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The Guide Dog Memos: Unity

Service & Empowerment At Its Finest

Facebook Unity 6.9.16The relationship of a great guide dog team is a sight to behold. With the handler as the pilot and guide dog as co-pilot working in unison, their bond can only be described as a rhythmic dance. Today we hear from Unity, a beautiful golden labrador, retriever cross.

My role is to help my mum, Emily, be independent and mobile. I travel with my mum to many different places and I am to be permitted into all public places as I am a guide dog. Us guide dogs play vital roles in giving our humans their freedom and autonomy.” ~Unity #guidedogmemos #independence #blindness

Image: Quoted text is white against a transparent teal background overlaying a photo of Unity’s mum, Emily Davison, sitting in the grass hugging Unity.

Photograph courtesy of Emily Davison. To connect with Emily here are social media links:

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A Lil’ Inspiration #12 Emily

Focusing on Ability = Boundless Opportunities

Facebook Emily 1.25.16The other day one of my sons and I went to the mall. Now if you’ve been following me for any length of time you know that going to the mall is not on my list of favorite things. However on this particular day, after being involuntarily confined to my home for a couple of weeks, I was game.

After walking around for a bit then stopping for a bite to eat, as we were preparing to leave my son says to me. “What is wrong with people?” I ask him what he means and he says “I’m sick of people staring at your cane, it’s 2016 why do people still stare at people who use mobility devices?”

While I can’t surmise the behavior of others, I am grateful that I can’t see the gawking. I think this is one reason people who are newly affected by sight loss go to great lengths to pretend they can still see but this is not the purpose of today’s quote.

Being blind or visually impaired does not automatically mean that you have to be unfashionable. That is the message at the crux of my blog Fashioneyesta. ~Emily Davison

Image Description: Quoted text is white superimposed on four images of London, Paris, Milan and New York.

Emily Davison, fashion/beauty blogger and owner of the blog Fashioneyesta hits the nail on the head by placing the focus on ability and not disability. We are living in an era where people with disabilities are aggressively finding creative solutions to overcoming the obstacles they face.

In short, what this means is, as a society we have to change the way we view people period. Anyone, regardless of their circumstances should not be placed in a box of conformity based on what we think they can or cannot do. Once we are able to understand that every living person has a purpose and is capable of impacting the world, it will be then hopefully, we become truly united.

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Raising the Blind on Sight Loss

A Look At Not Seeing

Frontal view of me standing while leaning against my counter holding my tote bag.Earlier this week I was disturbed to come across an appalling Facebook post on one of my fellow bloggers and friend, Emily Davison, Founder of Fashioneyesta.com. Emily created Fashioneyesta, a fashion, and lifestyle blog, with the following points in mind:

  • to provide people who are blind or vision impaired the tools and resources they need to develop their personal style
  • to be a voice for people who are blind and vision impaired as it relates to the world of fashion
  • to raise awareness on the issue of accessibility for people with disabilities
  • to educate the public on vision-related issues
  • to address the preconceived myth that people who are blind or vision impaired are unfashionable

The post revolved around a YouTube video of an individual who made some pretty disparaging comments about Emily and her vision loss. I don’t know this individual or what motivated them to make the video (which has subsequently been taken down) but I can tell you this, I refuse to give a bully more air time.

What I can do however is share my thoughts on Emily and people like her who, in the face of adversity, instead of succumbing to life’s challenges they choose to rise above and make a difference. Emily knows firsthand how the beauty and fashion industries ignore people with disabilities as she is losing her vision to a condition called Septo-optic dysplasia, a rare congenital anomaly.

Three quarter view of me standing with my arms at my sides.

Though Emily’s eye condition has disabled her optic nerves, leaving her with no sight in her right eye and 10 percent central vision in her left, she hasn’t let this deter her passion for fashion. In spite of the prevalent assumption that people with vision loss do not care about their appearance which in turn leads a lack of products and services targeting our specific needs, people like Emily and many others continue to squash these faulty notions.

A Glimpse Into The Gray

Blindness is not black and white.

I used to think that when a person used a white cane, that meant they were totally blind (no light perception). I was wrong.

The range of vision loss is so enormous and differs so greatly from one person to the next that there really is an immense gray area. Imagine yourself in a dense fog with visibility being only a couple of inches in front of your face. Your equilibrium is off and your steps unsure. Though over time you adjust to the fog, it never lifts.

Frontal view sitting at the counter cross legged with one arm leaning on the counter.

Once you acknowledge that the fog is not going to dissipate you find a way to move through it by learning new techniques. Though it takes time and patience you gradually adapt until you become adept at navigating through the fog.

