• Elyssa Gerber | Staff Writer

A different perspective

Justin Heard’s computer talks to him. It reads aloud whatever text or images are on the screen. His phone also talks to him. Using the iPhone Voice Over setting, Heard is able to have text conversations and use different apps. Heard does everyday activities differently than others because he was born blind.

Heard, a freshman special education major, wants to get a master’s degree in teaching blind students. He chose to attend GC because it is one of the only colleges in Georgia that has a special education cohort.

Heard grew up with four siblings. Already being the youngest in the family, he received extra attention from his parents. Being born blind added to this treatment, but his parents were unaware of how to raise a child who could not see.

Due to the expenses of braille books and the lack of knowledge of how to teach a blind child at home, he attended a public school. While he excelled in academics, Heard did not learn how to do typical day to day tasks such as cooking and cleaning.

“I was receiving lessons from the school on how to navigate, cross the streets and different things like that,” Heard said. “Other than that, simple daily living things were overlooked.”

Heard was the first in his family to not be home-schooled. This impacted his brother and one of sisters, who decided to go to high school at public schools.

“I was fortunate to be able to be around other blind students during after school programs,” Heard said.

“Unfortunately, there also tended to be a lot more bullying for me. The students would steal my chocolate milk or run off my cane. I would play into it and try to fight them back, but that was hard.”

Heard grew up not knowing how people were living socially. He did not feel confident to go to parties and would typically go home and read books. This influenced him to spend a gap year at BLIND, Inc. in Minneapolis in a nine-month program entitled “Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions.”

The program works with blind students and adults. The goal is to give people the skills they need to take the next step towards employment, whatever that may be.

“I got training on how to cook, sweeping floors, mopping and that kind of thing,” Heard said. “We had different job classes, and we also had a woodshop class. It was fun using the table saw and what not. It gave me the confidence to live on campus and interact with more people.”

Others have noticed the advancements in Heard’s daily life due to this training.

“When he first got here, we walked him to his classes, but he did not even need help even using the crosswalk due to his training,” said David Anderson, director of the Student Disability Resource Center. “He is fiercely independent.”

Heard is very involved with the blind community. He is the president of Georgia Association of Blind Students, a division of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia. They are responsible for coordinating events for blind people across the state and providing resources for students.

However, Heard still accepts help from people who want to give him directions or hold the door open for him.

“What helps me is if people ask if I need help with something, and I tell them exactly what I need help with,” Heard said. “If I say I don’t need help, then I am probably trying to figure it out on my own, but I do appreciate when people ask.”

He is also a singer and a member of GC’s Cat’s Meow.

“He is an excellent singer,” said Mary Claire Hill, a music theory major. “He amazes me with his independence, determination and sense of humor.”

Heard is also in a relationship with Emily Pennington, who he met through an online game but officially in person for the first time at a convention in Orlando.

“We realized that we had liked each other the whole time, but we thought that it would be impossible,” Heard said.

“We talked about everything that could possibly go wrong until we finally we just said let’s do this, and that was almost two years ago.”

Heard credits the success of his relationship to the constant effort put in on both sides.

“Even when you’re feeling really low on things, it’s continuing to make a choice,” Heard said. “You assess the alternatives, and you continue to make the choice to move forward, and it’s worked out really well for us. If there’s a reason for it, then you find out, and you talk it over, and it always comes out better.”

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