Walking down the hallway at school, I hear a deep voice say, “Hi, Nicole.” As I turn to determine the speaker, all I see is a blur of graying hair and a dark shirt walking in the opposite direction. Although I could reach out and touch his arm, I can’t see his face.
“Hi,” I respond politely, hoping he won’t realize I don’t know who he is.
As a legally blind teenager, I routinely face obstacles that may seem like major challenges. I may need larger print or extended time on tests, but I am just like everyone else. When others see my enlarged worksheets or tests, they stare, and to the few who ask about them, I explain that I am legally blind. This doesn’t mean that I can’t see at all, but that my vision is worse than 20/200 and can’t be improved with corrective lenses. For example, a legally blind person with 20/200 vision has to be as close as 20 feet to identify objects that people with normal vision can spot from 200 feet away.
I was born with albinism, which means I have little pigment in my eyes, skin or hair. I am sensitive to light and squint a lot when I am outside, even with a hat. (I don’t wear sunglasses because they affect the little I can see.) I wear glasses for up-close work, but not for distance because they don’t help. In school I use a monocular, a small telescope.
People ask what my vision is like and I find it hard to describe because I don’t really know what theirs is like. I can see people’s faces when they stand four feet away, but without very much detail. I can read without glasses, but the text needs to be very close. When objects are near, I can see more detail.
I take part in extracurricular activities just like anyone, including dance and working with farm animals. I blend in and feel just like everyone else. Working with the animals makes me feel like an equal because I can do anything with them. Sometimes in class I prefer it if a teacher forgets to enlarge a paper because I feel normal. But then again, normal is overrated.
I don’t often get asked about my handicap because it’s not immediately obvious. I might not be able to drive a car, but I have had seven years of orientation and mobility training in how to read a map and travel by train, bus, or foot. I feel ready to take on the world even if I don’t get my permit.
It may seem strange, but I love to read. As a child, I was very shy and rarely talked to others, so I read books. My visual impairment doesn’t disrupt my daily routine much because I have learned to adapt. I have been very successful in school and when I am particularly challenged, I get in a I’m-never-going-to-give-up-even-if-it-kills-me mood and triumph over the challenge. Just because someone can’t see well doesn’t mean they are less determined to succeed.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.