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Holiday Hope: Vision impairment doesnt slow Gainesville woman in reaching her goals
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Carly Byrd uses Zoon Text on her laptop while working at Disability Resource Center in Gainesville. The visually impaired college student volunteers with the organization.

Disability Resource Center

What: The agency helps consumers with all disabilities to achieve goals in various ways, including nursing home transition, peer support, independent living and skills advocacy.

Where: 470-A Woodsmill Road, Gainesville

More info: 770-534-5556

She is forging ahead with schooling and volunteer work, with the help of the Gainesville-based Disability Resource Center and others, but there’s still challenges to be had.

Overcoming disabilities of any kind “can be scary, but if you set your mind to it, you can do whatever you want to,” Byrd said in a recent interview at the disability center at 470-A Woodsmill Road. “You just have to do it in a different way.

“There’s always a way around obstacles.”

Byrd’s own journey began when she was born three months early 22 years ago in Augusta. Weighing just 1 pound and 8 ounces, she had to stay in the hospital four to five months before she could go home.

During that time, she received too much oxygen to make up for still-developing lungs and ended up with glaucoma, an eye disease that normally afflicts the elderly.

Byrd also had detached retinas, but doctors could only reattach the retina in her right eye, “so I’ve been completely blind in my left eye, pretty much since birth.”

Over the years, her eye troubles required several surgeries. She also frequently sees a specialist in Atlanta.

As a teenager, she had a particularly bad spell at the eye doctor, when her eyes were dilated but didn’t return to a normal state.

“I was in a whole lot of pain and had to be rushed to the hospital,” Byrd said.

She ended up spending a year at the Georgia Academy for the Blind in Macon.

“It took about a year for my vision to calm down,” Byrd said.

She returned to Hall County, graduating from Chestatee High School in 2011 and ending up at the Disability Resource Center for further help.

There, Byrd was able to get certain technological aids, such as a talking watch and a device that helps magnify computer text. The agency’s former executive director, who would become her mentor, helped her too, teaching her Braille.

Major events also were unfolding in Byrd’s personal life.

She gave birth three years ago to a son, Jace, and suffered near-fatal injuries in a 2012 car wreck at Jesse Jewell and Limestone parkways.

A delivery truck struck the car, driven by her friend, with the impact ripping off her ear, crushing her hand and breaking her pelvis in four places. Doctors were able to reattach her ear and put a metal plate in her finger.

And she was able to recover after physical therapy and numerous surgeries.

“I was having to learn to walk again at the same time as my son was learning to walk for the first time,” Byrd said, with a laugh. “It was interesting for the both of us.”

Otherwise, for various reasons, home has always been a struggle for Byrd, who has lived with friends and various family members throughout her life.

Byrd, who got a settlement from the wreck, found an apartment for herself and Jace in early 2014 and paid the first year’s rent in full.

“I picked out an apartment where there was shopping nearby and a bus stop out front,” she said.

Meanwhile, thanks to the encouragement of her mentor, who praised Byrd’s writing skills, she went on to help the disability center with its newsletter and taking minutes at board meetings.

And now she wants to become a technical writer, taking online classes through Northeastern University in Boston.

“That’s going to take me a while and I’ve been racking up a lot of student loans,” Byrd said. “I’ve been thinking about getting a certificate in grant writing to get my foot in the door.”

Sheila Rousey, the agency’s current executive director, applauds Byrd’s gusto in trying to reach goals.

“She has a never-say-no attitude. When obstacles come her way, her focus is to once again fight through them and reach her goals,” Rousey said.

“She is very artistic, musically inclined, and has lots of energy to burn. If someone ever gives her a leg up, she will conquer the world.”

For Byrd, Jace’s arrival has helped pave the way.

“I used to have problems with depression — things would get me down — but now, with my son, no matter what, I have to hold it together for him,” she said. “He’s my responsibility. I have to do whatever it takes to raise (him).

“In a way, I think he kind of saved me. I don’t know where I’d be without him.”