October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month
By Christy Odom and Rev. Earnestine Campbell
Since birth, Evan Dixon has been sensitive to light and has had color distinction issues. Diagnosed at age 12 with Retinitis Pigmentosa, an eye disease in which the back wall of the eye (retina) is damaged causing severe vision impairment, he lost peripheral sight in 2012. Despite this debilitating disease, Dixon, a member of Bemiss United Methodist Church in Valdosta, has been positive and lives as normal a life as he can. He shares the inspirational journey of his faith.
Dixon says his faith journey began when he was involved in the middle school band.
In addition to sight complications, his vision disability brings balance issues. He made the band, but was placed on the alternate line. There was no performance for those on the alternate line, so he spent a lot of time sitting idly, not practicing. One day a friend asked where Dixon attended church. Dixon responded that he hadn’t been to church since his grandmother passed away a few years prior. His grandmother was his rock, Dixon said, and when she died, his faith was tested and his parents stopped attending church. His friend invited him to church, and Dixon has been at Bemiss UMC since. He remembers fondly that the pastor at the time was Rev. James Sapp.
During this same time, he attended a youth retreat at Epworth By The Sea. Dixon knew of Christ, but didn’t really know Him. Still grieving his grandmother’s death, a friend convinced Dixon to let go of his grief. Dixon accepted Christ that evening at the service and found faith and Christ.
Dixon attended college at Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa Falls, Ga, a small town in North Georgia. Feeling isolated, he came to realize that he was losing his independence. This situation became hard for Davis, and he said he almost committed suicide. He called Heather, his high-school sweetheart, and she talked him down. There were friends from church that helped, and the next day Heather got him into counseling.
He says there have been plenty of times that he has yelled at God and asked, “why me?” Challenges continued, but Dixon realized he had to make a choice. He chose God!
Dixon and Heather, his high school sweetheart, have been married since 2015. He says she is his rock and love. Heather is a substitute teacher. Dixon had been in denial with needing help for years, but Heather encouraged him to get help and has always been there for him.
Even with Dixon’s disability, he is driven to lead a normal life. He got his first job in 2016 at Outback Steakhouse. He said that this made him feel good. Dixon says he was surprised to have gotten the job because he didn’t apply. But the disability service at Vocational Rehabilitation put in the application for him and made sure he had a good resume. This service looks for jobs based on your ability and interview. Currently, he works in the warehouse at the Regional Distribution Center in Valdosta. His job duties include putting and getting boxes off of the conveyor belt. Dixon says it’s tough with his eyesight challenges, but he has a work partner that helps when needed.
Accommodations and support
Evan didn’t need special accommodations until he graduated from high school. However, he went on to graduate from college, where college provided little accommodations.
Because of Evan’s disability, he can barely read, but with the use of visual aids, such as screen readers and other aids like mobility cane, vocational rehabilitation, and voice-over technology, he can enjoy some level of reading and other functionalities. Before this, he was at the point where he could barely see the book.
Ministry and support
Dixon and Heather plan to lead an online Sunday school service where they will record and put the lessons online and are in the process of working out the logistics.
Dixon says the church is a source of support by the people’s presence and just being a part of the church. They have supported him and Heather with helping them attend conferences and events. He says they have been able to go to wonderful places and meet new people. The church is also accommodating with worship literature in making sure that the font is large to improve his ability to read it.
Dixon has recently taken the Certified Lay Speaking class and says that, while serving in this capacity will be challenging, he knows that staying with God will help him through. He says he didn't initially want to hear this, but he knows now through his faith journey that “God has the plan.”
His dream: what others can do to help?
Dixon says having assistance like braille would help persons with vision disabilities — a large print version of bulletins, other literature, and screens. Reading out loud during worship would make for a better worship experience. He says he still struggles in the area of communication, so he has a hard time communicating his needs and asking for help in these areas.
Because of his journey in the Music Department at Valdosta, Evan says it has helped the college make accommodations for persons with disabilities. Belonging to groups with persons with disabilities and the Wesley Foundation was also sources of support on campus.
Evan asks for prayers for his younger sister, Alyssa, who is now living with this debilitating disease. Being a source of support for her now helps him to understand what his wife, Heather, has gone through for many years.
For more conversation about this issue, contact Christy Odom, Advocacy/Persons with Disabilities Subcommittee Chair, or Rev. Earnestine Campbell, Connectional Ministries, Advocacy Staff, at email@example.com.