Blindness is no barrier: Ruth Yong's journey

Photo credit: Samantha Yong

By Ruth Yong

My name is Ruth Yong and I am visually impaired, totally blind due to premature birth.

But blindness hasn’t hampered me from achieving my goals, even if I had to work at least three times harder than students with sight.

I enrolled at Monash University to major in Communications and minor in Psychology, after being awarded a Shell scholarship for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Sciences.

I was the only blind student in all of Monash University Malaysia. Yet, the university went the extra mile to help me.

Not only was I given additional time to complete assignments and exams, and provided with Braille question papers, special software (JAWS) with a laptop, and a 40-minute break during exams. Throughout each semester, I was also supplied with each class’s reading material in a format I could hear.

To make this possible, Monash’s Disability Support Services painstakingly converted scanned PDF copies of the reading material into Word format. The conversion process is lengthy – it can even take weeks or months to prepare, due to formatting and editing issues. Regardless, I had to wait patiently as the service was indispensable.

For psychology classes, I had to request soft-copy textbooks. Student Services consulted with our university librarians, and they got in touch with textbook publishers so I could access entire textbooks electronically. But most of the time, I only received these soft copies a month or two after the semester had begun! As a result, I was always behind in my studies and had to catch up.

In 2014, I faced a particularly challenging semester. Among challenges are the communications class which involved visual studies, and we had to watch movies every week and write about them. Meanwhile, in a psychology class we were using SPSS statistical software. These class activities could not be processed through my text-to-speech JAWS software. I cried badly almost every week and decided to take a break from school after that semester ended. I almost gave up my studies altogether.

But I ended up returning to Monash in 2015, taking a full load of four classes. How did I make it through? Well, I was blessed with many people who helped.

For example, an Australian exchange friend took four hours every week to read, type, and explain things to me, such as lecture notes with diagrams. I also had supportive lecturers, whom I am very thankful for. In particular, I would like to express my deep appreciation to Dr Nicholas Chan from School of Arts and Dr Esther Chong from School of Business, who understood my needs.

At last, hard work and determination paid off. Even with my disability, I achieved my goal of graduating from one of the most established universities in Malaysia.

While it was stressful to meet Monash’s high standards, I overcame the challenge through a positive mindset. When there’s a will, there’s a way!

Likewise, I would like to encourage you to persist in whatever you do until you succeed.