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Kansas State School for the Blind senior to major in biomedical engineering at WSU

Kansas State School for the Blind senior to major in biomedical engineering at WSU

In just a few short months, Gabriel Reyes-Gonzalez, a senior at the Kansas State School for the Blind (KSSB), will be navigating the campus of Wichita State University. Like most incoming freshmen, it’ll be a bit of an adjustment transitioning from high school to college. But for Reyes-Gonzalez, his adjustment will be different than most. 

Reyes-Gonzalez is blind. He lost vision in his left eye around the time he was in third grade due to retinal detachment. He lost vision in his right eye four years later for the same reason. He underwent several surgeries, but they were inevitably unsuccessful. 

“It came down to the point where my eye was damaged to the point where they couldn’t really do anything to it,” he said. “Very, very slight light perception, but really there’s nothing there.” 

 Reyes-Gonzalez said it was tough adjusting to his vision loss, but he said he’s gotten used to it. He used to be “a big addict” with video games and despised reading. Now, he said, he’s a big-time reader and loves playing chess. 

“Sure, I don’t do a lot of things, go out a lot, party a lot. I do go out, but just not as much as I thought I would’ve. I used to be really excited about the concept of driving,” Reyes-Gonzalez said. “People ask me all the time, ‘Do you miss having your eyesight?’ or ‘Is there certain things you wish you could do?’ Of course, I do, but I’ve just gotten so used to it to the point where I find certain things that I find pleasure in doing, where I don’t really miss it. I don’t really think about it much, you know, I live my life.” 

For the past five years, he's been using a cane to help him get around but said it was difficult to get used to at first. 

“I was ashamed of bringing the cane out,” he said. “I was ashamed of the title and the image that it put on me.” 

Reyes-Gonzalez said he felt self-pity and thought he was going to be viewed as someone who’s “not normal.” He said he’s come to learn that’s not going to be the case and has since grown to accept himself. 

“I’m going to make it way further than I would’ve even if I had sight,” he said. “I’m proud of myself.” 

Reyes-Gonzalez is in his fifth year at KSSB. Before that, he was a Topeka Unified School District 501 student. He was eventually referred to KSSB after being told there weren’t enough services being offered for him to be successful at the school he was in at the time. 

He said he doesn’t remember much about first being introduced to the school, but he does remember all the resources presented to him and how tight of a community it is.  

He mentioned resources such as orientation mobility skills, tech courses and braille. 

When Gabriel first started attending KSSB, he didn’t have as positive an outlook as he does now. 

“Initially I was like, ‘I’m only going to act up. I don’t really care about this place,’” he said. “But then I think it was a year into here when I first realized, ‘If I don’t appreciate the resources that they’re giving me here, I’m really not going to make it anywhere in life.’ ” 

 Reyes-Gonzalez participated in sports, including track and field his freshman year, but his time on the track wasn’t very long. 

“The first day of track, I ended up hairline fracturing my knee,” he laughed. “It was just a regular sprint. I abruptly stopped because I was still getting used to it. And I guess the way I stopped made it so my knee fractured, so it was really unexpected.” 

He said after that, he ended up taking goalball his junior year. According to the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes, goalball consists of two teams of three players each facing each other across a court that is 9 meters wide and 18 meters long. The object of the game is to roll a basketball-sized ball with bells inside over the opponent’s goal line. The opponents listen for the oncoming ball and attempt to block it with their bodies. Once they stop the ball and take control of it, they become the offensive team. 

Along with goalball, he wanted to take up swimming for his senior year but said his schedule was too busy. 

To help prepare for the academic side of college, Reyes-Gonzalez is dual enrolled in KSSB and Bishop Ward High School, where he takes college courses. 

Reyes-Gonzalez plans to go to Wichita State to major in biomedical engineering. He intends to go for his master’s degree, if not a doctorate. If that doesn’t work out, he’ll pursue finance. It’s nerve-wracking thinking about going to college, Reyes-Gonzalez said. 

“It’s crazy,” he said. “I just cannot see myself going to college, like the big transition, you know? I’m excited about it though,” he said. 

To help ease his nerves, Reyes-Gonzalez is already aware of some resources in Wichita that will help him adjust to this new chapter. One being Envision, which has its headquarters right in the city. Envision has programs and services for people of all ages who are blind or have low vision. He’s also been in contact with the Office of Disability Services at WSU. 

Reyes-Gonzalez plans to live on campus during his freshman year. Another thing that will help him through his first year away from home: his older brother, Chris, who is also going to Wichita State to major in optometry. Reyes-Gonzalez doesn’t think he had an influence on his brother choosing that major. 

He will graduate from KSSB today, May 11. As Reyes-Gonzalez inches closer to this next milestone in his life, he said one thing he’ll miss the most about the school is the comforting environment and close connections. 

“I initially wasn’t very happy about being here. I was very hesitant about it,” he said. “I’ve been saying this lately a lot, this is very surreal that I’m graduating. I used to dread coming here, and now I’m going to dread leaving here. It’s been a ride.” 

Posted: May 11, 2023,
Comments: 0,
Author: Ann Bush
Tags: KSSB

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