Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Touch screen devices, the way forward!

It's such a wonderful feeling to know that today,the blind friends are aware on the importance of mobile devices such as smartphones which provide the link to connect them with the world. Breaking news updates, emails, video/audio communication, etc are now possible and accessible to the blind community.

The fear of touch screen phones without the conventional physical buttons seem to diminish and today, more blind folks are ready to accept change and know that their lives will be enriched with more assistive technology readily available.

Due to several requests for iPhone instructional training courses, I decided to hold a series of workshops, beginners to advanced users this year. Last Saturday, a 2nd workshop for blind iPhone users was held . A group of optometry student volunteers attended the workshop, interacting well with the blind folks. It was a first time experience for the studen. Volunteers in discovering about the iPhone accessibility features and learn too the methods employed by the blind in using the iPhone.

More challenging times ahead!


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

VISION FOR THE NEW YEAR



Another year came to a close and it marked my 9th year crossing the bridge from the sighted to the world of darkness. A severe bacterial infection resulted in sudden loss of sight in both my eyes. As an adult blind, the emotional struggles in overcoming the  acquired disability was quite a traumatic ordeal and sad to add that there were little help or support available to me at that point of time. I was fortunate to have a loving and caring family. Together, my wife and children supported one another in facing the tough challenges, helping me to adapt to my new life.

Awareness is still very much lacking about the help and support for people stricken with blindness. Both state authorities and non governmental organisations surely need to transform to reach out to those people in need of help and support. For adult blind, customised rehabilitation programs are needed to suit individuals so that they are able to regain their independence, dignity and assimilate back into society without facing discrimination and social stigma. It is sad to note that today, those becoming blind are often assumed to be incapable and a burden. Today, very few are aware of the Disability Act and Malaysia being a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of persons with disabilities Act. Blind NGOs should be more aggressive in raising awareness to all for the betterment of the blind community, as the disabled groups are often been sidelined in areas of job opportunities, education and community development.

Accessibility  in public transportation, barrier free walkways, accessible information and disabled friendly amenities are still a dream for the local disabled community. This has created a barrier to the independence of the disabled and causing much inconvenience to the disabled and care givers. Over the past few years, I have participated in conferences and dialogues organised by relevant state authorities on accessibility issue. However, the feel good factor only stayed at the conferences. There's little follow up action in implementing the improvements proposed, not walking the talk so to speak. Examples can seen in the incorrect layout of tactiles installed, which pose a hazard to the blind. Often too, opinions are not seek from the blind before implementation of accessibility improvement projects.

Blind assistive technology devices and gadgets are out of reach to many blind. Computer screen reader softwares are expensive to purchase. Assistive technology for the blind is of utmost importance for the blind today. Many blind vouch that it’s their life saviour as the technology enabled the blind to be connected to the world and in some areas, the blind are able to compete on a level playing field, for example, online research and writing. Subsidies on purchases of such assistive technology tools should be given and waiver of the internet charges by the telcos so that more blind will be encouraged to pick up the important computer skill, thus  increasing their employment marketability. 

A strong voice for the blind and other disabled groups are needed to speak out for the rights and the needs of the blind and the other disabled groups. So far, we have not heard from the relevant authorities on its work on the improvement of quality of life for the disabled. The disabled community today need a dedicated government minister to look into the various issues and grouses to improve the quality of life of the disabled community, estimated to be 15% of our population. 

More challenging times ahead

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy new year 2016!

Losing one's sight as an adult is unimaginable to many as the traumatic experience is devastating.  It leads to deep depression to both the affected and loved ones.  This happened to me 8 years ago. I contracted a severe bacterial infection which resulted in my sudden loss of sight in both my eyes, infected both lungs and liver.

Accepting my new life and letting go of the past, a mammoth task for my family and myself.  It proved to be  a real life challenge. The strong love and support from family gave me the courage and confidence to cross the bridge from the sighted world into the world of darkness.

