Not Seeing is Still Believing By Amber Ramundo BRISTOL, R.I. __ Turning out the lights to face complete darkness is not enough to understand Cory Kadlik’s world. Wake up without the help of the sun streaming through the shades. Join him on the floor of his dormitory bedroom on a Tuesday morning as he uses everything but sight to get ready for the day. In many ways, his dormitory room in Roger Williams University’s Bayside Apartments looks no different from all the others. An empty pizza box sits on the stove. The fridge is empty apart from some butter, a package of bacon and beer. The garbage needs to be taken out. There is no way to understand the person who lives here simply by stepping inside. But a close observer will eventually notice the placement of common necessities in easy-to-reach places. Hang around long enough and you’ll meet a young man who navigates every task with his arms stretched out before him, scanning the surfaces of his surroundings. “The worst part about not being able to see is just forgetting where things are in a small space,” Cory says. Cory, 23, sits on the floor of his dormitory bedroom. He feels the ground around him. The touch of the carpet is familiar under his searching hands. He is surrounded by all the things he needs that day. The boots he wants to wear lay a foot to his left at the end of his twin bed where he remembers kicking them off just a few days ago. His wallet is placed conveniently on the edge of his desk, where he always puts it when he empties his pockets at the end of the day. Put a blindfold on and get ready for class. Try it if you can. See how far you get before giving up and peaking under the shade. But even that is not enough to understand. Imagine having no visual reference for your surroundings because you’ve never seen them before. You’ve never seen anything at all.

Not Seeing is Still Believing

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This is a story about the discrepancies between visually impaired people in a sighted world and the way people's expectations shape their interactions with the disabled.

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Not Seeing is Still BelievingBy Amber Ramundo BRISTOL, R.I. __ Turning out the lights to face complete darkness is not enough to understand Cory Kadliks world. Wake up without the help of the sun streaming through the shades. Join him on the floor of his dormitory bedroom on a Tuesday morning as he uses everything but sight to get ready for the day. In many ways, his dormitory room in Roger Williams Universitys Bayside Apartments looks no different from all the others. An empty pizza box sits on the stove. The fridge is empty apart from some butter, a package of bacon and beer. The garbage needs to be taken out. There is no way to understand the person who lives here simply by stepping inside. But a close observer will eventually notice the placement of common necessities in easy-to-reach places. Hang around long enough and youll meet a young man who navigates every task with his arms stretched out before him, scanning the surfaces of his surroundings. The worst part about not being able to see is just forgetting where things are in a small space, Cory says. Cory, 23, sits on the floor of his dormitory bedroom. He feels the ground around him. The touch of the carpet is familiar under his searching hands. He is surrounded by all the things he needs that day. The boots he wants to wear lay a foot to his left at the end of his twin bed where he remembers kicking them off just a few days ago. His wallet is placed conveniently on the edge of his desk, where he always puts it when he empties his pockets at the end of the day. Put a blindfold on and get ready for class. Try it if you can. See how far you get before giving up and peaking under the shade. But even that is not enough to understand. Imagine having no visual reference for your surroundings because youve never seen them before. Youve never seen anything at all. Cory is one of an estimated 6.5 million people with a visual impairment in the United States according to the National Federation of the Blind. He is currently the only blind student enrolled at Roger Williams University. Nationwide, just 11 percent of students who are legally blind go on to achieve higher education and a bachelors degree. Of that number, very few attend college out of state on their own. Most prefer to stay close to home where they can remain in a familiar location with their family.

