Blind since 2007, ‘Dialogue in the Dark’ founder Stevens Chan brings Malaysia’s first arts festival for people with disabilities

Chan with his loyal guide dog LaShawn. ― Pictures by Miera Zulyana
Chan with his loyal guide dog LaShawn. ― Pictures by Miera Zulyana

PETALING JAYA, Aug 28 ― Can a blind photographer capture the perfect shot? How does a visually impaired chef whip up a meal in the kitchen?

Some of the most interesting personalities with physical challenges will make their way to Kuala Lumpur next month for Art Includes 2019, an arts festival for persons with disabilities (PWDs).

They include blind MasterChef US winner Christine Ha, hearing-impaired Singaporean piano virtuoso Azariah Tan, veteran Malaysian radio presenter and actor Patrick Teoh, autistic teen painter Wan Jamila Wan Shaiful Bahri from Shah Alam, visually impaired photographer Jamaliah Mohd Yasin and Sabahan singer-songwriter Rozella.

A first in Malaysia, Art Includes is the brainchild of Stevens Chan, a visually impaired former entrepreneur who founded the social enterprise Dialogue in the Dark Malaysia.

Chan lost his sight to glaucoma in 2002 and despite undergoing nine eye surgeries, he lost all his vision in 2007.

For the past 10 years, he has been running the Dialogue Includes Academy which provides free tuition to blind and deaf children as well as offers training to disabled youths in economic enabling programmes.

Today, the academy also has schools for urban farming, telemarking, virtual tuition and a café, all introduced to help PWDs to become entrepreneurs.

Chan, 57 told Malay Mail the festival took two years to put together and he hopes to transform society’s perception of PWDs as contributors and not as burdens to society and their loved ones.

Chan and his guide dog with ‘Art Includes’ guest artists Wan Jamila, Jamaliah and Rozella.
Chan and his guide dog with ‘Art Includes’ guest artists Wan Jamila, Jamaliah and Rozella.

Ultimately, he wants people to see the disabled community as the same as everyone else.

“We’ve always been asking for acceptance, nothing special, nothing extra, just accept us for who we are and have empathy.

“It’s as simple as talking to a person on a wheelchair or asking a blind person ‘How can I help you?’ They will be moved by kindness,” said Chan.

Accompanied by his loyal guide dog LaShawn, Chan said the festival aims to inspire everyone, regardless of ability.

“When people think of Patrick Teoh, they don’t see him as a polio survivor so I want people to not see those with physical challenges for their lack of certain abilities.”

In the process, he also wants to raise funds for the academy to boost its arts and music lessons through the many activities planned for the upcoming festival.

Chan is targeting to generate RM500,000 to continue running his social enterprise.

A crowdfunding campaign will be launched on September 5 to help raise funds through the sales of a specially designed t-shirt in collaboration with merchandising platform Yeefu.

Themed Celebrating Diversities, Art Includes 2019 is organised in conjunction with the United Nation’s Global Day of Action.

Highlights include a three-day conference titled “The Path to Building Resilience” where 10 notable foreign and Malaysian personalities will talk about their journey in overcoming their limitations to achieve success.

For food lovers, Ha will be curating a fine dining menu for a Fine Dining in the Dark event.

The festival will also include a concert featuring six bands from Malaysia and Singapore, exhibitions and an open-air fiesta with both disabled and able-bodied singers, dancers and musicians along Medan Pasar.

Art Includes 2019 will be held at RUANG by Think City, 2 Jalan Hang Kasturi, Kuala Lumpur from September 23 to September 29.

For ticketing details and full programme, find out more here.

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