MURRAY, Utah (ABC4) – A visually impaired high school culinary teacher is not just showing his students how to cook, but how to overcome challenges to achieve their dreams.
K.C. Gray, a teacher at Murray High School, was diagnosed with a genetic eye disorder called Retinitis Pigmentosa on his 13th birthday. It was later defined as Cone Rod Dystrophy, a variation of RP.
“Cone Rod Dystrophy causes blind spots throughout the visual field making it difficult to quantify my visual loss,” said Gray. “In my left eye I am losing central vision which affects my usable vision a lot! In my right eye I still have some central vision and little peripheral vision, hence why I sometimes appear as though I am not visually impaired.”
Gray said he found his love for cooking after taking a Culinary Arts class in high school. As a student he won student of the year given out annually by the Utah Restaurant Association. He then attended Johnson & Wales University in Denver, Colorado where he received a degree in Culinary Arts and worked in the food industry.
“I was one of the original students in the ProStart Program and I was the very first student to win the Sysco $10,000 scholarship,” said Gray.
Gray later transferred to the University of Utah and earned a bachelors in Sociology with an emphasis in Gender Studies. While taking education classes at the U, Gray did his service hours through his old culinary teacher at Murray High, Ms. Morgan. She retired that same year and after applying for the job, Gray was hired. He did the Alternative Route to Licensure (ARL) and has now been at M.H.S for 7 years.
Gray said during his second year of teaching he had to have two retinal detachment surgeries and was unable to finish out the year but eventually returned. Gray believes he still has about 30-40 percent of his vision left. RP is degenerative, and those who have it usually lose most of their sight over the years.
“For me, one of the biggest misconceptions of the blind community is the spectrum of usable vision that people have yet are still visually impaired,” said Gray. “Over the last three years I have had a dramatic decline in usable vision and my visual impairment has become something that I cannot hide.”
According to Gray, one of his biggest challenges has been showing or admitting vulnerability in front of his students, and the judgement he sometimes feels while out in public.
“I started using the white cane last summer after doing some training at the Division of the Blind and Visually Impaired. Using the cane has been both awesome and emotional. One of the most bizarre parts is using a white cane while still having some vision left,” said Gray. “The sad part is I can see the uncomfortableness of people when I am in public, especially alone. Employees see my cane and automatically walk the opposite direction. I will be walking through a store with the cane but then read the labels on product and can hear the whispers all the time ‘he’s not blind why is he pretending to be.'”
Gray feels the education surrounding visual impairment in Utah is lacking.
“Blindness is a spectrum and the white cane is an aid with varying amounts of dependency,” said Gray. “In some ways I think the most important impact I am making is being visible to my students, a small way of educating the future that blindness is a spectrum.”
This year Gray’s ProStart team won the state competition and went to Washington DC for the nationals competition where they placed in the top 20. Last week, years after winning student of the year, Gray won teacher of the year. One of his students also the student of the year award.
Gray also owns his own micro coffee roastery called High Contrast Roasting and during the summer, he sells at farmers markets like the one at Wheeler Farm and the Murray Market.
“I started my company three years ago during Covid. I focus on ethically sourced single origin coffee. The long term plan of my roasting business is to create a café that hires visually impaired people because one of the biggest struggles of the blind community is job placement,” said Gray. “I believe that over 70% of all blind and visually impaired people do not have a job. Creating an environment where people with visual impairments can be accommodated would help the community overall.”
Gray’s company website is https://www.highcontrastroasting.com
Gray joined ABC4 News on Friday: