SEATTLE — In Palestine, education for the blind can be extremely difficult, as the technology used to teach braille is inadequate for the educational needs of Palestinian students. Amani Mustafa Abu Tair, a Palestinian inventor and entrepreneur, has invented a device to replace the outdated typewriter-like braille machines from the 1950s. This device will allow blind students to study on their own, giving them better access to education in Palestine.
Historically, blindness has been a significant hindrance to education in the Middle East, particularly in Palestine. In 1931, a census stated that “Palestine now takes the first place in regard to the gravity of this affliction”. In 1947, the Order of St. John in Jerusalem released a report stating that, of the 2,898 individuals afflicted by partial or total blindness in Palestine, the vast majority suffered from acquired conditions such as cataracts or glaucoma.
Blindness presents a variety of challenges to one’s education in Palestine, particularly since blindness is often seen in Palestinian culture as a shameful disability. Today, institutions such as the Peace Center for the Blind have been created to assist in blind education for Palestinians. The Center utilizes both blind and sighted teachers, employing a holistic method of education to help its students overcome the physical and emotional difficulties of their condition and succeed academically.
Amani grew up with a passion for inventing and tinkering and built many inventions during her childhood. At the age of nine, she built a scooter with wood and two wheels. By her 20s, she was designing games and apps. Amani has a desire to fix the problems she sees around her and has built apps to teach children about nutrition and help doctors track hospital shifts. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at Technion University in Tel Aviv.
Amani is an example of an innovative entrepreneur that is working toward solutions to social problems, and while she isn’t blind, she has a desire to fix the problems she sees around her. While taking an extremely difficult mechanics class two years ago, Amani realized that being blind would only compound the difficulty she was experiencing. Through this realization, Amani had a desire to investigate education for the blind in Palestine. Upon further investigation, Amani found that the typewriter-like machines used to teach children braille were cumbersome and impractical for education. They required a teacher to be present and made it difficult for blind children to study on their own.
With this need in mind, Amani developed the Braille FMZ, a portable device programmed with multiple languages that use voice instruction and mechanical dots to teach children braille. Amani began testing the device at the Peace Center for the Blind in Jerusalem and found that students who used the device were more confident in their learning experience. She said that “When I gave them my device [I saw] they can carry it, they can do whatever they want using it…I can’t describe how this felt.”
While the device is only a prototype, Amani plans to manufacture it at scale. She is currently seeking support, conducting market research, and investigating the need for this device. With further support, Amani hopes to make her device available worldwide.
While education in the Middle East is constantly improving, blindness continues to present a variety of problems for education in the region. But with the work of inventors like Amani, blind students can be given the best possible access to education in Palestine.
– Chasen Turk