Breaking Barriers: Empowering the Blind through Education and Independence

Oct 12, 2023

On the occasion of World Sight Day, marked on 12th October 2023, we had the opportunity to visit the Aziz Jehan Begum Trust (AJBT) & Institute for the Blind, one of the foremost and pioneering institutions dedicated towards educating the blind in Pakistan. The Institute was established in 1996 to formally educate visually impaired children with academic and life skills, and today has a 30-year history of imparting excellent education, life skills training, innovation, and advocacy. The Trust is known for its emphasis on a holistic approach towards learning and independence, teaching students orientation, mobility, and life-skills training in addition to excellent and high quality education. 

For this podcast, we spoke with the inimitable Ms. Ursula Jeddy, CEO of the AJBT Institute for the Blind about the lived experiences of students and parents that are part of the AJBT community. With her own formal training in clinical psychology, Ms. Ursula has been associated with the Trust since the beginning as a Director and Trustee, and assumed the role of CEO upon the demise of her husband, the late Muhammad Salahuddin Jeddy, who served the Trust for more than two decades. Under their leadership, the institute has flourished and expanded into a purpose built campus nestled in the outskirts of Lahore, providing a safe and conducive learning environment with trained faculty and excellent facilities for the blind. The campus is a joy to visit, with students all around the campus engaged in their own unique learning processes, fully immersed in the usage of assistive technologies that the Trust provides including audio softwares on computers, braille machines as well as virtual reality headsets specifically for the visually impaired. Some of the teaching faculty have been with the school for more than 10 years and are specialists in their field. On our visit, we found teachers busy teaching students using innovative methods, sharing learning across classrooms and constantly thinking of ways to improve their own pedagogy.

The success stories of  their students are exemplary with one of their students currently serving in the Foreign Service of Pakistan, and more than a hundred students having gone on to pursue higher education degrees and join the workforce. Given its history and legacy of work, the Institute receives generous support from a wide variety of donors, including the corporate sector which has allowed the Trust to expand their services to include a preschool wing on the campus. The campus also houses workshops for braille printing, cane assembly and repair work for the braille typewriters available to students. All government mandated textbooks are converted to Braille using this machine, and allow students to have access to the same learning materials and coursework as the rest of their peers. 

In fact the Trust also operates a full-service Perkins Brailler Sale & Repair Center, with perhaps the only female operator in Pakistan to have received the requisite certification from Perkins.

Credit: AJBT website

This podcast is part of a series recorded for the Disabilities in Education: Research, Policy and Practice- a research project housed at the Institute of Development & Economic Alternatives (IDEAS) and led by Dr. Faisal Bari (Senior Fellow IDEAS/Associate Professor & former Dean, School of Education LUMS). The interview was conducted by Sajila Fatima, Research Assistant at IDEAS.

World Sight Day is marked annually on the second Thursday of October as a day of awareness to focus global attention on vision impairment, including blindness.

Visit the AJBT website for further information.