For international student Crystal Nguyen, getting to where she is hasn’t been easy. She was born with Glass Bone disease, but she hasn’t let that hold her back. She was a finalist in Vietnam’s Got Talent as well as a UNICEF Youth Ambassador, and is now studying Mass Communication to let her voice be heard and advocate for inclusive education.
“For me, personally, going to university and studying media and arts isn’t about trying to find a career. I think it’s about knowing what you want to do and about finding the balance between what you enjoy doing and what sustains you. It’s more important for me because I came from a developing country as a person with a disability. Everything is upside down here, everyone is more accepting, you’re seen for who you are, what you’re capable of, and what you bring to the table and that’s something I really appreciate, ” Crystal says.
Crystal has fit right in with the Curtin community. She’s a member of the university choir and enjoys being able to perform all over Perth. However, deciding to come and study in Australia wasn’t a simple decision.
“I come from a place where there are a lot of limitations, labels and boxes that people put you in just because you have a disability. And I went through primary and secondary school really conforming to that ideology people were putting on me. So, I go through life rebelling and going against what people think I should do. For example they think I can’t do sports and then I swim, which boggles their mind. I love that reaction.
So, the decision of going abroad to pursue higher education was partly an act of rebellion. But once I started looking into it, I realised that it might suit my journey to find my calling.”
When Crystal was 15 she was a finalist in Vietnam’s Got Talent, again determined to prove that she could compete, but never expected to make it so far. But it was what happened after her time on the show that really changed her life. She was now a household name, and when she spoke about inclusive education, people listened.
“I think what came after is something I am continuously grateful for. I was able to have a platform to advocate for what I believe in. So, after that I was recognised by United Nations organisations like UNICEF who work towards equality for children. I went and travelled the world to tell my story.
I became a UNICEF Youth Ambassador at 17, and they invited me to New York to attend some conferences, in terms of promoting inclusive education. I was able to attend some workshops with the youth council. They invited all these trailblazers and young leaders from around the world, which was really honouring and humbling for me. Everyone was so ambitious, they achieve so much, and I had so much to learn. Being able to be the dumbest person in the room helped me learn a lot, and it was the right room to be in!”
“I spoke at a lot of conferences relating to the convention of the rights of children with disabilities, and whilst in New York I spoke alongside Stevie Wonder. Seeing him being able to inspire and create, while being a person with a disability says a lot about limitations. The potential of being seen and accepted is real and in front of you, he is such a great role model for that, and I came out of that a changed person.
Glass bone disease is a term to make it simple but I just have brittle bones. I’m prone to fractures, and I’ve got little bone deformities due to lots of times breaking bones. I’ve broken my bones about 30 times, I’ve lost count, it doesn’t matter. I’m using a wheelchair because standing is in no circumstances okay for me.
I always went to school with able-bodied people my whole life, and I guess I was exposed to being different and being seen the whole time as something not in your mainstream cup of tea. I spent the longest time being unhappy about things I couldn’t change. But I think the moment you stop comparing your life to others is when you start feeling content and that’s the first step to discovering who you are as an individual. And from there you have the drive to do whatever you want to without worrying about what others think, and the moment I stopped doing that I found contentment.”
Disability Awareness Week is held from 27 November to 3 December and celebrates the achievements and contributions of people with a disability. Curtin is sharing stories like Crystal’s to raise awareness of and promote disability within the University and wider community.