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The blind are rising to the challenge and acquiring new skills to build interest

From: Author: Date:2008-08-17 Click:

The blind are rising to the challenge and acquiring new skills to build interesting careers as information technologists, masseurs and reflexologists.

   As a boy, Khairul ikhwan Lindang Abdullah, now 24, had lofty ambitions of making it big in life.  
  However, this changed after he suffered from a detached retina problem in 2002. Khairul Ikhwan now uses a high density magnifying glass to check for errors when he uses his computer at the Gurney Training Centre (CTC), run by the Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB).
   "I struggled to complete my Form Five after suffering from second degree blindness," he says. "1 know my options are limited but I'm happy that I can still learn something and I can type faster than some people who have good vision."

 Formal options

   Unlike Khairui lkhwan, many blind people do not even have Form Five qualifications, says MAB executive director George Thomas.
   However, the Government's efforts toset up both integrated and special schools for the blind in recent years have yielded fruit and proved a watershed as far as educational opportunities for the blind are concerned.
   "There are now 33 schools that cater to the blind community – 27 integrated schools and six special schools," says Thomas, adding that about 850 blind students are enrolled in these schools.
  "Most of them will complete Form Five education. Although a small percentage may drop out due m various reasons suck as the inability
to cope or overprotective families.
this number is quite negligible.
  "The MAB does its part by highlighting the importance of education and advising blind students to sign up for school," he continues.
  Thomas adds that many blind students go on to pursue ternary education.
  "Most go to Universiti Malaya as it has disabled-friendly facilities but some may choose to study at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia and Universiti Teknologi Mara."

Leave no one behind

  However, while things may seem to be looking up for the blind, MAB ICT department manager Silatul Rahim Dahman is quick to point out that there are "missing" blind students who are unaccounted for in official statistics.
  There are around 64,000 blind people in Malaysia but only 18,000 are registered with the Social Welfare Department," he says.
  "Our records show that blind students who enrol at school late usually don't finish Form Five, so there is a need to identify them and enrol them in school early."
  However, not every blind student is interested in formal education, adds Silatul Rahim.
  'Those who are not keen on formal education should not be written off as they can do very well given the right technical training and support," he says.
  His view is shared by Um Boon Gim, 31, a blind student at MAB who is training to be a masseur.
  "I was never interested in studying even when I could see," he says. "I dropped out of school at 12 to start working and continued even though my vision started blurring at 18."

Things are changing

  Blind students like Lim who dropped out of formal education can learn a myriad of skills at GTC or centres like the National Council for the Blind Malaysia and St Nicholas Home in Penang. GTC offers programmes like daily living skills, cooking, library support services, sports, agriculture, childhood education, massage, refiexology and IT.
  Most blind students learn a mix of skills. Lira couples his massage lessons with English classes.
  "I learn English so that I can understand my customers' problems better; it is nice to chat with them."
  Silatul Rahim points out that blind graduates in Malaysia are fortunate as they often find employment that matches their qualifications.
  "I've worked in Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok and Bandar Sri Begawan, and I feel that Malaysia is still the best country in the region when it comes to efforts to help the blind community," he enthuses.
  "In the '70s, a blind person will usually find employment as a telephone operator, stenographer, administrative assistant, street musician or handicraft maker.
  "Today, more opportunities are available and they can become teachers, university lecturers, masseurs, government officials, counsellors, lawyers, professional musicians and even entrepreneurs.”

The big picture

  Although blind students have more opportunities today and companies are more receptive to employing the blind compared to 30 years ago, barriers still exist.
  “Prejudice is still there despite greater public awareness and empathy,” says Thoms. “This shouldn't be the case as some blind people are better educated and more skilled
than their sighted counterparts.
  "While opportunities for employment have increased, it is not easy for a blind graduate to get a salary commensurate with his or her level of education."
  Silatul Rahim also feels that there is a need to do away with stereotyping the blind as needy and dependent.
  "Although some may beg for a living, many actually become skilled
workers and nrofessionals." he says. “Besides, there are many sighted beggars as well.”
  Professional blind masseur and national Paralympic athlete Lee Sheng Chow feels that to the blind are partly responsible for their social predicament.
  “Blind people have to realise that the world out there is not a blind one. They have to avoid falling into the trap of mixing solely with other blind people. They need to be motivated to understand the real world,” he muses.
  “We have to realise that the world does not owe us anything. We must try to make the most of our abilities and not feel ashamed of our disability.
  “There are many challenges in life, and we have to choose whether to see the big picture or just dwell on our blindness and wallow in selfpity. Although we are blind, we have many blessings to be thankful for too.”
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