By the Blind for the Blind

09 April 2018

Society of the Blind in Malaysia are helping the blind and visually impaired become self-sustainable through entrepreneurship.

For the past 53 years, Society of the Blind in Malaysia (SBM) has been at the forefront of the struggles of the local blind community. Currently, the society has branches in each state of the country, as well as over 5,000 members who are visually impaired.

“What differentiates us from other organisations that focus on the blind is that our members and decision makers are from the blind community themselves,” says Haji Mohammed Nazari Haji Othman, the President of SBM. Because of this, no one understands the blind better than SBM.

President of Society of the Blind in Malaysia (SBM), Haji Mohammed Nazari Haji Othman. 

According to Haji Nazari, better known by members as Tuan Haji, the biggest problem the blind community is facing at the moment is competing in an already shrinking job market, with the added hurdles of prejudice and discrimination.

This is where SBM comes in. One of the society’s major initiatives is teaching members various skills to become self-sustainable through entrepreneurship, which eliminates the need to compete in an unfair job market. As such, a common skillset emphasised by SBM is massage therapy. Haji Nazari believes the blind have a natural “sixth sense” in relieving muscle aches and pain through massage.

“The touch of a blind person can be miraculous,” he says. “When God takes away your vision, he gives you the gift of touch.”

SBM frequently carries out seminars to train the blind community to make use of various technologies.

All around the country, massage and reflexology centres run by the visually impaired are known for their affordable but effective services. In Brickfields where SBM’s headquarters are based, reputable centres like PB Blind Massage and Shujin Therapy Zone have even become local attractions in the area, pulling in the odd tourist and a steady stream of loyal customers.

“The massage industry is helpful to the blind because it can help you sustain yourself and you can practically do it anywhere,” says Isak Ngau, a member of SBM Sarawak since the age of 17 when he lost his sight. He first learned massage therapy at the Malaysian Association of the Blind’s (MAB) training centre in Brickfields.

A participant tests out gadgets at a recent ICT seminar held by SBM and National Council for the Blind Malaysia (NCBM), an umbrella body comprising five main organisations for the blind.

Today, the 40-year-old trains other interested SBM Sarawak members in massage therapy and reflexology. Isak says the basic massage courses are usually short-term, but members can opt to continue to more advanced classes if they wish to pursue the field further.

“[Learning massage therapy] is particularly helpful to the blind in Sarawak,” he adds. “Mereka urut di kampung pun dapat duit [they can give massages in their village and earn money].”

SBM’s massage therapy training is even recognised by the Malaysian government; those who undergo it are entitled to the Malaysian Skills Certificate upon completion, which would qualify them to practice professionally. According to Isak, SBM in Sarawak has given training to over 100 massage therapists and many of them have even set up their own parlours locally.

Chairman of SBM’s Human Capital Development Committee, Dr Wong Huey Siew. Part of the committee’s focus is on education programmes for the blind, such as in Braille literacy and language skills.

While massage therapy training remains a key focus, this year SBM is upping its game by getting members up to speed with technology. Computers and smartphones are digital age staples, and to ensure the blind don’t get left behind, there are classes to familiarise them with computer, smartphone and internet use. Besides training, the society also does plenty of advocacy work such as public awareness campaigns and engaging with policy makers.

One of the gadgets on display at the ICT seminar. Targeted to those who suffer from mild to medium-severe low vision, this gadget magnifies texts for the user.

For Isak, SBM has been instrumental in giving the blind a place in society. “Back then I couldn’t pursue my studies because I suddenly wasn’t able to see, and there weren’t any special schools at the time,” he recalls. “After I joined SBM, I made friends and realised my full potential – I felt like my future was secured.”

Learn more about Society of the Blind in Malaysia at sbm.org.my.

By Eijas Ariffin

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