Taking control of their destiny

At The Bassment cafe are barista Michael (left), cook Jason (right) and Oscar, who takes care of operations.

WHO would have thought that two of the co-owners of The Bassment, a cafe in Taman Rasa Sayang, Petaling Jaya, known for its live music performances and events, were hearing impaired?

Not many. Until an e-hailing app decided to run a promotional campaign this month in conjunction with International Week of the Deaf, in support of merchant partners who are persons with disabilities.

Describing the campaign as a boost to their enterprise, twins Michael and Jason Lim, 31, who hailed from Kelantan, revealed that before this, they each held several jobs after graduating from a batik printing course at a vocational school in Shah Alam.

They lost their hearing in childhood after suffering from high fever, and in 2008, had moved to Kuala Lumpur. Cochlear implants done in 2011 helped them regain partial hearing.

The brothers had stints working as spectacle lens grinder, salesman and e-hailing driver.

Armed with these diverse work experiences, they teamed up with younger brother, Oscar, 28, to buy The Bassment in 2019.

“Our family business is in the optical industry, but it is the cafe business that appeals to my brothers the most,” said Oscar.

Having worked for a year and a half as a barista earlier, Michael is put in charge of the bar while Jason ovesees the kitchen because he likes to cook. Oscar assists in daily operations and business development.

Besides the challenge of achieving a monthly sales target of RM30,000, they said not everyone was patient when dealing with the hearing-impaired.

“Though Michael and Jason can partially hear as well as read lips, one has to speak to them slowly,” said Oscar.

The twins are able to articulate their thoughts well but listeners need some time to make out what they are saying. Nonetheless, barista Michael remains popular with customers.

Together, the Lim brothers came up with the cafe’s signature dishes such as extra large fish and chips, and salted egg yolk chicken chop.Chan places importance on training, practical experience and technology in enabling the disabled, especially the blind, to find better employment opportunities.Chan places importance on training, practical experience and technology in enabling the disabled, especially the blind, to find better employment opportunities.

“Sometimes we have had to stop incoming orders during peak hours because we cannot cope with the volume,” added Oscar.

Opportunities for the blind

One of the 10 winners in the 2019 Star Golden Hearts Award, Stevens Chan, 59, is founder of Dialogue in the Dark. This social enterprise creates jobs for the disabled.

He has strong opinions when it comes to job opportunities for the vision-impaired.

“They are capable, but not all organisations are willing to hire them,” said Chan who became blind in 2007 from glaucoma.

“One reason is the need for adaptations to be made within the physical working environment.

“For example, having ramps instead of stairs, disabled-friendly restrooms, seating, space and braille to be widely used in printed work-related documents.

“Not every organisation has the knowledge or is prepared to go to such lengths,” said Chan.

Another factor lies in the disabled individual, he said.

“People with disabilities must train to communicate and interact with the outside world, without which, they will not be able to cultivate self-confidence which is the first step towards self-empowerment,” he added.

Among those trained are Dialogue employees Pang Chee Chun, 28, and Mohd Shafiri Jusoh, 37, who work as guides for the Dark Room Tour, where the sighted get to experience what it is like to be blind for 45 minutes to an hour.Dialogue in the Dark employees Shafiri (left) and Pang are the visually impaired guides for the Dark Room Tour.Dialogue in the Dark employees Shafiri (left) and Pang are the visually impaired guides for the Dark Room Tour.

Pang and Shafiri, both blind, have guided tourists from over 40 countries into Dialogue’s dark room for the past six years.

“Training has made it possible. It is not easy for Pang, especially, as he has to walk backwards the whole time, or when he has to deal with a seven-year-old who may not heed him,” said Chan.

The formation of Dialogue in the Dark opened job opportunities for the vision-impaired when it was founded in 2012 with an all-blind team of one full-time staff and five part-timers.

Wheelchair-bound Kanesan Visvanathan, 29, works at the Dialogue in the Dark cafe. He serves coffee and briefs visitors on the dark tour.

The social enterprise also has a call centre operated by the blind, in addition to conducting workshops and themed events.

Of late, a cloud kitchen was started to create jobs for the blind, deaf and the autistic.

Practical experience, such as the ability to take the LRT to work, is a core component in enabling the blind to lead independent lives, said Chan, highlighting that technology had helped to create more opportunities.

“Features such as voice activation have allowed the blind to manage their daily lives.

“A friend, who was also blind, introduced me to technology in 2008. I also took a computer course at the Malaysian Association for the Blind.Kanesan serves coffee and briefs visitors on the Dark Room Tour.Kanesan serves coffee and briefs visitors on the Dark Room Tour.

“This was what enabled me to discover Dialogue in the Dark in Germany,” he added.

With the help of several philanthropists, he invested RM250,000 to secure the intellectual property licensing for Malaysia.

Now that the National Recovery Plan is in motion, Chan’s goal for Dialogue in the Dark is to yield more educated, equipped and empowered disabled folk by providing quality education access through technology.

As such, he is raising funds for his advocacy and entrepreneurial plans.

