Woman loses eyesight but not her focus on completing education
Despite suddenly losing her eyesight six years ago, Tekesha Saffold stayed focused on completing her college education, and now she also wants to help others.
The Riviera Beach woman and 2000 Suncoast High School graduate was working two jobs, caring for her daughter, and finally set to attend a local private university in fall 2008 when her vision became sporadically blurry. “There was no warning,’’ she said. “I thought I needed to wear my glasses more.”
But after visiting multiple doctors, she learned that her ailment was more serious. Macular degeneration, an incurable eye disease, stripped her of her vision, surprising even some doctors who she said told her that the condition normally impacts older adults. “I watched it diminish from me being able to see the TV a little to nothing at all,’’ said Saffold, who was 26. “It rapidly happened within a couple of weeks.”
Saffold, now 32, went through a brief period of depression, but then a relative told her about the Division of Blind Services. She was referred to Lighthouse for the Blind, where she began learning braille and receiving technology training, mobility instruction and home management. The skills gave her the courage and confidence she needed to enroll in Palm Beach State College in January 2013, but with new goals.
Instead of pursuing a business career, she now wants to become a vocational rehabilitation counselor to help others who are blind or visually impaired. She will graduate from PBSC Dec. 19 with her Associate in Arts degree. She plans to transfer to Florida Atlantic University in the summer to complete her bachelor’s degree in social work and eventually a master’s degree.
She said the Division of Blind Services along with the services offered through Palm Beach State’s Disability Support Services and Student Learning Center helped her make the transition to college and persevere in her studies.
“I used to walk to the bus stop and catch the city bus to school,’’ she said of her experiences her first semester at the PBSC Palm Beach Gardens campus. “I knew how to use a computer. My mobility instructor showed me how to get to my four classes. I had to memorize that route. I had to try to memorize a lot of the information.”
She said she also utilized the Student Learning Center to get tutoring in math and English. She recorded lectures in her classes and listened to them again at home. The JAWS —Job Access With Speech— screen reader allowed her to navigate computer programs. She also uses an app to download books on her tablet and have them read to her.
“I pretty much have learned how to get around the campus. There is always someone who asks if I need any help,’’ she said.
“It’s challenging when you’re determined to make good grades, not just pass your classes. I’m an older student, so I’m taking my time to concentrate on things I need to concentrate on,’’ she said. “I’ve had the best experience at Palm Beach State. It has helped my growth and my confidence. It showed me that even though I may be blind, I’m still able to come to school. I’m just like any other student. I don’t want to be labeled as blind. I feel like I’ve overcome those barriers.”
Saffold said she is looking forward to crossing the stage to get her degree. Her daughter, who is a senior at Palm Beach Gardens High School, will be in the audience, along with Saffold’s dad and other family. “I’m trying to move out of her way so she can come to Palm Beach State,’’ Saffold chuckled. “She has to be at the graduation. I’m going to be happy to know that I’ve come this far. I’ve had some challenging times.”
She said her father always told her to ‘keep your eye on the ball.’ “When you focus on what you really want to do in life, at some point you will get the rewards from any sacrifices you’ve had to make to get to that point. I am able to graduate within two years because I kept my eye on the ball.”