SALT LAKE CITY — Kristen Cox has a unique vision for her children and for Utah.
The mother of two is the director of the Governor's Office of Management and Budget. She's also blind, but she's achieving goals that even those with 20/20 vision can't.
"Eyes are just one way to get information, and it's just being open to all the different ways to access information other than having to see it," Cox said. "Society can impose a lot of expectations on you. If you're blind, it's not like society thinks that's the coolest thing to be. If you're blind, there are some low expectations about what your life should be."
A genetic eye disorder slowly took her vision when she was 11 years old. Within a year, it was gone.
"It's not black," she said. "It's just absent. It's just absent of anything."
Cox has learned to trust her other senses and sensibilities, like touch, hearing, smell, voice inflection and memory.
At work, she uses a special device to type her notes and then to play them back. She lays out 3-by-5 cards to illustrate ideas. She's a creative problem-solver. All her maps are in Braille. On her charts she uses a glue gun so she can read them by touch.
Surrounded by her staff in her spacious office on Utah's Capitol Hill, Cox peppered them with questions preparing for a meeting, all the while typing away and readying herself for the next assignment.
Cox and her husband, Randy, played basketball with their kids in the cul-de-sac in front of their Sandy home recently. Randy tapped on the backboard with her walking cane to give her an idea of where to shoot. She crouched down, aimed and shot. She missed by only inches.
"Did it go in? Was it close?" she asked.
"So close," her youngest son, Riley, answered. Both kids are in awe of their mom and her professional achievements.
"Sometimes it's like, 'Wow, how would she do that?’ ” said Tanner Cox, her oldest son, who is preparing for a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “My mom really pursues her passion. She's really passionate about her work, and she tries to break boundaries and she tries to defy stereotypes."
Riley agreed. "She's blind, but she can memorize a 5-mile trail that probably we can't."
Later she walked their beloved dog, Sage, with Tanner at her side. Tanner said he always tries to leave the milk in the same place in the refrigerator so she can find it. They've got a system down. But parenting was tricky at first.
"For me, one of the biggest challenges was, you know, 'How am I going to do a diaper?' Once I overcame that, the rest was easy," Cox said. "It came to this point where you just create a system: wipe, wipe, wipe, and you do it again just to make sure. And my kids had pretty clean little bottoms."
She taught them to read using books with Braille for her and print for them. But the biggest lesson can't be found in books. As she sat in her living room, with evening light streaming in through the windows, she shared her intuition, something the best moms rely on most.
"Hopefully, my kids are learning to be self-determined," Cox said. "To find their own path and to know whatever their differences are, to know they have a unique contribution to make, even though it may be different from anyone else, and to trust their voice."
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