Mel’s Story: Finding Liberation Through Choice (Part 1)
Real independence is the freedom to choose.~Melanie Peskoe
The following article written by one of our newest contributors, Melanie Peskoe, is an introduction to how she began her successful late-blooming career. I introduced her to you in her first piece titled “What’s All The Buzz About LinkedIn?” Without giving too much away, today’s feature is a two-part series of Mel’s backstory. Enjoy! ~Steph
Legally Blind & Feeling Different
For many reasons it’s not uncommon to see people, especially women, start their professional careers during the second half of their lives. It’s also fairly common for many people to change careers later in life.
In some ways my story is as typical as many others’ who start their careers in middle age, but there are factors and influences that also make my story different as well. I’ll try to keep this relatively short, but I think it’s important to know some of my history, so you’ll have some context for how I landed where I am today.
I was born legally blind and grew up mostly in public school and in a family that treated me (mostly) the same as my sighted siblings and cousins. I say mostly, because I have vivid memories of things my extended family would tell me about my vision and limitations – but that’s a whole other story for another day!
During my middle and high school years I really began to feel different from most of my friends. I also began to have a lot of shame around having very low vision and identifying myself as visually impaired. I started doing everything I could to try and hide when I couldn’t see things. The only person I was fooling was myself, but more on that later!
I was a smart teenager with a lot of potential but because I wanted to keep the world from knowing I couldn’t see, I did things like skipping assignments because I couldn’t read the chalk board, choosing random “bubbles” on a test answer sheet that I couldn’t see. I was really heading down the wrong road and I knew it.
Comfort Among Comrades
I was enrolled at the school for the blind for my junior and senior years of high school and this was a game changer for me at a critical time in my life. I was with kids like me, and I felt free to be me. I didn’t have to ask for help, the teachers and staff knew what I needed when I didn’t. My grades improved because I no longer felt shame to announce that I couldn’t see something. But then came college and the real world.
While I was at the school for the blind, I was able to feel comfortable in something like an incubator, but it didn’t prepare me for life outside the school campus where most of the world was sighted. I still had major issues with identifying as visually impaired, using accommodations, and asking for assistance when I couldn’t see something. You couldn’t have paid me enough money to use a long white cane!
I reverted to my old ways to try to hide the fact that I couldn’t see. What I didn’t understand was that it was obvious I couldn’t see, and I wasn’t hiding anything at all! Instead, I was sending the message that I wasn’t very smart or that I just didn’t care – neither of which were true!
As you might guess, I didn’t do so well in college my first go around. I dropped out of college (I was actually told I was finished) and started looking for a job. I found a couple of jobs, but again realized that without accommodations or assistance it just wouldn’t work.
The Power Of Choice
Fast forward a few years into my twenties when I met a group of people who were all visually impaired and doing things I wanted to do and living lives on their own terms. I wanted what they had! The group I found was the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). I began to learn and slowly believe in the NFB mantra, “it is respectable to be blind.” I still wouldn’t call myself blind or even use a cane, but this was a very pivotal time in my life.
I want to pause here just a moment to emphasize the importance of this time in my life. The NFB helped me learn to accept myself and find confidence to live in my own skin. I read a lot of material written by NFB leaders and everyday people just like me. I listened to speeches and attended meetings and conferences. Through all these experiences I learned that it’s okay to ask for help when I need it and it’s also okay to do things a little differently from those who are fully sighted.
I started using a long white cane and that was truly liberating. Using a cane, sighted assistance, or alternate techniques doesn’t make me any less of a person, in fact, the freedom to choose what I need and when I need it is what finally gave me real independence. Let me say that again – real independence is the freedom to choose.
My story doesn’t end there. Oh no, my journey is filled with forks in the road, detours, some cruising, and lots of lessons along the way. Stay tuned for part two where I’ll share how I found my current destination.
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Melanie Peskoe is a vivaciously, middle-age, late blooming professional woman, and Bold Blind Beauty Contributor and Advisory Board member. She currently works as the Public Policy and Research Coordinator with the American Foundation for the Blind. Prior to AFB, Melanie worked with the American Printing House for the Blind as a Digital Content Specialist for the ConnectCenter and the VisionAware website. She has a strong interest in aging and vision loss so she stayed on at VisionAware to serve as a VisionAware Peer Advisor and many of her blog posts can be found there. Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Melanie has two older kids, and loves to crochet and read (preferably at the same time!)
Connecting With Melanie
- The header image is a blue scarf freely floating in the wind against a blue sky as a backdrop.
- Pretty young blonde woman sitting with her back against a brick wall. Her knee ares bent and her arms holding them to her chest while she looks sad.
- Team concept of multiple hands atop one another.
- Handmade poster of multi colored letters that says “You always have a choice.”
- Author bio photo is a headshot of Melanie her light brown hair is styled in a fashionable bob and she’s wearing red lip color with a black v-neck top.