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Chris Murphy Overcomes Disability

The following podcast was recorded for use by customers of Minnesota’s State Services for the Blind. You can get more information about State Services for the Blind and the services it offers by going to www (dot) mnssb (dot) org. I’m Stuart Holland.

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Chris Murphy Overcomes Disability Through Family Support and Perseverance.

This was originally published in the Maple River Messenger, February 18, 2016. It is written by Barb Lake.

In 1987, in Mansfield, Connecticut, Chris Murphy came into the world three months too early.

At the time of his birth, his lungs weren’t fully developed and it was determined that he was partially sighted. He spent the next three months in an incubator receiving oxygen therapy. During that time, as the tiny infant worked to grow and develop while oxygen washed across his body and into his lungs, he lost the remainder of his eyesight, often one of the negative results of oxygen therapy on premature babies.

From the time of his birth, it was obvious that Murphy was a fighter. Even though he was not sighted, his parents and grandparents determined that he would live as much like any other child as possible. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Murphy was not kept out of sight. He was not protected or shielded from the world; instead, he was always right out there, experiencing whatever any other child experiences and then some. His family made sure of that. Murphy was a regular kid in every sense of the word, with the only exception being his lack of vison.

His maternal grandparents, Pat and Hugo John, of Mapleton, spent summers traveling with him all over the United States in their recreational vehicle. Starting when he was just an infant, the Johns took their little grandson to see national parks, exploring the signs and sounds of the land. As he got older, he would sit up in the front of the RB, his Grandpa Hugo describing to him what everything looked like – all of the geography of the land, giving him the opportunity to experience things first hand.

Chris traveled at least 40,000 to 50,000 miles with his grandparents, visiting Yellowstone multiple times, as well as Mount Rushmore, Jackson Hole, the Reptile Gardens and more. He and his grandparents talked about the things they saw tighter. Through their eyes, he viewed the many wonders the country had to offer.

When it came time for school, Murphy’s parents decided that he would attend a regular K-12 public school rather than a school for the blind. His parents wanted him to have “real world” experience and, as a result, he was mainstreamed in every class for all 12 years of his education. He was the only blind student in the school district, however his classmates grew up with him and knew him; Murphy related that most of the students were non-judgmental, though there were a few who were, in his words, “idiotic.” In general, he felt that he had it “pretty good.”

Students in Murphy’s classroom received training on orientation and mobility for the blind and how to break down a physical task so they would know how to help him and guide him. He was also provided with a paraprofessional to help him during the school day.

When other students were learning to print, Murphy and his para were learning Braille. The para transcribed mathematics instruction and problems into Braille for him. Later, he was able to use a Braillewriter and note taker. He had to learn the QWERTY keyboard and was then able to word process. As technology advanced, especially in the use of the Apple IIGS, he was able to utilize the talking typewriter and early Echo, which was a voice command programming, much like Apple’s Siri voice command programming. Echo is now available to the general public through Amazon.

Murphy believes that he always has to ask himself, “How do I deal with blindness? What can I do to overcome it? What do I need to do to be as capable as I can?”

His determined attitude about life is most likely attributed to his family’s determination for him to grow up like any other child. After graduation from high school, when he was barely 18, Murphy set off alone to Little Rock, Arkansas, to the Lions World Services for the Blind (WBS). Roy Kumpe, who founded WBS in 1947, is a Little Rock lawyer who lost his sight when he was eight years old. He realized his ambition to practice law through sheer determination and hard work.

Later, utilizing the Randolph-Sheppard Act of 1936, Kumpe partnered with the IRS, which is also headquartered in Little Ro9ck, and set out to help other visually impaired people gain the skills needed to be employed, providing job opportunities to WSB graduates. After much hard work, WBS now has eight career path programs, and offers life skills training and assistive technology and college preparatory training for those who are visually impaired.

Murphy trained at WBS in the Assistive Technology Instructor program, however he did not take the test for certification. One month before he had planned to graduate from the program, his paternal grandmother in Connecticut passed away, and he found himself returning to his home.

At that point, he decided to complete his college education and enrolled at Mitchell College in New London. Again, he broke ground at the college by being the first blind student to attend. The school, known for helping students with learning disabilities, became the learner, gathering knowledge from Murphy regarding how to adapt materials for visually impaired students. Murphy brought the Job Access With Speech (JAWS) programming that he had learned to use in high school and installed it into Mitchell’s programming.

