Spirit of Hong Kong

Blind student's words speak of grit and spirit

Blind student Tsang Tsz-kwan may not be keen on the limelight, but when she does share her views, you can be sure she'll speak her mind

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 12:19pm

It's a rare interview. Tsang Tsz-kwan normally shuns publicity.

The 20-year-old blind and hearing-impaired student sits in a room at her alma mater Ying Wa Girls' School. Here's the girl who made headlines in July with her excellent Diploma of Secondary Education examination results. She scored 5* and above in five subjects and a 4 in the sixth.

In July, the public learnt through media reports about how Tsang - who was educated at the Ebenezer School and Home for the Visually Impaired at the primary level - read Braille with her lips because her fingers lacked the sensitivity to read it with her hands.

Now, Tsang studies translation at the Chinese University, where she's gradually settling into and trying her best to adapt to her new school life.

These days, she continues to read Braille with her lips. But with the help of the Jockey Club Rehabilitation Centre, she now uses a modified keyboard that better suits her fingers. The keyboard allows her to input braille that her computer would translate directly into words.

Up until the end of secondary school, Tsang had a resource teacher from Ebenezer to help her with her studies. But now, she is learning to cope on her own in her four-year translation degree course, with the help of her university peers.

"The lifestyle and mode of learning in university is very different from before," she says.

Prior to the interview, Tsang had said she would speak in Cantonese; but in the end, she opted for English instead. Her economy of language and succinctness in vocabulary has a public-speaking aplomb to it.

"This is the hardware; we need to work on the software," she says as I ask about facilities for blind people in Hong Kong. "There have to be more activities that ordinary people and disabled people can participate in together. So disabled people can learn how to integrate into society and ordinary people can learn how to get along with disabled people. Theoretical education is not enough."

Tsang smiles readily, is amused by some of my questions, but also controls her answers. I ask her age. "You know that from the other media interviews," she says. I ask her father's job, as a way of giving some family background. "I don't think that's the focus of this interview."

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Tsang lives in university accommodation, but doesn't share a room. "She has a lot of equipment," says Ying Wa College English teacher Kwong Ho-ka, who is close friends with Tsang these days. "Her Braille machine makes quite a bit of noise. And she has so many books."

Tsang loves reading novels and books about science. "I still find time to squeeze in some novels," she says, after describing the painstaking process of writing in Braille, where she not only has to type everything into the computer herself, but also has to rely on her peers to inform her of when something from her lecture notes is underlined or in italics.

"It's all very time-consuming," she says, remarking that the arduous process of studying and essay writing for her usually takes about three to four times as long as for other students.

"I'm interested in both arts and science subjects, and I like chatting with others. It's one way in which I learn about other people's lives. There's mutual encouragement and spiritual support that you get through sharing feelings."

Tsang's choice of novels ranges from British author William Golding's Lord of the Flies "which I found very thought-provoking", to American writer Jean Webster's Daddy-Long-Legs, to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. "I like encouraging novels," she says. "Books about people's struggles, how Jane Eyre's early childhood was not that smooth and the very harsh environment she faced growing up in an orphanage. Right from the beginning, she had to learn to cope."

But what about the bit where Jane Eyre gets to kiss her boss when she worked as a governess?

"No, I'm not particularly romantic," says Tsang, adding that she also enjoys writing. "Sometimes, I do write essays about my own experiences and activities."

She says she's slowly making new friends in the university. It takes her a while, she says, because not only can she not see her peers' faces, being hearing-impaired, it also takes her a while to become accustomed to the tenor of her friends' voices so she can recognise each person.

For those with disabilities, Tsang thinks it's up to them to study hard for academic achievements. But for the public in general, she believes that more education is necessary.

"We might have a lot of limitations," she says, speaking about people with disabilities. "But nowadays, with new knowledge and state-of-the-art technology available, our problems can actually be solved one way or another. People should be more open-minded and provide us with more opportunities.

"One way people can see what we can truly do? Assign us tasks."