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Shattering stigmas: Students share disabilities but are far from disabled

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Paige Maystadt and Lauren Berglund don’t like to dwell on the things they aren’t able to do.

“Society and TV and books tell people who are able-bodied to feel sorry for people with disabilities, that those people need to be pitied upon and they have horrible lives,” said Lauren, a sophomore in child, adult and family services. “I don’t see myself as broken. This is the way that I am.”

“I have a disability but I’m not disabled,” added Paige, a junior in animal science. “I can still do things. I can do most of what other people can do, I just have to do them a different way.”

Both Paige and Lauren have a lot in common. They’re both from small-town Iowa. They live in the same apartment. They each have their own dogs.

And they’re both blind.

“[People] expect that blind people can’t do things,” Lauren said. “They don’t realize we can do just about anything we want to.”

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Paige Maystadt walks down an aisle at Stage Coach Stables with her guide dog Charley. Paige has Bardet-Biedl syndrome, a disorder that causes her retinas to gradually deteriorate. She can see shapes, shadows and silhouettes, but has no depth perception. In addition, she cannot see at all in extreme dark or bright environments. 

Horse high

Paige walks down a dark, dusty horse barn, with her guide dog, Charley, by her side and her friend, Brienna Ross, also a junior in animal science, close behind.

She takes a deep breath and inhales the scent of hay, manure and leather.

“I love the smell of horses. I wish they could make it a perfume,” she said.

She turns a corner and approaches Brienna’s buckskin Quarter Horse named Oliver. A smile immediately spreads across her face.

“I get a horse high every time I’m around them,” Paige said. “I get all excited and I’ll start talking really fast and I’ll have a good feeling inside me.”

Brienna hands Paige a brush and she begins to groom Oliver, slowly moving her hand in circular motions, taking brief pauses to run her fingers through his mane.

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Paige Maystadt brushes a Quarter Horse named Oliver. Paige has been around horses since the age of 4, and is an active member and fundraiser chair of the equestrian club. 

“I think he’s clean,” she said 10 minutes later.

Paige is eager to ride again. She hasn’t been on a horse since mid-August.

Paige mounts Oliver and they begin to walk in a circle. She smiles again, and it doesn’t leave until she dismounts half an hour later.

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Paige Maystadt mounts Oliver, a buckskin Quarter Horse. Paige uses blocks to make mounting Oliver easier. "I'm not afraid of heights, I'm just afraid of falling," she said. 

“It’s a whole different world with horses- they just get you,” she said. “When you get on a horse everything else just melts away.”

After she returns home, she puts her hands up to her face and breathes in.

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Paige Maystadt kisses Oliver, a Quarter Horse owned by her friend Brienna Ross. Paige hopes to use her animal science major to someday become a veterinarian. 

“I can sniff my hands five hours later, and they still smell like horses.”

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Lauren Berglund takes a photo of Morrill Hall with her guide dog, Sheba, by her side. Lauren was born with oculocutaneous albinism, a condition that causes a lack of pigment in her skin, hair and eyes. She uses photography as a way to capture the details she can't see with her naked eye. 

Absence of detail

Lauren is on a hunt for flowers on campus. She spots a colorful patch of mums near Morrill Hall.

She lifts her camera up to her eye. The shutter clicks. And clicks again.

“I think that one’s probably blurry,” she said. She readjusts, shoots several more frames and moves on to the next location.

lauren water tower.jpg

Lauren's vision is affected by fatigue and light. "In a perfect world at 8 a.m. when I just saw my eye doctor and the lighting is the way I like it, [my vision is] 20/350." Peering into the viewfinder of her camera, Lauren was able to see the outline of the water tower, but couldn't see the ladder, individual panels or the letters until she could magnify the photo on her computer. 

“I’d say if one person shot something twice, I’d do it probably six times just to make sure I got something. I kind of just go out and hope for the best,” she said.

“I can see the objects but I can’t always tell if they’re in focus, or even just knowing how much I have in the frame sometimes gets a little hard.”

Lauren continues to walk around campus for another hour, capturing a total of 222 photos. She decides to call it a day and heads back to her apartment.

She quickly turns on her computer and imports her files. This is her favorite step in taking photos.

Unlike a sighted photographer, Lauren can’t immediately check the back of her camera to see the photos she’s taken. Instead, she has to wait to magnify them on her computer.

She deletes five photos that she took of the Campanile right off the bat. “Blurry, of course.”

She continues to leaf through the photos, pausing every few frames to comment on what she sees, and eventually stops at the photos of the flowers.

“With these, I actually didn’t know they had a yellow center until I zoomed in,” she said. “Oh! They even have little individual leaves.”

lauren flowers.jpg

Lauren describes her vision as seeing a lack of detail. She can see the colors and shape of the flowers, but isn't able see the yellow center or the individual petals. 

Lauren describes her vision as a lack of detail. She can identify an object in front of her and can distinguish the color and shape of it, but can’t see anything specific.

“I can see a tree, but I can’t see individual leaves or branches,” she said.

“A lot of people hear the word ‘blind’ and they just assume [that we see] nothing, but actually the vast majority [of people who are blind] see something,” Lauren said.

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Sheba, a 3 year old black lab, has been Lauren's guide dog since June 2015. "She's made me more confident, more independent and more willing to do things," Lauren said. 

'I'm a person first'

Both Paige and Lauren know they’re blind. They live with it every day.

They don’t need help crossing the street. They don’t need people to speak loudly toward them. And they don’t want you to feel sympathetic toward them.

“No one accomplishes anything when they feel sorry for someone,” Lauren said. “I’m blind but I’m not disfigured. I am not broken and I don’t need fixed.”

Aside from driving a car or riding a bike, Paige and Lauren are able to do everything a sighted person can.

“Blindness is not a death sentence, it’s not the end of my life,” Lauren said.

Paige agreed.

“I wish for people to see me as a person and not as a disability.”

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Paige Maystadt rides a Quarter Horse named Oliver. Paige has been around horses since the age of 4 and is an active member and fundraiser chair of the equestrian club. 

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