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 Kong laughs at such stereotypes people have about the blind.
“At times people asked 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, Kong 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 the lives of others with disabilities.
MIRM 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 Kong. 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 such as 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 said.
Technology can bridge the gap for people with disabilities.
Kong has a smartphone and can text, email and access web pages and social media content.
There is speech-to-text technology as well as built-in voice assistants such as 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.
Such an opportunity was created for Kong at the BAC’s book launch of Resolved!: 8 Strategies to Be a Fiery Lawyer without Violating Your Integrity and Personality by Sitpah Selvaratnam.
Kong spoke on “Embracing Equity in Every Aspect of Our Lives”.
The event opened with a speech by an international arbitrator, advocate and author Sitpah, defining the distinctions between quality and equity.
“Equality is about treating everyone the same way while equity is about recognising and supporting individuals’ challenges with appropriate resources and opportunities.
“Equity is recognising that a diversity of identities exists and that policies, systems and practices must be addressed or dismantled for everyone to be treated fairly,” said Sitpah, who led the legal team for the government to recover one of the largest assets, the superyacht “Equanimity” in the controversial 1MDB global scandal.
The glaring truth is that the differently-abled continue to face myriads of inequities in education, employment, healthcare 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, offer assistive technologies and modify workspaces for those abled differently.
Building designs 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 US 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 enables the visually impaired to navigate and travel independently as they possibly can.
In the US, Haben Girma is a blind, deaf black woman and both her parents were immigrants.
Girma pioneered her way through various obstacles, being the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School and 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 Barack Obama dubbed her the “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 (RM22 million).
Kong’s standard line when someone asks her what she is doing she says, “sitting in the dark”, with her trademark quirky humour.
Kong’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.