Street Talk

HK Magazine - - UPFRONT -

Re­put­edly Hong Kong’s only blind teacher, Billy Yau Wai-lok teaches at the Chi­nese YMCA Sec­ondary School in Tin Shui Wai. He tells Natasha Fer­nan­des how he be­gan his jour­ney and how he copes with his sur­round­ings.

HK Magazine: Tell us a lit­tle about your­self.

How and when did you lose your sight?

Billy Yau: I lost my eye­sight at the age of 2 due to op­tic nerve at­ro­phy. Doc­tors couldn’t iden­tify the rea­son for the dis­ease and, de­spite ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy to­day, it’s still im­pos­si­ble to re­pair one’s op­tic nerve. I went to Ebenezer School for the Vis­ually Im­paired un­til Form 1, when I en­tered St. Paul’s Col­lege. I stud­ied English Lan­guage Ed­u­ca­tion at HKU and grad­u­ated in 2008. I’ve been teach­ing ever since.

HK: Why did you want to be­come a teacher?

BY: I was in­spired by two of my pri­mary school teach­ers. My P.5 Chi­nese teacher would ask us to write a weekly jour­nal every week and she’d write back long and de­tailed replies, which sparked my love for Chi­nese. The other was my class teacher in P.6. She al­ways spent time chat­ting with us about any­thing from friend­ship to so­cial is­sues. Once I was up­set and wrote her a let­ter. To my sur­prise, she called me af­ter din­ner, chat­ting to me and com­fort­ing me. I was moved to tears. I re­al­ized the role of teach­ers is to ac­com­pany ado­les­cents and guide them when they face dif­fi­cul­ties.

HK: How does be­ing blind af­fect your teach­ing meth­ods—and how you keep the kids in line?

BY: I carry out most of my teach­ing du­ties on the com­puter. For ex­am­ple, I have my stu­dents turn in their as­sign­ments via email and in the class­room, I type on my note­book com­puter and con­nect it to the pro­jec­tor while teach­ing. As for dis­ci­pline, I have my stu­dents work on their com­put­ers and send their work to me via in­stant mes­sen­ger to en­sure they’re on task.

HK: What ma­te­ri­als do you use to teach your stu­dents?

BY: Most of my ma­te­ri­als come from the in­ter­net. With younger stu­dents, I use YouTube clips a lot as they are ef­fec­tive in catch­ing stu­dents’ at­ten­tion and serve as use­ful prompts for writ­ing. With stu­dents in se­nior forms, I make use of arti­cles avail­able on­line and adapt them into gram­mar ex­er­cises as well as read­ing, writ­ing and speak­ing tasks. If it weren’t for the com­puter, it would be dif­fi­cult for me to find teach­ing re­sources.

HK: How is tech­nol­ogy evolv­ing to help the blind? BY: In the past, every­thing had to be trans­lated into Braille or read aloud and recorded for the vis­ually im­paired to read. It was time-con­sum­ing, so blind peo­ple had very lim­ited ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion. Now, more than nine Hong Kong news­pa­pers are up­loaded to a site for the vis­ually im­paired every day. I can also read e-books and e-jour­nals. An­other use­ful tech­nol­ogy is smart­phones. It’s dif­fi­cult for us to grasp the en­vi­ron­ment around us—for ex­am­ple, which street we are on and what shops are around us. But a smart­phone gives us all this in­for­ma­tion. Some apps even al­low us to take pho­tos of an ob­ject and tell us what color it is—or even what it is. Isn’t that in­cred­i­ble?

HK: How does Hong Kong com­pare to other cities when it comes to ac­ces­si­bil­ity for the blind? BY: Hong Kong is do­ing a great job in the sense that we have guided paths al­most ev­ery­where in pub­lic places and most traf­fic lights are in­stalled with au­di­ble sig­nals. When I vis­ited Aus­tralia I found that there weren’t as many fa­cil­i­ties for the vis­ually im­paired.

But in terms of hu­man re­sources, coun­tries like the US and Aus­tralia seem to be more help­ful for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. In Aus­tralia, the gov­ern­ment pays peo­ple to be “read­ers” for vis­ually im­paired peo­ple to as­sist them with their stud­ies and work, which is some­thing we don’t have in Hong Kong.

HK: What are some mis­con­cep­tions you’ve faced? BY: Some peo­ple think that blind peo­ple can walk around smoothly be­cause we re­mem­ber the num­ber of steps we take from one place to an­other. In fact, we never do this and it’s im­pos­si­ble to re­mem­ber! What we do is, we have a map in our minds and we walk ac­cord­ing to how we per­ceive the en­vi­ron­ment through our other senses. When I’m walk­ing with my cane, some­times I have to de­tect where an ob­ject is so I can avoid it, or I have to walk along the side of a wall. But peo­ple al­ways think that I will bump into it: They shout out warn­ings or even grab me from be­hind!

HK: Sounds pretty an­noy­ing!

BY: Some peo­ple try to avoid the words “see” and “watch” when they talk to a blind per­son. They’ll say, “Did you lis­ten to the TV pro­gram last night?” It’s weird, isn’t it? Ac­tu­ally, we don’t mind hear­ing such words— but what we do mind is be­ing talked to as if we were a spe­cial type of peo­ple.

For more on how you can help the vis­ually im­paired in Hong Kong, visit the Hong Kong So­ci­ety for the Blind at hksb.org.hk.

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