A chance meeting at a para sports event in 2015 between two paraplegics from Johor Baru proved that maybe, nothing really happens by chance.

Hairul Anuar, 42, used to be a part-time technician and tyreman-turned-mechanic while Mohd Afiq Barni, 30, was formerly a marketing executive.

Both were paralysed from the waist down as a result of separate accidents.

In June 2008, Hairul, then 31, was fixing a television antenna when he fell from the third floor of a building. He broke his back and legs, causing his paralysis. For a few years, Hairul was in and out of the hospital for treatment.

In 2010, he travelled to Kuala Lumpur to settle his insurance claims for his accident. He met up with a few mechanic friends and decided to stay on in the city. He rented a room and did odd jobs such as folding paper bags.

When he learnt that even the disabled could drive a car fitted with modified auto parts, Hairul was intrigued. He wanted to learn how to create and fix those auto parts, so he extended his stay and learnt from his mechanic friends while helping them out in their workshop.

Later, he sold his old car back home, bought another one and had it fitted with modified auto parts so he could drive it.

It then occurred to him that the modification of auto parts was an opportunity for a future business.

However, he did not pursue that business option immediately. In early 2014, Hairul returned to Johor Baru and in the middle of the year, started a food stall selling roti canai, roti John and murtabak with his wife, who is also disabled.

Mohd Afiq has a taste of independence when he is in the driver’s seat of his modified car.

Down but not out

On Nov 19, 2013, Mohd Afiq was on his way to work when he met with an accident. His spinal cord was injured and he was paralysed, causing him to be bedridden for six months.

Due to the trauma of being unable to use his legs, he became depressed and had suicidal thoughts.

When he was recovering, Mohd Afiq tried to be independent again by moving around on his own. However, misfortune struck again when he broke his arm.

During his recovery, his company offered him an office-based job but he turned it down.

The wheelchair-bound Mohd Afiq, who worked in real estate, said, “I stopped working because I did not think I was capable of continuing my job.”

As he holds a diploma in graphic design, he decided to do freelance work designing banners, T-shirts and other items, which he did for a year.

Later his friends suggested that he run a restaurant. At the end of 2014, Mohd Afiq started a restaurant in Gelang Patah, Johor, selling Malay and Western food. However, he had difficulty earning a decent income from that business.

That all changed when in April 2016, Mohd Afiq attended the Maybank Foundation’s Rise programme.

He learnt how to improve his business by adding new items to his menu and offering attractive set meal promotions. The strategy worked and he doubled his monthly income.

But Hairul was still not keen on the restaurant business, and he handed it over to his parents to run.

Also read: RISE: An economic empowerment programme for persons with disabilities

When opportunity knocks

Hairul was still in the process of learning about hand drives and auto car parts when he first met Mohd Afiq in 2015. He had learnt of Mohd Afiq’s talent in designing and marketing, and his ability to run a profitable business.

Hairul then pitched the idea of modifying cars for people with disabilities to him, which caught Mohd Afiq’s interest.

“At that time, Hairul had started his workshop to modify auto parts, but it was not doing well. There was lack of demand for these parts, and the quality of the items was poor. I gave him some ideas on how to modify the parts and he was receptive to my ideas,” said Mohd Afiq.

They then decided to start their business in January 2017, naming their company Double A (which stands for Afiq and Anuar) Project Enterprise as a symbol of their partnership.

Mohd Afiq would design the auto parts according to customers’ needs and market the business, while Hairul would create the parts and install them in their customers’ cars.

They also rented a workshop to produce portable automobile parts for modified vehicles such as special accelerator pads and hand controls.

“We asked people with disabilities if they were interested to drive and they were surprised by this question as they never thought they could drive again. That’s when we showed them we could customise and modify their cars according to their needs,” said Hairul, who has an eight-year-old daughter.

Mohd Afiq's customer Ahmad Rizaluddin Saidi trying out his modified car.

Mohd Afiq’s customer Ahmad Rizaluddin Saidi trying out his modified car.

Full speed ahead

Word of their services soon spread. “When our designs were inspected by the Road Transport Department, they were impressed.

“With their encouragement, we became excited about our project and were motivated to further improve the quality of our work over time,” said Hairul, adding that they also hire three disabled workers on a part-time basis to help out with their work.

Their customers come from all over Malaysia, including Sabah and Sarawak. Hairul and Mohd Afiq would travel together to service customers and install modified auto parts.

However, Hairul shared that demand for modified parts was not consistent. To promote the business, Mohd Afiq met with doctors from various hospitals, agencies for the disabled, and rehabilitation centres. He also distributed flyers and placed ads on Facebook.

Today, the business is doing well and giving them a stable and comfortable monthly income.

Said Mohd Afiq, “I feel very fortunate to have joined forces with Hairul. He has opened my mind to move forward even though I am wheelchair-bound. He planted the desire in me to help my family and people with disabilities.”

Last year, Hairul was invited to join the Rise programme, where he learnt to connect with and understand customers better. “I also learnt how to identify and overcome weaknesses in my business,” said Hairul, who is also the president of a disabled recreation club and a para athlete who plays ping-pong, 10-pin bowling and sitting volleyball.

The two friends are living proof that embracing the “don’t give up” spirit bears fruits in many ways.