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Blind Student Aims To Help Others With Disabilities

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Photo credit: Mikaela Conley

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Written by: Mikaela ConleyNovember 11, 2016

It was a cold day in February, three months too soon.

The doctors told his parents to start planning the funeral.

They refused.

Jason Jarvis, now a 20-year-old from Fort Wayne, was a fighter since Day One.

He still deals with a few of the complications he dealt with then. Jason’s parents had to wait six weeks before bringing him home from the hospital.

Imagine completely closing off any vision in the left eye and only having an area the size of a pin prick to see out of the other, Jason says.

“The size of a pinhole, that’s all you have left. Try this for the rest of your life!” he says.

Jason’s grandma, Laurel Brown, says she always knew there was something special about her grandson.

In elementary school, Jason’s class was singing for a special program. Before the group hit the stage, every student was nervous and scared to go on, Laurel says.

Except Jason.

Jason has an advantage when it comes to public speaking and singing. He can’t see the audience, Laurel says.

“He just belted out the song and it didn’t matter who was there because he didn’t know,” Laurel says. “And that just melted my heart.”

Every Christmas, Jason’s grandfather would allow the kids to trade gifts they received. In 2013, he traded his brother for a Rubik’s Cube. He had one years earlier when he was 9, but couldn’t finish it, Jason says.

He was intrigued by puzzles, math problems and equations at a young age, and he only hoped at that time to be able to finish it.

Jason, now a junior at IPFW studying education, says he hopes to be a math or science teacher. If that doesn’t work, he wants to tutor students.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree, which will take him about three more years, he says he will continue his education. It just may not be in a college classroom.

“You don’t have to have a formal education from a college after you’re done. It’s all about learning from the people you’re teaching,” he says. “So, yes, my education will last a lifetime.”

Jason says he did not want to be put in a special education classroom in school, despite his disability.

“I knew being in a general education setting would be my best choice because it would put me with everyone else,” he says, “and it wouldn’t make me feel different from anyone else.”

Jason’s dad would stay up studying with him, past midnight some nights, working on subjects such as accounting and calculus. What took other students one hour to accomplish took him five because he had to do it all in Braille.

There have been ups and downs through Jason’s journey of living with a visual impairment, but the hardest part has been being patient, he says.

Jason has worked with Braille since he was three years old. He worked with a visual instructor to learn basic Braille and how to do math problems in Braille.

He says, “Braille has been the bread and butter of my life.”

He uses a transportable digital Braille machine and an iPad to do homework in class and he has an old fashioned Perkin’s brailler.

Coming to college, Jason and his family were not concerned about his intellectual ability, but rather his social ability to fit in on campus, he says.

There are some people who think there is something wrong with him and it hurts his feelings, but Jason makes an effort to talk to everyone he crosses paths with anyway, he said.

“I never know when I could run into that one person who’s having just the worst day,” he says, “and all they need is that one person to talk to them for just two minutes.”

Although he is motivated, there are some things Jason cannot do because of his visual impairment.

“You guys take driving for granted so much. You can go to school any time you want. You can go to work. Be appreciative of that,” he says. “Be grateful that you can and know there are people out there who will never be able to do it.”

His grandmother taught him to swim, play basketball and much more, but she also learned a lot from him.

“Watching him has inspired me. When I think I can’t do something it’s ridiculous because I tell myself, ‘Here is Jason going to college and he has aspirations and he has overcome so much.’”

Denny Norton says he lived next to the Jarvis family for 10 years. Denny’s wife had a stroke six months ago, so Jason goes to their house once a week and talks with them.

“He’s dedicated to helping people,” Denny says. “He wants to help other people with disabilities, which is great.”

Recently, Jason noticed something missing in the community of blind or visually impaired individuals.

As someone with a visual impairment, it is challenging to eat at a restaurant, order something, and know what to get without seeing the menu. Typically, they have someone read the menu to them if there is no Braille menu available, Jason says.

Jason has had it.

“That’s it,” Jason says. “There’s been too many restaurants with no Braille menus. I have been read to long enough. I have literacy; I am going to use it.”

So far, Jason has used his personal Braille machine to make braille menus for Mister Coney and Cosmos. He hopes to make his movement bigger, maybe making it regional or national at some point.

“For now I’m not talking about a business,” he says. “I’m talking about the better of people.”

Making the menus on his personal Braille machine is an extensive process. Mistakes have to be blotted out and fixed. Each character has to be typed and embossed at a time. The menu for Cosmos came out to be 22 Braille pages long.

Providing Braille menus to visually impaired individuals is not made mandatory by the American Disabilities Act, though Jason said he believes it should be.

Jason is currently taking classes at IPFW to better understand the ADA and other disability related laws.

***

The winter before Jason went to college was cold.

There were more snow days than there were school days, so Jason pulled the Rubik’s Cube that he had gotten from Christmas out in his bedroom and began to work at it. A friend had helped him apply Braille stickers to it so he knew what colors each block were.

Slowly, he worked. Watching Youtube videos for strategic suggestions, gently feeling each block, shifting the cube back and forth, back and forth.

He picked up the pace slightly shifting, turning.

And the last block fell into place.