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Pushing Boundaries…

Supporting Independence of Visually Impaired People

Updated February 24, 2020. Originally published on October 23, 2018

“I asked him what he envisioned for his future…“I don’t know. I think I will always be with somebody”, he said.”

~Kassy Maloney

“I… I just don’t like to talk about it”, my student told me. It was our first Orientation and Mobility (O&M) class together. He was about 15 years old with the degenerative eye condition, Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP).

For people with RP, there is a significant chance that they will eventually lose most of their vision. Vision is worse at night, often resulting in night blindness before losing their peripheral fields.

As we sat facing one another in the principal’s conference room, I asked him what he envisioned for his future. His once jolly smile turned into a saddened face. He looked down and suddenly began avoiding eye contact.

“I don’t know, I think I will always be with somebody”, he said. Describing what he thought his night-time travel needs might look like in 10 years.

“Even as an adult?”, I probed.

Here I was, a stranger without a visual impairment, trying desperately to casually bring up the forbidden “C” word; CANE.

Featured Image Description is in the body of the post

There have been many of these instances in my career. I’m a person who doesn’t have a visual impairment, and yet I am pushing boundaries. Their boundaries. The boundaries of what they think they can do; the boundaries of what their family members think they can do. Sometimes I even push the boundaries of the perceptions of what their community members think they can do.

It’s my job to push the boundaries of my students’ independence level and get them out of their comfort zone. That does not come without its own fair share of push-back.

Stradling the Fence of Independence & Pushing Boundaries

Supporting the independence of people with visual impairments when you are not blind yourself is a delicate balance. A balance between knowing when to push those boundaries, and knowing when to sit quietly. When we are new to our students we are still outsiders who have not yet earned their trust.

We know that even though we have no pity for anyone, our sympathy is not empathy. We don’t actually know what it is like to live with a visual impairment every single moment of the day.

Kassy Maloney

President Roosevelt once said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care”.

Reminders For O&M Instructors

When we aren’t blind ourselves, we must remember a few things when supporting the independence of people with visual impairments:

  • We must remember everybody goes through cycles where they’re dealing with the stages of grief. Even those who have been blind since birth. 
    • We also must remember the student and their loved ones may be on different parts of this cycle at any given time.
  • We must remember that building relationships and trust can take a long time.
    • When we only see a student once a month, this can take a lot of persistence to overcome. We are outsiders coming into their inner circle. Sometimes the pushback we receive is simply because we haven’t yet proven our worthiness.
  • Most of all, we must remember while we’re both cheerleaders and coaches to our students’ independence, we’re NOT the quarterbacks. We cannot do the work for them.
    • We can teach them the skills. We can coach them to make that big play. We can cheer them on from the sidelines. We can even get their water-filled after the game.

BUT, we cannot make the moves for them. Ultimately, this is THEIR independence; not ours.

Reminders For Students & Clients

To our students and clients reading this, there are things for you to remember, too:

  • Remember that we care.
    • Each and every O&M Specialist in this field care about each and every one of you. We may be pushy. We may be bold in our attempts. And we may step on your toes. 

But overall, it is out of a deep sense of caring for you and your independence.

For most of us, the privilege of sight is actually a burden in our careers. We know that even though we have no pity for anyone, our sympathy is not empathy. We don’t actually know what it is like to live with a visual impairment every single moment of the day.

It is our joy to help support the independence of people with visual impairments. And it’s our passion to see every person with a visual impairment live their most independent, successful, and fulfilled lives.

I hope this gives some insight into how we try to support the independence of people with visual impairments. Leave a comment and share your story.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject!

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured Image: The B3 Magazine cover has a gray/white marbled background. The date & edition number are in the upper right corner in black ink. Kassy’s photo is aligned on the right margin with the background appearing on the top, bottom and left margin. In the photo, Kassy is smiling while sitting in a chair with her left arm casually propped against the chair’s back. She is wearing a black cami with a rose-colored skirt and gold medallion around her neck.  “B3” is in large teal text and a teal-colored circle with Kassy’s name is in white text. There is a 4-line of black text on the image that reads “creating an inclusive society that values all of our abilities”
  • Kassy during an O&M session is walking behind her student who is learning to navigate with the white cane. Both brunettes with shoulder-length hair are casually dressed in jeans and flats. Kassy is wearing a black tank top and her student is wearing a green top. Some green foliage and city buildings can be seen in the background. It looks like they just came down a set of cement stairs.

Connecting With Kassy:

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Authenticity is the Heart of Beauty

Beauty Buzz Page Header is described in the body of the post.

Editor’s Note:

Beauty Buzz is a new section on Bold Blind Beauty that we are still developing. Stay tuned for more details. ~Steph

Authenticity is the Heart of Beauty

Yesterday morning I received a message that touched me so deeply I asked the author if I could share it and they said “yes.” What I like most about this piece is that it gets to the heart of Bold Blind Beauty’s ‘WHY.’

Real Beauty Transcends Barriers

~Bold Blind Beauty

“Every time I listen to your message, I find new bits of wisdom and inspiration.

We went to visit my brother’s girlfriend, a lovely lady who has had enormous health problems in the past five years. I remembered her daughter as a striking young woman from many years earlier. But over the years, she got involved with heroin.

She has now been off it for six months. That she went this route has always made me sad. I grieved for her, in fact. Today she has low self-esteem. She was embarrassed to be seen without her teeth. I thought of your video, and I realized she and I are more alike than different. We’ve had to redefine beauty, and our self-esteem. But we are the same person inside.

She mentioned how judgmental her sister is of her. I wanted to hug her and say how beautiful she was with or without her own teeth. And the words from your video came to me, “But when we are out there living our lives, we are bold. We are embracing our blindness. We are blind and we are beautiful. We’re beautiful because we are out there doing that, living our lives.” It’s just so profound. You can insert any word for “blind” (like recovering addict).

This woman is out there living her life, trying to overcome and be her best self. She comes up against prejudice, preconceived ideas, judgment and she has to develop self-love all over again.

Again, your words speak truth. “I would just like to change the perception of how we view people. Period. I would just like to see a more inclusive world for everyone, and accept people as we really are, stripping away the outside and getting to the heart of who we are a people.”

When I thought of myself and my fears (and the fears I still have), they are strong, and yes, bold, words. But when I think of this young woman, I feel the same — that she needs to begin to love herself exactly where she is at. She didn’t die of an overdose. She brings her mother great joy. I celebrate who she is, her dreams of becoming her best self in the journey ahead. I think I will share your video with her with a letter with my thoughts.

Today is a day of gratitude, and love expressed. I think my strength is loving others and helping them to gain confidence in themselves. But it is through the words of others like you, who express so well the desire for change, and who are battling their fears openly that shape my outreach. That video will speak to many in so many ways. You have such a beautiful heart.”

The video she mentioned in the narrative has been previously shared but I’ve included it here for easy reference. In place of audio description I’ve provided a summary of the video below.

Video Summary:

First scene opens with Stephanae sitting at her desk in front of her 32-inch monitor working out on the keyboard. She’s wearing a gray short sleeve tee, her head is clean-shaven and she is not wearing any makeup.

The camera pans to a blurred close-up of an acrylic makeup organizer with assorted lipsticks, brushes, pencils, etc. Stephanae slowly twists a lipstick then inserts a dangling wire earring into her right ear. The camera focuses in on the delicate lacy silver leaf earring.

In the next scene, Stephanae is at her desk talking about the moment she first lost her sight while pointing to her left eye.  

The camera is focusing on assorted jewelry hanging on a necklace tree while Stephanae’s hand touches one of her favorite statement necklaces. In slow motion, the camera shows her sliding a blue floral glass ring on her right ring finger.

Panning to the keyboard and monitor the camera picks up the magnified content on the screen as Stephanae scrolls through Bold Blind Beauty’s website. The camera zooms out to show Stephanae working.

In the bathroom scene, Stephanae is at the sink cleansing her face and putting on her makeup. She uses plastic eyebrow stencils to draw her eyebrows and a thin liner crayon/pencil to line her eyes. The finishing touches include mascara and a dark gray ballcap.

Back at the desk, Stephanae is talking about how vulnerable she feels when she is in an unfamiliar environment. While talking with her hands she gets a little emotional and her voice cracks as she shares what this fear is like.

