Visually impaired GVSU student takes pride in disorder

GVL / Leah Mitchell

Kristen Kelling sits outside of Niemeyer.

GVL / Leah Mitchell Kristen Kelling sits outside of Niemeyer.

Leah Mitchell

Grand Valley State University student Kristen Kelling strives to live every day to the fullest.

Kelling has been blind since birth and has never seen the world through her own eyes, but she said she continues to enjoy each day with a perspective on life that she said she wouldn’t trade for anything.

“I am actually very proud of my disability,” Kelling says. “If there was an opportunity to undergo surgery to be able to see, I would say no. I am proud of who I am, and I don’t think sight defines a person.”

Born with an underdeveloped optic nerve, 20-year-old Kelling is fully blind and therefore unable to see any form of visual light. Because all members of her family have normal vision, she was always considered unique, especially starting school at only four-months-old. Kelling may get frustrated with the way people mention subjects like color or light, but in reality, she embraces these concepts by relating them to her other senses such as smell and touch.

As a student at GVSU, she has been guided by Disability Support Resources, especially those who have helped her in the Assisted Technology department. GVSU offers a variety of services on a regular basis for those who are disabled. Kathleen Vanderveen, the director of DSR, says she has set out to improve the DSR program.

“We are always looking at new technology that can level the playing field for all students with disabilities,” Vanderveen said.

Services offered for blind students consist of academic advising, alternate format textbooks, alternative test-taking assistive technology, translation of braille to professors, learning and study skills, note-taking assistance, tutoring and van transportation service.

Job Access With Speech, the latest computer screen reader program made by Microsoft, is a software that allows the visually impaired to read a computer screen with a text-to-speech output. Different technology such as the JAWS software does not lighten the student workload, but instead simply makes completing homework an attainable task.

“I have very understanding professors this year and they aren’t difficult to work with,” Kelling says.

While in the process of obtaining her bachelor’s degree in social work, Kelling stays involved on campus by participating in organizations such as the honors community council and Campus Crusade for Christ. She also regularly volunteers at a variety of service projects. Through all of this, she is determined to make a large impact in today’s world.

Despite being the first of her three siblings to continue education past high school, Kelling is making significant headway. She never lets her disability get in the way of her ultimate goals and what she wants to accomplish.

“I want to make something of myself and do something different,” Kelling says. “Do something great with my life.”

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