In a first-of-its-kind initiative in Lebanon and the Arab world, the Red Oak organization has launched a "Blind-friendly supermarket."
The move is the fruit of cooperation between Marqet (a shopping center in Koraytem area) and The Youth Association of the Blind (YAB) to help people with vision impairment or loss and facilitate their lives.
Nadine Abou Zaki, president of the Red Oak, told Asharq Al Awsat: "By applying this idea, we have tried to provide a normal life for blind people so they can go to this supermarket and buy their needs like others. They can enjoy learning about the products' characteristics thanks to specially trained people accompanying them on their tours since they arrive at the store and until they leave."
Ten employees had been trained to help the blind and the visually impaired people who visit Marqet every day. The supermarket has opened its doors to those people as part of its owner Rola Abdul Baqi's keenness to participate in humanitarian works despite the commercial framework that dominates her place.
"The training of these employees was the most important part of this initiative. The professional cooperation with the blind people, meeting their requirements, and accompanying them in their tours within the "supermarket" was supervised by Amer Makarem, chairman of the Youth Association of the Blind," explains Nadine Abou Zaki.
At the blind-friendly supermarket, people who suffer from visual loss wander in the supermarket around the shelves displaying many products including grains, toiletries, milk, dairy, and soft drinks.
They put their items in shopping carts, and the trained employees accompany and brief them on the quality of goods and offers till they reach the cash desk. "I enjoyed this tour," says Marwan, a blind man who was the first to try the new concept.
Halim danced with Ruwaida Al Ghali, director of the music performance organized during the store opening, to express his delight at the humanitarian move developed by the Red Oak Society. "We have introduced the language of music during the opening because we are keen to make those people happy and entertain them," says Nadine Abou Zaki.
A team of artists composed of the Director Rowaida Al-Ghali, and dancers like Bechara Atallah, Nivine Kallas, Stephanie Stephan, and Lama el-Amine along with many other music players, introduced performances in which they used symbols that are usually used by blind people (the stick and black glasses) to emphasize their support for the supermarket's visitors who suffer from visual problems.
"People with visual impairment are many and they rarely find someone who cares about their needs." Abou Zaki explains that this initiative is aimed at anyone who suffers from visual problems without distinction.
A small sandy area was also created in the store where the blind visitors stopped to write their names to confirm their visit. "It is a different mean of expression that serves the sense of touch that these people are very interested in," says Abou Zaki, who founded the Red Oak Society, aiming at empowering Lebanese youth to build their capacities in cultural, educational, artistic, theatrical and other fields.
Such stores are expected to expand in various areas in Lebanon in order to facilitate the lives of blind people and motivate them to live normally.
On the other hand, on October 29, the visually impaired people are set to visit the National Museum, where they will learn about its displays as part of a special initiative dubbed "Please Touch" organized by Red Oak in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture.
The move will also take place in to two other museums, namely Maqam in Byblos and the Sursock Museum in Ashrafieh, which have developed a special service for blind visitors, always in cooperation with the Italian Omero Museum. The visitors will be accompanied by trained guides who can read "Braille" (blind language) so that they could provide the needed help.