At birth, senior and English major Aidee Campa was left visually impaired by a rare form of eye cancer known as Retinoblastoma, which led to the surgical removal of one eye by a general surgeon.
After surgery, the doctor suggested to her parents that they seek medical care up north, where they had the right medication and specialists for her condition. The departure from Mexico to Los Angeles was an emotional journey for Campa’s parents, who left everything back home to seek a cure for her.
On a recent Friday evening, Campa was found outside of Diehl Hall, daydreaming about science fiction novels as she waited for students needing Spanish tutoring to arrive. Her hands traced the braille-ingrained keyboard on her notebook as she spoke of her love for reading and writing. “As part of my Ondrasik & Groce Fellowship ,I am looking at the way fantasy novels depict disabled characters,” said Campa. “This book in particular I am reading ,called Broken Kingdoms, is about a young blind girl named Oree who has the ability to see magic.”
Now during her last year of college, Campa moves away her past struggles and into the spotlight with her dream of advocating for the rights of those with disabiltiies as a civil rights lawyer. “Being visually impaired does not inhibit me from achieving or doing anything, except maybe surf Facebook,” said Campa with a joyful giggle.
While growing up in Pasadena as a young child, Campa remembers not having very many friends and spending time mostly around adults and playing with stuffed animals and dolls. “I think my thought process was that they were representations of things around me that I could easily manipulate,” Campa said.
Campa also found love for music during her childhood. “I played classical music on piano for ten years which is where my love for Chopin and Bach came from.”
Without the opportunity to practice setting up her math problems and write in braille during her elementary school days, Campa felt unchallenged and frustrated. “After my friend and tutor passed away nothing was the same,” Campa said. “All the teachers who tried to teach me were not qualified. I realy wanted to learn. I am good at math but I feel I could have been better, and stronger academically if I would have had one-on-one help,” Campa said. “Math would have been a lot better in high school and even now. I always felt myselfin the back of the room as the teacher spoke. I always loved academics but I felt lost.”
After years of efforts to seek necessary academic accommodations, Campa’s mother was able to get legal representation that allowed Campa to transfer from the Pasadena school district to the Temple City school district during her high school years, where they had braille-accessible resources for her.
“Seeing that an attorney could do what my mom and her friends have not been able to and knowing that other disabled students face the same challenges makes me want to push for disability rights,” said Campa.
After deciding that Whittier College was the perfect small liberal arts college for her, Campastruggled to adjust to her new home at first. “I felt really lonely,” said Campa. “But my family and the friends I have made here have really beenverypatient and have taken the time to listen to me.”
While some visually impaired individuals can sense light and shadows and lack depth perception, Campa can see neither light nor shadows. However, her ability to navigate around Whittier College has become second nature during her four years of living on campus. “I have developed a mental map of sorts to get around landmarks and rely on sound and touch,” Campa said. “That changes if someone decides to park their golf cart in my way or when people are sneaky, and I am like ‘where did you come from’ and I am like ‘oh you have super ninja skills,’” said a giggling Campa.
Campa has nurtured her passion for creative and academic writing as an English major anda member of the English honors society Sigma Tau Delta. Often Campa finds herself getting lost in books assigned for her favorite courses including feminist philosophy, critical procedures, and literary theory class.
Although it is sometimes hard for her to find most of her books in braille format, Campa’s portable braille note taker with speech function has allowed her to effectively read and write her class assignments. “The campus and professors have always been really good to me because the professors here aren’t those to say, ‘you lowly student, how dare you not be able to understand,” said Campa with a laughing sigh.
With graduation just around the corner, Campa reflects on her goal of becoming a lawyer in the distant future. “Most of the time people notice that I am blind, and not that I am a first-generation Latina pursuing higher education, or at least, it doesn’t show up. But there was never a question for my parents that I would not do something. There is so much to be done to help support those who are disabled and I want to fight for their rights.”