By Hailey Bullis, Staff Writer
For Veronica Lewis, junior, life is just a little bit different. Lewis has low vision, a disability that she was diagnosed with when she was three years old. She was diagnosed with Accommodative Esotropia and in January 2017 she discovered she also had decompensated strabismus.
Accommodative Esotropia is a common form of strabismus in children that causes the eyes to cross when trying to focus, according to the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. For most children the problem eventually corrects itself, in Lewis’s case, her vision rapidly declined.
Lewis was also diagnosed with Chiari Malformation when she was 18. Chiari Malformation essentially is when a piece of the skull is smaller than it normally is and then pushes the cerebellum down into the foramen magnum and spinal canal according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Lewis, an Information Technology major, wants to raise awareness about low vision and people with disabilities.
“In general, not a lot of people understand low vision and people would tell me, ‘Oh my goodness, you’re so high functioning. Your vision can’t be that bad.’ My response to the ‘oh my gosh you’re so high functioning’ is usually, ‘Oh thank you. So are you. I like to tell people, a person with low vision or blindness can do anything a sighted person can do except maybe drive a taxi,” said Lewis.
Lewis chose Mason due to its extensive Disability Services Office.
“George Mason has been really helpful because I’ve never been told I can’t do something. All my professors have never treated me differently in a bad way because I have low vision. They would give me all the materials I need and everything in an accessible format. So, I could just do it myself and I’ve also had a lot of incredible people mentoring me at Mason,” said Lewis.
However, while Lewis has had a positive experience at Mason, she found that other universities’ disability services offices did not provide the assistance she needed. One even told her to not apply to the school as they could not provide the proper accommodations for her, according to a blog post Lewis made in November 2016 titled, “Ten Questions to Ask When Choosing a College.”
Lewis hopes that other schools expand their Assistive Technology programs and start allowing more technology in the classroom, “I know that a lot of universities take a pencil and paper approach to learning and that’s not Mason. They encourage you to use as many tools as you can. I hope that more universities realize that technology is the future and allow students to use it more often,” she said. “I think that will help a lot with eliminating accessibility barriers as well.”
To help spread awareness, Lewis created a blog called Veroniiiica.
“I created a blog called Veronica With Four Eyes, the url is veroniiiica.com. I created that website to share what I had learned and write about the intersections of technology, education, and disability. I try to share several posts a week and just tell people ‘Hey this is stuff I wish people would’ve told me when I was younger. I’m telling you this now,” sais Lewis
“So my blog has had an incredible reach with over 50,000 readers from all over the world,” Lewis said. Lewis’s blog focuses on those with disabilities and provides them with information and tips they might not have thought of,” said Lewis
Another project Lewis worked on to spread awareness includes a feature with Microsoft in which she was one of six students whose stories were shared on Microsoft’s website. In the video feature, Lewis tells viewers how she uses many Microsoft programs to help her in her education. One of those programs includes “Sway.” Besides Microsoft programs, Lewis uses her iPad, phone, video magnifiers, desktop and laptop computers, and a blindness cane with a rolling tip to get around campus.
Lewis also talks about her disability at panels, such as Future Quest in 2017, and will talk at more panels in 2018. Her goal is to be a role model to show students that, “there is no such thing as your ideal low vision student, we’re all different and that’s okay,” said Lewis.
Photos Courtesy of Hailey Bullis