A layer of obstacles

A layer of obstacles

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A layer of obstacles_L
Photo: Edward Wong
Visually impaired students in Hong Kong seem to be at a disadvantage when it comes to studying.

Blind candidates in this year's HKCEE were forced to play catch-up with their sighted classmates when studying for the exam. They had to wait up to three months for books and course notes to be transcribed into Braille.

Terry Lam Wing-shun, a blind 19-year-old Form Four student, recalls his friends struggling. 'My friends got their class notes later than other students so they didn't have enough time to prepare for the exam. It really affected their performance,' he says.

Every year, the revision materials that visually impaired students need are transcribed into Braille by The Hong Kong Society for the Blind.

But the society is overloaded with materials to be transcribed, and the transcription process is complicated and time-consuming. It's almost impossible for the students to get their textbooks by the start of the school year.

'Every page of a book has to be scanned into a computer or typed out manually before being transcribed. It would be much easier if soft copies were available,' Terry says.

Recent technology has made it possible for visually impaired students to access soft copies of textbooks and class notes using a special keyboard. Terry says all teachers and publishers should provide soft copies of books and notes so that visually impaired students can keep up with their sighted classmates.

'With the help of the special keyboard, which converts text into to Braille, blind students can read on the computer. But publishers are concerned about copyright issues, and they can't be bothered to take this extra step when it only caters to a small market,' says Terry.

Getting hold of teaching materials is only one of the problems blind students face. They are discouraged from studying science subjects because they involve experiments.

'My school told me I can only take arts and business subjects. I understand it takes extra time and effort for me to complete certain tasks, like doing experiments,' says Terry. 'But [blind scientist] Stevenson Fung Hon-yuen from the University of Hong Kong is a physics professor - this shows even the visually impaired can excel in science. I have also heard of special equipment that can help the blind identify changes while conducting science experiments.'

Another problem that hinders blind pupils at school is that they cannot read their teachers' writing and their teachers cannot read Braille. This affects class preparation, the marking of tests and assignments, and the entire learning process.

Despite all the obstacles, Terry refuses to let his disability stand in the way of his studies. He plans to attend university to fulfil his dreams of becoming a social worker or a teacher.

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