Final First Draft

6 12 2012

A lot of college age guys spend their time in front of their televisions playing Xbox and sitting in their dorm rooms with their “bros,” just chilling.  Other activities college guys enjoy involve eating, watching or playing sports, participating in outdoor activities, and flirting with pretty girls.

Justin Dixon, a super senior at Morningside College, who is a music major, has many of the qualities that describe college guys.   Justin also enjoys singing old country songs and participating in his music fraternity Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. He is about 5’10” with brown curly hair, which is starting to grow thin in spots.  Not that Justin is fat, but he is a little pudgy.  When he walks he tends to drag his feet so you can here 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 from others, one being a green a white stick that helps guide him to his destination.  Justin lost vision when he was just a baby.

Justin came to Morningside in 2008 to originally study computer science.

He said, “I didn’t do so hot my first semester, so I decided my second semester why not do something I love? Music! It’s awesome, it’s fun, and I enjoy it.”  He says he didn’t so well his first semester because he didn’t really know what he was doing in terms of programming.  Justin didn’t want to get into that side of computer science; he wanted to get more involved with the hardware of computers, the more physical side of computers, not software.

Most people can fulfill a degree in four years if not sooner.  Being visually impaired and having to fulfill all the requirements it’s taken Justin a few years longer.

One problem in particular Justin has had to overcome within the last year was facing the decision of going to a class or not that discussed death.  That topic may seem like a very ordinary topic to discuss but for Justin, his dad unexpectedly passed away on February 14, 2012.    He remembers that day saying,

“I was in class and after I got out I had four missed calls and a voicemail from my mom. I figured something was urgent. When I called her back, she said, ‘Justin, your dad has passed away.’ I didn’t believe her at first. Then she went on to tell me what had happened. She said someone would be here to pick me up within the next few hours.”

After Justin came back to school he said he didn’t care; he didn’t care about that class.  He didn’t want to sit in a class and discuss death after one of his family members died.  Today Justin says he has grown to except the fact his dad is gone and his grieving process is healing more quickly.  He speaks about his grieving process.

“Probably for one thing, I’m the oldest and I’m away at school.  I don’t have that constant absence, like if I were at home.  The other reason is because I have never seen him, like what he really looks like. I have this imagine in my mind what he looked like but I’m not sure if that was correct. My brothers, mom, and step mom all knew what he looked like so it’s probably harder for them not being able to see him everyday.  Me not being able to see him my entire life has made it easier to cope with.”

Anyone who has walked around on Morningside’s campus can tell that the campus isn’t visually impaired friendly.    Surprisingly, Justin didn’t choose the college he was going to attend based on how visually impaired friendly it was.  It actually had nothing to do with his decision at all.

You may be wondering by now just how Mr. Dixon became visually impaired.  It all started the day he entered the world.  Dixon entered the world three and a half months early weighing only a pound a half.  When he was born the doctors told his parents he only had a five percent survival chance.  After he was born, he was moved to the NICU (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 from both eyes.

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

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; they have narrowed it down to two things. During the surgery, there was either too much oxygen to his eyes or his eyes were deprived of oxygen.  That unfortunately led him to become visually impaired except for being able to see shadows such as people right in front of him, movement, or to tell if it’s sunny or cloudy out.

Dixon has overcome many obstacles so far in his 22 years of life.  He has learned tasks such as teaching himself to eat, reading braille, walking around places independently, schoolwork, and other everyday activities.

If you see Dixon on campus, most of the time he is alone. He does many things by himself. Back when Justin was growing up he went a school in Vinton, Iowa and went to the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School where they taught him orientation and mobility.  Justin was taught how to use a cane, how to navigate to certain areas, how to cross streets safely, and how to travel the right way.

Justin further developed being independent the summer of 2005 when he went to another school in Des Moines called Iowa Department of the Blind.  At this school his teachers sent him out on different paths and had to get back to the school on his own.  This was a way of learning to ask for help when he was lost and couldn’t figure out where to go.

Dixon admits it’s easier to go along with someone than going anywhere on his own.  One place he will not go by himself though is the cafeteria at Morningside.  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 a lot is a close friend of his at Morningside, Andrew Poeckes, and better known as just Poeckes to most.  Many times at supper you will see Justin and Poeckes together because Poeckes serves as Justin’s eyes during this time.  He helps describe the food choices for the meal, gets Justin’s food, drink and silverware and brings his food to him.  After Justin is all settled in for a meal Poeckes then gets his own food.  If Justin wants a refill or more food Poeckes goes and gets it for him.  People with their vision all too often take for granted little tasks such as getting their own food.

What does it feel like to be able to help someone who is visually impaired?  Poeckes says, “I think 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. You are always with someone else and thinking about someone else.”

As mentioned above, Poeckes helps Justin out a lot with getting meals.  Have you ever imaged just being someone’s eyes for them describing what every object is in front of them?  Not only getting food for Justin, Poeckes described how it feels to be someone else’s eyes.  “Well first you have to get use to the fact there is another person right next to you.  A particular event that this can relate to was when we were in Italy.  I had to keep looking at the ground to make sure I wasn’t running him into things.  It’s the thought of always having to pay attention to where you’re going.”   

For any visually impaired person, someone with his or her vision often wonders how do they get around by themselves.  For Justin it deals with memorization.  For the first few trips to a new building he asked hall mates to accompany him to his classes.  Once he had paths memorized it became easier.  After he had all of his requirements other than his major out of the way it became even easier when he basically only had to make trips from his dorm room from Roadman to Mac Collins, which is where all the music classes are held.

Other classes during Justin’s earlier years he memorized things for him to know where he was at by the sounds doors made to different buildings.  One of the nosiest doors on campus he explained is the first side door walking to the Mac Collins building.

