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Lebanon's Blind Can "read" Their Rights

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from, and is copyright of, the Daily Star, Lebanon, January 28, 2005: http://www.dailystar.com.lb

The blind in Lebanon can now "read" their rights, thanks to a new braille-coded guidebook.

"I am going to take it home and read it carefully," said 70-something-year-old Michael Haddad, who has been blind since the age of eight from a bomb explosion during World War II, as he held the guidebook entitled "Know Your Rights."

Haddad runs his left hand along a page from the book consisting of a specific arrangement of dots standing for letters, numbers and punctuation marks that make up the braille diction.

"I only have a vague idea of what my rights are. So I am glad this book is out to educate me and my family about my rights and the rights of every blind person in Lebanon," says Haddad, who teaches at the Evangelical School for the Blind.

The thick white guidebook, which will be distributed for free, is a translation of the Lebanese law on "Handicapped Individuals", and the means of properly using the law to one's advantage.

The book took about two years to be published and cost about $20,000 that was provided by the United States Agency for International Development.

The project is the result of collaboration between local charity organizations and NGO's (non-governmental organizations), such as the Contact and Resource Center, the Christian Association for the Blind, and the America-Middle East Educational and Training Services Association.

"We want the Lebanese government to realize that we know our rights and we are not asking for favours but for our rights to be respected," said Michael Harika, head of the Christian Association for the Blind where the book's release took place.

"My hope is that the book reaches every blind person in this country, even the ones living in remote areas. The braille language has been a bridge for the blind, between his or her darkness and the world outside," he concluded.

Braille was developed back in 1820 by a young Frenchman named Louis Braille, who created the language by modifying a system of night writing, intended for use on board ships.

He attended a school for the blind and, along with his friends, they found that reading and writing dots was much faster than reading raised print letters.

But it took more than a century before people accepted braille as a systematic way for the blind to read and write. The development of this system by Braille is now recognized as the most important single development in helping the blind get a good education.