Jacqueline Emmanuel used to serve people as a medical doctor; today she is still serving people -but in a different capacity.

Jacqueline Emmanuel wanted to help people by being a doctor. However, due to her eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa, this qualified doctor had to stop practicing medicine.

“I studied in Kasturba Medical College, in Mangalore during the 1980s. After that I managed to work in my friend’s clinic for four years. Although it was a very slow progressive disease, it started affecting me in my work. I lost my confidence,” shared Jacqueline, 47.

Retinitis pigmentosa is  a genetic eye condition with progressive visual loss.

As Retinitis pigmentosa is a genetic condition, more than a member of the family can be affected. Jacqueline’s sister is also vision impaired.

Jacqueline does not like talking about the past, preferring to live for the future
“Thinking about it so you can rectify it, that’s fine. But after closing chapters of my life I just want to be happy and move on,” she said.
So move on she did.

She went to Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) to do her Masters in Developmental Psychology in 1998.
Having obtained her Masters in 2001, she was not able to find a job in her area of expertise. It was easier to find work as a telephone operator and telemarketer.

“Being a telephone operator is very simple; but I love to work in a place that keeps me busy,
I can’t just wait for the phone to ring. Even though it helps you improve brain and memory power by remembering numbers, I  knew I could do much better. I wanted to serve the blind,” she explained.

After losing her vision, the people in Malaysian Association for the Blind (MAB) were her inspiration to pick up her life. Jacqueline spoke about the difficulties she had in accepting her condition; how difficult it was initially for her to accept the fact that she needs the white cane.

“I didn’t like it, it bothered me a lot. I used to get frustrated when I ask people for help and they don’t,” she shared.
Jacqueline added, “I became more closer to God. I used to cry to Him. But it was good this happened as it changed me. Definitely God was helping me and is still helping me. Sometimes we take Him for granted, we don’t realise it but He is there. Cliche but true.”

Her mood changed when she spoke about her husband.  She met her husband at a church retreat in 2004. They were married one year later.

“That was when things started falling beautifully in place, in my life,” she said softly.

“It was after losing my vision, so in other words he really accepted me. I had boyfriends who rejected me because I was vision-impaired.”

Jacqueline said  2005 was her lucky year as she not only got married but found a job that she enjoys doing.

She now helps other people, specifically the blind, as Assistant Job Placement Officer in MAB.

“Being vision-impaired I wanted to serve the blind as I knew exactly what they were going through. So I was happy when I got to know I was getting a job in MAB. It was what I wanted.” she said.

“It’s been four years now, and  I have no regrets at all in my current job. It’s just that I wish others could understand and give them a job. Being rejected is very stressful and disappointing. I myself get personally hurt because I’m the person who’s trying to get them a job,” she added, recalling the  time and effort spent in helping these job seekers gain meaningful employment.

“Part of my job, besides job placement, is to take them for interviews or for medical checkups if needed. We provide them with adaptive equipment on loan if necessary, like JAWS screen reader programme or Braille machine. We also do follow-ups after placing them, calling both the employers and blind staff to see how they’re doing.”
In 2008 MAB successfully placed 63 people with vision impairment.

“Being a blind person, you have to blend with the others. For first-time employers hiring a blind person, the experience  can be difficult as  they are not used to it,” observed Jacqueline.

For the jobseeker to work in an environment like that can be a real challenge as well.

Jacqueline’s advice is for the blind workers to take the initiative to open up and make friends with their colleagues, and not wait for their colleagues to make the first move.

“This is because they wouldn’t know how to talk to us or approach us,” Jacqueline observed.
According to Jacqueline, many blind jobseekers are still unemployed due to various reasons.
“English is one of the major issues. Their command of English is very weak. There are also some with attitude problems. We are just like normal people with our own issues. But if you won’t help yourself how can others help you?” she observed.

As a individual with disability, Jacqueline defies conventional perception that the blind don’t shop alone.
“I love to shop! I had a great time when I was working in Twin Towers Medical Centre in KLCC. The Body shop was my landmark as the words are pretty big and I know the concourse area very well.”

The brightness of the place is very important to a person who has vision issues,  Jacqueline stressed.
“Isetan is very bright so I can see things there. I go in, touch the clothes, I have to feel things. Then I’ll ask the salesgirl what colour and size is it.  I’ll try it out and ask their opinion.”

“I like to cook too. But I’m terrified of hot oil,” Jacqueline shared.

“I also like baking. When it comes to baking, I’m pretty confident. I’d surf the Net for recipes. Some I memorised, or my husband will record the recipes in my phone, so I can listen to it again and again, as I bake.”

CHALLENGES VOL3, ISSUE1 2010 (Challenges Magazine is a journalism skills training project for persons with disabilities started in 2007)