Student with eyesight disability demonstrates great vision


Martin and Young, sports camp leaders

(From left) Lizzie Martin, a physical and health education major from Slippery Rock, and Callahan Young, a recreational therapy major from Irwin, helped lead SRU’s VIP Sports Camp for children with visual impairment. Young is legally blind.

Dec. 16, 2015

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Helen Keller once said, "The only thing worse than being blind is having sight and no vision."

There is plenty of vision at Slippery Rock University. You don't have to look any further than Callahan Young, a recreational therapy major from Irwin who is legally blind, to see that sight and vision are entirely different things. The young man is succeeding as a student and athlete, serving as president of the Goalball Club team at SRU and training for a bid to the Paralympic team.

"The accommodations I get at SRU all help me succeed," Young said. "They consist of having my test enlarged and read to me, getting a note taker in all of my classes, getting my books digitally that allow me to listen to them and if need be extended time on items that may take me excessively longer to complete."

Young has retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative retina condition that is passed down through genetics.

"Having this condition causes tunnel vision, which is like looking through two glass cups -- one being on each eye - night blindness, color blindness with blues and greens and limited up-front vision," Young said. "The tunnel vision will eventually constrict to the point where I have none left. This also applies to my upfront vision. This eye disorder causes me to be legally blind. Not allowing me to drive."

Young, who lives in Building A, said the visual impairment makes college more challenging.

"The process of the computer reading is meticulous, taking hours when it should take a half hour," Young said. "Trying to read power points while taking notes off of them is quite difficult. All in all, it just causes everything to increase in time, which makes a snowball effect with staying up late trying to get everything done."

Young said SRU provides many opportunities, coordinated through the Office on Disabilities, which help him grow individually and professionally.

Although some students treat him differently, "I understand that most of them are just not educated," he said. "They do not understand that the only difference between us is that it is hard for me to see."

Young said much of his energy centers of goalball, which he has played since his boyhood. The sport uses a ball that beeps with players attempting to push the ball into a net.

"I am improving to the point where I am competing to make the Paralympic team," Young said. "This is an elite level sport that is physically demanding. Making the Paralympic team would be a great honor."

Young said his career goals include graduating from Slippery Rock and potentially getting a masters and doctorate.

Young's faculty mentors are Wendy Fagan, instructor of physical and health education, and Betsy Kemeny, assistant professor of parks and recreation who teaches recreational therapy and serves as Young's academic adviser.

"Wendy Fagan has been great to work with," Young said. "She is a professional that knows the way through most adapted physical activities. Anytime I need assistance, I can rely on her for guidance. She is also the adviser for the Goalball Club team at SRU."

Wendy Fagan


Fagan, who described Young as like a son, said she has coached him in goalball since he enrolled in SRU's VIP Sports camp as an elementary school student. When he turned 18, he chose SRU for his undergraduate education, because of its reputation for adapted activities and his familiarity with Fagan.

"We're very happy that Callahan chose to come to Slippery Rock University," Fagan said. "We're very proud of him for what he is doing and for setting a good example of a person with a disability in a college environment. He does everything on his own. He is just like every other college kid out there, he's making the most out of Slippery Rock University."

Fagan said she expects Young, who lifts weights and does other workouts on campus weekly, to make a national name for himself.

"He has the drive to make the Paralympics," she said. "He goes to training camps where elite athletes are. He's just one of those kids who loves life."

Betsy Kemeny


Kemeny described Young as a self-determined, hard worker.

"He asks good questions and advocates for what he needs to succeed," she said. "He is honest and straight-forward. Honestly, I verify and discuss with him what he needs to succeed in the classroom rather than assuming what is best for him. Everyone with a visual impairment has different needs and challenges, so it is always best to ask the person rather than making any assumptions. He is willing to put in extra time to be successful in his studies."

Never content to take the easy road, Kemeny said Callahan recently chose a practicum at Camp ROCK this summer. Camp ROCK is an extended-school-year program that Kemeny will facilitate from June 20-July 1 for youth with autism spectrum disorders.

"He is anxious to learn about the recreational process during this 120-hour practicum," she said. "He wants to be the best recreational therapist he can be. He also has a great sense of humor that will help him as a recreational therapist.

Callahan has mentored high schools students who have visual impairment and autism during SRU's TRAILS program at the Storm Harbor Equestrian Center.

"Other recreational therapy students have enjoyed their relationships with Callahan and love encouraging him in his pursuit of excellence at goalball," Kemeny said. Last semester the RT students raised money to support the goal ball team's trip to the Pacific Northwest. "He is an active member of the Recreational Therapy Club, too."

Young minors in adapted physical activity, which focuses on managing physical activity programs for those with a disability. Upon graduating, Young will be certified to practice recreational therapy and will have physical activity skills for adapting physical activity, Kemeny said.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine | 724.738.4854 |