At Mitchell, he majored in Liberal Studies with a Behavioral Science emphasis and minored in Criminal Justice Psychology. He had to work hard at his studies; things did not come easy. It took him extra time to complete homework assignments. He received aid from tutors in reading and writing. They helped him to understand and break down the work, to do the things that sighted students take for granted.

Murphy was never shy about advocating for himself or asking for assistance in order to be successful. H has no problem with admitting when something is difficult for him. Even though he was a bit nervous during his first months on campus, he began to adjust and feel at home with the assistance of a mobility instructor who met with him two times a week.

Once he was able to get around on his own, he began to feel at ease. He made friends and went off campus just like everyone else. He was, for the most part, a typical college student.

While he was in college, he volunteered at the Lighthouse Vocational Education Center for people who have disabilities such as cerebral palsy or autism. It almost seemed natural for Murphy to want to help others, having relied upon the guidance and help of others throughout his educational career. He said that during his time at Lighthouse, he learned a lot about how to help others and how different their lives are.

As a part of educational training, he also completed an internship at the school. In 2012, Murphy graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Behavioral Science and an Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts.

From there he had plans to return to WBS to complete training as a contact collections representative for the Internal Revenue Service but, again, family needs preempted his return to Little Rock and dampened his spirits. In need of recharging, he moved to the Mapleton home of his grandparents, the Johns, at the end of the summer of 2012.

He returned to Little Rock in 2013 to try to pass the test to work for the IRS but did not do well. This prompted him to change his course a bit and revisit the assistive technology program. He took and passed the test and became a certified nationally as a Microsoft Office Specialist, learning how to instruct others in the use of the Office suite.

He then received certification for the JAWS program he had used in high school and college. He also learned how to instruct others in the use of IOS products with touch screens. In 2014, Murphy graduated from WSB and was able to work in the field of Assistive Technology. Upon returning home after graduation, he enrolled in pre-vocational classes at Minnesota State University in Mankato where he began his journey to become an Assistive Technology instructor for the State of Minnesota.

Becoming fully licensed to teach AT had several requirements: he had to do a technology teaching demonstration, showing his teaching and technology skills; complete an adult learning course; and receive certification in IOS devices. It took him sex months to become approved. It was not easy but he persisted and, in June, 2015, he became a private teaching contractor and by now had three clients of his own.

It might be said that, even though Murphy was born and raised out east in Connecticut, he has now found his home here in the Maple River area. He and his grandfather join in a fellowship of men at a Tuesday morning breakfast in Good Thunder and, on Saturday morning, they meet for brunch in Mankato with another group; Murphy is just another one of the guys. They talk, laugh, joke, and argue. They are his friends and teachers, and he, in turn, teaches them.

Murphy is also an advocate for those who are blind or have other disabilities. He was recently elected Vice President of the Riverbend Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and, as a part of his membership, he attended the national conference at the Rosen Hotel in Orlando, Florida. There, with 2,480 other people who are blind, he participated in breaking a world record for largest umbrella mosaic. The group posed outside the hotel with blue and white umbrellas, which, when opened and held aloft, created the logo for the National Federation for the Blind and spelled out “Live the Life You Want” – the organization’s tagline.

It seems that Murphy has done just that – he has lived the life that he wanted so far.

But life for Murphy, from the very beginning, has never come easy. He has had to be scrappy and tough in order to survive. He has had to work harder than his sighted peers to achieve his goals. He has had to rely on help from others and has had to understand when to ask for help and how to advocate for himself.

He often is leery of meeting sighted people; Murphy says it is more difficult to get to know others when he is unable to observe them or see their faces respond to him. Yet through it all, Murphy has persevered. He has never quit, even when times were hard or when he experience failure; he kept on trying.

He is a man who does not give up on himself, a man who is not afraid to ask for help or state his needs. He is wisdom beyond his years. And yet, like most young men his age, he still likes to do what young men do; hang out with his friends, watch Netflix, dive into technology, travel and experience life.

Again, that article was entitled: ?Chris Murphy Overcomes Disability Through Family Support and Perseverance."

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