Sonja Biggs: “My Normal and His Normal Are Just Different”
Brandon Biggs is the chief financial officer with his mother Sonja in their company, he conducts accessibility research and he helps businesses make their software content more accessible to the visually impaired.
He is a 26-year-old self-taught programmer who is earning a master’s degree in Inclusive Design from OCAD University in Toronto while living on a houseboat in Groningen, Netherlands, with his Italian wife. Oh, and he’s an opera singer?
But he’s still Sonja Biggs’ little boy.
“Even with all the successes in his life and his own positive spirit toward blindness,” Sonja says, “I am still having a mom moment in my heart.”
Brandon has Leber congenital amaurosis with a mutation in the CRB1 gene. He was diagnosed as a toddler, and subsequently, Sonja became a Teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired, and an Orientation and Mobility Specialist. She, Brandon, and her husband (and Brandon’s dad), Atom, run Sonja Biggs Educational Services, Inc. Sonja and Atom live in Gilroy, Calif., and they also have a 22-year-old son, Joshua, a talented programmer, gifted in science and graphic art.
Brandon’s interests include theater and opera. He performed in many musical theater productions and in a professional production of “La Bohème.”
“I was introduced to opera by a voice teacher when I was 18,” Brandon says. “And I fell in love with the mysteriousness and power of singing something so emotional and powerful in another language.”
His mother said she and Atom always encouraged both their sons to explore. When they were interested in marine life, they went to the San Juan Islands; when they were interested in volcanoes, they went to Mt. St. Helens. Bats? They checked out zoos and bat houses.
“We never told them no,” she recalls. “We just immersed them in whatever they were interested in and made it real for them.”
Sonja likens the inaccessibility of common tools for the visually impaired to the process of making chocolate chip cookies by adding the chips to the cookies after they’ve baked and cooled.
She said her “mom-heart” sometimes gets in the way of what she knows in her head. She still sometimes grieves that Brandon is blind.
“All of a sudden, something triggers it along the way – ‘Your son has no sight,’ or his frustration over inaccessibility in an application.”
Any parent of a child with disabilities goes through different stages of grief, she says. “The grief never seems to go away; it crops up at inopportune moments.”
A vision appointment triggered the grief this time. Brandon has no measurable vision, seeing light and shadows. He said he does not even notice his sight disappearing.
“I look at the things that I see every day that are beautiful,” Sonja says, “and he’s never seen them.”
Brandon is married and he’s never seen his wife. “He’s felt her, but he’s never seen her,” she adds. To which Brandon replies, ‘Yeah, mom, I can tell how beautiful someone is by touching their elbow.’
She knows her son’s blindness does not make him any less an accomplished human being. “He’s a beautiful young man. He’s wonderful, and to him it’s just normal and I just have to remember that,” she notes.
“My normal and his normal are just different.”