Whitworth junior Ben King sees much more than this.
As a Young Life leader, King visits routinely the hallways of
Mt. Spokane High School. But rather than seeing with his eyes, King says he sees with his soul. King, who has been blind since birth, believes his blindness is a gift, particularly in Young Life ministry.
"I'm able to sense how kids are treating one another," King says. "I'm able to see someone's heart: I can see the words they use, how they act, how they treat others, and most importantly, how they treat me."
King says he is happy with what he sees at Whitworth. He finds students understanding, professors caring, and classes stimulating. Still, his life is not without challenges.
To accommodate for his sensory loss, King uses textbooks on CDs or in Braille. He brings a tape recorder to every class to take notes, and he takes exams orally. When his classmates give group presentations, they are asked to provide materials in a format that King can use.
Before school starts every year, King visits campus and memorizes the location and interior layout of his classrooms, which are located strategically in buildings surrounding The Loop. He uses a cane to guide him as he walks.
Other than these differences, King feels he's a pretty normal student who fits in.
"My blindness doesn't define me," King says. "I feel like people at Whitworth know how to relate to people who are blind, to people who are deaf, to people with special needs in general. I can't think of a way that people here could do better."
King says he experiences learning differently. For example, as a history major King often visits battlefields and historic sites. When visiting these sites he relies on touch, sound and imagination to help him visualize what others can see.
"Because I listen, I get a much clearer picture than just by seeing something. For instance, when gunshots are going off, pictures form in my mind of soldiers firing at one another and generals yelling at their soldiers to keep moving forward," King says. "I think I have a more active imagination than other people do. But then, we all have different gifts."
King says he wouldn't change his condition if he had the chance.
"Sometimes we get so caught up in what people wear, what they look like, what kinds of cars they drive, that we don't see the more important things," King says. "We don't see what kind of people they really are inside. If I were able to see again, I'd be able to drive and do things like that, but I wouldn't be able to see someone's soul or heart."
King believes his blindness is an asset.
"I choose to look at my blindness as an opportunity and a challenge," King says. "Each day I thank God for the sun, for living, for giving me a family who loves me. I pray to God that He can use me, that He can make my blindness a gift to others."
As a freshman, Chris Lynn never found his residence hall too noisy. Then again, he's a little different.
|Whitworth student Chris Lynn, who is earning a B.S. degree through the Intercollegiate College of Nursing, adjusts an intravenous line during a lab class. After he completes the program in 2008, Lynn plans to work in critical-care pediatrics at a Portland-area hospital.
"I can just turn my ears off," Lynn says. "People can talk as much as they want when my hearing aids are off and it doesn't matter to me; I can study absolutely anywhere."
Lynn has profound hearing loss as a result of a genetic condition. Profound hearing loss is characterized by an inability to hear sounds quieter than 95 decibels. A lawnmower operates at 90 decibels; a typical conversation is about 60 decibels.
"I'm close to being stone deaf," Lynn says with a laugh.
Lynn was diagnosed at age three after his parents realized he wasn't responding to noises. Doctors and educators urged his parents to enroll him in a school for the deaf, but his parents wanted him educated in mainstream classes. Lynn learned to lip-read and says he can communicate as long as the speaker is looking at him.
Lynn communicates so well that in elementary school, he didn't notice that he was different from anyone else. This changed in junior high and high school, however.
"I noticed that people weren't talking to me as much," Lynn says. "People around that age range tend to have a hard time dealing with others who are different; people generally avoided me."
Others were outright cruel, Lynn says.
"There were kids who would interpose one word that sounded like another. Someone would ask me ‘Hi, are you okay?' or ‘Hi, are you gay?' and I was so confused by that, I'd give them the wrong answer at times," Lynn says. "That was annoying, because lip-reading isn't 100 percent accurate. It bugged me that they'd take advantage of me like that."
Inexperienced teachers also weren't sure how to respond to a deaf student.
"I didn't get called on a whole lot," Lynn says. "I wish I would have been able to participate more in classroom discussions. In college, people are a lot more accepting and more willing to communicate with me. Still, I think a better understanding would be helpful."
Lynn would like others to understand that group conversations can be difficult for him.
"Hearing aids pick up everything – they're not selective like natural hearing is," Lynn says. "Conversations move so fast in large groups that it's hard for me to keep up, so I end up being invisible."
Lynn has learned to accommodate by watching for nonverbal cues, which he believes can reveal more about people than what they're saying.
"I try to listen not just with my ears, but also from the heart," Lynn says. "I gain a sense of who people are and what they're telling me."
Lynn brought a unique perspective to his interpersonal-communications class last fall, according to Professor of Communication Studies Ron Pyle. On the first day of class, Pyle had students write descriptions of themselves that he put on a grid for the class to see. Lynn wrote "I listen with my heart."
"I've been thinking a lot about that," Pyle says. "Chris is a good reminder that difference isn't deficiency, that students don't all need to be alike to be a productive part of the class."
Despite the challenges of being deaf, Lynn views his hearing loss as a gift that he wouldn't change.
"You can ask just about any person who has a disability or some affliction, and at least once they're going to say ‘Why me?' But I've come to embrace it and go forward," Lynn says. "God has a plan for everybody. If He made me this way, then there's a reason for it. I may not know what it is, but I do know that I will try to lead my life the way He wants me to."