When Ms Zhu Jiahui (left in photo) was two years old, her parents noticed that she had issues with walking. Wanting a peace of mind, they took her to a doctor but what followed were not news any parent would expect.
“The doctor diagnosed me with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II and my parents were told that I would not be able to walk and would have only a few years to live. Though disheartened by the news, my parents did not give up on finding possible treatments for me,” said Jiahui.
Due to her condition, which causes her muscles to disintegrate over time and limits limb movement, Jiahui relies on a motorised wheelchair to get around. Her mother is her primary caregiver, providing one-to-one care for daily activities such as toileting, dressing, bathing, and getting up from the wheelchair.
The 24-year-old also had to overcome challenges in the classroom. With limited hand movements, she is not able to type or write as fast as her peers. This often resulted in Jiahui having to spend more time to study and finish her assignments or exams.
But these difficulties proved no obstacle to her achieving good grades and contributing to the community.
“Although there are many things that I couldn’t do because of my physical disability, I didn’t give up on myself. Instead, I have been concentrating my energy on things that my disability doesn’t prevent me from doing such as helping others, studying, and forging friendships,” she said.
The spark to her advocacy journey was ignited during a flag day a few years back, where she helped to recruit 76 students from her secondary school to raise over $5,000 for a social service agency. This is when she started to realise that she is capable of promoting greater social awareness for her community.
“As an individual with muscular dystrophy, I can relate to the difficulties faced by others with the same condition and the kind of help and encouragement that they need. Therefore, I feel that I am in the best position to help the muscular dystrophy community,” she said.
In recognition of her stellar results and contribution to the community, the accountancy student from Nanyang Technological University was awarded the Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) Foundation Scholarship last year.
“Receiving this Scholarship was akin to someone giving me a pat in the back, telling me that I have done well. But more so, it’s a reminder that I have benefitted from society and that I should continue to pay it forward,” shared Jiahui.
The Scholarship has also opened more doors for Jiahui to further champion the disability cause. For instance, she was one of the ambassadors for SPD’s Unlabel campaign last December, that aims to dispel stereotypes of those with disabilities and encourage the public to instead focus on their abilities.
As she is only months away from graduating, Jiahui shared that she plans to continue her studies by pursuing a master’s degree. As for her wishes for the disability community, she hopes that with greater medical and technological advancements, persons with disabilities will be able to live more confidently and independently.
Inspired by Jiahui’s journey? You can join her and the rest of the scholars by applying for the APB Foundation Scholarship for Persons with Disabilities here. Application ends 6 June 2022.
Cover photo credit: Jiahui