Thursday, July 12, 2012


Looking back, I considered myself fortunate that I was able to tap on my inner strength, and coupled with family support and love I was able to overcome and accept my sudden loss of sight as a result of severe bacterial infection in January 2008. This life changing experience widened my scope of vision in seeing the good, bad and the ugly sides of life. Fortunately, there’s more of the good. I am happy to have befriended many new friends, including wheel-chaired bound, blind and visually impaired and the very much lesser known group, the Deaf-Blind!        
I was quick to realize the importance of assistive ICT which helped me move forward in my new life’s journey following the traumatic experience. I had to re-learn using the computer with the screen reader technology, enabling the text to speech functions, thus, giving access to the blind to use the computer. I started an internet chat list for the blind to come together in the chat room, share and exchange experiences, etc. It was, indeed enlightening that I got to know a few Deaf-Blind friends from the list. I was moved to learn about the life’s challenges brought on by their additional disability; deafness on top of blindness.

Choo Kim Yoon, 44, blind, started his primary education at the Princess Elizabeth School, Johor Bahru. “I live at Salak South New Village in Kuala Lumpur with my mother and brothers. I lost my eyesight at the age of 3 due to high fever. I became partially deaf at the age of 16 due to unknown illness “ Choo said. Despite the deteriorating hearing impairment and through sheer determination, he completed his Form 6 education at the St. Johns Institution, Kuala Lumpur. He continued on and did a stint at the Gurney Training Centre, Malaysian Association for the Blind where he learned Braille, computer skills and obtained a certificate in stenography. Choo said “My current occupation: slotting appeal letters into envelopes, raising funds for MAB.”

Choo lamented “living with multiple disabilities is really tough and challenging. Unable to see and hear properly make communication with other people the foremost problem. People are not always willing to talk with you if you cannot hear them the first time. They don't always have the patience to repeat things to you, instead they will keep raising their voices and shout to you. When people behave in such a manner, it cut off every possibility to establish a friendly conversation with a deaf-blind person like me”. As a result of this negative attitude amongst the people in the society, the deaf-blind community are regretfully neglected and shut out of so many precious benefits which the other parties enjoy, including many potential employment opportunities. “I am thankful to God though because not everybody exercises such a mistreatment against a deaf-blind person like me. There are still open-minded people in the society who are willing to befriend and help me in every possible way. For instance, my close friend at work, learned to communicate with me by the means of finger-brailing. He assisted me in my job and also helped to buy my lunch as well as other materials such as batteries for my hearing aids.”

“NGOS serving the blind, and the government should work hand in hand to create awareness amongst the public of the specific needs of the deaf-blind community. Our specific needs should be recognized and attended to accordingly. There should not be barriers to prevent us, the deaf-blind persons, from participating and contributing actively in all programs that is aimed toward enhancing the quality of life. We must work together to break the communication barrier by implementing a standard sign language that is acceptable and accessible for both parties. One of the potential methods can be the Lorm tactile sign language which is widely used in developed countries and has recently been converted into computerized format. The govt. should provide financial assistance to the deaf-blind individuals who need to purchase such high-tech communication device. At the same time, the govt. must supply high quality hearing aids to the deaf-blind persons and not merely the low-cost ones. In addition, the govt. must realize the importance of computer access to the deaf-blind community, hence must supply subsidised or free Braille display devices to the deaf-blind persons that will enable us to venture into internet business or become creative freelance writer. In short, we, the deaf-blind persons should not be excluded from the fast development in technological access in this country.” Choo’s parting shot, “help us to become fisher men and not merely eater of fish supplied by other men.”

Louis Prem Kumar, 48, has this to say.  “I am a blind masseuse working in Shah Alam, Selangor and also a musician. I realized my hearing started to slowly fade away at 9 years of age.  Then at age ten I started using hearing-aids. About my blindness, the early symptoms of blindness began at age 7 but I continued studies at a sighted school till 14 and had to take up Braille due to vision loss, unable to read print.” Louis completed his Form 5 secondary education at the St.Johns Institution, Kuala Lumpur. He furthered his skills training at the Gurney Training Centre, MAB for one and half years.

Louis said, “My daily challenges: due to my poor hearing, I find it difficult to communicate with people in noisy environments such as busy roads, and big gatherings.  It also drowns my confidence in crossing roads on my own.  Being deaf-blind also kept many people away from knowing me because I could not hear and communicate with them easily. My current employment is as a masseuse. Some clients do not want to take the chances to try my therapy.  They will try after much persuasion and only after they know I am a sociable and friendly person.  It is difficult to go shopping and doing banking on my own due to my additional disability.”

 Louis’ wish list, “Well I feel that the NGO and GOVT could assist us with providing financial aids to enable us to purchase the high tech hearing aids to assist the hard of hearing blind individuals. In cases where hearing loss is extreme, they could assist us with supplying technology such as Braille displays or Braille style computers. The NGO and GOVT could also employ the Deaf-Blind in handwork jobs that does not need much of communication such as packing jobs or even serve at blind societies where Braille is a means of communication among the blinds concerned. The public could also come forward to help the deaf blind in crossing roads, getting into the LRT, Monorail trains and the Commuter trains.”

 More challenging times ahead!

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