Rutgers-Camden’s campus contains over 6,000 students. One fellow Scarlet Raptor strides the concrete walkway in between the Science Building and the campus center. With his shades on, he is accompanied by Licorice, a jet black Labrador retriever. This person has been recognized by the administration of Rutgers for academic achievement while enduring a physical disability. Rutgers-Camden, this is the story of Aaron Bradley.
Blind from birth, he grew up in West Philadelphia. He moved to New Jersey in 2004. Aaron’s educational background includes time at Burlington County College (BCC). He’s 27 years old. After transferring from BCC, he entered Rutgers-Camden, pursuing a degree in Social work. He is currently a junior. After completing his degree, he plans on pursuing his Master’s.
Going from commuter to campus resident had its rewards for Aaron. While attending BCC, he took the bus from Moorestown to the Pemberton campus. Now at Rutgers, he can oversleep and not worry because classes are close by. Living on campus has afforded him the opportunity to get involved in extra curricular activities. He is a member of the newly formed Coalition for Disability Awareness. Also, he and a group of students from Dr. Baird’s Madrigal course have formed an A cappella group. The group consists of three guys and three girls. They work on music together and are currently putting together a program which they plan to present.
Aaron loves the accommodations at Rutgers. At BCC, he had to drop courses because textbooks were not made available to him. The Office of Disability Services for Students gets him everything he needs. Last semester, Aaron’s first semester at Rutgers, he saw this first hand. He says, “They got my list of textbooks and within like, two-three days, I had all of them on CD as PDF documents.”
Technology has played a part in his ability to accomplish what he has to date. Attending a university which prides itself on research, Aaron has had to cope with writing papers. When asked how he writes a paper he said, “I use screen reading software that converts the screen to text to speech. So, basically anything I type, like a webpage or email, it gets read out loud.”
Aaron hasn’t always been accompanied by his seeing-eye dog Licorice. Before life with Licorice, Aaron used “echo sonar” in order to navigate around town. With echo sonar he can tell the locations of buildings and driveways by way of air pressure. For instance, he knows when he has crossed 3rd Street on his way to the campus center using this talent. He also used a white cane to help him get around, which he still has. A life changing experience as well as the advice from a friend caused Aaron to think about getting a dog. He was leaving a train and was told by a train employee to exit to the left. Taking this advice, Aaron fell down off the trains’ platform. The train employee actually meant to the right. Aaron has experienced communication issues like this before. Fortunately, he wasn’t injured. However, this did induce a fear of trains.
He met his friend Blessing in New York City. Blessing, who is also blind, used a seeing-eye dog to cruise around town. Aaron was amazed at how easily Blessing was able to get around, having been a resident of the Big Apple for a short time. He says, “The accuracy and speed at which Tommy (Blessing’s seeing-eye dog) worked really impressed me. And at that moment I knew it was time.”
Aaron learned from Blessing that his fall would not have occurred had he had a dog with him. According to Aaron, “Guide dogs are trained to move you away, like if you get to close to a platform edge, they’ll move you away from it.”
An application process to obtain a seeing-eye dog ensued. Within three or four days, Aaron was scheduled for an interview with a school in New York. The interview was successful, and Aaron became paired with Licorice. The two worked together for 26 days of training.
Despite the numerous challenges associated with being blind, nothing has stopped him from excelling in his course work. His GPA is at the cool, cum laude level of 3.7. As Aaron continues to achieve academically, he believes his hard work will pay off in the future. This is his motivation. Furthermore, he wants to be able to make a difference in life.
This future Rutgers’ alumnus does not view blindness as a big challenge. He says, “I view blindness as something that enhances me, it makes me unique.” This comes from an individual who for a year and a half had full vision.
When asked if he would rather be blind or have full vision he replied, “I think I’d rather remain blind. I say this because there’s a lot less judgment made when you don’t have the visual perception to make them. You tend to see people for who they really are.”
Aaron Bradley’s story is one that contains a physical disability spanning nearly his whole life. While living with blindness, he has been able to accomplish many things, including obtaining an Associate’s degree, making the dean’s list, and maintaining a high GPA. Soon he will graduate with his Bachelor’s in Social Work.
When this awe-inspiring man walks underneath the arching trees next to the Fine Arts building, don’t be afraid to say hi. Be careful not to distract Licorice by calling her by name, though. She has a job to do.
Editor’s Note: After the publication of this article it was brought to our attention that the term “Seeing-Eye Dog” is a copyrighted term. The proper way to refer to these service animals is as a “guide dog.” The Gleaner regrets the mistake and accepts responsibility.