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Disabled Students Enjoy Mainstream School Life

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from Hong Kong Government News, February 11, 2005:

Like any other secondary school student, 16-year-old Sham Tsz-lun goes to school and enjoys learning everyday. What sets her apart from other students is her braille machine and notebook computer installed with screen-reading software: Tsz-lun is blind.

In recent years, the government has driven a whole-school approach to integrated education, through which students with special educational needs can integrate into mainstream schools and receive schooling alongside their peers.

Schools are provided with human resources, financial assistance, professional support and training, including a top-up fund to buy special equipment to assist learning, like Tsz-lun's braille machine and notebook.

A Caring School Culture

Education & Manpower Bureau Inspector for Special Education, Chan Ka-lap, said integrated education helps students with special needs fully develop their potential. It also helps establish a caring school culture and enhance acceptance of these students by school members and parents. This is beneficial to students with or without a disability.

"In the 2004/05 school year, a total of 117 schools have adopted a whole-school approach to inclusion with an enrollment of about 800 students with special education needs, such as hearing impairment, visual impairment, physical disability, autistic disorders or mild grade intellectual disability.

"On top of additional teaching staff and resources, public-sector schools can apply for a one-off top-up fund to purchase special furniture and equipment or carry out minor conversion works for their students with disabilities so as to meet their immediate needs," Mr. Chan said.

One-Off Top-Up Fund

For example, schools can make use of the fund to procure braille machines, computers or closed-circuit television sets for visually impaired students, or assistive hearing devices for deaf students. The fund can also be used to build ramps and railings for physically disabled students.

The braille machine and laptop computer with screen reading function that Sham Tsz-lun is using was purchased through the fund by Po Kuk Secondary School, where she studies.

"In the past, I used to spend a lot of time taking notes and doing homework," Tsz-lun said. "Now I can jot down notes during class using the braille machine and do revision with the help of the computer. It makes my life easier."

She admitted she was a bit worried about adjusting in a mainstream school, but her worries were quickly swept away.

"The encouragement and patience of my teachers and classmates help me develop self-confidence. My school life is much more enjoyable than I had imagined it could be," she said.

Special Needs Students No Less Talented

Leung Sau-ying, the teacher in charge of integrated education at the school, believes students with special education needs are not necessarily weaker in academic performance than others.

"Take Tsz-lun as an example. The fact that she cannot see makes no impact on her active learning attitude. Other students are also inspired by her 'never give up' determination," Miss Leung said.

The school has admitted ten students with a disability in the 2004/05 school year. It is evident that they can perform outstandingly in mainstream schools.

Now a Secondary Three student, Tsz-lun not only did well in her class, but also took the first runner-up award in last year's Hong Kong Schools Speech Festival.

Miss Leung said teachers and students are moved by Tsz-lun's efforts. Some teachers even encourage her to work hard and become another Chong Chan-yau, the blind Executive Director of Oxfam Hong Kong, who does not let his disability impede his success.

The cheerful young lady does not let her teachers down. As she deeply appreciated the difficulties in learning that visually impaired students face, she wants to be a programmer to design advanced learning software to help blind people learn more easily.

Over $2.2m Approved for Special Needs

Mr. Chan said a caring study environment is essential for every student. Through adaptation in teaching methods, use of technology in learning, peer support and parent participation, as well as the bureau's professional support, students with special education needs are helped to realize their full potential in mainstream schools.

Schools should make flexible use of the resources and professional support the bureau offers to meet students' special needs. They can also apply for the top-up fund.

The maximum amount of each top-up fund application is $100,000. Since 2001, more than $2.2 million has been approved to 57 schools, benefiting more than 100 secondary and primary students.