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Blind Beauty 79 | Elaine Huitt

Blind Beauty 79 | Elaine Huitt image is described in the body of the post

You don’t need full ‘vision’ to have a ‘vision’ to ‘see’ your way through life.

~Elaine Huitt

When I interviewed Elaine Huitt for her Women On The Move piece I was moved by her entire story. However, the above personal quote that she shared at the end of the interview was a particularly powerful statement.

As a society, we are so consumed with how things are presented, many times we miss more meaningful messages. Pretty packaging, bells, and whistles can be a distraction for what really lies beneath. Conversely, packaging without the glitter and glam might appear ordinary until you unpack what’s wrapped inside.

Elaine, like many of us who live with disabilities, overcompensated and worked extremely hard to keep up in school and on the job. She did whatever she had to do to be successful which meant developing creative workarounds.

Viewing people with disabilities as broken is a “we vs. them” mentality that comes from a place of superiority. Not only is this thinking unkind and divisive it sometimes and makes inaccurate assumptions. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses yet when we talk about people with disabilities all we can see is their difference.

Maybe one of the reasons our planet is so diverse is we all bring something unique to our world. Together we are like a beautifully designed masterpiece that was meant to be as it is.

Despite everything working against her, Elaine was able to move up the ranks and become a huge success. In her current role, she helps youth understand that lack of physical sight has little to no impact on their inner vision. So many more just like her are waiting to make their mark, the question is, will we give them a chance?

Image Descriptions:

Featured image – A headshot of Elaine wearing a crisp white shirt paired with a silver statement necklace. She has wavy dark hair, with on-point makeup that includes pink lip color.

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Elaine Huitt | ‘Seeing’ Her Way Through Life

Image is described in the body of the post.

You don’t need full ‘vision’ to have a ‘vision’ to ‘see’ your way through life.

~Elaine Huitt

Intro:

What are the odds that two blind women would run into one another at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)? I’m sure a statistician would know the answer but this is beside the point because, This Facility. Is. Massive!!

“Do you know the new departure time for the Wichita flight”, she asked? I told her I wasn’t sure as I just relocated to this new gate. Then ‘poof’ she was gone! My friends met me and together we flew to Wichita for a conference where we’d bunk in a university dorm suite.

The conference, for blind and visually impaired youth from across the country, promised to be a jam-packed week of activities. It was at the next evening’s kick-off event where I would formally meet Elaine Huitt. When she came over to our table I said: “weren’t you at DFW?” We laughed when we realized not only were we in the same airport unknowingly we were on the same flight headed to the same conference. Like so many of the women featured here on Bold Blind Beauty, Elaine has a story. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to today’s Woman On The Move, Elaine Huitt.

Growing Up With A Hidden Disability

Image is described in the body of the post.
Elaine Huitt

As a poised Sr. Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, no one would ever guess that Elaine Huitt is 60 and blind. A beautiful lady, who walks confidently, without a white cane I might add, said even her doctors don’t understand how she does it. Because of the severity of her sight, it’s not uncommon for Elaine’s doctors to ask her how she walked in their offices.

Elaine and her brother were both born with Idiopathic Congenital Nystagmus. While she wasn’t diagnosed until after high school graduation, Elaine began wearing eyeglasses at 11 months of age. She explains that her condition is a blockage of the pathway from the eyes to the brain.

When Elaine was growing up it was taboo in her household to talk about her and her brother’s visual impairment. It’s partly because of this that Elaine and her brother didn’t receive accommodations in their mainstream school to help them succeed. Since her sight was so poor, and her teachers weren’t aware of the issue, Elaine fell through the cracks at school. Were it not for the help of one astute teacher, Mr. Frederick, she wouldn’t have been able to glide through school. As unlikely as it was, she managed to graduate high school while never having any reasonable accommodations. Her brother wasn’t as fortunate and didn’t finish high school because he was so ashamed of his sight loss. He was, however, able to find employment as kitchen staff at the Department of Education and he’s been there for 36 years.

