Tennessee Kindred Stories of Disability

A collection of stories from individuals with disabilities, families, friends, and disability service providers in Tennessee



Alex K (17), Blind, Jefferson County


"People clearly treated him differently, and at times, it was very frustrating for Alex because he knew he was the same person he was before his diagnosis. "

  • A Student interview of self-advocate's Perspective
  • Posted on 3/19/2013

 

Alex began having trouble with his vision after taking a seizure medication. One of the stated risks for the medication was glaucoma, and when Alex was in eighth grade, he began to notice changes to his vision. He found himself running into things, realizing that there were some things he just couldn’t see. He later found out that he in fact had developed glaucoma.

After he received his diagnosis, Alex was worried about what it might mean for him. School became increasingly stressful. Because of his light sensitivity, Alex has a pair of prescription sunglasses that he wears to help his vision and protect his eyes. When he started wearing them in school, people began teasing him and calling him names. People clearly treated him differently, and at times, it was very frustrating for Alex because he knew he was the same person he was before his diagnosis.

Around this time, Alex also secured a job as a bag boy at a local grocery store. He worked hard and though he admits he wasn’t the fastest bagger, he feels he did a good job. However, he soon found that his shifts were being scheduled at times when he wasn’t able to get to work. Because Alex could not drive, he had to rely on his parents to drive him to work. They both worked and Alex was in school, but his shifts continually fell during business and school hours. Even after speaking with his manager, the problem continued to arise and Alex was forced to quit his job. Alex felt slightly victimized by this situation, and it was frustrating to him that he was being treated so differently than he had been treated before. He was the same Alex, just with a little less vision.

As the bullying became worse in school, Alex’s family decided to transfer him to the Tennessee School for the Blind. Switching to a school where other students were facing the same challenges was a relief to Alex. When asked if it was easier to connect with students who also had visual impairments, Alex replied, “People are just nicer here. They aren’t as judgmental. They mess with each other, but they know not to go too far.”

At school, Alex takes eight classes during the day. His schedule consists of Earth Science, Spanish, World History, Technology, English, Geometry, Economics, and TBE, Tennessee Blind Entrepreneurs. Like any other student, Alex comes to school facing the same load of classes every day but on Mondays, there is one thing that occurs in the morning that brightens his day just that extra little bit and makes for a great way to start the week. Every Monday, an event called Muffin Monday takes place. At school, students sell donuts and muffins to help raise money for certain individuals. After volunteering their time to help, these volunteers find themselves with extra donuts and muffins left over. At this point, since school is starting, the volunteers are allowed to have the left- overs. Alex thinks it’s a great way to start off the week.

Alex is a member of the wrestling team and the swim team. He has been welcomed and encouraged to play sports at his new school, and has never felt like glaucoma limited him in his abilities. His school has helped to make sure that Alex does not feel left out from any opportunities. He says that the state of Tennessee has 13 schools for the visually impaired in their district and they play against them all. In addition to those schools, they also travel and play public schools. He says that he enjoys these matches the most because when he wins he feels like he is proving himself to people who may not have respected him before. He said that when he started losing his vision, after he had come to grips with what happened, he thought that he was going to have to give up sports. He very much enjoyed them before he lost his sight and was disappointed that he couldn’t continue them blind. He was very pleased, however, when he found out that the Tennessee School for the Blind wanted him to continue his athletics at the high school level. He even managed to place first in the district in the heavyweight division.

 

            

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