Jenice Heck On Living Life Successfully With Vision Loss

Forging Ahead: Jaz is standing at the top of a steep incline of ascending stairs with her cane looking up towards the camera in triumph. She is wearing a white V-neck top with blue and white seersucker shorts.

Cane EnAbled | Occupational Therapist Jenice Heck

Independence is all about having self-confidence, strong adaptive skills, and a positive attitude.

~Jenice Heck

Contents

Editor’s Note:

We have such a treat for your today! Jenice Heck is a blind occupational therapist and YouTuber who I met through one of her YouTube videos. This Bold Blind Beauty has a gift of motivation through her sparkling personality and positive outlook. No matter where you are on the blindness spectrum Jenice Heck can provide you the tools to live life successfully with vision loss.

Included in this post is Jenice’s YouTube video feature as well as the transcription which has been edited for clarity. Enjoy!

Beyond Sight Magazine Cover

Text on Beyond Sight Magazine May 2021 reads: Jenice Heck | Living Life Successfully With Vision Loss | Cane EnAbled | Celebrating broad perspectives of those in the field of blindness/low vision.
Forging Ahead

YouTube Video

Introducing Jenise Heck

Enjoying Nature: Jenice is casually leaning against a tree in a field of white poppies with a sweet smile on her face. She is wearing black jeans and a black silk top in a cold shoulder style with yellow and white stripes. Her long brown hair is braided and hanging lazily over one shoulder.
Enjoying Nature

Hi, I’m Jenise Heck, but you can call me Jaz. I’m a blind occupational therapist (OT) and I’d like to tell you a little bit about my journey with vision loss. And how something as simple as a long white cane helped me to go from your average child with vision impairment, to the Vice President of a reputable nonprofit and the host of my own YouTube channel.

I was born with a genetic condition called Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), which means I was born visually impaired. And though I’m blind today, as a child, I had low vision. I couldn’t see like all of my friends. But luckily, I had parents that were very supportive, and they encouraged me to do all of the same things that my friends were doing. So actually, they helped me to develop the self-confidence and the determination, I needed to face all the challenges in life with vision loss.

I have to be honest, though, my dad wanted me to learn how to use the white cane when I was a child. And he pushed it but I resisted. I was embarrassed, I didn’t want everyone to know that I was blind, I wanted to feel like everyone else. I didn’t think I needed it. And so I didn’t do it.

But after college, I moved to another state because I needed to prove to my family, my friends, and myself that I was truly independent. That’s when I decided that my dad was actually a pretty wise person. Because when I no longer had my support systems around me, I had to start relying on the resources that were available to me to be independent.

Expanding Our World Through Independence

And so the first thing I did was reach out and get training to learn how to use the long white cane. After doing that, and realizing how independent I could actually be on my own, that’s when my world truly opened up and became a bigger place. That was the moment in my life where I knew for certain that I could do anything as long as I had the right tools.

As an occupational therapist, my job is to help people with injuries or disabilities to overcome their barriers to independence, by helping them to:

  • focus on their strengths,
  • strengthen their weaknesses,
  • and utilize the tools available to help them to compensate for their losses.

Today, I specialize in vision rehabilitation. And I have the honor of working with the greatest team at the Lighthouse Louisiana, where we use these same strategies to help people with vision loss to learn the skills they need to live productive and independent lives.

Over 50% of our brain is dedicated to processing visual information if we’re born with sight. But the human body is a miraculous machine and it’s designed to interpret a lot more than just vision. Our senses of hearing, touch, proprioception, smell, and taste can help us to understand the world around us when vision’s not available. It’s called adaptation, and here’s how it works. I could use any task to demonstrate but for today, we’re going to stick with mobility and how the long white cane can enable independence to help people who cannot safely rely on their vision when traveling.

Now, I am not an orientation and mobility specialist, that’s the person that you need to teach white cane skills. But as an occupational therapist, I can teach how adaptation works. That’s what my job is all about.

Teaching White Cane Adaptation

Relaxing in the Garden: Jaz is sitting by a garden of lilies with her bichon puppy, Daisey, in her lap. She is wearing a red shirt with tiny white dots, white pants, and bright red lip color to match.
Relaxing in the Garden

If you have any degree of vision loss, the long white cane can be a powerful tool for adaptation, because it’s designed to use your sense of touch and hearing to get you where you need to go.

