In this article, Ms Azlin Binte Amran, SPD’s Employment Support Specialist, shares what made her look on the bright side of things.
‘They’ say that time heals all wounds. I wonder if ‘they’ knew that some wounds never heal, the wounds that injure you and leaves a mark deeper than scars. It was about 6pm and I was making my way to meet a friend for dinner when I unknowingly stepped onto an escalator that was under maintenance. There was no safety barricade and the third step on the escalator was missing a cover. I fell into the tracks and fractured my rib, dislocated my hip and worst of all, broke my spine. I remember lying at the bottom, calling for help and that it took a few moments before help came. My rescuers had to cut the steel bars to get me out of the escalator.
I woke up in the ICU and the doctor told me that I was lucky to be alive because I had lost more than a litre of blood. My family went on to break the news to me that the doctor said that I had only a slight chance of being able to walk again. My entire life changed in that instance and the hopes and dreams I had then dissipated before me.
My family went on to slowly break the news to me that when I broke my spine, my nerves were affected. The nerves in your spinal cord work like a communication channel to your brain and my nerves were severed in the accident. Generally, nerves have limited ability to regenerate. I could try to move or feel my legs but it would be like making a phone call on a broken telephone – no one would answer.
This disability affected me more than just my ability to walk. I lost my independence, my friends, and my identity. Who am I if I am not able to do the things I love?
Following this, I went through a long phase of struggling between my hopes and fears. Things that used to be second nature to me suddenly became mammoth-like tasks. I needed help with the very basic things like showering, going to the toilet, dressing and going out.
Every day I prayed for a miracle, that one day I could walk again. Other people have dreams of being famous, rich or successful but what I wanted was something they already have – the ability to walk. The thing about dreams is that when you can’t actualise them, they can make your reality a living nightmare.
I was the kind of person who enjoyed long walks and loved adventures. I loved jumping off the jetty into the sea, basking and waiting for the sunset, walking in the dark to catch fireflies, and climbing a waterfall. These to me were immense beauty. It broke me that so many of these things required me to be able to use my legs.
I would never be able to experience these adventures as I once did. It made me feel like an outsider who doesn’t belong because there is a difference between seeing something beautiful from afar and being able to experience it.
The turning point for me happened when everything was falling apart and it was becoming more apparent that recovery wasn’t going to happen. I needed to redefine what recovery meant and move on with my life. It boiled down to two options. I could either be sad, live a long and miserable life or I could choose to embrace the future and give happiness a shot.
I learnt that with most things, it is a matter of perspective. I could be in the most beautiful place on earth and yet it would be forgettable if I did not seize the moment. It is the moments we make and share together that allows them to become stories that we remember.
Recently, I went to Iceland with my husband and a few friends. I realised that the moments that were memorable were the ones with stories to tell, like how we worked together to get me up and down a snowy hill, how we cooked together every night, and how we missed our flight back home.
I would have never believed that a girl in a wheelchair could go to Iceland and come back. A lot of places can generally be inaccessible for a person with a physical disability and it would really help if things were built with PWDs in mind. But a little bit of planning, a little bit of help, and a leap of faith helps.
When we are being pushed into difficult situations, we have an opportunity to learn that there’s so much we are capable of.
We judge ourselves by the reflections we see in the mirror, but what is really reflected is the sum of our thoughts, feelings and experiences. It is fair to say that you need to be able to see your own beauty before others can.
There is a stigma with regard to people with disabilities. Often, we are portrayed in the media as people who require charity and help from others. While I agree that we need advocacy and support from the government and society, the charity perspective overshadows the bigger issue, which is empowerment. Empowering people with disabilities begins with making things more accessible. This could mean making infrastructure usable for everybody.
I recently watched an advertisement about a girl who uses a wheelchair. It was an advertisement for Apple watch. In that advertisement, she talked about how she doesn’t see many wheelchair users in her everyday life. How does she know she is being accepted in society, if she does not see people like her around her? This is an experience that I can personally relate to.
It would take time for people’s opinions to change and the best way you can help people with disabilities is to be inclusive towards us. When you allow us into your world, you help us expand our possibilities and create new opportunities for us. Talk to us if you want to know our stories. Employ us. Engage us. This way, you can begin to empower us.