Amanda Kong Hwei Zhen, 21, was born blind but that does not stop her from rising to be a high-achiever in life.

Kong was born with congenital glaucoma which resulted in visual impairment. She underwent a couple of operations during childhood to remove cataract and drain fluid from both eyes to keep intraocular pressure in check.

“I could not do things that normal kids do, such as reading, watching television, and running about freely without guidance. Sometimes I felt frustrated and banged my head against the wall; I wailed and tore pages out of books to release tension. Thankfully, I have very patient, loving and supportive parents. They understood me very well, and tried to include me in everything they did so that I would not feel left out. Gradually, I learnt to accept reality and adapted to my disability.

“Learning Braille was quite challenging. Thanks to my mum, I was able to muster the basics by the age of five. As a child, I could still see large letters and colours. As I grew older, my vision deteriorated,” Kong related.

By the age of 10, Kong could only see very bright colours. Her vision continued to deteriorate until she could only distinguish day from night.

But her handicap did not stop her from shining in her studies. Kong enjoyed her primary school years. She attended an integrated programme which allowed her to mix freely with other normal kids. She had a very dedicated teacher whom she remembers fondly as Cikgu Hareyah.

“Cikgu Hareyah was terrific. I learnt a lot from her. She dedicated her time and effort to help me and a few of my friends who were visually impaired, to cope with our homework. She made sure we understood the subject matter thoroughly.”

Kong scored five As in the UPSR.

Kong enjoys playing with her pet dogs when she is not studying.

Kong enjoys playing with her pet dogs when she is not studying.

However, she faced a big challenge when she wanted to enrol in secondary school. There were no secondary schools in Kajang which ran an integrated programme.

“My mum appealed to the Education Ministry to set up such a programme in my school. Thankfully, she succeeded in her appeal,” said Kong, who scored 7As in the PMR.

“After finishing Form Three, the teachers who ran the programme decided to stop it and asked me to enrol in a school for the visually impaired.”

Kong’s mother again stepped in and successfully appealed to the Education Ministry to allow her daughter to complete her secondary education in the same school. Kong scored 8A+ and 1B+ in the SPM.

Kong enrolled at Brickfields Asia College and amazed everyone when she won the Cambridge A-levels Best Student in the World for Law award in 2013. That same year, she bagged the first prize in the Braille Reading Competition in Bangkok.

Kong is currently pursuing the final year of her law degree at the University of Liverpool. She is very pleased with the services provided by the university in the form of library assistance, mobility assistance and special equipment.

She hopes to pursue the Bar Professional Training Course in Britain after her degree, and aspires to be a criminal defence lawyer.

Kong credits her success to her mother, Won Yuen Fong.

“She taught me Braille and translated storybooks into Braille for me when I was young, so that I could read them. From primary school right through college, my mum translated my notes and textbooks for me. For subjects such as Mathematics, Geography and Economics, my mum prepared diagrams for me in Braille. She is my guide and my eyes, and I love her to bits.”

The ever-optimistic Kong sees her condition as a special gift. The lack of sight has heightened her other senses. “My hearing is very sharp and my sense of touch and smell is heightened. I can smell the rain! I can describe people’s emotions, their features and facial expressions quite accurately at times.”

In sharing what keeps her going, Kong quotes a line from her favourite Harry Potter series: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

“Life’s challenges have indeed made me a stronger and tougher person,” said Kong.

Beyond Barriers is a platform for sharing and raising awareness on disability issues and any chronic medical condition. We welcome contributions from readers who have a disability or any special needs, caregivers, advocates of disability groups, or anyone living with any chronic medical condition.