Growing up I really struggled with the way I looked, frequently hearing comments about how my eyes looked funny. Even at the age of 50, there are still some days where I lack confidence in my appearance.
As a lover of technology, I was naturally drawn to Terese when I sat in on one of her courses during the conference. She’s a brilliant Assistive Technology Specialist whos vibrant personality brightens any room. Later in the week, I got to know a little more about her during a semi-formal networking event as we were seated together during the dinner. I must admit I was thrilled to be seated with Terese as I was dying to pick her brain on cell phone technology as it relates to accessibility.
A fashionista at heart, when our conversation turned to fashion I needed to know more about this beautiful woman. We found we shared a passion for beauty and addressing some of the stereotypes where beauty and blindness intertwine. Terese’s love for fashion is evident in how she presents herself to the world. Next week you’ll get to hear her beauty advice to those who are new to sight loss. At the heart of Bold Blind Beauty is the message of empowerment and confidence and I really like what Terese has to say about this topic:
Terese, thank you for allowing me to shine the spotlight on you. You are a Bold Blind Beauty!
Featured Image Description:
The image is a faux fashion magazine cover titled Blind Beauty. Terese’s photo on the cover shows her looking very stylish in jeans, a burgundy top, and a long taupe sweater. She paired her outfit with a gold statement necklace and brown peep toe, sandals with a block heel.
Blocks of text superimposed on Terese’s photo are: “Bold–She Keeps Pressing Onward, Blind–She Has Deeper Insight, Beautiful–She Sees To The Heart Of Others.” “Real Beauty Transcends Barriers.” “Makeup Trends for 2019–How To Maintain A Flawless Look”
Hello, I’m Carla Ernst’s publisher and I’m contacting you because I know she was involved with Bold Blind Beauty. I’m very sorry to tell you that she passed away a couple of days ago.
I’d just come home from visiting my friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer. The stress is palpable as I’m working on getting the June edition of CAPTIVATING!issued. I heard the email notification on my cell. Figuring it was one of our CAPTIVATING! team members, I glance at it and the next thing I know I’m screaming.
When anyone calls the Bold Blind Beauty 800 line it automatically sends a transcript of the voicemail. I thought this has to be a mistake when reading the transcript. So I open the email on my 32-inch monitor, then read and re-read the message. Comprehension slowly creeps up on me as my heart is breaking—Carla is gone!
Gosh, just writing this brings it all back—the tears, sorrow, and devastation of losing someone so close to me. While it’s been two weeks since she died a very large part of me still can’t believe she’s gone.
Exhuberant & Extraordinary Carla
I met Carla on November 10, 2016, right here on Bold Blind Beauty. It all began with a comment she left on one of my blog posts:
You look fab Steph! (I’m trusting my sighted girlfriend Ann who told me so). I lost my vision several months ago, but I have not let that negatively impact my sense of fashion one bit. I wear a lot of pencil skirts too, but I’m thinking of upgrading to pen skirts. Way more permanent. These pencil skirts could erase. Which would not be good because they have a no-nudity policy here in Milwaukee.
~ Carla Ernst
How was I to know that this one comment would lead to such an extraordinary friendship? The funny thing is, Carla and I never met in person. Yet this comment was the beginning of something very special. The comment led to an email which in turn led to a phone call that completely changed my life.
It’s so interesting how meaningful relationships can evolve while living in the virtual 24/7 world. My friendship with Carla was such a relationship. From the very beginning, her corny sense of humor was contagious; I remember telling her she should become a standup comedian. In addition to being a person who could make you laugh non-stop, Carla was extremely intelligent and uber professional.
My relationship with Carla was life-changing because she clearly understood my passion for advocacy. Because of this understanding, she offered to help me to improve Bold Blind Beauty.
In a matter of months, we consolidated messaging and websites. If you’ve been following Bold Blind Beauty for a while you’ll remember there was a separate online store. The standalone online store was named after Abby our fashion icon. Then there were individual social media platforms for each site which made things a little hairy.
Carla’s offer to create a concise message made me feel a little; no, I was actually extremely uncomfortable. Living on disability means finances are tight and I knew I couldn’t afford her services. Here’s the kicker though: when I told her I couldn’t pay her she said all she wanted to do was to help. Who does this in this day and age?
