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Sweet Treats Raise Awareness of Blindness and Vision Impairment

By Erin Garrett

University Communications

University of Mississippi music major Sarah Harmon decorates cookies in Rebel Market as part of her effort to commemorate both White Cane Day on Oct. 15 and World Braille Day, coming up Jan. 4. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Uniformed in a chef’s hat and jacket, University of Mississippi freshman Sarah Harmon sat at a special table in the Rebel Market on Nov. 10 decorating cookies. She adorned the treats with words such as “dream,” “love” and “joy.”

These were no ordinary cookies, however, and Harmon is no ordinary baker. Harmon, who has been blind since birth, wrote the words in braille to raise awareness of those with visual impairments.

“It made me feel like I was in a Hallmark movie,” said Harmon, a music education major from Oxford. “Making cookies while the music was playing, and people were going about their day.”

The idea for braille cookies came to her while she and her family were driving home from a summer trip.

University of Mississippi music major Sarah Harmon shares her braille cookies with guests at the Rebel Market to raise awareness of blindness and visual impairment. The freshman, who has been blind since birth, worked with Ole Miss Dining to help spread happiness and demonstrate that visually impaired people can accomplish many of the same goals as sighted people. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

“Of course, I was thinking about sweets because I love them,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘You know what? You see cookies these days with all this print writing on it, but I’ve never seen any that have braille.’

“I thought I could use icing as glue and mini M&Ms as the braille. It actually worked out really well.”

In recognition of White Cane Day on Oct. 15 and World Braille Day on Jan. 4, Harmon set out to offer cookies to fellow classmates. A regular at Rebel Market, Harmon reached out to Michael Brainard, executive chef of Ole Miss Dining, to put the wheels in motion.

Brainard said Harmon is an “inspiration to all students.”

“She has encountered challenges on campus that other students might not think about in their everyday life, such as navigating her way around the dining hall, finding food options, understanding menu information, and finding seating and safely moving through the dining hall—especially when it’s busy,” Brainard said.

The cookies feature words such as ‘joy,’ ‘sing’ and ‘dream’ written in braille with M&Ms. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Transportation to and from campus is one of Harmon’s prime challenges as she adjusts to college life. The first few weeks of class were a frustrating mixture of overassistance and underassistance, she said.

“Blind people can do things,” she said. “We just need a little help every now and again.”

A soloist and pianist since elementary school, Harmon uses music as an outlet. It was the reason she decided to attend Ole Miss.

“Music has helped me over the course of my life,” she said. “It’s not just a hobby; it makes a positive influence on mental health.

“Music has helped me prove people wrong. For some reason, when people think of blindness, they think of a mental deficit instead of a visual deficit. They treat me differently. When I sing or play piano, however, they say, ‘Whoa, I didn’t think you could do that.'”

Harmon said she has found a home in the Department of Music.

“In the music building, a lot of students have gotten to know me,” she said. “I have a lot of friends who will hang out with me while I wait for my ride.”

Nancy Maria Balach, chair and professor of music, said her department is filled with “a supportive community of incredible people.”

“From the first time Sarah visited campus, her passion for music and commitment to learning were evident,” Balach said. “We are thrilled she chose UM music, and it is pure joy to be around her.

“Music students work so hard and engage collaboratively from the very start of their studies. Music faculty are dedicated to meeting students where they are and propelling them forward. We are honored to be part of Sarah’s journey.”

Since making the braille cookies, Harmon said she has seen a positive response from fellow students who saw her cookies on social media and those who attended the event.

Brainard was thrilled with the opportunity to help Harmon spread positivity and awareness.

“Social inclusion and awareness about her needs are important aspects for a positive college experience, and that’s what we aim to provide,” he said.

Above all, Harmon wants her classmates to remember two things:

“Don’t ever take your vision for granted,” she said. “And remember to respect those around you, no matter their abilities.”

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