Introduction

Samy is integrating and empowering the deaf and hearing impaired people through first, changing negative attitudes of society towards them by showing that the deaf can be competitive in the demanding IT sector and secondly by providing the deaf people with the necessary tools to improve their self perception and their self confidence in their abilities.

Samy’s idea is to improve the social and economic status of the deaf and hearing impaired community in Egypt and change how society perceives and deals with them through providing them with the services, facilities and tools that will enable them to be competitive in the highly regarded field of IT. In doing so, Samy is also helping them gain self confidence and the respect and recognition of the community at large.

Samy has developed a multifaceted approach to achieve his objective. First, he has created an IT education program for the deaf, featuring materials and literature translated to sign language. He trains the deaf in computer skills, including computer programming, and collaborates with them to develop IT curricula and training courses. He also trains IT teachers to work with the deaf and has effectively created a training of trainers (ToT) program to enable the growth of this group of educators. Another aspect of Samy’s approach is the development of IT literature and programs in sign language. For the first time in Egypt, these materials are being translated to sign language, an innovative step that allows the deaf access to this important sector.

Samy is also working to ensure job placement for deaf individuals who have been trained in computer skills and IT, making them competitive in the labor market. Finally, in an effort to institutionalize and replicate his model and idea for the integration of the deaf in the competitive IT sector, Samy is engaging several government ministries, official education centers, training institutions and CSOs in various aspects of his program, encouraging them to support the integration of the deaf in mainstream IT and technology education. His program will allow all organizations, which are required by law to employ 5% of people with disabilities, to hire very highly skilled deaf people who can contribute to any IT group.

An estimated two million and a half deaf Egyptians suffer from marginalization as a result of living in a society where they are the object of widely-held negative stigmas and where they have limited access to mediocre levels of general education and minimal access to the labor market.

The official educational system offered to the deaf through compulsory primary and preparatory education lacks any specialized programs for the deaf. Teachers are not trained in sign language, speech therapy or how to effectively work with special needs children. Even so-called special education schools are ill-equipped to meet the particular needs of deaf and hearing impaired students.

As law prohibits the deaf from pursuing a university education, most schools for the deaf and mute focus on teaching vocational skills, such as carpentry, construction, orsewing, rather than encouraging students’ intellectual development by teaching more traditional academic subjects.  Further, teachers and parents generallysee the academic challenges faced by deaf students as a reflection of low intelligence and the inability to really learn. As a result, the deaf community suffers from poor academic performance and high rates of illiteracy and drop-outs. Illiteracy poses a particularly strong challenge, as it prevents many deaf individuals from entering the labor market, thus excluding them from mainstream society. It also reinforces the negative stereotype image of them as slow and in some cases as mentally challenged.

Given the state of mainstream education for the deaf, the situation for specialized IT and technological training is even worse. There is no computer literature for the deaf published in sign language, and there are no trained personnel who can teach computer technology in a way that takes into consideration the special needs of the deaf. This field was perceived as too complex and unattainable by special needs groups including the deaf and those with hearing impairments.

In addition, the government neglects the disabled in its legislation, with a general lack of planning which is sensitive to the needs of the deaf, a lack of knowledge, and a lack of willingness to address the challenges faced by the deaf community.

Given this context, negative misconceptions about the deaf prevail in the Egyptian society, causing detrimental cultural and social repercussions for a group of people whose only limited capacity is their inability to hear and make sounds. There is no organized deaf culture in Egypt and therefore there is a limited sense of community or solidarity among the deaf.

A number of civil society associations have been established in recent years to work with the deaf and hearing impaired, such as the Nardine Association and the National Association for the Deaf. There have also been remarkable efforts in tackling the problems of the deaf community undertaken by individuals such as Tamer Bahaa, and Omima Al-Hadeedy. However, these efforts are more focused on speech therapy, health care,  and literacy.

In 2003, a civil society organization called Resala (“message”) cooperated with Vodafone Egypt to establish an IT lab for the deaf. However, the project only taught a limited number of people and did not include a training of trainers (ToT) component, which would ensure the presence and spread of professionals able to teach this subject to the deaf. To date, they have also used the printed material and literature created by Samy.

Samy  is the first person in Egypt to adopt a comprehensive, participatory approach that aims to engage the deaf in IT and technology topics, with the aim of demonstrating to society that the deaf and hearing impaired people can compete successfully in the most advanced fields.

