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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Blind Tunisian Professor Sets a Standard for Others to Follow

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Of course, Al-Zaidi’s experience as a researcher was not without difficulties. Perhaps the simplest of those were related to reading original references, as university libraries usually lack references accessible to people with visual impairment. (See a related article, “A Tunisian Scientist Invents Navigation Aid for the Blind.”)

“I sought help from my younger sister, who used to read what I asked of her from her references in English,” he said, “I am very grateful to her and also grateful for my father’s support.” He explained that he was “obsessed with the idea of success since childhood because I was keen to make them proud of me.”

A Month-Long Stint as a Minister

After being the first blind professor to teach at a Tunisian university, Al-Zaidi became the first blind minister in the Tunisian government and the second blind minister in the Arab world after the Nobel laureate novelist Taha Hussein, who held the position of Minister of Education in Egypt in 1950.

Al-Zaidi’s appointment did not last for more than a month, however. He was removed from office after he refused to immediately close cultural events, contradicting the government’s directions regarding stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In any case, his appointment was controversial. Many believed that his appointment was a message of encouragement for all persons with disabilities, while others believed that the position was not suitable for Al-Zaidi’s condition and that he did not have enough experience in political and administrative work to take on the position.

Today, Al-Zaidi aspires to prepare strategic research for the future of culture in Tunisia, and he is seeking to join the Tunisian Institute for Prospective Studies, affiliated with the Presidency of the Republic, to start research on the advancement of culture in Tunisia.

In addition to resuming his work as a university professor, Al-Zaidi expresses a desire to research music and its role in building bridges between people despite cultural differences. He is also working on a book related to “blindness and language” and how one can visualize what one does not see.

Al-Zaidi is a role model for many students in Tunisia, even if they do not have a disability. “When I compare myself to him, I find no justification for failing to study,” said Wissal Al-Barakati, a first-year university student at the Faculty of Sciences of Bizerte, part of the University of Carthage. “Dr. Walid is a fundamental motivator for me and has taught me to make the impossible possible.”

Al-Zaidi believes that will is the basis of success, although a supportive environment is essential to achieving it.

“Through you, I address all students with disabilities in Tunisia and the Arab region, that there is nothing impossible. Everything is possible with diligence and perseverance,” he said in an interview. “Do not give up! Look around for those who support you and do not let physical disability hinder your thoughts and dreams.”

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