Bookshare member navigates life transitions with a positive attitude, assistive technology, friends and family, and a dose of humor.
John Miller, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, is a graduate student, aspiring journalist, and author of a travel blog. You may not think this is unusual until you learn that John is blind. John has an insightful way of seeing the world and that perspective shines through his poignant – and often humorous – blog posts. One reader commented: “I feel the special warmth and generosity of your character that shines through your words.” When I interviewed John last month, I immediately sensed his upbeat, can-do attitude and willingness to embrace life’s challenges and surprises.
John has Norrie Disease which is a rare genetic disorder that causes blindness, progressive deafness, and, occasionally, cognitive impairments. John has had it since birth and is the President of the Norrie Disease Association. That says a lot about him right there. Growing up in Charlotte, his five sisters read to him a lot, so he learned to love books at an early age. When he was fourteen, the family moved to rural Southern Pines, about two hours from Charlotte. He was the only blind student at Pinecrest High School, and the administrators had no idea how to accommodate him. The best they could do was provide a resource teacher one day a week. As you can imagine, John learned how to be resourceful by necessity.
“Back in the 1990s I used an NLS (National Library Service) player to listen to books on tape and had big, bulky Braille books that I stuffed in a backpack and needed big muscles to carry around,” recalls John. After high school he attended the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Charlotte, but even with some support from Disabled Students Services (DSS), he still relied on student readers and spent hours scanning books to keep up in class. “No matter what I did or how hard I tried, I was always behind,” says John.
Bookshare and Assistive Technology Provide Books and Independence
Thankfully, technology came to the rescue when he enrolled in UNC-Chapel Hill for graduate studies in 2009. He learned about Bookshare and signed up for a free membership as a student. He found many of his textbooks in Bookshare. He reads books from Bookshare, Audible, and Libro.FM on his iPhone and Macbook. “Technology has really accelerated the past five years,” says John. He uses a braille display device that connects to his iPhone. He downloads a book onto his iPhone (or Mac), transfers the digital file to his braille display using Bluetooth, and then reads the book on the refreshable braille display. He also uses the iPhone’s VoiceOver screen reader.
Having multiple sources of digital books allows him to find and read books at the same time as everyone else. “That still boggles my mind. I can hear about a book that just came out and find it right away. Blind people never had that kind of access before,” says John.
“I am a huge reader. I can’t stop myself from reading. It keeps me balanced. It gives me more word choices and helps with my writing.” John particularly enjoys science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and memoirs. “I have everything at my fingertips – an unending access to books. I’m a huge book junkie.”
The Future is Bright
John is currently attending Queen’s University in Charlotte to finish up his master’s degree in communications. He hopes to embark on a career that involves blogging and social media, possibly for a nonprofit. In the meantime, he is just trying to learn as much as he can and create opportunities for himself.
What advice does John have for other students? “Remember to network! Don’t just lock yourself in your room and do your schoolwork. Go out and find interest areas, internships, volunteer opportunities, and meet people and get involved. Getting good grades isn’t enough; you need practical experiences too,” says John.
What’s next for John? He’s getting married in January on a cruise to the Bahamas. I can’t wait to read his blog about what will certainly be an extra special travel experience.
Read John’s blog: http://blindtravel.net – A Blind Man’s Journey: Because You Don’t Need Sight to See the World
On John’s Digital Bookshelf
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys