The data and information collected have been written up with the purpose of identifying successful examples of appropriate solutions to difficulties in the area of higher education for disabled students, but also looking at points where systems could perhaps be improved or alternatives be applied. This is in no way intended as criticism: points are made in the belief both Iran and Turkey are looking for opportunities for improvement of current systems. Both countries are significantly ahead of others in the Middle East and will hopefully soon become examples for others to follow. My first thanks must go to Mr Mohsen Haeri, translator in the international relations section at Behzisty, the Iranian state Welfare Organisation, for inviting me to come to Tehran in the first place, and later for putting me in contact with various organisations, and with great patience and pleasantness, taking me to visit relevant people in different parts of Tehran . My thanks also go to Professor Afrooz, Meryem Asghari, Mrs Ashraf Ghandehari, Shima Mofid and Shahrzad Esfarjani for providing time for discussion at such short notice. August 2004
Initial purposes of my visit:
- To find out conditions for disabled university students in Iran , at university and also in the Iranian Konkur university entrance exam.
- To make contact with any organisations that might have similar aims with our Engelsiz ODTU project.
- To look for similarities between Turkish and Iranian situations with respect to education, particularly higher education for disabled individuals.
- To find out about the film ‘Range Khoda’ and whether it could be dubbed into Turkish.
As can be seen from the following report, success was far greater than hoped for.
Calendar of 9 day visit : 22-31 August 2004
Day 2; meet Mohseen Haeri at Behzisti.
Day 3; meet Okan Basaran from Anadolu Kalkinma Vakfi. Meet Maryam Askari, from the Association for blind university students and graduates.
Day 4; with Mohseen Haeri, visit Saymaneh Sandjesh, then the Institute for the Education of Exceptional Children. Meet Shahzad Esfarjani, then Mr Akbar Hozouri
Day 5 Meet Hasan Moradzade and Feraz Khanfari
Day 7 visit Kahrizak Foundation
Day 8 With Mohseen Haeri, visit the Association for blind university students and graduates. Meet Professor Afrooz.
Day 9: Plans with Shehrzad Esfarjani
Akbar Hozouri, a businessman who plans to open a technology centre for the blind, in cooperation with the White Cane organisation for the blind. Faraz Khanfari firstname.lastname@example.org a blind second year law student at Azad University . Hasan Muratzade. email@example.com A blind law graduate, who teaches civil law, and branches of private law at Zanedan and Kerman universities. Currently doing his PhD in Law at Tehran University , on the rights of the disabled: ‘The tort of people with disabilities and their compensation”. A member of the board of ABUSG Mehdi Selami firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Home: 525 1697. Computer trainer to the blind, at home or in institutions. Mehtap, a graduate of Tehran University Italian Language and Literature, who has since gone to Italy to start her PhD in the same subject. She has 10% sight, insufficient to lip-read but she can manage large print if given a lot of extra time. She writes with black board marker. To ‘speak’ to her, one writes each letter in the palm of her hand. She speaks good English too. Maryam Asgheri, firstname.lastname@example.org , Manager of the Iranian Scientific and Cultural Association of Blind University Students and Graduates Mohsen Haeri, Translator at Behzisty, the Iranian state Welfare Organisation Okan Basaran 0912 311 2085, Anadolu Kalkinma Vakfi. The foundation’s main work is in reconstruction following the Bam earthquake. Saeed Feyzi, programming expert in education of Visually impaired students in guidance high school. email@example.com Shahrzad Esfarjani, firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Iranian Scientific and Cultural Association of Blind University Students and Graduates (ABUSG): 0098 21 242 4073
Established in 2001, the association doesn’t yet have its own website.
