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Blind to our halls

“Please know that while my struggles are unique to my disability, there are several other students with disabilities or impairments who face other problems when navigating the building.”
Hannah Kastrup
Senior Riley Tuzzio, who has a vision impairment, uses the elevator to reach upstairs classes.

Walking through the halls is something that everyone does throughout their day at school. For me and other students who suffer from disabilities and impairments though, it’s much more difficult for us to do so.

My name is Riley Tuzzio, and if you’re a student here at Papillion-La Vista South High School, there’s a high chance you’ve seen me throughout the halls, but I haven’t really seen you. I suffer from Retinal Dystrophy and as such have 20/1600 vision and extremely poor depth perception, leaving me almost completely blind. My vision impairment began in February 2022 and my vision worsened over the coming months. I’m now in my senior year, and since I’ve been at this school long enough with a disability, I’d like to talk about how it affects me as I go about the halls of the building. Please know that while my struggles are unique to my disability, there are several other students with disabilities or impairments who face other problems when navigating the building.

I have really bad light sensitivity, and so, even with sunglasses on, the fluorescent lights of the school hurt a lot. In order to prevent some of the pain, I often close my eyes completely and occasionally just squint a lot when I don’t need to use what sight I have left too much. I navigate through the world, including the walls of this building, using a white cane to help me know where I am and help me not run into anything. I stick close to a wall to make sure I know the path I need to take, along with being able to tell what type of flooring I’m on (carpet, tile, pavement, etc.) from the vibrations and feel the cane gives off. Utilizing my cane also comes with an added bonus of alerting people that I’m heading in their direction whenever the cane hits the wall. 

When it comes to getting to my classes, I share a couple with my sister Cloudia, and as such she guides me to the elevator once the bell rings, making it both a lot faster and easier to get to class. It’s a lot more uncommon for me to run into someone if I’m following someone who can actually see and guide me. She helps me get to the elevator for 3rd and 6th periods along with helping me out at lunch in the cafeteria, as it’s extremely difficult to navigate. When I don’t have the ability to rely on my sister, I still manage, as I’ve been here long enough to know the layout fully.

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Navigating throughout the halls can present another challenge depending on the weather. When it’s raining or snowing, everyone’s shoes track in some water, which makes the floor quite slippery, and so I have to walk slower than I already have to with my cane in order to not slip and fall. I’m just as cautious when there’s a possibility of ice outside. Though thankfully, when I’m outside, I’m with my sister, so if there’s any ice, she quite literally takes the fall for me.

It’s no surprise that I hear things. Yes, I’ve heard students mocking me or claiming that I’m not actually blind. It’s honestly really demoralizing to have my peers say such things about me when I’m just trying to get an education and overcome the obstacles associated with my disability. Trust me, being blind is not fun and you don’t really get anything “good” out of it.

I urge others to understand that blindness is not exclusive to not being able to see whatsoever. Blindness is a spectrum, of which anyone whose corrected vision is less than 20/200 falls under. I may have some sight left, but that doesn’t mean I’m not blind. It doesn’t help that, often, people don’t ask questions but instead make assumptions– and that doesn’t help anyone. If there’s a question you have about how someone does something, ask. It makes the situation much better for everyone.

When I’m going through the halls, please know that I don’t need help with things. If I do, I will ask for it. That being said, students standing around in the halls ends up being an issue I run into almost daily, so it helps when I can hear students talking, notice that their voices aren’t getting quieter or the same distance, and realize that they’re in front of me. I then have to attempt to navigate around them using their voices as a baseline, because I would rather do that than have to endure the sharp, stinging pain light causes me as much as I possibly can. 

On the way to my 3rd hour class, I used to bump into the same group of students standing in the halls. Recently though, that hasn’t been happening. I’ll hear them quietly tell each other to move, though I still hear it, and I’m able to get to my class perfectly fine. It helps a lot when students just go where they need to be and avoid the potential predicament entirely, or at least take steps to prevent issues that may arise, and I appreciate that.

I’m beginning to get sick and tired of the comments I hear about me as I simply go about my day– not for my sake, but for that of my sister. Every time I’m walking with her and something’s said, she wants to tell them to stop and that they don’t understand the situation. And that’s right, they don’t. But I don’t seek anger or violence from those who are ignorant of the situation. I’m hoping to provide a method of understanding for everyone, so they can recognize that not all disabilities or impairments look the same as they do on paper.  Despite the obstacles I face in what others would consider a minuscule task, I’m not seeking for help. If I’m in the halls, I know where I’m going. I’ve plotted the entire layout of the building in my head and don’t need assistance in my routines. 

Telling of my struggles is not to get people to prioritize the well-being of myself or any other student with disabilities or impairments over that of students who are enabled, but rather to be recognized – all of us and the problems we face and how our situations can cause things that may seem easy, for an enabled individual, to be difficult and result in trouble. If we ask for help, please offer it. If you have a question, ask it. Value us just as much as you’d value anyone else. In the end, those of us with disabilities or impairments are just trying to go about our day. In the end, we are all people.

Related coverage:

Students with disabilities and impairments speak up about hallway struggles

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About the Contributor
Riley Tuzzio, Staff Reporter
I'm Riley Tuzzio. I'm a Senior and almost completely blind with 20/1600 vision. I am passionate about advocating for those with disabilities and impairments and just improving awareness and understanding of them. I still can enjoy some forms of media though mostly auditory focused and like to promote accessibility throughout the world.
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Comments (4)

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  • C

    Cheryl GrayNov 15, 2023 at 11:32 pm

    This is a well written article. I am praying that every student at Papillion South reads this article. It is powerful and from the HEART. Those students who are ignorant and feel they are about others, put yourself in the shoes of a person with a disabilities. How would you feel? We are all a Child of God and He loves us know matter what.

  • D

    Dr. MusilNov 15, 2023 at 3:34 pm

    Thanks for sharing this, Riley. What a tremendous story. It pains me to learn there are still those who think it’s okay to poke fun at someone with a disability. However, it sounds like you have a positive attitude, and I hope you never lose that.

    All the best,
    Dr. Musil

  • J

    Jennie WelnaNov 13, 2023 at 9:05 pm

    I agree with Jim M. Thank you for sharing your story. Remember Our Lord walks along with you

  • J

    Jim MascarelloNov 12, 2023 at 3:39 pm PLSouthside Scroll Pick

    Very well said, Riley. You have overcome a terrible blow in your life and though you are still fighting it you refuse to give up. Keep strong and fight on.