Samy’s interest in improving the image and changing society’s stereotype of the deaf began long before he established his Asdaa’ CSO.  Suffering himself from hearing impairment in his left ear, Samy’s life changed when he attended an IT course and realized the opportunities it could offer for the deaf and hearing impaired community.  His apprenticeship began when he offered a computer course to the deaf through a literacy program in the late 1990s; however this experiment was not very successful as there was a low turn out. He found that there was not enough literature targeting the deaf to supplement the course and attract more participants. He also realized that there is a need to build a continuous relationship of mutual respect and support with this community to gain their trust before he offers them a new field to explore.

Therefore in 2000, he established  Asdaa’ (“echoes”) Association for the Hearing Impaired, with the aim of adopting and implementing a  holistic approach to empower the deaf and get them accepted and respected in society. Samy recognized the great potential of the deaf community, and intends to help them realize this potential by moving beyond the limited opportunities that are currently available, thereby upgrading their economic status and contribution to Egyptian society.

To address the problem of lack of IT material in the sign language, Samy started an ambitious initiative of translation of IT programs, software, and literature into sign language, making these materials accessible to the deaf population. Samy is currently working with Microsoft Egypt to develop training materials for Microsoft programs printed in sign language. Microsoft will also supply deaf-oriented training materials for advanced, internationally recognized programs. He is also negotiating with Oracle, an international leader in software, to develop training materials in sign language for more ordinary programs as well as programs that are technically advanced and internationally recognized. Samy also plans to translate professional programs, such as Visual Basic, C++, and website applications and interfaces, so that the deaf are able to learn advanced IT skills and obtain employment in specialized positions in the IT field.

Samy’s book, The Computer…What is it? serves as trailblazer in IT literature targeted to the deaf. Developed in collaboration with his own students and sign language experts, the book introduced 240 new signs representing ideas related to computer science. It was distributed to the several key ministries and institutes working on deaf issues in Egypt (National Association for the Deaf, Alexandrian Library), as well as in Bahrain (Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs), Kuwait (Kuwaiti Association for Disabled Care), Lebanon (International Labor Organization, Friends in Need Association), and Saudi Arabia (Ministry of Education).

The next step for Samy was to develop a comprehensive computer education program whose primary goal is to train the deaf in computer and IT skills, qualifying them to hold jobs that require even higher level of computer skills. This program gives the deaf computer and IT skills that enable them to effectively enter the labor market and compete for specialized, lucrative positions. To date, Samy has organized a total number of 72 training courses on different computer topics, focusing on programs and interfaces including Microsoft Office, Windows, Harvard Graphics and Visual Basics, and PC games, as well as computer hardware.

 

Using his 2002 book, The Computer…What is it? the first book in sign language about IT topics to be published  in Egypt and the Arab world, Samy trained 249 deaf individuals in IT topics. From these he succeeded in placing 22 in very lucrative and competitive jobs. These jobs included hiring three trained deaf individuals in his CSO, three positions in the Ministry of Defense IT Center, two positions in the Alexandrian Chamber of Tourism, and two positions in the Department of the Ministry of Education in Alexandria.In a joint project conducted by Asdaa’ and the Sawiris Foundation, “Qualifying Trainers to Combat Illiteracy among the Deaf,” Samy assigned part-time work to seven deaf individuals. He will also employ two people to train the deaf students who will participate in the upcoming National IT Competition.

To increase the employment opportunities of his trainees, Samy conducted a participatory informal assessment of the labor market and approached IT companies and the Alexandria business association and found that there is a need to upgrade his training program and also a need to involve larger institutions if his overall integrating scheme of the deaf in the IT labor market would succeed.  His major success and break through was in the agreement he reached with the Ministry of Defense branch in Alexandria. He realized that he needed excellent trainers at high enough standards who will also bridge the gap between the work, the training and the deaf community. With the Ministry of Defense branch, Samy succeeded in training 90 deaf from which 30 found employment opportunities. In addition, he also trained 120 trainers as new actors to bridge the gap and be the liaison between the deaf trainees and the training on one hand and also to link them to the work force.  16 out of the 120 trainers are themselves deaf. He is currently working to incorporate the deaf in an ICDL international computer certificate program and on finding internships and working experience for the trainees to guarantee jobs in the private sector.

