Amid Israel-Hamas war, visually-impaired Palestinian expat types out messages of hope in Braille

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Chris McMillan

Nov 7, 2023, 2:30:48 PM11/7/23
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Khaleed Times

7th November 2023

Amid Israel-Hamas war, visually-impaired Palestinian expat types out messages of hope in Braille

Residents queue up next to Raneem Ahmed's booth at the Sharjah International Book Fair, wanting her to type a special message for their loved ones

Nandini Sircar

Raneem Ahmed. — Photos by M Sajjad/KTß

Tue 7 Nov 2023, 5:18 PM

Sitting in a quaint corner of the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) in Hall 2, Raneem Ahmed’s fingers move with precision across the surface of the Braille keyboard display.

While the Israel-Hamas war rages on disrupting lives and livelihoods, this Palestinian expat works purposefully, with her fingers gliding over the raised dots, feeling the patterns, and translating words into different messages of hope.

Raneem exhibits a calm and composed demeanour, displaying patience and determination, as she navigates the Braille characters for the several people who queue up next to her booth, wanting her to type a special message for their loved ones.

“I compose heartfelt messages specifically customised for visually impaired children, encouraging them to explore the joy of reading. Individuals interested in purchasing Braille books often request a personalised note that makes gifting even more thoughtful,” added Raneem.

“Many people of different age groups come to me. Some are families, and many are students and teachers. People, including those who are not visually impaired, approach me to have messages typed. They either want me to type the note to someone with visual impairment or request it as a keepsake.”

Type a duaa

Over the first weekend of SIBF, Raneem typed around 30 messages for people who were excited to add the special touch in their books.

“Some people ask me to type a duaa (prayer), some ask me to write, ‘don’t worry’, and a few others want me to say ‘don’t give up’.”

And for anyone eager to understand, how the tactile reading system works, she even pauses to spread her knowledge and explain.

“There is a cell consisting of two columns. Each group of buttons makes one letter. Each key on the Braille keyboard represents one or more Braille characters. To input a specific character, I press the corresponding combination of dots on the Braille keys,” explains the woman patiently, who is also a Braille teacher and represents the Kalimat Foundation at the SIBF.

Empower individuals

Raneem, who graduated from Ajman University’s College of Humanities and Sciences, with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, has a GPA of 4/4.

Her goal has always been to empower individuals with disabilities like herself, promoting their independence. She even skillfully utilises her phone to lead by example and demonstrate the principles she advocates.

She adds: “I have set the Braille display output to contracted Braille in my phone. It has a feature with voice settings to read what I have on the touch screen. I open Facebook, read messages, do online groceries, do online shopping, order coffee, and search for anything I like.

“I am a member of the Emirates Association for Visually Impaired and take classes there. I teach Braille to children, teenagers, and adults and want everyone to be self-reliant.”

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