60 Seconds with Benedikt Roemer

Name: Benedikt Römer

Age: 26

Where do you live? Bayreuth, Franconia/Germany

How many relatives do you have with BCM? Only my grandfather. I am the only one of his eleven grandsons who was born with BCM. There are more cases in our extended family though.

What is your job/would you like your job to be? I am currently a research associate at a university in Germany and pursuing a PhD project in the Study of Religions. I occasionally also teach at our faculty. If I get the chance, I would like to stay in academia later, however the competition for positions at the postdoctoral level can be very tough.

What are your hobbies? Learning languages, aside from having been a necessity for my studies, developed into my greatest hobby throughout the past few years. Especially learning Turkish and Persian but also Arabic and Hebrew has been great fun! I also like playing the piano and guitar, reading (if possible with my e-reader or video magnifier since I find using magnifying glasses quite exhausting), going on long walks and watching football.

What is your most useful BCM tip? There are so many things that could be mentioned here! Generally, I have felt more comfortable knowing that the people around me are aware of my disability. This is why, whenever entering new environments, I have always tried to inform people about it as soon as possible. You can avoid misunderstandings and awkward moments this way, ranging from things like people thinking you purposefully ignore them when you actually cannot recognise them, to (more or less) humorous remarks about one wearing “indoor sunglasses”. My overall experience has been that people, once they know about it, are trying to be very welcoming and supportive. This is particularly true from a certain age onwards. Of course, being the only visually impaired pupil at a regular school can be hard now and then, as one is confronted with one’s being different on a daily basis and at a sensitive age. Children can be very mean and often are unable to understand the consequences of what they say and do. I think the best way is to deal self-confidently and rationally with uncomfortable situations – as someone else in this series has put it “stand up to bullies, but don’t let anger guide your response to ignorant people”. Another tip is that one should try to stay informed about what low vision tools are on the market. It is quite astonishing how rapidly new technologies are being developed! My rather simple go-to life hack when dealing with distant objects is taking a quick photo with my smartphone and then zooming in.

Greatest achievement/proudest moment so far… 
Although I couldn’t really say I am proud of it, my greatest achievement has probably been to succeed at studying at university. I remember being completely overwhelmed with everything on my first day: big lecture halls, inconvenient lighting, large amounts of reading and generally the new environment – everything was completely daunting for me. I went home thinking “I am not going back there tomorrow”. This was at a time when I was completely unfamiliar with the many great tools out there and had not been in touch with any organisation offering support. I rarely ever wore sunglasses! I then contacted the university’s disability office who were extremely helpful and provided me with a working place in the library adjusted to my needs, purchasing a video magnifier etc. For the first time I was seriously looking into what tools could help me, for instance by visiting the “SightCity” fair in Frankfurt/Main. All that was seven years ago. Today I feel very much at home at the university environment and as I said above even would like to keep working there if possible. Sure, there still are (sometimes unforeseen) obstacles, but I have met many individuals who have encouraged me to pursue this path and supported me whenever problems came up. This has been a true blessing.

Not many people know this about me but…
I sometimes when needing assistance in a shop, public office, restaurant, public transport etc. rather than going into all the “excuse me, I have a visual impairment, could you please…” simply say “oh, it seems I forgot my glasses at home, could you please …”. This may prevent typical follow-up comments like “Have you ever thought about getting glasses?”, “Are you sure there is no cure for this?”, “But you are so young?!” or “Stop pulling my leg, you look completely normal!” – although they sometimes can be quite entertaining!