Carla wasted no time developing a strategy She:
wrote Abby’s story and rewrote my bios (I now have several from which to choose)
hosted two focus groups to gather data to learn more about our audience
advised me to create a Steering Committee
updated the site’s structure to make more sense
helped me consolidate the obsolete Abigale Style into Bold Blind Beauty
contributed tons of content to Bold Blind Beauty
represented Bold Blind Beauty as Chief Communications Officer
presented endless ideas the most recent was giving Abby a voice
As a communications guru, Carla’s passion for writing could only be matched by her advocacy. She had a heart for volunteerism and gave so much of her time and talents to organizations who help improve the lives of others. What’s ironic about me writing this piece is I feel like I cannot do her justice.
What Carla Taught Me
Acceptance has to be one of the most important takeaways from my friendship with Carla. Remember how I said I met her in 2016? It wasn’t until last year that I learned something about Carla that hurt me to the core. Her memoir, Life Without Pockets: My Long Journey Into Womanhood, was a subtle hint.
I read Carla’s book in one sitting. It was excellent. As soon as I finished reading it I called her. While I can’t remember our exact conversation what I do remember is how badly I felt for her. To be clear, learning that Carla was trans was not an issue for me. Instead, I was hurt that she thought if I knew it would turn me against her.
Carla and I would talk on many subjects the majority of which focused on preconceived notions of others. Blindness was a great starting point, I think because of the many metaphors on the topic. For example, when you can’t see how a person looks it doesn’t matter— it’s about character.
However, in Carla’s defense, I get it. Being a member of several marginalized groups myself I understand how much it hurts when people cannot accept you for who you are. The beauty of Carla was that she didn’t place conditions on her friendships. She was 100 percent the real deal and I’m so beyond honored to have known her and call her my friend.
I talked to Carla two days before she passed away and we had such a great conversation. She wasn’t feeling well; hadn’t been for that entire weekend but she wanted to share some ideas with me.
Being who she was, Carla was also a CAPTIVATING! team member and had big ideas on how we could further impact the world. We talked by phone at least twice a month and no matter what was going on in her life, Carla was positive.
I’ve always believed the majority of the world is full of very good, well-intentioned people. People like Carla reaffirms my belief, yet it would be reckless of me not to acknowledge the hatred. Hatred is the reason why Carla was hesitant to tell me her story and no one should ever feel this way. We are all human and we all struggle. For those who cannot feel empathy for others, you’re the ones missing out. Nobody knows what’s in store for each of us but I’ll tell you what it’s far easier being kind and compassionate than filled with hate.
Everyone has biases but until we get to know one another, I don’t understand how we can feel dislike towards another. Carla, I will forever be grateful to you for bringing so much light into my life. You are a bright star and I will miss you terribly my friend. I love you. RIP
It takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, and a day to love them, but it takes an entire lifetime to forget them.
Featured Image Description:
A headshot of Carla with auburn hair and she’s wearing a black top.
The second image is a black and white full body shot of Carla posing with her white cane. She is wearing a floral dress with floral patterned hose.
I was born with albinism, which caused me to be legally blind. Due to my lack of sight, I live in a world where bugs don’t exist, dust is something I only hear about but never see and everyone has flawless skin.
~Antonia Lliteras Espinosa
The Times They Are A Changin Rapidly
Aren’t we living in exciting times? I sometimes wonder what our ancestors would think if they could be here in this moment. Who would have thought we’d ever be untethered to a phone line? Or have the ability to connect with someone from around the world instantaneously? Heck, even receiving news almost as soon as it happens is almost miraculous in comparison with days gone by.
As an advocate, one of the things that really excites me is being here to see representation unfold. Just thinking about the logistics of tracking the numerous groups of people gives me heartburn. Can you imagine the group breakdowns? It’s enough to make your head spin.
Being one of the 15% of the world’s population who has a disability, seeing more representation is so empowering. When you have an online presence it’s even more so because you can meet so many more awesome people. Take today’s Blind Beauty, Antonia, for example. Prior to last week, I didn’t know this young woman. Yet thanks to Instagram, when I asked if I could share one of her posts, well, the rest is history.
The Beauty Of Unity
Since it’s out of the ordinary to see blind women on fashion magazine covers, I created Blind Beauty. Living the “be the change you wish to see” philosophy, I created this faux fashion magazine cover to highlight these women. As I’ve said since starting Bold Blind Beauty, “Real Beauty Transcends Barriers.”
There are so many beautiful people in our world and the real beauty is how we lift up one another. Following is the rest of Antonia’s quote:
Out of sight out of mind, right? I have been asked many times if there was a cure whether I would take it and, to be honest, I don’t think I would. It has taken me many years to get to where I am today, but I have learned to find joy through my other senses. I appreciate the beauty in the world just as much as the next person and my visual impairment has put me in a unique position where I get to experience the raw humanity that unites us all. I get to see people at their best because I am so vulnerable to others. If I were to suddenly gain my sight, I would miss out on all this and, let’s be honest, the world would be a much dirtier place!
