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A Leader in Self-Improvement

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

“Being disabled doesn’t mean that I’m stupid,” says Salahdin Abderrahman Khissan, a 17-year-old, blind student from Korma, North Darfur. It may seem like he is stating the obvious, but Salahdin is convinced that the society in Darfur still has a long way to go when it comes to understanding the real needs of the disabled community.

In spite of his blindness, Salahdin is studying Psychology at El Fasher University and is confident he will graduate successfully. “Most people think that we are incapable of tackling challenges and assuming responsibilities,” he reveals regretfully.

Salahdin is a clear example of self-improvement. Years ago, he fled Korma, his original town, due to the armed conflict; he currently lives in Abu Shouk camp with his family. Every morning he heads out alone from the camp to the university using public transport. His only support is a color-coded walking stick for the blind. “I received good training on how to use it and now, I don’t need help from my relatives anymore,” he says proudly.

However, there is a darker side to his story. He regularly faces incidents with people who do not pay attention to his presence on the street. At the university, he is unable to rely on books, pens or even laptops. Braille materials are not available in Darfur. The solution lies in an old audio recorder that helps him review lectures given by his professors.

“At times, I do face problems when the recorder fails or runs out of battery,” he admits. But, despite the odds being stacked against him, this determined young student has already cleared the first semester after being tested orally. “Oral exams are the only concession that I am given at the university,” he adds.

On attaining his degree as a psychologist, Salahdin says he sees himself as a community leader responsible for developing a more sensitive attitude toward the differently abled in Darfuri society. This is how he envisages his future and is ready to take on any obstacles in the path to realizing his dream.

He says he is intensely aware that the conflict-ridden atmosphere in Darfur makes living with disabilities an even bigger stumbling block than in most other countries; but this courageous young man refuses to use this fact as an excuse for failure. “The laws protecting the disabled are already approved in Sudan,” he reminds us with his trademark optimism. “We just need to push harder for their implementation.”

Each year, on 3 December, the United Nations observes the International Day of People with Disabilities to highlight the issues they face and recognize their contributions in a world in which they are not only marginalized and disenfranchised, but also challenged by ignorance and discrimination.

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