My experience growing up, it was normalized. You lose vision, you lose hearing, so what? It's just a challenge, that's all it is. —Darran Zenger
SALT LAKE CITY — Darran Zenger and his guide dog, Archer, maneuver the University of Utah campus and the social work program with determination.
Zenger has Usher syndrome; born deaf, he wears cochlear implants. And his sight continues to deteriorate with retinitis pigmentosa.
But Zenger said he believes he knows exactly how to help others with disabilities.
"My experience growing up, it was normalized,” he said. “You lose vision, you lose hearing, so what? It's just a challenge, that's all it is."
Zenger is working to become a social worker, which involves a demanding list of classes, practicums and training, learning people skills and understanding government aid.
In his presentation to fellow students earlier this semester titled "Seeing Through Blindness," Zenger described one of his pet peeves: people who say, "You don't look blind."
“I mean, not to be rude or anything, but you don’t look stupid,” Zenger said, and his classmates laughed.
He said he understands who needs him. Twenty million people suffer from total blindness in the United States, the narrator in his presentation video says.
“Losing vision is a very traumatic experience for many people,” Zenger said.
When people become legally blind, he says, it affects their family relationships, their social life and their employment.
“For blind or visually impaired individuals, the unemployment rate, just in that population, is 70 to 75 percent,” he said.
Zenger's fellow classmates see him as not only a regular member of the group, but also, because of his disabilities, a little more caring than most.
Callie Tatum took notes for Zenger their first year in grad school. She says he was always more concerned about her.
"He's looking out for his individual peers,” Tatum said. “That's kind of a humbling, eye-opening moment to experience."
Mary Beth Fitzpatrick says Zenger never defines himself by his disabilities.
"He talks it and he walks it, so that 98 percent of the time I'm really not aware that there's anything crazier about him than the rest of us who are doing social work, you know?" Fitzpatrick said.
His professors say he speaks volumes just being who he is.
"Just the fact that there is a Darran, that will speak to the people he works with whether they're children or teens or grownups," professor David Derezotes said.
Zenger will receive his degree this spring and then hopes to deliver a message of possibilities and hope to families and individuals who need to hear from him.
"We can't change the world overnight, but we can change the world one person at a time,” he said.
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