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
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
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
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.