In a world where visual cues are key to interaction and accessibility, some people have to do without it. Adam Hixson, a 42-year-old Tennessee native, is all too familiar with this issue. When Hixson was 32 years old, his optometrist told him that he had about a year until he would lose one-hundred percent of his vision. Hixson was understandably confused, frustrated and scared. When asked what he misses the most about having his vision, Hixson stated, “Used to, when I could drive, if I wanted to go somewhere, I got in the car and went, I didn’t rely on other people. Since I went blind, I have to rely on everybody to get places.”
He goes on to explain that blindness is often a very isolating disability. His main interactions involve his daughter, Madison, who lives with him in their off-campus apartment. “There’s some times that I’ve asked when I get twisted and turned around, I could hear someone walking towards me, and I’d be like, ‘Excuse me!’, ‘cause I was trying to ask them exactly where I was at. They would speed up and walk faster like they were scared of me or something. So, things like that make you feel more alone.” While Adam explains that some students are too nervous to approach him, he goes on to say that most students are very friendly and will often say hello and occasionally ask if he needs assistance. However, what most people do not understand is that sometimes an action that may traditionally be considered helpful or polite may not actually be helping a person who is blind.
Bryon Kluesner, the Adaptive Technology Coordinator for UTC’s Disability Resource Center (DRC) has worked with Adam since he first started at UTC in 2018. He works closely with professors to ensure that any extensions or accommodations that might make Adam’s coursework easier are given. Kluesner explains the danger of assumptions when it comes to disabilities. “I think a lot of people who don’t understand disabilities are typically very sympathetic and empathetic,” but Kluesner states that often this empathy leads to people assuming that they know the best way to help. He says that often people think that something as simple as opening a door is helpful, when in actuality, if you are not verbally explaining the action to that person, it can actually put them in harm’s way, rather than help the situation.
Many people with impaired or total loss of vision are taught from an early age how to adapt to situations that are made more challenging by the obstacle of eyesight. While Adam is an exception to this, having lost his vision at 33, he has still learned methods and tactics for navigating the world around him. It is crucial that people seek to have a more fundamental understanding of disabilities like blindness, so that we can better interact with people like Adam. There is no reason that blindness should be a hindrance to positive social interaction, when in reality, both sides have something to learn from each other.
Meet the Storytellers
Savannah Champion is a senior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, majoring in Communication. She is a writer, planner and is proficient in the Adobe Creative Suite. She loves performing Shakespeare and wants to help organizations form an intentional connection with their target audience. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.