I have to re-learn everything in life that we all have taken for granted, walking, eating/drinking, making coffee/tea, etc. Music, probably is the least priority in my life then. However, I am glad I was proven wrong. I realised it has therapeutic healing effects soon after I got myself a used acoustic guitar and recently, a ukulele. My re-introduction to computer with assistive screen technology certainly helped to reconnect myself with the world again. Emails, internet surfing, social media connectivity all became possible and you tube became my teacher in learning how to play the guitar.  I took up the challenge to learn to play the ukulele, that is, self taught. My first time playing a ukulele was when I played on my daughter's piece while visiting her in London.

It's not as easy and straightforward as I expected in learning from hours listening to the teacher on you tube.  With lots of patience and determination I managed to strum and learn finger picking. I am pleased with my achievement so far and more learning to come.

I'd learned, too, losing my sight is just losing one of my senses. more importantly, I have not lost my vision!

Happy New Year!

http://youtu.be/kYexxrG4_lY

More challenging times ahead!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bridging Darkness with Hope

At the recent event organised by The Rotary Seeing Eye to Eye Seminar at Syuen Hotel, Ipoh, Perak, on 18th October 2014, in conjunction with the World Sight Day, I presented my experience of the challenging journey from the sighted to the blind world.

'Introduction

Good morning.  First and foremost, thank you to Dr Lee and his organizing committee in allowing me this opportunity to share my experience of crossing the bridge from the sighted world to the world of darkness.  Let me invite you into my world for the next 15 minutes. I am going to share with you how I cope with my sudden sight loss.

Invitation

The first step into my world is to close your eyes and join me in my journey crossing this bridge.

The unexpected

Life is full of unexpected twists and turns.  You may plan but at times it may not turn out to be what you have planned.  Just like my life was turned upside down when infection caught me unaware and resulted in total loss of sight in both my eyes.  That was in year 2008.  Then, I was the General Manager for a company dealing with heavy equipment machineries based in Kunming, China.

Traumatic experience

Losing one’s eyesight in adulthood is very traumatizing, devastating and scary. I find it difficult to describe my ordeal but you can just imagine yourself falling into a dark bottomless pit and nothing to cling on , not knowing when it will stop.  What’s worse was, there was precious little help for adults like me who became blind at the ripe old age of 50 and above, as I found out.

No direction

After the final diagnosis given by my doctor informing me I am irreversibly blind in both eyes, no further guidance or direction was given as to what to do next, where to look for help, how to survive in this world of darkness.

Get up - Facing Challenges

I am blessed with a supportive and proactive family – my wife and children.  With their support I was able to tap into my inner strength, tell myself to Get Up and accept that my life forward will be very different. I have to survive in this new dark world, relearning new skills eg simple tasks like eating without seeing what you are eating, walking in the dark with the help of the white cane.  

Get Out – Seeking Help

It saddened me to say there is not much help and support available for an adult blind.   First and foremost, when I went to seek information and help from an NGO, no counseling was available for both my wife and I.  And when I wanted to enroll for the rehab program I was turned down.  You know why?  I was above 45 years of age.   We came away more depressed, lost and angry.  But we did not give up.  With persistent knocking, calling for many months the ICT department of the NGO I was finally accepted to undergo 5 days basic course in learning how to use the screen reader for computers.

Get Going – rehabilitation

It is very important for a newly blind to learn how to move around independently with a white cane.  In my case I was not given the opportunity to go through Orientation and Mobility skill training.  However, that did not dampen my spirit to go forward.  With the help of the Internet and a newfound blind friend I picked up enough tips to get around with confidence with the white cane. Slowly and surely with the support from my family I learned how to  take care of myself, e.g. make a cup of coffee without scalding my fingers, spreading butter on the bread without messing the table top.  Now I can even pour myself a glass of whisky with ice in it.  

