My college experience with a visual impairment

By Amanda Gene

Amanda wearing a cap and gown and holding her diploma.

I was just like any freshmen going into college; I had feelings of apprehension, but adding the fact that my college journey was going to be even more stressful do to my disabilities, make my journey even more of a mystery, here’s how my journey unfolded.

Once I got registered for classes at Pensacola State College, I had to get signed up with The Disability Resource Center. I was not happy that day. Actually, I cried as I sat in the lobby waiting for my turn. I was partly angry that I had to go to this state college first instead of my top choice. The second reason I was crying was because I was not sure what services could be provided, and what proof was needed for my eligibility. One thing that made me smile that was being able to pet a dog belonged to the director. The head of the department was very nice, and she explained the services I could receive, and how I was eligible. I was able to sign up for classes that day. I ended up taking two college-prep , and two college credit classes that semester.

My grandfather and I ended up going back to the Disability Resource Center one more, and this time I saw a Goldador, (Golden Retriever Labrador Retriever cross), little did I know that the dog’s handler would become my best friend.

My first semester was rough because I was getting used to how college worked, what resources were available to me, and then there was math. I struggled, and even though I tried, I failed my math class. My other classes I passed, but this was the first time I really failed academically.  Even though my self-esteem was shot, my grandpa and The Disability Resource Center’s director encouraged me to continue my studies and to re-take the course.

The next semester was more enriching because I was able to take more classes that were more interesting to me.  I was able to get help with my math, and this time I was able to pass the course. However, one thing that hit me hard was that this semester I was told I had Night Blindness, and that I needed a cane. I felt alone, however I noticed a woman who was blind walking around campus with a guide dog. I wanted to go up and say hello and explain my situation, however I was hesitant. With the help of two, teachers Jessica and I exchanged emails and we started talking. I felt so happy I asked to be introduced to her because she is now my best friend.

The semester past quickly and I continued to struggle with math, but one class that really made me struggle because of my vision was computers. I feel that I am good with computers, however, the main issue was not being able to see my textbook. I was able to squeak by and pass the course.  After making a request and then fighting for a print to text software program, I was able to obtain a copy. I was able to receive training for the software.

In the summer of 2011, I graduated with my Associates of Arts degree in journalism. That summer I started learning Orientation and Mobility (O and M) training.  That fall I transferred to the University of West Florida as a Junior.

It was another adjustment for me but having Jessica across the hall in my dorm building helped make the transition easier. I learned to love living in the dorm, and I made a group of friends from the college bible study group. I continued learning my O and M lessons, and I was doing pretty well academically.

The hardest personal challenges were accepting who I am, the fact that I had night blindness, and I had to use my white cane so I could travel at night.

Soon it was my senior year and it was a struggle for me academically once again because I had problems accessing some printed material. The disability resource center did what they could to help, and my instructor realized that I was trying so hard to access the material and do well in his feature writing class. My instructor tried to help me with his class, and I passed. On December 13, 2013, I stood in my cap and gown as a college graduate.

If you would like to be part of this series contact Chelsey Zumpano by email: viblindresources@gmail.com

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My True Story Growing Up Being Visionally Impaired

By Chelsey Zumpano

This post is in response to an article that was supposedly talking about 15 amazing facts about blind people, but it was very negative and generalized us! I hate when people generalize a group of people! Just because we are blind or visually impaired doesn’t mean we are all the same! Instead of going off on a rant on how bad this article was, I’m going to tell you about my experience being visually impaired

Chelsey and Clint in the hospital hooked up to IVs and breathing tubes.

My eye condition is called retinopathy of prematurity, (ROP). Me and my twin brother, (Clint), were born at 25 weeks, so we were micro preemies. I was 1 lb. 6 oz. and my brother was 1 lb. 12 oz. ROP has to do with your Retina and I have a fully detached retina in my right eye and a partially detached retina in my left eye. This means I have low vision in my left eye and zero vision in my right. To learn more about my vision watch my video ‘WHAT CAN I SEE/WHY DO I WEAR GLASSES?‘ I also have a fake eye that is on top of my right eye because it is tiny and didn’t develop, so the eye is there that way my eye stays open, it’s also there to keep my face from drooping and so I can still use my facial muscles on that side.

