Scarlet Racey doesn’t let glaucoma and her visual impairment keep her from living a normal life.
Story by Emma Bleznak and Robyn Smith
Photos by James Allen
Our cover star Scarlet Racey is a fiery force of change. Racey has spent a large portion of her life and collegiate career influencing how students with disabilities are aided on JMU’s campus. By bringing attention to the disabled community, the senior social work major fosters conversation among university powers and national legislators to make change. Madison 101 spoke with Racey to learn about her history as a nationally recognized goalball player, her work with various offices and legislation regarding disability services, and what she loves about JMU.
Q: What was one of your first experiences with Goalball?
A: When I was 13 I was my rst year at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind and 13 is the youngest age that you can join the team in the Eastern Athletic Association and so I was terrible when I rst started … I hit the ball into my own goal; it was awful. It’s really hard to rst get the hang of it, but it was an outlet for me because after I was on the professional swim team and I also ran track and eld and so when I had to switch schools I wasn’t a part of any teams and it was disappointing so goalball was like a great athletic outlet… now it’s become a passion and I’m on the D.C. women’s team.
Q: Why did you have to switch schools?
A: I had to be sent away so that I would receive the proper accommodations that I needed to succeed in school. I was failing English and they put me in a special education class … but by the time I was 12 [my parents] were like, ‘We have to send her away.’
Q: How did that impact your high school experience?
A: It was interesting so like I moved out of my parents house when I was like 12, which is like, kind of a big deal, so I only saw my parents on the weekends for a long time but I think the hardest thing is living with that many people — for example, I had a boyfriend and we broke up but we still lived together.
Q: What was it like living completely surrounded by people who share a similar disability as you?
A: It was a unique experience in the sense that it normalizes your disability, which is something that very, very few people with disabilities get to experience … the normalization of their identity, which is I think a really rewarding experience because it allowed me to
be comfortable in my own skin. It allowed me to accept who I am, because everyone around me accepted who I was … Walking the campus was normal, reading braille was normal … large print was something I didn’t even have to request because everything was already in large print.
Q: What do you do in your job at the Office of Disability Services?
A: I’m a peer access advocate — so I’m a student who is registered in the Office of Disability Services but I also provide peer mentoring to other students, I plan events such as disability awareness week and I also facilitate conversation about self-advocacy and the rights and responsibilities so that when students do have that conversation with a professor they’re prepared.
Q: How do you feel JMU is in terms of handling providing access and accommodation for students with disabilities?
I think the Office of Disability Services does what they can, but there is so little they can do without the support of JMU as a whole. For example, a lot of buildings on campus are not accessible so a lot of students with disabilities who want to come to JMU cannot because we’re not an accessible campus. Jackson Hall is inaccessible. Signs in Maury Hall [say] accessible bathrooms are on the ground floor of Wilson so you have to go to a completely different building if you have to use the bathroom, which is like some civil rights s***. It’s pretty bad … There are hills, which you can’t really control, you can’t really atten the hills. You can still make sidewalks more accessible though and have alternative access than the stairs. Or you know, if your building has an elevator in it, try making it so that you don’t have to take the stairs in order to get to the elevator … If you made buildings accessible, more students could come here and then you’d have more money from tuition. So really not making the buildings accessible just says, ‘We don’t really want you here.’
Q: What made you want to come to JMU?
A: I’ve been involved with disability awareness week since 2012 … We came [to JMU] to put on the deaf sports showcase … just witnessing the JMU students come together as a whole to advocate on behalf of persons with disabilities and with persons with disabilities was really inspiring … that’s one of the reasons why I applied to JMU and why I accepted it over all of the other schools that I got accepted to.
Q: In what way do you feel you’ve impacted the JMU community?
A: I’m involved with an organization called Friends of Rachel, which was developed and so our goal is to spread random acts of kindness on JMU’s campus to make everyone feel like they’re loved, wanted, and included here and to prevent school shootings from happening in the future … one of the primary reasons shootings do happen is because people feel like they’re excluded and they have no other choice. We’re trying to exclude those emotions from the JMU campus by just doing little acts that go a long way.
Q: So in what ways does your disability impact you?
A: “I can’t drive … My eyesight is degenerative, meaning that it gets worse over time — I see a lot less now than I did when I was younger but so like I can’t see at night anymore really, and I have to use larger print than I used to … I can’t read the menus at a lot of places so I’ll just take a picture of the menu and then I can stand off to the side and read it and then get in line and order my food. So cashiers love me because I always know what I want as soon as I get up there. Sometimes reading the menu at restaurants is really hard so when I go out to eat with my boyfriend, a lot of times he reads it to me.
So, uh, because I went through the trauma of surgery at such a young age, I then developed glaucoma, which is a neurological deterioration disorder that deteriorates the brain nervous cells and the optic nerve as well, which is what causes the deterioration overtime. It deteriorates nerves in a similar pattern to Parkinsons or Alzheimers does. There’s actually very limited research that tells how glaucoma affects someone over time because it’s very, very rare for a person to develop glaucoma at such a young age. Generally it’s much, much older adults. They didn’t even realize that it was a neurological deterioration disorder until 2015.
Q: How has your disability impacted you in other ways?
A: There’s a lot of FOMO because I can’t just hop in the car and go somewhere. I have to rely on so many people and that really takes a toll emotionally, especially when it comes to self-advocacy. I’m a very con dent person and it really tears down your con dence when you just can’t do something. So I’m saving up my money for a Google car. It will happen. They’re already legal in Arizona. It is emotional. Especially since I can’t see at night, a lot of times I don’t leave campus at night because I don’t feel comfortable so there’s a lot of missing out in that sense as well.
Q: How did you choose social work as your major?
A: I came into JMU undeclared. I was undeclared for two years. I took the “discover your major” class or whatever, which was a super fun, easy A … we made Pinterest boards and stuff. They recommended shadowing people we knew. I shadowed my Aunt Eva, who is a social worker, and I loved what she did. I started working at the Of ce of Disability Services and I was a peer access advocate, and I fell in love with advocacy work. So now I am a social work major and I’m aspiring to be a macrosocial worker with a concentration in policy and humanitarian affairs minor. I want to work on global issues and my dream is to work for Handicapped International and become a lobbyist for them … Just travel the world and do good.