Saturday, May 21, 2011

China youngest deaf university student finds a career helping disabled people in USA

From Global Times:

At 31 years old, Zhou Tingting's story is already the stuff of legends. Once the youngest-ever deaf college student in China, Tingting has accomplished more with her disability than most normal people do in their whole lives.

Born into a worker's family in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, Tingting was partly deaf at birth and at age 1 was rendered completely deaf due to complications with treatment for a high fever.

Searching day and night for a cure, Tingting's parents eventually resigned themselves to the fact that their daughter would be deaf – and therefore without hope – for the rest of her life.

"My love for my daughter isn't conditional," Zhou Hong, Tingting's father and the founder of the Guangzhou-based Appreciation Education Research Center, told the Global Times. "Even if there was only a sliver of hope for her, I'd fight for it until my last breath."

The first step was teaching Tingting to read, write and possibly to speak. Via a great deal of practice, at age 3 she managed to intone simple words, and by age 6 she'd learned 2,000 Chinese characters.

Zhou Hong then threw himself into the task of honing his daughter's pronunciation skills, and in an arduous process got her skills up to a level he'd never imagined she'd be able to reach.

Now, according to an e-mail interview with Tingting, she can communicate "basically at the level of a normal person."

"As long as we're face-to-face and the person is close to me and speaking clearly, I can 'hear' them just fine, and respond as well," she wrote. "It's gotten to the point where people won't know I'm deaf at the outset."

Indeed, Tingting's struggle to be "normal" pushed to exceed far beyond that of her non-disabled peers.

At age 8, she could recite Pi to 1,000 figures past the decimal point, breaking the Guinness World Record at the time. At 10, she co-authored a book, From a Deaf Girl to a Talented Child.

At 11, Tingting was selected as one of China's Top 10 Young Pioneers by the Communist Youth League of China, the Ministry of Education and the National Working Committee of China Young Pioneers and CCTV.

Since then, she and her father have served as sources of inspiration for countless disabled people, and in 1998 Zhou Hong started his company, an education consultancy.

But Tingting didn't rest on her laurels, continuing to rise through the ranks of higher education, first in China and then abroad. In 1996, she was admitted to Liaoning Normal University at age 16, becoming the youngest-ever deaf student to attend college in China.

Five years later, she entered Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, a leading center for students who are deaf and hard-of-hearing, earning a master's degree in psychology, and in 2004 she was admitted by Boston University (BU) as a doctoral candidate – a stint that only lasted about six months.

"I decided I'd rather spend my time actively engaged in helping others, instead of doing research all the time," she wrote.

Tingting subsequently launched into a career as a psychological counselor for deaf people, securing a number of short-term jobs in a variety of educational and non-profit organizations, and in 2006, she published a proper autobiography, Little Tingting Left at the Corner.

She now works for a company providing special telephone services for the deaf and infirm. Sponsored by the government of the state of California, the company boasts 2 million users and Tingting is responsible for promoting it as a way to help disabled and aged people lead more fulfilling lives.

Among the 100-some colleges in California, she is the only Chinese deaf person, and has never lost site of her homeland despite having lived abroad for many years.

"Tingting is always talking about how much she wants to do for China, how much she wants to help the people there," Lin Ying, one of her colleagues and a fellow Chinese national, told the Global Times via e-mail. "It's inspiring because so many Chinese you meet here are only concerned about getting ahead."

After this year's Spring Festival in February, Tingting also took on a position at her father's company as head of research, working remotely via the Internet.

"It's so touching to see her come full-circle like this," Zhou Hong said. "Not only did she overcome a fierce obstacle, but she's helping others do the same with a truly positive outlook."