For example, through the tip of your cane, you can detect different textures; like the feel of concrete, versus grass or dirt, or if you’re inside tile versus wood or carpet. These different textures not only feel different, but they have different sounds too. These are the things that can help you to stay oriented and know where you are at any given time.

When two textures come together, they form what’s called a shoreline and so the cane can help you to follow that shoreline through your environment. The cane can also help you to find changes in elevation, for example, street curbs, or stairs. Once you find that change, you can either reach out with your foot or hand to explore it before going ahead moving forward.

As you develop your mobility skills, you’ll learn how to use your other senses to pick up cues and clues in your environment by:

  • using your sense of smell,
  • or your sense of hearing,
  • or even sometimes, some tactual landmarks with your sense of touch.

So when you hear things like a busy street or a particular dog barking, or wind chimes on a neighbor’s house that can help you to stay oriented, you can do the same thing with your sense of smell. Because every community has its own fragrances, whether it’s flowers and fruit trees in a particular spot, or trash cans or dog run. These are great examples of adaptation and how it works when you’re using your long white cane.

Tips, Tools & Techniques

Insight4Blind on YouTube: A headshot of Jaz holding up a make-up brush to demonstrate how to evenly apply blush. Her face is smooth and clean with evenly applied foundation, light silver eye shadow, and eyeliner. In the top right corner of the image is the Insight banner and beneath it is the YouTube logo.
Insight4Blind on YouTube

I’ve had many people ask me, did your hearing actually get better when you lose your vision? Actually, your hearing doesn’t change. But when you stop focusing on visual information and start gathering information from your other senses, then your brain is able to pay attention more to the smells, and the sounds, and the textures in the world all around you. And that’s what adaptation is all about.

It takes practice and usually a little bit of help, which is exactly why I started my own YouTube channel called Insight4Blind (I-N-S-I-G-H-T the number four B-L-I-N-D), all written out as one word. So on my Insight Channel, I give the tips, tools, and techniques for living life successfully with vision loss. Everything from how to cook and clean using adaptive techniques to organizational strategies and decorating. From recreational tasks to work-related tasks.

I even have a video on there about how to apply makeup if you can’t see your reflection in the mirror. There is something for everyone on the Insight Channel, no matter what degree of vision loss you have from low vision to no vision. So if you have any questions about how to perform any daily task with vision loss, check it out.

Independence is all about having self-confidence, strong adaptive skills, and a positive attitude. The long white cane is an important tool that helped me navigate through the challenges of life with vision loss, and it can do the same for you.

A Final Motivational Message

Thanks, Bold Blind Beauty for giving me this opportunity to tell my story. My message to all of you today is that you have the tools to live your best life with vision loss. All you need to do is accept who you are, embrace the gifts you have, and take advantage of all the resources that are available to you. And if you need a little help, stay connected with Bold Blind Beauty for inspiration and subscribe to the Insight4Blind Channel on YouTube for practical skills.

Thanks for joining me today. No worries, you got this. See you next time.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Connecting With Jenice Heck

Image Descriptions:

  • Header & Beyond Sight Magazine Cover photo are identical: Forging Ahead – Jaz is standing at the top of a steep incline of ascending stairs with her cane looking up towards the camera in triumph. She is wearing a white V-neck top with blue and white seersucker shorts.
  • Text on Beyond Sight Magazine May 2021 reads: Jenice Heck | Living Life Successfully With Vision Loss | Cane EnAbled | Celebrating broad perspectives of those in the field of blindness/low vision.
  • Relaxing in the Garden: Jaz is sitting by a garden of lilies with her bichon puppy, Daisey, in her lap. She is wearing a red shirt with tiny white dots, white pants, and bright red lip color to match.
  • Enjoying Nature: Jaz is casually leaning against a tree in a field of white poppies with a sweet smile on her face. She is wearing black jeans and a black silk top in a cold shoulder style with yellow and white stripes. Her long brown hair is braided and hanging lazily over one shoulder.
  • Insight4Blind on YouTube: A headshot of Jaz holding up a make-up brush to demonstrate how to evenly apply blush. Her face is smooth and clean with evenly applied foundation, light silver eye shadow, and eyeliner. In the top right corner of the image is the Insight banner and beneath it is the YouTube logo.

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