Paralympian works to support all visually impaired Floridians

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He has twice represented this country in goalball and now Donté Mickens will represent the state as Gov. Ron DeSantis recently appointed the Lighthouse for the Blind of the Palm Beaches chairman to the Florida Rehabilitation Council for the Blind.

Mickens, 40, of Delray Beach, is one of 10 appointees from Florida and the only one from the southeast region of the state.

“I am a former employee of the Division of Blind Services (2004-06) and a past recipient of the services they provide to Floridians who are blind or visually impaired,” said Mickens, whose condition is associated with albinism, which impacts a pigment in the hair, eyes, and skin. In addition to that, there is some level of visual impairment.

“Throughout my college years at Florida State, they provided me with financial support and resources to help me with a lot of my academic endeavors,” he said. “I wanted to give back and I have previously served on other boards and councils, so I reached out to the governor’s appointment office for an opportunity to serve once again on the Florida Rehabilitation Council for the Blind.”

Mickens, a financial consultant at the National Council on Compensation Insurance in Boca Raton, has been legally blind since birth.

“Being visually impaired my whole life, I don’t have anything to compare or contrast it to,” he said. “The different things I encountered in school were all I knew. It was definitely a challenge seeing the board in school and when I got into college with the stadium seating, it was hard to see what was going on in those large classrooms.”

Oftentimes, he would use different accessibility equipment like binoculars or he would speak with the academic staff, the teachers, and professors to try and negotiate a seat as close as possible to the front.

“A lot of them were really supportive and even met with me after class, providing me with materials in an accessible format,” he said.

Mickens, a two-time Paralympian in goalball, a team sport designed for athletes with vision impairment. Participants compete in teams of three and try to throw a ball that has bells embedded in it into the opponents’ goal.

“Goalball was an amazing experience,” Mickens said. “I got the opportunity to travel and represent the United States all over the world from 2003 and continued (playing) until 2015. I competed in Greece in 2004 in the Athens Paralympics where my team and I won a bronze medal there and competed in Bejing in 2008 where we finished just off the medal stand in fourth place.

“It opened a number of doors and opportunities for me to experience new things and travel to new places,” Mickens said. “The one thing that Paralympic sports does is it tends to level the playing field. Whatever the disability one might have, there is no advantage or disadvantage. In my case with goalball, all of the athletes are blindfolded and it takes hours to factor vision…it tapped the competitive spirits that I had and I got to experience what it was like to be an elite athlete.”

The council’s mission is to review, analyze and advise on the policy decisions and evaluates the effectiveness of the Florida Division of Blind Services to ensure meaningful access to and use of vocational rehabilitation and independent living programs for Floridians who are blind or visually impaired.

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Founded in 1946, The Lighthouse for the Blind of the Palm Beaches is a private, nonprofit agency providing education and rehabilitation services to people who are blind or visually impaired in Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties.

Lighthouse serves thousands of individuals of all ages with no fees are charged for eligible persons. The total clients served during 2020 was 2,835, and of those, 405 were children.

Mickens said he is looking forward to getting started.

“I would like to support the Florida Rehabilitation Council for the Blind and maximize the potential for the services that they might have,” he said. “I would like to improve on the service and provide full access to all Floridians with vision loss. There is a huge impact on seniors and vision loss. They are now having to learn how to live independently with less sight and that is cooking, transportation challenges and different household type of activities.”

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