Its 9 a.m. on a breezy fall morning. Upstairs and in all of the Bayside Apartments students are jumping out of bed. They are getting changed, making a quick breakfast, packing up their backpacks and heading out the door- all without a single thought about how their eyes guide them through every action. Meanwhile, in Room 137, Cory prepares for his day by paying particular attention to each task at hand. Sneaker. Other sneaker. Backpack. Charger, he mutters his findings to himself as he tallies through his possessions. He knows the black boots must be close by. He faces the open closet where his T-shirts hang neatly. His pants are folded on a nearby shelf. It helps to be organized, but Im not, Cory says while behind him, his roommates bed piles high with a mound of unfolded laundry. The contrast of the two sides of the room is obvious. I dont usually think about where I put things, but then I regret it later. It appears that Cory may not even be aware of how naturally organized he is. Being blind prohibits total carelessness. He continues to sweep the ground in search of the boots that are just in front of him. He knows they cant be far. Memory is a crucial tool for Cory, who has learned how to navigate his whole life without the sense that is most feared to live without. The aha moment happens when Corys hands land on the rubber soul of his boots. He laces up his shoes and jumps to his feet. He quickly feels for the phone on his desk and unplugs the chord to his computer charger in the wall. As he packs his backpack for class he goes through a mental checklist to make sure all his necessities are accounted for. Computer, check.Charger, check.Phone, check.Braille display, check. He grabs the cane stored behind his bedroom door and is ready to go. Its 9:45, he needs to be at the library to take a science test in 15 minutes. Many students are drawn to Roger Williams University because of its beautiful setting. The RWU campus is nestled against the shoreline of the Mount Hope Bay. The shops, restaurants and pubs of scenic downtown Bristol are just a few minutes away. These charms are enough to make visiting students envision themselves here. But there is a different selling point that made RWU appealing to a student like Cory, who doesnt require a nice view to feel at home. Its all about accessibility, he says as he guides his way up the path that connects the Bayside Apartments to the Global Heritage Hall. Now a senior, Cory has spent four years getting to know the layout of the campus. With practice, he has become an expert navigator of the dozens of pathways that weave between the buildings. Unlike most students here, Cory uses the sounds that define each part of campus to help steer his way. Water streams on his right and he knows that he is passing the Koi pond behind the Marine Biology and Natural Sciences building. His cane hits the hollow sound of wood panels and he knows hes crossing the bridge that leads to the uphill pavement that curves slightly to the right. Each step he takes up the hill towards Global Heritage Hall, where his public relations and communications classes are held, Cory listens for the opening and closing of the halls heavy doors that screech as the traffic of students push past them. Footsteps and chatter flow in and out of the building. As the sounds get louder, Cory knows hes almost there. Sounds are what guide him through this lively campus. But even after four years here, its still possible for Cory to get lost from time to time. It doesnt happen often anymore in this familiar landscape, but he knows better than to panic when it does. Whats the point? Im used to it by now, Cory says. Ill get there when I get there. When Cory finds himself unsure of where he is, he is not shy to ask passing people in the street for help. There is a method behind walking for those who cannot see. The key to getting from point A to point B without vision comes down to walking in step with the cane and using the edges of a road or path as reference points to stay on track. The cane can do wonders if you use it correctly, he says. I cracked my head so many times as a kid because I didnt use the cane right. Id walk too fast, or just didnt use it at all Its easy to spot Cory walking around campus, partly because he walks with a cane, but also because his body takes on a distinct rhythm as he pushes himself forward with confidence. The cane is always out in front of him feeling for the safety of every step he takes. It checks his right side as he steps left and then glides to check his left side as he steps right. His motions are fluid and mastered. After all, walking in the darkness is all hes ever known. Cory makes being blind look easy. He cuts through Global Heritage Hall to the road that crosses over to the library where he goes to take tests in the Student for Accessibility office on the second floor. He stops at the edge of the sidewalk to wait for a car to pass. He listens a moment longer and then continues across the street when the road is clear. Corys world has always been shaped around doing things a different way, but Cory himself is no different than any other 23-year-old. When it comes down to it, hes is just another student trying to make it in the world. He loves NASCAR, goes out drinking with friends and has a lively presence on Twitter. Hes had girlfriends and hes had breakups. Sit down and have a conversation with him - its easy to forget hes blind. Not all people who are blind are as confident and independent as Cory Kadlik, though. There is a reason that Cory is part of a minority within the blind community that goes to college and feels motivated to live on his own The reason is Corys family. Cory has the support and encouragement of his parents and his older brother Ricky. Their steadfast belief in his resilience and their ability to see beyond his condition shaped his perception of himself and helped him believe anything was possible despite his inability to see. Ricky, in particular, guided Cory through childhood without even realizing the impact he was making on his brothers life . Ricky just wanted to play with his brother and have all the fun adventures that comes naturally to boys. I have one brother and without him, I wouldnt be normal Cory says. My parents would not have known what to do with me. My brother was the one who showed them, look, he cant see. I dont care. Im not going to treat him any differently because of it.

