World Sight Day 2021: Acknowledging the visually impaired community

Photo used for illustration purposes only

KUALA LUMPUR – World Sight Day celebrates its 31st year today.

As a special tribute to the visually impaired community, Bernama reaches out to a few individuals to recognise not only their contributions to society but also their struggles and determination to succeed in life despite their disability.

Paralympian Wong Kar Gee, for one, said he had never considered being blind as an illness and obstacle for him in achieving his life goal.

Advertisement

In fact, he said getting the opportunity to contest at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games had given him the best experience he could ever gain even if he did not win any medal.

“When I was preparing to leave for Tokyo, I was told by the Paralympic Committee that I did not need my guide there as I was not totally blind and my coach couldn’t make it due to the limited quota of people attending.

“This process was not explained well to me by the relevant authorities, but had my fellow athletes and their coaches from Sabah who had been a tremendous help being my guides and assisting my movements there,” he said.

Wong, 30, who competed in the long jump category was diagnosed with Stargardt disease which deteriorated the retina making him lose most of his central vision while his peripheral vision remains sharp.

“I was eight years old when I could not see the pages of my piano book during a lesson. I also found out that it was hereditary even though my family members have never been afflicted,” he said.

Another Paralympian Nur Azlia Syafinaz, 23, a tandem cyclist at the Tokyo Games said it was her teachers who inspired her to take up the sport to prove to others that a blind person can do what an able-bodied person can do and strive to win.

Nur Azlia who has had congenital blindness since birth said she had learnt to live with her condition due to her early diagnosis and primary education at Sekolah Kebangsaan Pendidikan Khas Alma (SKPK) in Bukit Mertajam, Penang.

Despite a hiccup during her first match at Fuji International Speedway, Nur Azlia still described it as a very valuable experience.

“I was separated from the rest of the athletes since my training quarters was at Izu Velodrome which is about a three-hour journey from Tokyo because the tandem cycling match was always held at Fuji International Speedway.

“My overall experience there was wonderful. The IPC was very accommodating and I had my teammates and my coach there to help familiarise myself with the area,” she said.

Meanwhile, Anna Loo Soon Nyong, 51, a masseuse from The Blind Touch massage centre in Brickfields said she became visually impaired at 15 due to cortical blindness from meningitis that affected her spinal cord.

Anna considered herself lucky because after leaving school, she was awarded a scholarship to attend a one-year course in Computer Science and Information Technology (IT) at Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia in the United States in 1991, which enabled her to work as a bank telephonist for 10 years before resigning and found herself a new job as a masseuse.

Jacqueline Emmanuel, the Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB) Senior Manager of the Services Unit, on the other hand, called on all Malaysians to treat the visually impaired community as equals, saying that they too should be given more opportunities in the job market.

“The visually impaired persons are not a hindrance to the workforce,” said the woman who lost her vision during her late 20s due to retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic disorder that affects the retina cells ability to respond to light which leads to cloudy vision and in some cases, blindness.

“Part of my rehabilitation as a blind person was that I was taught how to use a computer specifically in screen reading and it has helped me a lot with work especially as well as daily living skills to cope with my blindness,” she added.

In conjunction with World Sight Day, MAB today distributed 300 food baskets to the visually impaired community living in areas around Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya to help them cope with the COVID-19 pandemic that has taken a toll on them financially.

According to the Department of Social Welfare statistics, there are 51,457 visually-impaired people registered nationwide this year.