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Blindness Under a Microscope

A Note from John:  Please welcome guest contributor Sarah Holloway to our “Freedom to Fly” blog. As a high-school student, Sarah was one of the founding members of Club VIBES. She has received her B.S. in microbiology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

You’re legally blind and got a degree in microbiology?! You graduated summa cum laude?! How on earth did you do that? These are some of the questions and shocked expressions I get when I tell people that I majored in microbiology with a visual impairment. Many people tend to believe that I had some sort of special “magic tricks” or that my professors went easy on me, but this is not the case at all. Here is how I did it…

Pursuing a degree in the sciences can be a challenge. Classes require a great deal of attention to detail and are often reading-intensive. In the classroom, I used a monocular, a hand-held device (like binoculars, but with just one lens), to see the white board and objects at a distance. I also used note-takers, someone who sits in the class and takes notes for the visually-impaired individual, for fast-paced classes such as math and chemistry. I was also given extended time on exams and was able to take exams in a separate testing area. I also took advantage of my college’s free tutoring services and professors’ office hours when I felt I was falling behind in a particular class. When it came to heavy homework loads, I learned how to delegate my time between subjects and create a study schedule for myself.

The laboratory can be a hazardous place for someone with a visual impairment, but this can be remedied with the right accommodations. For chemistry labs, I struggled with reading labels on bottles and measuring the right amount of chemicals. In this situation, I relied on a lab partner or a hired assistant to help me with this. In microbiology labs, looking under a microscope was a concern. To remedy this, I was given a microscope that hooked up to a television camera. If this technology was not available, I would ask my lab partner to look at the slide and describe to me what they saw. In micro lab, I was also required to grow and count bacteria. In this instance, I would do an initial count and have my lab partner confirm that my count was correct.

Pursuing a degree in science is not an easy task for someone with a visual impairment, but with the right accommodations and assistance, it is definitely doable. If you have a visual impairment and want to pursue a career in the sciences, don’t let anything stop you from doing so. Go for it!

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These posts may also be of interest:

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I Think You Can’t; I Think You Can’t
When Believing Makes All the Difference
Seeing the Elephant


  1. John Switow says:

    Very impressive, motivated and compassionate young lady.

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