With her mom following behind her, freshman Meg Shermer walks into her bedroom but doesn’t turn on the lights. An orange sunset creeps through the blinds.
“Turn on the light, babe,” her mom said.
Meg sighed. “See, that’s my problem.”
For Meg, her problem isn’t that she can’t see whether the lights are on or off, it’s that she forgets that everybody else can.
It’s her world. In some ways, her world is different from yours. People ask her if what she sees is black, but she doesn’t know what black looks like. She’s gone from a six-year-old orphan in China who could see little light to a cat-feeding daughter in a family of six who can see past being blind.
Now she can touch her no-fear motto refrigerator magnet with the plan of living it out:
“Do one thing that scares you every day.”
In other ways, her world is just the same. She wears Star Wars Vans and graphic tees, watches Rhett and Link YouTube videos and solemnly swears she’s up to no good – at least, that’s what her Harry Potter necklace says. She’s not a visually impaired girl; she’s a 15-year-old girl that happens to be visually impaired.
Ask her mom how she handles her disability?
“Meg, do you have a disability?” Aundrayah asked.
“Wait, do I?” Meg laughed.
To her family, she doesn’t.
Meg folds laundry, keeps her side of the bathroom clean and dries the dishes. She wakes herself up at 5:40 a.m. and takes a shower. Then she enters the kitchen for breakfast, which to Meg, is where things can get tricky.
She shakes a bag of Tostitos to determine what type of chips she’s holding, then smells it.
“All chip bags are the same,” Meg said with a laugh.
The bottom shelf of the refrigerator, Meg’s shelf, is filled with 2-liters because Meg loves soda; not because of the suds and caffeine, but because she can tell which bottles are which from their shape.
“This one I know is Coke,” Meg said feeling the bottle. “And I know which is Sprite and Dr. Pepper.”
Sensory recognition is something the district’s orientation and mobility teacher, Mark Craig, has introduced to Meg. Since seventh grade, she’s worked with Craig in order to travel independently and use landmarks to gauge her locations.
Landmarks – recognizable smells, sounds or feelings – help Meg to know where she is. On campus, the smell of espresso tells her she’s nearing the coffee shop, the sound of vending machines tells her she’s by the nurse’s office and sweat means the gym. She listens for echoes in hallways to determine where she is.
“Call me Bat Girl, but in a way, I use echolocation,” Meg said.
In a 6A school, she has to weave her way through 1750 students in the halls, but the size never worried Aundrayah or Meg; Craig taught Meg to slide her cane across the width of her body to navigate all five floors. She’s just another student in the halls.
“I wasn’t worried about [the size of East] at all,” Aundrayah said. “The bigger [the school is], the more real life it is. You get to meet a lot more people [and have] a lot more experiences.”
When she walks, Meg prods the air in front of her, inching her black cane forward. And when she’s lost, she feels the braille room numbers outside of classrooms, or she has a little help.
“English class is right here, Meg,” a classmate said as Meg searched for her room.
Meg uses the stairs instead of elevator and changes direction when she runs into something or someone. She’s one of the best students Craig’s ever had.
“You make it look so easy, Meg,” Craig said.
Like cane travel, academics come easy to Meg. Because braille type is so much larger than standard Times New Roman, Meg’s assignments are pre-made into large, white papers by East’s braillist Christine Keller. Because of this, Meg often sits at the front of the room in a table rather than a desk. She reads a front and back page of braille, her classmates read one paragraph on their laptops.
But to Meg, that might be the only thing that sets her apart from her classes. When the teacher calls roll, her face follows the sound and exclaims “Here!” as loud as any other student.
Although she says her workload takes twice the amount of time of other students, she’s never scored anything lower than a B in Algebra. Keller and Aundrayah helps her understand geometry, but aside from that, Meg finishes her homework by herself.
“Sometimes I help [Meg], but really she helps me with everything. I don’t think I help you too much, do I?” Aundrayah asked.
“No, not much,” Meg said.
Aundrayah hammered this mindset into Meg, that she is just like everyone else, because she knows the life of visual impairment well. Her brother and both of her parents were blind — prompting her and her husband, Rob, to adopt a visually impaired child.
Because of this, she knows to treat Meg like her other children. For Christmas, Aundrayah recorded her voice reading a Star Wars book and gave her a Darth Vader action figure. Meg’s sister got a Polaroid camera and her brothers got socks. Meg’s room is lined with figurines of Yoda and her comforter is covered with stormtroopers and Obi Wan Kenobi. If she could see for a day, she would watch every Star Wars movie.
It’s these things Meg wishes she could see, and her early childhood was the closest she’s ever been to that.
Distant memories from China are filled with slight color and light perception, but by age six she was fully blind. Aundrayah and her husband spent two and a half weeks in Kunming, China to adopt Meg when she was six.
“We saw her picture – there were hundreds of [pictures of orphans] – and we were like ‘That’s her,” Aundrayah said.
The Shermers brought Meg back to Ozark, Mo. There, she connected with two girls who were also visually impaired and adopted from China. But before middle school, they moved to the SMSD for more extensive vision services. Meg doesn’t have those connections here.
“I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t have many friends,” Meg admits.
Even though she’s lacking teenage friendships, Meg has her family to make sure she leads a normal and happy life – she doesn’t need a lot of friends. She swims year-round in their apartment complex’s indoor pool, sleeps in on Saturday mornings and goes out to eat with her family at Sawa’s Old Warsaw.
“She’s just like anyone else,” Aundrayah said.
And she will be for the rest of her life. She plans to attend college after high school and maybe pursue occupational therapy. Maybe she’ll fall in love and raise a family, but then again, maybe she won’t.
“Whatever happens, happens,” Meg said. “Of course [being blind] affects me, but I feel like I have a normal life. I’m not scared of my future in any way.”