My life has come full circle
by Peter Tan. Posted on September 21, 2013, Saturday
IT is difficult for disabled persons to be gainfully employed due to multiple factors. Inaccessibility in the built environment and public transport is a major hindrance. The lack of academic qualifications, skills and support services are the other issues contributing to the low employment rate in the public and private sectors.
Many have to resort to working from home of which opportunities are hard to come by. This was the dilemma I was faced with when I wanted to move on after the accident. What could I do with a less than average Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia result and severe physical impairments that required the support of a carer?
With too much time in hand, I read voraciously. From Reader’s Digest to Asiaweek and Time, I read every issue as soon as the postman delivered them in addition to the newspaper and other periodicals. I must have read more then than I read all the years I was in school.
Having read so much, it was a natural progression for me to try my hand at writing. I submitted manuscript after manuscript, mostly to a weekly tabloid that is now defunct. Imagine my elation when one of the articles finally got published, never mind that I was paid a pittance of RM5 for the effort.
The excitement of seeing my name in print wore off and I wised-up after another few months of slogging at it, realising that what I was earning could not even cover the expenses for stationery and postage, let alone the romantic idea of earning a meaningful living as a writer. But that did not stop me from continuing to read like I did before.
An advertisement in the newspaper offering fast print franchises gave me the idea to provide photocopying services from home. With a RM3,000 loan from my mother, I bought a reconditioned photocopy machine. She also helped me with the more arduous tasks of sorting and book binding.
Friends were supportive in providing business and referrals. I repaid the loan after only three months of operation. In fact, business was so good that I got another two machines to cope with the demand. It was labour-intensive. I could not manage without my mother’s assistance. I sought an enterprise that I could do more independently.
With the profit from the photocopying business, I bought a computer and laser printer to offer typesetting services as well. It was not easy in the beginning as I had to learn to use the typesetting program all by myself. Again, friends supported the endeavour by engaging my services and referred their friends to me. At one time, I worked exclusively for an educational book publisher who gave me more business than I could manage.
All that came to an end when I moved into an apartment from the single storey house that I had been living in and running the business from. I had to sell off the photocopying machines and cease the typesetting service as well. That was 10 years of blood, sweat and tears there. It was heart-rending but necessary. My mother and I were finally moving to a place we could finally call home.
My finances were a little tight with the loss of income. I had to spend more prudently and think twice before buying an item. We were surviving on my late-father’s pension. It did not amount to much but we were contented with what we had.
Then came the era of blogging. I started a blog called ‘The Digital Awakening’ to chronicle my life, thoughts and opinions. I began writing again and enjoyed it, especially the camaraderie with other bloggers. Although I did not begin with the intention of profiting financially from blogging, the thought of earning by putting up advertisements on my blog was appealing.
In its heyday, I could earn up to US$200 per month by just placing 10 links on the sidebar of my blog. That was a lot of money for not doing much except to write about my life, something that I was already doing anyway. The extra money came in handy. It allowed me to travel more often from Penang to be with my girlfriend in Kuala Lumpur. The easy income gradually fizzled out when I began to blog less frequently due to my increasing involvement in conducting Disability Equality Training (DET) workshops and writing for this column.
In the United Kingdom where DET originated, trainers are considered professionals in their own right and charge rates that commensurate with similar mainstream training. They have their own companies to exclusively provide DET to private establishments and organisations wishing to make their environment and services inclusive.
Up till recently, trainers in Malaysia were usually paid an honorarium for conducting such workshops. One of the development plans for DET in this country is to elevate it to a status similar to that in the United Kingdom. This has been on the drawing board for a couple of years as we explored the pros and cons of the initiative.
After much thought and deliberation, I decided to set up a company dedicated to providing DET in line with the development plan. Incidentally, the Companies Commission of Malaysia rolled out an incentive that waived registration and renewal fees for disabled persons holding the OKU card. I registered a sole proprietorship for this purpose three weeks ago free of charge.
I am confident that DET can effect change in making society accessible and inclusive. I foresee that one day in the near future, disabled persons in Malaysia will be able to move freely and unimpeded in the built environment and public transport system to get an education and become gainfully employed, and realise full participation in society. I am making this my life’s mission because I believe disabled persons deserve to be treated equally and with respect and dignity.
I have finally found my calling.
Comments can reach the writer via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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A friend like no other
by Peter Tan. Posted on September 14, 2013, Saturday
SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP: Peter and Jenny during their recent meeting.
