Meet Mackenzie Strong, a blind woman with albinism who is motivated by a desire to educate. At Illinois College, she juggles the roles of Student Body Vice President and Vice President of her literary club, as well as a double major in history and secondary education and competitive swimming…
Mackenzie’s albinism is not a hindrance; rather, it has become her superpower for navigating life.
Albinism is a rare hereditary disorder that causes vision impairment by reducing the quantity of melanin pigment in the skin, hair, and/or eyes. Individuals with albinism have impaired eyesight that cannot be corrected with eyeglasses..
Legally blind, Strong must frequently hold her phone very near to her face and zoom in to view information, for instance. According to Albinism.org, in the United States, around one in 18,000 to 20,000 persons have albinism. She never let the fact that she was strong prevent her from chasing her aspirations.
“I began competing in beauty pageants at age six, primarily because I lacked friends. “It’s difficult to be different and not fit in with everyone else,” stated Strong.
At her first beauty pageant, Strong placed second, which provided an immediate confidence boost.
She now attributes most of her skill set to pageants: “I have interview skills, I have no trouble with public speaking, and I can think on my feet.” Today, Strong has the Miss Round Lake Area 2022 title.
Strong realized at a young age that she wanted to educate others about albinism in addition to competing in beauty pageants.
Her mother added an albino photographer as a Facebook friend, allowing Strong to meet others with the same affliction. Several of these individuals have discussed their albinism experiences on YouTube.
Strong stated, “I remember always wanting to do that after watching their movies.” Currently, she has approximately 400,000 followers on TikTok and an expanding Instagram presence.
Strong maintains a positive outlook and seeks to educate others online rather than allowing negativity to impact her, despite getting stupid remarks regarding her condition.
Strong faced with the stigma of disabilities in school, as well.
“My swim team never spoke to me, even though I swam with these females for four years.
“The only thing I could think of that made us different was that I was competing in a different category than they were,” Strong said, referring to the fact that she competed in the impaired group in high school.
“We have categories for men and women. We normalize those two groups so much, but we’re not normalizing another category that’s there for the exact same reason.
We must recognize that individuals with impairments have the right to compete with their peers.”
As a college athlete, though, Strong competes against able-bodied swimmers–proof that she merits her position. “Able-bodied” refers to those who have no illness, injury or condition that makes it difficult to do tasks other people do.
Given her experiences, Strong desires to normalize disability. To her, education is crucial; for instance, few able-bodied individuals are aware that athletes in the Paralympics compete against individuals with the same impairment in order to ensure fairness.
“Once we as a society are educated and able to recognize that people with disabilities have a place in the sporting world, those meets will be more safer for us,” she said.
Additionally, Strong promotes able-bodied folks to allow disabled individuals to enjoy autonomy. She recalls how her weightlifting coach dissuaded her from participating in the sport due to her illness, unaware that Strong had been lifting for four years prior.
“If you want [disabled] people to be included, you must let them speak for themselves instead of choosing if they deserve to be there,” added Strong.
Strong is now active in various projects. She is the creator of the organization VIDA—Visible Invisible Disability Advocates. Strong chose the theme “Diversity Includes Disability” for her literary society’s play, which raises awareness of impairments, lowers stigma, and encourages accessibility.
As Miss Round Lake Area 2022, Strong intends to read books about children with disabilities to students in her community and guarantee that these stories are available in local libraries.
Strong has difficulties managing the duality of wanting others to be aware of her disability while also ensuring that her condition is not her entire life, despite the need of representation.
Strong stated, “I am known on campus as the girl with the stick, but I wish I was known as Kenzi.” “I wish people remembered me for the things I chose to do, rather than the one thing I didn’t.”
Strong intends to become a teacher after graduating, despite the widespread belief that blind persons cannot perform this profession.
“I shall make arrangements for myself. I will not allow my loss of vision to prevent me from doing what I want to do. Strong added, “I realize that it is a part of who I am, but not all of who I am.
Strong’s ultimate professional objective is to lead the Special Education Department of a large school system.
During her first two years of high school, she lacked the required help and resources, and she now aspires to ensure that no other impaired student endures a similar situation.
“I want to be the person who prepares teachers to teach a child with a disability by speaking with them. Strong remarked, “I can speak from the heart about why it is so vital for every teacher to accommodate.”
Strong feels that society is making steady progress toward establishing a more inclusive world for persons with disabilities, and she intends to be a part of this transformation in the future.