Local News

Seeing blindness in a different light

The students sat attentively, mesmerized by what they were seeing in front of them. One by one, Cody Breen precisely selected and named each video game character he was going to use out of about 100 choices. He then sat and accurately scored points as his character battled and defeated a computerized nemesis: dodging jabs, making pinpoint shots from his laser weapon and outmaneuvering an all-out attack from a squad of robots.

The feat had probably been achieved thousands of times before but not the way Breen did it: without sight.

The demonstration of his prowess behind a video game remote control set was one of the more lighthearted aspects of Breen’s mission of equality and acceptance.

Since 2008, Breen, a student at South Florida State College, has volunteered his time to visit with students to speak about not only his condition but also the importance of viewing everyone equally, despite their outward appearances or differences.

On Friday, Breen spent time in the classroom of Sebring Middle School eighth-grade science teacher Donna Tomlinson during each period, not only chatting with students and showing off his skills and talents such as playing guitar and video games, but also speaking about acceptance and achievement.

Born in Vero Beach, Breen was diagnosed with the condition at 3 months old, and his mother, Michelle De La Paz, said doctors told her with Type 2 Plus, he was expected to also lose hearing, be mentally disabled and not live past 10 years old. However, he has since doubled that dire longevity forecast and volunteered his time to spread his message of a world without limits to between 2,000 and 3,000 students.

“I just want them to realize ... if you try hard enough, you can do anything,” he said, following a 9:45 a.m. science class period.

“I want people to know just because someone has this or that wrong with them, they don’t have to fit a stereotype that’s been given to them,” he said.

“By doing this, we hope the regular education students will learn to embrace and accept those with different disabilities and to treat disabled people like they would anyone else,” she said.

Wearing mirrored sunglasses, a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, Breen — who hopes to work in government intelligence gathering someday — finished each class with some songs and messages of motivation. He answered questions and explained he’s never had surgery to possibly partially restore some of his sight because being blind is “just the way I am.”

“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it; I’ve grown up like this, so there’s no need to change,” he said.” It would be like if someone told you that you wouldn’t be able to see tomorrow, you’d think ‘I’d have to relearn everything.’ I don’t want to have to do that.”

Just following the period bell, student Kaycie Thompson stopped to thank Breen for his visit. She said it was a motivational and moving experience to see him so active and involved, despite his visual condition.

“He can do everything we do; there’s really no difference,” she said.

In addition to annual visits to Sebring Middle School, Breen also made a presentation at Cracker Trail Elementary School in 2012.


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