Blinded by a roadside bomb in Mahmudiyah, Iraq on August 22, 2004, retired Marine Michael Jernigan is now thriving in college and speaking out for veteran wounded warriors hoping to rekindle their education. At RFB&D's Access and Achievement Roundtable in Washington, D.C. earlier this year, he shared some personal thoughts on independence vis a vis his educational path.
"What is independence? You know, I was always a pretty independent person. I've only been blind for about five-and-a-half years now, and it wasn’t a club I really wanted to join. Back in 2004 when I was in the hospital bed, I thought my life was completely over. I didn’t think I would be able to do anything on my own. I was scared to go outside, afraid to get hit by a car in the parking lot. But since then, I have learned independence, learned to live on my own, and learned to go back to school.
"What is independence? It’s the freedom to do what you want, when you want. I should be able to do everything that anyone else does. And I think this really plays into education – but that becomes difficult in certain ways when it comes to accessing information.
"To be truly independent in an academic sense, we need to be able to get what we need as quickly as walking into the library. The Audio Access on the RFB&D website is wonderful. I was able to download Moby Dick in like five minutes. It then took me about that long to realize that I didn’t want to read the book (laughter), but you know, this type of access to information helps create independence. It helps us as students not feel like we’re racing or behind the eight-ball from the very beginning, and that’s the type of accessibility that we need – so that we can feel as independent as the other students in the classroom.
"The technology that’s out there, some of it’s easy to use, and some is difficult to use. Some of the text-to-speech software is not always the best; it all has to do with the scans and book files from the publishers and stuff like that. A lot of times, you wind up with a garbled mess in the middle of a chapter. On the other hand, RFB&D works very well; it’s got a human voice which is wonderful to hear instead of a robotic synthesized voice.
Being able to read things over and over again is good for me.
"RFB&D allows me better access to materials when I'm at school, and allows me to work at my own pace. I think that’s the part of independence that I’d like to stress: it’s at my pace. It allows me to sit in my house and read where and when I prefer to read. I don’t have to schedule time with a reader at the school. When you schedule time with a reader, you know you only have a certain amount of time. What happens when you go home, and now you need to study and don’t have that reader next to you?
"But now I can go back to that chapter of the section and take out that information when I'm writing a research paper. I can get my quotations down; I can reference things and do it properly, the way it’s supposed to be done. And I love the speed function; you can speed things up and get through material quickly if you just need to scan over it, or you can read it slowly over and over again. Being able to read things over and over again is good for me. And all of this plays into independence for me."
Editor's note: Readers are encouraged to visit HOME FIRES
, a blog at The New York Times where Mike Jernigan has contributed an extraordinary series of essays about his personal experiences.