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Empowering blind graduates with soft skills

Nedi Putra AW

The Jakarta Post

Malang  /  Wed, March 22, 2017  /  10:56 am
Empowering blind graduates with soft skills

Together we can: Participants jump while playing a game designed to maintain cohesion during Pertuni's soft skills training for college graduates in Malang, East Java, earlier this month. (JP/Nedi Putra AW)

The increasing number of visually impaired people pursuing a higher education raises hope that they can earn a better income than their lower educated counterparts. In 2005, there were only 250 college graduates. Today, the number has increased 30 percent.

However, college degrees alone will not be enough to compete in the real world. Activists at the Indonesian Union for the Blind (Pertuni) realize that although visually impaired graduates possess some competence in relevant disciplines, there is a need to equip them with the necessary soft skills to get hired. Early this month, the organization held preemployment soft skills training at Brawijaya University in Malang, East Java.

“We have a lot of opportunities to compete and sightlessness should not prevent us from contributing to society,” Pertuni general chairperson Aria Indrawati said on the sidelines of the training session.

She said the training was expected to boost the confidence of the visually impaired, so they would have the courage to sell their abilities when applying for jobs or develop their own businesses. They would be motivated to see the bright side — and not be bothered by their limitations but rather display their talents with greater self-confidence.

Training sessions range from learning to be independent, debates and group discussions, as well as simulations and games. In one game, the participants were asked to choose various balls and eggs, representing incomes to be gained and risks to be faced. “They should be able to fill their proper positions without forcing themselves,” Aria said about the message behind the game.

The show must go on: Alcatraz is a game that aims to increase the confidence of the visually impaired.(JP/Nedi Putra AW)

In another game called Alcatraz, participants were required to step into squares as instructed by the trainer. It was meant to encourage them to go ahead in spite of failure while at the same time maintaining their positive mindset and making the failure a lesson for survival.

Debates and discussion were also held to promote self-confidence and understand the circumstances during interviews.

The participants were trained by an instructor with low vision, Alabanyo Brebahama, who is a psychology lecturer at Yarsi University, Jakarta. Aria said Alabanyo, who also holds a Master’s degree in psychology from the University of Indonesia (UI), was appointed the trainer to give motivation and serve as a role model for the participants.

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Such training was previously held in Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Bandung, West Java. After Malang, it will be organized in Surabaya, East Java by targeting 100 students. Following the fourday training, they are expected to possess good intrapersonal and interpersonal skills needed in the employment world.

Aria said the pre-employment training would also be arranged for blind students in Medan, North Sumatra, Manado, North Sulawesi, and Aceh, Banda Aceh. In the meantime, she had to compile university preparation training programs for senior high school students.

Also affected by low vision, Aria described the stimulus of family members as a major factor that shaped her today. She said she had previously blamed God for her condition but later felt grateful because her parents showed deep understanding. As a child in Semarang, Central Java, she was taught to be independent by being allowed to play, make friends, cook and go out by using public transportation.

The childhood experience turned out to bear considerable influence on Aria’s future life. She no longer wanted to be caught by the stigma of blindness being associated with the massage occupation only.

“Even if we have to work as masseurs or masseuses, we should have competence so as to be competitive,” she said.

Aria finished her studies and graduated with a law degree from 17 Agustus University in Semarang, even lecturing at her alma mater for some time.

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“The point is that we should accept the reality of being sightless and then through adjustment and adaptation just live out lives with hard work,” she said, adding that she was then motivated to empower other people with vision impairment by joining Pertuni.

Since 2006, she has been a coordinator of cooperation between Pertuni and the International Council of Education for People with Visual Impairment (ICEVI), as well as The Nippon Foundation (TNF) in the campaign to struggle for facilities for blind people wishing to pursue the highest possible level of education.

After graduation, the blind reserve the right to be employed without discrimination as stated in the law on people with disabilities, which obligates private companies to allocate 1 percent of their employment for people with different abilities and public sector like governmental offices and state-owned enterprises to employ at least 2 percent of people with disabilities.

Aria hoped the government could establish an educational system for the blind covering counseling services, psychological support and inclusion schools.

Rizkianto, 25, a training participant from Malang State University, said he was grateful for being able to take part in soft skill program as he could dig out his inner potential. The student of the special education program department said he still faced some challenges in college life, such as difficulties in accessing information, especially in his campus’ library.

However, the obstacles would not deter his spirit to pursue education. “I’m motivated to further my college studies after graduation,” he said.