The Burden Of Shame

Right after graduating high school Elaine began looking for work. Since her condition causes her eyes to constantly move she struggled at each interview. Unable to look the interviewer in the eye was problematic as it was assumed Elaine was on drugs or medication. Therefore, as a direct result of her eyesight, she had great difficulty finding employment and would go home feeling discouraged.

Elaine went to college briefly then dropped out because she didn’t know about adaptations that were available. When a person carries a secret disability it complicates getting the required assistance. Sadly, this scenario Elaine faced is not unique. All too often people with hidden and (some not so hidden) disabilities aren’t aware of the tools and resources that are available to help them. Even so, many people in these situations develop strong coping mechanisms as workarounds, such is the case with Elaine. Memorization was the skill Elaine relied upon to get her through and it worked!

Eventually, Elaine got married, had two children, and went back to college, however, she wouldn’t even tell her exhusband that she couldn’t see. Shame, embarrassment, and perhaps a little pride prevented her from sharing her secret. What’s even more astonishing is how she kept this secret from her children while they were growing up. I can’t imagine how she must have felt when she couldn’t ‘see’ her daughter’s dance recitals or her son’s football plays. Her children became the reason why Elaine would slowly divulge her secret with her husband. Oddly enough, her husband was her major supporter and also a great source of inspiration for her.

Help Banishes Shame

Graduating college with a BA in Human Services and an MS in Public Administration wasn’t easy but Elaine pulled it off. Keeping her secret was even more difficult, yet there were people in her corner whom she could trust. For three years, one good friend would take notes and made copies for Elaine for studying.

On the work front, since Elaine was so good at memorizing everything; from her environment to the company manuals, she progressed. While it may have looked easy to her peers, what they didn’t know was the incredible amount of behind the scenes effort it took for her to do her job.

Because of her sheer determination and grit, Elaine would ultimately become a supervisor then move up into management. Of course, promotions like these meant more challenges as she had more responsibilities. Elaine spent 30 years of service in the Department of Social Services then it was time for her to move on.

Part of Elaine’s moving on process included divorcing her husband then relocating to Delaware. After her divorce and subsequent remarriage, life was very good as Elaine’s new spouse became her greatest champion. The downside was once again she began seeking employment opportunities and applied for 150 positions. Once again her eyesight became the barrier where she was turned away from each job she applied for.

As I listened to her share how she overcame so many obstacles I was stunned when she told me it was only in 2016 help arrived. This help, in the form of a Vision Service Coordinator, told her to stop being ashamed. This counselor recommended that she apply for a particular job. After applying for so many jobs it plays with your psyche so Elaine was surprised to get called back for a second interview. Midway through the interview, Elaine told them the questions they were asking weren’t giving an accurate portrayal of her story. Then she explained who she is and what she was about and asked them to give her a chance to work with them. This bold move, being her authentic self, got her the job.

Paying It Forward

Today, Elaine loves her job as a counselor and is helping her students take advantage of many opportunities. By the way, the one thing I neglected to mention was her reason for being at the conference. She served as a chaperone for a group of teenage B&VI students who participated in the conference. And the quote at the beginning is something Elaine developed and she shares it with her students to inspire them.

I’ll leave you with a motto Elaine adopted:

“How can you help someone else unless you help yourself”

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured image – A headshot of Elaine wearing a crisp white shirt paired with a silver statement necklace. She has straight red hair, with on-point makeup that includes pink lip color.
  • In this outdoor photo, Elaine is sitting casually on the edge of a water fountain. She is wearing a black jacket, gray pants, and a white shirt. Her hair in this photo is long, dark, and wavy. Assorted trees and shrubs can be seen in the background.
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Know You Matter

Image is described in the post

“You’re not the shape of your body. You’re not your status. You’re not your position in life. You’re not the car you drive no matter how fancy it is. You’re not your house or square footage.”

~Oprah Winfrey

Do you know who you are?

What defines you? When asked “so tell me about yourself,” what do you say?

