Championing the Causes of the Differently-abled in Malaysia
Dialogue Includes All was founded by Stevens Chan, a successful businessman who lost his vision due to glaucoma in 2007 at age 45, and his wife Kaye Wong. In his journey to adjust to his challenging new life, he sought for meaning and purpose.
Eventually, he found his calling to create public awareness and empathy for those that are disabled, as well as empower the disabled community to achieve their full potential. He also wanted to educate the public on preventable blindness.
“When I lost my eyesight at the age of 45 in 2007, it took me a while to climb back out of the dark. Thank god for the support of my wife. In 2009, I founded an NGO called the Malaysian Glaucoma Society, to create awareness of this condition that robbed me of my sight. As we moved on, we started to serve many other eye patients, including children and youths, and helped their families too. That was when I started another NGO to serve them called SOS Missions Bhd,” said Stevens.
Dialogue In The Dark
In 2012, Stevens founded Dialogue In The Dark Malaysia (DID), licensed by Dialogue Social Enterprise GmbH. This programme is available in 35 countries worldwide. People could buy tickets to have an experiential tour, dine in the dark or have a birthday party in the dark, among other unique offerings.
“We started Dialogue In The Dark because we were getting tired of constantly looking for donations. I thought it was a better way to run the business. On one of my trips to Singapore, when I was invited by the Glaucoma Society of Singapore to speak on glaucoma, I visited Dialogue In The Dark Singapore. They connected me to Dialogue in Germany. In less than a year, we became their licensed partner in Malaysia in 2012. We started at our venue at Petrosains,” explained Stevens.
“Our main motivation was to earn revenue, so that we could continue our social missions. Our first social mission is to provide online quality education to the children with disabilities. Our second mission is to provide job and micro-business training and enabling opportunities for youths and adults with all forms of disabilities, not just the blind. We also provide community eye checks and spread the word about eyesight and other disorders that can rob it. Moreover, we advocate for the rights of the blind. All this is still ongoing,” he added.
The experiential tour was conducted entirely in the dark. Visitors were guided by trained professionals, so they could identify the world through their remaining four senses, generate trust and cope with the unknown, and develop empathy, respect and appreciation of the differently-abled. Learning tours were also available for primary and secondary school students.
DID also operated exhibitions as well as business workshops and events to achieve its objectives. The business workshops were organised for corporate professionals and college and university students.
Since 1988, DID has helped the disabled and the blind in particular to gain employment. For many staff members, being offered a position has ended their unemployment streak. It was reported that over 6,000 blind and partially sighted persons worldwide had benefited from this programme. Being employed has led to higher self-confidence and better self-image. It felt good to morph from a welfare recipient to someone who took charge of their life.
“Over the years, we’ve given training to more than 100 corporations and we’ve had over 40,000 visitors from Malaysia and overseas. Students from more than 50 schools and universities have come to visit us over the years. We have gained much traction. That, I think, is our greatest achievement - getting the traction,” said Stevens.
Stevens realised that people tend to think of the disabled as charity cases. He said he and the Dialogue team wanted to change that perception. The disable need empathy and acceptance the most.
“The Biggest challenge we faced for the past nine years was really awareness and acceptance of our work, because it’s a breakthrough. Dialogue In The Dark is something really new. People experience what darkness is all about. This can’t be described through advertising or online promotion. People have to experience it to know and understand it. After nine years, we are beginning to see the fruits of our labour. Besides that, we have to manage the expectations of all our stakeholders, including the beneficiaries and sponsors,” said Stevens.
Dialogue Includes Academy
Putting his business and consulting knowledge and expertise to good use, Stevens innovated and eventually set up Dialogue Includes Academy in 2015. The academy endeavoured to equip those with disabilities with communication and employment skills. Besides improving their prospects to secure employment, these courses also helped the disabled to build their self-confidence and improve their self-image.
The academy collaborated with Sasbadi Holdings, where it operated Sasbadi's i-Learn Ace online education platform. It offered free tuition to blind and deaf children. The academy also provided training to disabled youths in economic enabling programmes.
It was quite successful, having set up schools for urban farming, telemarketing, virtual tuition and a café, with the objective to equip differently-abled people with the necessary know-how to become entrepreneurs.
“When I serve the children, I always think that if the current landscape for the disabled people whether in Malaysia or globally doesn’t change, they will always be dependent on charity. They will never have dignity. Every human needs hope. Everybody needs dignity. I want to provide a platform to provide hope for the next generation of the disabled people,” said Stevens.
Dialogue Includes All
Not resting on his laurels, Stevens moved on to the next project - Dialogue Includes All (DIA). It is a new planned Dialogue experiential centre. If Stevens manages to build it, it will be the third in the world. The other two are in Hamburg (Germany) and Tokyo (Japan).
“We are now pitching for investments to build Dialogue Includes All. It’s going to be like a theme park. You go in not only to experience Dialogue In The Dark, but also the other Dialogue experiences, such as Dialogue In Silence (the experience of no sound and communication with your face and hands), Dialogue Games (a mobility experience), and finally Dialogue With Time (an experience of ageing), which is another award-winning experience by our partner Dialogue Germany. The entire experience is about empathy and inclusion,” explained Stevens.
Besides that, the experiences will be facilitated by the disabled communities themselves (the blind, deaf and lame), as well as senior citizens. The cafes will be managed and operated by the autistic people.
The centres in Hamburg and Tokyo have been very successful before the pandemic. Stevens hopes to find the funds to build the centre by middle of 2022.
In addition, this initiative is a part of the Pemangkin Usahawan Sosial Hebat (PUSH) programme, and supported by the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) and the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC). PUSH is a scale-up programme with an ambition to grow social enterprises and increase their social impact through a personalised capacity building and skills development training.
Your Support is Welcome
Dialogue Includes All invites you to be part of the solution, to be champions for empathy and inclusion. They are grateful for opportunities to continue the dialogue. Your support and donations are welcome. In addition, Stevens would like to thank MaGIC and Yayasan Hasanah, and also corporate sponsors such as Kenanga for their invaluable support.
During the pandemic, the Dialogue experience had to stop temporarily, but the Dialogue cafe called Cafe Includes is open for orders through the Grab app. The disabled have been trained to prepare food for the cafe, such as bento lunch boxes and pastries, as well as coffee and tea. The public is invited to order meals to provide support.
“We also run a food aid programme for corporate social responsibility (CSR) with partners such as Kenanga. They will order food from us, which will then be distributed through our friends in the social and NGO community to deserving beneficiaries,” explained Stevens.
Investors who would like to help provide funds to build the Dialogue Includes All centre are also welcome to contact Stevens. Find out more at dialogueincludes.com