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The Blue & Gray Press | February 23, 2018

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Transfer Student Opens Up, Finds Unity on Campus

By RIVES KUHAR

Matthew Lunsford enjoys writing poetry and gazing at the campus’ architecture, but once he takes off his glasses, the world seems far away. Diagnosed at birth, Lunsford is legally blind.
Lunsford, a junior and English major focused on creative writing, grew up with constant ridicule from fellow classmates. After being pushed, kicked, bitten and spat on, Lunsford found the strength to disregard the hatred, though it left him shy about his disability.
“When I was growing up, I was always treated very poorly in school. So, I guess I’ve always wanted to try to hide [from] people the fact that I can’t see,” Lunsford said. “I just told myself that they were wrong, I guess you could say, and just went about my day despite their aggressiveness.”
According to Lunsford, a lot of people wrongly assume that he can’t see at all. Although he has limited peripheral vision, Lunsford can see all colors. When wearing his glasses or specially made contacts, he can see whatever is directly in front of him, but not what is to the sides, above or below him.
Despite Lunsford’s difficulty with reading small text, he uses a computer, texts on his cell phone and reads books on a Kindle simply by enlarging the font size on each screen.
When it comes to eating out, Lunsford memorizes the menus online to avoid the small or faraway text on menus.
“If there’s one thing I wanted to teach everyone, it would be that people with disabilities⎯we do the same things as everyone else, just in a different way,” Lunsford said.
Lunsford’s hindered sight comes with an advantage: he hears everything around him better than normal. This is why Lunsford enjoys playing and listening to music; no note escapes his ears. After playing the violin for six months, he now hopes to start lessons on the piano next semester.
“Hearing better allows me to know exactly what note I’m playing without having to look at the fingerboard to see where my fingers are,” Lunsford said.
The Virginia Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired is teaching Lunsford how to read Braille and use a white cane. The cane, which helps Lunsford move around by locating objects and signaling to people that he cannot see, is taking time to get used to.
“I’m not used to having something signaling to the world that I can’t see. I’m used to being completely independent,” Lunsford said. After transferring from Germanna Community College this semester, Lunsford has noticed himself opening up about his disability.
“I guess it’s the environment⎯the unity that this university provides. [UMW] allows people to be themselves, come out of their shells,” Lunsford said.