Vision plays an integral role in any average person’s day, walking to class, driving a car, or reading a book. But Liam Thurlby is no average person.
Liam Thurlby is a “low-vision” student who lives life despite his visual impairment.
Thurlby said he was born in China with a condition known as microphthalmia, which means he was born with abnormally small eyes and had cataract surgery at age 2.
He was raised in an orphanage in China until 2016 when he was adopted at the age of 13, he said.
Thurlby said he came to America knowing no English and had to learn not only how to speak and read English but also how to read Braille in English; this was made possible by one-on-one instruction at school with an ESL instructor and at home with an English tutor hired by his parents.
Though he does not reject the term “blind,” Thurlby said “I more so classify myself as ‘low-vision.'” He said he prefers this term because he is able to see at “very short distances,” so he is “not ‘totally’ or ‘completely blind.'”
Thurlby described that within about 2 feet, he can see general figures in better detail, although he cannot make out things like facial features. But if he holds something within an inch of his face, he said he can see finer details clearly.
Thurlby said JCCC has accommodations for his low vision that give him access to “close to equal the information a sighted person has access to.”
“I get preferential seating. Every class, I sit in the front to see the board better,” he said.
He also uses a Braille Refreshable Focus 40 Display, which is a keyboard that connects via Bluetooth to his iPad and transcribes what is on the screen into Braille using Braille pins inside the keyboard.
To Thurlby’s sighted peers, it can be confusing when he comments on what something “looks like.”
“People will assume that just because [I have] a cane…[I] must be completely blind, without sight,” he said. “Sure, that’s true to some extent. …but not all people with canes will be classified as ‘completely blind.'”
Describing his aspirations for his future, Thurlby said, “I want to be a high school government/history educator.”
“When I came [to America], I was basically all my teachers’ favorite,” he said. “I earned lots of awards in the award systems in the classroom, and I was like ‘Oh wow. If this is so good, why couldn’t I do it to other people?’
“I want to be just as nice of a teacher as those who were nice to me,” he said.
Reid McEvoy, student reporter