It’s such a heavy feeling this fog, you feel claustrophobic. Stumble, fall, repeat, it’s unending and you wish it would just go away. You wake with it, you go to sleep with it and in between waking and sleeping you have to come to terms with it.

To the outside world, you appear as if all is well and you can see clearly. This is the cruelty of low vision but you have a choice to quit or to move on.

Emily has chosen to move on, I have chosen to move on. Many, many, many more people in our situation have chosen to move on.

The people we were prior to our vision loss and the things that brought us joy are still intrinsic to who we are today. We just found a way to adapt.

Rear view standing at the counter.

I promised last week that I would share pictures of the outfit I wore to the women’s business conference I attended on Saturday. I felt like the subject matter of this post it would be a great opportunity to display the dichotomy of low vision yet having the appearance of seeing. Below is the description of my outfit:

Calvin Klein black short-sleeved, scoop necked sheath dress with a thin white belt and white piping around the neckline, sleeves and along the outer seams of the sleeves and sides of the dress down to the hemline. I wore black d’Orsay heels and carried a black and tan Liz Claiborne tote accented with tan and orange tassels.

The color contrast on the dress was so striking that I kept my jewelry to a minimum, wearing only a stretch rhinestone bracelet and rhinestone embellished drop earrings.

“The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other from a strong won’t.” ~Henry Ward Beecher

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Fashion & Blindness?

I was blessed to be the recipient of an unexpected surprise from Australia in the form of the following post located At the Gateway to Blindness. The author of the post, Maribel Steel, is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. Her positivity resonates so clearly you can hear it in the manner in which she strings words together in her exquisite writing.

Maribel has graciously given me permission to re-post the article on one of my favorite topics. Remember how I mentioned the vast range of vision loss? To give you an example, if 1 is perfect vision and 10 is total blindness, (Maribel please correct me if I’m wrong) I would guess Maribel’s would be about a 9.5. In today’s post Maribel invites us to experience the world of fashion through the eyes of one who is almost totally blind.

Why be Fashionable if You Can’t See

Picture of buttons stored in cylinders - Photo Courtesy of Harry Williamson
Photo Courtesy of
Harry Williamson

When I give presentations to interested groups on what it is like to be visually-impaired, I can guarantee one question will ALWAYS be asked at the end of my talk – “How do you know what you are wearing?” Women especially, are surprised that I can be colour-coordinated from top to toe. There is no great mystery involved, there is no other person dressing me in the morning. The simple answer is – choosing one’s clothing is a matter of FEELING first, then seeing how it all fits together. When you feel good in what you wear, you will look great!

The other reason why I love clothes shopping is because browsing with my hands is an exquisite experience. Feeling textures of clothing or gliding my hands over jewellery is not always because I want to buy it but is a curious desire on my part to see the choices at my fingertips.

Here are some fashion questions I was asked recently, so let’s take a closer look why being fashionable is not just about seeing, but about feeling. Oh, and a little warning too, the photos, well, yes, they were taken a few years ago, funny how one can think one is being fashionable at the time!

How important is fashion and style to you?

Picture of Maribel wearing a rich colored top and accessorized with a scarf.
Photo Courtesy of
Harry Williamson

Fashion is fun and I enjoy feeling garments which allows me to visualise the world of ever-changing trends. I think it’s a ‘girlie’ thing – taking delight in touching clothes, lingerie, shoes, dabbing on perfumes or smelling leather hand bags because it is highly enjoyable to ‘see’ what’s in fashion.

The other reason for my ever-readiness to touch the world around me is because it is not normally permitted in galleries or museums so when I am in a store or market place, it allows me to touch all sorts of objects I can’t see and by doing so, I feel less excluded from the visual world.

What sort of fabrics do you enjoy the most?

Soft fabrics, satin trims, things with buttons and bows. I also enjoy knitting and making luxurious scarves for friends as winter gifts. In summer, I look for soft undergarments and layer my outfits with flowing chiffon tops. Lingerie is another one of my touchy-feely delights – as it is worn close to the skin, I won’t compromise the feel of luxury by purchasing cheap underwear – it has to be soft and silky (including hosery).

I believe that when you begin the first layer of clothing feeling feminine, you will wear the dress with an upright back and carry an air of chic – like a proud Spanish Lipizzaner!

What are your considerations when choosing garments?

Picture of Maribel wearing a pleated skirt, blouse that ties at the neck, patterned sweater vest and a tam. Colored coordinated in shades of tan, oranges & browns
Photo Courtesy of
Harry Williamson

Apart from seeking comfort and prettiness of garment, even in casual wear, I am fussy about colour and design. When on my own, I take quite a while to scout out an item as I examine the texture carefully and the cut by feeling the collar, shape etc. I know what styles suit me by past experience and many times, a garment falls off the hanger as if to grab my attention and often, it is a good choice – could this be intuition helping? Then I quiz the shop assistant for the colour and price and if it passes these two questions, I will buy it.

Colours seem to have a certain ‘vibe’ for instance, as soon as I put grey near my face, my skin begins to feel drained. My favourite colours are strong and bold as in red, orange, colbalt blue, sunshine yellow and hot pink as these tones not only feel ‘right’ for me, I can see them in natural daylight.

At home, I hang clothing in groups so that matching items are placed together to be colour co-ordinated.

What shops do you frequent the most and why?

I enjoy being independent and setting my own pace as well as going out with friends to meander into the odd gift or fashion store. I often end up buying things because my girlfriends or partner point out items on special I wouldn’t have seen.

Picture of handbags
Photo Courtesy of
Harry Williamson

I go to the same clothing stores because it is easier to get around the shop without feeling overwhelmed. I visit the local stores where the shop keepers know me and are quick to offer help – even though it might be more expensive, the price of being looked after is well worth it.

But I do have to be in the right mood as it takes a lot of concentration to keep track of my movement around the store, to avoid prams and other obstacles. Sometimes the bumping from one object off another can feel like being inside a live pinball machine and if I can’t cope I will leave the store.

I particularly love feeling shoes! As I have no idea what people wear on their feet, a shoe shop is a lovely place to wander. I get to understand the different types of heels, shape of shoes and just adore this sort of shopping.

My partner, Harry, takes a particular delight in bringing objects closer into my reach and we often take time to enjoy the experience together (unless it is a cactus plant, which he has accidentally done on one occasion, misunderstanding my fondness for feeling flowers!

What challenges do you face when shopping?

On the whole, people are pretty helpful and understanding if I ask for assistance. A few pointers however, when a person is training to work in a department store or fashion counter, it would be extremely beneficial to know not to do the following –  as the store assistant, don’t ask my friend, “Would she like this?” It is kinder to ask me personally.

Some of the main challenges are:

  • first is to locate the right shop and entrance, sometimes blaring music indicates a clothing store plus sense of smell helps me to sniff out the correct place
  • manoeuvring around a shop I have not been in before and avoiding the racks while keeping the cane tight in one hand, the other loose to stray over fabrics to give me some sort of clue as to what I am ‘looking’ for
  • main disadvantage is in not being able to see the size and price on tags, colour of garment
  • must be very careful that the clothing I am feeling is on a mannequin and not the clothing of another shopper!
  • have no idea where the ‘specials’ rack is unless I ask for assistance
  • indoor shopping centres are a nightmare to navigate through especially as there is a bombardment of clashing sound coming from all quarters that hinders my hearing and can be very stressful (so I tend to shop in places that I know or are on a street front)
  • a fashion item that is hard to choose on my own are sunglasses. Often whoever is with me will pick the style they like and then when I wear them, my family will comment “who helped you to buy those sunglasses?” which means – they wouldn’t have chosen them for me so needless to say, I have a few dead pairs in my drawer.

How important to you are the perceptions of others of you fashion wise?

Picture of Maribel posing with her cane, dressed in a black skirt, black lacy sleeved top, black flats and multi-colored handbag.
Photo Courtesy of
Harry Williamson

I like to demonstrate that blind or vision-impaired women can enjoy being colour co-ordinated, wear smart and trendy gear with high heels and enjoy fashion just as much as our sighted friends do. People are often surprised to see me turn up at a function with matching jewellery, fashionable dress with lovely bag and jacket and I am surprised by their reaction – why wouldn’t a vision-impaired woman be dressed well?

I also have a passion for smelling fragrances at perfume counters and put my nose to the test to pinpoint individual scent molecules from cleverly concocted blends. The art of wearing fragrance – mmm, that’s another story…

If you want to be bold and beautiful, you can – let Stephanae (Steph) McCoy, the Blind Style Blogger show you how to strut your stuff at:

Bold Blind Beauty: Style Concepts for the Visually Impaired

AND, in the UK, Emily Davison speaks the language of fashion That Comes From the Heart and Soul at

Fashioneyesta: Bridging the Gap between Fashion and Sight
fashioneyesta.com/

Copyright © Maribel Steel 2014

“Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.” ~Rachel Zoe