Facing disability head-on

At the tender age of seven, Kamarzaman Harun was struck down with mumps and a high fever. He has been hearing impaired ever since.

"Now I cannot hear anything … except thunder. I can only hear thunder," said Kamarzaman.

Kamarzaman, 50, is one of three founding partners of Kymoasia Sdn Bhd, a printing and advertising company run by the deaf.

Married with three children, Kamarzaman completed his secondary studies at the Federation School of the Deaf in Penang where he met his wife, Marliza Mat Din.

Before starting his own company, Kamarzaman had experience working in other sectors as well.

"I was a drafter at an architecture firm for 10 years but I wanted to be independent and start my own business," he explained.

"I had the academic qualifications to enter public universities but there was less acceptance of the deaf," he said.

Although he did well in the written entrance exam, he could not get past the interview section.

"They said they couldn't accept me because public universities back then did not have proper facilities for disabled persons," he added.

"Alhamdulillah, things are easier now," said Kamarzaman.

At the moment, Kamarzaman is focused on expanding Kymoasia, the company he started with his two business partners, who are also deaf.

Established in 2010, Kymoasia was born out of the initiative to help fellow members of the deaf community. All eight employees are deaf, except for an administrative staff who talks to clients and handles calls.

"The government at the time was starting a scheme to assist the disabled in opening up their own businesses. We seized the opportunity and received grants in the form of printing machinery and other equipment," said Kamarzaman.

Kamarzaman, who is an avid footballer, said that Kymoasia also provides employment for deaf athletes.

"We allow them flexibility to work and train at the same time," he added.

The biggest challenge for the disabled in starting a business is in procuring enough capital, said Kamarzaman.

"It is hard to convince banks to give us loans. They don't have any ill will against us, they are just hesitant. They are afraid we might not be able to settle the loan," he explained.

Another regular problem is communication.

"Competition is high," added Ong Shin Ruenn, managing director of Kymoasia, through an interpreter.

"Most times, companies without hearing impediments settle deals faster because they can communicate at a quicker pace. Since a lot of our communication is through SMS, we lose opportunities. This is why we have to put in double the effort," he said.

Kymoasia's main client is the Royal Malaysian Police, but they also supply products to other government and private bodies.

Doubling as the president of the Malaysian Deaf Sports Association, Kamarzaman will also be involved in organising next year's Sopma meet, a sports competition for the deaf.