Chelsey is on the left and Clint is on the right. They are both bald.(Picture when we first came home from the hospital).

Clint came home at three months, while I came home at six months because I had more health problems.

Chelsey and Clint wearing birthday hats and sitting in high chairs.

(pictures from our first birthday).

I grew up and went to school like everyone else because that’s the thing I am like everyone else, but I just happen to have a disability. I never felt like I stood out or was invisible because of my visual impairment and I was never bullied. I learned how to ride a bike, a dirt bike, how to drive a go cart, and skateboard just like my twin brother Clint. I made friends, although I was never the most social person around.

Clint and Chelsey wearing tiny graduation hats.

(Picture from preschool graduation).

I went to mainstream school through my entire schooling: I had aids to help me out in class where I needed it. I started to learned braille when I was in first grade, so when the other students were learning grammar and writing I got taken out to learn Braille. I took regular classes like everyone else, I just had extra time on tests, shortened math assignments because I read that in large print and that straines my eyes, I took tests in another room that way could be read aloud to me because I learned better this way. I was able to do all this because I had an IEP, (individualized education plan), which helps kids with disabilities get accommodations for school.

I started learning how to use a cane when I was in fourth or fifth grade and first I only used it when I went on orientation and mobility, (which is when I went out into the community to learn how to find my way around, learn walking routes, learn how to ask for shopping asistants), It wasn’t until six grade when I started at a new school that I started using my cane at school, then it wasn’t until I was in high school that I started using my cane all the time.

I was embarrassed because I felt like everybody was staring at me, but my aid helped me realize that the cane was there to help me and that most people recognized a cane for what it is.

I was able to navigate school by practicing the route to my classes on the brakes before the semester’s begin again. I knew of certain landmarks, I counted the doors, and I always went the same way to my class.

In fifth grade I ran for student council, I made a speech and presented it in front of our school. I was pretty good at memorizing it, (still am). Talking in front of people was nerve-racking. But I did it and became Vice President.

In seventh grade my lens ahered to my iris, it actually happend twice… The first time it happen: we had just gone to the eye doctor before and the next day, I woke up with extreamly fuzzy vision and we went to the eye doctor and she dilated my eye and it was back to my normal. We thought it was because we use different drops to dilate my eye.

Fast forward to a month later and it happend again! This time my vision was fuzzy, blurry, and dim. It was sort of how my vision is now at twilight, (the time following sunset), where I can see silhouettes, but more defined because that day it was more like shadows. I was able to see more laying down and less when I sat up. We went to the eye doctor and again she dilated my eye back to my normal. Then she told us my lens ahered to my iris and I’d have to have surgery to correct it.

In the weeks leading up to the surgery, I had my eye dilated all the time and had to have the pressure in my eye checked. I didn’t go to school during this time, so me and my mom started reading ‘Twilight’ by Stephanie Meyer because books are a great way to get out of your head and into someone else’s for a while. I’ve mentioned in my video ‘Tips to Help Manage Anxiety‘ that reading is one my coping skills for my anxiety and this probly when it became a thing.

I had the surgery and everything went great. Afterwords I had to get use to a new normal: like my eye have trouble adjusting to light when I go inside and this is when twilight became my worst time a day.

In eighth grade I went to my eighth grade dance and danced with some friends, even though the lighting was dim.

In high school I took art classes all four years and was able to take the art AP test. At first I had my aid help me out in the class and then as the years went on I was able to work in that class independently and this was because I had one amazing art teacher!

In 11th grade we went to the ‘Crocker Art Museum’ and I was able to touch some of the statues and get up closer to look at the artwork. This was all thanks to my amazing art teacher!

Back then my favorite medium was acrylic paint, but now it’s a tie between oil pastels or graphite.

A collage of three pictures: on the left Chelsey and Clint are together and then there a picture of each of them by themselves. They are wearing a cap and gown.

I graduated high school in 2014 and since then I have created this website, YouTube channel and various social media’s for VIBlindResources. I want to one day become a guide dog trainer, but for the moment I’m going to take creative writing classes and take classes to become an occupational therapist.

I want you to know that you are never alone and that you can do anything you set your mind to! Don’t let negative people stop you from doing what you want to do in life!

If you would like to tell us your story email: viblindresourcesgmail.com