Outside, Stephanae is getting into her son’s car and we’re headed to a nearby mall. She’s wearing a gray and black raglan shirt, with black capris, ballcap, sneakers, and sunglasses. The next few scenes are taken from inside the car, in a department store with Stephanae walking with her ‘black’ white cane towards and away from the camera, and, looking at items on clothing racks.

In her dining area, Stephanae is opening boxes of Bold Blind Beauty coffee mugs. All of the mugs have Abby (Bold Blind Beauty’s fashion icon) along with a cute saying i.e. “Hey I’m walkin’ Here!” “Relax It’s Only A Cane!” “Blind Chicks With Attitude!”  

Closeup of Stephanae sharing her wish for a more inclusive world. “Stripping away the outside and getting to the heart of who we are as people.”

Beauty Buzz Header Image Description:

The background is half gray and half white. On the gray half is “Beauty” in white text. On the white half is “Buzz” in gray script text with a colorful bumble bee at the end of the word.

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What Makes A Hero?

Image is described in the body of the post

What Does Hero Mean to You?

“I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”

~Maya Angelou

Some days I can’t help but feel that I’m the luckiest person on the planet. Throughout my life, I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by heroes. I’m not talking about fictional heroes or those endowed with superhuman qualities although this could be dependent upon how these traits are being used. No, the types of heroes I’m referring to are those who practice humanitarianism as a way of life.

Those who give of themselves without the expectation of monetary gain or notoriety to me are extraordinary people. With these types of individuals, there is no ‘catch’ or deception because these folks see the world differently than the vast majority. Qualities like truth, integrity, compassion, empathy and the like are dominant characteristics in these people.

Last year, when my friend Carla Ernst died I felt a part of me died with her because Carla was one of my all-time heroes. She was an extraordinary person who believed in the mission of Bold Blind Beauty. On days when I doubted myself (there were many), she lifted me up and motivated me to continue pushing forward.

While Carla’s death knocked me off-kilter and I struggled mightily to honor her memory there were days grief threatened to devour me. Yet, it was at one of my lowest points another hero came into play. Her name is Nasreen Bhutta a woman I am honored to call my friend.

A Heroic Act Out of the Blue

I’ve known Nasreen for nearly two years and while we’ve periodically maintained contact she called me completely out of the blue. This act may not seem like much until I tell you she called me when she was on an extended stay in India.

I can’t remember exactly how our conversation went but I do remember what she said next: “Steph I like what you’re doing and I want to help.” Since I wasn’t prepared for this I was momentarily speechless. I mean, Nasreen was so emphatic and she wasn’t going to take no for an answer. My response—I cried. Without shame, I cried because here she was halfway around the world and she was compelled to reach out to me. By the way, I should probably mention that while Nasreen has been featured here before this will be her first time on the cover of B3 Magazine.

A lot has happened since Nasreen’s call last summer and I almost feel like I’m in a dreamlike state. This woman, who gives wholeheartedly and unconditionally, has become my right-hand person here at Bold Blind Beauty. Thank you, my friend!

Up until this past January Nasreen and I hadn’t even met in person. Yet the universe presented an opportunity for us to meet. Nasreen traveled from Toronto, Canada and I from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to meet up in New Jersey for a conference. What was true serendipity though was for the two of us to connect with some other amazing heroes.

It was in New Jersey where we met Melody Goodspeed (another friend who I’ve only previously known online). With Melody, an innocent conversation led to her excitedly becoming our new voice of Abby. Then there were others:

  • Cheryl Minnett
  • Tish Gelineau
  • Michael Moran
  • David DeNotaris
  • Tanner Gers
  • John McInerney
  • Jeff Wissel

The above is only a partial list of individuals who I consider heroes because of their commitment to improving the lives of others.

Who Is The Hero In Your Life?

If you pay close attention, there are an abundance of heroes all around us. And let’s not forget the most important hero—you!

It’s not your job to like me – it’s mine.”

