After months of slights while teaching in Italy on a Fulbright scholarship, Jameyanne Fuller changes her life's course
Jameyanne Fuller is used to living life with no limits.
Blind since birth, Jameyanne has scaled an Andean mountain, earned a perfect 800 on her math SATs (despite her elementary school claiming blind children couldn’t learn math), used Braille to graduate Kenyon College with the highest of academic honors and was awarded a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to teach in Italy. Oh, and she’s also written two novels.
During the first month of her Fulbright in September 2014, Jameyanne was dining with members of an Italian Lion’s Club, whose mission was to promote independence for blind people. As Jameyanne cut the vegetables on her plate, the room erupted in applause.
“I didn’t think it was an impressive thing that I am cutting my own food, it was embarrassing and infuriating,” says Jameyanne, 25, who mastered a knife and fork as a little girl, just like children who could see.
When she got home late that night, “I thought, ‘I could be angry or upset, but I could do something about this,’ ” Jameyanne recalls.
She soon discovered that in the region of Italy where she was living, Umbria, “they kept their disabled children in the home and they were almost embarrassed.” The idea of a blind person shopping, using a Braille watch, even navigating the streets on her own with her guide dog, Mopsy, leading the way was just about unheard of.
It took a few more months of other slights, including officials at the Leaning Tower of Pisa forbidding Mopsy, entry to the tourist site despite a law allowing it, for her to take action.
Jameyanne decided to forgo her acceptance to a master’s degree program in comparative literature at Dartmouth to become a disability rights lawyer.
She applied to the top law schools in the U.S., and on Aug. 24, she begins her first year at Harvard Law School.
“Jameyanne, she can do anything,” her mother, Mary Fuller, 64, tells PEOPLE. “There are no boundaries and there shouldn’t be.”
It’s not known how many blind men and women have completed Harvard Law School – its media relations department won’t release figures due to privacy concerns. But Jameyanne doesn’t think it’s exceptional that she got in despite not being able to see.
“I feel like it’s amazing that “anyone” goes to Harvard Law School,” she says. “I don’t know what it’s like to see, I don’t know what I am missing. For me, the fact I’m blind isn’t a big deal.”
Jameyanne has been honored for her achievement, along with 16 other exceptional blind undergraduate and graduate students, who each recently received a $10,000 scholarship from Lighthouse Guild of NY, a not-for-profit vision and health care organization.
Another recipient, Emely Recinos, 18, of New York City, began losing her sight at 6 years old due to a rare degenerative vision loss disease called cone-rod dystrophy. Still, she is an accomplished pianist and drummer who also hopes to attend law school to better help the disabled.
“We believe that when you provide people with the right tools and support,” says Dr. Alan Morse, president and CEO of Lighthouse Guild NY, “there is no limit to what they can achieve.”
Jameyanne was born without irises – a condition called aniridia glaucoma. Growing up in Concord, New Hampshire, Jameyanne’s parents expected the same from her as from her two brothers.
“No one was going to pity me or my child,” says Mary, a former chemistry teacher. “That was a word that would not enter my house. We expected her to do everything and surely we were sometimes challenged.”
When Jameyanne’s elementary school didn’t want to teach her math because, the school said, “blind children didn’t do well at math,” Jameyanne’s parents filed a lawsuit, says Mary, noting both she and her physician husband have advanced degrees involving math. “My children were going to learn math.”
Jameyanne indeed ended up learning math using a specialized code for the visually impaired and earning a perfect score on her math SATs as a high school junior.
She also learned how to use BrailleNote, a computer that transforms emails, documents and electronic books into Braille right on the screen.
At Kenyon, the double English and Italian major wrote several novels, and interned at the prestigious literary journal the Kenyon Review.
“I could teach creative writing for a million years and never again encounter someone as extraordinary as Jameyanne,” Katharine Weber, Jameyanne’s college honors advisor and professor of creative writing, tells PEOPLE.
“What a joy to have been her teacher and what a privilege to know her. She is going to make her mark on the world.”
Jameyanne believes she already has. When she first arrived in Italy, store owners, markets and restaurateurs in her small town of Assisi forbid Jameyanne and Mopsy from entry, despite laws allowing the black lab to accompany Jameyanne everywhere.
“I had to advocate for myself every day just to live,” Jameyanne says. “I just wanted to get into a grocery store to get my milk.”
Over time, however, people learned to not only welcome her but were “coming out of the woodwork saying, ‘I have a friend or a cousin or a niece who is blind and I’m going to tell them what you did this year,’ ” she says.
“And I sort of realized that I really made a difference in this town, and I was just trying to live there. So what kind of difference can I make if I was seeking to make a difference?”