Aims: To communicate with people in other countries. To exchange cultural and social information To know about famous blind people To show blind people they CAN be successful To have good communications with other Iranian NGOs for the blind and disabled. To help other disabled students to solve problems, such as mobility, books and exams. They now have about 300 members just in Tehran . It has invited every university in Iran to identify their visually impaired students. So far over 1000 have been found at 30 universities. Most are in Tehran , at Tehran University , Alzahra university, Beheshti University , alameh Tabatabayi and Azad universities. Tehran university currently has 25 visually impaired students, and over 100 graduates. 1000 are currently studying at different Iranian universities.
ABUSG cooperates with 33 associations for the blind.
ABUSG has one room, provided by the Ehya Institution; sponsors pay for the fax, phone and computer. There is no Braille printer at this association, though some other associations do have printers.
ABUSG organises seminars; two months ago, the forth seminar was on legal support for the disabled, especially the blind. They intend to organise conferences for visually impaired students: to change attitudes about self and society, and society’s attitudes to the disabled.
When schools open, a major project in Tehran will involve children from the schools for the blind to consider health issues for young women aged 14-25. NGOs will also be invited.
Another plan is for tours for both blind and sighted together, to increase mutual understanding.
ABUSG also wants to gather successful blind people to inspire and teach others who have potential.
ABUSG is communicating with Dr Tavakoli director of university entrance exams’ affairs at Sazmane Sandjesh, the organisation responsible for the national Konkur exam adaptations: not only undergraduate entrance exams, but also higher level MA and PhD exams need to be in suitable formats. Dr Tavakoli has promised to solve the problems of blind students so that they can take the exam under the most suitable conditions. This issue also needs to be addressed in Turkey .
Language learning: the largest organisation in Iran is the Iranian Language Institution (ILI) is being approached about the lack of brailled language books, and absence of suitable exams for the blind. Perhaps we can see what is being done in Turkey and offer a suitable adaptation of the current ILI exams.
- Behzisty, the state Welfare Organisation. After the Islamic Revolution it was set up for the disabled, possibly the equivalent to Turkey ‘s Özürlüler Idaresi. Later it expanded to address the needs of street children, those injured or displaced by war. I met Mr. Hosseyn Abadi, NGO liason expert, and Mr. Salahaddin Chasmekhaver, International Relations expert.
- Ehya National Institute for Exceptional Children, established by Professor Afrooz, Dept of Psychology, Tehran University , began by registering 7000 children with special needs between the ages of 7-18 throughout Iran . This NGO has set up rehabilitation centres, the largest being for children with mental retardation, in Mashad. Ehya has also taken disabled students on foreign tours, to Thailand , Syria and Saudi Arabia
- Kahrizak see http://www.kharizak.org . My notes are too long and will be written up later.
- Sazmane Sandjesh: the Iranian national exam organisation, equivalent to the Turkish OSYM. I have a copy of the registration form, with a question on disability. For specific details we spoke with Dr Mohammed Riza Zoroufi.
- The Centre for the Education of Exceptional Children. Dr Mohammed Riza Zoroufi, is the head of the physical impairment unit, responsible for adaptation of the Konkur examination for disabled candidates. (Mohsen, is this his job?)
Two centres I was not able to visit are:
- Shahit Mohebbi: centre for blind children. Mr Lamasani. 407 2200 / 407 4999
- Centre for Blind Education and Preschool, ‘Khazane’, Mr Samii and Miss Yasrabi, 572 0954.
In Iran disability results not just from accidents and high frequency of close relative marriages, and earthquakes (all important factors in Turkey) but also the recent war with Iraq , which affected the entire civilian population. I feel this may be the reason for the different public image of disability that I saw in Iran , though a nine-day visit is too short to get an accurate picture.
A comment by a disabled student: many organisations exist, however accessibility is a major issue; organisers should consider transport for disabled people to be able to use their services. As a foreigner, I found Tehran difficult: there is no real centre, the city is very wide, the traffic is heavy, and public transport is not simple
Adaptations for visually impaired candidates.
