After losing his job in his mid-50s, David Tan Kah Kok, 59, who has visual impairment, realised that he could no longer go back to doing engineering with his deteriorating vision. Nevertheless, he chose to stay positive and prepares himself to take up new challenges.
In his teens, David had mild Retina Pigmentosa, a condition that causes a loss of vision. It did not affect his life much then, but the condition became more prominent with age. David has worked as an engineer throughout his career. As his vision got worse, the company reassigned him to a desk-bound job. However, as time went by, he felt that he was gradually being excluded from various activities in the company. His position was subsequently converted to a contract basis, which did not get renewed when the period ended. David became unemployed and stayed so for the next one plus year.
“I have been an engineer all my life,” said David. “However, my wife made a valid observation. She told me to forget about going back to engineering and to think about other relevant skills I can offer and bring to your next job.”
With this encouragement, David started thinking through the skills he could highlight to potential employers, such as analytical, listening and negotiation skills. During this time, he also attended courses like those organised by SPD to gain new knowledge and upgrade himself. He maintained a positive mind set and kept himself physically fit so as to be ready when a new opportunity presents itself.
Through SPD’s Employment Support Programme, David found a job as a call agent at Eureka Call Centre Systems, where he attends to enquiries and feedback from customers. As David’s proficiency in attending calls improves and he is able to take more calls, he is now being put on trial to learn new skills to make outbound calls to customers.
Ms Charis Low, manager at Eureka Call Centre Systems, shared that the call centre started operating as one that is friendly to persons with visual impairment since 2009. The computer system was developed to assist employees with visual impairment to work effectively by incorporating features, such as short cut keys for keying in information, text-to-speech software and enlarged fonts. In addition, the company also worked with trainers to familiarise its employees with travelling to and from the workplace. Today, all the call agents, about 15 of them, are people with visual impairment.
“Persons with disabilities are an untapped source of manpower. With proper infrastructure and training, they can help to address human resource challenges in the company. Having them in the company has positively influenced the organisation culture. Co-workers are more compassionate towards one another and are willing to lend a helping hand.”
Charis Low, manager at Eureka Call Centre Systems
“Here, working with colleagues with disabilities, I feel more at home as everyone understands each other’s challenges and we help one another out. I am not alone nor am I the odd one out. Gaining a certain level of aptitude in my job has also given me confidence and comfort, providing a plus factor to come to work!” said a beaming David. David felt that with suitable hardware and “heartware”, i.e., acceptance from the public and employers, persons with disabilities can be assets in the workforce. “I am glad to have this opportunity to join Eureka, where I can benefit both myself and the company,” he added.
When asked for words of wisdom for other persons with disabilities looking for a job, David believed that it is important to set realistic job expectations and stay active.
“As persons with disabilities, we also need to have realistic job expectations. Like when I was unemployed, I needed to accept that I could not perform an engineering job anymore. We need to concentrate on the other skills that we have. In the meantime, don’t isolate ourselves and be active so that health issues will not catch up with you.”
David currently has narrow vision and low visibility under low light conditions and may one day lose his vision totally. Despite this, he has chosen to keep a positive attitude. “When the time comes, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. I am preparing myself, for example, by creating a mental map of the places I visit often. Don’t think about fear. Fear doesn’t help and would only stifle preparation,” he said.
All the best in your job, David, and stay positive always!