Education

May 16, 2012 8:54 PM by Andy Koen

Learning without limits: blind graduate's incredible journey

Terry Garrett isn't the type of person who puts many limits on himself. When he's not studying, the 24-year-old UCCS engineering student competes in triathlons, trains for his black belt in Karate, and even climbed Machu Picchu and Kilimanjaro a few summers ago.

Yet something as simple as watching Terry play video games is remarkable. That's because he's completely blind.

"The sound is so dynamic that you can tell if there something in front of you, behind you to your right or your left, how far, if it's far away if it's close," Terry explains.

Sure, it takes longer to learn the level, but that relentlessness has served Terry well in life. He credits his parents for helping instill in him a never-say-die attitude early in life growing up in rural Fort Lupton.

"I still had to go out and feed the calves, I still had to go out and do that," Terry said. "My parents still treated me like I was normal; they weren't going to shelter me and keep me in side and say oh my poor blind child."

He and his twin brother were both born with cataracts, but the disease was more severe for Terry. After numerous surgeries and treatments as a child to try and save his vision, blindness finally came. Terry says he felt relieved.

"Yes it was sad, but I was thinking no more eye doctor visits and no more surgeries."

In middle school he enrolled at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in Colorado Springs. It was here that Terry says he met astronomy and physics instructor Ben Wentworth who encouraged him to reach for the stars.

"He took tactual stars and put them on the inside of domed tents that they use on like climbs of Everest and in that fashion made a tactual planetarium of the four different seasons."

Terry's life ambition is to someday become the world first blind astronaut, and his six year pursuit of a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering is part of plan. He recognizes that most astronauts are pilots, but even more are engineers.

"I have to figure out some way, how can a blind person be an asset to a project or an area of research for the space program."

His education came with its share of challenges. For example, his computer-based audio translator can read lessons to him but can't relay the information of single chart or graph. So, Terry worked with his professors to trace the images onto sheets of thick aluminum foil. The pen marks left a raised impression in the foil that Terry could feel.

When he graduates on Friday, Terry will have a job waiting for him as a software engineer with Northrop Grumman at their Aurora campus. He hopes that others in our community, both blind and sighted, can learn from him that the biggest limits in life are those that we place on ourselves.

"You can motivate, you can support you can inspire but self determination comes from the heart and the mind."

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