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Visual Impairment Leads To Advocacy Campaign

Visual Impairment Featured image description is in the body of the post.

My vision changes every hour, sometimes I can read a street sign, recognize a friend, or read a newspaper headline. Some days I can’t see an inch past my nose.

~Dr. Amy Kavanagh
Women On The Move 59

Visual Impairment Leads To Advocacy Campaign

Amy at BBC image description is in the body of the post.
#1 Amy at BBC

It’s taken 27 years for me to accept my visual impairment. I was born with nystagmus, limited depth perception, and almost no peripheral vision. Alongside light sensitivity and myopia, it’s a mixed bag of sight issues that my doctors continue to puzzle out. My vision changes every hour, sometimes I can read a street sign, recognize a friend or read a newspaper headline. Some days I can’t see an inch past my nose.

In a typically British approach, my parents didn’t want to make a fuss about my disability. They encouraged me to be as normal as possible and it was the best solution when no other help was offered. To this day, my mum says how much she wishes the internet had been around when I was growing up. Although I knew I was different, I didn’t really feel the impact of my visual impairment until I went to university.

I’ve always loved history and I pursued my passion all the way to a PhD! I spent nearly a decade in higher education, and over the years had some of the happiest and lowest times in my life. Working towards my PhD was exhausting and being in denial about my visual impairment added to the strain. Eventually, the work took its toll on my mental and physical health. I’m immensely proud of my accomplishment, as acquiring my PhD was a huge achievement. However, in the end, I knew I needed a change.

Actively Seeking Help Opens The Floodgates

#2 London Underground

It was only through starting a new career at a disability charity that I realised how much help I denied myself. So I started to reach out for some support. First I turned to my twitter community, I had used the social media platform for a few years, mostly for academic networking, but I soon discovered an entire online family of visually impaired people. These new friends had so much advice and guidance. They had been there; they had struggled, they had denied the difficulties, and also finally they had asked for help. It was so refreshing and such a revelation to hear so many similar stories and read about so many people living confident lives after sight loss.

I was encouraged to contact Guide Dogs UK, but I was skeptical. Part of my problem was that I just didn’t identify as “blind.” Even though I was born with a visual impairment, I didn’t think of myself as disabled. Everyone always went on about sight loss, but I’d never had it in the first place! It was my normal, but I was fast realizing I didn’t just have to put on my stiff upper lip and accept it.

Contacting Guide Dogs UK changed my life. The support, skills, and encouragement they have given me, has been incredible. Just one year later I’ve gone from suffering in silence to being a visually impaired activist! I’m now a confident long cane user and I’m waiting for a guide dog. Instead of being in denial about my disability I now advocate for the rights and equal opportunities for visually impaired people.

Advocacy Born Through Acceptance

Selfie description is in the body of the post.
#3 Selfie

I’ve even started a campaign to encourage the public to offer help to disabled people. My #JustAskDontGrab message uses my experiences of positive help, and unwanted grabbing, pushing or pulling, to educate people about how to offer assistance politely and respectfully. Over the last few months it’s gone viral, and I’ve been on the radio, tv and in newspapers! It’s been a whirlwind, but such an empowering experience. Also, I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of visually impaired people who’ve contacted me to say they’ve experienced the same journey. They’ve told me, my story of accepting my visual impairment and the cane has encouraged them to do the same.

I will keep sharing my story because it’s the message I needed growing up. I want young people struggling with their disability to know that they don’t just have to cope. They don’t have to manage alone, there is help out there, and that asking for support is the first step to being themselves, rather than hiding who they really are.

Since embracing my visual impairment as part of my identity I’ve been a happier and more confident person. Using a long white cane has given me freedom and I can travel independently and safely. Most of all, I finally feel like the real me. Of course, there are still difficult days, but I’ve stopped denying my real self and now I openly love my disability.

Visual Impairment Featured Image:

Profile photo of Amy walking through a park. She is using her long cane and wearing a summer dress.

Additional Images:

  1. Head and shoulder shot. Amy is sat in front of a wall with the BBC logo on. She is wearing big headphones over her bright pink hair. She is smiling and looking at the camera.
  2. Amy is standing at a London underground station, with the classic red, blue and white sign behind her. It’s a sunny day, Amy is wearing sunglasses and holding her long cane across her body. She has a light turquoise 50s style print dress on.
  3. A selfie, it’s a sunny day, trees and blue sky in the background. Amy is smiling looking at the camera in large round sunglasses. Her hair is blond with bright pink hair fading from the top. She is wearing a black t-shirt and badge, the badge shows a pair of sunglasses and reads, medical necessity not fashion accessory.

Connecting With Amy:

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Trading Car Keys For A White Cane

Trading Car Keys Featured image description is in the body of the post.

