More special incentives for the blind, please

The visually impaired are urging the govt to classify them into different categories according to their needs

by AZALEA AZUAR/ pic by BERNAMA

THE blind and visually impaired are appealing for more incentives from the government as their businesses, such as reflexology and massage centres, are among the worst hit due to the Movement Control Order (MCO).

Nagaraja Sinniah, who runs a reflexology centre in Taman Chi Liung, Klang, respected the decision of the government to shut down all reflexology outlets during the MCO.

However, he has expressed his disappointment on how the blind were treated during the period.

“Since this MCO happened to our country, of course, we respect the decision of the government to shut down all the outlets, but very little incentive has been given (to us) by the government,” said Nagaraja.

He was saddened that the government had classified the blind into one category.

“Normally for a disabled person who’s earning RM1,200, the government would give them RM400. But the government thinks everybody is like that even the blind, which is classified into one category. The government failed to consider those of us who are running a shop and those who are paying salaries to workers,” he added.

Blind buskers and street musicians were also unable to carry out their jobs during the MCO – pic credit: YouTube

Under the Prihatin Rakyat Economic Stimulus Package, a grant of RM3,000 has been given to qualified small and medium enterprises.

However, Nagaraja feels that this amount is not enough as the government should give a special initiative for blind reflexology operators.

“What I am asking the government is for a special incentive that has to be given to the blind. For the blind who are running massage outlets,” he urged.

Even as spas and reflexology centres are allowed to reopen on Wednesday, it would be a soft landing for them as demand would take time to recover.

Nagaraja, who is in the B1 (total blindness) category, has two workers in his 28-year-old reflexology centre.

Since the MCO, he has relied on his savings to pay his workers’ salary and the centre’s costs.

He is married with five children.

Two of his children are in university. To top it off, he needs to pay rental for his home, electricity and other essential expenses.

“Since I’m staying in Klang, the rental here is about RM800. I use half my salary to pay the workers, RM600 each. I have to run my own family. I have seven people in the family,” he said.

“When they shut down these centres, since our earnings are higher than RM1,200, I don’t get any benefit from the government.”

Only disabled workers who earn a salary of RM1,200 and below a month are entitled to the RM400 allowance.

Unfortunately, Nagaraja is unable to receive it since he is earning more than that.

Though the Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB) sent provisions to his house twice, Nagaraja is deeply frustrated that the association never strongly voiced out the issues regularly faced by the blind and visually impaired to the government.

“Actually, MAB should voice out loudly to the government to classify blind people in different categories such as married and unmarried.”

This situation not only affects blind workers in the reflexology centres, but also blind buskers and street musicians who were unable to carry out their jobs during MCO.

“There are also some professional singers who are blind. They are full-time singers. They also cannot earn any income. Buskers on the streets have also been affected, as they can’t go to the streets, sit down and sing. So what has been done by the MAB?”

Although the MAB has been around since 1951 and is a big organisation, Nagaraja criticised them for their inability to voice out their concerns. MAB manager of public relations, fund-raising and sales Jacqueline Emmanuel said as an organisation, they have helped blind workers to a certain extent by providing donations, which include dry items and food packages.

Another MAB member Thavasothy Pillai said the non-governmental organisation (NGO) can only do so much and they would need funds from the public too.

“Because MAB is a NGO that only gets 5% assistance from the government every year. The rest of the support is given by the public,” he said.

Thavasothy said it would also be helpful if corporate organisations are able to donate as there is a tax-free exemption for every donation given.

“If we have the resources, only then we are able to assist the visually impaired who are helpless out there,” Thavasothy who is also a retired school teacher explained.

He said it is difficult to say how many visually-impaired workers have lost their jobs on a daily basis.

“I think the most common jobs for the blind are masseurs and also buskers. And, we have some in the administrative office as well. We have a lot of graduate teachers, receptionists and telephone operators,” he said.

Eventhough they have the qualifications, it is difficult for the blind to find employment.

“Until now, employers are not really confident in employing the visually impaired in their organisation. Still, we have to speak to them numerous times before convincing them to employ a visually-impaired person,” Thavasothy added.

If blind candidates do not add “visually impaired” in the interview, then employers would most likely hire them.

Thavasothy also feels that blind candidates need to explain how exactly they will work and carry out tasks to their employers.

“There should be more companies hiring the visually impaired, but not enough. What we want is opportunity, not sympathy,” he explained.

Those who are interested in providing relief for the blind may directly donate to the MAB office in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur.

Kompleks MAB is open five days a week from Monday to Friday, while the operating hours are from 8.30am till 4pm.

Alternatively, you can also call them at 03-2272 2677.

“You can donate whatever is possible because every cent will be helpful to the blind,” said Thavasothy.