Against All Odds

Wheelchair-bound Shek Kip Mei student has to fight for every breath she takes

Kenneth Au was greatly impressed by Kiki's perseverance in overcoming the hardships during her studies

Kiki Hung Mei-ki has been growing up with myofibrillar myopathy – part of a group of disorders called muscular dystrophies that affect muscle function and cause weakness. It primarily affects skeletal muscles that the body uses for movement. She is from a working-class family in Shek Kip Mei, and the wheelchair-bound girl has had to fight for every breath she takes.

She learned of the translation and linguistics programme at CityU when the Jyutping Competition piqued her interest, and she soon put the Department of Linguistics and Translation as her Band A choice in the application form.

“Location was my major concern when I first applied to go to university,” Kiki says, as her respirator fogs up. “As long as the university is near my home, going to school won’t be a problem even when the weather is poor, so my learning progress won’t be affected.”

Once she started lectures, Hung was delighted to find herself being steeped in the rich universe of translation. Support, in all shapes and sizes, flooded in from the president to teachers and classmates.

“I remember when I started university, I had no idea how to spend the gap hours between early morning and late afternoon classes – there wasn’t enough time to travel between campus and home. This vexing issue urged me to voice my concern to the school and luckily, the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences offered me a room to rest during the free period.

The professors from my department have also shown a lot of care, easing my burden by helping me apply for a scholarship at the start of the semester. From time to time, the professors would come up and see whether I needed anything after class. I am very grateful for that.”

The encouragement of friends has played an important part in Hung’s school life. She says she would often sit in the back row at lectures, so there was little chance to communicate with classmates in a huge lecture hall. Her physical limitations often hampered her from giving her best performance in the group presentation, which would likely also affect the grades of those in her group.

Her classmates have been extremely considerate. One volunteered to be her partner in an interpreting project and shared her load as the speaker. “Although I don’t get to spend a lot of time with my classmates, I appreciate how they would happily come to my aid once I told them of my needs.”

CityU President Professor Way Kuo raised the issue of Hung spending a semester abroad as a foreign exchange student during a visit to her home. However, the dangers associated with flying put paid to any ideas of that happening.

On the day of this interview, President Kuo again asked Hung if she needed any assistance. “This time I declined his help,” Hung says. “The University has given me enough practical relief, so I must turn to myself for mental strength.”

Thankful for all the support she’s received from so many parties, Hung has grown into an intrepid and unyielding young woman, and, despite the limits of her movement, will exude her boundless aura in the days to come.

From time to time, the professors would come up and see whether I needed anything after class. I am very grateful for that

Kiki Hung

Student overcomes having to stand up throughout a three-hour class, and breathe through a respirator

It is every student’s right to receive university education, as long as they have the academic competence and the passion. This right ought to prevail regardless of whether some of these students have special educational needs (SEN).

Kenneth Au Kim-lung, Assistant Professor and Programme Leader of Bachelor of Arts in Translation and Interpretation, is a staunch advocate of this.

Au says admitting SEN students often makes it tougher for the university, which has to decide whether equal treatment works best for the students, and how it can support the learning of SEN students on their academic journey.

Au turned the clock back two years, when three SEN students made Linguistics and Translation the first choice on their JUPAS applications. The department may either give them bonus points to their applications, or do the selection according to normal procedures.

“At the time, I voted for the latter, on the basis that it would only do the SEN students harm if they could not face the academic challenges ahead. Or put it this way, if they meet the academic requirements and perform well during the interview, it would be proof of their competence.” Kiki Hung stood out in the JUPAS iteration process and got a place at CityU.

Although the faculty members on the admissions interview panel were aware of Kiki’s physical condition before the interview, seeing her in person still took them by surprise. “We did have students with osteogenesis imperfecta (also known as brittle bone disease) and muscular dystrophy, who attended lectures in a wheelchair,” he says. “But Kiki was a different story altogether. She had to breathe through a respirator, and was often gasping for breath. However, this didn’t stop her expressing her love for translation. Besides, her exam results met our requirements, so we decided to give it a go.”

Kiki lived up to expectations, maintaining a grade-point average (GPA) above 3 throughout her freshman year.

Students of the LT Department begin to choose their majors in their sophomore year, in which GPA is an important factor.

Au was delighted when Kiki earned a spot on translation and interpretation, her first choice major programme.

“Kiki has to stand up throughout the three-hour class due to physical restraints,” Au says. “Her mother pushes her wheelchair in and out during breaks so she can sit down for a change. They don’t want to disturb others during the lesson. They are really considerate.”

He says the pair always appreciate help from others, whether it is small gestures like holding the door open or helping them fill out the scholarship application forms.

“What I admire most about Kiki is her perseverance, and her willingness to try anything. Interpretation not only requires critical listening and speaking, it also involves public speaking exercises. These, given her conditions, are definitely not easy. We proposed waiving her the compulsory core interpretation course. She agreed at first, but after a day’s consideration, says she would be eager to accept the challenge if the professors didn’t mind her special needs. In the end, this subject didn’t drag on her overall results and her GPA stayed above 3 – which frankly proves that she is as competitive as a lot of ‘normal’ students.”

Au believes that more hardware support is required to help SEN students assimilate on campus. The Student Development Services and the Facilities Management Office have joined forces to design a special desk for Kiki. CityU has always encouraged SEN students to voice their needs, so it can make arrangements accordingly. As far as academics are concerned, the school is more inclined to fair treatment for all, but exemptions are possible if the students are incapable of fulfilling certain course requirements due to physical conditions.

What impresses Au the most about Kiki is that despite her physical limitations, she tirelessly pursues the infinite possibilities in the universe of knowledge. She also has a charitable mind. She even volunteers to be an Inclusion Ambassador, the first wheelchair user in the group, and helps other SEN students in CityU. “The decision to admit Kiki in our college is probably one of the best I’ve ever made.”