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A different view

Blind freshman learns to navigate new school
Samantha Haney
In AcLab, freshman Max Ottinger types his notes on a BrailleNote. SSD teacher Laura Beckhard reads to him from the textbook so he can transfer the notes.

“Max is like any other kid, he just can’t see,” Ed Ottinger, freshman Max Ottinger’s dad, said.

Max lost his vision due to a brain tumor cutting off blood pressure to his optic nerve when he was 9 years old.

“It was just dumb luck, like one in a million,” Ed said. “Nothing genetic or anything, just one of those things that could happen to anybody.”

Although Max has been blind for the past five years, he does the same things as most students at Lafayette, just with small adaptations. He’s currently taking Honors Geometry, which impresses his dad.

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“Max has a great memory, he memorizes ridiculous amounts of everything for every subject in the world,” Ed said. “He was doing advanced math in his head that I can’t even fathom. He kept doing all the different things in parenthesis and his teacher finally had to tell him to use Nemeth Code.”

Nemeth Code is a form of braille math, which includes each number and symbol made up of the six dots used in traditional braille. Along with using Nemeth Code, Max began learning braille when he first lost his vision, and still uses it today. His parents tried to learn it, but found that it wasn’t necessary.

“We tried to learn just enough to like write him a quick note or something but we don’t use it enough to keep up with it. He does alright on his own,” Ed said.

Whenever his assignments aren’t in braille, Max has them on his tablet in documents.

“I get [assignments] sent to me through Google Drive, and then I can open it in Word Processor, and that reads it to me,” Max said.

To navigate school, Max has a metal cane with a plastic tip and walks with a sighted guide, who helps him navigate around any obstacles he can’t see.

Ed said anyone can be a sighted guide, but Laura Beckhard, the SSD teacher who works with visually impaired students, set Max up with one specifically to help him get from class to class.

Home is a break for Max though, since he has navigated it for so long.

“I don’t really use my cane at home because I know my home so well. It’s so much smaller than a school so I [can] just feel around,” Max said.

However, when Max is at school or around friends, there are certain things students at Lafayette can do to help make things easier for Max.

“They could introduce themselves, say ‘hi Max, it’s Everett’,” Christy Ottinger, Max’s mom, said.

Although most of the time Max said his friends and classmates are good at that, his parents agree it can be helpful since he can’t always tell who’s sitting next to him at the lunch table or in class.

“I can recognize the important people’s voices,” Max said. “But if they’re just someone I run into occasionally at school, I can’t remember their voice unless it’s unusual.”

To help Max, his parents said the best thing students can do is walk around him in the hallway to help ensure he doesn’t run into anyone.

But above all, what his parents want people to know about Max is that he’s a normal kid, he just happens to be blind.

This story was originally published on The Lancer Feed on November 10, 2023.