Overcoming the Impossible: Amy Hao

By Hillary Chang, FCSN Voices Senior Youth Reporter

Amy Hao is a 26 year old graduate student currently pursuing a teaching credential for Mandarin and special education at California State University, Los Angeles. Roaming through the campus in her head motion controlled wheelchair, one could hardly imagine the challenges she had to overcome to arrive at this stage in her life.

When Amy Hao was born in China, she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Her disability was so severe that it affected movement of her entire body. Unfortunately, although she was bright and eager to learn, China’s education system had no place for children with disabilities like her. Unable to attend school for the first ten years of her life, Amy learned to read by watching TV and gathered most of her knowledge at home. 

After Amy’s family discovered the United States offered a special education system that allowed children with various types of disabilities to study in school, they chose to immigrate to the United States in hopes of giving Amy the opportunity to attend school.

At the age of 10, Amy moved to Los Angeles. Her transition from China to America was difficult. Because Amy had never attended school in China, she felt lost the first time she stepped foot in school. Further, she could only speak Mandarin, as she had never learned English or any other school subjects, making it difficult for her to communicate with her teachers and classmates.

 Amy at her apartment in Los Angeles, when she first moved to the US in 2005.

She remembers the culture shock she experienced after seeing classrooms decorated based on teachers’ preferences. Based on what she had seen on TV, classrooms in China were bland and bare. But in Los Angeles, her teachers covered their classroom walls with letterings, number cutouts, and story books. Amy had never imagined classrooms could be personalized and a place to have fun in. Although such a difference shocked her, the contrast also helped her understand differences between the countries. 

Despite the initial struggles, through her eagerness to learn, along with help from others, Amy went from self-learning to read through TV shows, to earning a bachelor’s degree. Looking back, Amy had to overcome a language barrier, learn how to advocate for herself, and face the challenges of continuously learning to use new assistive technology. However, by going through these hardships, Amy has become a graduate student at Cal State LA concentrated in Chinese and Special Education, and aspires to become a teacher. Amy credits her achievements with her elementary, middle, and high school teachers who taught her how to speak up for herself and encouraged her to attend a four-year university. In particular, she names her high school AP mandarin teacher who inspired her to become a teacher. From engaging with her students on a personal level, this teacher showed Amy a different side that she had not previously seen in teachers: the desire to connect with her students about life and family matters, rather than only school issues. The teacher left a lasting impact on Amy, changing her perception on the role of a teacher to not only educate, but also connect with students, and Amy strives to be an educator just like her.

As for the future, in addition to fulfilling her dreams of being a teacher, Amy hopes to help people change their view on those with disabilities. She wants people to know that a disability like Cerebral Palsy does not mean the child is incapable, rather, disabilities highlight the difficulties and strengths every child shares. As a personal example, she relates that although she relies on assistive technology to complete her duties, she is a fast learner and holds a willingness to learn, which doesn’t relate to her disability at all. Moreover, given that her parents speak very limited English, Amy had to learn how to be self-reliant and speak up for herself. Rather than holding the mindset that their child is overly dependent and incapable of even washing the dishes or cooking a meal, Amy hopes parents will believe in their abilities, allow them to explore and experiment, and learn to advocate for themselves and be independent.

Now, along with studying in grad school, Amy has her own nutrition supplements business and hopes to help families become healthier by incorporating the supplements into their everyday diet. She is also excited about her career goal, and is eager to use her personal experiences to help students navigate the US education system.

Regardless of the student’s needs, Amy believes all students should be given equal opportunities to learn through school. With that regard, she hopes to provide her future students with adequate support and encouragement to achieve their dreams and become successful adults.

Due to cerebral palsy, Amy has very limited function in her hands, she is not able to use her hands to control her wheelchair. Thus she moves her head to control the direction of her wheelchair. Amy also cannot write with her hands, instead she relies on high tech devices such as audio recorders to take notes, text-to-speech to dictate words and sentences, and the trackpad on her laptop to navigate between different functions. At school, she also relies on a note taker (a student volunteer helper) to help her take notes.

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