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Intellectually impaired persons can deliver if given opportunities


Women at work: Yeong (standing) supervising Eleanor as she workson the Saori loom.

We are all guilty of it – we have, at leastonce in our lifetime, underestimated thecapabilities of the intellectually impaired.Some of us still do. But, given the chance,these people will amaze you with how theycan fit in the “normal” working world. 

Photos by AZAHAR MAHFOF, SAM THAM and T.K. LIM 

FILING documents in sequence leaves Eddy Koh in a bind, but the 31-year-old has an impeccable sense of direction, and despatches documents and passports to the various embassies and agencies punctually and efficiently – unsupervised.  

He remembers the different closing times for the banks around his office and always checks the banking slips for mistakes before dropping them off.  

Personnel at the banks, airlines and embassies know him by name and are extremely fond of him.  

He is downright honest, and loitering during working hours is a sacrilege for him.  

He hopes to continue his studies in Information Technology because “nowadays everything also IT mah...” 

Unimpressed? Think again, for Koh is intellectually impaired.  

Yeong: I knew I was a slowlearner when I couldn’t read orlearn as well as my friends inStandard One.

A high-functioning slow learner, Koh is a valued employee at World Discovery Travel (M) Sdn Bhd, and has worked there for seven years.  

“Eddy is very responsible and takes his work very seriously,” said Koh’s employer, managing director Inbam Solomon.  

“If he says he will be back in half an hour, he means it. He doesn’t take leave even when he is sick and we have had to force him to take leave when he was ill. He is resourceful, has tremendous initiative, and he is as good as or better than the “normal” despatch boys.” 

Said accounts manager Aida Ariffin: “We trust him 100%.” 

Entrusting the intellectually impaired to function independently in the working world where profit is all that matters, is rare; according them such high praise is rarer still.  

»It was hard forme to beconvinced to hireEddy, and thefirst year wasreallytough butI have noregrets« - INBAM SOLOMON

Meanwhile, Felicia Fang, 28, works as an office assistant at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Petaling Jaya.  

Her duties include minor computing, printing documents, answering calls, photocopying items and helping out with the church bulletin.  

Every Tuesday, when office manager Ruth Ann Rajaratnam is on leave, Fang takes charge of the office. 

She is confident, articulate; it is difficult to detect that Fang is intellectually impaired.  

However, she is not averse to sharing about her impairment. 

“I went to normal school in Kuala Terengganu until Standard Five, but couldn’t cope, so we moved to KL where I went back to Standard Three,” she said.  

“I didn’t mind; at least I understood my studies. But, by the time I was supposed to go to Form One, I was overaged,” said Fang, whose mother enrolled her into day training centres to prepare her for the working world.  

Yeo Swee Lan: United Voiceco-ordinator

Fang’s friend Wendy Yeong, 27, is just as open.  

“I knew I was a slow learner when I couldn’t read or learn as well as my friends in Standard One,” she said, adding that she “love to read books, but cannot”. 

Yeong was sent to special class in a regular school, but had difficulty adapting because “I was too good for special class, but not good enough for normal class. 

“I didn’t do well in my PMR exam, so I stopped studying and looked for a job. It’s OK, I am happy here.” 

As Employment Project assistant coordinator at United Voice (a self-advocacy society for the intellectually impaired), Yeong supervises the production and packaging of greeting cards, as well as Saori weaving done by UV members.  

These products are sold to the public as a way of earning their keep. 

She also gives speeches about UV as part of the society’s effort in giving its members a voice, and increasing public awareness on intellectual impairment. 

Her superior Yeo Swee Lan praises her as a hardworking employee.  

According to Selangor Social Welfare Department officer Eny Edayu Mat Ali, the intellectually impaired have a poorer chance of employment compared to the physically disabled.  

“Society gives them less credit than they deserve; these people, especially the high-functioning slow learners are able to do certain basic tasks in the office,” she said.  

All in a day’s work: Koh double checking the bankingslips before leaving the office and taking a bus to theEmirates Airline counter without any hiccups.

Solomon, Rajaratnam and Yeo are but a few who have embraced the intellectually challenged into working society. 

There have been challenges, but each claim that the experience has been rewarding.  

“It was hard for me to be convinced to hire Eddy, and the first year was really tough, but I have no regrets,” said Solomon. “It’s all about observation and patience, and learning to tap into what they are good at.”  

Related Story:Train them, don’t be overprotective 

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