ONCE in a while, I meet people who roll up their sleeves and take charge when hit by challenges in their life, like 38-year-old author S. Jeyaraj. I read his book, Guidance For Wheelchair Bound, which came out a year ago.
I’d heard about Jeyaraj before, and was intrigued as to why he came up with the book, which aims to give wheelchair users useful tips and tricks to help them live independent lives.
Jeyaraj said he got the inspiration in 2006 after he was paralysed from the waist down due to an industrial accident in Singapore, which affected him and his family.
“They trained me very well in Singapore at the Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s rehabilitation centre. Every Saturday, we had half-day group discussions with all the patients, and I thought I would go through similar training when I returned to Malaysia.
“When I returned, I began to learn about my rights as a person with a disability, and from this I started to teach people with disabilities,” said Jeyaraj.
He found that the training in Malaysia was not of the same level as that in Singapore, which is one of the reasons why he wrote his book. He wanted to share what he had learned with those who might be in a similar situation as him.
“I thought that if I wrote a book, what I had learned could be shared with everyone instead of teaching people one-on-one,” said Jeyaraj.
“It could help raise awareness about what people with disabilities face. It took me two days to take all the 200-plus photos in the book, with the help of my friend and a mobile phone camera. He took the pictures, and I wrote the steps.”
The book is a comprehensive guide to the situations that a wheelchair user can face on a daily basis, such as how to get in and out of cars or transfer from a bed to a wheelchair without external aids.
Jeyaraj added that he had an additional goal in mind when writing the book, which was published last year as a community empowerment project by the Society of St Vincent de Paul Selangor.
“My other aim was for other people with disabilities to also speak up about their experiences and generate more awareness. We all have ideas and thoughts, but many don’t know where to start. Some need a needle to prick them into action,” said Jeyaraj.
He shared with me that their message doesn’t have to be in the form of a book, as they could speak up online or through other media, aside from writing books.
“The main point is that a message must be delivered,” said Jeyaraj, who also sells pens outside banks in the Klang Valley.
Jeyaraj said that the main challenges came from the attitudes of people – such as policymakers – towards wheelchair users and other Malaysians with disabilities.
“Some of the policymakers do not get out of their offices or cars. It is their staff who do the legwork. They should get down and feel the physical challenges first-hand, and then they will know. Those who are in charge of ensuring that facilities and amenities are accessible to people with disabilities – such as wheelchair users like me – should go to the ground more and work hands-on with us,” said Jeyaraj.
He echoed points he raised in his book, such as his call for people to look beyond the disability or disabilities that a person lives with and see them as people with unique traits.
“Does he have a great sense of humour? Does she have artistic skills? Relax, smile and be open-minded,” said Jeyaraj.
Jeyaraj also raised another point that I think we all could agree with, and that is to approach a person with a disability in the same way we would approach any other person.
“Make eye contact when speaking. Speak in a normal voice and don’t be condescending. If a person has mental challenges, please be patient and take the time to try and understand what he or she is trying to say.
“Basically, don’t treat us with sympathy and use that as a reason for giving us special treatment. If you want to give us special treatment, don’t do it because you want to get a good name for yourself on social media. Please be genuine,” said Jeyaraj.
With that said, I do hope that we can try to have some patience and empathy when we meet those who are different from us. We just might learn something new, both about other people and ourselves.
Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Senior writer Tan Yi Liang’s In Your Face aims to prove that people have more positive power in their hands than they realise, and to challenge them. He can be reached at email@example.com.