Lack of sight didn’t keep Whitney-area woman from being a great mom

Samantha Johnson, 18, is grateful for her mom, but she doesn’t think there’s anything very unusual about her.

“She taught me all my letters, colors and shapes. She taught me basically everything I know,” Samantha said. “Most of the time, my friends don’t realize she’s blind at first.”

Sue Johnson was born with congenital glaucoma and has been legally blind all her life and completely blind since she was 7. She works as a counselor with the Clark County School District and has two daughters, Samantha, who is set to enter college in the fall, and Mandi, 17, who is a high school junior.

“There’s nothing much different between my mom and a sighted parent,” Samantha Johnson said. “The only difference was we needed help with transportation, or she might need help reading a label.”

Sue Johnson said that her daughters were a great help reading prices and such at stores, and she believes they learned to read and write at a younger age to help her out.

“My oldest daughter was speaking at 18 months. My younger daughter was different, but that may be because my oldest never shut up,” Sue Johnson said with a laugh. “They learned at an early age how to fill out forms from school.”

The Johnsons share an easy and infectious sense of humor. When it was Samantha Johnson’s turn to chime in, she joked to her mother, “You mean I’m supposed to talk nice about you?”

Jokes aside, the family members respect and are impressed by one another. Samantha Johnson said her favorite thing about her mother is how incredibly driven she is.

“She doesn’t let anyone tell her she can’t do something because she can’t see,” she said.

Sue Johnson’s mother, Barb Jensen, said Sue was an inquisitive child.

“If we were talking about something that was there, she always wanted to ‘see’ it,” Jensen said. “We had to put everything into her hand so she knew what we were talking about.”

Sue Johnson grew up in Sioux Falls, S.D., and her mother said she was the first blind student in the public school in the area.

“Title IX came in, so they had to (let her into public school),” Jensen said, referring to the Equal Opportunity in Education Act. “It took a while to get the program going, but now it’s going strong.”

Jensen said that early on, prisoners were given the task of converting classroom reading materials into Braille.

“At that time there weren’t computers that talked, and all of her books had to be Brailled or recorded,” Jensen said.

While Sue Johnson was attending college, her sister moved to Las Vegas, and their parents followed. When Sue Johnson graduated, her parents encouraged her to come live near them. She didn’t take to the city immediately, so her parents tried to introduce her to a few people so she’d have friends in the area. At the time, Johnson’s father was working for Young Electric Sign Co., and he introduced her to one of his co-workers, Mike Johnson.

“It was a blind date, of course,” Sue Johnson said. “Literally and figuratively.”

The pair clicked despite Sue Johnson’s admission that she had no concept of what a neon sign was. Mike Johnson learned Braille so he could write notes to Sue, and they soon married.

“We didn’t hyphenate the names because that would be ridiculous,” Sue Johnson said.

When the children came, the Johnsons implemented what Sue called “Super baby proofing,” but otherwise the child rearing was ordinary.

“When they were really young, we didn’t let them play out in the front yard,” she said. “We had a fenced backyard, and that’s where they played. We didn’t walk out the front door unless I had a hold of the youngest one.”

Mike Johnson worked early, so Jensen drove her grandchildren to school and her daughter to work.

“That’s how I helped out, but my daughter’s very independent and always has been,” Jensen said. “I enjoyed seeing the grandkids every morning.”

When the kids got older, they walked to school and used public transportation to get around. Samantha Johnson said she doubts many of her friends have ever been on a public bus, but because they know her mother, they are more educated about the blind.

“I know what a cane is. I know how an abacus works,” Samantha Johnson said. “I know the etiquette associated with a guide dog. If it’s in a harness, you don’t touch it.”

The family’s education about people with special needs was also expanded by Mike Johnson, who is now a special education teacher working with autistic children.

Jensen said that her daughter raised the children well but that didn’t surprise her.

“She’s always been such a sweetheart, and she still is,” Jensen said.

Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 380-4532.

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