His short and medium term plan to create more jobs is to continue working with the ministry of defense, the ministry of education and the ministry of communication to institutionalize his training and employment program of the deaf. His strategy with these national wide institutions is to enforce and operationalize the law requiring the hiring of 5% of labor force from the disabled so that they hire Asdaa deaf trainees after he equips them with the competitive skills.

To improve the image of the deaf  in society and increase their self confidence, Samy helped 60 of his graduates enter a national IT competition organized by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, where 15 of his students achieved remarkable results. Samy intends to continue this program every year as it serves as a demonstration of the potential of this group. In addition, a number of his trainees formed their own groups in Cairo governorate and he is training and preparing them to enter the annual IT competition. Samy oversees and counsels these groups and supports their work on a regular base.

On the local level,Samy has used his membership in the Egyptian Federation for Organizations Working with Disabilities, which includes the most famous organizations working in the field in different governorates, to his advantage. He is encouraging the Federation to establish a partnership with the Ministry of Communication that aims to qualify trainers from different governorates to teach the deaf using Samy’s IT literature.

Samy has also made arrangements with the Ministry of Communication in order to have access to its information centers throughout Egypt and thus be able to replicate his model in other governorates. Samy continues to encourage the Egyptian Ministry of Defense to expand its training centers and serve the deaf community, as the services offered by these centers are of high quality and low cost.

On the regional level, Samy registered his CSO as a member of the Arab Union for Associations Working with the Disabled, which has allowed him to develop relationships and exchange ideas with associations for the deaf in Syria, Lebanon, the Gulf region, and North Africa. Samy has also established strong contacts with funding associations with the capacity to contribute to the financial sustainability of his programs.

On the international level, Samy has registered Asdaa’ as a member of the International Union for Associations working with the Deaf and also maintains strong contacts with similar associations in Uganda and Sweden. Samy plans to establish a website, which will help to expand Asdaa’’s international network and thus strengthen its relationship to organizations with similar objectives.

Samy Gameel was born with hearing impairment in his left ear and is the third of five children. He grew up in a very open, tolerant family that valued hard work, and respect for others, regardless of religion, color, gender, or disability.

Samy’s father used to work as a trader in clothing. Despite the fact that his father didn’t continue his education, his extensive interaction with foreigners allowed him to become a fluent speaker of English and French. He was knowledgeable enough to insist that his children must continue their education properly.

Samy’s mother, who was deaf, studied in Al-Amal Association for the Deaf, the first deaf school in Alexandria. There, she studied sign language, French, and Greek. Samy describes his mother as the best friend he has had in life. His upbringing and deep love for his mother caused him to develop a strong attachment to the deaf community, their language, culture, and way of life. These values have stayed with Samy throughout his life and are clearly apparent in his work today.

Samy describes his childhood and young adulthood as a relaxing period of his life, when he enjoyed hobbies such as drawing, learning Arabic writings, and Islamic decorations. He also developed his passion for community service, specifically working with the deaf.

Samy’s love for volunteerism and community service can be attributed to the great influence of his teachers, Mr. Khalil Badwy, who taught him Arabic literature in the Palace of Culture in Alexandria, and Mr. Aziz Youssef, whom he met in the Mohamed Ibrahim School for Teaching Arabic Writing. They both inspired Samy to realize his individual potential and work to improve the lives of others.

In 1984, Samy graduated from Alexandria University with a major in agriculture. Samy was a gifted student, but competition did not prevent him from helping his colleagues, as he often shared his study notes and tutoring other students.

However, given his impairment and his mother’s attitude towards his achievements, Samy grew up to be a very shy and socially isolated child. Being deaf, his mother’s expectations of Samy were very low; she loved him but did not expect him to excel in his studies.  However, in 1988 Samy went through a life changing experience.  In 1988, Samy began volunteering with the Brotherly Alliance Association for Deaf and Mute in Alexandria, known as the Alexandria Deaf Association. When he started working with the deaf community, Samy was shocked to see how they are marginalized and undermined. Knowing that deafness was genetic in his family, he feared for his offspring and decided that he did not want them to suffer a similar future of isolation and disrespect. He decided that he had to do something to improve their future opportunities. Although Samy’s four children are not deaf and do not suffer from any disability, he still fears for his grandchildren and he also cultivated a sense of responsibility for the deaf community. He felt that he needs to offer them the tools and opportunities that would show society that they have potential and are not less than the mainstream citizens.

Empowering and improving the society’s image and perception of the deaf became his life commitment.