THE first time I met Jenny Tan, I was garbed in a white hospital-style cotton blouse and sarong although I was already discharged from the hospital a few months earlier. I was referred to her for physiotherapy.
My mother had made the blouse because it was easier to put it on me that way. I was still very much bedridden then. Needless to say, that first impression got stuck in Jenny’s mind since that fateful day 28 years ago. She would always refer to me as a cotton wool child whenever we reminisced about that day.
After that first meeting, Jenny worked with me on my rehabilitation for the next five years. She pushed me to my limits and made me exercise harder than I ever knew I possibly could. She made me stand. She made me walk with a pair of crutches while she and her assistant propped me up. I must have been the patient that she spent the most effort and time on.
There was a period when I would feign a headache and exhaustion to skip physiotherapy. I dreaded those sessions. She would ask me if I exercised at home and I would stupidly admit that I did not which would result in a ticking-off from her.
I caught up with her on my trip back to Penang recently. We exchanged stories about ourselves over a scrumptious spread of Hainanese cuisine. It is difficult to find food with such authentic flavours where I am based now and she was more than happy to indulge my cravings for it.
Over a cup of latte after dinner, I asked her a question I had been meaning to ask for a long time.
“You knew from the beginning that the prognosis was bad, that there was very little chance of me ever walking again. Why did you push me that hard anyway?”
“We have seen miracles happen. There have been cases of recovery,” she began without needing to ponder over it.
“I had to push you to the maximum. I had to give you a chance. You were living on hopes and miracles. You were doing all those exercises with the hope of recovering.”
I told her that I eventually realised that no amount of intensive rehabilitation could make me walk again and that I accepted it. Still, I saw myself as helpless for not being able to walk.
I was too engrossed in recovering fully to acknowledge the improvement to my condition but she rightfully pointed out one fact that I could not deny.
“By the time you accepted the condition, you had already gotten stronger. You had already maximised what you had left. Anyway, it still was rehabilitation or else you would not even be driving a car now.”
I am forever grateful to her for playing an integral part in my rehabilitation and recovery during those early years. I would not have known how much I could achieve had she not relentlessly pushed me to my limits and beyond. It was she who first unravelled the confusion in my life after the accident.
“Things happen for a reason,” she rationalised while we were chatting about my condition one day.
“You could have died or your life could have turned out for the worse.”
Those words could not be truer. It took me a while to comprehend what they meant though. I could have met with a more serious mishap or died doing the silly and dangerous things I was doing then.
The tragedy slowed me down and made me see the world with a different outlook. I have learnt to be thankful for little blessings.
In some strange ways, this twist of fate made me a better person by allowing me to appreciate the people around me more.
Jenny is more than a physiotherapist to me. Our relationship gradually evolved over the years. Long after I stopped going to her for rehabilitation, she would drop by the house occasionally to check on me. She became a good family friend.
She has seen me through some rough patches. She was always there to lend a hand whenever I needed it.
During the final weeks of my mother’s illness, when everything was topsy turvy, she was a constant source of support and consolation.
Jenny started her career in government general hospitals in Perlis and Penang. She then served in two private hospitals and now runs her own private practice.
Some of her existing patients are from as far back as her stints in the general hospitals. That is how much confidence they have in her.
Her success as a physiotherapist is also reflected in the list of her patients which include former Chief Ministers and illustrious personalities in Malaysian society. This, she said, has put her life in a better perspective.
Jenny’s zest for life has always been infectious. Being around her has never failed to give me a positive buzz. It was no different this time.
It is not even far-fetched to say that she does not seem to have aged. She is still as energetic now as she was on the first day we met. Her secret to that perhaps was in what she shared in between sips of coffee.
“You cannot take any job in the medical profession lightly. You have to like people and genuinely enjoy making people happy and comfortable. I love people and take life as an ongoing experience so I can relate to it as I move along.”
She truly loves her job and cares for the patients under her care. I can attest to that. That is also the reason her patients keep going back to her whenever they need treatment. To those of us who have been touched by her, she is God-sent.
Before we parted ways after a wonderful evening of delicious food and rekindling of old friendship, we promised to catch up again the next time I am in Penang. That was a fruitful trip indeed.
Comments can reach the writer via email@example.com.
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Promoting inclusion through positive imagery – Breaking Barriers – The Borneo Post – 7 September, 2013
Promoting inclusion through positive imagery
by Peter Tan. Posted on September 7, 2013, Saturday
INCLUSIVE IMAGERY: Davis and Forrester are seen on an airboat in the Florida Everglades.
