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