To qualify for special conditions, a disabled candidate must obtain a letter from the state Welfare Organisation, to give to the examination centre. Every person who is permanently disabled has documents from Behzisty that prove the person is blind or partially sighted. How much time in advance? Who examines the student: a state doctor? According to what criteria do they decide if a person qualifies for ‘disabled’ status? Are there any problems at this point, such as unfair decisions? On the Konkur application form, Item 24 asks: “Disability: 1. blind or partially sighted, 2. deaf or partially hearing impaired, 3. mobility impaired”. There is no mention of degree of impairment. What criteria are used to decide borderline cases? Their website – http://www.sanjesh.org – identifies, in Farsi, the courses suitable for students with different disabilities.
Time : the regular exam is 2 hours and 30 minutes. How would the full Braille version take 9 hours?)
With a reader, ‘candidates get 50% extra’ say some people; ‘a third extra’ say others. The length of extra time allowed for disabled students is not officially specified. However at each examination centre for disabled students (one in each of the 28 ‘ostan’ or administrative districts of Iran ), disabled candidates are given time extensions “according to the situation… In other words, the time they need, though not unlimited”. Everyone gets tired after a certain time”. Is this uncertainty better than the official ’30 minutes extra in a 3 hour exam’ applied in Turkey ? I met one student who says he was given no extra time. Can the Iranian method be applied fairly? Would a set time, such as 50% extra not be better? What would be the problems in applying this rule?
Grading : As in Turkey , there is the concept that these candidates are at a disadvantage and have a right to higher education. To balance competition visually impaired Konkur candidates are graded in the ‘disadvantaged’ category, along with students from the poorest regions of the country. To avoid unfair dominance by those living in the large cities, 3 grading levels are defined as: 1) major cities, 2) minor cities, 3) the poorest areas (Bem, Bushehr, etc) and disabled students. The statistical curves are then shifted to ensure that students from each category are able to enter university.
The readers , or secretaries known as ‘monshi’, (okuyucu in Turkish) are given some information before the exam: about the Konkur exam in general, and how they should work with the candidates. What exactly are readers told? But visually impaired candidates doesn’t think this is sufficient for them to be effective readers. The readers are students studying Rehabilitation (similar to Psychological Counselling and Guidance), who thus know how to work with the disabled, and also know about the Konkur exam and how to read equations, etc. One blind graduate remembers having problems with a reader who was hungry and always wanted to hurry up. “They are not trained. They should know what to do, what at blind person is and how to work with a blind person. And the place must be quiet so the candidate can concentrate”
Formats : Brailled texts have recently been introduced for certain sections of the Konkur exam. Until 2 years ago, visually impaired candidates could only take the exam with a reader, as in the Turkish ÖSS, and the success rate was not very high. There were particular problems with sections for Persian language, English and Arabic. This was because the readers were not necessarily able to read the texts well enough. Since these parts of the exam have been offered in Braille – for candidates who choose to use Braille – there has been a significant increase in success rate. “The system is now better than 3 years ago, but still not perfect.” Two Braille printers are housed in the basement of the ‘Centre for Exceptional Education’. Printing of the exam papers under strict control, people working on this task remaining for 15 days without any outside contact, so the questions are not leaked before the exam. Blind candidates reading Brailled questions have a secretary who writes the answers.
Having the whole exam in Braille would require so much extra time: the current partial-Braille exam may last over 5 hours. A fully-Brailled exam would take 9 hours and even the candidates are not interested in this option. “Using a good secretary is better”. Reading the whole exam in Braille would take a lot of energy, and thus results would again decrease: a balance must be reached between the positive factor of independence and control, and the negative of long and tiring effort.
Partially sighted candidates: Currently, a partially sighted candidate does the regular exam, with a reader to write the answers. They may ask for a strong light to see better. At the moment large print exams are not provided, though following the increase in success by 9% with the introduction of Braille exam papers, a low vision pilot project is being considered. The candidates would read themselves and use a secretary to write the answers.
