Auger & Auger is proud to announce Madelyn Walker as a winning recipient of our Disabled Scholar Awards for the 2019 Fall Semester. Multiple scholarships for $1,000 are presented during the spring and fall terms to college students across the United States who have exceeded expectations, and worked hard to transcend the impact of their disabilities. All recipients of the Auger & Auger Disabled Scholar Award have achieved excellence inside and outside their classrooms, and are making a positive impact in their communities.
At 13 years old, the world as Madelyn Walker knew it turned upside down. She lost her vision and within 9 short months found herself disabled. “I was terrified and it was frustrating that I couldn’t read, write, or even get dressed.” Madelyn described how her hair became greasy and unmanageable — the result of washing it with conditioner because she couldn’t see which bottle was the shampoo. When she finally reached out for help, someone suggested putting a rubber band around the shampoo bottle. Simple? Yes, and no. The lesson would boost her self-reliance, yet illuminate the ways in which she must depend on others.
Six years later Madelyn would say, “There are no definite guarantees, period. You must be open to learning to live differently and let people know your problems — and they will help find a solution.”
Madelyn knew she had to be open to different ways of acquiring knowledge, and adapting to diverse technologies. She was slowing starting to learn how to do the simple things again when a VI (Visual Instrument) teacher, Mrs. Debby Jones, stepped in. The instructor’s tenacity and determination to help her students would teach Madelyn that perseverance could solve any problem.
“In 2013, my future role model walked into my life to help me see, and she also made me a better me.”
Mrs. Jones introduced Madelyn to CCTV (closed-circuit TV) and how she could enlarge the text to do her school work. “I also started receiving and learning other tools as well; a hand-held magnifier, a telescope, a computer with Zoom Text, an iPad…and a long white cane.” Though it took more time and energy, Madelyn was now capable of working independently to achieve more success in school.
“One of the toughest things I faced was participating in social, extra-curricular activities again. I was just so self-conscious; I was terrified of falling and looking stupid.”
Madelyn began to get a sinking feeling that being visually impaired and disabled meant she couldn’t do anything, and wouldn’t be expected to. “It was a tough and isolating place to be, feeling left out socially, physically and emotionally.” However, once Madelyn realized she had to stop hiding, she began listening with her ears instead of relying on her eyes for social cues. She decided it was up to her to be open and friendly. On the flip side, she got better at using her cane so she could feel more secure and wouldn’t have to ask for help as much.
“I hit walls (both metaphorically and physically), but with the support of my teachers, friends and family, I am now doing well in school and involved in my community which will guide me as I focus on my academic and professional journey.”
Madelyn is legally blind, yet she finds that her issues remain officially undiagnosed. According to her doctors, this is probably due to her autoimmune and mitochondrial disease. However, they all agree that her abilities are her new ‘normal.’ Madelyn explains, “My new ‘normal’ means that I have no peripheral vision, blurry central vision and that I walk with a brace — it has also changed the way I view the world around me. My vision is blurrier, but metaphorically, my vision is so much clearer.”
“It is up to me to take action to get what I want and need. My new ‘normal’ celebrates the simple things, focuses on helping others, and reminds me that I am the one determining my life goals.”
Madelyn recognizes the intensity of her goals, and that there will be more obstacles to overcome. She’s had some amazing help in her journey, and she knows that these teachers, doctors, friends and family members have helped make her what she is today. Her guide dog, Keeper, has been her “trusty sidekick” since December 2018 and has driven her independence as well.
“I had this part-time summer job that taught me lessons that I didn’t think I needed to know. It made me realize that I am great just the way I am — that others just want to help me, not judge me.”
Working as a camp counselor for 4-5-year-old children, there were no preconceived notions of who Madelyn was. She describes the experience, “I was going in with a clean state, yet had serious concerns about the way the kids would react because we all know that kids have NO filter.”
Amazingly, it turned out that each group of kids had the same reaction to Madelyn. They were curious about her appearance, but not judgemental in the least. She didn’t get defensive when they asked her questions, she simply gave them honest answers. Sometimes she would get them to laugh by telling them she was attacked by a lion.
“I know that if I want something, it is up to me to make it happen. I will not stop until something is complete and done to the best of my ability.”
Madelyn had always wanted to be a doctor, but she recognized that her eyesight and energy limitations would demand a very different orientation. She appreciated the added quality of life that wearing a KAFO brace has given her. Learning that the device was designed using biomechanics, physics, and engineering, helped inspire her choice to major in Biomedical Engineering at Mississippi State University.
And that’s not all — once Madelyn earns her Bachelor of Science degree, she plans to pursue an MS and Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences, and spend her residency in oncology pharmacology! Madelyn’s goals are driven by her passion to help others, and she has personally experienced the benefit of an entire medical team working to benefit the patient. She wants to be “a medical provider that listens to her patients and looks for answers.”
“One challenge I am facing now — which I did not expect — is that academic professionals are not aware of my tools and accommodations.”
Madelyn uses a handheld magnifier to complete quizzes and other small tasks. Many professors and their assistants have reproached her, telling her to put away her device. She has had to explain that the tool literally allows her to see and that she is not cheating or looking up information.
“I have served food to the homeless at Feed by Grace in Fort Worth, TX, I have rung the bell for Salvation Army for the last three Christmas seasons, and I have sorted clothes for the Mansfield ISD Clothes closet.”
Madelyn’s resilience has sparked her passion to make a real difference in other people’s lives. Her winning essay informed us that 60% of blind individuals are unemployed and how important it is that this changes. She has always challenged herself to get involved and serve others, and now Madelyn has a personal mission to work with organizations like AFB (American Foundation for the Blind) and NFB (National Federation of the Blind) to help qualified blind applicants secure meaningful work.
So, what message would Madelyn Walker like to share with her country, and the world?
“I do wish society would just treat us normally – don’t stare, don’t point — just treat us like normal people. If your child points, let them talk to me – it’s okay.”