At age 10, Ryan Fernandez realized he could no longer see on the baseball field. He was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, which causes degeneration of the central visual field. Ryan explains that what he can see 20 feet away is what someone with good vision can see at 250 feet away. He cannot see detail with his central vision. “I typically use my peripheral vision to look at things directly in front of me,” Ryan says.
He went through mainstream K-12 education with accommodations, but initial resistance from a ninth-grade teacher aroused his interest in becoming a disability rights attorney. While earning a criminal justice degree from California State University, Chico, he completed many internships in the law. “Then I got to McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento,” Ryan remembers. “That first week, I had a decrease in vision.” An eye doctor explained that the extensive reading required by law school was straining his vision… and it would not get better.
“It was a hard decision to make after seven years of wanting to be a lawyer,” Ryan says. “But I knew there were other ways to help people.” He withdrew. At home, he began researching alternative careers and learned about the field of vision rehabilitation. He contacted the Department of Rehabilitation, which put him in touch with Rob Schulenberg, Wayfinder’s director of Transition Services for teenagers and young adults with vision loss.
“I needed to get experience in this field,” Ryan says. Rob offered Ryan an internship in Transition Services. “I could not be more grateful for the experience at Wayfinder,” he says. “It confirmed that this is what I want to do.”
Now age 23, Ryan is pursuing a master’s in vision rehabilitation therapy at Western Michigan University. “I feel ridiculously happy to be in school,” Ryan says. “Wayfinder helped lead me here.”
December 18, 2018