Multicultural Student Center hosts World Sight Day at UCF
Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Updated: Sunday, October 14, 2012 16:10
Heart racing, you freeze, unable to move out of fear for falling or walking into a wall. The heavy goggles that prevent you from seeing your surroundings weigh on your nose when suddenly someone gently touches your elbow and urges you to move forward into the unknown.
This was just one of the experiences offered at the second annual World Sight Day, an event hosted by the UCF Multicultural Student Center, Student Disability Services and Lighthouse Central Florida in the Teaching Academy on Thursday.
After signing in and receiving brochures and T-shirts, guests were instructed to put on goggles that simulate low vision or blindness. Attendees were escorted into the event to listen to a lecture and complete various activities that helped them understand what it was like to live with these circumstances.
“We are doing this in response to last year’s feedback,” said Myrna Pagan-Ubides, assistant director for Student Disabilities Services and lecturer at the event. “People said, ‘Get us involved. Let us feel how others feel, even if just for a moment.’”
Katie Harrison, a senior majoring in speech therapy and the communication coordinator for the Multicultural Student Center, tried on the goggles.
“I don’t want to say [the experience was] scary, but it was very intimidating,” Harrison said. “I have 20/20 vision, normally, so when you put those on, you gain a lot of perspective.”
Each pair of goggles had different forms of low vision and blindness, so the experience was different for each person who was involved. For Harrison, the goggles prevented her from seeing with her left eye and the right was taped off, providing her with nothing but blurry outlines.
“It was a very cool and very humbling experience,” Harrison said.
David Parker of Lighthouse Central Florida acted as a sighted guide for the guests at the event who tried on goggles as well as the low-vision and blind participants.
“Typically, the goggles make people very uncomfortable, and many people just kind of freeze and don’t want to go anywhere. The thing is that when you put the goggles on, you want to take them off, but when someone is visually impaired they can’t take it off; it’s always that way. It helps you develop empathy for people that are in this situation,” Parker said.
After the lecture and activities, a panel of low-vision and blind students held a question-and-answer session. Along with providing information, panelists were given the opportunity to share their passions and accomplishments despite their low vision.
Marinela Ortiz spoke of her passion for writing and Japanese animation and Maria Fernanda Saavedra spoke of her years of dance experience and her accomplishments as a choreographer.
“I really, really love to dance,” Saavedra said. “That’s my passion; that’s the thing that takes me away from the stress and the things around the world. The thing that I love the most about it is teaching.”
Both Munawar Bijani and Kyle Coon shared their passion for wrestling.
“It’s one of the most accessible sports out there,” Bijani said.
A current spinning and group exercise instructor at the UCF Recreation and Wellness Center, Coon is also a passionate outdoorsman who enjoys backpacking in places such as Peru and Mount Kilimanjaro.
“It’s just something I love to do. I love exploring the history and culture of those places,” Coon said. “I like to challenge myself, both physically and mentally, and just push myself beyond my given physical capabilities.”
World Sight Day was hosted in hopes of bringing awareness to the community about the importance of eye health and low-vision awareness, but it also offered sighted guests the opportunity to learn about simple ways of helping individuals who have low vision and blindness.
Panelists explained the need for routine and consistent placement of objects in and around their homes and in the environment. Changes of light also affect those with low vision because light differences can cause them to go temporarily blind.
“If it gets too dark and contrasts start to fade away, I can’t tell where I am at all,” Larry Schneider, the panelist mediator for the event, said. “I get completely lost. It’s pretty rough trying to walk through the dark.”
Pagan-Ubides said that, according to the American Foundation for the Blind, 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide and that in 2010, the number of people with visual impairments in Florida reached nearly 400,000.
“If you could learn one thing today, it would be to please have an annual check of your vision. Lack of insurance should not hold you back because there are options and resources to obtain free eyes exams,” Pagan-Ubides said. “Eighty percent of eye problems are treatable, so it’s always better to catch a problem early and get it taken care of before it gets beyond what can be treated.”
Pagan-Ubides said that people often don’t want to think about what could possibly happen, but traumatic occurrences are always possible and losing vision is a very real possibility.
“It would really force you to take a look at how you live your life,” Pagan-Ubides said.
“This was just one of the many events that [Multicultural Students Services] feels will bring awareness to the campus,” Harrison said. “This was, more than anything, a great place to educate students on the issues that we feel are important. [Low vision] is not something I normally think about, so it was very cool having been able to take part today.”