B'ville native fights blindness and crime

SUNY Oswego criminal justice major Erin Scala faces challenges head-on.

When retinitis pigmentosa began to seriously affect her vision two years ago she grieved, then picked herself up and made plans for her future. She'd wanted to be a police officer since childhood, and in high school she did an internship with the Baldwinsville Police Department. She thought she'd have to give up the idea as her vision deteriorated.

Now 22, Scala of Baldwinsville is legally blind, but she hasn't given up her plan for a law enforcement career. She successfully completed a summer job at the Onondaga County Probation Department in Syracuse. She wasn't too optimistic at first.

"I thought they'd have me just sitting doing paperwork," she said with a laugh.

She got more than she'd hoped for.

"She worked with our DWI team, our city team, and pre-trial release. Erin is very adaptable," said her supervisor, Ed Detor.

She made late-night home visits and came in early to work at the jail. She followed some clients over time from the jail interview to court. She did ride-alongs with officers during her free time.

"I was nervous at first," she admitted. "But now I feel a ton of confidence. I'm more aware of my surroundings."

Scala uses a white cane. She wore a bulletproof vest and always traveled with at least one other officer. When she did have to do paperwork, she worked on a computer equipped with Jaws, software that lets the computer speak. She also took a self-defense class at Premier Martial Arts in Liverpool. She reasoned that the class would help her in a future law enforcement career. The New York State Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped (CBVH) agreed, and approved funding for the class.

"I'm so much more confident with it," she said.

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