“With the right tools and training, blind people can compete as equals with sighted peers.” — Haben Girma.
When Amanda Kong gets into a cab, guided by her white cane and wearing her dark sunglasses, drivers have spontaneously asked her if she was “a masseur”.
Visually impaired Amanda laughs at such stereotypes people have about the blind.
“At times, people ask my colleagues about me, instead of directly asking. Perhaps, they assume if I am blind, I am unable to hear or speak for myself,” she said.
Far from these misconceptions, Amanda has a first-class law degree from the University of Liverpool. Presently, she is an advocate for the rights of the differently abled and tries hard to create awareness to break stereotypical images as well as to help resolve the real issues of people with disabilities.
As the community development manager at the Make It Right Movement (MIRM). the CSR arm of the Brickfields Asia College (BAC). she has embarked on a journey to transform lives of others with disabilities. MIRIM has affiliations and partnerships with over 300 local national and international social entities.
More importantly, this vibrant, brilliant young lady has a positive vision. She knows her worth. The sky’s the limit for Amanda. She definitely knows how to turn perceived liabilities into strengths.
She also heads the Disability Working Group of the Bar Council Human Rights Committee, and assists in the redrafting of the People with Disabilities Act (2008) to improve existing policies and provisions.
“Law is a really good platform for visually impaired people like me, because we can use the law to push for our rights and work towards a just and inclusive society where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. After all, if we don’t help ourselves, who will?” she asked.
Technology can bridge the gap for people with disabilities.
Amanda has a smartphone and can text, email, access web pages and social media content. There is speech-to-text technology as well as built-in voice assistants like Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon’s Alexa.
People with disabilities should be able to share their problems to create both empathy and awareness. There is nothing more powerful than hearing an alternate viewpoint in order to learn about the experiences and challenges someone else faces.
“Equality is about treating everyone the same way, while equity is about recognising and supporting individuals’ challenges with appropriate resources and opportunities.
The glaring truth is that the differently-abled continue to face myriads of inequities in education, employment, health care and public facilities. They do not have the same level playing field as the world is designed for “‘”normal people”.
Policies should advocate for accessible physical and digital environments to remove physical barriers, offering assistive technologies and modify workspaces for those abled differently. Building design should include wide doors, ramps instead of steps and accessible restrooms.
In 2002. George Lane and Beverly Jones, who were disabled. and unable to access upper floors in Tennessee state courthouses, sued Tennessee in the federal district court for violating their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The case eventually reached the United States Supreme Court, where a ruling was delivered in 2004 that the ADA applied to state government entities and compelled the state of Tennessee to pay Lane and Jones damages for the harm they suffered due to the state’s failure to provide reasonable facilities.
The plaintiffs won the case, and Tennessee was found to have violated the ADA by failing to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled individuals.
Many people with disabilities at the workplace still do not have equal access to work opportunities as “normal people”. Having a good grasp of mobility and orientation skills enable the visually impaired to navigate and travel independently as they possibly can.
In the United States, Haben Girma, a blind and deaf black woman whose both parents were immigrants, made her way through various obstacles and became the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School and a disability rights advocate.
She wrote the book Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law, and developed a text-to-Braille communication system that created an exciting new way to connect with people.
Recognising her talents, President Obama dubbed her a White House Champion of Change. At the White House, Girma talked to the President one on one. While the President typed on a silver, wireless keyboard, Girma read the message on a digital Braille device. As of January 2023, Girma’s net worth is US$5 million.
Amanda’s standard line, when someone asks her what she is doing, is “Sitting in the dark”, said with her trademark quirky humour.
Amanda’s success story should be an inspiration to Malaysians, and not just those with disabilities. I do believe that she is fired enough to champion and bring to light problems faced by the differently abled so that they can live in a better world.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.