Woman On The Move: Maria Johnson

I Got This!

A smiling Maria is showing off her "good hair day" for the camera wearing a black and white v-neck top
Maria Johnson

Each person’s walk through the loss of eyesight is different. Today’s Woman On The Move, Maria Johnson, of Girl Gone Blind, is a powerhouse who you get to personally meet by way of her podcast interview with Thomas Reid of Reid My Mind Radio.

I recently spoke with Maria by phone and was immediately taken with her energy and how much we share in common. We are in the same age bracket, we are parents, and we are passionate about our missions.

“I realized I needed to get my head wrapped around this whole “I’m now blind” thing!” ~Maria Johnson

Maria, who suddenly lost her eyesight to Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) a condition that can cause the optic nerve to atrophy, began to publicly share her journey three months after sight loss. Three and a half years later she’s attained a huge following and is featured weekly on RNIB Connect Radio.

When you have a moment take a listen to the podcast and visit Maria over at Girl Gone Blind. Additionally, you can connect with Maria on social media at:

 

Women on the Move: Jo Pinto

“The Bright Side of Darkness”

Jo Pinto Receives the 2016 Colorado Independent Publishers Association Award. She is seen here posing for the camera holding her award in both hands with her white cane under her right arm. Jo is looking very stylish in a blue, black & white abstract floral print dress and black boots.
Jo Pinto Receives the 2016 Colorado Independent Publishers Association Award

My name is Jo Elizabeth Pinto. I was born three months too early in 1971 and lost my eyesight to retinopathy of prematurity. I grew up on braille and Talking Books from the National Library Service. Like many blind children, I spent my childhood waiting eagerly for bulky black boxes and square plastic cases to arrive in the mail, holding braille books and 4-track cassettes that brought me familiar voices such as Mitzi Friedlander and Roy Avers. I devoured all the great writers children should discover—Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl, Hans Christian Anderson and Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, John Steinbeck and William Shakespeare.

Jo with her yellow Labrador guide dog Anlyn walking on leaf strewn tree-lined sidewalk with gold, red and orange autumn trees.
Jo with her guide dog Anlyn a yellow Labrador

And I knew I wanted to be an author. From the time I figured out words could be written down in books and enjoyed, again and again, I knew someday I would write. When I was in elementary school, supposedly doing math assignments or studying spelling words, I’d often be busy at my Perkins brailler, pounding out poetry or creating title pages and back cover descriptions for books I dreamed of one-day publishing.

My novel, “The Bright Side of Darkness”, began as a short story assignment for a high school English class. I got an A on the assignment and fell in love with the characters who came to life in my imagination.

Bright Side of Darkness book cover illustrated as a corner room that has a bar covered window and light shining through. There is a silhouette of a person seated with their arms on their knees and head in their hands. In the upper left corner of the book is a bright red bow.
Bright Side of Darkness book cover

I never forgot those characters. In my twenties, in order to learn how to use a word processor, I dragged out that old short story and typed it into my first computer—a DOS machine with 5-inch floppy disks and no Internet. The writing needed a lot of work, but the characters still captivated me. I added to the story, changed and deleted weak parts and moved paragraphs and chapters around. I picked the project up and put it down many times over the next twenty-some years as life happened. I took advice and editing from countless people. I went to writing workshops and joined critique groups to hone my craft, and I never gave up on my dream. In June of 2015, I finally published my book.

Second photo of Jo with Anlyn walking on the leaf strewn tree-lined sidewalk with gold, red and orange autumn trees.
Jo Pinto and Anlyn

As I’ve marketed my novel over the last two years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people, blind and sighted, and to be drawn out of my comfort zone. I’m a natural introvert and a recluse at heart. But introversion and reclusiveness are diametrically opposed to book marketing, so I’ve had my limits stretched in exciting ways as “The Bright Side of Darkness” finds its place in the world.

The novel won two First Place 2016 Next Generation Independent Book Awards, one for First Novel Over 80,000 Words, and one for Inspirational Fiction. It also won several 2016 awards from the Colorado Independent Publishers Association: First Place for Inspirational Fiction, Second Place for Audiobook Production, and First Place for Literary and Contemporary Fiction.

Besides writing, I work from home as a braille proofreader and hang out with my family, which includes my nine-year-old daughter and her dad, and my guide dog Anlyn.

Author links:

Image Descriptions:

  1. Jo Pinto Receives the 2016 Colorado Independent Publishers Association Award. She is seen here posing for the camera holding her award in both hands with her white cane under her right arm. Jo is looking very stylish in a blue, black & white abstract floral print dress and black boots.
  2. Jo with her yellow Labrador guide dog Anlyn walking on a leaf-strewn tree-lined sidewalk with gold, red and orange autumn trees.
  3. “Bright Side of Darkness” book cover illustrated as a corner room that has a bar covered window and light shining through. There is a silhouette of a person seated with their arms on their knees and head in their hands. In the upper left corner of the book is a bright red bow.
  4. Second photo of Jo and Anlyn walking on the sidewalk in autumn.

Woman On The Move: Silvia Seyringer

Stanley & The Staircase To The Light

Silvia (white cane in hand) and her daughter (wearing Mickey Mouse ears) are posed standing in Disneyland.I am a survivor. I tell myself this every day, so it must be true! When I found out I was losing my sight, I was devastated, but although it was a harrowing and speedy process, it was not the worst thing that had happened in my life. Having gone through worse and survived, I knew I possessed the key to letting myself out of this dungeon and I knew the staircase to take to see the light again (pardon the pun!)

