By Fatimah Zainal
Published October 2, 2019 on The Star
Source URL: The Star Online
KUALA LUMPUR: It’s like doing a bungee jump that never stops.
That was how social worker, activist and social entrepreneur Stevens Chan described going blind at the age of 45, just five years after first being diagnosed with glaucoma.
Chan, who was once a businessman, found himself plunged into a world of darkness after losing his vision in 2007 despite undergoing nine surgeries since his 2002 diagnosis.
“I was not prepared for it. I never thought I’d lose my eyesight. It was like the end of the world for me.
“However, how you climb back up is a choice. You have to choose whether you want to be a burden or a blessing,” said Chan, who is now 57.
Determined to prevent others from having to go through the same experience, he founded the Malaysia Glaucoma Society in 2009 and another non-profit organisation in 2011 called Save Ones Sight Missions Bhd.
In a bid to continue raising awareness, Chan started joining conferences and events.
It was at one of those conferences that he first came upon the concept of Dialogue in the Dark.
Dialogue in the Dark started as an organisation in Germany in 1989. It has since grown internationally but had no presence in Malaysia until Chan set it up in 2012.
Now located at The Weld in Kuala Lumpur, Dialogue in the Dark Malaysia is an experiential tour where visitors are led by blind guides in groups through specially constructed dark rooms.
The tour, which takes between 45 minutes and an hour, enables visitors to have the experience of going to a park and a market, crossing the road and having a drink at a stall, as a visually impaired person.
Chan started the initiative to empower the visually impaired and provide the disabled community with job opportunities and training via various programmes that he also runs at the venue.
“I often stand at the exit door. For many people, after they come out of the tour, they have a new appreciation for their eyesight and those who are less able than them,” he said.
Chan recounted one incident several years back when one of the guides, who was waiting at a bus stop, was approached by a man who had taken the tour with his girlfriend.
“The man held the guide and thanked him because after the tour, the man learned that his girlfriend had secretly thought of taking her own life once. But she never gave suicide another thought after taking that tour.
“To me, it’s very impactful how this short experience can change the mindset of a young person to not only think of their problems, but also be inspired by how others who are less fortunate strive to earn a dignified living,” he added.
Chan also runs an academy at the venue which trains the visually impaired and other persons with disabilities (PWDs) on urban farming, aromatherapy, telemarketing and virtual tuition, among others.
“Dialogue in the Dark Malaysia also enables us to sustain our community and social work because through it, we run tours, events and corporate training programmes.
“We plough the profit we earn back to the academy,” he said, adding that plans to rebrand the academy were in the pipeline.
“We hope to rebrand ourselves as the Dialogue Includes Academy, an institution that aims to empower more youth and children,” Chan added.
Besides wanting more support from corporations to engage with the visually impaired, one of Chan’s biggest hopes is to see the government living up to its commitment of having PWDs fill up one per cent of the civil service workforce.
“There is a lack of awareness of how to work with PWDs, but all that is needed is training,” he said.
For his efforts, Chan is recognised as one of the 10 winners of Star Golden Hearts Award 2019, an annual award that celebrates Malaysian unsung heroes.