Tandem cycling opened up the world to Eddy, and he wants to give that experience to other people facing disabilities.
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Tandem cycling is growing in popularity in Malaysia — specifically, among the visually impaired community.
Just last year, a group of 65 visually impaired persons entered the Malaysia Book of Records for “the most number of visually handicapped for tandem cycling convoy”, after completing an 84km journey around the state of Perak. They were “captained” by 69 sighted cyclists who steered the bicycles.
One of the main people popularising the activity is Eddy Chong, the president of the Blind Empowerment Society of Selangor (BESS).
“My main objective, is to get people with visual impairment out of their box,” says Eddy, who is visually impaired himself.
“A lot of blind people are in environments that limit what they know of other places, food, people and culture. When they get out of the box, their mindset is very different.
“I’ve seen this major breakthrough happening over and over again.”
Eddy explains that even in this day and age, many families cut their family members with disabilities off from the rest of the world.
Many, he says, do it because they think they’re protecting their disabled member.
“But it only stops them from developing independence,” Eddy adds.
Eddy wasn’t born blind. In 1997, at the age of 31, he suffered a serious case of dengue hemorrhagic fever which caused him to lose his sight, most of his hearing, and also left him partially paralysed waist-down.
It was a dark time for him, with his career as an engineer ending prematurely and having to redefine life. His own family was protective of him and discouraged “dangerous” activities, but he eventually worked his way towards walking again. And eventually even reached the peak of Mount Kinabalu.
Now, as part of the BESS, he uses the understanding of that dark time he experienced to help other people with visual impairment to break out and live to their fullest potential.
Eddy recounts one case of a 50-year-old blind man whose parents sought Eddy’s help to care for him as they were already in their advanced years.
“I tried to lead him out to the street but it was apparent that he was confined to the house all his life because he was scared of the sound of cars,” says Eddy.
Eddy took on the case personally and slowly introduced the man to life outside his home, and eventually got him a job as a masseur.
“Compared to other organisations, BESS works based on a case-to-case basis. Most of it is us putting in our personal time to help others,” he says.
“And we only use our organisation name for official reasons and for transparency’s sake for situations like crowdfunding.”
Through BESS, Eddy also tries to expose fellow visually impaired persons to new technology, because staying up to date with available apps on smartphones and specialised devices played an integral part in his own journey towards independence.
The tandem cycling aspect of Eddy’s activities is an extension of his BESS work.
He explains that exposure to cycling has emboldened many of his visually impaired friends to travel more. Together, they’ve travelled to Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and recently a group of 40 travelled locally to Pulau Ketam.
Some of them have now gone on to organise their own travels independently of Eddy’s help.
On top of that, Eddy finds it to be the perfect pastime for better integrating between the sighted and the visually impaired. It has broken many barriers between the sighted that have participated and vice versa, which Eddy hopes will lead to better integration and understanding with the rest of society as well.
“Many people always ask why we chose such a dangerous sport. But if you think too much about the ‘dangers’ you cannot move,” he says.
“I trust the person in front of me. You have to develop the trust. So then it’s a matter of how do you cooperate with each other to make the journey successful.”
The Blind Empowerment Society of Selangor specialises in assisting the deaf-blind, the needy blind and the elderly blind. Eddy is contactable via phone at +6013-360 0192 .
If you would like to participate in the tandem cycling, visit the “Rainbow Tandem Riders” Facebook Group, which consolidates tandem cycling activities for the blind regardless of organisation.