The first sign I was losing my eyesight was a rare cataract condition resulting from damage inflicted on my eyes as a child. After operations and exploration of the nerves, it was discovered that I had an additional, rarer condition: juvenile macular degeneration, rods and cones dystrophy. Instead of viewing the world through rose-colored glasses, I view the world through a blue lens, with black polka dot spots! (I still see through rose-colored glasses metaphorically, though.)

It was extremely hard for an independent person like me to adapt to the seeming lack of freedom when sight had deteriorated such that I was provided a white cane by Vision Australia. I absolutely detested asking for help. My daughter helped as much as her busy life allowed, guiding me on her arm whilst I used the cane (Stanley) to navigate uneven ground surfaces. Why Stanley? Because I couldn’t stand ‘him’ but essentially, he led me around, plus a reference to black and white era comedians, Laurel & Hardy (Stan being the extremely skinny one!) A very wise woman had recommended naming your cane. It makes it more personal and like a member of your family, whom you need to accept.

We had planned a trip to Disneyland because my daughter missed out on another trip, so this was to be our time together. Little did we know that by the time we left Sydney, I would not be able to see beyond 10cm from my face. Working our way through those throngs of bodies, everyone out to get to where they were going as fast as possible, is a story in itself. I was so grateful that I had a solid body to hold on to and that Stanley announced that I could not see ahead of me. It made it so much easier for others to accept that I had not walked into them deliberately or bumped them with intent. When people are rushing (especially in huge crowds), there sometimes isn’t even the time to apologise properly, so a glance at a cane alleviates this courtesy.

Needless to say, my favorite ride was Space Mountain (which is set entirely in the dark). I could really enjoy that one as I could relate! The non-vision impaired screamed in terror, I just screamed because the sensations of going through space without seeing what was ahead of me was so eerily familiar! And because I was strapped in, I felt safe and it was fun when compared to the unpredictability of day-to-day travel.

Having lost the use of my sense of sight to a large extent meant that I really had to use my brain. I am beyond thankful that my memory still functioned and I could work out where to go using logic when I couldn’t see. I learned to really listen for train station names and sounds after missing my (extremely well-known) stop so many times because I couldn’t recognise it anymore. Trying to ask for directions (or even just to find out where you were) was problematic in a city of 5 million people; no one has patience or time for you, however, at one glimpse of the cane, people were immediately more forgiving and accommodating.

I realised I had to stop working when I didn’t see clear glass and broke many beakers in my laboratory at work. There was a bit of an existential crisis when I realised I couldn’t work as a scientist – “Am I still a scientist?” I need to transition to theoretical science rather than conducting practical experiments. Or retrain altogether, in a different field.

Every day is a challenge but as time goes by, it becomes the norm as you get used your new way of being. And it is not so bad, as many unexpectedly good things have come from being differently-sighted. I now regard it as a blessing. I have gained so much more in terms of valuing life and experiences. At the conclusion of each day, I give thanks that I was privileged to experience it, no matter that the shape and look of these days is different to all those previous years.

Image: Silvia (white cane in hand) and her daughter (wearing Mickey Mouse ears) are posed standing in Disneyland.

I met Silvia on Instagram and was immediately captivated with her photography. Not only does she take breathtaking photos but her descriptions are sublime. You can connect with her via @silviasalzburg to enjoy her craft.

Women On The Move: Ashley Nemeth

Close up photo of Ashley looking fabulous.

I will not let my vision dictate what I can do in my life, and I certainly will not sit back and let life pass me by. I want to show the world what I am capable of despite my disability. ~Ashley Nemeth

Confidence, strength, independent and loving life. These are the traits that I had always wanted to have when I was younger. The problem was that I was not able to have these things when I was hiding the fact that I had vision loss. It is hard to be confident, strong and independent when you can not even admit to yourself that you can’t see the world around you, the way you should be able to.

Ashley and her guide dog, Rick are posed with her snowboard. There comes a point in your life when you just need to be happy and want to live your life to the fullest. For me, this came in the form of my worst nightmare. I lost the remaining sight that I had, very quickly. I was living in a sighted world and getting by as a sighted person even though the world was not clear through my eyes, but now that I had seen nothing except for light and dark there was no more hiding anything.

My world became dark and I really had to fight to get my life back. This was a hard journey, I had to really work to get to where I wanted to be. I am so happy in my life as it is right now, even in the dark. My life was turned upside down but it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I am now living the life I have always wanted.

I am confident, strong, and independent. I am able to live the life that I want because I took the time to work on me and make me a priority no matter what anyone else thought. Through that work I found that being an advocate was where I should be focusing my time, not trying to be sighted when we all know I never really passed because well…… I couldn’t damn well see haha! Acting is not my forte.

Now that I am able to live my life my way and love every minute I am able to help others to realize that, life as a blind person is not a death sentence. It does not mean that your life is over and will suck from that point on. The complete opposite, in fact, you can live a full amazing life…. you just have to want it.

Ashley has been featured on Bold Blind Beauty several times where I’ve shared some of her wisdom in the form of quotes. She is a fierce and tireless advocate who seizes life by knocking down barriers and spreading her message of equity like a champion fighter.

You can connect with Ashley on the following social media platforms: