American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Fall 2023      SCHOOL

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Nudges and Possibilities

by Emerie Mitchell-Butler

Emerie Mitchell-ButlerFrom the Editor: During the 2023 NFB Convention, Emerie Mitchell-Butler spoke at the NOPBC Conference about her experiences studying science. She acknowledged that science can be challenging for a blind student, but she finds it well worth the effort.

Hello everyone! My name is Emerie Mitchell-Butler, and I'm a senior in high school in Hawaii. I don't know how to define myself without science being in there somewhere. For as long as I can remember, science was always presented to me as an option. In fact, I think my mom probably emphasized it a little too much!

Both of my parents are scientists by trade. My dad is a computer scientist, and my mom is an industrial hygienist. As chemist Cary Supalo said this morning, if your child shows an interest in science, that's to be encouraged. But when I asked the adults in my life about a career in science for me as a blind student, the answer I often got was, "I don't know." I felt wronged! I thought, "They should know!" But it turns out the grownups don't know everything. I made it my mission to find out all the answers to the questions that my parents didn't know how to answer.

When I was in seventh grade I lived in Virginia, and in Virginia you have to take biology as a seventh grader. I fell in love with the life sciences! I also started career investigation, which is probably the most boring thing I've ever done! We had to take a survey, and I got a big, long list of STEM careers. I thought that every one of them might be interesting, but I picked three to do my project on: genetic engineer, genetic counselor, and biochemist. It turned out that biochemists make more money than genetic counselors and genetic engineers. I picked the highest pay option, and I did my project on that one. I didn't guess it at the time, but biochemistry would become my passion!

As I took more classes, I learned that chemistry is very difficult—but it's difficult in a way that I love. My first real introduction to chemistry came in high school. I hated that class so much! Well, you know you're in deep when you hate a class but you look forward to going back every day!

I now plan to study biochemistry in college. Unfortunately, in order to work in the biochemistry field you have to have a Ph.D. I believe I can do that, and several things have fostered my belief. My parents' overwhelming attitude of "Be a scientist!" is really great. I went to the Jernigan Institute STEM program over the summer, and it was a fantastic experience.

I feel like I was getting little nudges in school, hints that science is too visual, that I better not do that. People would tell me, "Be a musician! That will be easier for you!" Does that make any sense? I'd rather not just do something because it's easy! I'd rather do something that fulfills me as a person.

When we entered the pandemic I thought I knew everything! One of the things I thought I knew was access technology. Well, I didn't! I knew the BrailleNote Touch and my phone. Then online school happened, and I realized I didn't know how to do any of the things I needed to do. I had fourteen hours of tech training for a week during the summer of 2020. That training gave me nearly all of the tech skills I have today. I continue to do tech training through high school so I'll be completely prepared for my scientific career.

One tool that's very important to me is my tactile drawing board. I only remember having to do two graphs in school. One was in biology class in ninth grade, and that was great. The other one was in AP bio for my mock exam. I don't know what happened with the AP biology actual exam. The graphing did not work out. They told me to graph on top of an existing picture!

Speaking of advanced classes, I took human biology. This year I'm going to continue with Chemistry 161. I hope I'll get to take it, because apparently there's a scheduling conflict.

Somebody warned me not to tell you to shove science down your kid's throat. But if your kid wants to study science, please defend their right to make their own choices. Help them be free from all the little negative nudges that they might otherwise remember when they grow up.

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