host school in Iowa, I also experienced many new technologies and equipment which are helpful for a blind person. One example is the Braille Sense which is like a small Braille computer that helps me with my reading and word processing. I have also used a talking calculator and saw a talking stove and oven in a home.
In my home country of Turkey, the people in charge of schools or building new buildings or roads do not think about the needs of blind people. Buildings are not necessarily handicapped accessible. Sidewalks have barriers which make it difficult to walk with a cane, and it's easy for a cane to get stuck in a place where it is difficult to remove.
In my home country, sighted people discriminate against blind people. Blind children are assigned to separate schools. I want people to understand the needs of the blind and to stop discriminating against them so they can live independently and easily. My plan is to help Turkey become an accessible and productive country for the blind by changing opinions, eliminating schools for the blind, and bringing new technology and laws.
Turkey needs to educate people, so they can learn how to live with the blind, how to act towards them, and how to stop discriminating. Blind people should spend time with sighted people. In general, blind people in Turkey are together all the time, so they don't learn how to be comfortable with sighted people. Often, blind students stay in dorms so families don't learn how to live with their blind child. Eliminating the blind schools is the best way for that. Blind children and sighted children should go to school together, starting at kindergarten.
Growing up, my school in Turkey did not teach anything about living independently. I was dependent on help from others. But now, I can walk with my cane easily and feel comfortable, and I can do my own work. A blind person has to be independent. Turkish blind people must begin using a cane at an earlier age. Some teachers of the blind think blind people don’t need math because they cannot see. The truth is, they need to learn math in order to be independent, to cook, to purchase things, and to manage their finances.
Another reason blind and sighted people should be together is because it helps blind people to not be so sensitive about their disability. The blind can make jokes or sarcastic remarks about their blindness instead of being hurt. Also, sighted people can learn to be helpful, understanding, and responsible. Sighted people should not be embarrassed for making conversation with blind people or asking them questions, and blind people shouldn’t be nervous about answering questions; it is a good way to start relationships.
In order for blind people to be more independent in Turkey, some laws should be changed. In Turkey, I have never seen any guide dogs for the blind because guide dogs are not allowed inside buildings. We must change this law. Guide dogs are the best tools of independence for the blind.
People should be open-minded in other ways, too. Owners of businesses have to understand that blind people can work with the sighted; we can do many things that sighted people can do. Blind people go to college and want to get jobs in their majors. Often, they are not given the job because the owner doesn’t think they can do the job. But we can! If the world has blind doctors, engineers, painters, musicians, mathematicians, and lawyers, nothing is impossible.
So how can I change laws and taboos in my country? What is the solution?
First of all, I would eliminate schools for the blind so that the blind and sighted can go to school together. I want to open small study centers around the country and have teachers and technology for the blind in these places. The teachers for the blind will visit blind children in the schools every day so they can learn Braille reading and writing, Braille music, Braille math and how to be independent in moving around the school. These teachers would also provide support for the classroom teachers in the school. Models can be provided for science, Braille worksheets can be made, and equipment can be provided for the blind during physical education. Technological equipment would be provided for students in the schools. On weekends, blind children would come together for sports activities, learning to cook, walking on the streets with a cane, and other practical activities.
I need like-minded people to work with me for change. Perhaps some people are not going to believe me, or maybe they will laugh at me, or maybe they will say I am living in dreams. They did the same thing to my mom, when she tried to change things. My mom got tired because it was so difficult, but with help, I believe I will not get tired. I want to walk on her way with help from God. I am giving a big strong promise from my heart: I will spend my whole life making a new Turkey for the blind. I hope after me, my people may change the world for the blind.
Benay's essay, edited here by MIUSA, was originally submitted to World Link, the exchange organization that placed Benay in her U.S. school and host family. World Link awarded the essay with an Honorable Mention as part of its essay competition.
The Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program provides scholarships for high school students from countries with significant Muslim populations to spend a semester or academic year in the United States. YES supports students with disabilities and encourages their participation.