About a month after I was born, a lymphatic tumor in my hand cost me half of my right arm. As I grew older, I learned that I was different from other children, who often made fun of me for being disabled, and over the years I have had to get used to the constant glances of strangers.

Zhang Xiaomin, female, 43, a Social Work major at the Guangzhou branch of the Open University of China (OUC)

I managed to finish junior high school, and wanted to further my studies in senior high school and at university. However, a teacher told me that even if I passed the entrance exam, no university would admit me with my disability. In desperation, I completed my studies hastily at a technical secondary school. Finding work was really hard, since recruiters did not even want to give me a chance. I felt very sad, since I knew for sure that I could make it, even with just one hand!

I have always been eager to excel. At the age of 10, I learned to do my hair, ride a bicycle, sew, and knit sweaters. Later I mastered the use of a computer and became proficient in graphic design, e-commerce, dessert making and flower arranging; I also gained my social-worker qualification. I learned Guangzhou embroidery, and my work was displayed at the Panyu Women’s Folk Art Talent Show. In 2015, at a competition for the disabled in Guangdong, I won first prize for my flower arrangement.

Over the years, I have learned numerous skills and won many awards, but have always continued to dream of going to university. I had almost decided to give it up, however, when I learned by chance that the OUC has a major specifically designed for the disabled. My suppressed dream instantly reemerged, and my only thought was to seize this opportunity. Soon afterward, I had become an OUC student.

If you haven't been to university, it's hard to understand how it feels. I remember arriving, and my complex emotions at finally being able to study here. It didn't matter that I was 20 years late - I was still that eager girl. Over the course of my studies, I came to appreciate deeply how the OUC has eliminated barriers, and how its open teaching model made me able to gain an education without interfering with my family and work.

In 2015, I was named a "Learning Star" of the Panyu District in Guangzhou, and one of the "Ten Campus Movers and Shakers" at the Guangzhou Radio and Television University (Guangzhou RTVU). These honors were an affirmation of my progress in my studies, and a source of motivation and inspiration. Studying at the OUC not only fulfilled my college dream, but also made me much better at my work. What I learned in my classes enabled me to help others as a volunteer and to set an example for disabled people around me.

I may be physically handicapped, but I am not spiritually disabled. My disability has brought me hardship, but cannot stop me. One is not just a body, but also a soul endowed with choice. Physically handicapped people are not mentally disabled. According to an ancient saying, "Love the great masses and be benevolent". So let's join hands and create a beautiful homeland with a harmonious and healthy environment. (This speech won first prizein the OUC “My Learning Story” speech contest.)