I’ve occasionally looked outside the United States for people with disabilities to feature, including people from Canada, Great Britain, Africa, and Australia, with the latter two involving email interviews. This week was a first. I feature Paul Safi, 20, a Carleton University psychology major from Ottawa, Canada, who was raised by Lebanese-born parents in the United Arab Emirates.
In a telephone interview, Safi said, “I am legally blind from a visual impairment and genetic condition called retinitus pigmentosa. At night, for example, my central vision isn’t good at all. My night peripheral vision is better but not nearly as good as that of the average person.”
He first noticed vision challenges in middle school after dropping school items on the floor and being unable to easily find them. He also sometimes accidentally knocked books off tables, for example, because of being unable to see well.
He said, “The whole idea of inclusivity in education was unfamiliar to me in (the United Arab Emirates). Then a representative from Carleton University came to my high school college fair. I did some reading about the college and learned it was accommodating toward people with learning disabilities, visual impairments, and physical disabilities. So I thought this was a new hope for me in order to be independent. When I was 17 and graduating from high school, my parents were concerned about me being on my own. They preferred I stay home and go to a local university. But I made it clear that if I was going to learn to be independent, I should do it at a young age. So I decided to live on campus at Carleton.”
Safi said his college has an underground tunnel system that connects buildings and shields students from Canadian winters. He sometimes goes without his white cane because of being so familiar with the college.
His college education has paid off. Safi has become CEO of ReAble (reable.tech), an emerging technology business building smartphone apps and tools for people with special needs. Its first app, the ReAble Wallet, allows people with Down syndrome, autism, and others with intellectual disabilities to independently manage personal finances and make transactions while keeping parents or guardians in the loop. ReAble Wallet also teaches basic, real-world, financial literacy concepts.
He said, “About 200 million people around the world aren’t being served by the current financial system. Our technology could also be used by people who are illiterate.”