Hes a kid first Clover Lane in Medway, Massachusetts was brought to life by the hustle and bustle of the children that lived there. In the evenings when the kids got home from grade school, the pavement and yards of the homes became the stomping ground for activity. Ricky Kadlik was always at the center of the action, going and doing all the boyish things that sent him home with dirt covered hands and ripped jeans. To his mother, Gail Kadlik, Ricky was a fearless child. To his little brother, Cory, Ricky was the one who proved to the world that his blind brother could do anything he did. The three-year gap between Ricky and Cory meant that having a blind brother was all Ricky ever knew. It was his instinct, not his obligation, to guide Cory through the adventures of being a kid. Growing up on Clover Lane, Ricky and Cory played outside nearly every day. Ricky helped Cory ride a bike and play sports like football, hockey and wrestling. No matter what the neighborhood kids were doing, Cory was running along with them. When they played hockey, they strapped Cory up with cardboard and put him in goal. For games of baseball, Cory was designated hitter. Gail felt nervous at first, watching from the upstairs window of their split-level home. It took some adjusting for her to trust the limitless environment of boyhood that Ricky constantly pulled Cory along in. Shed poke her head out the front door to check on her sons and remind Ricky to be careful with his little brother. Mom, hes just blind! thirteen-year-old Ricky would yell over his shoulder as the two pedaled down the street on separate bikes, Rickys hand held steady on the back of his brothers neck to lead him safely through the sighted world. Gail watched them pedal away and marveled at the sight. Doctors and parents of other blind children had made it seem like Cory wouldnt have the same childhood their first son, Ricky, would have. Yet Ricky had made sure Corys blindness was secondary to his boyhood. He knew no other way of being a brother. Gail and her husband, Stephen Kalik decided they would follow suit. If Cory could ride a bike down Clover Lane, they believed he could do anything. Based on the risky circumstances of Corys premature birth, his blindness was understood to be a side effect of surviving. When Cory finally came home from a three-month fight for his life in the hospital, Gail and Stephen Kadlik were told that their son would probably never climb a tree or do the activities normal children do growing up. Blind children dont feel safe doing those things, is what the family support group told them. The Kadliks were one of few couples in the blindness support groups that were determined that their son would do anything he wanted to do. Hes a kid first before hes blind. That was my motto in all of our support groups, said Gail. He is a kid. Not a baby. Not a child. Not a blind child,- He is a kid. Cory did climb trees. He was good at it too, feeling his way as high as he could weave his body through the branches. He was the kid who was constantly covered in bruises. The black and blue markings spotted his legs because Cory ran as if he wasnt blind. Hed bump into things and keep going. Falling down and getting hurt is part of the process of growing up, and it was no different for Cory. Obstacles never affected him, even if they caused him to tumble head over feet. As he got older, Cory grew more and more independent. Hed go outside for hours and ride his bike around the pool in the back yard or up and down the street. Over time, he learned to do this without a guide with the adaptation of human echolocation. Just as bats navigate through the dark by sound vibrations that bounce off of their surroundings, people without sight learn to tune their ears to detect their environment by the sounds that reflect off of nearby objects. This is a natural adaptation for those who have no sight. A common misperception about being blind or deaf is that when one sense is lost, another sense becomes heightened. In truth, human senses do not actually intensify when one is lost or diminished. Someone who is blind simply becomes more attuned to the sounds around them rather than sighted people who rely on visual cues to assist in processing what is heard. For years Cory did laps around the pool on his bike because he could hear where he was. The bike sound would bounce off of the pool and then off the deck and hed know to turn where the hill in his backyard sloped. He also rode his bike up and down the street. He knew when he was in front of his house and then the opening between the two houses which led him to the next house.He rode as far as his mother told him he was allowed to pedal and then circle around and do it again. The rest of the family was often inside, watching TV or doing various things around the house. The doors and windows would stay open so that they could hear if anything went wrong outside. Every so often theyd hear a faint crash in the distance and an Ugh! let out from Cory. Wed all kind of stop and listen, Ricky said. You alright? someone would eventually holler from inside. There was usually a pause, and then Yup! and Cory was off riding again, around and around his back yard. Up and down the neighborhood. The blindness was secondary. He was a kid first. We muted the TV. Thats about as panicked as we would get, said Ricky. When Gail went to the support groups with Cory as a baby, she looked around the room and saw the sadness in the eyes of parents who feared for the future and pitied the burden of their sightless child. She knew she was not going to fall in line with most of those parents who went on to raise their children in a safety bubble, sheltered away from the dangers of everyday life that would only become barriers for the blind children who would feel powerless to overcome them. Barriers like climbing trees and riding bikes. Barriers like going to college. Barriers that surely, would make it impossible for the blind to live alone or have a career. These barriers and more, Cory, with the guidance of his family, continues to overcome. He is unafraid to live independently and navigate a college campus on his own every day. The average number of years of education a blind person in America receives is about 11. Yet in May, Cory will walk across the stage at Roger Williams University to accept a diploma and receive a bachelor's degree in Public Relations. In a world where minorities have risen above so many prejudices and barriers, however, the blind still seem to fade into the background as invisible. The problem is less that society doesnt want to give the blind social opportunities as much as it is that they simply don't know how.