One point is that not all blind people use Braille; others require alternative solutions. No data is available concerning the number of candidates who could benefit from a large print format. What are the numbers? Are any data available for how many would need large print for example? Will records be kept on the number of candidates requiring the different formats?
Data: 2001: 75 successful Konkur out of 300 visually impaired candidates= 25%. In 2002: 143 out of 420 VI candidates = 34% successful. What are the Turkish figures?
Special schools for the blind There exist in every ‘ostan’ (=administrative region), 28 for girls and 29 for boys (2 schools for boys in Tehran ). Special education is provided from Primary year1 to the end of high school (Is this correct?). All have Braille printers and computers. How many? 1 or 2 printers per school? In all schools? Until recently the absence of Braille printers has limited the range of materials at schools for the blind. A major new computer laboratory was set up in 2004 at one of the two schools for the blind in Ankara , Rotary Club and Japanese companies sponsoring the 17 computer laboratory.
Subjects: There are no Braille language books. If these could be available on diskette, they could be brailled. Maths: Get a good maths teacher to produce tutorials for visually impaired students
University study : What fields of study have visually impaired people gone into in Iran ? Psychology, maths, history and law are all suitable subjects for studying without extra facilities, other than a tape recorder.
In Iran all disabled students can tell lecturers and professors about their disability. All are willing to help, even up to university president level. This is different in Turkey , where many disabled students are reluctant to talk about their condition, anticipating negative reactions.
At registration, a disabled student goes to the educational affairs office where an advertisement is written, requesting volunteers to read texts onto cassette, etc. Volunteers are paid a small amount ($5 for 40 hours), and are known as ‘working students’. Currently this seems to have little value as reference in curriculum vitae (CV); in the west this is often a motivating factor for volunteers. What do employers feel about volunteers?
In university exams, it is acceptable to have a known person (sister, friend, etc.) read exams, but not in Konkur.
–A centre in Tehran run by Behzisty: Rudaki prepares Braille books for all blind people, not just university students. –The Dr Khandagh Institution records books on cassette for blind university students. –The Khazaeli Foundation (named after the blind member of the Iranian mejlis in the 1960s) produces cassette books and braille material, and more recently a magazine “Iran Sefid”. This is printed with government support, but edited privately. (The Khazaeli Foundation should not be confused with the Khazaeli School for the Blind, run by the Centre for the Education of Exceptional Education). –The White Cane Institute ‘Esaye Sefid’, (possibly the equivalent of the Turkish Alti Nokta), organises art classes for the blind. –Endjumene Nabinayene Iran ; an association for the blind. –Khaveran, Bahman and Shafagh are cultural organisations that have workshops, music and computers for the blind, taught by the blind.
Universities have no specific technology, other than tapes and Braille books. Relatives help students, recoding books onto cassette and going to the library to find books, etc. Can a link between the universities and the nearest school for the blind be made, to use the Braille printers, for instance for exams?
Computers Few students have computers. “Such technology is not always useful; we can use a walkman in a park… We must be practical and realistic.” Computers will solve many problems for the visually impaired, such as reading and writing, and even decrease mobility problems, for instance, when a student can download material on the internet without having to go to the library. The blind, excluded from access to writing since the invention of printing, are now being included again.
Persian Braille has many letters in common with English, with some extra for Arabic and purely Persian letters.
Any language using non-Latin scripts, such as Farsi has extra problems to resolve when adapting technology designed in Europe or the USA . JAWS screen reading programs exist for many Latin based scripts, and a Turkish version GVZ is being improved. Currently, there is no Farsi JAWS, though work is progressing on an Arabic version, by Natiq Co., helped by a British company Dolphin, using Hal screen reader. The Belgian company Babel is working on a text to speech program for Arabic. Saeed, is this correct? A blind university is able to ‘debug’ Kurzweil. n Iranian blind computer software engineer has….Saeed… my notes are not complete enough; what is his name and what has he done? Also, a software engineering student …. SAEED I NEED INFORMATION!
