STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Ethan Smith
This article originally appeared in the March 2022 edition of Inside Equal Access.
Ethan Smith is a Kent State undergraduate, double-majoring in Communication Studies and Emerging Media and Technology. Ethan is a student with both a visual and mental health disability. Ethan is very open about his visual impairment and the challenges that come with it. But he tends to hide his manic depression and bipolar disorder to the best of his abilities, because he's learned that people usually want to give advice or assume he'll be emotionally unpredictable. This is hard, for having dealt with mental health issues for over twelve years, he already has a good handle on what strategies and tools work for him.
As a KSU student, Ethan finds some tasks/situations more complicated due to his visual impairment. The college-related challenges he faces the most are “having access to accessible course materials, finding classes, and getting food from dining halls such as Eastway and the Design Innovation Hub.” Ethan is currently a Student Accessibility Specialist on the Digital Accessibility Team in the Division of Information Technology. Working a job on campus while being a full-time student is challenging. But he finds that his digital accessibility work excites and motivates him. It gives him energy that spills over to his academic work.
His life as a blind adult took a new direction in July 2021. Ethan met and trained in partnering with Josephine (pictured), a 3-year-old labrador with a huge personality. In Ethan's words, "Josephine loves meeting new people, but this is also one of the many challenges JoJo and I have to manage. When working, Josephine is completely focused on our surroundings to safely navigate us to our destination. For this reason, I always attempt to educate those around me on how and when they can interact with guide dogs. The three most important things to remember when you see a guide dog team is to not pet, talk, or look at the dog as these actions can distract a guide dog from their work. Once JoJo’s harness is off, she is no longer working, and loves to say hi to everyone and encourages people to pet her."
"THE THREE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN YOU SEE A GUIDE DOG TEAM IS TO NOT PET, TALK, OR LOOK AT THE DOG AS THESE ACTIONS CAN DISTRACT A GUIDE DOG FROM THEIR WORK."
Ethan's professional aspiration after graduation is to work as an accessibility specialist. His end aim is to start his own accessibility consulting firm that supports underserved communities. In his professional journey, he expects to face some barriers. For example, using screen readers challenges meeting time restrictions on projects. Also, dealing with inaccessible software and websites that are necessary for his job is another challenge.
What Ethan wishes non-disabled people understood is that although being visually impaired might make accomplishing tasks take longer, it certainly doesn’t "limit one’s knowledge base or their ability to accomplish things." Through his journey, he has learned to always seek understanding before coming to any conclusions.
Ethan’s self-care routines include morning meditation to start his day with a clear mind. He also likes to reflect on the daily challenges he faces and how to mitigate them.
Hey there, reader! Made it this far? Let's take it to the next step. Here's some questions for your own thought or discussion with others:
- If you're a student with a disability, did you relate to any of Ethan's comments? Did anything spark your interest or motivate you to think bigger?
- If you're a faculty or staff member, is there anything YOU can do to make Ethan's (and other students with disabilities') campus life more accessible?
Want to send some encouragement to or ask a question of Ethan? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.