Going forward in Life

In the last few years, I realized that assistive technology is vital in enhancing the independence of the vision impaired.  With ICT I am in communication with friends and relatives from all over the world.  I am updated with what’s happening around the world, politics, economics, disability rights and accessibility issues, and so on, so forth.  To share with you Malaysia is still way behind in terms of accessible facilities and information.

Costly to be blind

You need to be rich to be blind.  Why?  Licensed screen reader software cost RM4000.00.  This is on top of the cost of computers.  Braille note taker cost RM20,000.  This is why I love my I phone and Mac laptop.  They both come with built in voice over feature which is cheaper than the computer with third party screen readers.  By the way Apple do not pay me for promoting their products.  

Not wanting to lose out to the younger generation, this uncle also Twit, blog and facebook. What’s app, skype, and viber are no strangers to me and having interesting ringing tones is also fun.  

Story

Here let me share a story.  One day I was in this room with a few blind friends chatting away.  Suddenly a cat meowed. Next I heard a door opened and my blind friend was trying to shoo the cat out tapping his cane on the door making so much noise.  Another friend was commenting that with so much noise and shooing the cat will hide and stay put and both started arguing.  I could not hold back my laughter as it was not a real cat but my phone’s incoming ringing tone. 

Bridging darkness with Hope

Losing sight in adulthood is a daunting experience.  It is not easy for this group of people to come to terms and accept their blindness as ego and embarrasement come into play.    Without support and counseling one can easily sink into deep depression, causing families to break up. 

ABAS

With the insight of my challenging journey crossing the bridge into the world of darkness, my eyes opened to the lack of awareness of adult blind and their needs to continue to live a life as normal as can be.  Hence the set up of ABAS – the Adult Blind Association of Selangor.

ABAS hope to reach out to newly adult blind, with the aim to provide help and support to them and their care givers... bridging darkness with hope.  We want to let them know they are not alone.

Before I hand over the mike I would like to say this.  Though I am blind, I continue to live my life to the fullest.  I play golf, I relearn playing classical guitar with the help of U tube.  I take care of my 2 dogs. I am actively involved in advocating for better access to facilities working with the local councils.

If U ask me what I have achieved in life.  I will humbly say this …. I Have Achieved Blindness.

Thank You.  Now you can open your eyes.'

More challenging times ahead!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

I Hear You.....

"I hear you, we, the the banks hear you, Mr Yam. There will be no discrimination against the blind by banks," declared loudly by the Association of Banks, Malaysia chief officer in the presence of many, Central Bank(BNM) officers, Welfare Ministry(JKM) officers, Banks representatives, National Disability Council(NCD) committee members and representatives from various disabled organisations at a dialogue held at BNM on Monday 31st March 2014. Dialogue was to discuss the challenges faced by the disabled with regards to banking and insurance.

It's certainly a feel good factor feeling to hear such words of commitment and passion but there's much yet to be seen, that is, action speaks louder than words and walk the talk to be the order of the day. It's has been a momental task over the past 2 long arduous years when I first contacted the local banks to highlight the plight of the blind for not being allowed to enjoy banking facilities which is every citizen's right and denying the blind to fulfil their banking rights and this bad practice is very much against basic human rights charter. Malaysia is a signatory to the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities which clearly prohibits and will not condone any form of discrimination against persons with disabilities.

I am glad to contribution in some ways in removing the restrictions that the blind community is currently facing and more importantly, increase awareness to banks to adhere to banking best practices, i.e. allowing the blind an equal banking access to all financial facilities available.

More challenging times ahead!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Blind voting experience

Following is my recent voting experience as a 1st time blind voter. I was not able to vote in the last general election(GE12) as I was still recuperating from a severe bacterial infection (January 2008) which resulted in losing my sight and also affected my liver and lungs then.

