Matar Café : Catering to the visually impaired

When a visually impaired individual obtains a college degree successfully, the achievement is usually regarded as a great achievement. Such achievement often elicits amazement; no surprise, seeing the social and educational model that in Jordan is mostly indifferent to visually impaired individuals. اضافة اعلان

Matar Café which is at the heart of the social enterprise Matar Project, came along to challenge social perceptions in the region, provide the visually impaired with equal educational and cultural opportunities, and educate sighted people on the joy of reading, no matter how common or mundane the book, motivating them to volunteer their time to help those who do not.

Matar Café, which is at the heart of the social enterprise Matar Project, came along to challenge social perceptions in the region by providing the visually impaired with equal educational and cultural opportunities. (Photos: Handouts from Matar Café )

Matar Café, is the first Jordanian Café to accommodate the needs of people who are blind or visually impaired. The café, located in Irbid, was founded by Noor Al-Ajlouni and funded by the European Union through Oxfam’s project JOin UP.

It is equipped with Braille books, Braille menus and a barista who is adept at dealing with all kinds of customers. The facilities can be accessed by people with disabilities and the design includes special lanes for the visually impaired to be able to walk on freely.

“Oxfam’s support has been fundamental in implementing our concept of the café, whether in the purchase and print of the books in Braille or meeting the facility’s requirements to make it fully accessible. We share the simple belief that having a Braille menu should not be a gesture, it should be the norm,” Ajlouni told Jordan News.

Matar’s accessibility was found beneficial by people with disabilities and, by extension, by the business itself. It speaks volumes about the compassion the business has.

“When you serve your customers properly and they have a wonderful experience, they are significantly more likely to return; and it holds true regardless of the level of eyesight,” Ajlouni added.

The café is an offshoot of Matar Project, a volunteer-based social project that converts paper books into audiobooks, texts into screen-readers-compatible texts, and escorts visually impaired students on their universities’ campuses.

(Video: Handout from Matar Café )

“It is not individuals’ impairments that prevent them from pursuing a university education, but rather the way in which the educational system is organized, with little or no consideration for difference or impairment. Students would hardly ever find Braille books and if they found them, they would cost up to JD100 each. Neither universities nor families could cover this cost. It is the main reason visually impaired students  would not pursue or drop out of university education,” Ajlouni said.

She mobilized people through social media; volunteers would record 10 pages in their voice and send the recording over messenger or email. A book of 200 pages could be recorded in three days if divided among 20 volunteers. From there on, Matar started to gain momentum.

According to Ajlouni, the name of the project and café comes from the Arabic for rain, and the feelings it elicits in a person.

“When it starts to rain and you are in the coziness of your home, with all the curtains drawn out, you know by the sound that the rain holds in it all that is good: good omens and good vibes. Just like with the rain, our beneficiaries know that good deeds are upon them without having to see them or the nameless, faceless person who is helping them out. It also brings a sense of serene surrender, which we associate with walking under the rain,” she elaborated.

According to Ajlouni, all proceeds from the café are used to finance the wider project and its activities, assuring the financial stability, long-term viability and sustainability of the whole enterprise. So far, the project has aided over 800 visually impaired students from 15 Arab countries at various stages of their education: bachelor, master, doctorate, and post-doctoral. The efforts of over 30,000 volunteers resulted in recording over 15,000 books.

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