As you can see, I am a totally blind assistive technology trainer, sports enthusiast who enjoys family, work, and having a good time. Many people wonder how did I get to be this way. Here I share a bit more about my life story so you can understand why assistive technology, hobbies such as sports, and my desire to mainstream blindness, bringing opportunities and respect to this community is so important.
I was born at Charlotte Memorial Hospital to my mother, Gloria Thompson and my surrogate mothers and aunties, Mary Smith and Debra Pickens. While my mom and her sisters were all sighted, their parents were both blind and each sister had a blind son, with the same genetic condition, Norrie Disease, which in our family causes blindness and hearing loss. Blindness runs in my family, so in many ways, it was normal. My family never felt sorry for me, nor did they lower their expectations. As a kid, I learned to do chores, how to stand up (fight) to my sometimes bossy, cousins, and make my way around the world as a proud young man.
Part of my pride comes from seeing myself as capable and being able to get things done on my own and with help when needed. Being involved in all-blind activities and communities helped me on this journey. From the age of 6, I attended camps and programs for the blind and visually impaired. It was in these settings, that I got the additional help I needed with orientation and mobility (O&M), independent living skills, and technology, but perhaps most importantly, I got to be a normal kid. No one looked down on me or expected less of me because of my blindness. It was normal to use a cane. It was normal to call someone to get their attention (instead of waving). We had friends (and enemies) who were just like us.
Also, a big part of my life within the all blind community was my involvement with sports. I started playing a sport called Goalball and running Track and Field when I was 9. In high school, I moved from being in a mainstream classroom in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and began attending Governor Morehead School for the Blind where I ran track and was on the wrestling team. I also played beep ball beginning in middle school through my mid-20s. Playing sports taught me about discipline, self-awareness, and teamwork. Not only did I play sports, but I also love to “watch.” The first sport, I got into was baseball. My grandfather and myself are avid Atlanta Braves fans. Listening to the radio play by play is how I “watch” games. I also enjoy basketball and American football. Sometimes you can catch my wife and I at a Charlotte Hornets or Carolina Panthers game.
In addition to sports. I love geography and travel. I remember being jealous as a kid of my classmates who would come back from spring break talking about their trips to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon and other far away places. Because I couldn’t travel, I would spend my time reading about places I wanted to go and reading raised maps, just imagining. Now, my wife and I travel whenever we can. One of my favorite trips was to Oahu in 2018.
Going to UNC Charlotte for college was another key turning point in my life. I lived on campus for 5 years before I got an off campus apartment with my cousin, John. With extensive O&M, I was able to navigate to class, social events, and the cafeteria independently. I knew the campus so well that I was able to be a “sighted” guide for new blind students on campus. I also worked in disability services and for the Office of Summer Programs. While academics were important, as a college student, I appreciated the social aspect of college even more. In college, I did talent shows with my singing group, hung out with friends on and off campus, took the train and bus to visit friends on other campuses, and dated, eventually meeting my wife, Corliss.
While I was a history and African American studies major, I minored in theatre and some of my most memorable experiences occurred in the Rowe Arts Building. I acted in several plays including “Butterflies are Free”, “Street Song: The Rhythms of Langston Hughes”, and “Antigone.” I also did an Off-Off Broadway play with colleagues from UNCC, Simple Thoughts. From my time in theatre, I learned different methods of communication, expression and self confidence.
After college, I worked at Lions Services, a workshop for the Blind for 16 years. I got married in 2013, and bought a house in 2017 with my wife. We enjoy traveling, grilling outside on our deck, our individual hobbies, careers, and our family. As you can see, other than being a totally blind man with hearing aids, I live life and thrive like my sighted peers and friends. Currently, I’m a member of the American Council of the Blind and also the National Federation of the Blind. I want others to know about the talent and joy along with the challenges of the blind and visually impaired.