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From Poverty To Possibilities: How Losing My Sight Expanded My Vision

Featured image is described in the post

From Poverty To Possibilities: 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.

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