Thought of you today when meeting with an independent living specialist. I told her of your post when you finally grabbed “the cane” 🙂 She gave me some raised dot stickers to put on the kitchen appliances so I know which button is which. As much as I hated to admit it, I needed some help. Please know you are so inspiring and your insights and humor are appreciated. 

~Melissa Welch

Trading Car Keys For A White Cane

Image description is in the body of the post
Stephanae’s Mirror Selfie

October marks 10 years since I gave up my driving privileges. My last day of driving began like most days as I went through the ritual of preparing for work.

With laptop, handbag, and car keys in hand, I headed out the door to my sexy silver Jeep. Not an impulsive person by nature, I bought this SUV when I began having vision problems with my good eye. The Jeep purchase was one of the best impulsive decisions I ever made with no regrets. Heck, I even had a silver trench coat to match―no one could tell me nothin’ when I was behind the wheel.

On that crisp fall morning, I got in the Jeep, put down my belongings, slipped on my shades, started it up, and with music blaring pulled off. I swung by to pick up my colleague, best friend and carpooling buddy. Midway to the office, I matter of factly said to her: “I can’t drive anymore.” There were no theatrics, tears, or tantrums, it was time.

The Numbers Were In My Favor

When I look back at how my blindness evolved I can honestly say I knew. Even when the doctors were so sure I’d never end up where I am today, I knew. I remember bluntly asking each of them if I would go blind the answer was always “no you won’t Ms. McCoy.” 

Nothing that happened to me was supposed to happen, or at least that’s what the doctors said. When my first macular hole was diagnosed I was told there was a 95 to 99 percent chance my sight would be restored. Odds of it happening in the other eye was also very low. 

What kills me to this day is up to the point of that first macular hole I had the best vision of my life. Sure, I was using readers but my distance vision was corrected to 20/15. When I wore contact lenses my sight was so good I felt like I could see through things. Maybe it was a sign of things to come? 

Fear Of Blindness Blocks Progress & Independence

During the height of my sight loss, I was seeing no less than two or three eye doctors monthly for several months. A snowball effect of related and unrelated issues began cropping up. Cataracts, a torn retina, glaucoma, uveitis, not to mention how bizarre my vision was. With blank spots in my vision, people’s faces were disfigured to me and everything was distorted. 

Still, my retina specialist maintained his stance that he could “fix” me. After four years of back and forth, I’d had enough and went back to Cleveland Clinic. It was at this last appointment I found out I was legally blind and no more could be done for me medically.

My acceptance of being a blind person didn’t happen overnight and on many days I was a miserable mess. I think my doctor’s fear of blindness hindered me from a smoother transition i.e. low vision rehabilitation. He was opposed to me learning how to use the white cane and I allowed him to project his fear onto me. 

Blindness Isn’t Always Obvious

Trading Car Keys for A White Cane Image description is in the body of the post.
White Canes

When it comes to blindness we’ve been so conditioned to believe that people who are blind have no sight whatsoever. The societal expectation is that we all wear dark sunglasses and have vacant stares. For many of us who were born with sight, once we lose it some of us can still do things like making eye contact. It should be noted while we ‘appear’ to make eye contact, many of us can’t see faces or facial expressions.

Since my remaining sight is next to none, I need to use a white cane to navigate the world safely. I read books by listening to them, magnification and screen readers allow me to use my cell phone and computer. Thanks to technological advances there are always workarounds and adaptations to allow us to sustain our independence.

When I began Bold Blind Beauty it was to bring awareness to blindness in the hopes of changing perceptions. So many people who cannot see won’t disclose it because of shame or fear and this needs to change. Eyesight without a doubt is so precious, yet it shouldn’t be the determining factor in who we are as people. Blindness is another way of seeing.

The opening quote to this post was written by one of my followers and it is a reminder of why I do what I do. Some may think trading car keys for a white cane isn’t a fair trade but when independence is on the line I beg to differ. 

The turning point for me was understanding I had a choice in how to move forward in life. I could give up or give in and embrace my blindness. Today, I accept being a blind person, and wouldn’t want to trade places with the person I was for anything.

Trading Car Keys Featured Image Description:

Photo is an image of a black key fob with a car keys and two other keys.

Stephanae’s Mirror Selfie

In this photo, I’m wearing a black “Ready To Conquer” Tee-shirt. Fashion icon Abby is to the left of a checklist “Handbag, Heels, White Cane.” Directly under her and the checklist is the slogan: “Ready to Conquer”

White Canes

This photo is part of my collection of white canes. These three are different colors/types: slimline black, slimline gold, green, gold & white cane with a rolling marshmallow tip.

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Telly Velazquez | Blind Beauty 55

Blind Beauty 55 Telly Velazquez featured image is described in the body of the post.

Telly Velazquez | Blind Beauty 55

“My cane does not define me, it empowers me”

Telly Velazquez

When we wholly embrace ourselves, including our disabilities, we are making a conscious choice. The choice to move forward, to break down barriers begins internally and this is our power. You can clearly see this process in what Telly says below.

Telly Velazquez image description is in the body of the post.
Telly Velazquez

For so long I was afraid to use my cane. It was almost as if I was scared to admit to myself I was losing my vision and by using the cane I was giving in. My cane honestly made me feel stronger than I had in years and freer also. Although, people stare I don’t care because I know what using my cane has done for me.

Blind Beauty 55 Featured Image Description:

Featured image is a new faux fashion magazine cover titled Blind Beauty. Telly’s image on the cover is black & white. Telly looks like a model with her hair pulled back as she leans back against a tree holding her white cane. She is wearing a light jacket, jeans, and a v-neck top. 

Blocks of text superimposed on Telly’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”

Additional Image:

Picture of Telly out paddle boarding at sunrise.

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People Always Ask: Is Kai Really Blind?

Kai skimboarding

Blindness has changed our lives and has forced us to see the world in a new way. As a mom, I’ve had to constantly reevaluate what I “think” about blindness and replace my outdated thoughts with our new lived experiences.

~Kim Owens

People Always Ask: Is Kai Really Blind?

Hi, I’m Kim Owens. I am a wife, blogger, watercolor artist, swimmer and I’ve been fighting a tough autoimmune disease for the last 9 years. I’m also the mother of 2 boys–Cash an avid rock climber and college junior studying geology and Kai a sponsored skimboarder and drummer in a local rock band. Kai’s also held the highest GPA in his class for the last 5 years and accomplished all of this while going blind from Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP).

Family of 4 sits around a table enjoying a meal.

People are always asking “Is he really blind?” When we say, yes, they typically reply, “I don’t know how he does it. He’s amazing! If I were blind I would never leave my house.” To which we say, “Yes, he’s amazing, has lots of support, and we don’t allow ourselves to project our fears about blindness onto him.”

Blindness is one of the most feared conditions in the world. If this fear is allowed to propagate unchallenged, it will create a barrier between blind and sighted people.

Blindness Is Just Another Way Of Seeing

Blindness changed our lives and has forced us to see the world in a new way. As a mom, I constantly reevaluate what I “think” about blindness and replace my outdated thoughts with our new lived experiences.

For example, my fear may say: “No, he can’t go into town with his friends. Who will make sure he’s safe when crossing the streets?” But my voice of experience overrules these outdated thoughts with: “He is probably safer than his friends who are walking while staring at their phones. Kai is highly trained in orientation and mobility and as long as he uses his cane then I will allow him to go.”

Kai began skimboarding when he was 3 and fully sighted. As a blind teen, he’s continually improved his skills and has graduated from sand skimming to skimming the big waves. Kai typically meets up to skim with other local skimboarders early in the morning before the beach is crowded. So when he wanted to compete in an out of state skimboarding competition, my fear said:

 “There is no way he can compete against sighted skimboarders, on a crowded, unfamiliar beach.” But my voice of experience spoke up and said: “Maybe I just need to look at this differently…”

Kai

With Creative Thinking There’s Always A Way

  • What if there is a cane tip that can be used in the sand? YES! Check out the Dakota Disk.
  • What if competition organizers were open to the idea and able to offer a sighted guide? They were thrilled, they agreed immediately, and several pros offered to assist.  
  • What if he had the opportunity to compete and change public perceptions of what is possible for blind kids? Event organizers asked him to give a live interview in front of the crowd and he provided the audience an opportunity to try on simulation glasses. Many beliefs about blindness were changed that day.

Do you see the difference in these thought patterns? It’s a mind shift that starts with awareness of our thoughts. In my blog post “A New Way to See” I describe the exact moment I became aware of the disparity between my thoughts and reality – and it was a life changer.

Kai’s Achievements & Continuing Success

For me, it all boiled down to realizing that my internal thoughts were limiting my ability to be fully present to my son’s real-life experiences. In the last 6 years Kai:

  • learned to read Braille and Nemeth code
  • became proficient at using assistive technology 
  • learned how to navigate busy city streets with a cane
  • continued to skimboard and skateboard
  • became a drummer in a rock band that does gigs all around town  
  • is attending honors courses at our local high school

In addition to everything Kai has already achieved, his short-term plans include learning to snowboard and applying for a guide dog. Thankfully, his dad, brother and I have been fully present and able to support his journey toward independence.

Chances are that your visually impaired child is not interested in skimboarding, but no matter what their passion, please don’t let your own fears become a barrier to your child’s success.  

Featured Image Description:

Kai is skimming a wave creating a large spray of water in his wake. He’s wearing a black wetsuit and bright yellow jersey that reads Blind Athlete.

Additional Images:
  • The family of 4 sits around a table enjoying a meal.
  • Kai as a 3-year-old skimming the whitewashed sand, and his 8-year-old brother Cash is holding a skimboard in the background.