What stands out about Amanda Kong Hwei Zhen, 24, is not merely her visual impairment, it is in fact her intelligence, self-sufficient nature and a woman full of personality that exudes life. When I first met her many moons ago, I really didn’t know how to deal with her being blind, much like many people who have met her. I was curious about this woman who was born with congenital (childhood) glaucoma and graduated with a First Class Honours from the University of Liverpool, who stood tall when called to the Malaysian Bar, and aspires to school people on the rights of persons with disabilities who want to live in a world where their disabilities are not viewed as ‘heroic’.
Regardless of able-status, that’s one impressive resume! One wonders, how she managed to do it all. How does she navigate the world without the one sense many of us rely on so heavily? Enter Allison Won Yuen Fong, Amanda’s mother and source of inspiration.
We interview these two resilient women this #IWD2019. Read on to find out more.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Allison Won Yuen Fong. I am 56 years old. I am happily married and blessed with three wonderful children. As my eldest child, Amanda was born with visual impairment, I decided to give up my fulltime job as a secretary and become a homemaker to care for her.
What is your role as a mother in raising a visually impaired child?
As a parent with a disabled child, it is important to help your child cope with his or her disability in the best way possible. I helped Amanda by figuring out ways to get around things such as navigating through obstacles and mobility access, a simple example being counting the number of steps to reach a particular destination and removing furniture in the house in a way which made it easier for Amanda to walk around the house without bumping into them.
I learnt Braille and taught it to Amanda. In addition, I thought her certain essential house chores, such as cooking and doing the laundry. I always believed in her and never gave up on her. I helped her whenever she faced difficulties in her studies. For instance, when Amanda faced the problem of lack of study materials during her years at school, I will prepare and translate the books into Braille for her, and produce tactile diagrams for her. I have always endeavoured to support Amanda by always encouraging her to pursue her life goals. I provided emotional support during trying times.
What has helped Amanda the most to succeed in university and outside university?
Amanda always has a positive outlook on life. She believes that perseverance and determination are the key to achieve one’s life goals. She is very hardworking and diligent. Hence, I need not worry much about her. She always pushes herself to do her best in everything she undertakes. I only provided the necessary support during trying times and have always been there for her as her main pillar of strength. I am proud to see her come so far. I am truly grateful to all the people who have helped Amanda throughout this long and incredible journey – all her teachers, lecturers/tutors at BAC and the University of Liverpool who are most accommodating in providing the necessary support, and her friends who are always ready to lend her a helping hand.
How do you spend time with your daughter?
During our free time together, we usually go shopping or to the movies and even travel together (just the two of us!). It is the best time to bond and nurture the mother-daughter relationship.
Gardening, cooking, baking and reading fiction of all genres.
If I am not wrong, you once told me you studied together with Amanda at university? Please tell me more.
I only accompanied Amanda for a short period of time, to make sure that she was well settled to life abroad at the University of Liverpool, UK. As Amanda is an independent child and the university provided excellent mobility assistance, I was not worried at all, and was contented to leave after a few months. However, in a way, you could say that I studied together with Amanda, in the sense of preparing and translating her college textbooks into Braille for her. Thus, I get to learn a bit about the legal field, and I must say that it is rather enlightening, and I enjoyed reading about the law.
What are your words of encouragement to other parents with differently-abled children?
Don’t ever give up on your child. Always believe in your child’s ability and do not look down on their disability. Try to support your child in every way and encourage them to pursue their dreams. Always be proud of your child despite their disability. It is important to always support your child in pursuing their dreams.
Congratulations on being called to the Malaysian Bar! How does it feel to be finally called a lawyer?
Thank you. No doubt, it has been the greatest milestone of my life. I am glad and proud to have managed to come so far. It has been a long and incredible journey, full of ups and downs. I am truly happy that my perseverance and determination finally paid off. I would like to credit my success to all the amazing people in my life who made this possible – my loving family, teachers, lecturers and tutors at BAC and the University of Liverpool, my Pupil Master and all my esteemed colleagues at Messrs Skrine (where I had the honour of completing my pupillage), and my ever helpful friends who stood by me through thick and thin. However, I am aware that this is only the tip of the iceberg, as I still have a long way to go. I am excited to embrace this new chapter in my life, as a member of the legal profession and an officer of the court!
Would you consider your feat inspirational?
I hope that I will be able to inspire others. I also hope that my achievement will be able to alter the perception of society towards PWDs in Malaysia. The society should look at our abilities, and not our disabilities. I believe that nothing is impossible to achieve, as long as one is willing to work towards it. Someone once said that “the human spirit is one of perseverance, courage and determination that no disability can steal away”, and I totally agree.
How would you like to be known?
I hope that I will be a successful lawyer in the future. For now, I merely hope that I will be given an opportunity to develop my career. It is truly difficult for me to seek employment, despite being called to the Malaysian Bar. Most legal firms are less enthusiastic in hiring a lawyer with a disability; perhaps they are afraid to take the risk and fear that disability will hinder job performance, and they are not keen to explore unchartered waters, as there are not many disabled lawyers (especially with visual impairment) who have been admitted as an Advocate & Solicitor and are qualified to practice in Malaysia. I want to change this perception, and I hope that I will be given a chance to prove my abilities. Bearing this in mind, in the near future, I would like to be known as an outspoken advocate for the rights of PWDs in Malaysia, which is currently under protected. Championing the rights of PWDs in Malaysia has always been my life goal, and it is one of the primary reasons I decided to venture into the legal field.
Give us a glimpse into your school life. What was it like for you?Primary and secondary education:
I enrolled in schools with integrated programmes for my primary and secondary education to interact as much as possible with other students, and get to learn along with them, which was fun. A few teachers are really dedicated, and helped with my studies and catered to my needs. Fun fact – I was the only visually impaired candidate to sit for the Additional Mathematics SPM paper, as I was the only student in the school to even take up that elective!
- College education:
I was extremely grateful to BAC for offering me a place to pursue my legal education. All my lecturers and tutors were accommodating and willing to support me in every way possible. My friends always ensured that I was able to blend in with the others, e.g. they will read out all the notes on slides/whiteboards to me, and helped me around the campus. The support provided to me by the University of Liverpool during the final year of my law degree was excellent. I had mobility support, library assistance, a note taker, and accessible materials (both in Braille and softcopies). Overall, I had an enjoyable and memorable time reading law.
How do you spend your free time?
I enjoy shopping and travelling with my family, as it is the best time to bond. I also enjoyed reading fiction (especially mystery and thriller genres). I also play the piano as a form of relaxation and have written my own stories, as I have a creative and innovative mind.
Amanda Kong is refreshingly fearless. Is that who you really are?
Yes. I believe that nothing is impossible if you are willing to strive towards achieving a particular life goal. Disability is not a hindrance in this respect. I always have a positive outlook towards life. I believe that perseverance and determination is the key to success. One should keep empowering themselves to be successful. In this respect, I think it is appropriate for me to share a quote from Professor Albus Dumbledore, a fictional character from the Harry Potter series – “It is our choices that show who we truly are, far more than our abilities”.
What is in store for Amanda Kong in the near future?
I hope to continue championing the rights of PWDs in Malaysia. I wish to go the distance in promoting an inclusive society as one which enables PWDs to enjoy equal opportunities in society, thus ensuring that their rights are well protected. For example, advocating for guide dog access to be allowed in Malaysia, as it will greatly benefit the visually impaired community in terms of mobility access. I also hope to enjoy life to the fullest and have a rewarding and satisfying career as a lawyer.