"It opened my world to other possibilities," said 12-year-old Jaxon Sheff about his recent outing with Game, Fish, and Parks Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus. After he was diagnosed as being legally blind within his first year of life, his parents Jen and Justin Scheff never dreamed he would experience activities like this one.
“My wife Jen noticed that he was seeing through her or he wasn't focusing, and we ended up going to the pediatric eye specialist here in Sioux Falls. He told us Jaxon was completely blind. The night we came home, I think that's about the only time I've ever cried,” recalled his father Justin.
Jackson was born with ocular albinism, which is a genetic disorder that cannot be cured. People with this disorder have severely blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and problems with combining sight from both eyes to see distance and depth.
“We go through all the ups and downs when you get told your child is was blind, you know, can they do this? Can they not do this? My wife Jen and I decided that he'll be able to do whatever he wants,” Justin said.
Leaning on their positivity and finding outside support Jen and Justin began navigating this extremely rare condition while continuing to grow their family.
“We ended up thinking, you know, it's ocular albinism, let's have another kid. His brother Jaron has it too. It was a genetic that was passed down from my wife and they didn't know that they even added in their family,” he explained. “Their eyes developed really slow with his glasses, his glasses don’t fix his eye condition just clears up the eyesight you have. So he's right at 20 over 200 With glasses right at that legally blind mark.”
Jaxon was proud when he explained his eye condition, “one in 60,000 people can get my vision and I’m that one in 60,000. Our disabilities don't define us.”
His dad went on to say, “that's kind of a mantra in our family. They can do whatever they set their heart out or mind out to. It’s something we deal with every day and try to adjust things as needed.”
One area with a gap in accessibility is in sports, so the Scheff family is always on the lookout for opportunities the brothers can participate in. That’s when Justin saw the Sioux Falls Game, Fish and Parks Outdoor Campus was hosting an outing that Jaxson was old enough for.
“We saw this in this program in the paper to apply and the turkey in this fall city limits. I explained his vision, they made sure to set the decoys up not too far out so it was close enough where he could see at least the movement.
“I woke up that morning I was so excited,” Jaxon explained. “I couldn't see the turkeys, but my dad told me about it and I wasn't sure if I was aiming at the decoy or the actual turkey, but when I shot, I heard a gobble and they said ‘you got it!’”
“There's so much he's always told, he can't do this, he can't do that, can't see this and it's fun to see it set up where he can be successful. It was an amazing experience. I would like to give a special thanks to the volunteers of the Outdoor Campus,” Justin said.
Jaxon then shared that he wrote about what the experience meant to him.
“Having a visual disability makes me different. Sometimes it makes me feel lonely. The 2021 Turkey hunt opened my world to other possibilities. I finally felt a part of something that could involve and be a part of a group. I realized that it was okay for me to be me when my eyes don’t work well. These volunteers are great hunters, mentors, and teachers. I'm very grateful for this program and hope I can participate in others. Thank you so very much.”