Writing a self-compassionate letter to myself has been one of the best-wholehearted exercises I’ve experienced to date. Telling my story from a perspective of ’empathy and self-compassion’ allowed me to see myself differently. While on the “Dare To Own Your StoryTM” retreat this summer, all attendees were prompted to write this letter to ourselves. Since I couldn’t finish mine at the time I promised myself I would finish it later and I did.

Kindness, compassion, and a deep desire for social justice are central to who I am; these are my values. Bold Blind Beauty was born out of a personal need for empowerment that I wanted to share with others.” This is only a small part of who I am!

Knowing who you are, empowers you to accept yourself wholeheartedly. When you know who you are you can stand confidently in the knowledge that you matter. Recently my good friend Vicky, and I were talking about this topic and she wrote a song. The lyrics that she’s given me permission to share with you speak to my soul.

Friendships; real, authentic, friendships should never be taken for granted. Being able to be authentic, while sharing mutual respect, admiration, interests, and values is worth more than gold. Treasure yourself, treasure your friends, and enjoy Vicky’s beautiful lyrics. Just wait till you hear the music with the lyrics (still a work in progress).

Know You Matter

By Victoria Claire

Don’t deny yourself,
You’re just as good as anyone else,
You’re a shining star,
Never forget who you are,

Don’t reduce yourself,
Not for anyone else,
Feel your value from within,
Let it radiate through your skin,

And know you matter, you matter to me,
Know you matter, you matter to me,
Stand up, be tall, reach for your inner belief,
Let your strength shine through as you mean so much to me

Don’t reduce yourself,
Not for anyone else,
Know you are enough,
Feed your soul with love,

And know you matter, you matter to me,
Know you matter, you matter to me,
You’ve been through so much, yet you rise above your grief,
When your spirit shines, it gives so much hope to me. 

And know you matter, you matter to me,
Know you matter, you matter to me,
Just know you matter, you matter to me,
Oh how you matter, you matter to me.

Connecting With Victoria Claire:

Image Description:

Photo of a chalkboard with the words “YOU MATTER” written in all caps and white chalk. The “O” in ‘you’ is a bright red heart.

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My Path From Poverty To Possibilities

Featured image is described in the post

How Losing My Sight Expanded My Vision

Steph at the podium speaking in Erie
Steph Speaking At Disability InSIGHTS

Despite everything she’d been through; growing up poor, feeling unworthy, battling lifelong chronic depression, homelessness, and an endless reservoir of self-hatred she persisted. She wanted to quit life so many times because her self-critic constantly told her, she had no value. Even so, there were two things that kept her going: her drive and her intense belief that anything is possible. She is me and this is only a small part of my story. As a person of color, over 50, female, and living with an acquired disability; blindness, social justice has always been important to me and I know what it feels like to be excluded. Here’s the thing: No one, absolutely “No one wants to be reduced.”

Advocates Unite & Provide Insight

The first paragraph in this post was my introduction to my recent talks at two remarkable events. The first, a seminar, Disability InSIGHTS, was organized by my friend and phenomenal author, Amy Bovaird. Early this year Amy had this idea of hosting an event for Blindness Awareness Month in October. Next thing you know, she brought together a diverse group of authors, speakers, and exhibitors for a series of events celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Along with educating the public, the seminar was designed to showcase the value and accomplishments of people living with disabilities.

When I arrived on Thursday Amy and her brother Michael picked me up at the bus station. After a quick bite to eat we headed over to Hofmann Church & Religious Goods for a book signing to promote Amy and Max’s books. While I’d previously met Amy and Max meeting my friend Kerry Kijewski and her parents was a little surreal. I met Kerry who has also been featured here on Bold Blind Beauty, five years ago through blogging. Kerry and her parents, Janet and Bob traveled from Ontario, Canada to support Disability InSIGHTS.

I want to serve as a catalyst in the positive wind of change to blow over the vision-impaired community and sighted world alike to bridge understanding.

