NEWARK — Michael Walker has never been one to back away from a challenge. That’s why the 44-year old Newark man, who is blind, decided to go back to school at Central Ohio Technical College and double major in Accounting Technology and Information Technology.
“I know many people think it’s hard to learn accounting when you are blind,” said Walker. “But, I feel people need to take the challenges they have and make the best of them.”
Walker was born with a retinal condition called Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA). LCA is an inherited retinal degenerative disease which results in the loss of sight over time. Walker was diagnosed when he was four years old.
“My parents kept noticing that I would bump into things,” said Walker. “It would happen most often when I was coming in from outside because I would have a hard time adjusting from outside light to inside light.”
Walker said he was able to live life like a normal kid for a while. He rode a bike and played Frisbee with his friends.
“I remember being able to read the lettering on the Frisbee when it was rotating coming toward me,” said Walker. “I could still see pretty well as a child.”
Walker said he was 14 when he lost most of his vision. “It was a gradual process,” said Walker. “I had to adjust.”
After high school, Walker started taking classes at COTC. He said he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do and ended up quitting school. Walker moved to northwest Ohio and started working in the vending industry stocking machines at highway rest areas.
“I did that for several years,” said Walker. “However, a few years ago they closed one of the rest areas along I-75 for construction work and that was a large source of my income. So, I moved back to Newark. Not long after that, I decided I needed to come back to school at COTC.”
With the help of the COTC Office for Disability Services, Walker got back into the classroom.
“Mr. Walker is very independent and often teaches me about the technology he uses or how to have patience,” said Director of Student Life Disability Services and Counseling Connie Zang. “Our office determines and authorizes accommodations for students. Mr. Walker gets extended test time and use of technology that helps him.”
“Mike has a mind that is like a steel trap,” said Accounting Instructor Amy Stahl. “He is consistently outperforming his classmates, although the discipline is a very sight-driven process.”
Walker has a student worker who sits with him in class to help with class presentations and taking notes. Walker also uses a recorder to capture the lecture, so he can listen later. There is one area where Walker does not accept help – navigating the 155 acre campus.
“I use my ears to help me find my way,” said Walker. “The fountains at the center of campus are a huge help. I can listen for them and know where I am. The sound from coffee shops, television monitors and people coming in and out of doorways also helps me know what direction to go. I’ve been lost a few times, but there has always been someone there to help me.”
This year is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The act was signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George H. W. Bush. The ADA prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life – to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in state and local government programs and services.
“The ADA helped make campuses, like ours, more accessible in their physical layouts, in their programming and in the way classes are offered and assessed.” said Zang. “The best part of my job is having the opportunity to instill hope in people who need encouragement and watching people achieve their dreams.”
Walker is scheduled to graduate in the spring of 2016 with his Information Technology degree. He has another year of classes to take before he can complete the Accounting Technology degree. After graduating with both degrees, Walker said he hopes to use his skills working in an accounting office.
“Who knows what the future holds,” said Walker. “I’ll take it one step at a time.”