~Byron Katie

Everyone isn’t going to like us and likewise, we aren’t going to like everyone. However to like/love anyone it has to begin internally and it’s no one else’s responsibility to do this for us but ourselves. My favorite speaker, author, researcher, Brené Brown says it this way: “Practicing selflove means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect, and to be kind and affectionate toward ourselves.” Maybe real heroes understand that in order to love others they must have a healthy dose of self-love. So the next time you are in need of a hero…

Lyrics

There’s a hero
If you look inside your heart
You don’t have to be afraid
Of what you are
There’s an answer
If you reach into your soul
And the sorrow that you know
Will melt away

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

It’s a long road
When you face the world alone
No one reaches out a hand
For you to hold
You can find love
If you search within yourself
And that emptiness you felt
Will disappear

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you, oh, oh

Lord knows
Dreams are hard to follow
But don’t let anyone
Tear them away, hey yeah
Hold on
There will be tomorrow
In time you’ll find the way

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you
That a hero lies in you
Mmm, that a hero lies in you

Source: LyricFindSongwriters: Mariah Carey / Walter AfanasieffHero lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

Featured Image Description:

The B3 Magazine cover has a gray/white marbled background. The date & edition number, are in the upper right corner in black ink. Nasreen’s photo is aligned on the right margin with the background appearing on the top, bottom and left margin. In this photo, Nasreen, a pretty brunette with shoulder-length wavy hair is wearing a black pantsuit. She’s standing in the lobby of our hotel with a black shoulder bag on her left shoulder. “B3” is in large teal text and a teal-colored circle with Nasreen’s name and “Monthly Beauties” in white text. There are four 4-lines of black text on the image that reads “A Real-Life Hero Fierce, Fiery & Passionate For People.”

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Living Life Boldly & Transforming Perceptions

Image is described in the body of the post.

“When we are out here living our lives, we are bold. We are embracing our blindness. We are blind and we’re beautiful.”

Last year was tough. My best friend was diagnosed with cancer, another very good friend died unexpectedly, and I had to deal with some significantly unresolved fears. Yet among these struggles, there were always glimmers of light; standing up for my friend, continuing the work my other friend believed in so deeply, and coming to terms with myself.

One of the best gifts I received last year was a connection with Tony Koros at Grotto Network and the opportunity to share part of my story. Here is the video he created along with the transcript (below). Thank you, Tony, for spending my birthday with me and working with me to film this footage. And thank you Grotto Network for making this possible!💛

Blind Blogger Transforms Perceptions of Beauty

Video Transcript

Grotto Network

Meet Stephanae McCoy: Blind Beauty Blogger

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Stephanae: Beauty is seldom associated with blindness. Beauty is seldom associated with disabilities, or people with disabilities. I wanted to change that.

I was looking in the mirror and I took out my right contact lens. I’m looking up in the mirror and all of a sudden, because I still had my left contact lens in, my face was gone. There was just no face. I’m like, “Whoa.” My whole feeling about the process of going blind was: If I’m going to lose my sight, I’m going to do it my way.

We can do anything that we want to do, provided we’re given the tools to do it or we learn a different way of doing it.

Stephanae created a blog called “Bold Blind Beauty.” The blog celebrates blind and visually impaired people, and shares Stephanae’s tips on makeup, style, and beauty.

(Applying makeup in a mirror)

Most of the time I’m not even in a mirror when I’m doing this, but old habits die hard. Even when you can’t see, when you can no longer see, you still want to use a mirror sometimes. At least I do.

For me, becoming embarrassed by other people standing around watching me is huge. When I’m in an unfamiliar area, sometimes, even though I’ve been using a cane now for years and I feel like I’ve built up my confidence and I feel like I’ve got this thing down, I sometimes get so overwhelmingly afraid that I panic.

We need to change the way we look at people with disabilities. The way we’re doing it now, we’re looking at the tools that they use to become independent, but we’re seeing them as a crutch, as opposed to a tool of independence.

I created Bold Blind Beauty so that we could change the perception of how we view people, period. I just would like to see us be a more inclusive world for everyone and accept people as we really are, stripping away the outside and getting to the heart of who we are as people.

But when we are out there and we are living our lives, we are bold. We are embracing our blindness. We are blind and we’re beautiful. We’re beautiful because we’re out here doing that, living our lives.

Following Grotto Network:

Image Description:

A selfie of me taken in the doorway to my condo, sporting my stubbly bald head. I’m wearing a black v-neck tee that says “Warrior Life” in white text.