Kansas imposes unusual requirement on blind residents seeking ID renewal

Editor’s Note: As part of our Unheard Voices series, we are featuring guest columns written by residents of the Wichita area. These personal stories shed light on the barriers that hinder full participation in our community. We would like to express our gratitude to the American Press Institute for their generous funding through the Civic Discourse and Community Voices Fund.

I was born in Liberal and have spent the majority of my life in Wichita. Currently, I am pursuing my education at the KU School of Pharmacy, located at the medical campus north of downtown.

Being the first blind student to pursue a PharmD, I encounter numerous challenges in my journey. The sheer amount of material I need to learn, coupled with the visual nature of certain technical requirements, poses significant obstacles. These tasks, such as administering vaccines, verifying prescriptions, and preparing IV infusions, are typically considered visual in nature.

With a few adjustments, individuals who are blind can successfully complete tasks like these and many others. However, it requires instructors and others involved to have an open mind and a sense of curiosity in order to facilitate these adaptations.

I earned two undergraduate degrees from Wichita State University. One is in global studies, which I obtained in 2011. More recently, I completed a biology degree with a minor in chemistry in 2020. These achievements required not only studying and homework but also significant self-advocacy.

WSU has made tremendous progress in creating a more inclusive environment for blind students, and I take great pride in this achievement. However, the journey towards equality and accessibility is far from over. People with disabilities, including myself, constantly face obstacles that hinder our ability to fully participate in society and embrace the rights and responsibilities that come with adulthood.

One might assume that attaining success in a professional program like pharmacy would be the most daunting task for a blind individual. However, I would like to offer a unique viewpoint.

For individuals living with blindness, it is often the seemingly simple everyday tasks that pose the greatest challenges.

I recently encountered a challenge that I’d like to share with you.

As a visually impaired resident of Kansas, I am issued a state identification card in place of a driver’s license, which requires regular renewal.

Coordinating transportation to and from the Department of Motor Vehicles is a challenging task for me due to my busy school schedule. It is not easy to manage this additional responsibility alongside my classes and study sessions.

The iKan app offers a convenient solution for residents of Kansas to complete various tasks online. Among these tasks is the renewal of driver’s licenses and state ID cards.

I was filled with anticipation as I eagerly logged into the app and began the process of obtaining a new Real ID card. Initially, the online renewal process was seamless, which further fueled my optimism. I was thrilled to realize that I could proceed without having to disrupt my schedule by making an in-person visit.

When it came time to provide details about my recent optometry visit, that’s when things took a turn. The iKan app, which handles license and ID renewals, only accepts information from individuals who have undergone a vision assessment.

Being blind and holding a state ID instead of a driver’s license, it was incredibly frustrating and absurd to be mandated to visit an optometrist for a vision exam.

When I contacted the state of Kansas regarding this matter, they informed me that I had two options: either visit a DMV office in person or complete an inaccessible form, which would require blind individuals to provide their credit card information via email in order to renew their ID.

Blind individuals find online services and payment processing to be secure and convenient methods for various tasks. However, they are unable to benefit from the service that would make ID renewal accessible and efficient for them.

I efficiently complete tasks related to my licensing as a pharmacy intern by utilizing fillable PDF documents for accessible forms.

Renewing my state ID should be a simple and straightforward process, just like it is for sighted individuals. However, in reality, it becomes a complex and multi-step procedure for me. The main challenge lies in the fact that I am unable to independently fill out the required form. Additionally, there is the concern of transmitting my credit card information via email, which adds another layer of inconvenience and potential risk.

For years, we have been requesting online or virtual options, hoping that these services would become a reality. However, even now that they are available, we find ourselves once again excluded from accessing them.

The iKan system allows sighted individuals to securely process payments without putting their credit card information at risk. However, for individuals with visual impairments, there is a need to provide their credit card information remotely, which can be a security concern.

As a blind couple, my husband and I often rely on the help of sighted individuals to assist us with important paperwork. This is necessary for us to access healthcare services and ensure that our identification and other documents remain current and valid.

As individuals with visual impairments, we often find ourselves in a predicament where we must disclose personal or sensitive information to others, whereas our sighted counterparts have the luxury of utilizing more secure and confidential methods for similar tasks.

As a blind pharmacy student, I recently shared my experience to highlight the fact that numerous possibilities exist and that accessibility can be achieved for all individuals involved.

The iKan app situation is entirely fixable, particularly since the state already provides ID cards for blind individuals. This option could be incorporated into the online renewal process.

The failure to consider the special populations in the state has led to a significant access barrier.

When I find that calculating and mixing IV medications comes more naturally to me than a typical requirement, it’s time to speak up.

It’s not about requesting special treatment, but rather about ensuring equal participation in the online renewal service that sighted individuals in Kansas have access to.

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