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.
This part of Amy’s quote “I just didn’t identify as blind” speaks volumes to me. Her words take me back to a time before I received my first pair of eyeglasses. Granted, even though I was myopic (severely nearsighted), the difference between me and Amy was my eyesight back then was correctable to 20/20.
The situation of seeing versus not seeing is one of the most baffling aspects of blindness. Back in the day, when a person was defined as blind we generally understood it to mean they couldn’t see anything. Today, we know that greatly diminished, uncorrectable eyesight can severely impact a person’s day to day life. For those of you who wear corrective lenses when you aren’t wearing them do you notice a difference in your sight?
I can relate to Amy only from the perspective of ‘my normal’ (nearsightedness) wasn’t a problem until my sight was corrected. In other words, ‘normal’ was blurry vision because ‘I didn’t know what I didn’t know.’ Before my eyes were corrected I didn’t know I couldn’t see.
As I read and reread Amy’s words I wonder how many people don’t identify as blind because it’s their normal. When we add in the stigma associated with blindness it takes this thinking to another level. For years, because Amy was living her ‘normal’ she didn’t take advantage of tools and training that could have made her life easier. I’ll tell you what though, I’m happy she came around because today she’s a fearless activist. Her #JustAskDontGrab campaign speaks to respecting the personal space of people with disabilities.
Blindness is complex. People are complex. If there were one lesson to come out of this post it would be we all ‘see’ differently (literally and figuratively). I think we run into problems when we measure our circumstances against others.
Blind Beauty 65 Featured Image Description:
Featured image is a faux fashion magazine cover titled Blind Beauty. Amy Kavanagh’s image on the cover is black & white. This photo is a 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 and she’s smiling and looking at the camera.
Blocks of text superimposed on Charise’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 selfie. It’s a sunny day, with 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.
Today I saw one of the silliest Tweets I’ve seen in a while. The Tweeter has a blind relative which in turn makes them an authority on blindness. Their knowledge of blindness was so impressive I was shocked to learn I can’t do all the things I’m doing. Well fry me in butter and call me a catfish!
Please forgive my sarcasm. I actually felt a little bad for the Tweeter because the Twitterverse tore them apart. Me? It wasn’t worth my time responding.
There’s actually some truth to the whole wisdom and age thing. I know this to be true because things that would have previously set me on fire just aren’t worthy of my attention. It’s not to say that this person’s opinion didn’t matter it may have had it been expressed as such. However making wild assertions that blind people aren’t capable of this, that, and the other, well, what was the point?
One of the benefits of belonging to a marginalized group is it gives you a broader perspective. I happen to belong to a few:
Even though I belong to these groups I’ve never thought of myself as marginal. This doesn’t mean that I’ve always been treated equally to others, who aren’t among these groups, but I digress.
One Of A Kind
What I have a hard time understanding is how we can’t see that each of our experiences is unique. Let’s say you and I share the same medical condition yet one of us couldn’t function like the other what does that mean? I give you a hint: nothing.
The word ‘unique‘ is defined as “existing as the only one or as the sole example.” So if each of us as individuals is one of a kind why do we continue to compare ourselves against one another? Why can’t we just embrace ourselves as who we are and be done with it?
Please correct me if I’m wrong here but I thought as a species, humans are the same on a biological level. However, the beauty of being human lies in our complexities. If siblings from the same background turn out to be polar opposites what does this mean for the rest of us?
None of us knows everything. I think if we could slow down, listen a little more, and respect one another we’d be a little better off. One thing I’ve learned in recent years is to approach life and people with an open mind. I remind myself that no two people in the same situation are going to react the same way. And you know what? That’s okay.
I believe now more than ever that to improve humanity we must change the way we perceive one another.
Improving Humanity Featured Image Description:
Two transparent bluish human skeletons on a black background with anatomical features (brains, intestines, etc.)
A throwback tri-collage of me standing in front of my counter with my white cane. I’m wearing a black & white striped v-neck sweater with a black pencil skirt (with gold accents). I’ve paired the outfit with black suede knee-high boots, silver statement earrings and a pixie cut wig.
“Teenage years are tough, learning who you are and understanding what you’re going to become. This was extra difficult as I was also learning about something I was losing. The feeling of losing something important every day over and over again.”
Being a teenager isn’t easy, let alone a teenager who is losing their sight. Today’s Blind Beauty, Georgie Beasley, is losing her eyesight to Stargardt Disease, a form of juvenile macular degeneration.
Diagnosed with the Stargardt Disease as an adolescent, Georgie is an extraordinarily, positive role model. While she shares some of the struggles associated with her sight loss she has a remarkable insight on life. Georgie’s desire to build awareness about sight loss prompted her to share her story on social media. As a matter of fact, earlier in the year she was featured in the Kalgoorlie Miner a local newspaper in Australia.
“I have come to accept myself and what I have [Stargardt Disease]. Though it really sucks that I can’t get my license, I have been offered so many great opportunities. It [sight loss] has also changed my perspective on life and how to treat others and live life.”
We will be hearing more from Georgie as she will also be a featured Woman On The Move in 2019.
Blind Beauty 63 Featured Image Description:
Featured image is a faux fashion magazine cover titled Blind Beauty. Georgie is on the cover sitting on a beach towel atop a white sandy beach. In the background are rolling waves and a distant low mountain range. Georgie is wearing sunglasses, white swimsuit, and a pair of striped shorts.
Blocks of text superimposed on Georgie’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”
Georgie In Red: The blond-haired beauty is wearing a strapless red jumpsuit with gold fringe statement earrings.
