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Blind photographer Mohammed Saad lectures at Eastman Museum


Mohammed Saad may have learned English from watching "Titanic," but he couldn't tell you whether there was enough room for both Jack and Rose on the raft. Saad, a disability advocate, app developer, and photographer, is blind.

Just shy of George Eastman's 153rd birthday, Saad lectured at the Eastman Museum on Tuesday, June 11, the final stop on his American tour, "Seeing Clearly Now: Creative Technology for the Blind in Saudi Arabia." The lecture was sponsored by the Middle East Institute and hosted by Rochester Global Connections.

Mohammad Saad lectured at the George Eastman Museum on Tuesday. - PHOTO BY GRACIE PETERS
  • Mohammad Saad lectured at the George Eastman Museum on Tuesday.

In an interview with CITY before his talk, Saad said he was proud to be in the George Eastman Museum because he likes photographers, especially George Eastman who had a long history with cameras and film. A Q&A session, moderated by disability advocate Luticha Doucette, followed the lecture.

Saad is from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he studies in the College of Languages and Translation at Imam Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University. In his CITY interview, Saad explained that he loves English. He also loves cameras and taking pictures, which might seem strange to those of us who do have our sight. Saad's mission is to clear up common misconceptions about blindness.

He said that a few years ago, an interviewer asked him, "Why are you posting pictures on Instagram? Why do you have an Instagram account or a Snapchat if you can't see anything?"

Saad replied: "Let me answer your question with another question. Why do you have an Instagram account?" The interviewer responded that she liked to share pictures with others. "I said, 'Okay, and I have the same reason, too,'" he said.

Saad has been interested in photography since he was 6 or 7 years old, but his parents wouldn't purchase a camera for him. He begged for one -- a Kodak, specifically -- but they didn't understand why a blind child would want to use a camera. They brought him toy cameras made for children, but Saad would protest, insisting that he wanted to be able to hear the sound the flash makes.

Saad, a disabilities advocate, spoke on ""Seeing Clearly Now: Creative Technology - for the Blind in Saudi Arabia." - PHOTO BY GRACIE PETERS
  • Saad, a disabilities advocate, spoke on ""Seeing Clearly Now: Creative Technologyfor the Blind in Saudi Arabia."

Saad relies heavily on sound. The method Saad uses when he takes portraits of people is fairly simple: he asks the subject to make a sound -- maybe, say a sentence or two -- and then adjusts his positioning and distance relative to the person's location. During the lecture, Saad asked for an audience volunteer to come up to the stage to demonstrate this technique. Saad snapped a picture and posted it to his Twitter page, which was displayed on a large screen behind him. After several page refreshes, the portrait of the volunteer popped up on the screen, met with applause.

Saad does not consider himself a "professional" photographer by any means. "It's not important to be a professional photographer," he said. "I'm not professional. But the most important thing is that you can play with things related to sight."

His activism as a disability advocate in Saudi Arabia began with a campaign to get Saudi restaurants to provide braille copies of their menus -- motivated by an ardent love of food. From that point forward, activism has played a large role in his life.

Saad is the owner and creator of an Arabic-language app, MANHAL. He records his voice and teaches blind users different skills, such as how to navigate through daily tasks, how to use the latest technology, and even how to cook. At the presentation, he told the audience that his long-term goal is to create more accessible buildings in Saudi Arabia.

When asked what he thinks people should know about blindness, Saad was straightforward. "We are normal," he stated plainly. "We can use a lot of technology to improve our lives." Speaking specifically to families, he said, "Help your children from the beginning; help them to improve their skills and to do everything independently, because you won't be there forever with them."

Saad is on Snapchat under the username @magicksa and on Twitter as @magic_ksa. For more information on Rochester Global Connections, head to