THERE was never a time when the world was as inundated with so many cameras as it is now. It is very common to see people whipping out their digital single-lens reflex, phone or tablet cameras to capture images in public places nowadays.
From delicious food to scenes of catastrophic disasters, the use of still images and videos in the mass and social media has put us on-the-scene in the comfort of our living rooms and workstations.
This easy availability of images on every possible subject has changed the way we view the world. They are without a doubt powerful tools to tell stories that can tug at the heartstrings, sway opinions or simply entertain.
The popularity of digital cameras and the Internet has spawned an industry where professional and hobbyist photographers alike can put up their photographs for sale on a profit sharing basis through online stock photography agencies. Some photographers are into it full-time and earn their living solely by selling images this way.
Major agencies like Getty Images, Shutterstock and Fotolia offer millions of photographs, illustrations and other forms of images. These can be licensed for commercial use in newspapers, magazines, books, websites and virtually any other medium of creativity.
A new player in the stock photography industry is PhotoAbility. It was established in 2011 by Bill Forrester and Deborah Davis. They are also co-founders of TravAbility — an enterprise dedicated to promoting inclusive tourism, and PushLiving — a disability-related online lifestyle magazine.
Forrester is a successful travel business owner, inclusive tourism consultant and photographer. He lives in Melbourne, Australia. Davis is an experienced sales and marketing professional and a wheelchair user since the age of 18 due to a car accident. She travels extensively and is based in Miami, USA.
They run the stock photography agency full-time from their respective locations. They are assisted by consultants who manage the website, digital strategy and execution, search engine optimisation, stock photography, as well as public relations and marketing.
PhotoAbility is unique in the sense that it specialises exclusively in inclusive imagery. These are stock photographs of disabled persons and their assistive devices in various settings such as leisure, sports and tourism related activities. Illustrations and videos are also accepted if they fulfil the criteria.
The library currently has about 1,700 images submitted by over 100 active contributing members comprising professional photographers and hobbyists. On the other side, the customers are advertising agencies, direct marketing and graphic design agencies, corporations and publishers, among others.
Forrester explained that many agencies and businesses around the world do not have the time or resources to take their own quality photographs for their media and advertising activities.
“This is where the photos in the stock image library come into play. There is a large selection of images to cater to a variety of situations and needs, and avoid the expenses and time of custom photo shoots,” he added.
Contributors can earn up to 45 per cent on images priced from US$20 (RM66) for a royalty-free license to US$2,500 (RM8,250) for a rights-managed license used in a multi-national campaign. Comparatively, PhotoAbility pays higher, if not the highest, commission among the stock photography agencies.
To Forrester and Davis, PhotoAbility is as much a business concern as it is an avenue to showcase and depict the active lifestyle of disabled persons positively. The images are poised to change the perception and motivate society to break social, structural and professional barriers.
The stock photography library features only models who are disabled. This opens up opportunities for those who may otherwise not get to model professionally and be remunerated fairly for it. At the same time, photographers are encouraged to take a more inclusive view of the models and widen their perspectives on
the type of activities that disabled persons undertake.
According to Davis, “Once we are represented by a true and complete reality of our lives; going on dates, enjoying activities and recreational facilities with our families, on the job, on vacation, participating in sports, going shopping, enjoying a glass of wine, a good restaurant, and all the good things life has to offer, it will be understood and accepted that we should be provided accommodations and consideration that recognises how valuable our contribution really is to all these industries.”
On their vision for PhotoAbility, they want the agency to be a valuable go-to source for inclusive imagery worldwide. They want to provide recognition for their models that will lead to revenue and increased opportunities.
“We want to continue building a library of high-quality images, and educate and inspire the advertising and design community to use, create and communicate with inclusive imagery,” Forrester said of their plans for the agency.
PhotoAbility will be officially launched this month. While the pre-launch period was focused on a limited market and for the purpose of seeding the library, the post-launch will see the growing of the purchasing customer base. The agency will also be embarking on a marketing plan to ramp up sales next year.
Never one to rest on their laurels, they are also planning a TravAbility Properties website that will provide a resource for sale, rental, lease or swap of accessible properties around the world.
Forrester offered the following advice to other disabled persons and those working on disability issues, “We need to collaborate and work together. We must support each other and disabled entrepreneurs as much as possible. Let us unite as a group for the betterment of all.”
Disabled persons and those who are interested in becoming contributors or purchasers of inclusive images can visit the website at www.photoability.net.