Wheel Power

Published: Thursday October 2, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Friday October 3, 2014 MYT 11:48:02 AM

81-year-old lives life to the fullest despite her blindness

Annamah Sabaratnam’s life has been marked by a series of setbacks, but she remains undaunted.

The United Nations International Day Of Older Persons is observed annually on Oct 1. The special day is aimed at drawing attention to the rights and needs of the growing number of senior persons around the world.

Recently, I was introduced to Annamah Sabaratnam, 81. She is a timely subject for my column, and her story is an inspiring example of how we can age gracefully, despite living with a disability.

Annamah was born in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan. She has been a homemaker for most of her married life, except for a nine-month stint as a teacher. The start of the 1980s had been particularly cruel to Annamah. She lost her husband to an illness. The unflinching support of her son and daughter helped her through this difficult period.

Trouble struck again in 1984. Annamah had a severe attack of shingles. Then in 1989, what was meant to be a straightforward operation for glaucoma in Annamah’s left eye turned into a nightmare when she developed complications. Another three operations still failed to save her eye.

“Though I was devastated by blindness in one eye, I refused to give up,” says Annamah. “I decided to take it in my stride, just like how I adapted to my hearing aid when I started wearing one at the age of 32.”

However, Annamah says these were only “minor storms” in her life compared to the “tsunami” that was awaiting her. In August 2010, her good eye also started giving problems. Eye experts cautioned that she would gradually lose her eyesight, and there was nothing they could do to stop it.

“I was trembling in fear after I left the doctor’s clinic. I was going blind and there was nothing my children or I could do to stop it,” Annamah recalls. “I bawled uncontrollably in the privacy of my room. After I regained my composure, I decided to focus my attention on my family. I needed to be strong for them I told myself, and asked God for guidance through my journey of disability." 

That was the turning point in Annamah’s life. She rearranged things around the house, so that she could move around independently without help. Annamah learnt to use the TV remote control without the help of the little sight that she had left. 

She also experimented with a pair of binoculars to read the programme information on the TV screen, after her deteriorating eyesight made it impossible for her to figure things out. After the binoculars, she tried goggles.

Today, however, none of them work for her anymore. Annamah uses her hearing to tell which channel and show she is watching. To tell the time, she dials up Telekom Malaysia’s time announcing service, or places her palm gently on the face of a wall clock with no glass cover or second hand. Annamah has also mastered how to use the video player, transistor radio, and CD/cassette player. 

Her friends’ contacts are listed in a file in her computer. To use the computer, she uses a computer screen reader programme called JAWS. As she types the letters on the keyboard, “Mr JAWS” would read everything aloud. Her text is then copied into a pen drive and passed on to her son or daughter-in-law, who then e-mails it to her friends.

Annamah uses a cane to move around freely in her house. She has a maid to assist her, too.

“In spite of all that I’ve gone through, I remain a happy person. As they say, smile and the world will smile with you. Be a grouch and soon the world will leave you alone. Life is as good as you make it!” says Annamah.

Tags / Keywords: anthony thanasayan, telekom

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