Born legally blind, Aaron Ross began working toward a degree at Western Nevada College more than a decade ago.
With assistance of WNC’s Disability Support Services office, Ross’ dream of graduating with an Associate of Arts degree will come true Monday during WNC’s Commencement Ceremony at Marv Teixeira Pavilion.
“It will mean the greatest achievement in my life,” the Carson City resident said. “I’ll talk about it for years to come. I’ll have my cap and gown that I can show off to everybody.”
Ross was born with retinopathy of prematurity, a disease causing detachment of the retinae. Doctors tried to reattach them, but the surgery was unsuccessful, leaving Ross blind.
Fortunately, there has been plenty of support from Aaron’s parents, Rick and Jacqi. By the time he entered the first grade, Ross also received the support of Carol Ewing, also blind, who helped him become familiar with Braille. Ross went on to graduate from Douglas High School.
Susan Trist started working at WNC at nearly the same time that Ross enrolled. The program director for Disability Support Services has been instrumental in Ross’ progress.
“One of the greatest challenges for our department was the timely delivery of accessible materials for Aaron,” Trist said. “As soon as he would register for the next semester, we would be in contact with his instructor to determine what textbooks would be used for that particular course. Braille conversion is a time-consuming process — the sooner we deliver materials to the vendor, the better, to allow them time to convert the content and ensure timely delivery of materials.”
DSS also provided textbooks and materials in audio and course materials in electronic Word/PDF documents.
Ross has preferred classes in person “because of the benefits of verbal interactions with instructors and classmates,” according to Trist. He also used a tape recorder to record lectures and his Pac Mate device to record information. Trist said Ross has a screen-reading program called JAWS on his home computer to provide text-to-speech access. He can also convert text to speech on his iPhone.
There are times, however, when Ross needs more assistance.
“For his science courses, we provided a classroom aide to verbally describe content that was presented visually,” Trist said. “For example, in Dr. Winnie Kortemeier’s Geology and Geography classes, the aide would describe maps, charts, colors, rocks, minerals, or graphs, etc. Hope Braille, a full-service braille production company in Reno, would create content from the textbooks — maps, charts, and pictures labeled with Braille — so that he could ‘see’ (feel) the images.”
DSS staff met his Uber rides or bus driver in the parking lot to help him make it to class safely. Staff members have also delivered his accessible textbooks to his apartment and workplace.
DSS’s devotion — in particular Trist’s — to his higher education goal isn’t lost on Ross.
“She’s meant a lot to me,” he said. “She’s provided me with everything I’ve needed to complete my classes. If I could recommend her to anyone with a disability, I’d recommend her in a heartbeat. Whatever needs to be done, she can get it done.”
Ross’ commitment to his employer — Western Nevada Supply — has limited his semester course load to one or two classes. He works six hours a day answering phones.
“I’ve made friends and developed lifelong friendships over the years,” Ross said about his 16-year employment at Western Nevada Supply.
Ross’ next goal is becoming a paraprofessional (teacher’s aide).
“You can’t put words to it,” said his father, Rick, who Ross has entrusted to guide him across the commencement stage. “My wife will be crying and so will I. Whatever he has done over past years while working is nothing short of incredible. What he does in a day to get by and improve himself, I can’t do in a month. He’s a pretty special person, and we’re lucky to be his parents.”
To learn more about Disability and Support Services, contact Trist at 775-445-4459 or email@example.com.