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Student navigates college without vision, provides insight

Submitted by Callie Evans on September 30, 2010 – 12:47 pm4 Comments

If you think being a college student is hard, try doing it without the ability to see. Everett Elam, a 22-year-old music major at UALR, is doing just that.

Elam said he chose music because it is something he has always been good at. He plays five instruments: piano, violin, keyboard, penny whistle, harmonica, and he’s learning to play the jaw harp.

“I want to be a small-time homespun artist, like a Facebook artist…because I make my own music. I also thought of getting a minor in psychology and doing music therapy,” Elam said.

Like many college students, Elam is addicted to his iPhone, but for different reasons than most.

Everett Elam (left), sophomore music major, shares a laugh with his friend Allison Gadberry, sophomore undeclared major.

Elam explained that before the iPhone, cell phones had to have a screen-reader, which were costly. With the iPhone, however a screen-reader comes built in and he says it works better than most traditional screen-readers.

He also puts the voice recorder, camera and video camera to use. “Blind people do take pictures,” he said. “Some of us just do it better than others. That’s what girlfriends are for!”

Another feature of the iPhone that Elam has found useful is the compass. He knows the general directions of the main buildings on campus, so with the compass he can navigate if he gets turned around.

Elam said he often appears lost and does appreciate it when people ask if he needs help, but asks for some consideration. “It’s all in the way you ask. It can be very embarrassing when someone screams across campus to ask you if you need help,” particularly if your crush is nearby, he said.

He said it is also awkward having someone congratulate you for doing simple tasks, like walking up the stairs, in front of many people. “It’s embarrassing and it’s demeaning and it’s not necessary. Go about it the right way.”

The right way, Elam said, is to come up to him and ask if he’s lost or needs help. If he says no thanks, don’t insist on helping him; sometimes he prefers to figure it out himself.

He said, “If you just let people help you all the time you won’t get anywhere.

“Most of the time when I walk out that door I’m terrified … I fell in a construction hole once because it wasn’t taken care of right. The world is not made for us, but we should try to adapt.”

Elam said the most difficult part of college is not the books or the classes, but “coming to terms with the fact that most, if not all people are going to see me as different and having to fight that every day. That really sucks.”

Not everyone treats Elam differently though. Andrea Milligan, sophomore psychology major, said she enjoys her friendship with Elam because “when talking to him, time flies. We can talk and all of a sudden three hours have passed and we have talked about tons of random things you would never think about.”

Elam is fiercely independent, but he was not always that way. He actually dropped out of school the first time because of the difficulties.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to do that. Being scared of something and running away, especially if you can’t see; that’s not how you live. You get out there and you fall and you bust your knees a few times, but you stay out there. If you don’t, it will just build and you won’t ever get anything done,” he said.

Now, Elam said the challenge is his favorite part. “[College gets you] out of your comfort zone… you meet new people, you learn new stuff. It’s not always what the classes try to teach you, but I think that’s the real reason to go to college because you learn how to be resourceful, [and] creative.”