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Sunday December 17th 2017

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Navigating Morningside: Justin Dixson

JustinBy Paige Potter–College guys enjoy a variety of things, including: sitting in front of their televisions playing X-box, hanging out with their friends, eating, watching or playing sports, and flirting with pretty girls.

Justin Dixson, a “super senior” music major at Morningside College, enjoys many of these activities. He also enjoys singing old country songs and participating in his music fraternity Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. He is 5’10” with brown curly hair, which is starting to grow thin in spots. When he walks, he tends to drag his feet. You can hear him coming before he even reaches you.

Even though Justin seems like any other guy on a college campus a few things set him apart. One is his green and white cane, which helps guide him to his destination. Justin lost vision when he was just a baby. He is still able to see shadows such as people right in front of him, movement, or to tell if it’s sunny or cloudy out.

Dixson was born three and a half months early, weighing only a pound a half. The doctors told his parents he only had a five percent survival chance. He was moved to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where each day he became a healthier, stronger baby. Through the next three months everything developed properly except his vision. His optic nerve was damaged in his eyes and both retinas were detached.

At the age of three, he had surgery to try and fix the optic nerve, but something went wrong in the surgery. No one is entirely sure what caused it; doctors have narrowed it down to two things. During the surgery, there was either too much or too little oxygen to his eyes.

“I’m lucky being blind is the only thing wrong with me,” Justin said.

Learning independently
Dixson has overcome many obstacles so far in his 22 years. He has learned tasks such as eating, reading braille, living independently, schoolwork, and other everyday activities.

Although Justin does go places on his own he says it’s easier to go places with others. He does many things by himself and he gives credit to the visually impaired schools he attended in the past.

One place he will not go by himself, though, is the cafeteria on campus. He says if he has no one to go with, he will stay in his room and eat the food he has there.

Someone who accompanies Justin and helps him in the cafeteria is Andrew Poeckes, better known as just Poeckes to most. Poeckes serves as Justin’s eyes. He describes the food choices; gets Justin’s food, drink and silverware; and brings his food to him. After Justin is all settled, Poeckes then gets his own food. If Justin wants a refill or more food Poeckes gets it for him.

“It definitely has its advantages to learn to think about someone else next to you so you aren’t just off in your own little space,” Poeckes said.

Poeckes has to pay special attention when he’s walking with Justin. He described how it feels to be someone else’s eyes. “When we were in Italy I had to keep looking at the ground to make sure I wasn’t running him into things. Always having to pay attention to where you’re going.”

The sounds of Morningside
People with their vision often wonder how people who are visually impaired get around by themselves. For Justin, it deals with memorization. For the first few trips to a new building, he asks hall mates to accompany him to his classes. Once he has paths memorized, it becomes easier.

The way Justin memorizes his way to classes is by doors. One of the noisiest doors on campus, he explained, is the first side door walking to the MacCollin classroom/Eppley Auditorium building.

“That door is squeaky. When I leave my room, I go outside Roadman South’s door and if the wind is blowing the right way I can hear the door and say to myself, ‘Oh there’s Eppley,’” Dixson said.

Since Dixson has been here five years, he’s pretty much got all the paths to different buildings memorized. Memorizing anything for someone with their vision and someone without is very different.

“I’ll have someone lead me there. I don’t count my steps. I just have someone point out which building is which for the first few times. Someone will say, ‘Okay, we’re going to the science center’ and I’ll hear a sound of the building and memorize that sound.”

Perfect pitch
After Justin graduates from Morningside, he plans to visit Washington to visit a piano tuning school.  One of Justin’s dream jobs is to tune pianos for a living. One of the criteria the school recommends for this activity is perfect pitch.  As uncommon (occurring in only one in every 10,000 people) as perfect pitch is, Justin has it. When a human is missing one sense such as their sight, it only makes sense for something such as perfect pitch to replace it.

Justin has been in the Morningside College Choir since his second semester. Byron Brown, who has been in choir with Justin for two years, said, “It’s pretty much normal as any other choir except we don’t have to have a piano. If he gives us the right starting pitch we usually keep it afloat. It is cool sometimes to see the audiences’ reactions when they realize someone in the choir was the one to give the starting note and not piano. In particular, it helps us when we travel.  We don’t have to worry about a piano.  Not many people have the ability to hum every note in tune so it’s cool to have someone in our choir like that.”