Blind In A World That Relies Heavily On Vision: Malaysian Youth Shares Struggles In School And At Work

Suffering from or experiencing visual loss can easily affect the quality of one’s life. According to the World Health Organisation, around 1 billion people have cases of vision impairment[1].

As for Malaysia, approximately 1.2% of the population experience some kind of visual impairment[2] and around 1 in 10 children suffers undiagnosed vision problems that could lead to visual impairment if not treated[3].

Although statistics show blindness usually occurs in people over 50, it still has the potential to affect anyone under that age. 

An individual suffering from any visual impairment makes it tough to manoeuvre around a society that heavily relies on vision. What makes it difficult is the lack of Braille facilities available, which would ensure the visually impaired have easy access to what they need.

For example, the ATMs once had Braille patterns on the keypads, but they are no longer available now that the machines are touch screens. Due to such a change, retrieving money proves to be more difficult than it once was. Likewise, many departments like hospitals and post offices do not have Braille installed or equipped to assist them[4].

Does it Have an Effect on Education Quality?

Having access to Braille books is no easy feat either. Many young Malaysian students with visual impairments are not receiving the appropriate materials to learn appropriately[5].

Some of my blind friends do not even have access to Braille books until late in the semester. This makes it difficult for them to get a quality education. – Hani Nursayahira Muhamat Halis, 15 year old student[5]

The case of a young visually impaired Malaysian who prefers to remain anonymous experienced difficulties throughout her educational years. She grew up completely blind due to being born prematurely at only six months old and attended schools for the blind until she reached university. There, she happened to be the only visually impaired student at Monash University Malaysia and she had to put in more effort compared to the rest of the students to keep up[6].

Source: In Real Life

Sometimes, I would be left behind in my studies due to the enormous time required for the conversion and editing processes. – Anon, Visually Impaired Malaysian Graduate[6]

Similarly, Cheah Tzi Qi, now 24, was diagnosed with hereditary eye disease when he was only 16 years old. The eye disease turned out to be one with no cure, so he lost complete sight in his left eye and could only see to a certain degree on his right. Like any child suffering from it, he had his fair share of struggles when he had to attend school[7].

There was a time when I came out from my exam and my school bag (which was left outside the classroom) was missing. I searched for it the entire day and even my classmates helped me. Later, it was found in the rubbish bin. – Cheah Tze Qi, 24, visually-impaired employee at Food Dreams Kitchen[7]

Not only did Cheah have to endure the bullying from his classmates, but he also struggled to keep up with his secondary school studies. After completing his SPM, he realised the struggles didn’t end there as he learnt that getting a job due to his disability was near impossible.

He eventually met Stevans Chan, the founder of Dialogue In the Dark (DID), who also happens to be blind. Cheah got offered by him to work in a venture called Food Dreams Kitchen. There, he got the opportunity to work in a community where differently-abled people got hired and learned a lot from his job[7].

I want to tell other people with disabilities to stay determined and continue pursuing their dreams. Also, to be brave in taking that first step. – Cheah Tze Qi[7]

Employment When Visually Impaired

However, not many people have the chance to find a job despite their disability. Although many are educated and have the skills to take on the requirements mentioned in the job descriptions, they still do not land them.

Abby, who is in her 30s, has a human resources degree from Universiti Teknologi Mara. Still, instead of working in that field, she works by manoeuvring the streets of Kuala Lumpur to earn money. In order to do that, she sells tissues and uses the busking skills she learned from the Malaysian Association of the Blind (MAB) to make herself money. She says she uses a third of what she receives for her rental room[8].

Facing challenges and difficulties is something they have to experience on a daily basis, from having to travel around or having to find materials they want in accessible formats, the list is endless. The silver lining to this is that there are active changemakers supporting the visually-impaired community – in education, training, and employment, with the ultimate aim of helping them lead independent lives. Here are several organisations in Malaysia assisting the visually impaired in order to help them ameliorate their quality of life:

  1. Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB) was created explicitly to serve and aid the visually impaired and was established by the Department of Social Welfare in 1951. Its service extends from Kuala Lumpur to different parts of the country to assist them. They provide training, educational programmes, a Braille library and anything that could potentially aid them. Recently, they started reaching out to visually-impaired individuals living in rural areas via programmes and training.
  2. The National Council For The Blind, Malaysia (NCBM) is a non-profit organisation established on the 14th of February 1986 under the Societies Act of Malaysia. Their purpose and objective are to introduce and improve the policies and provide services to help with education, employment, blindness prevention and anything of aid to the blind.
  3. Pertubuhan Bagi Orang Buta Sabah (The Sabah Society for the Blind) was founded in 1966. The main objective of this organisation is to not only promote education and employment. They also assist them by providing housing, taking care of the blind and also having medical facilities and treatments if needed.
  4. Dialogue Includes All (previously known as Dialogue in the Dark)was founded by Steven Chans, an Entrepreneur that lost his eyesight in 2007, and was licensed by Dialogue Social Enterprise GmbH in 2012. The purpose and main objective of their mission are to not only create and spread awareness but to also empower the disabled. They educate and equip the children and the adults that are visually, mentally, and physically challenged with skills they would need in their lives. 
  5. Malaysian Association for Blind Muslims (Persatuan Orang-Orang Cacat Penglihatan Islam Malaysia, PERTIS) is an organisation that was established in 1996 to help visually impaired Muslims. The aim of the organisation is to financially support and enhance the quality of their lifestyle, as well as provide financial support and improve their education.
Source: Launch Good

Explore our sources:

  1. World Health Organization. (2021). Blindness and vision impairment. Link. 
  2. Hussain. N. (2021). More can be done for the visually impaired. New Straits Times. Link. 
  3. Arumugam. T. (2017). One in 10 children in Malaysia has an undiagnosed vision problem: Study.  New Straits Times. Link. 
  4. Awaluddin. F. (2021). The struggles of the sightless in a society blind to their woes. MalaysiaNow. Link.
  5. Mohamed. S. (2019). Blind students not getting the books they need. The Malaysian Reserve. Link.
  6. In Real Life. (2020).  How I Deal with Being Visually Impaired. Link. 
  7. Lim. V. (2022). Cloud kitchen serves up dreams for the differently-abled. Free Malaysia Today. Link. 
  8. Sufari. N. (2018). Jobs still out of sight for the blind. The Malaysian Insight. Link. 

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