By Adil James, MMNS
Speaking on the phone with Imran Ahmed, there is no way that a person could know that he is disabled, he has the same accent one would expect, and the same manners, but perhaps there is a gentleness to him, a mercy that has come to his heart from his illness.
Imran Ahmed and Hina Altaf are brother and sister, although perhaps you might not know it from their names. He is named after one side of the family, she after another. And yet although they do not share a surname they share an unfortunate disease which has caused their blindness.
â€œWe both have been blind since birth,â€ Imran explains, â€œwe both have the same disease, none of our other family members have it–we both have light sections, light and dark, and we can tell how intense light is. But we canâ€™t see colors or shapes. The disease is hereditary… It is a very rare disease, and there are 2 cases every five years.â€
The two are studying at Carroll University in Waukesha Wisconsin, close to Milwaukee. He is 24, she is 25, and they hope to graduate next year.
â€œWe were in Pakistan,â€ he explains, â€œmy fatherâ€™s cousin lived in Waukesha, and he suggested Carroll College–we applied and were accepted.â€ After they found sponsors to help them, they came.
Despite their studies, they maintain contact with the Muslim community although such contact is difficult since they have to depend on others to bring them to and from the mosque, and since the Muslim community at their school is extremely small.
Imran explains, â€œUnfortunately itâ€™s a very very small college, we are the only two Muslim students from Pakistanâ€”there is another student that she lives up campus, we donâ€™t have any Muslim student associations on campus.â€
Although there are few Muslims, several people have been very helpful to the brother and sister.
â€œFor at least one year into our stay, we didnâ€™t know anybody,â€ says Imran. â€œBut one of our American friends brought us to the Islamic Center in Milwaukee,â€ 35 minutes away from campus.
Between the US and Pakistan, Imran explains, â€œthere is a tremendous differenceâ€¦ in Pakistan, people donâ€™t understand the meaning of a white cane–travel is difficult and dangerous. There are potholes, there is always construction on the roads. That hinders a lot of blind people from travelling. The layout of roads is different. Here there is always a curb so you know you are getting close–here there is a strategy to cross roadsâ€¦ things are a little better planned out here. People have been more accepting here. Even if people are reluctant to give you an opportunity, but there is always a hope that you will have an opportunity. A lot of people of people appreciate and give you the opportunity to do things.â€
Imran has optimism about his future–he and his sister both intend to build lives for themselves, each of them intends to work and marry as circumstances permit.
The difficulties they face, of course, make a mockery of the difficulties that many Muslims and others encounter–in order to study they must either find books in braille or find audio versions of their books–something which was nearly impossible in Pakistan.
Imran explains that he hopes to find a job in tech support or web designâ€”â€if possible, I would like to eventually move on to adaptive access technology, teach blind people, or sighted people how to use adaptive technology.â€
And they would like to improve conditions in Pakistan for people who are not sighted.
â€œWe want to start a Braille library, in Urdu,â€ and he wants to help to create OCR software for reading into Urdu as well.
To contact Imran: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 262-305-9709.