Globally, there are 43 million people who are blind and 295 million people with moderate to severe vision impairment. There are 258 million people with mild vision impairment (Global Vison Atlas). In Saudi Arabia, there is a large community of with low vision and blindness that need vision rehabilitation services.
The idea of the Inclusive initiative at King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital started with the outbreak of COVID-19; when a lot of awareness messages related to COVID-19 published by the Saudi Ministry of Health and other ministries on social media platforms were not accessible for people with visual disabilities.
The information was in the form of images or silent videos that the screen reader for the blind or visually impaired couldn’t recognize. Therefore, KKESH’s intervention to make messages inclusive for everyone in the Saudi society was crucial. Since KKESH’s official Twitter account had always taken into consideration its accessibility to the blind and visually impaired individuals since 2018, the “Awsefha” Twitter account (أوصفها) affiliated to the hospital seemed like the most reasonable idea during the pandemic.
We did the following to implement this:
- Opening a Twitter account and taking into consideration the proper design, colour contrast, and font size.
- Volunteers training:
- The training was held through Zoom.
Volunteers were trained in how to interpret infographics and silent videos.
Our Scope of Services were:
- Describe silent videos, narrative text and pictures to the blind and people with low vision; priority is given to COVID-19 related material and national directives.
- Describe any silent video or picture for a blind or low vision follower, upon their request.
The Awsefha account focused on the idea of accessibility by bridging the gap experienced by people with visual disabilities. As a committed account to provide accessibility, we collected all content published on Twitter, in addition to receiving requests from the blind. We used this to advocate on image description for people with visual impairment which helped our followers become familiar with the rights of persons with visual disabilities to access the content published digitally. This made the account serve as a reference for Arabic-speaking visually impaired people.
The hospital was able to implement the volunteers’ enthusiasm to serve people with visual impairment in describing a large number of photos and films. We were able to describe all awareness content that was published by the Ministry of health during the pandemic. We received great feedback from our visually impaired followers on describing the daily report issued by the Ministry of Health on the number of people with COVID-19 in the Kingdom, in addition to any important health guidelines.
King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital also trained 100 visually impaired during the lockdown. By using Zoom, we trained them on how to use smart handsets and screen readers to surf the internet and use different applications. We also published a video on how to teach children with visual impairment handwashing to prevent them from coronavirus, an infographic on how to explain social distance for a blind child and also how can a sighted person guide a person who is blind using a white cane.