TEI Patient Aims to Raise Awareness About Albinism

Kennedy Walker - Albinism Patient at TEIKennedy Walker is a model, artist and doll maker. However that’s not the only thing that sets this teenager apart—she was also born with albinism and is legally blind.

Albinism is an inherited condition that reduces the amount of melanin (pigment) in the skin, hair and eyes. According to the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH), the disorder affects approximately one in every 18,000 to 20,000 people in the United States.

Due to the abnormal development of the retina and poor nerve connections between the eye and the brain, people with albinism often suffer from vision impairment.

Faced with the challenge of low vision, Kennedy’s parents credit optometrists from The Eye Institute (TEI) with providing the proper therapy and treatment their daughter needed.

“When I first learned that my daughter had albinism, I didn’t know too much about it and was very concerned about her vision because she’s legally blind,” said Kenneth Walker, Kennedy’s father. “The doctors were able to explain and give us services and have people come to the house for therapy. It gave me a peace of mind.”

Despite Kennedy’s diagnosis, she uses art as a creative outlet. Kennedy carefully draws her albino dolls – or albi dolls as she calls them – each dressed in fashionable clothes. Using yarn to create 3-D hair, she creates the dolls in hopes that one day they will be available to the community-at-large to represent individuals with albinism.

Kennedy DrawingsAccording to her parents, Kennedy’s artistic talents developed at an early age. She illustrated a book when she was just a first grader and subsequently won two scholarships to attend summer workshops in art and fashion design at the Moore College of Art & Design – the first and only women’s visual arts college in the country.

According to her mother Gieselle Brown, Kennedy has always been naturally shy and struggled with confidence because of her albinism. Brown’s goal is to help her daughter increase her self-esteem by capturing her image through photography and supporting her artistic talents.

“I’m teaching her to love herself in spite of what people may do or say,” Brown said. “We told her to recognize the gifts and talents she possesses.”

Kennedy has been invited to speak for numerous organizations, many of which initially took note of her story from a photo her mother posted on Facebook in 2016.

During that same year, Kennedy caught a local photographer’s eye while he was working on a photo shoot. Inspired by Kennedy’s unique image, the photographer took a series of photos. Her mother posted one of the photos from the shoot on Facebook - it eventually went viral with more than 30,000 likes and over 15,000 shares on social media.

“Children with albinism were coming forth saying, ‘I’m so proud of what you’re doing. You’re courageous. You’re inspiring us,’” said Kennedy's father. “These are the things we want to continue to implement to continue to help others be happy with themselves. For Kennedy it’s an on-going process as well, having her gain confidence and accept who she is.”