Posted on February 5, 2013 by Linda Ruiter

Currently in his 3rd year of a Bachelor of Science with a major in economics, Jason Yuha exhibits a resiliency that few people can imagine: he is legally blind.

By Linda Ruiter, Specialized Support & Disability Services

YUHA 2Raised on a cattle and grain farm in the small community of Rosalind, Alberta, Jason Yuha is no stranger to hard work. From a very young age, Jason helped with the harvest, cattle, yard work and other chores. “There’s always something to do on the farm,” he says. He worked hard and played hard, participating in almost every sport he could, including baseball, golf, badminton, basketball, hockey, and volleyball.

Hockey was Jason’s passion, taking off in organized hockey at the age of five. A favourite childhood memory is winning an Oilers jersey in a draw at a local minor hockey tournament. Hockey is still his passion and today Jason plays center with the Killam Wheat Kings in the North East Alberta Junior B Hockey League. He’s known for his speed and skill with the puck. He loves to shoot top corner on goalies and always finishes among the top scorers on his team.

Jason’s academic performance reflects the work ethic instilled in him by his parents and the discipline he learned on the ice. He’s a self-professed perfectionist who hates to settle for anything “half-baked.” Currently in his 3rd year of a Bachelor of Science with a major in economics, Jason also exhibits a resiliency that few people can imagine: Jason is legally blind.

Born with inherited juvenile macular degeneration – Stargardt Macular Dystrophy – Jason began to lose his central vision in the primary grades. As with most people who have the disease, the onset of vision loss started in primary school and progressed gradually. Then, in junior high, his vision suddenly and rapidly declined. Everything in Jason’s central vision became blurry and he could no longer see the board or read standard print.

Enlargements allowed Jason to cope in junior high. In high school, he used a magnification device, a reader and extra time for exams, and a note taker in class. With perseverance he was able to attain honors in each year of high school.

The obvious next step was university. Jason’s older sister, who also has Stargardt’s disease, earned a teaching degree at the University of Alberta and has a successful teaching career. With his sister as a role model, Jason reckoned, “If she can do it, I can do it.”

Coming from schools in Rosalind and Bawlf, where virtually all of the students had grown up together and hung out socially, Jason was drawn to Augustana’s smaller campus. It also helped that it was close to home, enabling Jason to see his family and play hockey most weekends.

Like many first year students, Jason found the transition to the post-secondary environment difficult. Naturally shy and no longer surrounded by people who knew him well, he struggled somewhat with loneliness and was self-conscious about anything that might make him conspicuous. He worried about asking for help, afraid of being embarrassed.

The CCTV magnifies hard copy printAt Specialized Support and Disability Services (SSDS), arrangements were made for peer note takers and exam accommodations. Jason met with an SSDS Adaptive Technology expert who introduced him to ZoomText, software designed for persons who are partially sighted. His textbooks and other reading materials were scanned and converted into electronic text and formatted for ease of use with the software. Among other features, ZoomText enlarges and enhances everything on the computer screen, automatically reads aloud the icons that the mouse hovers over, and reads aloud the text of documents. In addition to ZoomText, SSDS was able to assist Jason in obtaining government funding for a new laptop, a 24 inch monitor, a scanner, a desktop CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) as well as a portable CCTV. The CCTV, a television/video camera combination, is used to magnify hard copy print.

There was a learning curve for Jason in accessing his new technology, but ultimately it helped to make the formidable work load more manageable and allowed Jason increasingly greater independence as a learner. “It still gets frustrating at times,” Jason says. Even with a reduced course load, the hours required to complete course readings can be exhausting.

In the first couple of years at Augustana, Jason laboured adrift, wondering where his degree would take him. Eventually, he focussed on economics. More recently he contemplates a major in management. Regardless, his rural roots are calling and Jason admits to a hunch that, after graduation, he’ll be back in Rosalind farming with his brother. It is clear he looks forward to being permanently back in the community amongst friends and family. His heart is in Rosalind, farming, hockey, country music, lake fishing and just being with his friends back home.

The hardest thing about being a university student for Jason was the stress of being on his own in an unfamiliar environment. At the same time he maintains that the independence he gained has been fun and exciting too. At Augustana he was initially loath to be conspicuous in any way, but he has learned to be more at ease and is now comfortable disclosing his eye condition. Jason considers it an honour to share his story and hopes that in doing so he might benefit someone else. His advice to other students: “Enjoy it; work hard, and have fun!”

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