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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Disabled Emirati artist paints with her eyes

Huda Al Kaabi, who was born with Cerebral Palsy, uses a computer program that allows her to communicate and control elements of her environment with her eyes

Huda Al Kaabi has Cerebral Palsy and uses a computer program to control elements of her environment with her eyes. Antonie Robertson/The National
Huda Al Kaabi has Cerebral Palsy and uses a computer program to control elements of her environment with her eyes. Antonie Robertson/The National

Even when she is talking about the challenges of spending her waking hours in a wheelchair, 28-year-old Huda Al Kaabi beams with optimism and easily flashes a smile.

The Emirati was born with Cerebral Palsy, a neurological disorder caused by a lack of oxygen during birth, that resulted in her losing control over her arms and legs. Since her youth, she has been involved with the Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs, which provides her, and hundreds of other children and young adults, with rehabilitation services, education and vocational training. It was through ZHO that Ms Al Kaabi was able to find her passion: painting with her eyes.

Huda Al Kaabi paints using a computer program designed to read her eye movements. Antonie Robertson / The National
Huda Al Kaabi paints using a computer program designed to read her eye movements. Antonie Robertson / The National

This week, Ms Al Kaabi’s work – dayglow abstract prints that have been digitally reproduced on T-shirts, mobile phone cases and greeting cards – was on display at the Zayed Higher Organisation’s pavilion at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi. The artist was also present, along with her mother and father who travelled with her from Al Ain, to greet visitors with her enthusiastic smile. A small card attached to her pink-and-black wheelchair explained Ms Al Kaabi’s talent: “She has her own artistic sense,” it read. “She draws abstract paintings to express her feelings.”

With the guidance of therapists at ZHO, Ms Al Kaabi has been trained to use a computer program called Tobii that allows her to communicate, independently control elements of her environment – such as the room temperature, the television channels, the telephone – using simply the gaze of her eyes.

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“We use it to engage her in normal routine life,” said Fatima Al Dhaheri, Ms Al Kaabi’s speech therapist. “She is the best candidate for using this program and this technology because she is mentally aware, she is verbal and she knows what she wants and what she needs, so she asks for it easily.”

The technology introduced to her by ZHO has given Ms Al Kaabi a sense of purpose, said her mother Fatima Salem. It allows her to take pictures, to use Skype and above all, to print her “paintings” that she draws on the screen in bright greens, red and orange and reproduces using a printer.

“She is very happy and she thinks she has a really great future,” said Ms Salem.

Ms Al Dhaheri said: “It’s a life-changing technology so now she can do anything – the sky is the limit, there is nothing that will stop her. She is very excited to make her own online shopping website for the artwork.”

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