Blindness is a difficult impairment for people to wrap their head around. Many Americans are not aware of the capacity to which blind individuals are capable of. Because we can not imagine what life would be like without sight, society isolates and disempowers the blind. More than one million visually impaired Americans over the age of 21 are unemployed in the U.S alone. Many of these adults will live with assisted living their entire life. Separated by stigma Cory does not let his blindness hold him back, yet there are still elements of his life that even he cannot control. Like the loneliness that can creep up in the late hours of the night when loud and exuberant social settings unfold all around him while he, often, sits in his dormitory room, alone. In almost four years of being here, no one has ever texted me to say hey, were going out, come with us, Cory says. Im sick of always being the one to make the effort. Thats the way its always been in my life. I cant change it. Its as if Cory has two different identities separated by those who know him, and those who are hesitant to get to know him. In his home in Medway, finding something to do is as easy as walking downstairs into the basement where Ricky and a couple of guys can be found on any given Saturday night, casually sipping down a thirty rack of beer. Sunk into the dark leather couch of the basement TV room where NASCAR zooms across the flat screen, Cory is just one of the guys. It doesnt matter if its just Cory and the family relaxing, or Cory and ten guys packed into the man-cave, everyone responds to one another naturally. Jokes and stories pass back and forth effortlessly. Laughter erupts constantly in this house where sarcasm is the standard form of expression. But when Cory came to Roger Williams University, his blindness wasnt just a trivial part of who he was. It quickly became apparent that people werent as willing to approach him. He was no longer on Clover Lane where everybody knew him. Instead, he was on a college campus full of silent, faceless strangers, most of whom had probably never known a blind person in their lives. Your perceptions of people with disabilities, whether its blindness or anything else, are largely based on your own personal history and experience, says Bruce Howell, coordinator of accessibility at the Carroll Center of the Blind, a blind rehabilitation center in Massachusetts. If you knew somebody and talked to him like a human being and got some insights into what they were thinking and how they perceive the world, thats hugely important. The truth is, most people have never been put in the situation to interact with someone who is blind. To most of America, the blind are people who appear passing in public as subjects of observation, set apart by the barrier of simply being misunderstood. Freelance journalist, Rosemary Mahoney, has dedicated a portion of her career to analyzing the the way the world views the blind. From her own personal experience and observations, Mahoney has noticed that there are strong feelings of discomfort involved with many sighted people when interacting with someone who is visually impaired.

Pity and guilt come from the fact that I can see him and he can't see me, and there's something terribly unfair about that, Mahoney says. Being seen in completely important to us. Being seen makes us feel counted and alive. If we are not seen we can have an eerie sense of invisibility.

This is a visible factor as Cory walks through any public space. As his pole scans the grounds around him, onlookers silently stare. People have the tendency to go far out of their way to avoid Corys path when he walks into a room. Hes blind, they think. Ill just silently get out of his way and he wont know anybody was ever there. Cory may not be able to see, but he can feel the eyes that follow him as he moves from class to class. A blind person is far more aware of their surroundings than most would think. If you see me, just watch people and theyre guaranteed to walk way out of the way of the cane, Cory says. I can hear people walking toward me. I can hear where they are and theres plenty of room on the side of the sidewalk for them to walk right next to me, but they never do. If youve really never known anybody thats blind, theres a strong fear of the unknown, says Howell who gradually lost his sight to retinitis pigmentosa. This eye disease causes cells and tissues in the backs of the eyes to die off over time, interfering with visual signals that travel to the brain. Living without sight is a different experience for those who are born blind and those who lose sight over time. For someone like Howell who was part of the sighted world for most of his life, the darkness brought about feelings of lost identity and self-worth. Its really a process of rebuilding yourself. I really felt like as I was losing vision I was becoming more depressed, more withdrawn. It was harder to maintain friends because as youve seen with [Cory] on a college campus, hes different. That difference is sometimes really hard for the individual thats blind to get beyond, Howell says. The distance people keep from the blind man walking down a street dates back to medieval times when blindness was perceived as the greatest misfortune that could be placed on anyone.

Blind children of the ancient Greeks and Romans were viewed as burdens of the sighted world. Blindness was seen as a trait of punishment from the devil. They were shunned from participation in society, unable to get an education and abused for being bad luck to anyone related. They were poor and trained to be beggars. Many were killed.

In lots of places these mythologies are still believed. Blind people should be avoided, you shouldn't touch them, and you certainly shouldn't waste your time and resources trying to educate them, Mahoney says.

When Cory was born, Gail and Stephen Kadlik were just happy to know that their son had survived.

