How I Deal with Being Visually Impaired

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I became visually impaired (totally blind) due to being prematurely born at six months.

When my mum gave birth to me after her six-month pregnancy, the doctor in one of the private hospitals told her that I was too small and not fully-developed, hence, he had to supply oxygen in order for me to live.

Newborn premature baby in the NICU intensive care
[Image via International Milk Genomics]

However, the doctor supplied too much oxygen which caused a complete burn to my optic nerves. This is medically known as retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).

Despite this misfortune, I would not let blindness hamper me from becoming an inspiration to others and achieving my future goals.

There are various ways that a visually impaired or totally blind individual can achieve a normal, independent life.

Mobility and living skills

In terms of mobility, I usually require assistance from others to take me around places, as it is quite challenging for me to move around on my own.

Places such as university buildings, shopping malls, and others will not be as easily accessible to me, as they are big, expansive surroundings and I have no sense of direction.

However, if the surrounding area is small and I can easily navigate around, (for example, my own house) then it is possible to familiarise myself with the environment.

In terms of travelling to and fro from Kuching to KL, I usually travel by myself.

Roadside tactile flooring for the visually impaired
 [Image via The Star]

Fortunately, I am provided assistance from the airport ground staff from the airport walkway to the airplane.

Inside the airplane, the air steward or stewardess will provide assistance to me and ensure my safety is the top priority.

When it comes to managing myself such as taking a shower, eating, and more, I use my sense of touch to adapt.

Here, there is not much of a difference with the sighted, since for the blind it’s just a matter of getting used to my surroundings.

My Unique Journey In Education

During my primary school days, I studied in a special school for the blind. I was taught to read and type in Braille using the Braille machine.

When I was in secondary school, I studied in a mainstream school, where blind students  studied together with the sighted.

There were limited textbooks in Braille, so I would purchase hard-copy textbooks, scan them using software such as ABBYY Fine Reader, and use Open Book to convert them into Microsoft Word format.

Computer screenshot of text conversion software ABBY FineReader
[Image via PC Asia]
This conversion process enables my screen reader software such as Job Access with Speech (JAWS) and NonVisual Desktop Access (NVDA) to read aloud the text that is displayed on the screen.

Youtube video screenshot of a JAWS Demonstration
[Source: JAWS Demonstration]
For my tertiary studies, I enrolled in Monash University Malaysia where I majored in Communication and minored in Psychology.

I was the only blind student in the whole of Monash University Malaysia.

As a visually impaired person, I’d say I had to put in at least three times more effort in studying than the sighted.

For example, I had to record each lecture so I could listen to them again when I got home.

Most of the soft copy materials were only available in a scanned copy format, where my screen reader software was not able to read them. I had to send those materials to the university student welfare organisation to assist in the conversion process to Microsoft Word.

Sometimes, I would be left behind in my studies due to the enormous time required for the conversion and editing processes.

Finally, in April 2019, I managed to graduate from one of the most prestigious universities in the world. It took all my hard work and determination to go through this journey.

Graduation ceremony at Monash University of Ruth Yong
[Source: The writer at her graduation ceremony]

Having A Positive mindset

In order to be an inspiration to others, I do not allow blindness to hinder me from living a normal life and achieving my goals.

What words or actions people may attempt to have on me doesn’t matter — I determine my own life and future. It is my desire to show my capabilities to the maximum that led me to where I am today.

I’m Christian, so I often pray to God for a miracle to heal my eyesight. I also love to share my experiences with others who are in the same boat as me, to give a sense of hope.

Conclusion

Everyone goes through different challenges in life. Even those who are normal also have their own challenges to face.

But I’ve learnt that it is how we perceive these challenges and how quickly we move on in life despite those challenges that make us who we are.

For now, I want to continue being an inspiration to others and not let circumstances hinder me!

For more articles like this, read: Interview with Marilyn: Hearing Impairment in a Hearing World and Autism Acceptance in My Late 20s.

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