Lighthouse Guild Boosts Blind Students with Scholarship Initiative

Lighthouse Guild for the visually impaired announces the 16 students receiving the $10,000 scholarship in an effort to level the playing field for higher education.

| 10 Jun 2024 | 11:49

Nothing used to set Jack Lamson apart from anybody else. Going into his junior year, his life was incredibly normal. He was learning to drive, overloading on AP classes and training for the New York State high school wrestling tournament.

But when Jack first picked up his car keys, he realized he could not see the road sign ahead of him in one of his eyes. From there, his vision began to slip away. He was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition that ultimately spread to both eyes.

“At a time when other sixteen-year-olds were gaining more independence it felt like mine was being ripped away,” he said. “The things I used to do seemed done — forever — along with any dreams I had for my future. It felt like my world was over.”

When she was six years old, Lynn Wu’s doctors found that she was blind in her left eye. Further tests discovered the cause to be a brain tumor.

In order to save the other remaining parts of her brain, Lynn went into surgery to partially remove the tumor. No one expected the operation would result in her completely losing her vision.

“Everything was the same, but I was different,” she said. “The physical world I once knew disappeared.”

In 2005, Lighthouse Guild, a social services organization for the visually impaired headquartered at 250 W. 64th Street, started their Scholarship Program for students who are legally blind. The Program has awarded over $2.8 million to nurses, attorneys, engineers and musicians from all over the country.

“We have a world that is built primarily by people who are sighted, and designed for people who are sighted,” said Dr. Calvin Roberts, the president and CEO of Lighthouse Guild. “We want our students that are visually impaired to compete on a level playing field with their sighted peers.”

Jack and Lynn have both received $10,000 towards their higher education goals from the Lighthouse Guild Scholarship Program.

Roberts explained that this money helps numerous students every year combat the barriers that inhibit academic success for the blind community. There are still universities unable to offer the proper resources to ensure these students are not left behind, he said.

“If people who are visually impaired can use technology with the same facility as people who are sighted, then there should not be any limitation to what they can do either personally or professionally,” he said. “We just want to make sure that those few financial barriers aren’t keeping these students from attaining their goals.”

For Jack, losing his sight put tension on his academic goals. He had trouble communicating his needs to his teachers and classmates, because he barely had a grasp on what was going on himself.

“Before this, the goals I had set for myself were ambitious even for a person with perfect eyesight,” he said. “Forget academic success— how will I read? Wrestling was my passion— how could I compete if I cannot see?”

It took Lynn years, including switching school districts, to finally adjust to losing immediate access to reading and writing. She struggled with a lack of resources, fighting for her right to learn Braille, which— contrary to popular belief, she said— is not an automatic right for every student in her situation.

“You have schoolwork like everyone else, but then on top of that, you also have to advocate for yourself,” she said. “It’s just a lot on disabled students’ plates to do on a daily basis.”

But through hard work and the support from others, they both said, anything can happen.

In his 2022-2023 wrestling season, Jack placed eighth in the state. During his last year of high school, he placed third.

“As awful as it’s been, it has made me so much stronger,” Jack said. “I would never be able to say that I’m as strong and as capable as I am right now if I hadn’t gone through everything that I have.”

Jack graduated this year from Cato-Meridian Junior-Senior High School in Cato, NY. He will be attending Rochester Institute of Technology in the fall, studying applied statistics and data analytics and continuing wrestling.

“Living with impaired vision will likely be different in college than it was for me in high school,” he said. “I am learning to advocate for my own needs and accommodations that lessen the barriers to my educational and personal goals. This [scholarship] is an example of that.”

Lynn hopes to make the world a better and more accessible place for people like her. She will be attending Stanford University in the fall, using her scholarship to alleviate some of the financial burden her disability can create for her family. Certain Braille textbooks can sometimes cost upwards of $60,000, she said.

“The Lighthouse Guild truly means the world to me because it allows me to pursue my passion and dreams in college of inventing software and devices to empower different disadvantaged communities around the world,” she said.

Jack said he used to worry about silly things, like turning in an assignment a couple minutes late. In just under two years, he feels he has grown so much as a person and as a student.

“If you put your mind to something, you can really do it, no matter the disability, no matter the obstacle,” he said. “You are not impaired the way that you think you are.”

“I would never be able to say that I’m as strong and as capable as I am right now if I hadn’t gone through everything that I have.” -Jack Lamson, 2024 Lighthouse Guild Scholarship Recipient