Blindness was a side effect of survival It was March 2nd, 1991, Gail was not expecting to go into labor until June. She and her husband hadnt had time to find out the sex of their child. They hadnt even begun to discuss names. But on that day in March, Gail was brought to Boston Childrens Hospital. She was bleeding. In pain. And afraid. It was there that it was discovered Gail had developed a life-threatening infection called gangrene. Sedated on the operating table, Gail teetered on the line of life and death as the doctors cut her open to salvage the life of her child. Cory was delivered barely into the third trimester of growth. His fragile body was unprepared to enter the world outside of the womb. His lungs were weak and failing. He was malnourished. While Gail and Cory were rushed to two separate emergency-care wards of the hospital, Stephen Kadlik took turns visiting his wife and newborn child. It was questionable if either would survive. After hours of intense care, the doctor approached Stephen with the question that would bring him closest to grief. What are you going to name your son? he asked. His child wasnt going to make it. A priest had arrived at the hospital to give last rites to the struggling infant who weighed no more than 1.5 pounds. Take six sticks of butter and mold it into a person, thats what he was, Stephen says. I couldnt even hold him Stephen holds out his hand as if nesting an imaginary, injured sparrow. He fit right here, he points to his palm, still in disbelief of the memory. Shattered by the thought of returning home without his wife and baby, Stephen took the birth certificate and scribbled the first name that came to mind. C-O-R-Y. The status of Corys life remained in the hands of the doctors for weeks. Hooked up to a high flow ventilator and fed through a centrally inserted tube,Cory, somehow, survived. It was days before the doctors realized that Corys eyes had been affected by retinopathy of prematurity, a disease often brought about by the oxygen therapy given to infants with premature lungs. Stephen was told that the disease caused the retinas in Corys eyes to detach- his son would be blind. At that point, it didnt matter. His son was alive.

Learning life, blind It wasnt until second grade that it started to become apparent that Cory was not excelling at the rate he should be in public school. Medway schools did not have an established program in place to teach a blind student. His parents decided that it was time for Cory to go to Perkins School of the Blind and hour away in Watertown, Massachusetts. There, he could get the specialized education he needed. Cory needed independent living skills and Perkins was able to provide him with the specialized attention that Medway didnt have, says Gail. I had no idea how to teach him how to use a stove.

Cory resisted. He didnt want to be labeled and segregated into a school for the blind. All of his friends from Clover Lane would be in Medway public school. He did not want to be left behind. Between the arguments and refusal, Cory and his parents came up with a compromise. Cory would agree to go to Perkins as long as he could return to Medway to graduate high school. Gail and Stephen promised that if he worked hard, he could eventually go back to public school. At Perkins, Cory was taught everything from how to read and write braille, to common skills like how to do laundry and cook using a stove. All the things that sighted people understand just by seeing someone do it, the blind need to be taught, says Cory. It was at Perkins that Cory learned how to live independently. He excelled there, but there was always something about Perkins that made Cory resist fully submerging himself in the establishment. Cory was one of very few at Perkins who was just blind. Many people who are blind have multiple disabilities. A lot of people who go blind either have diabetes or they have cognitive issues or physical disabilities that go along with it, says Bruce Howell. Cory always felt separate from the other students at Perkins. The school functions as a college campus where students live in dorms with roommates. But Cory was determined to live at home. The hour commute back and forth each day was the price he paid to keep his social life separate. I was going to school strictly for the education. I didnt want to necessarily be associated with other blind people as a set group, Cory says. He made acquaintances, but Cory always felt a disconnect and didnt make a lot of close friends. The thing that kills me is that a lot of [the students] are physically and mentally normal, but they are just so sheltered from life that they come off as challenged, Cory says. When youre sheltered, you dont experience life the way you should, so when youre confronted with the real world, you're scared. Thats the issue. In many ways, the abilities of a child with a disability depend on the expectations of his or her parents and the environments that they are exposed to. Perkins is a leading school for teaching the blind how to navigate crucial life-tasks independently. But when the students leave, there is sometimes a gap of understanding how the world works outside of the safety of the secluded community.

Ive seen parents who dont believe that their child can do very much about their disability, so they arent taught how to advocate for themselves. Sometimes they're kept at home. Sometimes they are sent to places like Perkins School of the Blind. Howell says. It works for some students but it also really doesn't prepare them for the world at large very well because they never really intermingle with the world at large.

For the final two years that Cory attended Perkins, administration was adamant that Cory live on campus with the rest of the students. Cory agreed upon one request. If Cory was going to live on campus, he wanted to gain an independent living experience that would prepare him for being on his own in college.

