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International Day of People with Disabilities: How SOS Missions Malaysia are envisioning a new world for blind people

International Day of People with Disability

International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) is a UN day that is celebrated every year on 3 December. The day is about promoting the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities at every level of society and development and raising awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of political, social, economic, and cultural life.

We were lucky enough to have an insightful conversation with Stevens Chan, Founder, SOS Missions Malaysia, a nonprofit organization Promoting eye health programs through various programs like Climb for Sight, Journey of Sight, Run for Sight, Hunt for Sight, Race in the Dark, etc.

How SOS missions Malaysia is Malaysian Glaucoma Societywork is to create more awareness Glaucoma?

Stevens – About 14 years ago, I lost my eyesight due to glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. I never thought of becoming an activist or advocating for the people with disabilities in our nation or beyond. I started coming out of my darkness by an NGO which I started along with my wife called the Malaysian glaucoma society, which creates more awareness regarding disabled people.

I advocated for the rights of equalities to access in our nation by starting the guide dogs movement. I knew the way forward was not to depend on donations. So I started a social enterprise in collaboration with a partner from Germany to find the funds to sustain our work which includes providing education, jobs, and micro-business vocational skills for this community.

What challenges did your organization face during the pandemic last year, and how did you overcome them?

Stevens – Many of us were severely affected by the pandemic, and we had to close down our operations for close to two years. But at the same time, we saw an opportunity to reach out to even more people, especially online.

The computers and smart pone are now accessible to the blind people to use due to the availability accessible screen readers with voiceover. The challenge is not in frequent power disruptions in our nation but low connectivity in our rural areas and the lack of finance to purchase devices for their learning or earning online.

I believe technology will make a massive difference to the lives of the disabled community.

Any myths you’d like to bust in 2021?

Stevens – Not many people know that one out of seven people in the world is disabled. And, in a nutshell, one day all of us will be disabled. When you reach a certain age, you will be disabled in many ways.

Most people think disabled people are not capable, but that’s not true. I am just as capable, given the right circumstances and the environment to work. So rather than looking at the disability, we always advocate for that person’s potential and work around that.

We have empathy for others, and we accept any race, religion, or culture. I think it is accepted that we are all not perfect. We are all disabled, in a way, physically, emotionally, and mentally.

How can potential volunteers support SOS Missions Malaysia?

Stevens – The volunteers are always welcome at our place, and they are the foundation of our daily operations. I appreciate all their efforts in assisting disabled people to have a better lifestyle.

I would also like to say something to my disabled friends. First and foremost, you need to take away the baggage that you are a burden. You are just as capable. When people can see that confidence in your ability, they will naturally come and support you.

All we need is empathy, not sympathy. If I get an opportunity to speak to a donor, I would rather ask them to support our other social enterprise which promotes different kinds of services and products. And by supporting it, you are supporting the livelihood of many people.

Any message for people reading this right now?

Stevens – We should accept the beneficiaries, whoever we are serving, whether they are the disabled, poor, or needy. We need to accept and empathize with them. We should give them the empowerment they need and let them have the power to change. When you give them the power, that empathy, I believe we are making a big difference in their lives. Yeah, it’s easy to give money, but to support them by accepting them and looking at them as friends makes a huge difference.

Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a near or distance vision impairment. In at least 1 billion – or almost half – of these cases, vision impairment could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed. The numbers show us the stark reality between the lifestyles of people living in two different worlds. We need to bridge this gap by leveraging technology and embedding it deeply into our social lives.

Celebrate International Day of People with Disabilities with SOS Missions Malaysia and Goodera

Goodera empowers nonprofits such as Tender Grassroots. We help these organizations through brand advocacy, fundraising, and long-term volunteers.

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