Post by Meaghan Roper, a 19-year-old Wheelock College Freshman
Middle school and high school years are a big time for change. You try new things, you join different sports and clubs, you make new friends (and lose old ones), and you start thinking about what you will do after you graduate, whether it be going to college or joining the work force. It’s a challenging time when many people require lots of support from friends, family, and peers. One thing that I know from experience doesn’t make those difficult times any easier? Losing your vision.
When I was five, I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), and at age six I was diagnosed with uveitis, an auto-inflammatory disease that affected my eyes. Through most of my childhood, my uveitis was controlled with lots of intense medical treatments. However, I eventually developed allergies to the treatments I was receiving and my uveitis began to become very inflamed. In order to try and keep some control of it, I was pounded with eye drops and oral steroids, which led to the development of cataracts and legal blindness in both eyes. Although since then I have had the cataracts removed, I still struggle with legal blindness and fluctuating vision due to scarring and recurring membranes.
In high school, one of our biggest fears is not “fitting in.” Having lost my vision as a freshman, I struggled to accept my disability and refused to use my cane. I was so concerned about my image that I was willing to risk my safety and the safety of others. When I finally realized how dangerous it was for me to travel without my cane, I began using it. With that came the rude comments and the loss of some friendships.
As it turns out, though, the power of friendship was actually one of my greatest tools while going through this first year of vision loss. Although I lost some friends, I kept the best ones close, and shared with them everything about my disease and vision loss. They helped me through all of these changes, and stood up for me against the bullies because they knew what I was going through.
Another big challenge that comes with being in high school is preparing for college and the “real world.” The scariest questions I get from kids losing their vision or their parents are “Am I ever going to get into a good college or have a good job?” and “Will my child graduate high school and live a normal life?”
The short answer is yes. For the long answer, I’ll talk about my own experience:
Losing my vision forced me to find new ways to learn in school and to live life. It was challenging to get good grades when I was trying to absorb and understand information in a different way than ever before. The Special Education and Guidance Departments at my school wanted me to stay back a year and do a fifth year of high school. The goal would be to improve my grades and not overload myself with classwork and credits, but I was not going to have that. I was determined to graduate on time with my friends. I fought until the very end and in my senior year, graduated with all A’s and an acceptance to my top choice college, Wheelock College in Boston. Although it was a challenge, I was able to reach my goals with the support of my Orientation & Mobility teacher, my TVI (Teacher of the Visually Impaired), and family.
Now that I am in my first year of college, I look back at high school as a time that I was able to grow and to accomplish more than anyone expected. Today, rather than being ashamed or embarrassed, I embrace my visual impairment and participate fully in college activities. I pride myself on not only accomplishing as much as the average student, but more! I am a student ambassador for the Admissions office and an associate for the Early College Access Program, and I have even been nominated for the Rise Up! student leadership program. I have begun working with the Talking Information Center (TIC) on a new weekly broadcast. I work as a librarian in the school technology library, and have another job off-campus working with special needs teenagers. I am also looking forward to starting a program at my college for students to work with the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired as volunteers.
Somehow, I still balance four classes on top of all that!
I was able to adapt to college life with ease and make lots of new friends. I overcame my disability. I consider that my greatest achievement, and my message to anyone coping with similar issues is that, with effort and perseverance, you can too.