With arrangements made between Cory and Perkins, the school went out of their way to create its first independent living apartment for Cory. The apartment was made up of a bedroom, small kitchen, bathroom and living room. Unlike the other semi-independent apartments on campus where staff lived within the building for constant assistance, this was the first living situation where a student at Perkins was completely on his own.

Here, Cory was responsible for preparing meals and doing laundry. This transitional living set-up was the first of its kind at Perkins. After the school noticed the success of Cory living independently, they built more units of the same layout. Now named the Cataruzolo Independent Living Apartments, students live here as a final step in the Transition Program where they are able to gain confidence in their skills to live on their own.

After his 11th year at Perkins, Cory received a certificate of completion, the equivalent to a high school diploma. With this, he was able to go on and start his next phase of education in college. But even 11 years later, Cory hadnt forgotten the deal he had made as a boy before switching from public school to Perkins School of the Blind.

His goal was always to get back to Medway, Ricky recalls. When people looked to see where he graduated from, he wanted it to say Medway High School, not Perkins School for the Blind.

Cory made it back to Medway and graduated. The next step was a no brainer. With the help of a college coordinator assistant, Cory began to search for colleges.

During the process, the college coordinator assistant brought Corys attention to a Rhode Island private university. Cory visited Roger Williams University to walk the campus with his mother and some of the administration. The university had experience working with three visually impaired students who graduated from the Law School years earlier, but Cory was the first fully blind student to enroll.

Were a liberal arts institution. We focus on service learning. We focus on how you can have a major and a minor to make you more marketable. We definitely dont say, Hey, we specialize with students with disabilities, come here, says Associate Director of Housing, Theresa Capelo.

The university made one thing clear to Cory when he was decided to attend. In order for Corys education to be a success at RWU, they needed to work together.

They told me that they didnt know what they needed to do to help me, but that they would try their best, Cory says. Id rather have someone say that they dont know what theyre doing but are willing to work with me versus someone who pretends they do and fail.

The university asses the needs of each individual student with an impairment through Student Accessibility Services (SAS). SAS acts as a connecting point to work with students who have disabilities in order to provide them with the services they need to succeed. They rely on working one-on-one with each student who needs extra attention. This was a defining factor in Corys decision to attend RWU.

Cory took many trips to RWU before orientation to get to know his way around. Capelo was an active faculty member who worked with Cory upon his arrival to reach an understanding of what this student was, and was not capable of on his own.

The one thing that we tell our students that have any kind of a disability or need of special accommodation is- dont assume we know what you need. You can have five students with a similar disability, everyone is going to be completely different. We never assume that its a one-size-fits-all assistance package, says Capelo.

The university has buildings that date back to its initial construction in 1969. Before the Americans with Disabilities Act, there were no laws put in place to help include people with disabilities through employment and accessibility. The Act, which was passed in 1990, prohibited discrimination against disabled people. With the establishment of ADA came Standards for Accessible Design, where contractors began to pay attention to the layout of buildings, building ramp alternatives to stairs, installing elevators, and adjusting bathroom and hallway sizes to better suit handicap individuals.

Like other campuses we still have challenges because of the old buildings. For example, we just got an elevator in the College of Arts and Sciences building. Maple Hall was our very first residence hall build on campus, its loaded with stairs, Capelo says.

The newer buildings on the RWU campus including the North Campus Residence Hall, The Commons dining hall and Global Heritage Hall are all accessible with elevators and handicap space.

As a senior, Cory chose to live in the Bayside Apartments where he has direct access to the front door of his room. All it takes is a swipe of an ID card for entry into his apartment that is situated in a location with direct paths to the main classroom buildings on campus.

It is this part of campus that comes to life on the weekends with parties. College boys in sports pinnies and backwards hats throw Frisbee and play Kan Jam on the grass quad in between the buildings. Girls lay out to sunbathe on warm sunny days.

If you ask the college students who live here if they know who Cory Kadlik is, most of them will say yes. But somehow, there are aspects of the social experience here that Cory misses out on. We all had the conversation when Cory went to college. If people his first couple of years just gave him a shot at looking past it, if they went out of their way to talk to him for a second, he would have been fine. It would have been like the most normal experience in the world, says Ricky. But for him it was a little tough for the first year. Even as normal as he came off, people were still apprehensive.

National Federation for the Blind

Cory isnt the only student on campus with an impairment. There are students in wheelchairs. There are students with noticeable limps and ticks. Students here rely on much more than just senses to make it through the day. They take medications to stay focused, calm and happy. So what is it about blindness that is set apart from other disabilities?

