Saturday, May 28

My life has come full circle

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IT is difficult for disabled persons to be gainfully employed due to multiple factors. Inaccessibility in the built environment and public transport is a major hindrance. The lack of academic qualifications, skills and support services are the other issues contributing to the low employment rate in the public and private sectors.

Many have to resort to working from home of which opportunities are hard to come by. This was the dilemma I was faced with when I wanted to move on after the accident. What could I do with a less than average Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia result and severe physical impairments that required the support of a carer?

With too much time in hand, I read voraciously. From Reader’s Digest to Asiaweek and Time, I read every issue as soon as the postman delivered them in addition to the newspaper and other periodicals. I must have read more then than I read all the years I was in school.

Having read so much, it was a natural progression for me to try my hand at writing. I submitted manuscript after manuscript, mostly to a weekly tabloid that is now defunct. Imagine my elation when one of the articles finally got published, never mind that I was paid a pittance of RM5 for the effort.

The excitement of seeing my name in print wore off and I wised-up after another few months of slogging at it, realising that what I was earning could not even cover the expenses for stationery and postage, let alone the romantic idea of earning a meaningful living as a writer. But that did not stop me from continuing to read like I did before.

An advertisement in the newspaper offering fast print franchises gave me the idea to provide photocopying services from home. With a RM3,000 loan from my mother, I bought a reconditioned photocopy machine. She also helped me with the more arduous tasks of sorting and book binding.

Friends were supportive in providing business and referrals. I repaid the loan after only three months of operation. In fact, business was so good that I got another two machines to cope with the demand. It was labour-intensive. I could not manage without my mother’s assistance. I sought an enterprise that I could do more independently.

With the profit from the photocopying business, I bought a computer and laser printer to offer typesetting services as well. It was not easy in the beginning as I had to learn to use the typesetting program all by myself. Again, friends supported the endeavour by engaging my services and referred their friends to me. At one time, I worked exclusively for an educational book publisher who gave me more business than I could manage.

All that came to an end when I moved into an apartment from the single storey house that I had been living in and running the business from. I had to sell off the photocopying machines and cease the typesetting service as well. That was 10 years of blood, sweat and tears there. It was heart-rending but necessary. My mother and I were finally moving to a place we could finally call home.

My finances were a little tight with the loss of income. I had to spend more prudently and think twice before buying an item. We were surviving on my late-father’s pension. It did not amount to much but we were contented with what we had.

Then came the era of blogging. I started a blog called ‘The Digital Awakening’ to chronicle my life, thoughts and opinions. I began writing again and enjoyed it, especially the camaraderie with other bloggers. Although I did not begin with the intention of profiting financially from blogging, the thought of earning by putting up advertisements on my blog was appealing.

In its heyday, I could earn up to US$200 per month by just placing 10 links on the sidebar of my blog. That was a lot of money for not doing much except to write about my life, something that I was already doing anyway. The extra money came in handy. It allowed me to travel more often from Penang to be with my girlfriend in Kuala Lumpur. The easy income gradually fizzled out when I began to blog less frequently due to my increasing involvement in conducting Disability Equality Training (DET) workshops and writing for this column.

In the United Kingdom where DET originated, trainers are considered professionals in their own right and charge rates that commensurate with similar mainstream training. They have their own companies to exclusively provide DET to private establishments and organisations wishing to make their environment and services inclusive.

Up till recently, trainers in Malaysia were usually paid an honorarium for conducting such workshops. One of the development plans for DET in this country is to elevate it to a status similar to that in the United Kingdom. This has been on the drawing board for a couple of years as we explored the pros and cons of the initiative.

After much thought and deliberation, I decided to set up a company dedicated to providing DET in line with the development plan. Incidentally, the Companies Commission of Malaysia rolled out an incentive that waived registration and renewal fees for disabled persons holding the OKU card. I registered a sole proprietorship for this
purpose three weeks ago free of charge.

I am confident that DET can effect change in making society accessible and inclusive. I foresee that one day in the near future, disabled persons in Malaysia will be able to move freely and unimpeded in the built environment and public transport system to get an education and become gainfully employed, and realise full participation in society. I am making this my life’s mission because I believe disabled persons deserve to be treated equally and with respect and dignity.

I have finally found my calling.

 

Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.