The Braille Monitor                                                                        December 2005


Out of the Darkness: Craig Roisum

by Tom Ford

Craig Roisum
Craig Roisum

From the Editor: The following article appeared in the August 9, 2005, edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The title is a bit trite, but the article profiles one of the 2005 NFB scholarship winners. As we prepare for the 2006 scholarship season, it is well to remember what can happen when a student learns about and embraces the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is the story:

Craig Roisum thought this was it. Sitting on a Florida dock last July near his father's seaside home, basking in the setting sun, Roisum, father of a ten-year-old Lakeville boy, nearly decided this is where he could live out his wrecked life.

Months earlier, with his vision almost gone because of an eye disease, Roisum, then thirty-six, had to give up driving and his job as a boiler operator and mechanic. Feeling helpless, Roisum thought that in Florida his father would be his lifeline. Then he dozed off. He awoke, alone, with the sun fully set.

"When it gets dark, it's dark," he said. The fear he faced in making his way back home, with no cane and no railing at hand, convinced him that he had to learn how to help himself.

Now, more than a year later, after completing a Minneapolis school to teach blind people job and life skills, Roisum has a scholarship to study civil engineering at the University of Minnesota, will intern next summer at NASA, and is a more optimistic and happy person--and dad.

"He's a better father," said his son Justin, a fourth-grader at Lakeville's Eastview Elementary School. "He spends a lot more time with me." The two often play football together, trading jabs about who is the bigger butterfingers. While more independent, Roisum no longer hesitates to ask Justin for help in finding his shoe or the television remote, which usually are inches away, Justin said.

Gradual loss

That's a big change for Roisum, who said that for years he tried to hide and deny his loss of sight. He was born with normal vision and led a typical kid's life in Mankato. He played hockey and skied, got his driver's license. He married Justin's mother (the two eventually divorced). He lived for a while in Phoenix and ended up in Burnsville. He worked a series of maintenance jobs, and things seemed to be going fine until about ten years ago.

Roisum started to notice it was harder for his eyes to adjust to the darkened boiler rooms in which he usually worked. He also was losing pencils or tools he knew he had set down right in front of him. There were a few embarrassing moments, such as when he mistook a woman's belly for an elevator button. He went to the doctor and learned that he had retinitis pigmentosa. It affects the retina and gradually limits vision. It eventually caused Roisum to see as though he were looking through a straw.

"I knew I had to do something," he said. "But I needed my job. I had to pay bills." He kept working and driving. And he tried to hide his troubles at work and from his family. He thought that being blind would turn him into an unemployed hermit, he said.

A life change

It wasn't until April of 2004, after a nerve-shattering, rainy, late-night drive home from work, that he finally decided to call it quits. He got in touch with state agencies that assist the blind. They introduced him to BLIND, Incorporated, in Minneapolis, the job and life skills school.

His first day there was last July--after the night on the Florida dock. When he entered, he was shocked to find that no one felt sorry for themselves, or him. That revelation, along with walks he took with other blind students to nearby restaurants, laid waste the stigma he attached to blindness. He realized there was an independent life ahead, he said.

In his several months at the school, he got used to his cane, learned Braille, and became adept at computer programs for the blind. He has met mentors who are partly or totally blind engineers, computer technicians, and lawyers. He has volunteered several times to speak to students at Justin's school about being blind, making for a proud son.

The future is exciting for Roisum, who now lives in St. Louis Park, and not without a little mystery. He said he does not yet know what he will do at NASA next summer. Wherever that might lead him, Roisum knows he will face limitations. Driving or riding a bike are probably out of the question. But nevertheless, that fails to dampen his resurrected confidence. "I can do anything a sighted person can do," he said. "I'm up for a challenge."