Cory doesnt like to burden people. Hes always saying that, Gail says. I tell him that its not that they dont want to hang out with you, they dont know how to be with you.

At a National Federation for the Blind conference held in Bristol, 15 blind adults gather to discuss technical and social aspects of visually impaired life. The motto of this federation is Live the life you want, a reminder to the blind community that their opportunities are limitless. This group was founded in 1940 and is now the largest organization for visually impaired people in the United States. The goal of the nation-wide federation is simple to improve the life of the blind and integrate visually impaired individuals with society.

The members of this local chapter of the NFB form their own version of a family. Attendees enter the room with walking canes and guide dogs. Some of them are noticeably blind just by looking at their eyes that stare absently into space. Others who had lost their sight at a later age still have a natural ability to make eye contact even without seeing.

NFB meetings are some of the few places where these men and women can join in a room and not feel different. They approach each other openly, in a place where they dont have to hide.

Roberta, its me Gene, one woman makes herself known by reaching out and grabbing Robertas hand.

Who is that next to you? It is common for people who are blind to be able to make out shadows and figure outlines.

The group sits around a conference table and goes through roll call. A woman knits in the corner, with eyes rolled up to the ceiling. Individuals who were born blind or lost sight early in life often lack the ability to control their eye movement. The vestibuloocular reflex is a natural reflex which helps to stabilize eye placement.

Its difficult to notice just how much the eye moves. With the vestibule-ocular reflex, the eye has controlled fluid movement that adjusts as the head moves. For example when the head moves left, the reflex of the eyes is to move right and vice versa. The purpose of this is to stabilize vision with tracking eye movement in order to process images.

The reason blind individuals are commonly unable to hold fixated gazes is because of how often the head is in motion. Even slight movement causes the eyes shutter for those who lack tracking reflex. Those who lose their vision gradually are able to hold on to this ability to stimulate eye control with movement of the head.

People have told me that because they can't make eye contact with a blind person, they have the sense that there's nobody there, that they have to shout to make the blind person understand them, says Mahoney.

Many of the eyes in the room of the federation meeting waver in different directions, but the purpose behind this small chapter of voices is straight and to the point. The discussion filters through a list of the most recent advancements made in the blind community. They speak about blind access to absentee voting and a settlement made with the department of education for colleges to provide student loan information documents that are accessible to the blind. They even discuss deadlines to sign up to receive braille letters from Santa, giving blind children the opportunity to be involved in the magic of Christmas.

The National Federation of the Blind have achieved great victories in breaking down the barriers of being blind in a sighted world. But when asked about discrepancies about the way the blind are treated, the voices in the room all raise at once. They all want their stories to be heard.

The biggest barrier is the fact that sighted people have trouble wrapping their head around what blindness is, one gentleman says. Sight is the dominant sense, its the one that people rely on the most, so they cant imagine what they would be able to do without it.

Through their stories, they reveal that it isnt just the common public that lacks education on how to respond to people with disabilities. Even health care personnel perceive blindness as an impairment that hinders abilities beyond sight.

One man at the meeting shakes his head in disgust as he shares an experience he had when he went to the doctor for a routine check-up.

The nurse turned to my wife and said, okay you can take his clothes off now. As if sight somehow inhibited a grown mans ability to undress himself.

One story after the next, these people share the unfair treatment they have been breached with as a result of being blind. To them, blindness sets them apart in a way that is different than other disabilities.

Blindness is much more visible. If you are a deaf person walking down the street, nobody points you out as different, one young woman says. If youre a blind person walking down the street with a cane or guide dog, theres no way you can pretend you're not blind. Your blindness is something that you get marked out for whether you like it or not. You don't have control over when you reveal yourself as someone with a disability.

A major advantage that the deaf have to live independently is their ability to get transportation on their own. Travel is one of the biggest challenges for those who are blind. If a blind person does not have a caregiver to drive them around, he or she must schedule public transportation to wherever they need to go.

Its easy for someone who is blind to feel alone in their obstacles. NFB and rehabilitation centers such as the Carroll Center for the Blind are a few places that work to build a sense of community between blind people, but many still feel the blind lack advocacy in comparison to other impairments.

For whatever reason, as blind people we really dont have the same comprehensive community as those are say, deaf. Theres a huge movement for deaf people to take pride in being deaf and do things their own way and not make them feel as if they are incomplete humans. Blind pride really isnt a thing in a way deaf pride is. There may be no answer as to why people perceive blindness as a disability that goes beyond vision impairment. While the opportunities for the blind and people with other disabilities is still not equal with the rest of society, at least these people have found a place where their voices can be heard.

