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Growing Up Blind in Springfield: The College Experience

In this segment, we bring you our final part in our series Growing Up Blind in Springfield by looking at the college experience. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore reports.

The whole idea for this series was born several months ago when I was eating lunch on the Missouri State University campus one day and saw out the window a skateboarder with a white cane. I had never seen a blind skateboarder before, but before I could reach him, he boarded a shuttle and was gone. I was determined to track him down, though, and finally did through other means.

[Sound: Skateboard approaching on sidewalk, stopping]

“I’ve been skateboarding for about ten years. I started skating when I was twelve,” he said.Cameron Black, a sophomore, was born and raised in Oklahoma before his family moved to Lake of the Ozarks area right before he went to college. Black was born with a condition known as Peter’s Anomoly, which caused his blindness since birth. As a fifth grader in Oklahoma, his special education class met in a broom closet, where he worked on his Perkins Braille writer.

One thing that’s hard to miss about Black is his attitude. Black said God has blessed him beyond measure.

“He didn’t give me my sight—that’s the only bad part. I don’t have any other disabilities. And I really honestly wouldn’t even call blindness a ‘bad part.’ I quite enjoy it,” he said.

Black says he wasn’t always this positive, though. High school? Yeah, that was rough, he says.

"People I knew were getting cars, and my older sister got a car, and I wasn’t ever going to get a car and I knew that. People I knew were playing basketball and football and stuff, and I couldn’t do any of that. But I knew there had to be a good side to being blind. There had to be some positive way to look at it,” he said.

And so he began to think about how he could help the next generation of kids with disabilities. He was accepted at Missouri State.

“It doesn’t surprise me if there were a lot of blind students here. Because the reason I came here [is] probably the same reason they came here: on the internet, I was researching colleges when I graduated. And this is the third best school in the country for a blind student,” he said.

In December, MSU’s website was deemed the best in a survey of 183 university websites when it comes to being accessible for the blind, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Also, Black told me the campus is ideal for the visually impaired.

“Geographically, it’s very easy to get around as a blind person. This campus is very compact. It’s easy to memorize. It’s easy to get around by yourself when you can’t see,” he said.

It’s also the only university in the state with both a blindness skills specialist program, and an orientation and mobility program—two programs dedicated to producing teachers of the visually impaired.

Black directed me to a man on the third floor of Meyer Library who is known for going the extra mile to assist blind students with research, text books or technology: Steve Sullam.

"We’re mostly into translating stuff into accessible formats that people with disabilities can read. And this would mean that it would be either in Word—which they can read with their JAWS program. Or in Braille: we have a program that translates text into Braille, and then we emboss it, and then they would be able to read it that way,” he said.

The JAWS program he’s referring to is a talking computer program; the software includes a voice that reads what is on the screen. He shows me an example.

[Sound: Jaws program ‘talking’]

[Sound: “Okay, so let’s see what we’ve got for homework…”Keys typing… ]

MSU also organizes dinners and get-togethers for its blind students and their families. And its Disability Resource Center makes sure its students get notes in either a word document, or in Braille.

Dr. Chris Craig, director of Drury University’s department of education and child development, is largely credited with building MSU’s program to where it is today.

“You know I was going to school at a time in college, Jennifer, before there was the Americans With Disabilities Act, or before there were a lot of those kinds of protections and supports. We’ve come an awful long way,” he said.

And he’s speaking from experience; he himself has been blind since he was 16.

"If you’re visually impaired and you’re going to go out and to student teaching, or a practicum in a building that you haven’t been in before, you know, you’ve got to go in there and get your orientation and figure out your strategies for how you’re going to work effectively with children, even though you can’t see them. [Laughs] It’s one of those kind of deals. And it’s not always the easiest thing to do, but where there’s a will there’s a way. And so, I think for those going into teacher education or some of those applied fields, they have to really think ahead, and map out how they’re going to get there…and once they’re there, how they’re going to get the job done, and what resources they need to get it done,” he said.

[Sound: Skateboard on sidewalk]

Cameron Black says he has not shaped his life around his blindness; he has shaped his blindness around his life. Since our interview, he’s left MSU and is now seeking a job with the Missouri School for the Blind.

“I think that if you try hard enough, you can even let the smallest thing slow you down. I think there are some people in this world who, for some odd reason that I don’t understand, are determined to be slowed down, are determined to be unhappy and not live their life. And I think they’d find that they were lot happier and they’d enjoy their life a lot more if they would just approach their challenges. Because everybody is disabled in some sort of way. My way is more noticeable than anyone else’s way. But everybody has some kind of problem, something that might slow them down, even when it’s not visible,” he said.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.