~Amy Bovaird

Back in 2016 On Being The Change You Wish To See I featured the above quote. What’s so noteworthy about this is Amy has consistently been the change she wished to see. From the books she’s written to public speaking, she continually pays it forward by increasing awareness about blindness. Following are a few of the speakers/exhibitors who were at the seminar:

Erie (service dog in training)
Erie (service dog in training)

Overall, Disability InSIGHTS was an amazing, insightful, and empowering seminar that I hope will continue. Brava Amy!!

Peers Challenging Beliefs

My second speaking engagement was at the annual conference of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind. SPARK Saturday (Self-confidence, Peer support, Accessibility, Resources, & Knowledge) was phenomenal.

Thomas Reid of Reid My Mind Radio kicked things off with his presentation “Podcasting with a Purpose, Developing your own Passion Project.” Thomas talked about how we all can use our inherent interests or hobbies for fun, advocacy, and personal fulfillment.

Next up was Kristin Smedley, if you recall I recently featured Kristin in Positive Change Begins With Action Through Advocacy. Kristin the Author of Thriving Blind who presented “Thriving Blind: A Parent’s Perspective.” A mom of two sons both of whom were diagnosed blind at four months of age, Kristin shared her experience and gave powerful life lessons for everyone.

Steph & Kristin Smedley image is described in the body of the post.
Steph & Kristin

Third, in the lineup was “yours truly” and yes, I was ridiculously scared yet at the same time energized. Thankfully, being able to share my passion for creating a world where every person is valued and included overshadows fear. Afterward, several more people would clasp my hand in theirs and thank me for empowering them.

Back when I received my final diagnosis and was declared legally blind I felt so isolated, scared, and didn’t know what to do next. Thanks to my friends at the PA Council of the Blind I had positive role models to help guide me on the next phase of my life. There is life after blindness, there is life after an acquired disability, as long as we are alive we can and must fulfill our purpose.

Summary Of My Talks

Before I lost my sight I viewed life through a very narrow lens. Today, my daily practice is gratitude without comparison, positivity as a choice, and kindness. While I consciously do these things I still struggle with depression, petty anger, self-esteem issues, and more. I’m slowly learning the importance of self-compassion, mindfulness, and forgiveness. The one thing I really love about life is the constant opportunities we are given to choose our path. We don’t have control over many aspects of our lives yet we always have an option on how we respond and this is what I hold close to my heart.

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured image is a photo of me speaking at the podium during the SPARK Saturday event. I’m wearing black wide-leg pants, white tee, and black flyaway sweater.
  • Gallery of nine photos (l to r)
    1. Amy Bovaird kicks off the Disability InSIGHTS seminar
    2. Max Ivey is speaking with Emanuel and his translator in the foreground
    3. The Sight Center of Northwest PA exhibition table
    4. Closeup photo of Emanuel wearing a white headband and his translator who is in a gray suit
    5. Abstract paintings created by a gifted young teen with autism
    6. Kerry Kijewski is sitting at the registration desk smiling broadly
    7. Autism Society Northwestern Pennsylvania exhibition table with a large 3-panel informational display and additional handouts
    8. Kerry and I are standing in front of a 6 foot vertical banner of Abby, Bold Blind Beauty’s fashion icon. Both of us are posing with our white canes. I’m wearing an olive green outfit (long sleeve asymmetrical sweater, leggings, and suede boots. Kerry is wearing a black outfit (black & white striped top under a black cardigan, pants and flats.
    9. Adaptive Yoga exhibition table with books, flyers, and pamphlets
  • Adorable photo of Erie eyeing a dog treat. Erie is a black lab service dog in training. Erie is currently living with his puppy raiser preparing for his upcoming intensive training.
  • Gallery of four photos of Amy and Max’s books (l to r)
    1. Seeking Solace by Amy Bovaird
    2. Mobility Matters by Amy Bovaird
    3. Cane Confessions by Amy Bovaird
    4. The Blind Blooger’s NYC Adventures by Maxwell Ivey
  • The final photo is Steph standing next to Kristin Smedley. I’m holding my white cane in my right hand and Kristin’s book Thriving Blind in my left hand. Kristin is wearing a white shirt under a navy blazer paired with navy pants.