Paralyzed teenager achieves university dream

(Xinhua) 09:28, October 11, 2021

Xing Yifan in a wheelchair, together with his classmates, visits an aerospace museum at Beihang University in Beijing, on Sept. 7, 2021. (Di Bailu/Handout via Xinhua)

BEIJING, Oct. 10 (Xinhua) -- A paralyzed Chinese teenager has grasped national headlines by being admitted to a top-notch university in Beijing for the fall semester of 2021. His enrollment symbolizes success for the disabled community who crave equal access to higher education.

Xing Yifan was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neuromuscular disorder, about six months after birth in northeast China's Jilin Province. ALS patients progressively lose muscle strength, eventually becoming paralyzed and unable to speak, move, swallow or breathe.

Due to severe spinal deformity caused by the illness, Xing, who weighs only 18 kg, is fully reliant on a wheelchair and full-time caregivers for most routine tasks such as brushing his teeth or getting dressed. Since his muscles are too weak to support his body, the 18-year-old has to prop his head on a desk to read.

From primary school to high school, his parents accompanied Xing through every class. They have not even had a single night of good sleep, as they have to wake up every two hours to help him turn over in bed.

Once someone suggested that Xing quit school to ease the family pressure, but the parents refused. "We won't give up on him," said Xing's father.

Xing Yifan poses for a photo with his parents at Beihang University in Beijing, on Sept. 7, 2021. (Beihang University/Handout via Xinhua)

Xing's poor physical condition did not hold him back but stimulated his desire to study. He worked hard in school and got good grades. He scored 645 out of 750 on his college entrance exams, which was good enough to get him into a reputed university.

For Xing, however, a high score did not ensure enrollment. His parents asked several universities whether they could accept their son, and finally, Beihang University agreed to offer admission.

The family was ecstatic. Specializing in aeronautical and astronautical research, Beihang is Xing's favorite university. The wheelchair-bound teenager is a space enthusiast, and he has always dreamed of experiencing zero gravity. "It must be much freer," Xing said.

Enrolling a disabled student is not just a matter of sending an admission letter but also requires more outside support.

The university offered Xing a specially shortened desk in the classroom and a dormitory where his parents can also live and take care of him full-time.

It also invited medical experts from top hospitals to assess Xing's physical condition and provide scientific guidance for his campus life.

Apart from physical education exemption, the university did not set out a special teaching plan for Xing. Teachers are all aware of his illness, but they treat him like any other student.

"He must be longing for a normal life, so I treat him as a normal student," said Lang Rongling, a math teacher at Beihang. "I will not let up on demands or pay extra attention to him in class."

Xing has gained popularity on social media. His perseverance touched many netizens. Some dubbed him "China's Stephen Hawking," a British theoretical physicist who suffered a similar disease, while others gave the university a thumbs up for its compassion toward the disabled candidate.

According to China's Disabled Persons Federation, more than 10,000 students with disabilities like Xing are enrolled in universities each year.

"I will study harder," Xing said. "Disease can paralyze my body but can not destroy my desire for knowledge and my confidence to serve the country." 

(Web editor: Xia Peiyao, Liang Jun)


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