Changing the Meaning of Blindness
by Nicki Wong
Chong Chan-yau lost his sight when he was six years old. As a result, his childhood was one of tragedy, dependency, hopelessness and even superstition.
But technology has redefined the way the world see Mr Chong, or more appropriately, how Mr Chong sees the world. He can surf the internet and use a cell phone just as well as any sighted person, with the help of a Braille note taker.
Mr Chong is the director of EL Education, president of the Hong Kong Blind Union, chairman of Carbon Care Asia, founder and chairman of Dialogue in the Dark Hong Kong.
"I can go anywhere, play football and chess, study, and do all sorts of things that a sighted person can do ," said the 60-year-old.
He is eager to improve society for people who are marginalized in order to maximise their potential..
"The loss of sight became my characteristic, not a limitation," Mr Chong said. He believes his optimistic personality saves him from feeling tragic.
"Hong Kong has a lot of facilities for the disabled,for example, audible traffic light signals, "said Mr Chong. But he doesn't want to take it granted when it comes to travelling alone.
"Accessibility is a matter of interaction between people and their environment," he said. Mr. Chong has tried to prove that blind people can navigate the city without special facilities.
Back in the 80s, Mr Chong asked the traffic department to install audible signals road crossing, , but the department said it was "too dangerous" for blind people to cross the road on their own.
He approaches the problem from the point of view of a citizen, not a blind person. He believes that they have equal rights to ask for facilities to be improved.
"Not because we are dependent on it [the facilities], but because we want the city to be safer for everybody else," he explained.
Mr Chong lived in London for two years and has travelled to more than 20 countries and cities around the world. Although he has a good impression of most of the places he visited, he finds Hong Kong is the most convenient city to live in.
"Hong Kong is much more accessible than other countries for newcomers," he said. "In other countries, I have to use more time to do research on transportation and roads, but nowadays technology helps a lot."
Mr Chong strives to raise awareness on climate change through his support of education for the visually impaired and youth.
He was a director of student development at the University of Hong Kong and an executive director of Oxfam. He took part in the United Nations Summit on climate change in Bali, Copenhagen and Paris.
Although he is contented with his life, Mr Chong does not plan to retire any time soon.
"I won't retire when it comes to pursuing and achieving new goals," he added. "My next target is to develop global citizenship in Hong Kong."
He thinks much of the Hong Kong press is about local news, especially celebrities. But the world, he believes, has a much broader agenda..
He hopes that more Hong Kong people will care about international issues and young people can have a broader perspective towards society.
To achieve this, Mr Chong wants greater public involvement in developing young leadership. He brought a groups of University of Hong Kong students to the United Nations Summit on climate change.
"I get a lot of satisfaction when we achieve something, knowing that someone has benefited from our work. " he said.
His believes in exploring and try new things, not to be afraid of mistakes and start all over again.
"Go, try, check and ask," he concluded. "My life goal is to change what it means to be blind."
(Edited by Joanna Wong)
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