Students overcome severe disabilities to achieve academic success

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 November, 2009, 12:00am

Lau Hiu-fung, a student who can barely move his limbs and who typed a 70-page thesis by using a chopstick to tap the keys on a computer keyboard, graduated with first-class honours yesterday.

Along with Lau, Daphnie Cheng Kin-wai and Chiu Chi-hang were undaunted by Duchenne muscular dystrophy (a severe, rapidly degenerative form of the disease) and completed their bachelor of science degrees at Polytechnic University this summer.

The students, who have to use wheelchairs, came from the Hong Kong Red Cross' John F Kennedy Centre, a special school for disabled children. They were among the second batch of graduates from PolyU to have been schooled at the centre.

Lau was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy when he was eight years old. He said his health had deteriorated slightly since he started the course three years ago. He has difficulty turning over pages in books, but compensates for this by doing more of his learning on a computer.

However, it has not dampened his enthusiasm for learning.

Comparing secondary school and university, Lau said: 'University is like a buffet, you can get whatever you want.' He said the university offered more opportunities to ask questions. One night, he said, he stayed on campus talking to his professor until 11pm.

But he said he found that having early classes and late classes on the same day with a large gap in between was very draining. His final year of study was particularly demanding because of the workload and the increased difficulty of the subjects.

Over the years, Lau's mother has accompanied him to class, he said. Without her help, he could not even catch public transport from his home in Ma On Shan.

Chiu, a close friend of Lau, said he found his general poor health the biggest obstacle. Even a common flu laid him low several days longer than other students, making it difficult to catch up on missed class work.

Lau said the university had been supportive.

Wilfred Lai, a senior manager at the university's communications and public affairs office, said that a student councillor and an academic supervisor were assigned to the three students to meet their special needs and to watch over their academic progress.

Both Lau and Chiu, who are on the dean's honours list for outstanding academic performance, are now employed by the university's faculty of engineering.

Cheng, who delayed the completion of her course by a year due to poor health, said she aimed to live without regret every day and to find a job where she could contribute to the community.