There’s a familiar warmth in her grandparents’ house as her family entertains loud, lively conversations after opening gifts, hustling about the room, brushing against each other for more food and drinks.
It’s Christmas. Aimee sits coldly on the couch, still.
“I’m just a person in the corner going, ‘Why am I here?’” she said. “I like people. I just like them in small doses. More than three, four…I feel a bit lost in the crowd.”
Aimee Hart, a 31-year-old freshman at ORU, was visually impaired from birth. While she isn’t too familiar with the details of her condition, she says “too much medicine” and glaucoma in the left eye resulted in her ability to see only 5% of her visual capacity — lights and shadows.
Growing up, she didn’t need anyone to tell her she was different.
She felt different when girls raved about going to slumber parties she was never invited to. She felt different at school when she was guided to a separate room to take a test where an aide would read aloud the questions for her. She felt different when she couldn’t learn to drive at 16.
“You know when you get used to something, you’re so used to it, you don’t dwell on it? That’s kind of how I was. It was pretty lonely. I didn’t have many friends. I just knew I was different.”
Aimee’s family of seven — four brothers, one sister and her parents — moved from Cripple Creek, Colorado Springs, to Oklahoma about a year after Aimee was born. She fondly remembers her nature-oriented childhood of sledding, ice-skating and camping with her family.
But in quiet moments, when Aimee could take to her thoughts, she would write. She wrote fiction and short stories, reveling in the idea of getting inside the minds of different people and sharing a story through their eyes.
Her favorite subjects in school were the ones that lit up her creative side, like English, theatre, pottery and history. Science was “too visual” with “too much jargon.” But through these other subjects, she could explore the worlds of other people.
“I always enjoyed writing stories and telling people’s stories, and I enjoy talking to people.”
One evening, then 11-year-old Aimee walked into the living room where her parents were watching a Michael Moore documentary. She thought his voice was engaging and humorous, and believed that he made complicated concepts easy to understand. He became one of her heroes and an inspiration for getting involved in the social issues the country faces.
After graduating high school in 2007, she became more actively involved in politics. She assisted with former President Obama’s campaign making phone calls and participated in the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, which was a global movement to combat economic inequality.
Aimee currently helps with Sen. Bernie Sanders presidential campaign — as she had with his first run in 2016 — by door-knocking, canvassing, donating, and encouraging people to vote however she can.
She went to Oklahoma School for the Blind for her high school years after attending public primary and middle school. Her high school didn’t have many clubs or extracurriculars as creative outlets, but Aimee continued to write.
Aimee has lived with her father since her parents’ divorce during her early childhood. Her father, with intentions of love and compassion, tends to shelter her extensively, according to Aimee.
“It was the right time. I wasn’t ready for it emotionally a couple years ago,” Aimee said. “When you have an overprotective family, it can affect your own thought pattern without you really knowing it.”
Last year, she decided to “crawl out” of that overprotectiveness and aspired to get a degree. Her brother Justin introduced ORU to her, because his fiancé had attended.
“I was hesitant because I didn’t know what the environment would be like. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a Christian, but I’m not overly religious. I’m also a liberal in a conservative environment,” Aimee expressed.
After applying in 2019, she received the Whole Person Scholarship and Academic scholarship, so she figured she would try it out for a semester and see if she liked it. Not surprisingly, she chose to major in convergence journalism.
“My mom said, ‘remember to smile when you’re at ORU. Stay friendly,’” Aimee remembered. “I always knew I was different. But I’m a happy person. I’m a sensitive person. I’m normal.”
Although Aimee enjoys the friendly campus culture, she inevitably meets unique challenges when it comes to coursework.
She uses a braille display extension on her computer that helps her read emails and homework assignments, and reads textbooks for free through Bookshare, an ebook program “for people with reading barriers,” as it states on the site. But if her textbooks are not available on Bookshare, she contacts the publisher directly to request a braille copy.
Despite these daily obstacles, Aimee is now a second-semester freshman at ORU and has developed a more clear vision for her future.
In January, she started her first podcast called “Everyday People” where she interviews guests to tell their stories. With this in the works, she is currently editing her first episode featuring ORU Theology Professor Dr. Jeffrey Voth.
She records with her phone and USB headset microphone, edits the content and uploads to Anchor, a podcast host, which distributes episodes to a wide range of platforms including Apple and Spotify.
But the podcast is merely a “launching pad” for her mission.
“I’ve been an avid news-watcher for a long time. I was getting sick and tired of corporate mainstream media not covering stories of everyday people,” Aimee explained. “I think it’s important that the working class of this country get their stories out there and get their voice heard. I want to push back, revolutionize journalism, and bring it back to the people.”
This is her goal for the future creation of a news media company called the Everyday People Network, where she will interview and tell the stories of the poor and working-class in America, and eventually, people all around the world.
She plans to employ a team of sharp journalists stationed in various countries, who will be hired through a democratic process — post interview and trial run — where other journalists vote in applicants on website polls.
But most importantly, her team must share her passion — telling true stories of everyday people, amplifying the voices so little heard.
“I just hope that there will be more disabled journalists in the future, and that people will give them a chance,” said Aimee. “Because we’re just as capable.”