Christian Thaxton: A Journal of Vision Loss, Part 2 Training for Independence

Christian, now 21 years old.
Christian, now 21 years old.

Christian was 19 and had a baseball scholarship at a Community College in Oklahoma. Then his vision began to have spots in it, rapidly got worse and he was declared legally blind. Here is the link to Part 1 of his journal through vision loss if you missed it.

I was very interested in a training in vision rehab at the Carroll Center near Boston, but still had doubts about my need for this program.

My family wanted what was best for me, they also wanted me to stay close to home. This naturally influenced their opinion on what I should do. Knowing this, that Saturday. After talking for a while, I told them what it came down to was this:  Going to Redlands (his previous college) was the safe, sure option. On the other hand, going to Boston is what I felt I needed to do, but I would be taking a big risk going there. Was it worth the risk?  Obviously, none of us could answer that question. However, the entire time I was trying to decide what to do, I felt going to this center is what I needed to do if I thought I was going to have to live with this blindness the rest of my life.

The next morning, I wake up late to watch the Life Church service. The sermon was about having faith in God and bringing glory to Him. As if on cue, almost immediately after I began watching, the preacher hits me with this, If you play it safe, you cannot bring glory to God. If you do not take risks, you cannot bring glory to God.  Some people may call this a coincidence; however, I believe it was God answering my prayers. At this point, I was basically convinced I needed to go to Boston. The next day, I withdrew from my classes at Redlands, and fully commited to going to the Carroll Center for the Blind in March of this year.

I landed in Boston around 10 pm on March 3. I was so nervous, anxious, and excited when I woke up that next morning; my first morning at the Carroll Center. I had no idea what to expect. However, I was welcomed by several friendly faces. Everyone there quickly made me feel at ease.

My first full day at the Carroll Center was such an eye opening experience. Previously, I had several common misconceptions about visually impaired and blind people even though I was one. I thought I was limited to certain careers, would have trouble being independent, and just have to accept that certain things in life were not available to me any more. I realized after a few short hours here this was not at all true. While my vision may cause me to do things a little differently, I can absolutely still do what I want or need to do for myself. Thus, I began my 16 week journey at the Carroll Center with an open mind. Over the next few days, I no longer had any doubt. There was no regret. This is exactly what I needed to get my life back.

My second night there, I walked to a nearby Starbucks with another new client I had met. Although there was still a deep layer of snow on the ground, I noticed several people were actually walking around Newton. This struck me as really cool. Not many people walk around in Oklahoma. My first weekend at the Carroll Center, I went with a small group to the Harpoon brewery. This involved taking the subway. My first experience on the subway I was like a deer in headlights. I was so lost as to what was going on or where to go. At the same time, I was fascinated at the range of places accessible through this public transit system. After only a couple more times riding it with others, I realized I might be able to navigate this system by myself. This realization was an extremely liberating one. Being able to get where I needed to go without relying on others? This was something I thought I had forever lost. Naturally, I quickly caught the Boston fever.  I began thinking of moving here, but it wasn t a real possibility in my mind.

While at the Carroll Center, I was focused on maximizing my time there in order to prepare myself to return to college that fall. I planned on going to the University of Oklahoma now (instead of Redlands,) and I wanted to be completely independent. I was talking with the instructors, asking questions, learning the nonvisual techniques they were teaching. Throughout the day, I would have a variety of classes including: Braille, Counseling, Orientation and Mobility, Low Vision, Personal Management, PDA, PC, and Woodshop. In braille, I began the process of learning how to read in braille along with how to use a Braille typewriter and labeler. Counseling mainly dealt with my adjustment to vision loss. In orientation and Mobility, an array of skills were taught. I learned things like how to use a white cane properly, the pros and cons of different navigation apps, safe street crossings, and we began exploring the vast public transit system Boston offers. The low vision class extensively explored different ways of utilizing and maximizing my residual vision. We covered an array of magnification tools, lighting, and contrasts. Personal management was a comprehensive class based on managing daily household tasks. In this class, we covered cleaning and organization techniques, labeling for quick identification, and my personal favorite safe cooking techniques. In PDA, the use of small handheld devices was briefly covered, but the class mainly revolved around using the accessibility features of iPhones and related apps.

PC classes began with learning how to touch type. I had pretty solid typing skills already, so I quickly advanced through the typing. Once you were a sufficient typist, you began learning the basics of JAWS, which is a screen reading program on computers for people who are visually impaired or blind. I am actually using JAWS to type this now. I was amazed at how well someone can still use a computer using this software while not being able to actually see the screen.

While it seemed most of the classes could be applied to everyday life, woodshop, on the surface, seemed to be the exception. However, it was a fully occluded (blindfolded) class. This made us incorporate many skills such as: Time management, organization, spatial awareness, dexterity, and planning.

After Vision rehab I had two weeks of technology training. This was an individualized program centered on the many complex features of JAWS. We covered Microsoft Office products, email, and internet navigation; everything I might need for college.

I never imagined gaining so much from such a short period of time. I m grateful for the opportunity to attend such a place. It rebuilt the confidence in my ability to be independent and successful. Though, as I approached the end of my stay there, I did realize it was definitely time for me to leave.

On June 19th, 2015, I finally left the Carroll Center and headed home. The next morning, for the first time in four months, I woke up in my own bed…. In my new apartment in South Boston……. Wait, what, in South Boston?

Next month A new home and regaining a way to play sports…

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