Books are available internationally from the RNIB and the NLB. Up to 14 books can be borrowed for up to 8 months, in different formats: diskette, large print, Braille grade 1 or 2. For the newly blind, extra spacing facilitates reading and a good speed can be achieved. http://www.rnib.org.uk . Once the application form is completed, the books can be requested free of charge.
Zigler : a monthly US magazine on poetry, literature, etc. is available free of charge. Majid Majidi’s film ‘Range Khoda’ is a rather romantic but powerful story about the life of a young blind boy.
Computer games for the blind on the internet: sounds and voices
Can we design a ‘hoop’ for learners? A design challenge!
Self-threading needles: imported from Japan , available easily in Iran . No need for the threaders that we make from baglama strings: they blunt very quickly.
They would like to find out about cooking equipment for the blind; do we in Turkey have any information – from American, British, German… catalogues? What can be made in the Middle East , particularly for more local traditions? Kharizag organisers insist that their kitchens must be equipped with ovens to prepare Iranian rice for 5000 people!
There is also a need for low tech. solutions, for people in villages and rural areas.
Is there any possibility of making ‘roller tip’ canes in the Middle East , without having to import from Canada ?
Definitions of impairment. These may vary for different purposes, such as education, employment, the right to stand for parliament, teach at university or in state schools. Legally the disabled have a right to education, but no one is obliged to provide special services. While the laws often do not prohibit the blind, progress is blocked by the prejudice of people who could say ‘yes’ but don’t: social attitudes need to change. Recent legislation, with 16 new articles on disability, has been approved by the Iranian parliament (see appendix)
The proposed “public law of protection of the disabled” is not ready yet, but it will be an important step in improving conditions.
2004 Iranian legal definitions of disability for educational purposes: Saeed, this is the document I got from Dr Mohammed Reza. Can you help? My friend had difficulty translating.
Blind: One whose sight is less than 20/200, or whose greatest?angle of vision is less than 20 0 , and needs to be trained in the use of Braille, or with exceptional instruction.
Partially sighted: One whose sight is significantly less than normal, ranging between 20/70 – 20/200, and can read large-print books, or be assisted by special aids. Deaf: One who is unable to hear even with aids, in other words with a disability of over 70 decibels. Partially deaf: One whose disability ranges between 35-70 decibels, and who is able to hear enough to respond. Mobility impaired: One who ??? Or: One whose physical limitation slows learning and requires assistance ??? Or One with disability in lower or upper ?limbs, or both, but who can learn with special aids?
Special learning problems: one who differs in speaking or writing processes: ??Imperfect listener, speaker, reader… ?solving maths problems, dictation Behaviour difficulties: one with high IQ who has sharp behaviour or excitement… Slow learner: One whose IQ is 1-2 ? below average, and whose learning skills are slower than his classmates… and who has no problem in confirming his attitudes?? Exceptional student: One whose reactions differ emotionally, physically, mentally from that of their peers, this difference being clearly beyond what the normal educational system provides, requiring special schedule, content or subjects and thus requiring special education. Student with special needs: One who needs extra assistance or aids for their education, or those able to continue their studies I mainstream schools with suitable facilities. Special education: There are programs, schedules and a range of educational possibilities to answer the needs of exceptional students, maybe with special equipment. Statistics: Mohsen, please can you give me any general statistics Behzisty has about the number of disabled people in Iran , disabled children in schools, etc.
Philosophy : Learning to use what I have, to value meagre resources, focussing on what is around me without looking elsewhere. Others may think I have little, or do not value what I have, because they can’t see. ‘Will I be able to see what there is in Iran ?’ I wondered. ‘Learning to see’, but according to what criteria? Something simple, fundamental? A metaphor? The essence. Through what we think we see, the immediate image, the perceived object, deeper, beyond the obvious. Don’t be dazzled by the lights, learn to notice the details and stop and watch, to look again, and see. A parallel with Oliver Sacks’ chapter on Rebecca (The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat), who comments that doctors measure many parameters, but are they what matters?
