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Libby Thaw: The Visionary

The following edited article was originally published last year..

Collage of Libby Thaw (one picture of Libby performing at the microphone and two headshots of her)
Libby Thaw

In December, 2009 it had been 6 months since I was declared legally blind and it felt like my life was spiraling out of control. The feeling of isolation you experience when you lose your eyesight can play with your psyche.

Since I knew I wasn’t emotionally ready to use the white cane, Libby Thaw’s Checkered Eye Project (CEP), an international low vision awareness effort, was the perfect solution for me.

Libby, a wife and stay at home mother who resides in Port Elgin, Ontario Canada founded the CEP in 2000. The concept was simple and involved the creation of a discreet hands-free option for people with low vision to self-identify to let others know of their disability.

CE Logo

Libby, who also happens to be legally blind, understands the frustrations you encounter when you experience the loss of eyesight. On one hand, you can find day-to-day tasks challenging, yet on the other hand, to the general public, your disability is not apparent. It’s because of this hidden disability that Libby created a symbol representative of, and for people with, significant vision loss.

Everybody, including people with disabilities, makes assumptions.  Problems arise when we are not open to learning our assumption was wrong. ~Libby

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. When wearing the emblem it creates a unique opportunity for open dialogue to increase awareness on low vision and what the symbol represents.

Let me stop here and 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. You get to decide if, when, and with whom to share your vision loss.

A passionate motivational speaker, writer, and entertainer (you really should hear her sing) Libby has Stargardt disease, the most common form of inherited juvenile macular degeneration. Even though she has lived with this sight-robbing eye disease most of her life she does not let it stop her advocacy efforts.

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

In 2011 I hosted Libby as my guest for two days when she came to Pittsburgh to attend the Annual Pittsburgh VisionWalk fundraiser sponsored by the Foundation Fighting Blindness. When we met in person for the first time at the airport, I was immediately struck by her energy and enthusiasm.

The weekend was a non-stop flurry of activities that included a visit to Pittsburgh Blind and Vision Rehabilitation Services for a tour of the low vision facility and an opportunity for Libby to promote the CEP. As the captain of one of the top teams for the VisionWalk, I recruited Libby and other friends of mine to help me finalize details for the next day’s event.

Even though we had a tight schedule, we fueled our bodies at several local restaurants where Libby would ask the host/hostess if they had large print menus. This simple request provided the opportunity for further discussion on the CEP. For me it was great 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, to attend their annual state convention. Without hesitation she packed her bags and traveled to the CCB ’s convention to spread the word about the CEP. She wrote a very insightful blog on the trip which you can peruse at your leisure by clicking HERE.

Since the original posting of this article Libby has made significant strides on the Checkered Eye Project in Canada and the U.S. Following are just a few of her accomplishments:

  • Checkered Eye is currently used in 4 countries
  • Ambridge Rotary Club, in the Pittsburgh area, continues to be a strong supporter of the CEP
  • Rick Mercer, Canadian TV personality gives Checkered Eye a plug
  • Duke Eye Center in Durham, North Carolina gives out checkered eye samples and information
  • Received orders and requests for information from a few southern states
  • Invited by local (Canadian) Rotarians to speak on the CEP
  • Thanks to the Port Elgin Rotary Club a 30 Second PSA airs across Canada

Libby thank you for your tireless efforts in promoting awareness and education on the global issue of sight loss. You are an inspiration!

If you or someone you know would be interested in learning more about the CEP Libby can be contacted directly by email at info@checkeredeye.com or you can visit her website at www.checkeredeye.com.

“We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action.” ~Frank Tibolt

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