Mason junior won't let disability cloud her vision

Veronica Lewis, a junior information technology major, has become an advocate for fellow people with low vision through her blog "Veronica With Four Eyes." Photo by Evan Cantwell.

Veronica Lewis dressed as a bat for Halloween this year, which was more about her sense of humor than any fashion statement.

Lewis, a junior information technology major at George Mason University, has low vision. Specifically, she has blurry double vision, limited peripheral vision and no depth perception, none of which can be corrected by glasses.

So dressing as a bat seemed perfectly appropriate to Lewis because, as she said with a laugh, “I’m blind as a bat.”

That’s Lewis for you, completely at ease with her situation, determined not to let it hold her back, and an advocate for the vision impaired through her blog “Veronica With Four Eyes,” which has readers worldwide and is chock full of suggestions and tips to help those who live with the disability.

When Microsoft found out Lewis uses the accessibility capabilities in their products to help her in the classroom, they featured her in a video. (See it here.)

“She has that dedication and focus in her life that I don’t think anything can stop her,” George Mason professor Kim Avila said. “She really has drive and ambition.”

“She’s just fearless,” said Veronica’s mom, Annmarie, who earned a master’s degree in taxation from Mason in 1996. “She gets upset if somebody tries to hold her back or tells her she can’t do something.”

Lewis, who uses a cane to help her navigate when she walks, has accommodative esotropia, which refers to eye crossing. She also has Chiari malformation, a brain condition in which the cerebellum extends into the upper spinal canal, causing widespread head and neck pain, migraines, blurred vision, and many other symptoms.

She is the only member of her family with low vision.

Lewis plans to pursue a master’s degree in assistive technology at Mason. She will be one of the first Mason students with a minor in the relatively new program.

The university has been helpful in providing classroom accommodations, Lewis said. She is allowed to use whatever assistive technology she desires, has received electronic books from Mason’s Assistive Technology Initiative, and receives large-print documents from her professors to make reading easier.

“Your disability accommodations should come naturally, and Mason has made it that way,” she said.

Mason also has provided Lewis a way to give back. Avila, who runs Mason’s Visual Impairment Consortium, which prepares teaching students to work with visually impaired and blind students, hosts Lewis as a guest lecturer.

Lewis also has done instructional webinars for K-12 students through Accessible Instructional Materials for Virginia (AIM-VA), a service of the Virginia Department of Education through a grant to Mason’s Helen A. Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities. AIM-VA provided Lewis large-print textbooks while she was in high school.

“My goal is to empower people,” Lewis said. “I want them to realize low vision and blindness shouldn’t be a death sentence. You can do anything a sighted person can do.”

She said she wants one day to create the technology to help those with low vision and blindness have the same educational opportunities as any other student.

“I admire her push and determination,” said Cindy George, Veronica’s assistive technology instructor. “She wants to make a difference, and she is going to.”