“People often approach me and my husband to ask, ‘What’s it like to be blind?’ We live in Ohio where it’s rare to see a blind couple—he has a seeing-eye dog, and I use a cane. There are so many misperceptions about what it is like to live with a disability, and we are happy to share our experiences.
“We started a nonprofit called This Ability Awareness Center Inc. to spread understanding and compassion for people who are disabled. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one out of five people currently lives with a disability in the United States. Our goal is to make sure they’re treated with respect.
“We teach workshops in elementary and middle schools to debunk misconceptions. Kids wear glasses to mimic blindness or earmuffs for deafness—if they experience what each disability is like at a young age, the hope is they won’t discriminate against people when they’re older.
“We also teach disability etiquette to corporations and organizations—disabled people are everywhere. They’re clients, customers, and consumers and need to be treated with compassion and respect.
“One young man told me he became more open and relaxed with people with different abilities after our presentation at his workplace and even asked a young lady who is visually impaired on a date. They are getting married this summer.
“I lost my eyesight as a result of diabetes. I was first diagnosed when I was 13 and started losing my vision at 26. At the time, I was the single mother of two sons— my eldest son, Jaison, was born severely deaf—and working on my MBA at Cleveland State. I was legally blind by 28 and wound up dropping out of school. It was all too much.
“Slowly, I began to adjust to life with severely limited vision—and now believe my blindness was a gift. It led me to Andre, my husband. We met at a diabetic retinopathy event. He’s been blind his whole life and was still in school.
“Andre inspired me to go back to school: I enrolled at Walden in February 2010 to pursue a Master of Public Administration (MPA). I loved the flexibility of taking online classes, but what really won me over was the school’s Disability Services Center. Every semester, I sent in my course list, and they sent me the required reading ahead of time so I could transfer both books and articles to MP3 files. I loved that I could prepare for my classes like any other student.
“Through my coursework, I literally learned how to run my organization, including how to work with politicians and how to apply for government grants. The course in public policy analysis taught me how my organization can promote the Americans with Disabilities Act. Walden has taught me how to run a successful organization.”
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