Mahalakshmi d/o Baskaran from Rawang was typing away at the brailler one afternoon. Her coach was away that day, so she spent her time practising her typing on the machine.
At the Malaysian Association for the Blind Exercise and Rehabilitation Centre (Kinta Valley) in Ipoh, Mahalakshmi was only one of the 18 people who were busy in their classrooms picking up new skills. These ‘students’, from as young as 18 years to as old as 60, come from a very diverse background from across the country. However, they all have one thing in common. They are all visually impaired.
According to the centre’s Community-Based Rehabilitation Officer Sirajul Adli, there are three severity levels of blindness. The least severe (B3) means that the person is partially blind and is able to see ‘shapes’. For the person of B2 classification, he or she can perceive light, while B1 means total blindness. There are many causes that lead to vision impairment in adulthood. They include eye disease such as glaucoma, head injury, stroke and retinal detachment.
He added, “These individuals are new to the world of darkness and are still trying to cope with various issues that come with adult blindness. Therefore, a counsellor comes in once a week to provide counselling to them. However, being amongst others in the same boat has made things easier to bear and they seem to have accepted their condition. Adopting the buddy system has helped as well. We pair B1s with B2s or B3s so that they would not be out of their depth in a new environment.
“Nevertheless, we allow them to be as independent as possible so that they could easily reintegrate into society.”
Everyone who enrols in the rehabilitation session has to go through six months of courses, either from January to June or from July to December. Courses offered are Braille in Bahasa Malaysia, English Language and the Quran for Muslims; Computer Skills, Orientation and Mobility; Daily Living Skills, as well as Language and Communication Skills in English.
Administrative Officer Puan Samizah Abdul Majid said that classes are five days a week from Mondays to Fridays and start from 9am to 5pm. They all live in a dormitory in the neighbourhood and walk to the centre in pairs.
“We have five coaches here, three of whom are visually impaired themselves. When our centre was first established in 2012, we only had about 7 people in the rehab course. We then expanded two years later and now we are running at a maximum capacity of 18, with ten staff members. Cikgu Meena Kumari, our computer instructor, is a pioneer staff member who has been with us since 2012. She suffers from total loss of vision,” said Samizah.
Looking at Cikgu Meena conduct her class, one would not realise her disability. She was a figure of authority, dictating in Bahasa Malaysia for her charges to type out on their software-aided computers.
Earlier, Cikgu Meena had shared that there are no tests to sit for. As long as they have adjusted well to their new condition, learnt how to approach daily living without harming themselves, and have picked up basic skills that would enable them to work in an office setting, they can pursue something else after the six-month session is up. Many from previous sessions had gone on to enrol in diploma courses.
Due to limited space at the Exercise and Rehabilitation Centre (Kinta Valley) in Ipoh, waiting period for those seeking a spot is about three months. However, those who are accepted into the rehabilitation course are provided with board and lodging as well as RM75 monthly allowance from MAB.
The Malaysian Association For The Blind is one of the first non-governmental organisations in Malaysia to care for the welfare of the blind in the country. Apart from this rehabilitation centre in Ipoh, they also run an agricultural training centre in Temerloh, Pahang, a skills training centre in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur and a contact centre in Rawang, Selangor. MAB’s ‘vision’ is to create equal opportunities for the blind to enable them to recapture the quality of life that they had enjoyed before, besides creating public awareness on the prevention of blindness.
Note: An edited version of this article [Vision for Equal Opportunity] was published on 3rd September, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.