A tri-panel collage of Georgie in 3 different photos. 1) In this Georgie’s hair is pulled back and she’s wearing a gray strappy gown. 2) A close-up of Georgie with her straight hair framing her face. She’s in a black top and looks like she’s about to eat something in her right hand. 3) Georgie is standing in front of a decorative stone focal point wall. In this photo she’s wearing a black tube top and yellow pants.
Visual impairment and blindness is a deeply personal and individual experience. Some people are highly motivated to set goals and regain their independence immediately, while others take it one day at a time. Never forget, whatever stage you are in your journey, a compassionate team of vision professionals, O&Ms, and resources are always there to support and help VI people along the way.
Moving Forward In Spite Of Fear
You might think my classmates and professor were playing a vicious trick on me the day I was blindfolded. They led me around the winding corridors of my college campus until I was completely disoriented. Then they left me alone to my own devices. In reality, it was the first lesson in my master’s degree training program as an orientation and mobility (O&M) graduate student. The first day of the rest of my life.
“I have no idea where I am,” I laughed nervously.
“You will,” my professor replied in a comforting and encouraging tone. “You have all of the tools you need. Just, use your cane.”
Did I mention two of my biggest fears are “the dark” and “getting lost”?
Fear is a funny thing we all confront at some moment in our lives. The nagging tic in the back of our brains, or the aching pit at the bottom of our stomachs. Fear can overwhelm in a flash of frustration and panic. Or, in a moment of enlightened courage, motivate us to actively change our circumstances and rise to the occasion.
So, what was I to do? I could stay stuck, remain literally in a corner, and give in to my fearful thoughts. Or, I could choose to move forward and continue moving until I eventually worked my way to my destination.
As I stood against the wall wracking my brain for my next move, I heard my professor’s voice: “You’ve got this. Take a deep breath, make a plan, be systematic.”
Easier said than done.
From Trainee To Trainer
About 30 minutes later I used my long white cane and worked myself out of the corner. I located the stairwell, walked up two flights of stairs, only to take a wrong turn, on the wrong floor. Trapped again, in another corner nowhere near my final destination.
“Not bad for your first time,” the professor said as I pushed away my blindfold. “We’ll have you crossing streets in downtown Philadelphia in no time.”
By the end of that month, my professor was right. I had all the tools I needed and I crossed my first street independently while blindfolded, then another, and then a whole intersection. Eventually, I worked my way through many other environments after that first intersection.
From parks with uneven terrain and dirt trails to riding public transportation in a congested center city. To taking escalators, exploring different departments in shopping malls, and my favorite lesson of all, training with guide dogs! When I wasn’t practicing cane navigation, I was learning to instruct my classmates. Lessons involved traveling systematically, safely, and independently while building their confidence and helping them achieve their goals.
Now, months later, I’m nearing the end of my fieldwork and I’ve worked with visually impaired (VI) children and adult clients. Next, I’ll be moving across the country to train at a Veteran’s Hospital with visually impaired members from our nation’s military.
Reflecting On The O&M Journey
Along the way, I’ve met incredibly diverse and unique people across the spectrum of blindness and VI. People who have welcomed me with patience, kindness, open hearts, and minds.
Thanks to Stephanae, I’ve enjoyed this opportunity to reflect on my experiences and training as an O&M graduate student, and my hope for the future.
Though I’ll never know what it’s like to live on a daily basis with a VI, I’ve learned some important things from my students and the generous VI community:
VI and blindness is a deeply personal and individual experience.
Some people are highly motivated to set goals and regain their independence immediately, while others take it one day at a time.
The return to independence from VI is grueling, hard work. But the journey is supported by a relentless and compassionate team of:
fellow VI community members,
compassionate, creative, problem-solvers who are as deeply invested in helping our clients identify resources, overcome barriers to accessibility, and achieve their goals.
Life may never be the same, but quality of life can be enhanced through adaptation, creativity, and the emergence of innovative technologies.
I am grateful to my classmates, professors, mentors, clients, students, and the VI community at large, for their patience and encouragement along the way. Though I know I will encounter barriers and systems that present challenges to my students and clients, I will always be a seeker and student, an advocate for equality and inclusion, and a warrior against fear in favor of love and light.
In the coming year, I hope to find my place and purpose in this amazing community, and work hard to make a difference through passionate action. I look forward to serving the community in every and any way I can.
Many thanks to Bold Blind Beauty for allowing me to share my thoughts and experiences. Please reach out to me at any time, so we can connect and continue to educate, overcome barriers, fight for accessibility and independence, and continue to grow and learn as a team.
This photo is a group of nine O&M students (including Amy) posing with white canes. There’s a Salus University sign on the floor that reads “Celebrating 10 Years.” A couple of students are holding the school’s mascot (Sal the Salamander) and others are holding school pennants.
A closeup of Amy with a big smile and wearing dark-rimmed eyeglasses. Her blond hair parted in the center and she has on a black cold-shoulder top.
Amy and five other Salus University O&M students are posed standing with white canes.
Gallery of six photos:
As part of her O&M training, Amy is approaching a set of escalators with her white cane as several onlookers watch.
Amy is standing on the upper level of a mall next to the railing with her white cane.
This image is a couple of students doing O&M travel on the street.
A photo of three people demonstrating O&M on a wooded pathway.
Amy is kneeling next to a lovely dog who appears to be smiling.
A picture of Amy and four other students wearing white polos at Seeing Eye Guide Dog Training.
Eight students (including Amy) are posing with three guide dogs. The three guide dogs are sitting on the floor with two students kneeling next to them while the others stand.