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Today's word on journalism

January 13, 2009

Breakneck:

"I get the feeling that the 24-hour news networks are like the bus in the movie 'Speed.' If they stop talking for a second, they think they'll blow up."

--Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, 2008 (Thanks to alert WORDster Ross Martin)

Speak up! Comment on the WORD at

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Feedback and suggestions--printable and otherwise--always welcome. "There are no false opinions."

Pursuing an advanced education through touch and sound

By Chelsie Hansen

December 12, 2008 | Outside, the leaves have turned colors. The summer has reached its finale. Odors of sharpened pencils and new binders fill the room. The environment is new but familiar. New voices enter the classroom mixed with a few familiar ones.

It's Kasondra Payne's first day of another school year. The classroom hushes abruptly as the teacher enters the classroom. Payne feels her way to her seat in the front row. Although the hard, battered chair is tortuous to her back, Payne doesn't care. Her professor asks the class to take out their textbook to view their first lesson. Throughout the lesson Payne never looks straight at her teacher, not because she doesn't want to but because she cannot see her text teacher. Payne is blind.

Payne has been blind her entire life. She has limited vision in her left eye but has a hard time making out objects. The American Foundation for the Blind reported in last September that more than 21.2 million people suffer from vision loss which defined as having trouble seeing even while wearing contacts or glasses. The Braille Institute reported that only 12 percent of legally blind children (children who cannot read the biggest letter on an eye chart) can read Braille. While some children let their disability get them down, Payne refused to let her blindness get the better of her.

Growing up in California, Payne learned to read Braille at the age of 3. Payne recalled the first book she read in Braille with enchantment. Her face lit up with pleasure as she described her love for the LDS church's scriptures, The Book of Mormon. It was one of the few books she was able to get in Braille at the time.

Her husband and high school sweetheart, Shawn, said that reading was not the only thing Payne was overly ambitious about. "She was involved in just about everything in high school," he said. "She was in the drama club, in various service clubs, in student government and on the newspaper staff."

Now, a USU English major, a mother of three with a job as an assisted technology trainer and consultant at the USU Merrill-Cazier Library, Payne attributes her ability to learn from the education and lessons learned at the Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND), Inc. It is a blind training center located in Minnesota designed to help blind people become more independent, said Payne. It is where she learned to read Braille faster, cook up culinary masterpieces, manage a household, use computers, work a cane more efficiently and tell directions. The course took six to nine months to complete. One of the requirements was to be able to prepare a meal for 40 or more people. "Getting around the kitchen wasn't always easy, but now I love making big dinners."

Another requirement to complete the course was for Payne to be able to find her way around Minneapolis. In a winter colder and snowier than her high school days in California, Payne said she had to walk a five-mile route without getting lost. She was taught how to use the sun and mountains to find her way around. Not only could she find her way around, but she could also direct her fully capable husband around Minneapolis as well.

Shawn moved to Minneapolis where Payne was going to school so the two could get married. "I wanted to make sure he knew his way around town before I left to go home to California to be fitted for my wedding dress. Minnesota addresses are a lot different from what we were used to in California. I wanted to make sure he knew where to find the important places such as the church, his new job, and shopping areas." The couple drove around finding the best way to get to their destination. Payne said, "Of course, we got lost, but we always found our way out. I wasn't perfect either. Sometimes I would tell him to make a wrong turn, but we always got ourselves out of it. Sometimes I forgot that cars can't always go where buses go. We ended up in a few bus lanes and had to turn around, but we always made it out." In the end, Payne learned how to give better directions and helped her fiancÚ get around while she was gone.

Now when friends have asked her about giving directions she has been able to say to them, "Yes, I do know what direction I am going, and I can help you as well." This phrase is not just a simple reply, but has been a metaphor to Payne's life. She does know what direction she is going and wants to help others.

Payne explained her sense of direction comes from three sources. The first being her mother who always had an attitude that Payne could do anything she wanted to. "At the age of 3 I was going around telling everyone that I wanted to be an anesthesiologist. It only lasted until I was 4, but my mom believed I could do it."

Her mom's encouragement was not the only, positive force in Payne's life. She attributes a lot of her positive attitudes from her association with the National Federation for the Blind (NFB). "They have an attitude that you can do great things in life even if you're blind," she said. Through the organization Payne has been able to make long lasting friends. "I have a really good friend that joined the federation the same year as me. His name is Cary Supalo. He has always loved chemistry. When he was in grade school everyone said he couldn't achieve a career in chemistry because he was blind. He fought a lot of discrimination causing him to change colleges. Many people didn't believe he could do it". The NFB has an attitude that "with proper training and opportunities blindness can be reduced to just a physical nuisance". With the encouragement of the NFB and determination, Supalo ended up with his bachelor degree from Purdue University and is at Penn State getting his doctorate, said Payne. "He has done a lot of work to help blind children to be more interested in science and math as well as inspire others to go after their dreams."

While her mom and the NFB were great resources in shaping her will to succeed, Payne said the most important source of her success came from her faith in God. "I have been LDS my whole life. It is a powerful force in my life." From reading the Book of Mormon to going to her Sunday worship regularly, she feels like the church has brought her a lot of comfort throughout her life. "I feel with God all things are possible with his help," she said.

While Payne feels blessed to be able to live a fairly normal and productive life, she feels she needs to pass her attitude and philosophy on to others. She said anyone could be successful as long as they have a good attitude, knowledge and skills. Unfortunately, Payne meets a lot people who are lacking one of these factors, usually a good attitude. "They let their disability get in the way of doing what they want. They make excuses for why they cannot achieve their dreams," she said. Although Payne acknowledges that she is not perfect and that sometimes she lets her fears get in the way of fulfilling her dreams, she said, "You have to get past that and work!"

Payne wants to be able to pass her attitude and skills on to other people. "That's why I love my job at the assisted technology center. I love to teach because I get to see other people learn and grow. I know I have been blessed. I have been able to get the resources I needed."

While Payne may never be able to see her textbooks, she can read them like any other student using Braille and assistance from the disability resource center on USU campus. After her training at Blind, Inc, she can now read Braille as fast as she can talk. Her husband says she is a good writer. Her goals for the future are to finish her English major at USU so she can write for a nutrition wellness company.

While Payne sits in her classroom at USU, she may never make eye contact with her professor. Some people may see her as a disabled person with nothing to offer the world. Those who know her see her as an asset to the community with her positive attitude, talents and willingness to help. Blindness is a disease that many classify as unmanageable and disabling; however, Payne and others believe ability comes from attitude.

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