Cerebral palsy couldn't stop this app writer from defeating the odds and getting noticed

Cerebral palsy couldn't stop this app writer from defeating the odds and getting noticed

Sunny Cheung Sai-ho hasn't let his athetoid cerebral palsy get in the way of his app writing

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App writer Sunny Cheung at his home in Tin Shui Wai.
App writer Sunny Cheung at his home in Tin Shui Wai.
Photo: May Tse/SCMP

Sending an email is a pretty simple task. Most of us can do it in a matter of seconds. But this is not the case for Sunny Cheung Sai-ho.

Confined to a wheelchair and barely able to control his head and arms, the app programmer fumbles on a specially designed mouse to type and send a short email. It takes him 10 minutes.

"I'd be useless without the computer," says Sunny, 31, who relies on his parents to translate his mumbled speech.

His father, Cheung Sing-tin, says Sunny was a healthy child, but suffers from athetoid cerebral palsy because of the hospital's neglect at birth. His brain had insufficient oxygen supply, resulting in physical problems including seizures, weak muscle development and trouble with speech. Cheung and his wife were not well educated, and believed their son's conditions would improve over time. "We never knew the consequences would be so serious … There wasn't even a place we could go to for help at the time - the Hospital Authority wasn't established in the late '80s," says Cheung.

So Sunny grew up never being able to walk or run. He relied on his parents' help for every basic task. When he was a teenager, he had to undergo surgery to insert a metal rod into his back to prevent his body collapsing. He couldn't even express himself because people couldn't understand what he said. Frustrated, he would cry. But he never gave up. The Cheung family wasn't well off, so Sunny vowed to work extra hard. "If I didn't study, I'd have to work in a sheltered workshop for the rest of my life," he says.

After Cheung retired a decade ago, the family lived with an income of less than HK$10,000 a month. They seldom eat out, and Cheung makes their furniture and bed sheets. Sunny uses second-hand computers. His best shirt costs around HK$100.


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But Sunny's parents made up for the lack of material support by dedicating all their time and effort to helping him with his studies. Sunny struggled with exams because he typed too slowly, and did poorly in his A-levels. "The exam system shut down all my options, so I decided to learn a skill," says Sunny. He pursued a Higher Diploma in Computer System Administration at the Institute of Vocation Education (IVE). His father accompanied him to a school in Tsing Yi and waited outside for hours while Sunny attended lessons. "He's so determined, we just had to support him," says Cheung.

For his final project, he developed a face-controlled computer and graduated with first-class honours.

"Would you believe it? He wasn't even a science student at secondary school," says Cheung. "He learned all the maths he needed from tutor classes and studying extra hard."

Sunny went on to complete a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Information Systems, a programme run by the Leeds Metropolitan University in Hong Kong. But being disabled, he couldn't find a job.

It all changed when he met Howard Ling Ho-wan three years ago. Ling runs Team More, a mobile apps company, and was intrigued by Sunny's CV. He paid a visit to their home, and decided to fork out HK$60,000 to buy Sunny an Apple server, products and textbooks so he could learn to write apps.

Sunny didn't disappoint. Three months later, he had written his first app. He shows Young Post an app he wrote to help autistic people express themselves with photos. "As a disabled person, I want to help others with disabilities," he says.

Sunny is now a temporary employee at eClass, an online teaching and administration platform used by many schools in Hong Kong. He is the first disabled person the company has ever hired.

"We jumped for joy when we learned he would be earning HK$14,000 a month. We would have been thankful with half of that,"says Cheung.

The family celebrated Sunny's first paycheck with a hearty meal at a Chinese restaurant.

Although he is allowed to work from home, Sunny struggles to keep up even by working almost 10 hours every day, seven days a week. The stress from the complicated work has also caused him many sleepless nights.

He thinks mobile apps will fade out in couple of years, and he is set to study for a master's degree at Baptist University after the summer.

"I'm more suited for research work," he says. "The commercial world is too fast for me. I can't keep up."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Skills over studies

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