Trip to China for blind woman

Published 7:52 pm Saturday, March 1, 2014

A blind woman will get a chance this summer many seeing people in America don’t get — to be able to visit a foreign country, and one on the other side of the world at that.

Taneka Robertson will visit China for about three weeks in June and July as part of a study abroad trip organized by her school, University of North Carolina — Charlotte. She said she wants to use the trip to inspire other visually impaired people.

“Some people say, ‘I’m visually impaired; I’m just going to sit at home,’” she said. “This would be my chance to express what the other side of the world is like. I would encourage them. ‘I did it. You can do it too.’”

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In high school and college, before she became visually impaired, Robertson worked at McDonald’s and Pizza Hut in Suffolk until she left for college. She started at Pitt Community College in Winterville, N.C., and was working at Sam’s Club there. She was hoping for a career in nuclear medicine.

In late March 2007, however, she realized her vision was getting blurry and she was having frequent headaches. A doctor couldn’t find anything wrong and told her just to take Tylenol for the headaches.

A few days later, however, she was starting to have double vision, and she called her mother, Freda Robertson, who rushed to get her to Sentara Obici Hospital.

Tests detected pressure in her head, but further testing was needed the next morning. By the next morning, however, Taneka was asking her mother why it was dark in the room. She had completely lost her vision overnight and was starting to have seizures.

She was transferred to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, where doctors discovered a blood clot that started in the front of her head and went to the bottom of the back of her head. It was shutting off blood flow and putting pressure on her optic nerve, causing her to go totally blind.

She stayed at Norfolk General for two weeks before being released to go home, but she had to re-learn how to do everything without being able to see. She attended the Governor Morehead School for the Blind to learn how to become independent again.

These days, all she can see is extremely bright light such as the sun.

“I can tell when I go outside that the sun is there,” she said.

In 2010, she surfed the web to find a university that could accommodate her and found UNC Charlotte, where she intends to change her major soon to psychology.

“I want to work with individuals with depression, especially visually impaired individuals,” she said.

Adjusting to college was hard during the first semester but has gotten easier, she said.

“Each semester has a hurdle,” she said. “You tackle it and you keep going.”

Robertson said she had to submit an essay on why she wants to go on the China trip. She told them about why she wants to encourage other visually impaired people.

“This will be my first trip out of the country,” she said. “When I do it, I’m going to do it big.”