Disabled students should be treated as equals and given a chance to show their talents, a youth organisation official said. Kenny Yuen Chi-fai, children and youth development co-ordinator for TREATS - a non-profit group promoting integration of handicapped people into society - said able-bodied children should develop a positive atti tude towards their less-fortunate counterparts. 'Showing sympathy or providing extra care is not enough. We should treat handicapped people as equals and give them opportunities to contribute to society,' Mr Yuen said. Integrated education for the disabled has always been a controversial issue in Hong Kong. Advocates say it would help provide equal opportunities for disabled people. Patsy Leung Pui-see, project co-ordinator of the Support Committee on Integrating Education, said: 'People have ste reotyped concepts and blind fears of the disabled, especially the mentally handicapped.' Since the late 1960s, the Education Department has been moving towards integrating children with special needs into ordinary schools. In the 1996-97 school year, about 1,200 disabled children studied in 600 primary and secondary schools. In the last academic year (1997-98), the department launched a two-year integrated education pilot project. Forty- six disabled students were assigned to seven primary and two secondary schools. Fair chance Li Hoi-kee, a teacher at Fung Yiu King Memorial Secondary School, one of the integrated schools, said the project could help students develop a positive attitude towards disabled people. Reuben Lee Yat-tin, 18, a sixth former at Clementi Secondary School, believes putting disabled students in conventional classes would help them adapt to society and increase their self- confidence. Louise Ng Ka-yee, 18, also supports integrated education. 'We cannot just leave the disabled in special centres. They are also entitled to an education,' she said. Before the project started, most disabled children were educated in special schools. Not all teachers were trained to teach disabled students. There were no speech thera pists to help mentally handicapped children, most of whom had speech problems. Cheung Yun-hang, a third former at Fung Yiu King Memorial Secondary School, suffered severe burns from the Pat Sin Leng fire in 1996. 'When I walk down the street, people stare at me as if I were a monster. But my schoolmates treat me as an equal,' he said. Tsang Nga-lai, 13, a first former from Kwok Tak Seng Catholic Secondary School, another school in the pilot project, said she was afraid of people disfigured from burns when she first came into contact with them. 'But soon I realised they were brave and optimistic, and even stronger than us.' But not everyone is happy with integrated education. Terry Shun Yat-kei, 18, wondered whether disabled students would benefit from regular classes. 'Putting them in normal schools would be inconvenient. It would affect the studying atmosphere and place a heavy burden on teachers,' he said. John Chuang Hoi-yuen, 18, also had doubts whether teachers were qualified to teach disabled students. The Education Department hopes to expand the project to 40 schools in the 1999-2000 academic year.