Despite barriers, woman reaches her college goal

Adjusting to a different line of sight

ASHLEY MILLER, 23, prides herself on being independent, despite a condition called retinitis pigmentosa that leaves her legally blind. She graduated Saturday with a degree in counseling psychology from Mesa State College.

Ashley Miller can’t read small print or anything that’s written on a chalkboard.

But Miller, 23, with bright blue eyes and a sunny disposition, doesn’t live in a world of “can’ts”.

Although the 6-foot-tall student with a head of blond hair could see about one-fourth of what her college counterparts could see, Miller graduated Saturday with a degree in counseling psychology.

“I can see color. I just can’t always tell what color I’m looking at,” she said at her apartment Thursday, alongside her husband, Adam, and their blue heeler-mix puppy, Link.

“I call it color-confused.”

In college, Miller would ask professors to talk as they wrote on chalkboards or write out math equations so she could take notes.

Because she prides herself on being independent and open to anyone who asks about her condition, Miller didn’t want to rely on the services of a note-taker. Mesa State offers that option through its Educational Access Services.

In elementary and high school, Miller was a voracious reader.

Upon entering college, she noticed her vision worsening. Reading a book now requires a magnifier, so she often opts to listen to recorded literature.

Miller’s genetic condition is called retinitis pigmentosa, and she is legally blind. Those with retinitis pigmentosa are affected differently.

Most people with the condition are legally blind by age 40.

Miller said she was frustrated that she can’t drive and must walk, catch rides or use public transportation to get around.

She had her heart set on entering the military and dreamed of being an officer, but she learned the U.S. Army wouldn’t accept her.

Miller might have chosen to enter the medical field if not for her vision.

“They tell little kids they can be whatever they want, but with me I need to figure out what I want to do within limitations,” she said.

Miller is considering pursuing a career in human resources.

She also believes school counselors are swamped with academic counseling, but more emotional counseling is needed.

For now, she plans to take it easy and enjoy time with husband, who is on leave from the Marine Corps.

While Miller always has had trouble picking out matching clothes or determining the color of traffic lights, her condition has some benefits. 

“If I can’t see it, it’s not there,” she said with a laugh.

“I’m less high maintenance than a lot of other girls. I look fine to myself, so I’m good to go.”


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