March 4, 1988
by Jan Waldron
Alumni profile: Blind grad tackles challenges
Imagine going through a typical day with your eyes closed. Imagine showering, getting dressed, eating, and going to school without even a peek at the world around you.
Imagine walking through the halls, finding your seat, figuring out a way to remember the information you will need for the next test.
Imagine going to an after-school activity, like wrestling, and competing against people with their eyes opened. Then imagine going home to do your homework, still with your eyes closed.
This is the challenge Bob DeYoung, a 1976 Maine South grad, has had to face every day since early childhood. Bob has been blind since the age of seven, due to a medical procedure attempting to cure retinal blastoma, a form of cancer of the eye.
Never one to give in to a disability,Bob found a way not only to graduate on time from Maine South, but to continue his education after high school. He currently holds a bachelor of science degree in biology from Augustana College, and he is now living alone in an apartment in Uptown, working on his Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Illinois medical school in Chicago. He also does volunteer work for the disadvantaged, such as helping out in Uptown's soup kitchens.
On Friday, February 19, Mr. Bill Drennan's freshman English class welcomed Bob back to Maine South to speak about what it was like for him as a student at South.
While a student here, Bob was on the wrestling team, and he explained that coach Tom Zimek used him as a "demonstration dummy," and that was how he learned the moves. To condition, he would run laps with a partner, holding a towel or gym shirt between them, and he would have to trust his partner to warn him of obstacles or dangers. In competition, when a blind person is involved, the competitors in a neutral position must maintain physical contact. As it happened, though, contact was often broken, and the referee never called Bob's opponent for the violation. Still, his wrestling training at Maine South paid off, for he went on to wrestle for Augustana, and he became National Blind Olympic wrestling champion.
When asked about the problems of walking through the halls of school, Bob said, "I didn't perceive it as hard. The big danger was high school girls, who walk in groups of no less than five, and usually ten or more. I had crashmates as well as classmates."
And yes, he had to use Warriner's, too--22 volumes of it. "Braille is very bulky." In high school he used the usual texts, in Braille, but in college and in graduate school he used tapes of books and had readers. Talking computers have made things easier for him, though he does not like to depend too heavily ton too much advanced technology, such as talking clocks. His wristwatch is in Braille. Although he once owned a seeing-eye dog, he now gets around on his own.
Living alone, Bob also does his own cooking, by time and texture, and he is proud of recently giving a homemade spaghetti dinner for eight. He doesn't mind asking waiters or store clerks for help, but he tries to shop with a sighted friend. He also asks for single dollar bills when he is given change, and when he knows he has a larger denomination, he folds it differently from a single to be able to tell them apart by touch.
Friends help when it comes to fashion, too. "It drives me crazy when fashions change," he jokes. "What do you mean brown and blue don['t go together? They used to go together! I depend on my friends, but how does a sighted person know about fashion? He asks his friends what looks good together. So do I."
On the subject of colors, Bob feels that he knows them through associations, such as red for apples, or for fire engines. He also links them with sounds, such as those from musical instruments. While some seem "thin," others are "heavy."
He is not certain whether the mental images he "sees" are recollections from the first seven years of his life when he was sighted, or if they are imaginary images. "I have no way of knowing how accurate they are since I can't remind myself of how something looks every now and then."
While Bob's success may seem amazing, it doesn't to him, for he refuses to think of his sightlessness as a handicap. "I don't mind people asking,"how do you do that?' but when they assume that I can't do something because I can't see -- they are the hard ones to deal with. It's hard to keep patience and try to educate people."