Like many college students, Luka Krmpotich wakes up early so he can brew a pot of coffee before heading out to class.
But unlike many of the 50,000 other students on campus, the psychology major is borderline blind, or what he refers to as having “low vision.”
Krmpotich, who was born prematurely, needed extra oxygen to live. The treatment left him without vision in his right eye and minimal sight in his left eye.
What he can see at 20 feet, people with perfect vision can see at 200 feet.
But Krmpotich lives an active life. He grew up in the mountains of Idaho skiing, biking and skateboarding — and surprising many that only saw his visual impairment.
His disability, however, has prevented him from graduating college on time.
Krmpotich, 26, was slated to graduate in spring, but statistics — a class based off visual comprehension of symbols — has kept him in school.
Last week, the Minnesota Daily spent a day with Krmpotich, including in his statistics class, as he prepared to take his first midterm in what will ultimately decide when he graduates.
Southeast Como Neighborhood
Krmpotich’s clean bedroom contrasts the rest of the duplex he shares with two roommates, whom he met while working at the University of Minnesota’s Disability Services.
It didn’t take long for Krmpotich to pack up his backpack. But before he stored his laptop, he printed off a menu of the restaurant where he would eat that afternoon.
Menus are often printed too small for his eyes, so he previewed the menu before his lunch date.
Originally from Bonners Ferry, Idaho, a town 30 miles from the Canadian border, Krmpotich transferred from a community college there to the University.
As a kid, Minnesota was a second home. He spent many summers in the north woods mountain biking and visiting relatives.
He said he chose to transfer to the University because of the proximity to family and the public transportation system.
But that morning, the weather was too nice to catch a bus, and Krmpotich began to walk the two miles that will take him from his house to the West Bank.
Focusing on the road ahead, he gingerly crossed streets, unassisted by a cane. Krmpotich can navigate fine during the day, he said, but at night, problems multiply.
Uneven pavement and curbs can be hard to spot at night and in winter. It’s tough to recognize where the sidewalk ends and the road begins, he said, because everything looks the same.
Stats in Anderson Hall
Last Tuesday’s class was devoted to reviewing for Thursday’s midterm.
Every other student shuffled into a row and sunk into a seat for the 75-minute review. But Krmpotich had a seat saved up front.
He made his way to the front of the lecture hall and sat at the table designated for the disabled.
His Disability Services access assistant, Mattie Kim, was already there, her laptop ready for note taking.
Krmpotich has tried before to go through class without an access assistant, but he needs someone to be his eyes.
“It’s frustrating at times [to ask for help],” he said. “But it’s important to ask for help, and if people have problems with helping me read, it’s their problem.”
Kim took notes while Krmpotich followed along on his laptop. A separate extendable keyboard sat on his lap.
His craned his neck, his face inches away from the screen to read it, and often used his finger to keep his place.
The three previous times he took this class, the instructors taught more visually, one reason he said he failed.
But this semester, the course is taught by Yanjie Bian.
Krmpotich visited Bian’s office before this semester to learn more about his teaching style, which the professor saw as a sign that he was committed to passing.
“He’s a very good student,” said Bian, whose PowerPoint slides are accessible to Krmpotich before class.
Krmpotich felt confident for the test after the review session and left for his Spanish class, where he would be taking a test that Friday as well.
It’s midterm week.
Spanish in Folwell Hall
The day’s topic was “ecoturismo.”
Krmpotich consulted a different access assistant, Andrew Klein, and raised his hand to give the professor his definition.
Klein is normally not Krmpotich’s note-taker in Spanish and barely knows the language himself, but the usual access assistant was unavailable.
Klein is there to help Krmpotich follow the visual components of the class, like a map of South America.
Every so often, Klein nudged Krmpotich and told him he was on the wrong slide on the PowerPoint he was following.
Krmpotich periodically pulled up his recording software and marked a time in the recording so he could reference it later.
The last one to leave the classroom, Krmpotich stayed after to ask questions. He told his professor that he will be attending her office hours later that afternoon.
Krmpotich had a lunch date with a friend after Spanish class, his last class of the day.
At first, Krmpotich didn’t see his friend and walked right by her. But she grabbed him by the arm, caught his attention and gave him a hug before they ducked into Shuang Cheng Restaurant.
The girl, Palbasha Siddique, is a fellow psychology major he met in a history class two years ago. It’s been too long since they’ve last seen each other, they both said.
Siddique said Krmpotich, a good friend, inspires her.
“What makes him special to me is that he’s been through a lot in his life, something he has no control over,” she said, “and still everyday he goes on living life just like any other person, even though it takes considerably more effort.”
After lunch, Krmpotich visited his Spanish professor’s office hours. Then he went to his job as programming co-director of the Disabled Student Cultural Center.
Located on the second floor of Coffman Union, Krmpotich has spent hours in his office everyday, either finishing his homework or organizing events for other disabled students on campus.
In the DSCC office, apparatuses are available to help Krmpotich so he can zoom in on his textbooks.
Before the DSCC, Krmpotich worked as an access assistant, but instead of taking notes of classes or meetings for students and faculty, he converted documents to brail for Disability Services.
The office was the last stop on campus for Krmpotich before he headed home at about 6 p.m., just before sunset.
Today he walked, and got home before dark and cooked a dinner of rice and red peppers.
The next obstacle
Later that week, Krmpotich made a trip to the Brackett skate park a couple miles south of campus.
With a backpack stuffed with protective gear and a helmet, he suited up outside the park’s fences before heading in.
Cautious at first, he warmed up skating around the park before venturing onto the ramps.
Growing up in Idaho, the outdoors was an escape for Krmpotich. Pictures of him water skiing and fishing are scattered throughout his Facebook.
Krmpotich’s parents were accomplished skiers and taught him well.
“I try not to ski or skateboard beyond my abilities,” he said. But Krmpotich has skied down double-black diamonds — the toughest slopes.
“I don’t look at a slope and say, ‘Oh I can’t see well enough so I’m not going to do it.’” Krmpotich said. “It’s not a consideration — it’s not even at the forefront of my thinking.”
While Krmpotich has conquered the mountains, college has been a challenge that he hasn’t yet hurdled.
“It’s been a big learning process,” he said. “It’s really the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
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