The rights of everyone need attention, but people with disabilities tend not to be considered, said Jordan Scheffer, a blind UNC Asheville student.
“Really, I think that people would benefit from seeing how people like me live our lives and navigate the world,” Scheffer said. “I think it sheds light onto different ways of approaching life.”
According to the 20-year-old freshman, society makes people perceive those with disabilities as helpless and does little to encourage other perspectives.
“For a time I had this sort of inferiority complex where I thought people that don’t understand me must just be people. How can you not understand a blind person? I now realize that it is not their fault,” Jordan said.
Now a UNCA student, Jordan allows insight into her full story. She said she began her life at the astonishing weight of 1 pound and 2 ounces, entering the world 23 weeks premature with a sight problem.
“It’s called retinopathy of prematurity where your eyes aren’t done developing and then when you’re born they start developing immediately and just grow so fast that your retina explodes,” said Jordan, cane by her side.
Sight exists nowhere in Jordan’s world and never will, according to the freshman.
“Imagine if you were to have always been able to see and then you lost your sight, then imagine the reverse happening. I’d be just as scared and confused and overwhelmed as you,” Scheffer said.
The short, brown-haired girl finds pride in her disability and the outlook it allows for her to have on the world.
“I think that if someone were to offer me a surgery tomorrow that could allow me to see, I wouldn’t take the chance,” Scheffer said. “I love to challenge myself and see how I can make the lives of both sighted people and blind people better by living by example and showing others that I am just as capable as anyone else.”
Carolyn Ogburn and Katie Smith pose in costume at the disability cultural center.
UNCA’s campus continues growing in disability awareness and overall accessibility according to Katie Smith, accessibility specialist.
“I love the way that accessibility and issues pertaining to disability are trickling into just the everyday consciousness of people,” said Carolyn Ogburn, Smith’s colleague and director of accessibility services.
Accessibility is subjective, Ogburn said. A specific area on campus can be ADA compliant, but that does not mean it is accessible because accessibility is individual and situational specific.
“Here on the UNCA campus a lot of areas are accessible to a lot of people. A lot of curriculums are accessible to a lot of people. For some individuals the same situation can be completely inaccessible,” the disability advocate said.
The navigation of campus proves to be a difficult task to undertake even still at the end of the semester, according to Scheffer.
“It’s not that it’s inaccessible, but it’s the fact that there are so many pathways to everything and the fact that there is not a grid. It’s all twisting and turning and 50 ways to get to one door and it’s not linear and it’s not go right, go left, go right and you’re there,” the 20-year-old said.
The school provides resources through accessibility services allowing for the help Scheffer needs when it comes to navigation, Ogburn said.
“Jay, my orientation and mobility teacher, did teach me how to get to my classes fine, but the thing is, he taught me specific routes that have the least amount of turns into intersecting sidewalks and stuff like that,” Scheffer said.
Part of Smith’s job as an accessibility specialist involves the management and dispersing of all technologies to help disabled students.
“I use what’s called a screen reader to kind of navigate and read stuff for me on my screen,” Scheffer said. “I use a braille display to work. It’s a little tiny machine that displays braille on the actual machine and it displays what’s on the screen of your computer into braille.”
According to the UNCA freshman, mostly everything has become accessible for blind people in terms of devices; although, some devices and a lot of websites are not accessible.
“Images on websites may not have captions, so it will say, ‘Graphic, graphic, graphic, image, image, image,’ and I’m like, ‘What?’” Scheffer said. “It’s very important that people really understand how to make their websites accessible and it’s important for people to know that blind people look at their websites just as much as sighted people.”
Ogburn said UNCA provides training to those within multiple different resources to work with students with disabilities. The whole campus is responsible for making it accessible.
“I’ve been conscious about students learning in different ways, but never to the point that, OK, I have a student who can’t see visual stuff. I’ve got to be sure to relay all the material to her as well,” said Marcia Ghidina, a teacher of Scheffer’s.
The associate professor said the new experience of teaching a blind student gives her a new insight into the benefits of a diverse community.
“It is bringing us a community value. It’s not like, ‘Oh, by allowing people here, we’re giving them access,’ I think it’s really the flip. It’s made me appreciate having a diverse community,” Ghidina said.
Differing perspectives allow for an understanding of shared experiences and teaches people how differences don’t have to be negative, Scheffer said.
“I want people to understand that being blind isn’t all that scary and to know that we can watch TV, read books, go online, text, and do anything else that sighted people do,” Scheffer said.