A-Level wonder: Blind girl qualifies for uni, thanks to classmates
A-level candidate Ong Hui Xin got by with more than a little help from her friends.
Miss Ong, 20, who was blinded by cancer when she was one-month old, thinks her results, which were announced yesterday, are good enough for her to enter the university of her choice.
She hopes to study psychology at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
She said that friendship was the most valuable thing she gained from her three years at Millennia Institute (MI).
Said Miss Ong: "I could not have done it without my friends. I appreciate them not just for their help but also because I felt they are doing it out of compassion and not out of pity."
One of her classmates, Mr Joseph Edwin D'Cruz, 20, said: "She perceives people very differently from others.
"While others form first impressions based on appearances, she instead perceives (others based on) their voice and what they say.
"I feel she really listens without judging and I can open up to her."
Despite being different, she felt welcomed as all her classmates offered her their help, fostering a strong sense of community within the class.
When her friends chat with her on instant messaging app WhatsApp, she has the option to record snippets of her voice in her reply.
But she often takes the more difficult route of typing her responses out on the touchscreen of her iPhone 6.
Her friends said she sometimes makes typing mistakes, but they can still understand her.
Thanks to a text-to-speech converter software installed on her laptop, she is able to keep up with her classmates despite her disability.
Instead of hard-copy notes which her classmates get, she gets it in soft copy so that she can listen to them with her earpiece as the software reads out the words to her.
Her personal laptop was not customised with blind-friendly features such as a braille keyboard, as she felt she could cope without it.
While she initially found it difficult, Miss Ong is now proficient enough to type normally.
Another classmate, Mr Kejamughan Parathidasan, 20, is computer-savvy and was helpful when Miss Ong had technical difficulties with her laptop.
Apart from solving system errors, he helped Miss Ong by repeating what the lecturer said whenever she missed it, or by reading aloud the words on the whiteboard.
Miss Ong, who plays the saxophone in the school's symphonic band, also performed well enough to represent the school in the Singapore Youth Festival (SYF) 2013.
Fellow band member, Teh Sook Hui, 20,would type out a description of the sheet music (including the dynamics of the song and the length of notes) to help her friend learn it. She also recorded herself playing for Miss Ong to listen to.
Since she could not refer to her friend's notes during the performance, she completely memorised them before her practice sessions.
Her friends even chipped in to help make everyday acts like eating and walking around easier.
She said: "My friends likened my plate of food to a clock face, telling me, 'There's a fishball at two o'clock' or 'There's meat at six o'clock' to help me see.
Miss Ong has grown so close to her classmates that they can tease and make fun of one another.
For example, since Miss Ong wears a earpiece with a voice-over of notes for the class from her laptop, her classmates teased her about listening to music instead of paying attention in class.
And she held out for sweets when classmates asked her to join their project group for her strong subjects, like English Literature.
Her form teacher, Madam Shamala Maheswaran, 48, said Ms Ong is an extremely resilient girl who tried to be self-sufficient.
When she got lost mid-lesson, she would not ask the lecturer to repeat himself, choosing to approach him after the lesson.
Instead of feeling dejected when she did poorly in tests, she would keep trying until she got it right, said the teacher.
For her efforts, Miss Ong received a special mention by the school during the release of the A-level results yesterday. The entire cohort applauded when she went on stage.
She told TNP: "I felt proud to be recognised by the school, but I believe I am no different from any other normal student."
'It's good to know we have many options'
I could not have done it without my friends. I appreciate them not just for their help but also because I felt they are doing it out of compassion and not out of pity.
- Former Millennia Institute student Ong Hui Xin
Mum is her pillar of support
When she was a month old, Miss Ong Hui Xin was diagnosed with an illness called bilateral retinoblastoma, a type of eye cancer.
Her mother, who did not want to be named, said she first noticed it when looking at her daughter and realising that her irises were not black. Instead, they looked "empty".
The baby was rushed to a clinic and was given multiple examinations and X-rays before doctors arrived at the diagnosis.
A prosthetic pair of eyes replaced her original set, which were surgically removed.
While some other blind persons might have the ability to tell light from dark, Miss Ong Hui Xin, 20, has no sense of sight at all.
As an infant, Miss Ong slept in the day and was awake at night because she could not sense light, recalled her mother.
She has been a pillar of support for her daughter, accompanying her from her Tampines flat to school every day.
Until Miss Ong's friends started helping her out at the Millennia Institute early in her first year, Mrs Ong would even wait in the school library during her lessons and guide her from one venue to another during breaks.