Even in darkness, the future is bright

A large reason that the blind have been able to integrate themselves better into society is due to the advancement of assistive technologies.

Cory sits in Introduction to Human Resources class in the School of Business. His lap top is open on the desk.

Like many of the other students sitting in class, his mind isnt completely focused on the lecture. Inside his pocket, his iPhone 6 vibrates.

If Cory wasnt in class, the phone would speak aloud to notify him that he has received a text message and read the message to him.. Someone like Cory, who has grown accustomed to the mechanic voice of technology, sets the speed of the audio to as fast as it can go. The audio is so fast that to someone like you or me, it sounds like a complete gibberish and is almost impossible to understand.

Corys way of reading text messages when he is in class is even more complex. For him its simple. Separate to his phone, Cory holds a device called a braille display. This piece of equipment is no larger than an index card.

The braille display syncs with the iPhone through Bluetooth. When someone text messages Cory, he can simply place his fingers along the bottom display where small braille pins pop up to display the message to him.

There are only six buttons needed for Cory to respond through writing braille. When he presses the buttons to write a word, the pins on the display pop up so that he can check to make sure the message will convey what wants to say.

Technologies are advancing so rapidly that allow people who are blind or have low vision to do things that twenty years ago, even five years ago, they couldnt have done. Its a fascinating field and its ever changing, says Brian Howell who works closely with these technologies at the Carroll Center for the Blind.

Cory is extremely adaptive to the technologies in the field. In fact, one of his career goals involves working with assistive technology. From a very young age, Cory was able to figure out how technology worked on his own.

He wants blind kids to realize that there is so much out there that can allow them to be in this world. He was self-taught with a lot of technology. You would just put something in his hands and the next thing you know, he had it on and talking, Gail says.

Cory doesnt question his ability to get a job once he graduates from Roger Williams University. Among the many aspects of his dynamic life, showing his capabilities is something that Cory thrives at.

Its how people perceive him that Cory wishes he could change.

There is no doubt that people are curious about how Cory performs simple tasks like interacting on social media. Hidden behind a computer screen, users are more comfortable asking questions about how he reads text messages and uses emojis.

When confronted with curiosity about how he uses technology, Cory uses the conversation as an opportunity to try and break down any fears people may have towards approaching him in person.

Next time you see the one blind guy on campus with a cane, talk to me, Cory responds to a message on social media site, Yik Yak. Ill show you how it works.

When it comes to who he is, Cory wouldnt change a thing. For some people, thats hard to understand.

Stephen Kadlik has told his son often, If I could give you one thing in this life, it would be your sight.

In many ways, Corys life isnt simple. There may be no face to the world he lives in, but that doesn't mean there isn't beauty.

Ride a bike with your eyes closed. Feel the wind hit your face. Listen to the sounds of your surroundings blurr by you. In that moment, even if its just a bold second of darkness, notice how incredibly alive you feel.

What do I want to see for? Cory says. Id have to learn things all over again. Im perfect in the world Im in.

Interviews:Cory Kadlik - 9/26, 10/7, 10/31, 11/1- In PersonGail Kadlik, Corys Mother - 10/13 - In PersonStephen Kadlik, Corys Father- 10/13- In PersonRicky Kaflik, Corys Brother - 10/13 - In PersonJustin Tucci,Corys Friend - 10/13 - In PersonBruce Howell, Carroll Center of the Blind Coordinator of Accessibility - 11/5 - PhoneTheresa Capelo, RWU Associate Director of Housing - 11/17 - In PersonJessica Laurie, Visually Impaired Student At Providence College - 10/17 - In PersonPat McInnis, Corys Roommate - 11/17 - In PersonRosemary Mahoney, Journalist/ Author - Ongoing - EmailNational Federation of the Blind, Bristol Chapter - 11/20 - In Person

Resources:Alma, Manna A., et al. "Loneliness and Self-Management Abilities in the Visually Impaired Elderly." Journal of aging and health 23.5 (2011): 843-61. Print."Blindness Statistics." National Federation of the Blind. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.Jan, James E., Roger D. Freeman, and Eileen P. Scott. Visual Impairment in Children and Adolescents. New York: Grune & Stratton, 1977. Print.KMpf, D., and H.-F. Piper. "Eye Movements and Vestibulo-ocular Reflex in the Blind." Journal of Neurology 234.5 (1987): 337-41. Web.Mahoney, Rosemary. For the Benefit of Those Who See: Dispatches from the World of the Blind. N.p.: n.p., 2014. Print.Mahoney, Rosemary. "Why Do We Fear the Blind?" The New York Times. The New York Times, 04 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.