A girl at one of the workshops
Many efforts have been made over recent years to include those with special needs more in Egyptian society, notably by ensuring that they receive their fair share of opportunities in schools and the workplace. Efforts have also been underway to provide more training opportunities in creative fields, among them clothes and fashion designing.
Esraa Adel Al-Matani is a young fashion designer who has been organising workshops to help those with hearing impairments learn how to design and make clothes for a living as in many cases such people are not able to follow traditional sewing workshops.
“I have been teaching sewing, including fashion designing and pattern making, for nine years, and in 2017 I decided to learn sign language so I could include those with special needs in my workshops. I organised the first fashion design workshop for those with hearing impairments in 2018 and became the first fashion trainer for those with hearing impairments in Egypt,” Al-Matani explained.
“In fact, the intellectual property right for the idea was even registered in my name,” she added, saying that from that time onwards she has been helping young women with hearing impairments to start their own projects at home after attending her workshops.
“The idea of the workshops came to my mind because I wanted to develop courses to help people whether with hearing impairments or not to work in a field they liked. I prepared a new method of teaching those with hearing impairments and developing the tools that I would need. I started at a private academy in Cairo, and since then many young women have graduated from the courses and have been able to start their own businesses,” she said.
Al-Matani herself has an advanced industrial fashion diploma and was awarded a scholarship by the government to study fashion, entrepreneurship and marketing. She obtained a scholarship from the Korean Embassy in Egypt to study traditional Korean fashion and she has taken other courses including human development and training of trainers at the University of Ain Shams in Cairo. On her Facebook page, she posts videos of some of her training courses for people to follow that often use sign language.
She then thought of using computers to assist her in her work. “The idea of my special sewing application came from a computer company that wanted to help design an application for those with hearing impairments to help them design and make clothes. The application can teach any trainee at a distance how to implement his or her project, and as a form of remote learning it can reach large numbers of people inside and outside Egypt,” Al-Matani commented.
The application has written and recorded instructions that make it easy for anyone to use.
“We started working on the application in 2019 with a view to making it particularly suitable for distance learning. The work took place under the auspices of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology,” she said, adding that it contains 32 sections including everything necessary to help a trainee to learn and work. There is a dictionary of fashion terms and information about types of materials and how to choose them and how to differentiate between different types of material by touch alone.
“It is very easy to use the application,” Al-Matani said. “All you do is go to the Google app store, write the name of the application in the search bar in Arabic, and then download it.”
A girl at one of the workshops
It helps to provide opportunities for those with hearing impairments to be more included in society and to develop their talents. “There is no difference in teaching an ordinary person and a person with a hearing impairment apart from the language used. In fact, the degree of learning and understanding is always excellent, and they produce work that is equal in quality to anyone else,” she commented.
Al-Matani said that at first some people were not convinced that the idea of teaching those with hearing impairments would be successful. However, she managed to convince the necessary people to help her to organise it. Another obstacle she met was reaching out to those with hearing impairments, an estimated seven million people spread across the governorates. There were some difficulties reaching female students who wanted to learn sewing in some areas.
She is now working to present her initiative to the European Commission for funding for initiatives concerned with those with special needs. She has already been given an award by the Ministry of Communication because of her work in developing new computer applications for young people.
A dress made by special-needs students
“I would like to reach out to another thousand people at least with hearing impairments so that I can give them my application for free,” Al-Matani said. “I would like celebrities or important people to support the idea because the application does not only serve those with hearing impairments in Egypt, but also those in other Arab countries. It can be used by everybody, whether they are hearing impaired or not. It is beneficial for anyone wanting training in clothes designing and fabrication,” she said.
“What I would also like to do is to help develop the curriculum of technical secondary education in Egypt, especially on ready-made garments, so that students can become more creative and able to produce unique products after graduation,” she said, adding that she is already thinking of ways of doing this, whether for ordinary or special-needs students.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly