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Braille + Fashion = Beautiful Inclusive Design

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ABBY’S CORNER | AUDIO INTERVIEW

It’s a great way to be able to advocate and express the importance of accessibility in fashion. And really, in the end, it’s just so clear that if you think about inclusivity at the very beginning of the design process you can truly make a product that can be worn by absolutely anyone. 

~ALEXA JOVANOVIC

Editor’s Note:

Hey, guys. It’s me, Abby. I’m so excited to introduce you to Fashion Designer, Alexa Jovanovic of Aille Design. With inclusivity in mind, Alexa is shaking up the fashion industry with her beautiful braille beaded clothing designs. Recently I had the opportunity to meet Alexa in person at a photoshoot with none other than Bold Blind Beauty’s newest contributor, Catherine Harrison. Enjoy!

Interview Transcript

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Abby: I’m sitting here with Alexa Jovanovic and I got to witness her amazing, just out of the world clothing and got to watch a photoshoot with lovely Catherine Harrison. And oh my gosh you guys stunning in your clothes Alexa, thank you for being with me!

Alexa: Thank you so much, Abby, you’re so sweet, it’s been an absolute blast today! Catherine’s phenomenal, you’re phenomenal this is great!

Abby: Oh my gosh, yes, I have to say yes, just watching how you guys work and the enthusiasm you have for your clothes and Catherine oh my gosh stunning! It’s been so much fun. What you were talking about earlier I loved it when you were talking about the 10-year-old Alexa. Tell me about her and what she was thinking about?

Alexa: Yeah, so when I was younger I always loved fashion, I loved dress-up and if I could find a way to turn that into my reality in my future that is exactly what I wanted to do. So it started when I went to university for fashion. I studied at Ryerson in Toronto and that’s actually where this entire company sort of started; my braille clothing. So what I do, I have a company called Aille Design, it’s spelled A I L L E and what I do is I add braille beading onto clothing and it’s done in a way that’s really aesthetically pleasing but functionally it allows anyone who can read braille to fully envision what their clothing is. So they can read exactly what the color of the garment is, what the decorations are, how you even launder it, and how it’s supposed to fit. Everything you would want to know so 10-year-old Alexa is ecstatic that the dreams are coming true.

Abby: That’s so awesome! I bet 10-year-old Alexa was never thinking about braille and tell me about what drew you to braille?

Alexa: So braille, I think it’s absolutely phenomenal the fact that you can read through touch is amazing, and then visually I just really love the design behind braille. And so I remember I was shopping and something clicked. I saw all of this beaded clothing and I immediately made the comparison between the similar size of small beads and braille. I loved beaded clothing and I saw there was a market for individuals with low vision or no vision at all who could really benefit from doing something like this. It’s a great way to be able to advocate and express the importance of accessibility in fashion. And really, in the end, it’s just so clear that if you think about inclusivity at the very beginning of the design process you can truly make a product that can be worn by absolutely anyone. 

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Abby: Anyone is right, and I’ve got to tell you, you know, we were talking earlier and I just love it that you do braille and what really really drew me is who was how who did you work with I mean who helps you?

Alexa: To create all of the pieces, I work directly with the blind and visually impaired community. I’ll create different concepts, I’ll have designs in mind, and then I’ll discuss these with the different individuals I work with. We’ll bring braille samples we’ll confirm that all of the beading on the clothing is legible, that they’re in places that are comfortable to wear that look great and then also on that aesthetic portion of it, we also work directly with individuals who are fully sighted who love fashion so that way we can confirm that this entire process maintains that fashion appeal. Because like I said, this really is a product that can be worn by absolutely anyone.

Abby: Oh my gosh, and it’s so true. I myself everyone knows Abby loves her stilettos and when I felt the leather jacket with the feathers I was in love and the leather was so soft and the braille is so on point. It’s done so, you said elegantly, everybody she’s totally being shy here.

Alexa: [laughs]

Abby: It is amazing! Well, I had to throw my jacket off you saw it. Oh my gosh, my friends are going to die over it, they’re just going to die. I can’t wait, I can’t wait to wear something of yours I cannot wait to do it. 

Alexa: Let’s make it happen.

Abby: It totally will. So where do you see yourself going from here? What do you envision for your company where do you want it to go?

Alexa: So the response has been absolutely incredible, so much positive feedback for the brand. It’s growing even quicker than I could have imagined. Opportunities are coming up that I never in my life would have thought were possible. So right now I’m looking for manufacturers and really wanting to bring this clothing line to life. So we’re in the process of building an online store and we’re going to start selling later this year. 

Abby: Oh my gosh!

Alexa: World domination is next!

[both laugh]

Abby: YES! Can I accompany you with world domination? Because you know me, Abby, I’m going to take my purple and pink cane and my guide dog and we’re on this. 

Alexa: Absolutely! Honestly, anyone within the community who wants to be involved please reach out. That is exactly what I want to do, that’s how this relationship started here. That’s how the photo shoot with Catherine Harrison earlier today started. There’s so much potential with the clothing here and I want to work with everyone who loves it. 

Abby: Oh my gosh, that is so great! So if they want to reach you, how do they get a hold of you and see your work? Because we need to get this out for you because we’ve got world domination going. And we’ve got to be wearing our stilettos to rock it. 

Alexa: Instagram is the best platform to reach me and to see what’s up to date with our brand. Our tag for Instagram is @AilleDesign so if you DM me on there you ‘ll also get all the information for our website, email. Contact me and let’s make this happen! Let’s make braille fashion the future!

Alexa: Awesome!! Give me a high five!

Image Credits:

Special Thanks To:

Image Descriptions:

  • Header: Models Kassandra Hazlehurst (denim jacket) and Catherine Harrison (white button up shirt & black skirt) are posed standing next to Alexa in an all-black outfit with white Braille beading. The ladies are in a gorgeous dining room with navy walls, a gold ceiling, and black and white art.
  • Catherine Harrison standing with Alexa (in all-black outfit) is looking fierce with a gorgeous smile and her white cane in hand. She’s wearing the blue dress design with white Braille beading and it compliments her red lipstick beautifully! The background has stunning black and white artwork and a navy wall.
  • 6-Panel gallery of Catherine. In five of the photos she is wearing the white button up shirt with black Braille beading with a black skirt. Clockwise top left to right first two photos are stunning full body shots of her with black pointed toe heels and her white cane. The third photo is a black and white profile headshot of Catherine in an off the shoulder sweater. In the fourth photo Catherine is showcasing the black Braille beading on the collar of the white button up shirt. Fifth image is a closeup shot from the waist up. The sixth image captures the full outfit, a big smile and a background filled with stunning artwork.
  • Clothing rack with five Aille Design pieces. 1. Denim jacket with pearl white stripes and black beading 2. Black faux leather jacket with black beading and feathers 3. White button up shirt with black Braille beading. 4. White skirt with black Braille beading. 5. Long cobalt blue dress with white beading.
  • 3-Panel gallery. Catherine is wearing the colbalt blue dress with white beading. Two of the images are full body shots with Catherine posing with her white cane in one. The third photo is an above the waist image of Catherine smiling as she looks away from the camera.
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Inclusive BBQ Cook-Off Mardi Gras Style

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Each year, more than 800 scholarships are awarded to Texas students by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™. As one of the largest scholarship providers in the U.S., the Rodeo has presented more than 19,000 scholarships valued at $230 million since 1957. Currently, more than 2,300 students are on Rodeo scholarships, attending more than 80 different Texas colleges and universities. The value of these scholarships is more than $50 million.

~RodeoHouston.com
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5 Sense Tour Gang

Last week I returned home from a week-long trip to Houston, TX to experience the World Championship BBQ Cook-Off (WCBBQ). What made this event so special is how it came into existence 5 years ago through the vision of Advocate Extraordinaire Chelsea Nguyen.

A Little Background

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Houston Chronicle Newspaper Clipping

My friend and business partner, Chelsea, is a professional stylist, makeup artist, bilingual educator, and business owner. Her involvement in the blind, visually impaired (B&VI) and the disabled community began with her volunteer work with Sight Into Sound in 2011. Chelsea’s company, CN Vision Image Consulting, offers one-on-one as well as group training that empowers B&VI or disabled individuals. With her client’s independence and self-confidence in mind, Chelsea provides them with the adaptive visual and non-visual life skills needed to enhance their lives. In addition to being an advocate for equal employment opportunities for the B&VI and Disabled Community Chelsea also serves on several boards:

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Collage 1

The Birth Of WCBBQ 5-Sense Tour

Chelsea’s passion for the inclusion and accessibility of people with disabilities (PWDs) is extraordinary. This drive prompted her to connect with the WCBBQ Publicity Committee to strategize ways to enable PWDs and B&VI people to enjoy the event. As an invited guest I was able to do the pre-tour walk-through with Chelsea and Scott Arthur a Publicity Committee Volunteer who helps with Media Relations.

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Collage 2

The day before the tour Chelsea and I were greeted by Scott, our golf cart-riding escort. Can I stop here a sec and say how giddy I was to ride on a golf cart for the first time? What can I say? I led a sheltered life. Anyhoo, I thought I understood how big the WCBBQ was gonna be but I.WAS.WRONG! Scott gave me a little history:

  • 2020 is the 47th year of the WCBBQ
  • This particular cook-off is one of the largest in the world
  • Money raised for the WCBBQ provides higher education scholarships for Texas students
  • There are over 1,100 volunteers
  • Over 250 teams compete
  • It takes about a week to build the pop-up tent city and 1 day to tear it down in preparation for the rodeo
  • The number of attendees is staggering and the event is similar to Mardi Gras
  • I can’t remember how many international teams there were but I do remember the Australian team. I could have listened to them talk for days.

The first stop after leaving the parking lot was the Volunteer’s Committee tent for lunch. Only volunteers and invited guests with wrist bands were cleared by security and allowed entry. The tent was massive and filled with tables, chairs, full bar, a stage for live entertainment, cafeteria-style setup offering (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), an all-day al la carte station that served hot dogs and such. Then they even had an outdoor courtyard with fancy facilities, not your average porta-potties.

After lunch, we visited 6 team’s tents to discuss logistics with the pit bosses in preparation for the next day. While we made good time riding in a golf cart, I didn’t realize the walking distance until the actual tour.

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Paloma, Brandon & Steph

It’s Go Time

The day of the WCBBQ was absolutely beautiful with temperatures rising near the 80s. Chelsea and I got an early start donned our cowgirl gear, packed equipment and headed to the meeting spot. We met up with the other invited guests then boarded shuttles to take us to the BBQ tour grounds.

Once we arrived on the grounds, we were taken to United Airlines’ tent for lunch. United kindly hosted our group for a tasty meal of brisket, sausage, hot potato salad, baked beans and more. During lunch, we were paired with volunteers to serve as sighted guides and audio describers. After we were done eating the United team took us on a tour of their tent which included a large Boeing 777 replica grill. Before our next stop, we had a photo op in front of United where we took turns sitting on a saddled wooden horse.

During our walks to each subsequent tent, Chelsea and the volunteers described everything along the way. A full sensory experience, it was wonderful to participate in an event that appealed to smells, tastes, touch, and sound. Each of the hosts was also extremely kind and accomodating to our group as they explained their particular barbeque technique. Aside from the care put into the event, what touched me the most about it were comments from fellow attendees. “I wasn’t expecting all of this,” said one person. “This is so much fun,” and “I’m so glad I came because it exceeded my expectations,” said others.

Since a few of us stayed after the tour we said our goodbyes to those who boarded the shuttles to go home.

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Collage 3

Did I Mention Mardi Gras AKA The Carnival?

So Chelsea told me there was a carnival after the tour and I should have known it’d be HUGE but again I was surprised. After all, they say “everything’s bigger in Texas” and it’s absolutely true. This carnival was like a full-fledged amusement park back home in Pittsburgh and did I mention all the people? It was so crowded for a heartbeat I thought I’d have a panic attack.

The highlight of the night for me was when I got to see a real-life mechanical bull. And yes, I even thought I might give it a go but there was a problem. If I were bold enough to ride the bull my cowgirl hat along with my wig would have flown off. Then there was the possibility of my body becoming a mangled mess cause I wouldn’t have lasted more than a second.🤣 But wow, it looked like a blast!

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Mechanical Bull

When In Rome…

When in Texas and especially when attending a huge shindig like the WCBBQ, western gear is a fashion essential. With this in mind, I ordered cowgirl boots online and broke them in prior to leaving for Houston. The day before the event Chelsea and I went thrifting and we couldn’t believe our great fortune. Our color palettes ended up being black and orange for Chelsea and for me, it was blue and beige. Chelsea snagged boots, top, vest, and a crossbody bag. Meanwhile, I scored a super cheap cowgirl hat, blinged-out belt, cross-body bag, and a gorgeous leather vest. Pairing these items with my jeans, chambray shirt, accessories, and boots, I felt fabulous.

Being a minimalist serves me well especially when traveling as I wear the biggest items that otherwise would take up space. So just in case, you were wondering how I got my boots to Houston, the answer is I wore them. Likewise, when flying home I wore the entire outfit because I didn’t want to crush my hat and vest.

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Cowgirl Gear Collage

And The Winner is…

Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ 2020 World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest is a mouthful isn’t it? I must admit I was confused about the barbecue contest and how the rodeo fit into the scheme of things. It wasn’t until Scott explained that the contest and carnival launch the opening of the rodeo that I understood. So who won the barbecue contest? Drumroll, please…

Congratulations to The Overall Grand Champion Fayette County Go Texan! Full results can be accessed HERE.

Summary

My entire trip was so magnificent and I can barely wait to share some of the other things I did while in Houston. For now though I’ll be seein’ ya.

Image Descriptions:

  • Beauty Buzz Header Image: Background on the header is half black and half white. The words “Beauty” and “Buzz” are white on black and black on white text. At the end of the word, “Buzz” is a colorful bumblebee.
  • 5 Sense Tour Gang: 5 Sense Tour attendees, volunteers, and United Airlines Team are standing behind a wooden fence and in front of the 777 replica grill. A wagon wheel and the saddled wooden horse are in the foreground.
  • Houston Chronicle Newspaper Clipping: Photo of Brandon Munoz and Chelsea with a caption that says “Brandon Munoz of Missouri City feels an African sable head with Chelsea Nguyen, an advocate for the visually impaired and disabled, during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest on Friday.”
  • Collage 1: 5 photos clockwise top L. 1) BBQ Social Club tent pit boss holding a walkie talkie and telling us about the whole hog on the grill as the attendees and volunteers look on. 2) Attendees are lined up and touching the United 777 replica grill (only used as a warmer and safe to touch). 3) Chelsea is talking into a walkie talking as Scott and several volunteers look onward, an occupied golf cart is in the background. 4) Attendees, volunteers, and the Australian Team posing for the camera while standing. 5) Scott looking sharp in his black western outfit paired with the volunteer orange vest is helping to serve food to the attendees.
  • Collage 2: Two photos. Top) Steph, Brandon and Chelsea are posing with one of the funniest Texans I met. Bottom) At the carnival Steph, Chelsea and Brandon are each holding a yellow duckie from one of the games.
  • Paloma, Brandon & Steph: L to R Photo of my friends Paloma Marquez, Brandon, and me. We are all dressed in our western gear and while it wasn’t planned all of our outfits complement one another. Paloma’s beige top perfectly matched my vest & ‘cowgirl’ hat and my chambray shirt went great with Brandon’s blue flannel. All three of us are wearing shades. We are sitting at a round countertop table.
  • Collage 3: 6 photos clockwise top L. 1) Brandon and Chelsea are posing for the camera while sitting at a table in the volunteer committee tent. 2) Steph, Brandon, and Chelsea are standing in front of a huge Ferris Wheel at the carnival. 3) Brandon, Steph, and Chelsea are among a group of seven posing for the camera in the Volunteer Committee tent. 4) Selfie of Steph and Chelsea taken at the carnival. 5) Steph, Brandon, and Chelsea outside of the Volunteer Committee tent headed to the carnival. 6) Steph and Brandon standing in front of a very tall ride shaped like a palm tree with swings.
  • Mechanical Bull: A brown and white bull in the center of a red inflated ring.
  • Cowgirl Gear Collage: 5 photos clockwise top L. 1) A rhinestone-embellished fleur-de-lis black crossbody bag and a black western style belt covered in rhinestones. 2) Beige cowgirl hat with decorative brown thin leather stitching on the brim and around the crown. 3) Back of a beige leather vest with lacing detail at the bottom. 4) Front of the vest with a braided strip down each side. 5) Cowgirl boots – The bottom of the boots is olive/brownish. The shaft is cream with an olive embroidered design.
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Mindfully Battling The Cold While Looking Chic

Today’s post is a two-fold fashion and mindfulness article. Since I’ve been practicing mindfulness it makes sense to me to incorporate messages related to it whenever possible.

I Don’t Do Cold

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Facing Right

It seems a little odd that someone from Pittsburgh would say “I don’t do cold” but seriously I can’t. One would think someone from this area of the country would be used to our arctic-like winters. But not me, nope. Nah uh! As a matter of fact, my gauge for cold is anything under 75 degrees. Could it be that my skin has gotten thinner with age? Or is it a matter of I’ve reached the point where looking cute when it’s cold is no longer a priority? We may never know the answers to these questions but I finally traded in my old parka for a new one that I adore.

I’ve had many different winter coats in my lifetime but I honestly can’t remember having a parka until a few years ago. Part of my reasoning I think was a mindset that parkas didn’t fit within my definition of chic. To give you a little insight my previous fashion sense dictated a strict protocol of dress pants, skirts, dresses and ALWAYS heels. Thankfully as I’ve gotten older and hopefully a little wiser I’ve also expanded my viewpoints even within my sense of style.

The Parka Casual/Chic Look

The warmest coat I’ve ever owned believe it or not I got from Costco eons ago. It was an ankle-length suede coat lined with faux fur and I gotta tell ya if coats had a soul this one was my true soulmate. But sadly that coat expired to be replaced with newer models. However, this post isn’t about coats gone by, nay, it’s about the parka and it’s cool features.

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Facing Forward

In the featured and two additional photos, I’m standing outside with my white cane. I’m wearing jeans, brown hiking boots, brown gloves, and my army green parka. Even with this casual gear on I felt so darn fabulous could it be because I was actually comfortable in the cold? Who knows? But I want to take a moment to run through some of the features of this coat with you.

  • First, it’s army green!
  • It has metal hardware (silver zipper, snaps, drawstring tips)
  • Sherpa lining
  • Removable faux fur trim on the hood
  • 2 chest pockets
  • 2 fleece-lined waist zip pockets 
  • Cinch waist
  • Ribbed knit cuffs
  • Water-resistant
  • Mid-length & cute detail in the rear hem

Though my previous parka was the same color, length, and basic style as this one it wasn’t as warm as the new jacket. But it had gold metal hardware and faux leather trim accenting the zipper and pockets. Also, the hood was trimmed with faux fur but it wasn’t detachable and cuffs were not ribbed. Ribbed cuffs may seem like minor details but they are an absolute necessity for someone who requires significant warmth.

Way before I began blogging I’ve always maintained that real beauty isn’t so much about appearance as it is about substance. In my opinion, beauty without character is meaningless. There’s nothing more empowering than real beauty that doesn’t rely on outer appearance.

Being Grounded In Mindfulness

Mindfulness isn’t a passing fancy. It isn’t something we do now then continue with our day. Being mindful requires us to be present, to be aware. Our frenzied pace worries me.

In an age of unbelievable gadgets, apps, and technology, I think we can be easily fooled into believing we can be everywhere and do everything at once. Sure, we can appear to do more but are we really? How efficient are we when our attention is so divided among the many distractions we’re constantly exposed to?

A good friend of mine recently said this to me: “I love how you can make yourself focus in on things and ignore the shiny objects until they fit your schedule.” Ignoring the shiny objects has become a serious practice in my self-care. Setting up boundaries, saying no, and religiously guarding my time is essential. I’ve realized I do not HAVE to do, NOR do I want to be good at EVERYTHING. Doing the best I can with what I have is enough.

It’s taken me a lifetime to reject other’s definition of who I am and to finally be content with myself, imperfections and all. I’m not perfect, never claimed to be but I know this for sure, I’m finally on the right track and really always was I just doubted myself. Getting back to basics and basking in simplicity brings me so much joy.

All of us feel a little lost from time to time and I think the pressure to be “in the know” and “on 24/7/365” is too much for us. The good news is our minds are unmatched simply because we have the power of CHOICE. If you’re feeling overwhelmed take an inventory of your life and whittle down what isn’t serving you any longer.

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured photo – I’m standing outside with my white cane. I’m wearing jeans, brown hiking boots, brown gloves, and my army green parka. My face is turned up to the sky facing left.
  • 2 Additional photos – In these pictures I’m in the same outfit just posing facing forward and facing right.
  • Gallery of 8 photos detailing the bulleted features listed.
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Directing Your Show: Where Fashion & Disability Meet

Directing Your Show: Where Fashion & Disability Meet

“How we are perceived is determined by how we present ourselves. We direct our own show.” 

~George Rector, Popping Wheelies

Introduction: Today I’m thrilled to present to you a friend and fellow warrior, George Rector of Popping Wheelies. Like many of you I’ve befriended, I met George through blogging and found we have some shared interests. One of these interests is our passion for inclusion in the world of fashion for those of us living with disabilities. ~Steph

Disability, Fashion, Style & Confidence

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Image 1

The elephants in my room are paraplegia and the ever-present wheelchair. The disability in my life is Multiple Sclerosis. The important things in my life are my family and friends.

When I first had to use a wheelchair, a nurse told me that she was confident I’d quickly learn how to make it enhance my life. As a Peer Counselor/Peer Support Volunteer, I have talked about embracing whatever piece of technology works for us. “If it makes your life better, don’t be afraid to use it.”

How we are perceived is determined by how we present ourselves. We direct our own show. What are we going to show to the public? Of course, they are going to look at our white canes, our wheelchairs, our crutches, but then they are going to look at us.

This is where disability meets fashion. Where disability meets style. Fashion makes the first impression; style makes the lasting one. It is style that determines how we perceive ourselves, and it determines how we are received in public. They are vital to the person who has a disability.

Your Life, Your Production

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I am interested in both men’s and women’s fashion. And style. Lots of designers are men. My personal style is simple, basic design with classic colors. If we pick a style that fits our personality and then stick to it, things get easier to manage. What works with your skin and hair color? What works with your daily activities? I am learning to stick with combinations of blue, green, and white. They fit my personality and with my light skin, blue eyes, and blond hair.

My advice is to think about our interests, think about ourselves, and stick with it. I’m getting better at it. I gave away half of the things in my closet and still have twice what I need.

And if you are wondering where I fit into the Bold Blind Beauty Community, I am a “retired” eye doc due to MS. Vision is my training and experience, but I am also a patient. Vision and MS are closely related. I am extremely light sensitive and have a tint for every need. I select a tint based on what I am doing and not by what I am wearing. While my distance vision is good, I have difficulty reading. For that, I have specific reading glasses, enlarge the print on my Kindle, and change its illumination.

Fashion, style, confidence. You can direct your show about how you feel and how others feel about you. And remember that the best fashion accessory is a genuine smile.

Directing Your Show Featured Image Description:

George is sitting on a wooden bench with his left leg propped atop his wheelchair which is next to the bench. He is wearing a green tee paired with khaki shorts and flip-flops. A camera is around his neck and he’s sporting sunglasses. In the background are lush green tropical plants.

Additional Images:

  • Image 1: George is sitting on a wooden bench at Flagler Beach. He is smiling for the camera wearing a yellow tee, dark sunglasses, and minimal jewelry. In the background, waves are washing up against the beach and a pier is jutting out into the ocean.
  • Image 2: In this photo, George is looking stylish in a short-sleeved black dress shirt and black pants. He is sitting on the arm of a sofa and his gold necklace and bracelet are nice accents.

Connecting with George: