The general consensus amongst society is that being born disabled is an affliction often associated with unhappiness, failure, dependency on others and helplessness. These young entrepreneurs have proven otherwise, inspiring lives through adversities.
People often look at those with disabilities and think to themselves, what misery they must be in. But is that always true? Are those who are afflicted with physical disabilities really less capable than the rest of so-called “normal” society?
Measuring society’s attitude and opinion toward the disabled is no easy task as these opinions are based upon social norms, attitudes, as well as a complex mix of misconceptions and stereotypes.
A survey done by the UK government in 2009 shows that 38% of people who were surveyed see the disabled as less productive than non-disabled people while 35% of people felt that the disabled took more from the economy than they contributed.
Such opinions are largely derived from the belief that the disabled require extensive care and looking after. While there is some truth to this, disabled who need round the clock care are neither the exception nor the rule.
Fast Cars & Celebrated Automotive Trading Entrepreneur
Melvin Tong was one of the many 17 year old candidates about to take the SPM (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia) examinations when he started experiencing a sharp pain originating from the back of his knee.
“It started off with minor pain, like a sprain, and I guess you don’t really worry about it,” said Melvin, “By the time I actually went for my checkup in the hospital, I could already see a small lump the size of a peanut.”
It was later confirmed that Melvin had Fibrosarcoma.
Fibrosarcoma is a cancerous tumor that originates from connective tissue found at the ends of the bones of the arms or legs.
In the course of the next five weeks, 3 biopsies and several opinions from different oncologists later, the tumor grew to the size of a tennis ball and the decision to amputate was made.
By the time he was confronted with the decision, Melvin had grown weary of bouncing from doctor to doctor, the countless referrals and undergoing test after test. He willingly went under the knife in hopes that it would conclude the endless biopsies and regular visits to oncologists.
Melvin, 29 this year, has from then on devoted his life to his love of cars as well as his love of people, taking part in many philanthropic activities in his time including raising awareness for victims of child abuse. In 2010, he entered the Malaysian book of records as the first amputee to climb Mount Kinabalu.
He now owns Extreme Supercars, a thriving business importing, refurbishing, renting and selling luxury vehicles.
“My car business started back when I was 13 years old, shortly after I got my first computer, I made a website for the Need For Speed game,” said Melvin.
It was then that Melvin knew that he would never be able to work for anyone other than himself and made the decision to go into the luxury car business. Melvin says that it had never occurred to him to look for a job.
It was only a few years after college when he was introduced into the car industry, beginning his business selling smaller cars such as the Volkswagen Polo for small commission, comparing himself to a low-pay salesperson.
His business began by brokering the sale of foreign cars to local people, Melvin says that he began the business with no capital, slowly working his way up, building his business into what it is today.
“My disability didn’t stop me from taking my SPM or going to college, everyone knew who I was, but somehow, none of them became really close to me.”
He spoke of the barrier that existed between him and everyone else and said that sometimes it is easier for people to simply alienate someone like him.
The World Health Organization estimated that 10% of any population is disabled in some way. Translating this into Malaysian context, the number would come to 2.7million disabled people currently living in Malaysia.
In 2009, according to the social welfare department, the total number of disabled in Malaysia was 258, 918 with an average annual increase of 20,000 a year. These are only the ones who are registered.
Of that number, those who are capable of work amount to over 200,000, discounting those with cerebral palsy and those listed in the survey as “others”. A staggering amount of manpower.
Unfortunately, governments have not been able to take full advantage this and the disabled, along with their families, are often persecuted or looked upon as a burden to society.
A prime example of the contribution from disabled people is Zharif Affendi.
National Youth Icon and Beacon of Hope for Youths
Zharif is the proud owner of the Zharif initiative, a Malaysian creative communications company that specializes in corporate social relations consultancy. The company branches out into many fields including public relations and even having his own independent record label.
He also works for MTEM (Majlis Tindakan Ekonomi Malaysia), an NGO which facilitates and assists in the empowerment of the Malaysian economy.
Zharif was born without arms, and when asked what the exactly the ailment was that caused his birth without upper limbs, he nonchalantly replied that he didn’t know.
“There’s probably a name for it but I never looked it up, I never bothered to know what the reason was.”
Zharif had never required any form of special care, attending run of the mill government schools growing up.
In fact, when he was young, his mother registered him in a primary school that had rejected his application because the headmaster felt that they did not possess the facilities to accommodate a person of his condition.
The day before registration, 6 year old Zharif waited outside the headmaster’s office, asked to meet with him, and when he did, he asked the headmaster’s name, he spelled it, writing on his notebook with only his feet.
Today, he holds a law degree, bachelors of Arts degree and a bachelor of psychology degree. Even being an avid sportsman, listing his hobbies as skateboarding, football, ultra thrill running, scuba diving and taking part in swimathons.
These are only two prime examples of what a disabled person can contribute to Malaysian society. Melvin Tong, owner of one of the most renowned luxury car distributors in Malaysia, and Zharif Affendi, who works toward the growth of Malaysian economy in MTEM.
They are the model of what the disabled community in Malaysia has the potential to be. Sadly most are underestimated and aren’t given the opportunity to contribute.
But things have been changing recently with newly introduced government policies.
The government hopes that providing vocational and academic training to the disabled will sufficiently encourage them to find jobs. Congruent to this, the government has allocated 1% of all public sector jobs to those who are disabled.
And in 2008, the Department Of Social Welfare gives an incentive to the disabled who earn a monthly income of less than RM1200, as well as grants that do not exceed RM2, 700 to aid the disabled in the launching of their own businesses.
Alas, some of these policies are poorly implemented or not properly enforced by government authorities and are altogether ignored or unbeknownst by most.
In the year 2000, it was estimated that the disabled contribute USD1.68 billion to the Malaysian Gross Domestic Import (GDP), while studies conducted to estimate the total global annual loss of excluding the disabled from the economy to be somewhere between USD1.37 to USD1.94trillion.
According to these statistics, it is not the lack of ability that holds back the capabilities of the disabled, but a vicious cycle of poverty, charity and excessive amounts of sympathy that result in their continued reliance on society.
The equalization of opportunities for the disabled to be on par with those who aren’t is crucial to the Malaysian economy and the overall quality of life of persons with disabilities.
Those who are disabled are not necessarily impeded, but it is the inaction of irresponsible parties that truly deprives them from the achievement of their true potential.
Gen-Y College Students Speak Out on Inspiration
1. Melinna Loone
2. Nazreen Zainurin
3. Pang Yat Haw
4. Daniel Ibanez Lau
5. Justin Wong Zhe Xuan
6. Vigneshan Kumar
Thoughts from Student Interviewers: We are extremely grateful that we’re able to complete and execute this project on time and up to the standards of our lecturer and also our employer. The hardest part of this project is probably the video part, it was difficult to brainstorm any creative ideas to be put into our video as a documentary video is meant to be serious and if anything that goes against that vibe or would disrupt that atmosphere will need to be thrown out of the window.
It was an inspiring experience to listen to both such amazingly positive stories. Before this, we’ve always had this sympathetic or pitiful feeling towards physically disabled community but after this project, we’ve realized that they are even more positive about life than some of us are. Their determination and spirit to thrive in life has indeed made us reflect on ourselves.
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Credit Note: INTI College Subang students from the School of Mass Communication undertook a project by Founder Method to interview successful yet challenged individuals in Malaysia, who have had a lasting impact in society through their business and work. This was a collective effort done by the students, coupled with industry mentors from INTI College Subang and from Founder Method in the implementation of this project.