 

Both my wife, my son and I decided to cast our votes early in the morning. We arrived at the polling centre at 9.30am and there were already long queues stretching all the way from the Matang Pagar community hall to the main road, causing traffic to slow down. As we walked to the hall entrance, a SPR(election commission) official, came to us, having noticed my white cane, asked if I needed the use of a wheelchair and I said it was not necessary. We then showed him the printed copy of our voting details and enquired about the next steps. He was most helpful and directed both my wife and I to `jump queue’ to the beginning of `saluran 1’(stream1) where there was a long line of senior adults waiting patiently for their turn to fulfil their voting rights. We queued behind a couple of wheelchair bound person and an elderly lady. When our turn came, both my wife and I approached the desk, had our identity cards checked and my left index finger `painted’ with the much talked about indelible ink. A SPR lady then told me she could assist me to cast my vote as my wife was also casting hers. I politely told her that I am aware that I am allowed to bring along a person whom I trust and in my case, I trusted my wife, I said with a smile. So, I was told to wait for a few minutes for my wife to fulfil her voting responsibilities and she then guided me to the voting booth, showed and explained the ballot paper details and marked the choice of my candidate and guided me to drop the ballot papers into the respective boxes(Parliament and State).  We were then directed to another desk and my wife had to fill in a form (borang 10), a consent and helper form.

 

As we made our way out,  I met up with my son, still waiting in line (saluran3) under the hot blazing early morning sun, he informed that there was an earlier commotion where a senior adult shouted to the SPR officials that there should be another stream (saluran) for the disabled instead of allowing the disabled jumping queues which upset the complainant. However, the SPR officials kept their cool and tried to explain to the senior adult to have patience and understand the difficulties of the disabled. Perhaps, the senior adult should insist that the queue line be air conditioned just for him.

 

I look forward to the day where the blind will be able to cast their vote independently, without any helper assistance but only with assistive technology assistance in the voting booth.

 

More challenges ahead!

 

 

Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013


Another year closing…..

Another year is just about to come to a close. Like the so many people  around the world, it’s a time to relax, sit down comfortably, a time to reflect on the past year’s happenings and occurrences that had or could have impacted one’s life, predictions and resolutions that one had painfully thought of at the beginning of the year. Many have predicted the end of the world, 21st December 2012 and well, I am glad I survived the doomsday prediction which did not happen, smiles..

A Walk in the Kota Damansara Community
Forest to celebrate International White Cane Day 2012
 -  organised by Adult Blind Association

January 2013 will be my 6th year, since becoming a permanent member of the blind community. It’s likened to crossing the bridge from the sighted world to the fascinating dark world, not knowing what it has in store for me. I am really glad to have such a loving wife and my 3 kids who together, helped me to overcome the traumatising and devastating moments during those crucial months when I lost my sight due to a severe bacterial infection in early January 2008. Together as a family, we have not looked back but moved on positively ahead in life.      

 I  relearned my computer skills, regained my confidence and more importantly, became actively involved in advocating the blind community to speak out and stand up for their rights. As a result, I have taken up the challenging role as a volunteer chairperson of a blind computer users club, sit in a technical committee for facilities for the disabled and the elderly in a city council and speak at public events on issues affecting the blind community.

Golf competition in China - organised by
Hong Kong Blind Sport Association
Recognising the need to bridge the gaps and the missing links in helping the adult blind (newly blind adults), I have started a new organisation, Adult Blind Association of Selangor, to offer emotional support counselling, basic rehabilitation services and reaching out to those needing help, be it the adults who have  newly become blind or about to lose their sight.  The association will also offer help and support to the care givers

Another notable personal achievement which I am extremely happy is the official recognition and the registration of the first ever Malaysia Blind Golf Association. I must say that I did not even think that I could get back into this game of golf when I lost my sight back in 2008. Well, if there’s a will, there’s always a way

So, what will the new year 2013 bring forth? For me, I know I will be doing more advocating work and perhaps too, raising awareness on self advocacy to the blind community to start with, advocating for better access for all and last but not least, promote blind golf to the blind community and bring the game to the next level, that is, international level.     

 So Hello 2013....

More challenging times ahead!