Some may think I’ve come to give, which I can. But I must also remember to listen and watch, not talk all the time!
- Exchange of materials between individuals and associations in the two countries: as materials are translated, they can be adapted and improved.
- Overcoming prejudice : Before I went to Iran , many people thought I would find nothing in Iran . In a similar way, society generally underestimates the disabled: this is easily done when ‘the other’ is not known and remains distant. Exchanges between Turkey and Iran , with disabled people visiting each other’s countries, would reduce prejudice, both culturally and in attitudes to the disabled.
- Exam conditions: Both Iranian and Turkish university entrance exam accommodations could benefit from comparison.
- A Middle East project on higher education could be submitted to the World Blind Union, and/or a Middle East workshop could be organised on ‘high tech., computers in different languages and scripts and Braille and speak.’
- Employer attitudes study : concerning both the disabled and volunteers.
I am aware that I found nearly nothing regarding other disabilities. Next time I hope to investigate support for other disabilities other than blindness. What is happening in Iran for the hearing impaired? Is anything required to ensure access in public buildings? Pilot project : (both in Turkey and Iran ): Starting with 2 or 3 selected universities, should look at what different disabled students need, and what the universities can do
What the Special schools for the blind There exist in every ‘ostan’ (=administrative region), 28 for girls and 29 for boys (2 schools for boys in Tehran ). Special education is provided from Primary year1 to the end of high school. All have Braille printers and computers, 1 up to 5 printers per school In all schools. Until recently the absence of Braille printers has limited the range of materials at schools for the blind. A major new computer laboratory was set up in 2004 at one of the two schools for the blind in Ankara , Rotary Club and Japanese companies sponsoring the 17 computer laboratory. Subjects: There are no Braille language books. If these could be available on diskette, they could be brailled. Maths: Get a good maths teacher to produce tutorials for visually impaired students University study: The most fields of study for the visually impaired university students in Iran is: language, psychology, history, law, divinity, letrreture and etc. Psychology, history and law are all suitable subjects for studying without extra facilities, other than a tape recorder. In Iran all disabled students can tell lecturers and professors about their disability. All are willing to help, even up to university president level. This is different in Turkey , where many disabled students are reluctant to talk about their condition, anticipating negative reactions.
At registration, a disabled student goes to the educational affairs office where an advertisement is written, requesting volunteers to read texts onto cassette, etc. Volunteers are paid a small amount ($5 for 40 hours), and are known as ‘working students’. Currently this seems to have little value as reference in curriculum vitae (CV); in the west this is often a motivating factor for volunteers.
In university exams, it is acceptable to have a known person (sister, friend, etc.) read exams, but not in Konkur.
Support centres: A centre in Tehran , Baharestan Zahirol Eslam street , “roodaki” prepares Braille books for all blind people, not just university students. The Dr Khandagh Institution records books on cassette for blind university students. The Khazaeli Foundation (named after the blind member of the Iranian mejlis in the 1960s) became the Rudeki centre, which produces cassette books and braille material, and more recently a magazine “Iran Sefid”. This is printed with government support, but edited privately. After the revolution, Rudeki and Khezane came under the newly established Behzisty. The White Cane Institute ‘Asaye Sefid’, (possibly the equivalent of the Turkish Alti Nokta), organises art classes for the blinds,computer, some lectures in general titles. Anjomane Nabinayane Iran ; They have social affairs help for blinds. Khaveran, Bahman and Shafagh are cultural organisations that have workshops, music and computers for the blind, taught by the blind. Universities have no specific technology, other than tapes and Braille books. Relatives help students, recoding books onto cassette and going to the library to find books, etc. Can a link between the universities and the nearest school for the blind be made, to use the Braille printers, for instance for exams?
Statistics: Does Behzisty have general statistics about the number of disabled people in Iran , disabled children in schools, etc.?