Like most Southern students, Chris and Kyla Slaughter have faced their fair share of struggles navigating college life. But for them, the term “navigating” takes on a much more literal meaning. Chris, 43, and Kyla, 45, are both completely blind.
Unlike his wife, Chris was not born blind. In fact, he served in the United States Marine Corps while simultaneously completing an undergraduate degree in computer science and a master’s degree in program management. After 14 years serving as a ground combat infantry marine, Chris found a job developing software for the United States Department of the Navy.
According to Chris, his first wife became addicted to narcotic painkillers after she ruptured a vertebrate while giving birth to their daughter, Kinsley, on July 24, 2000. Her addiction followed their family when they moved to Quantico, Virginia. While driving home from work on Jan. 31, 2012, Chris had an intense argument with his wife on the phone. According to Chris, their conversation got “about as bad as it could get,” so he decided to end their phone call after pulling into the driveway.
“I finally said to her, ‘This conversation is over. I’m done. You just tell Kinsley that I said ‘hi’ and that I’ll see her again,’” Chris said. “And then I hung up the phone, and I reached in the glove box of my car, and I pulled out a handgun, and I shot myself in the head.”
Chris said he was put into a medically induced coma until Feb. 27. The gun wound not only caused Chris to lose his eyesight but also caused him to completely forget that he had shot himself. Although his family knew the truth, they told him he had been in a car accident. In January 2016, Chris’s psychologist told him how he truly became blind. Chris had already divorced his first wife when he learned the truth.
In April 2012, Chris flew to his parents’ home in Sacramento. While there, the California Department of Rehabilitation called Chris to tell him he was a good candidate for Society for the Blind, a non-profit organization that provides services and programs for the visually impaired. Chris went to Society for the Blind for about six months, and it was there that he met his future wife, Kyla.
Kyla was born at only 27 and a half weeks. Consequently, she was blind and weighed only two pounds and 10 ounces. In 1997, she obtained an associate arts degree. And before coming to Southern, she worked as a massage therapist in California for a year and a half. She is currently a junior social work major.
“I’m actually thankful for the blindness,” Kyla said. “If I hadn’t been born the way I was, I don’t think I would’ve been as receptive to being used by God and allowing Him to give me the talents and the gifts and the skills that I have and even the impression to go into social work.”
It was Kyla who first invited Chris to attend the Seventh-day Adventist church. Chris was baptized into the church on Oct. 15, 2016. Eventually, Chris and Kyla began dating and got married. Last year, Chris felt called to become a pastor, so he and Kyla moved to Southern. They currently live on Southern’s campus.
Originally, Kyla planned to receive a Tennessee massage therapy license and find work in Chattanooga. However, Ric Griffin, a counselor in Southern’s Student Success Center, suggested last semester that she pursue a career in social work because of her kind and warm character. She followed his advice and began taking classes at Southern this semester.
Chris’s pastoral aspirations changed, so he is not currently taking classes at Southern. However, he has been approved to register for an accelerated master’s program in social work, and he plans to begin classes at Southern again next semester.
According to Chris, his greatest difficulties at Southern have been navigating campus and obtaining and using digital books. Last semester, he did not receive his digital theology books until the seventh week, and even when he had them, the process of going through them was slow. However, Chris said the school itself and the people he has met have been “absolutely fantastic.” He is thankful for students and staff who often drive him and Kyla around campus on golf carts and for the improvements in transportation and digital book distribution he has seen recently.
“In a single semester, I’ve seen things go from good to fantastic, and I’m hopeful for when I register for next semester,” Chris said.
Like her husband, Kyla has struggled navigating campus, but she has a guide dog named Cherish who helps her. In addition, workers at Daniells Hall put up wind chimes to help Kyla find her way there. One of her greatest challenges, however, is finding rides off campus.
“I can’t just hop in a car and go somewhere,” Kyla said. “I have to make it this big production, or spend, you know, a whole lot of money on Uber just to get off campus.”
Kyla said Southern should put braille labels on their bathroom signs and ensure that all departments provide digital books to improve the experiences of visually impaired students. She also wishes students would continually introduce themselves when speaking to her or her husband because it is often difficult to distinguish between voices.
Both Chris and Kyla are thankful God brought them to Southern, and they both want students to feel comfortable interacting with them.
“We’re blind. That doesn’t mean we’re not incapable. It just means we can’t see,” Chris said. “But I promise, between a dog, a cane and maybe a couple words to a young woman or young man walking by, we can probably find what it is we’re looking for.”
“People don’t need to feel uncomfortable asking us questions,” Kyla said. “We are definitely approachable. You know, blindness is not a disease. We’re not a couple of weirdos just because we’re blind.”