• Last modified 569 days ago (Feb. 1, 2018)


Sight-impaired man sees a bright future

Staff writer

Life for Ryan Olsen is good. The 2007 Centre graduate has a good job, a wife, and owns a house in Wichita.

Blind since birth, except for the ability to see lights and shadows out of one eye, Olsen, 29, is living his own little slice of the American dream, in spite of his disability.

“When I was a kid, I was down about it because I couldn’t do what other kids did, like drive a car,” he said. “But if I had a chance to get my sight back, I wouldn’t do it.”

Olsen always has had an independent spirit. His mother said she realized it was important for him to learn to do things on his own so that he could someday go out on his own.

His special education teacher, Susan Wallace, and paraprofessional, Holly Hemmer, taught him how to ride a bike without training wheels and how to get around on his own. He participated in band and vocal groups and taught himself to play guitar.

After graduating from high school, he spent one year at a school for the blind in Kansas City, graduating in 2008. He learned how to cook and other skills that would help him live on his own.

“I’m happy I got to go to public school because at the school for the blind, people did things that got them in trouble, so we couldn’t leave the premises,” he said. “I did a lot of things while at Centre that I couldn’t have done there.”

He went to work full-time at Envision in Wichita after working part-time there for two summers.

Envision is a nonprofit organization that employs visually impaired people and provides services for the blind. It has more than 400 employees who make various kinds of plastic bags, party supplies, and specialty products. Its product line is constantly expanding.

Olsen’s parents, Eric and JoAnn Olsen of Lincolnville, helped him get an apartment.

“We wanted to help him more, but he wouldn’t let us,” JoAnn said. “He is very independent.”

“My dad showed me where things were,” Olsen said, “but it took a lot of time to get familiar with everything. It’s hard for me to process things sometimes.”

He said he didn’t mind living on his own because he’s always been a loner. He spent most of his time at work or at his apartment.

He has a younger brother, Josh, who lives in Newton, with whom he has a good relationship.

“I still consider him as my best friend,” he said.

At his job, Olsen is a “picker.” He takes plastic bags off an assembly line, folds them, and places them in boxes. By feeling the bags, he can make sure they are good. If a bag feels hot, he calls the operator to inspect it.

“I make sure it’s a quality product,” he said.

He met his wife, Olivia, at Envision. She is vision and hearing impaired and does much the same thing as Ryan. They have been married five years and bought their own home two years ago. Labels with dots on appliances guide them in the kitchen. A van transports them to and from work.

Using an app called Instacart, they can order food from Dillon’s. The service comes with a fee, so they don’t use it often, Olsen said. A cab driver who knows them takes Olivia to the grocery store or takes them out to eat. Sometimes they use Uber Eats, an app that lets them order food from a variety of restaurants and have it delivered.

Ryan said Olivia can see better some days and has some hearing, especially when just the two of them are together.

Olivia wants to have children, but Ryan is content with just the two of them and their two Chihuahuas, Harley and Daisy.

They are comfortable with their life together and look toward the future with optimism.

Last modified Feb. 1, 2018