IN February, I took to this column to say flat-out that I don't believe in the idea of segregating school-going or college-going students with disabilities from mainstream education.
I argued that if students are moved out of mainstream classrooms because they are different, an "out of sight, out of mind" situation can be created - a situation where people with disabilities are seen as "different" from the norm, perhaps even "inferior".
I presented evidence that this perception is indeed a misconception that is far from the truth; a fact that I was reminded of when a close friend, Cassandra Yeoh, helped me secure interviews with three Law students from Brickfields Asia College (BAC).
Two graduated with Second Class Upper honours from the University of Hertfordshire, and another in her final year of her degree at the University of Liverpool.
And all three of them are blind. So how did they do it?
Determination, perseverance and the use of technology. This is how all three of them overcame the challenges they faced despite being blind.
24-year old Jason Tang Kah Hung shared with me how he kept pace with his classmates when it came to note-taking during class.
"When it comes to note-taking, we use text-to-speech software on our laptops. Other than that, we depend mostly on our friends, or we ask the lecturers to repeat themselves so we can take down what we missed," said Tang.
Tang, who did his A-Levels and the first two years of his Law degree at BAC, also touched on the challenges of university life in Malaysia and England.
"I found university life challenging when it came to getting the books, because a lot of reading was needed. In Malaysia, it isn't as easy to get soft copies of the books from the publishers. Otherwise, it is all the same as our sighted classmates," he said.
Similar experiences were shared by another BAC and Hertfordshire graduate, 24-year old Jessie Low Fang Jun, who spoke of the benefits of using a computer as opposed to a Braille typewriter when it came to taking notes and answering questions in exams.
Low said she is used to using a computer to study and answer questions.
"In exams, using a Braille machine would mean that you have to change the paper often and this is one reason why it is time-consuming," said Low.
When approached, 21-year old Amanda Kong Hwei Zhen also spoke of the challenges faced by law students who are blind.
"We face challenges in obtaining the study materials we need, as we have to type them out in Braille or obtain the soft copies. BAC has helped a lot in obtaining the soft copies of the necessary textbooks for us. My lecturers and friends have been very helpful," said Kong.
She added that she persevered because she was determined to succeed.
Meanwhile, BAC managing director S. Raja Singham only had praise for the three students, saying that they had "fantastic personalities" and were an inspiration to others.
"I taught Jason A-Levels Law, and he attended all the classes. In the classes he was vibrant and bright, and they produced fantastic results," said Raja Singham.
He added that accommodating the three students wasn't a huge challenge, and that BAC was also working to get special-needs students into the mainstream school system.
"People have to be let in and given a chance, and we can learn more from them than they can learn from us when it comes to facing and coping with challenges and adversity," he said.
I would agree with Raja Singham. People have to be let in and given a fair chance, regardless of whether they live with disabilities or not.
And this got me thinking. All three of them - Jason, Jessie and Amanda have worked so hard in the face of challenge, and have come so far. On paper, there is no doubt that Jason and Jessie have a solid foundation to enter the job market, and that Amanda is not far behind them in getting hers.
However, will they be able to enter the job market? Will they be given a fair chance, or will they be treated with prejudice and discriminated? These questions still remain.
And it is up to the legal community to answer those questions when the time comes.
I have faith that Jason, Jessie and Amanda will be up to the mark. Will you accept them, my learned friends?
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