Studying as a Blind Student
Meet Sarah and Foreman (Sarah’s mellow Black Lab Guide Companion). Sarah is a beautiful, quiet individual with an impactful aura and lyrical voice. For all 23-years of her life she has lived with a visual impairment that categorizes her as legally blind. In a brief interview she graciously shared with us a bit about herself and her day-to-day as a Culinary Arts student here at Cypress.
Was your visual impairment congenital or developed?
It was onset. When I was born, I wasn’t fed for ten hours. That led to a seizure, which ripped my optic nerve…. So that’s how that happened. Initially I didn’t have any sight, but as time progressed it started to improve. By the age of nine or ten it had leveled out– no changes for the better or worse.
What’s the extent of your sight?
I have very limited sight, but can read braille and print (with strain). A lot of what’s hard for me to see is detail. I can make out color and vague shapes, but detail is difficult for me.
Who taught you braille?
I learned in elementary school. We had a full-time teacher for visually impaired students.
How did you end up at Cypress? What are you currently studying?
I was going to Orange Coast and studying choral music before I moved to this area. I had heard about the Culinary Arts program and thought it was a great fit for me. That was two years ago.
What services do you use here at the College?
The DSS Office (Disability Support Services) is really helpful. They provide me with books and test accommodations. For tests, I get a copy of the exam in braille, access to a room, and a bit of extra time.
That book of braille is huge! How much does it weigh and what class is it for?
This is for math. Believe it or not, it’s only a few sections of a chapter. It definitely weighs several pounds!
Thankfully, technology has advanced enough to make work and studying much more straightforward than it used to be. A lot of braille is now electronic. I used to have to carry around a huge typewriter-like machine to class for notes. Now I can do a lot electronically. It can still be confusing… especially math… there are just so many symbols and it’s all so specific. But on the whole, studying is a lot simpler today.
What do you hope to do post-Cypress?
I enjoy being of service to others, and I love food and cooking – making others happy. I’d like to put that all together within the culinary arts field, but in a small setting (not a big kitchen). I think that would fit well with my personality…. to create really well thought-out, memorable dining experiences for select clientele. That’s the direction I have in mind at least.
Can you tell me a little about Foreman?
The non-profit “Guide Dogs for the Blind”, matched me with Foreman my senior year of high school. They’re great at picking the perfect dog for different personality types. That’s important because it’s a relationship that needs to connect from the start. That was six years ago. Foreman’s seven now… getting older. He’s always had an older spirit though. He likes to sleep a lot!
Do you face any stereotypes?
Some people think that because of my visual impairment I must have super senses. For example, they’ll say ‘Oh, you must be able to hear really well!’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, I can hear fine.’ Or they’ll think that because I read braille all the time that my fingers must be extra sensitive. I’m sure they’re heightened to a degree, but it’s definitely nothing extreme. No superpowers here 😉
Also, I don’t think of myself as having a disability. I’m not defined by it, nor do I view it as a limitation. It’s just a part of me… something I’ve always known. I have as full and satisfying a life as anybody.
- Braille has been around for more than 200 years. The inventor, Louis Braille, created a new alphabet for the blind in order to read more himself. At the time (early 1800’s), books for the blind were created using raised print. These were both difficult to read and laborious to produce. Louis experimented with ways to create an alphabet that would be easy to pick-up with the fingertips. He invented braille when he was just 15.
- Braille was initially used by the military for messages that soldiers could read on the battlefield at night.
- There is a braille code for nearly every foreign language. There are also braille codes for mathematics, music and computers.
- Approximately 1.3 million Americans are legally blind; about 21 million report severe visual impairment.
- Sight loss affects people of all ages, but especially those who are older: 1/5th of people aged 75 and ½ aged 90 and over are living with sight loss. (Access Economics, 2009)
- About 1 in 5 people live with a disability; 1 in 10 with a disability that is severe.
The Cypress College Disability Support Services is proud to provide services to eligible students. Services are individualized to meet each student’s needs. For more information please visit DSS online.