~Antonia Lliteras Espinosa
Blind Beauty 74 Featured Image Description:
Featured image is a faux fashion magazine cover titled Blind Beauty. Antonia’s image on the cover is black & white. In this photo, Antonia is standing in front of a tiled wall posing with her white cane. She looks fabulous in a lace cami, jeans, jacket, shades, and a handbag over her right shoulder. Blocks of text superimposed on Antonia’s photo are: “Bold–She Keeps Pressing Onward, Blind–She Has Deeper Insight, Beautiful–She Sees To The Heart Of Others.” “Real Beauty Transcends Barriers.” “Makeup Trends for 2019–How To Maintain A Flawless Look”
This photo is a color image of the Featured Photo. The tiled wall is sort of a dark teal color. Antonia has a white/blonde stylish bob hairstyle. Her cami is white with a light blue jacket, blue jeans, and sparkling silver sneakers. Her white cane also has a bright pink handle.
This photo shows Antonia sitting on a park bench. She’s wearing a vibrant royal blue top with a luxe velvet navy jacket with jeans and black flats. Her white cane is propped up against the bench. In the background parked vehicles and storefronts can be seen.
Below is a revised version of an article I wrote for BlindNewWorldback in 2016. I really appreciate looking back as it gives me an opportunity to see how far we’ve come. You can check out the original article here: #MyBlindStory.
Losing Sight Opened My Eyes
Before I lost my eyesight, I thought blindness meant total darkness. I was wrong. The range of sight loss/blindness is enormous and differs greatly from one person to the next.
Sight loss is a major life-altering event and it takes some time to adjust. Thankfully, acclimation and acceptance are not only possible but we can also learn to thrive. With few exceptions, the things we loved and excelled at are still integral to who we are at our core.
Since my love of personal style began when I was young, sustaining it through sight loss was a necessity. So learning new makeup and styling techniques helped me to increase my confidence despite blindness.
Being able to keep up my trademark polished image which contributes largely to who I am as an individual was huge. Little did I know when I began blogging that I would connect with so many other fashionable blind women throughout the world. Life lesson—style is not limited to those with sight or who are able-bodied.
Inclusion and accessibility are major issues of concern in every area of blind individual’s lives. As a sub-group within the largest minority group of People With Disabilities, blindness is a small segment. Even so in the US alone, there are about 21 million adultsliving with sight loss.
I think the misguided belief that ‘blind people don’t care about their appearance’ is a prominent reason behind our lack of portrayal. Looking at the beauty and fashion industry it’s not surprising to see so little representation of blindness. While we are making inroads to inclusion we can do better. For this reason, a growing number of blind fashionable women are blogging and vlogging on a range of beauty related topics.
Bold Blind Beauty, believes “Real Beauty Transcends Barriers” and as such, we needed a stylish icon to represent blind women. Abigale, the fashion icon, is a chic image that evokes power, independence, and confidence. She is a woman on the move stepping forward with purpose as she navigates the world with her white cane.
Bridging The Gap
Expanding perceptions by connecting sighted and non-sighted communities are one of many ways we help to end fear and stigma associated with the word ‘blind.’ To extend our mission of “improving humanity by changing the way we perceive one another” we incorporated an online boutique. “Shopping With Abby” promotes powerful motivational slogans on all our merchandise (e.g. Relax! It’s Only a Cane).
Once, an eye doctor told me “it would be a tragedy to learn how to use the white cane.” However, I believe the real tragedy is the shame many people feel when losing their eyesight. Empowering visual images that exude positivity will change hearts and minds towards blindness.
MyBlindStory Featured Image Description:
A professional headshot of my asymmetrical hairstyle with burgundy highlights. The muted Coral Cutie lipstick topped with a peach colored gloss provides a nice contrast against the gray backdrop. I’m wearing a black dress and black tuxedo jacket trimmed in faux leather, silver statement necklace, and silver drop earrings.
Image 1 – I’m standing with my white cane wearing white jeans and a gray cold shoulder sweater with tan lace-up sandals. I’m also holding a silver bomber jacket over my left shoulder.
Image 2 – In this photo, I have my white cane and my outfit (capris, tank, sneakers & hoodie) are in shades of gray.
Image 3 – Here I’m posing with my white cane, blue jeans, black cold shoulder short sleeve tee and cream pumps.