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Blind OCC student overcomes obstacles on way to degree

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A student at Onondaga Community College has had to overcome more than just her blindness to get where she is today.

Dawn Penson lost all of her vision about six years ago due to a hereditary disease.

The Bridgeport native, who had been living in Texas for several years, decided to move back to Central New York and eventually enroll at OCC.

“I said I just don’t want to settle, I want to be better,” Penson said.

All she needed to declare a major at OCC was her high school transcript from Texas.

She says, “The school that I went to was closed and I said okay let me call the Texas Education Agency and they said that the school was a scam.”

So without a diploma Penson set out to get her GED in New York State.

The test had been privatized and renamed but also created a big obstacle for people like Penson.

Nancy Carr, of the Office of Accessibility Resources at OCC, says, “The State had gone ahead with this new test without making sure people like Dawn would be able to take it.”

OCM BOCES, State Ed and the Commission for the Blind set off on what would be an 18-month journey to create a test for the visually impaired.

Penson says, “Of course I was hurt because it was like for every step forward was two steps back.”

When it did finally come to test time it took Penson nine hours over four days to take the TASC or new form GED to get it done.

“Dawn passed it, again I imagine it’s some sort of record in NYS I wouldn’t be surprised as a person who is totally blind who passed it for the first time,” Carr says.

Laurel Saiz, one of Penson’s OCC professors, tells NewsChannel 9, “It’s a heartwarming story, it’s a successful story but again it’s not because she’s blind and has succeeded it’s because she’s Dawn.”

Coming off a 4.0 last semester Penson plans to graduate from OCC next spring and then go on to get her Bachelor’s and Master’s focusing on disability advocacy.

“So if I can do it then it’s opening up the doors for the next person,” she says.

Penson will receive her GED or TASC diploma at the OCM BOCES ceremony being held next week.

She’ll also be the commencement speaker and because she can’t read it, will memorize her whole speech.

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