The Way I See It: Ann Chiappetta

We introduce this series to give our writers an opportunity to share their own experiences and stories with you. Each one will offer a different perspective of the phrase, “The way I see it.” Ann knew she wanted to finish her education, but she also knew her vision loss would present some unique challenges. Ann’s determination and problem-solving skills helped her accomplish her goal.

 

"My sight loss journey of over 20 years has brought its share of difficulties. It has frustrated me, made me happy, and made me more determined all at the same time. I knew I wanted to continue my education, and I certainly was not going to let my vision loss hold me back. I began with enrolling in correspondence classes with the Hadley School for the Blind located in Winnetka Illinois, earning an equivalency diploma. I did not complete high school due to family problems. Being given the chance to receive a diploma boosted my confidence and poor self-esteem.  The next step was college.

I selected a private college close to where I lived. It offered classes during weekends and evenings. Raising two children under five, the alternative class times made it easier for me when scheduling sitters. I remember late study nights and mornings coming much earlier than I wanted, but it was worth it.  

College life helped or hindered me, depending on the type of class and the instructors. It was frustrating to know I was often the only blind student on campus.  I learned how to advocate for myself, but it was difficult in the beginning. 

I hired a scribe my junior year for math class because the instructor only used a chalk board for the math formulas. I was so frustrated and stressed from it I would get home and cry. At the end of the class, the instructor told me I showed more initiative than some of the younger students and they should learn something from a blind woman receiving one of the highest grades in his college level statistics class.

Sometimes I didn’t receive the same accommodations that students often ask for and receive today. One time, the head of the technology department refused to equip a computer station with the magnification software I used.  I felt like I wasn’t part of campus life because I could not use what the other students took for granted but I didn’t allow myself to be stopped by it.

I asked for books as early in the semester as possible but was often disappointed by the lack of understanding by the instructor regarding reasonable accommodations. One actually told me it would put me at an advantage over the other students if I received the textbooks before them.  One time, I went into the library and the librarian surprised me, showing me a dusty CCTV left behind by a student who had graduated.  We set it up and I used it to help me read the articles and books. The campus librarians were always helpful and understood the meaning of an accommodation for blind students.  

Accessibility for visually impaired students improved during my master's degree classes. Unfortunately, my vision deteriorated, and I struggled with reading printed materials despite magnification. I often experienced migraines from the eye strain. Some reading materials were only available in print, and the only technology available to me was a scanner equipped with OCR, also known as optical character recognition software.

The final two years of working towards a master’s degree in family therapy, students were required to intern at the college’s counseling center. The campus counseling center was across a busy city street. I left one winter evening and navigated across the street safely with my white cane and turned into the parking lot which led to the building where my evening class was being held. My cane fell into a grate in the lot, I lost my balance and fell in a muddy puddle, scraping my hands and knees and dousing my book bag. I almost skipped the class but got up, got my cane unstuck and made it to class. I recall telling myself when I finally graduated, I would apply for a guide dog.  

One of the most gratifying aspects of becoming a family therapist has been knowing I’ve made a difference and assisted the healing process for people in emotional or psychological distress. Only a handful of individuals declined to see me because of my disability. One of the most satisfying and memorable experiences was receiving my master’s degree with my daughter guiding us to the podium, my white cane held in my hand."

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