“Being disabled should not mean being disqualified from having access to every aspect of life.”
Today I want to tell you about Tsang Tsz-Kwan, an amazing 20 year old young woman from Hong Kong, China. If you were to pass her on the sidewalk, her general appearance would be like an average student in Hong Kong with her standard-issue blue shift dress with a Chinese collar and practical black shoes.
Tsang’s determination has helped her in a recent test score to come within the top 5% for nearly all her subjects in the city’s college entrance examination. You may wonder what could be so amazing about her and her accomplishments.
Well, Tsang has been blind and severely hearing impaired from a young age. She also has weak sensitivity in her fingertips, which prevents her from being able to feel the raised dots of braille characters. But rather than give up, she found a different way to read braille – with her lips.
When I read about Tsang for the first time I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I had never heard of such a thing. Mee-Lin Chiu, Tsang’s first grade (equivalent) teacher noticed her using her lips to read. Tsang herself admitted, “I knew it’s not a common approach and it sounds rather strange. Even I myself don’t know how it came about.” She even called it “miraculous.”
According to Diane Wormsely, a professor at North Carolina Central University who specializes in education of the visually impaired, “This is the first I have heard of someone being successful using the lips.”
Tsang’s lip-reading skill does not come without its challenges. “Nobody could accept it in the beginning,” she says, “Even now many people find it odd… It’s caused some embarrassment when I read in public places and in front of people that I don’t have a close relationship with.”
The size and weight of braille books do not make reading easy either. But because one of Tsang’s favorite past times is reading, she presses through with remarkable hard work and determination. In her words, “Without the courage to challenge myself, there is surely no possibility of success.”
By the time she reached seventh grade (equivalent), Tsang decided to leave the familiar Ebenezer school and move to a secondary school, a more authentic, mainstream environment. In her words, “I have to facilitate my adaptation to society when I finish my studies and have to enter the workplace.”
In her final year she scored the highest possible grade for Chinese English and Liberal Studies, Chinese Literature and English Literature and almost that high for math. Her academic accomplishments even surprised her. She hopes to go on to study translation at the university so that she can make books available in other languages.
I am still in awe of Tsang. Thank you, Alexis Lai, the reporter, who shared it on cnn.com (7/17/13). People like Tsang and Helen Keller and Stevie Wonder and Michael J. Fox remind us of the capacity of the human spirit to rise above the most debilitating disabilities. Or, as Robert M. Hensel said, “I choose not to place ‘dis’ in my ability.”
As Tsang looks toward her future, in a matter-of-fact tone she says, “The inconveniences and limitations (my impairments) bring will follow me my whole life… and I must have courage to face the facts… I’m going to treasure what I still have.”
“I would like to encourage everyone to have the courage and perseverance to go through all the ups and downs in our lives because I know everyone has their own difficulties. But one thing is for sure, where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Next time I am tempted to complain about the less-than-perfect circumstances that are upon me, I will remember the youngblind and nearly deaf Chinese woman who reads braille with her lips. And if that doesn’t work, just slap me.
Think about it.
Dr. Don Meyer is President ofValley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA
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