Pakistan's first-ever Internet café for the visually impaired was inaugurated recently in Islamabad. The project was funded by the World Bank (WB) and the Pakistan Foundation Fighting Blindness (PFFB). The WB granted Rs 1.5 million to the facility that promises to help bridge the technological gap between the blind and those blessed with eyesight. The café will also link national and international communities. IT Helpline Project Director Zahid Abdullah said that the café involved the use of JAWS software that provides voice output for every command given to the computer, enabling blind people to know what their fingers are doing. Aqil Sajjad, the first visually impaired Pakistani pursuing his PhD at Harvard, introduced the software in Islamabad in 1999. The software was developed in the USA 20 years ago.
The café is absolutely free and is equipped with the latest computers, scanners, printers and DSL connections for fast Internet browsing. Abdullah elaborated that education and technology were two major levellers in the life of a visually impaired person and hoped that students and professionals would make good use of the café. Special Education Director General Sarfraz Ahmed asked the PFFB to submit proposals for the Pakistan Government to consider setting up more such facilities. He regretted that his directorate was established 38 years after Pakistan's creation and that the first policy for the disabled was formulated only in 2002.
According to Capt (retd.) Maqbool Ahmed, Director, PFFB Medical and Research Project, 100 members of one family in Pakistan had been diagnosed as suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, a genetically transmitted disease that causes a progressive loss of vision. He added that the disease is common in Pakistan and has a high prevalence in families opting for marriages between cousins. PFFB is the pioneer of research on this disease.