Vision Impaired Students Help Actors See World Differently
Reprinted from The Suburbanite with permission.
“Blur,” a Kent State Stark campus stage production, follows the story of young Dot as she starts to lose her sight to a genetic disease. Dot struggles for independence and self-assertion, placing pressure on her relationships with her other and friends. Dot builds a community of strength with the help of her boyfriend, best friend and a wayward priest.
Two Kent State students, Brianna Bradley, a junior communication studies major, and Katie Kimble, a sophomore entrepreneurship major, met with the cast of “Blur” to share their personal experiences with losing their vision.
SEEING THINGS DIFFERENTLY
On Valentine's Day of 2012, Bradley noticed her vision was blurry. She was hanging out with friends in her Lake Hall dorm room, squinting. Bradley visited the eye doctor to check her vision and found out she had a distorted cornea disease known as keratoconus that causes double and exaggerated vision.
“Within six months, I practically had no vision in the left eye, but I didn't tell anyone,” Bradley said. “I was ashamed. I didn't want to lose my independence. There were other things going on in my life, and I didn't want to add to it.”
At the time, Bradley was working two jobs to help fund her college education. Both of her grandparents had terminal cancer, and she couldn't bring herself to add blindness to the list of things gone wrong.
“Everything was all shot to hell, and I didn't want to add to it by saying I couldn't see,” she said.
Bradley admits her biggest flaw and enemy throughout the whole experience: pride.
“My pride won't let me say, 'No, I need help.' It's something I'm taking one day at a time, one step at a time,” Bradley said.
Bradley found Dot's struggle for independence and strength as she loses her sight relatable to her own experiences.
“I'm flattered that they chose me to come in because most of the time people pity us,” she said. “They don't see us as normal or fully functioning, but I am. So what I can't see? I don't act helpless, and that's what I related to.”
Kimble's situation differs from Bradley's because Kimble has had vision problems her whole life. Born prematurely, Kimble had three eye surgeries before she left the hospital after birth. She has no vision in her right eye.
“I love sports but I was never able to play in any contact sports because of my vision, and the fact that being hit in the face or the eye could result in total blindness,” Kimble said. “Instead, I danced. I took ballet, tap, jazz and hip hop for 13 years.”
Kimble also participates in the Kent State Colorguard as well where she spins and flips a 6-foot flag.
“I have adapted, but I did so because my parents never stopped me from doing what I really want to do,” she said. “I have done whatever I felt like I wanted to do and as I became more confident.”
Kimble said people are often surprised when they find out she has vision problems.
“I have had the good fortune of being discreet but there are many people who don't have the luxury,” she said. Their disability is advertised by their wheelchairs, their walkers, their canes, their gait. I felt like I needed to believe that I could have more confidence in others that they would not underestimate my capabilities. And, no one has.”
Brian Newberg, director of “Blur” and assistant professor of theater at the Stark campus, said he chose the play because it provides a learning experience for the students participating in the production.
“The criteria for picking shows always have to deal with learning,” Newberg said. “There's a lot of experiential learning that goes on in theater. It's a very cinematic play. I thought it would be good for students to work on a dramatic structure like this.”
Lauren Paulis, who plays the lead role of Dot in “Blur,” said her character seemed relatable to Bradley's and Kimble's experiences in that Dot doesn't want to be treated differently because of her eventual blindness.
“She doesn't want to lose her independence,” Paulis said. “And she's also fearful that people will treat her differently like she's helpless, like she's a child in some kind of way.”
Newberg and Cynthia Williams, public relations coordinator at the Kent State University at Stark Campus, brought the two girls to meet the cast so the cast could get a sense of what it is like to live with blindness.
“It was a very informative,” Williams said. “For me, it was kind of an eye opener as to what these girls are going through. I just think these girls are so courageous. They don't let what's happening with their eyesight stop them from reaching their goals, and that alone is inspiring to the cast members and the professor and to myself.”
Williams said both girls work to live a normal life though partial blindness presents challenges other students won't face.
“It's one of those things that we don't even realize,” Williams said. “We're able to take tests. We're able to read the screens on the PowerPoint. All that stuff they have to have specialized. That's something that the prof and the SAS (Student for Accessibility Services) work together to provide as much of a normal experience in college as they can.”
The discussion posed as a learning experience for the cast to hear what it is like first-hand to live with an eye disorder and fading vision.
“It was really hard, but inspiring, to listen to them because of everything they've gone through,” Paulis said. “They don't want self pity about it. That's what I admire.”
Original story can be found at www.thesuburbanite.com/article/20150412/NEWS/150409879.