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Blind Foreign Exchange Student Rarely Slows Down

Kristy Hyland is from Melbourne, Australia, but walks around the University of Florida campus at a New York City clip--a surprising pace, considering she is legally blind. "I like to get where I'm going," she said.

Going places seems to be a theme of Hyland's life. Before beginning at UF, she travelled around the United States--New York City, Los Angeles and Miami Beach--with only her dog. Keegan, a black Labrador, has been her guide dog for two and a half years. He responds to "voice, touch and ESP," according to Hyland.

The public relations major from Melbourne Royal Institute of Technology is one of a handful of international students who have a severe disability. In addition, she is believed to be the first legally blind exchange student at UF. "In eight years of working with incoming exchange students, I have never had any declared impaired students until this semester, with Kristy and another wheelchair-bound student from the Netherlands," said Lyn Straka, exchange program adviser at the UF International Center. "Kristy is unique in many ways and an inspiration to all of us."

Hyland is one of two legally blind students currently enrolled in "Leisure Services for People with Disabilities" in the College of Health and Human Performance. The class prepares students to work with the disabled through a curriculum that includes topics that range from nutrition to humour therapy, said Robert Beland, associate professor.

"We want all students to have an understanding of working with people with disabilities," Beland said. "Not because they are going to have jobs in this field specifically, but because people with disabilities are part of the fabric of our everyday lives."

On one particular day in the "Leisure Services for People with Disabilities" class, Keegan seemed to focus on the "leisure" aspect, choosing to nap on the carpeted floor. Hyland, however, rarely slows down. During the last several minutes of class, Professor Beland asked students to write down their favourite leisure activities.

The moment he gave the instruction, Hyland's fingers began flicking over the keys of her laptop to write down No. 1: Walking with the dog.

Reprinted from the University of Florida's website,, December 2, 2008.

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