In December, 2009 it had been 6 months since I was declared legally blind and it felt as if everything in my life was spiraling out of control. Since my vision loss is a hidden disability this was one of the most challenging aspects of the ordeal. It was right around this time that I met Libby Thaw who offered me a lifeline.
The feeling of isolation one can experience when they lose their vision can leave you with a paralyzing fear that you can never make it out of the dark abyss. Because I knew I wasn’t emotionally ready to use the white cane Libby’s Checkered Eye Project (CEP), an international low vision awareness effort, was the perfect solution for me.
Everybody, including people with disabilities, makes assumptions. Problems arise when we are not open to learning our assumption was wrong. ~Libby
Libby Thaw, a wife and stay at home mother who resides in Port Elgin, Ontario Canada founded the CEP in 2000. I remember during one of our many conversations Libby told me the CEP idea evolved out of a chat with a couple of like-minded individuals. The concept was simple and revolved around a discreet hands-free option for people with low vision to self-identify to let others know of their disability.
Libby, who also happens to be legally blind, understands the difficulties one encounters with loss of vision. On one hand, people with low-vision can be challenged with day-to-day tasks yet on the other hand, to the general public, their disability is not apparent. It’s because of this hidden disability that Libby designed an emblem representative of, and for those impacted with, significant vision loss.
The CE is a pin, patch, or button, which may be worn to subtly indicate its wearer has partial blindness, also known as low vision. In addition, the CE creates a unique opportunity for open dialogue to build awareness on low vision and what the symbol represents.
Personally I can attest to the sense of empowerment I gained when using the CE. Since I had no control over the loss of my vision at least I could control who I chose to make aware of my situation. And even though I do need to use the white cane now I still wear my pin to increase its visibility.
Libby who has Stargardt disease, the most common form of inherited juvenile macular degeneration, is a motivational speaker, writer, and entertainer (you really should hear her sing). I had the chance to host Libby as my guest when she came to Pittsburgh to attend the Foundation Fighting Blindness’ Pittsburgh VisionWalk back in 2011.
Music gives me a great feeling of oneness. I like to take in the sense that we are all in it together; the musicians are obviously in on the cooperation, but the crowd has lots to do with it too. I’m so glad my eyesight doesn’t hinder that. In fact it probably augments it. Since I can’t see people’s facial expressions I project my own ideas of what their movements and body language are saying. ~Libby
Upon meeting her at the airport I was immediately struck by Libby’s energy and enthusiasm. The weekend was a flurry of activities that included a stop at Pittsburgh Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services for a tour of the low vision facility and an opportunity for Libby to talk about the CEP.
To each eating establishment we went during Libby’s 2 day stay she would ask the host/hostess if they had large print menus and this opened the door for further discussion about the CEP. It was refreshing to see someone actively self-advocating while at the same time bringing attention to an issue impacting many people across the U.S. and worldwide.
In October of 2013 Libby was invited by the California Council of the Blind (CCB) in San Diego, California to attend their annual state convention. Not one to pass up an opportunity to spread the word on the CEP Libby packed her bags and traveled to the CCB’s convention. She wrote a very insightful blog on the trip which you can peruse at your leisure by clicking HERE.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the CE is not a mobility or safety device, rather it is a tool for face-to-face interaction only and its use is a matter of personal choice which gives the wearer the option of determining with whom to share their vision loss. If you or someone you know would be interested in learning more about the CEP Libby can be contacted directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can visit her website at www.checkeredeye.com.
If you have any questions or would like additional information from me please leave a comment below or email me at email@example.com.
I think the following quote accurately sums up today’s bold blind beauty. Libby I want to thank you for being you and in so doing being a positive role model and a ray of hope for people impacted by vision loss.
“We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action.” ~Frank Tibolt