Leg lost, confidence nurtured

Those who have been attended to at the Pos Laju parcel collection window at the Merlimau Post Office in Jalan Batu Gajah, Melaka, in the past two years might have seen Khairul Zamry Zulkeppiliy.

Good-looking and courteous, not many would have known that the 36-year-old has only one leg.

“I lost my left leg in an accident in 2014. A car side-swiped my bike and caused me to hit a roadside divider. The impact severed my left leg from the knee down,” said the former postman, who is a father of two children aged three and nine.

Khairul, who used to be a semi-professional footballer for Pos Malaysia playing as centreback and leftback, now no longer delivers post. He rides a scooter to work.

When asked about his day-to-day challenges, he said it was to maintain a steady composure when it came to irate customers.

Another is the anxiety that came with being the coach of two football teams.

“I went back to the field a week after I was discharged from the hospital. I missed the smell of grass,” said Khairul, who has 25 players under his wing now.

Two of them are playing for the junior league. His most fervent hope is for these two players to be able to advance to state level one day.

Khairul faced his loss head-on, right from the day he left the hospital.

“I asked my brother to take me to a shopping centre.

Khairul, who lost a leg in an accident, coaches two football teams and is back working at the post office while running an online business.Khairul, who lost a leg in an accident, coaches two football teams and is back working at the post office while running an online business.

“I wanted to learn how to face the public as an amputee,” he said.

Swamped with visitors after news of his accident went viral, one in particular was instrumental in inspiring Khairul.

That person had also lost his leg from the thigh down but his gait was so steady, Khairul had not been aware of the missing limb until the man showed his prosthetic leg.

“That was when I thought, if he could walk so confidently, I could too.”

It took a year before Khairul was fitted with a prosthetic leg.

In the nine months he was on medical leave, he attended physiotherapy sessions at the Socso Rehabilitation Centre in Durian Tunggal, Melaka, learning how to balance, climb stairs and do other activities with a temporary artificial limb.

He also bought a mountain bike and enrolled in a gym.

He remembers most the moment when he was able to throw away his crutches and balance only with the help of his artificial limb. This had happened on a football field while he was coaching one of his players.

“When I was finally able to walk comfortably with my artificial limb, it was an achievement,” he said, adding that his ordeal helped shape his character.

“I seem to be able to do things that I was not able to do before.

“I can now face crowds, which I could not before the accident. The second prize I got at the ‘All Star Pos’ singing contest is proof of this.

“My fortunes are also better as my part-time businesses in betta fish rearing and an online shop have also improved,” said Khairul.

Mobility for the paralysed

When a hit-and-run incident broke Mohd Afiq Barni’s spine in three places in 2013, leaving him paralysed from the waist down, the first thing that caught his imagination was how many disabled persons overseas have achieved mobile independence.

“During my rehabilitation sessions, other spinal injury patients often brought up the subject of mobility.

“Many confessed to missing the independence that came with being able to go places by themselves,” said Mohd Afiq, 32.

These conversations prompted him to research about modifications to cars for people with disabilities.

“While looking at equivalent comparisons in the local market, I realised there was still a very big gap here. For one, not only were most of the modifications crude, they were also unsafe,” he said.

By 2015, he had successfully designed, made and obtained approval from the Road Transport Department for a hand-drive controller for his first customer, also a spinal injury patient.

This paved the way for the opening of Double A Project Enterprise (DAPE) with his business partner Hairul Anuar Abu Bakar, who is also a paraplegic, in Kota Tinggi, Johor.

Mohd Afiq started his own business selling specially made vehicles for the disabled. He will soon open a shop to sell his rehabilitation equipment.Mohd Afiq started his own business selling specially made vehicles for the disabled. He will soon open a shop to sell his rehabilitation equipment.

Mohd Afiq said charges for installation varied according to customer location and make of car, starting from RM1,600.

He had been known to drive from Johor to Selangor and back again on the same day to serve his customers.

“I have learnt to control my breathing and relax my mind during the long drives,” he said.

In 2018, Mohd Afiq and his wife started Sure Able — an online business selling rehabilitation equipment and support tools for self-reliance.

“This idea was, again, from my customers who said that while they were able to experience a degree of freedom from being able to drive, they could not do without a helper to load and unload the wheelchair.

“Would I be able to provide lighter alternatives so they can haul their wheelchair into the car by themselves?

“So, I took a short course which touched on trading with manufacturers in China. I found products, such as lightweight foldable wheelchairs, at affordable prices,” he said.

Today, Mohd Afiq earns up to RM26,000 a month.

He will open a physical shop to sell his rehabilitation equipment in Kota Tinggi by the end of this year. He is also looking for investors to expand his vehicle modification business.

Currently, he is testing his modified bicycle model that he hopes to market soon.

“I was dealing with depression early on, even suicidal thoughts. But my experience in the Territorial Army for three years brought out the warrior in me,” he said.

Mohd Afiq, who has a diploma in graphic design, was with the marketing division of an engineering-based infrastructure and services company at the time of his accident.

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