By: Ishaan Rastogi
When I was born, I was diagnosed with albinism. This means that I have very little pigmentation in my skin, making me more susceptible to the sun. A visual impairment came attached. My eyesight is 20/200, and I am considered legally blind in the state of New Jersey. Unfortunately, that means I can’t drive, so relying on public transportation is my only way around. I was born in India, and started my education there, but it was difficult for me to learn in that environment, because no one would take the time to help me. My parents wanted to give me a better life, so we packed our bags and moved to the states. It’s been a difficult journey, living differently, but I am who I am today because of every challenge I have had to overcome.
It was difficult being the “different” kid. All through elementary and middle school, I had a difficult time making friends. No one wanted to associate with me. I looked different, and did things differently. For instance, I used a small visual apparatus to see the blackboard in class, and used a magnifier to read text. The kids would find it a strange, and give me odd looks. At recess, I played by myself. I tried to play kickball with the others, but they always picked me last. I didn’t understand why other kids gave me such a difficult time. Luckily, my family was a good support system, and kept encouraging me to try. It took a while, but by 8th grade I had made my first real friend, who is still one of my closest friend to this day.
It was at the beginning of high school that I began to understand more about myself. I started going to camps, and attending life skill leadership programs, where I met other kids with visual issues, among other disabilities. I learned how to work with teams, and discovered how team members empower each other, and help them to grow. I learned to help both myself, and others in need. For the first time, I could talk about my issues and be understood. It was a great feeling to know I wasn’t alone.
Having a bigger support system helped push me through high school. I even had the confidence to attend a college prep program, where I got a head start on my college career. It was only six weeks long, but being away from home fostered a real sense of independence. However, none of these events would have taken place if I hadn’t connected with the blind community. I’m much more confident, and have an easier time being myself around others. If someone doesn’t accept me for who I am, it’s okay, because I am who I am and no will ever take that away from me.
Today, I am working as an education intern for ONEder, where I have had the opportunity to grow even further. I am glad there is something like ONEder to help people with disabilities, at every stage of life, and that through ONEder, I am able to give back, and in my own way, help change the world.