He says, “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.’”

Another example of doors is the science center.  He describes that door as fairly quiet.  Justin says he has to start walking right towards it before he can hear it opening and closing.

Since Dixon has been here five years now 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.  Justin takes us through the process.

“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.”

A lot of remembering where buildings are for Justin has to do with just remembering or he isn’t afraid to ask either.

Many people take little things for granted like reading a book, texting, typing, and even eating.  Imagine trying to do these activities without having your vision.  Although it may seem very hard or strenuous Justin does everyday activities like these.  He can text, he can read, he can type, and he can eat.  It’s just a little different than people who have their vision.

Justin texts by speaking into it his iPhone messaging application or if it’s really long he can use a Bluetooth keyboard to type on. He also types the same way on his computer using a program built into MacBook called Text Edit.  Technology has grown to accommodate everyone.  He reads by braille and whenever he needs to order books for class he gets them through a company called RFB and D (Recordings for the Blind and Dyslectic.)  Dixon says, “The company has downloadable books where you just pick the books you need, buy them, and then download them on your computer so you just can just listen to them when you need to.”

Dixon admitted at times it would be tough to stay caught up on readings when there were three or four books for a class.  He also couldn’t always find books that he needed.

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to not be able to see or to walk around and not know where you’re going? Justin described it as best as he can.

“That’s hard for me.  I’ve been blind all my life so that’s all I’ve ever known.  I can see light, shade, shadow, and color.  If light is lit within, say a disco ball or black light, I can tell what color that is.  If it’s just a shirt, I’m not very good at telling what color that is.  The best way to see what it feels like to be blind is to put a blindfold on and walk around with that for the day. Use your senses that you have, smelling, feeling, hearing and tasting.

When a human being is missing something just a sight they become very reliant on another sense.  For Justin he relies a lot on his hearing.  Something interesting about Justin that you wouldn’t know about him if you just looked at him is that he has perfect pitch.  The definition of perfect pitch is the ability to recognize the pitch of a note or to produce any given note, a sense of absolute pitch.

Since Justin’s second semester at Morningside he’s been in choir.  What’s it like having someone in choir who has perfect pitch? It’s not common to come across people who have perfect pitch, in fact only one in every 10,000 people have it.  (ASK WATSON)

A question commonly wondered for anyone who has been without their vision for a while is if they could choose to, would they want it back?  Justin says if given the choice, no he wouldn’t want it back.

“I’ve lived this way for the past 22 years.  I’ve never known anything other than this so if I could change it now, no I wouldn’t.  Now if I were five or 10, maybe I would have a different answer.  With being as old as I am now I would have to relearn everything as crazy as that sounds.”

Many people would be surprised by Justin’s answer but for those who know the young man, it shouldn’t surprise anyone.  He gets around great and deals with what he has.

What are Justin’s impressions of people? Today people often make impressions on the first thing they see of someone. Imagine if you were visually impaired and you couldn’t see anyone. Do you think your impressions of someone would change if you never saw them? Justin says he doesn’t think his impression of people would change.

Exactly how does Justin get impressions of anyone he’s around? Justin says, “Let’s say I’m walking with someone and I have my hand on their arm or elbow, I get a mental image of what that person looks like by just touching that person’s arm or elbow.  Whenever I walk with a girl I get an image in my head of what size she is.”  Chuckling, he continued by saying, “Am I checking them out? Well, maybe but I’m a guy!”

Once people first meet Justin they aren’t sure how to act because he can’t see you.  After they have been around him awhile they realize, Justin is a normal guy just without his vision.  He’s got a one of a kind of laugh, a voice of an angel when he sings and a very kind heart.  Next time you see Justin out walking by himself ask him where he’s going and if you can help him.  You just might learn what it is like to be another person’s eyes for a little bit.










4 responses to “Final First Draft”

6 12 2012
  Jescy (16:27:03) :

just a suggestion: You should start it off with a quote. for example, something ridiculous he might say during Call of Duty with his friends. Also, do not be afraid of using imagery in order to better portray whatever you are describing. Don’t get all William Shakespeare on us, but describe the person in a different way than “he is about 5’10” with brown curly hair.”

6 12 2012
  Jianna (16:32:37) :

Lots and lots of description, and it works really well. I think the part explaining what he can see is interesting, and how he figures his way out around campus. Maybe reinforce the fact that he is visually impaired once more earlier. All it says is, “Even though Justin seems like any other guy on a college campus a few things set him apart from others, one being a green a white stick that helps guide him to his destination. Justin lost vision when he was just a baby.”
Maybe add another sentence in there explaining that he relies on other people for sight, his hearing for directions, etc., but leave out enough detail that you can go into it later.
Great article!

6 12 2012
  Katie (16:37:29) :

Great interview! Needs one more person but I think you knew that 🙂
A tad long but I think it works. There are a lot of details and descriptions and its organized really well. Also like how you broke up the paragraphs, made it easy to read. See if you can get a bit more from Andrew. How he became friends with Justin, what it was like the first time he acted as his eyes, something like that. just a suggestion.

8 12 2012
  fuglsang (17:34:50) :

OK, Paige. I have to admit I didn’t make it all the way through. It’s not that I’m uninterested, but that you’re trying to do everything in this one story. You’re going to have to choose just one story to tell.

First of all I would focus on Justin here at M’side. What he did at other schools made it possible for him to be here. I might also focus on his musical abilities, linking it to this comment: “When a human being is missing something just a sight they become very reliant on another sense.”

The fact he has never been able to see, how he perceives that, and how it has led him to this point, is what I find interesting.

Whichever way you decide to go, FOCUS.