Disabilities can be perceived as holding a person back, but for one USD student, looking to the future is what she does best.
Nichole Boese, junior communication studies major, does not define herself by her disability, but by her passions.
“I am proud of who I am and I am proud of my disability,” Boese said.
Boese looks just like every other student at USD. She walks around with a big smile and loves to talk to anyone she meets and some might not notice Boese is legally blind. Boese has been living with vision issues since she was in preschool.
“The first time that (people) noticed something was wrong was when I was about four,” Boese said, “but at that time everyone thought it was something very common like far-sighted or near-sightedness.”
By the end of second grade, Boese could not see the board and was then sent to specialists. After years of testing, at the age of eight, Boese was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease.
Stargardt’s disease is a form of macular degeneration that causes the retina to deteriorate causing issues with peripheral vision and light sensitivity.
“With Stargardt’s, people will usually progress to being able to see shadows and light variations, but will lose most of their vision,” Boese said.
Boese is halfway through her progression which means she is legally blind, cannot drive and cannot see well in certain lightings. These restrictions, she said, present direct issues in the standard classroom setting.
“I have trouble with reading small text and have large blindspots which makes note-taking difficult in the classroom,” Boese said.
At USD, Boese works with University Disability Services to help both herself and professors adapt to her disability.
Karen Gerety is the director of disability services at USD and works directly with each student to provide accommodations and support.
“My ultimate goal is to help a student grow into being able to articulate what their disability is, how it affects them as they move through their educational experience and their life, that they have a right to expect full access to campus life and that they play a part in making that happen,” Gerety said.
Certain accommodations disability services provide for low vision students include digital textbooks, more time on exams as well as a reader or scribe and lecture notes provided by the professor. Disability services also help outside of the classroom such as keeping sidewalks clear and construction zones marked.
Boese has accepted the challenges her low vision presents to her, but she said that is the simplest of her problems.
“The biggest problem that people like myself deal with is the judgment and ignorance,” Boese said.
Boese said she has just recently begun to be open with her classmates at USD about her low vision due to a history of past judgments.
“People can be very harsh towards me and I think that is a direct result of how society views people who are different,” Boese said.
Since being at USD and being more open, Boese said she has had a great experience with USD students and faculty as they work with her to provide her the same experience as any other student.
Boese said she sees herself as more than her disability despite the ignorance of others. As a communications studies major, Boese dreams of being an advocate for people with low vision like herself.
“I have spent a lot of my time hiding and now my goal in life is to speak up for people like me and be a voice for those who feel like they don’t have one,” Boese said.
Boese specifically said she wanted to change how people think of the blind.
“We don’t all walk around with big sunglasses and canes. We look just like everyone else,” Boese said.
Overall, Boese said she wants students to see herself as she truly is and not just as her disability. Tattooed on her arm, Boese lives her life by a Bible verse she discovered when she was ten.
For we live by faith, not by sight: 2 Corinthians 5:7.