As Ming Luo walks across the stage in Winthrop Hall at the University of Western Australia as a graduate in December, a Bachelor degree in Economics and Finance under her belt, her future will stretch out before her. A bright, shimmering horizon full of possibility. Full of adventure and excitement. It’s hard to believe only five years ago, this future looked uncertain.
While at high school Ming found herself with drastically deteriorating sight. Now living with Retinitis Pigmentosa and Nystagmus, the 21-year-old hardworking and quiet achiever advocates for others living with disability to find their independence.
Born into a family with no history of significant vision loss, Ming’s diagnosis was a complete shock. Having always worn glasses, her family didn’t think much of her inability to see things clearly, putting this down to her short-sightedness. However, as the sixteen-year-old’s vision began to rapidly deteriorate during high school, a visit to the ophthalmologist confirmed her concerns.
“I began to understand that I was a little different to the average glasses-wearing human.” Ming recalls.
After a diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa and Nystagmus, Ming was introduced to VisAbility’s Youth Services. She quickly became immersed in the community, attended youth activities like the much-loved Social and Life Skills (SALSA) Camp and made friends with others who were going through similar experiences.
“It was here (at VisAbility) that I met all the people who are now some of my closest friends,” Ming says. Sharing experiences with people her age helped Ming to feel less alone and better understand the impact her vision loss would have.
“They played crucial roles in helping me come to terms with my condition, and introduced me to a whole new viewpoint and direction in life.” Ming accessed orientation and mobility services at VisAbility which supported her on her journey to independence, like learning how to use a cane to navigate and utilise technology to her advantage in everyday activities.
“VisAbility will always be special to me, it was where I first entered the world of blindness. It is a place where I can always rely on to find help and a friendly face.”
While at VisAbility, Ming was also exposed to the world of advocacy through the Vision Education Service’s Vision Youth Advisory Council. This sparked her love of contributing to the community and helping others, particularly those with disability, advocate for themselves. “I was initially drawn in by the promise of pizza during meetings and the thought it would make my resume look prettier,” Ming laughs.
“However, not long after I started, I found real interest in being able to have a say on behalf of others with vision impairment. It’s something that I’ve grown to be very passionate about.” Ming is now an Executive Committee Member of the Youth Disability Advocacy Network (YDAN) (link opens in new window), just one of the many groups where she volunteers her time. “One thing led to another, and I am now currently a member of three committees, advocating on behalf of people with disabilities in various capacities.”
Ming is often busy, juggling commitments at committee meetings, university, sport and in music. A curious person by nature, Ming speaks light-heartedly about the challenges this presents. “Being a curious person is not necessarily a good thing as it means I’m interested in almost everything. I want to try almost everything and anything! But if I had to choose a few things, I’m mainly passionate about advocacy (as I’ve said), music and travelling.”
Music has been a steadfast love of hers, which she fills her spare time with. Playing the piano since she was 5-years-old, Ming is proud to mention she has just obtained an Associate Diploma in practical piano. But travel is her other great love, and something she hopes to do plenty of when she finishes university. “I love seeing all the beauties of nature, experiencing different cultures and meeting all different types of people. If I could spend my whole life travelling, I probably would. Unfortunately though, travelling doesn’t generally pay well!” she says with a laugh.
This love of travel has recently taken her to England, where she spent two months at Durham University. She worked in their Careers Centre to compile resources for their Equity and Diversity web page, and share her experiences about living with a disability in Australia.
Part of Ming’s mission in Durham was to foster a greater understanding of what it’s like living with a disability. She helped develop a disability toolkit for staff members, which included general information about the legal framework and general guidance to service provision for people with a disability.
“Visiting Durham is definitely one of the best thing I’ve done in life so far. I’ve gained so many different experiences, perspectives and skills from working, living and travelling abroad alone. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and was comforted to find that I could do thing that I had doubted I could do. I may have put in my 2 cents in my workplace, but I have received way more than 2 cents back in return!”
The outgoing 21-year-old speaks openly about the impact that technology has had on her everyday life, and how she has been able to use it to her advantage in situations like living and working overseas. “I use my computer and my phone to read, write and access information, and I use them to do everything from studying and working, to running around the city, and to enjoying my free time with music, Netflix or chatting with friends.”
“Without it (technology), I doubt I’d be able to do anything that I do – apart from maybe eating and brushing my teeth – or at least, with as much independence.” Ming says. This sense of independence is important to Ming. “Independence to me means not having to rely on others to get things done. It means having the choice to do what I want to do when and how I want to do it.”
She does remark however, that coming to terms with getting help and assistance are an important part of independence. “No-one can live completely independently; we all need some help sometimes.” She encourages others living with disability to seek help if they need it too.
“It’s about building the skills to feel confident in yourself and your own abilities. Being able to identify when you need to ask for help, and having a say in how much help you get.”
With her future after University looming, Ming’s humorous and laidback approach suggests she is leaving her options open. “The next few years are very foggy for me – and not just because I’m extremely short sighted!” She is unsure what form the future will take and whether this will mean starting a job, completing more study or exploring the world. Though she is certain she will continue to do what she loves.
“Whatever happens, I hope to achieve a more impressive bank balance, be able to tick off some countries on my bucket list, get a clearer idea of what I’d like to spend the rest of my life doing, and also have made some worthy contributions to the community and world in some way.”
It sounds like a perfect way for a new graduate to celebrate. We wish her all the best as she crosses that graduation stage, and confidently heads towards her bright future. We are sure it will welcome her with open arms, ready for adventure.