Posted on 4 Comments

The Keys to Unlock the Door: Open-Mindedness & Creativity

Beyond Sight Magazine Cover is described in the body of the post.

WOMEN ON THE MOVE

Editor’s Note:

I was on a Zoom call the other day when I heard this powerful message: “One out of one people has unconscious bias.” While many of us like to believe we have no biases, as uncomfortable as it might be to admit, we all do. Today’s featured Woman On The Move, Tiffany Baylor, very eloquently takes us through how she faced her unconscious biases and emerges victoriously. In addition to her article, here is a supplemental YouTube interview with Tiffany and Bold Blind Beauty’s Nasreen Bhutta. ~Steph

I believe that the most important gift that I can share with the world is education. I do not mean handing someone a leaflet about blindness and feeling like I’ve done my part. I mean provide people the opportunity to metaphorically walk in my shoes. 

~Tiffany Baylor

Blind-Sided

Hiking Desoto Falls - image is described in the body of the post
Hiking Desoto Falls

I was diagnosed with Glaucoma just before my 30th birthday. I was already operating with only one functioning eye since birth, so as you can imagine, learning that I was going to gradually lose my sight in my second eye was quite unsettling. Although I was accepted into an excellent training program for people with adult-onset sight loss, I emotionally avoided the diagnosis, and literally avoided the Orientation and Mobility instructor who came to pre-assess me for approximately 3 months.

Coincidentally, all of the blindness-related stereotypes that I would later work to dispel were the very stereotypes that triggered my fear and hopelessness. I didn’t want the label, the diagnosis, nor to be seen as one of those “poor, helpless, blind people.” Yet, at the urging of my family, I acquiesced and boarded the little white shuttle that displayed a large, colorful “Braille Institute for the Blind” sign on its side. I took my seat among the other “poor, helpless, blind people,” as the shuttle’s back-up safety beeps advertised the bus’s departure from my neighborhood. My cover was blown. I thought, “Well, now, the whole world knows that I’m broken.”

Egg Hunt

An Eye-Opening Experience

From the first day that I attended Braille Institute, I met people who dispelled every single stereotype that I had related to living with vision loss. I met people who lived independently, who had hobbies, who wore makeup, who gardened, sewed, cooked, and even played sports! There I was thinking that my diagnosis was the precursor to an ending, when actually it was unlocking a beginning. Creativity was the key needed to unlock that beginning, and I spent the next year training and learning how to use that key.  

An Open Mind and Willing Spirit

One day while public speaking at an engagement hosted by the Braille Institute in California, I was asked to participate in the event activities as a show of support for the program. The event was the Braille Institute Youth Olympics. I laced up a pair of borrowed sneakers and took my position on the starting line of the 100-meter dash among an intimidating, powerfully built group of 16 and 17-year-olds. The starter commanded, “Runner’s to your mark . . . get set . . .” As the gun exploded, surprisingly, so did I!” I couldn’t believe that I was actually keeping up with this stampede of strapping teens! Later that afternoon, an official thanked me for coming and said, “You ought to turn your scores in.” I chuckled and thought that he was kidding, or just being polite.  

The Call

Several weeks later, I received a telephone call from a gentleman who said he was from USABA (pronounced: You-sah’-buh). Assuming he was a telemarketer, I scolded, “I already have a Samsung with High Definition in my family room, and I’m not interested in purchasing a ‘You-sah’-buh!’

 He continued, “Hello, are you, Tiffany Baylor? I am Mark Lucas of the United States Association of Blind Athletes.”  (Apparently, USABA was an acronym and not a brand of television). Mark continued still, “You attended an event in Los Angeles, and your scores were sent to me by one of the officials. Your scores are quite good. I’d like to talk to you about being a member of the USABA Track and Field Team, and attending the upcoming Pan American Games.”

USABA photo is described in the body of the post.
USABA Photo

Off To the Races

The next thing I knew, I was being flown out to South Carolina for training, to compete in an international competition involving 17 countries. I was so awe-inspired by the events. I arrived at my athlete quarters to find an official red, white, and blue uniform with “USA” proudly displayed upon it. I think I shed a tear as I carefully examined the letters with my fingers as if to verify that this was really happening. There were classifications, prelims, heats, staggered starts, and other terminology that seemed like another language. My teammates prayed and encouraged me as I faced a plethora of well-trained opponents. I enjoyed the thrill of competition, the camaraderie of the team, and the opportunity to make life-long friendships with athletes all over the world. The resulting Gold and Bronze Medals were pleasing as well.

Team USA
Team USA

After 16 years of competition, 4 International Gold Medals, 2 television appearances, torch-bearing, and being the first blind athlete to compete/and win Gold at the California State Games, residing, and training at 2 Olympic Training Centers, earning an All American National Ranking twice, and earning a Gold Medal at the US Paralympic Track and Field Trials for a slot on the USA 2012 London Paralympic Team, my most prized accomplishment is speaking to people about being bold when creating goals, and noticing that each accomplishment is a gateway to another goal. One must continuously explore which gate the ‘key’ will open next? 

The Opened Doors

While competing for the U.S. Track and Field Team, I met people who used guide dogs for mobility. After much research, discussion, and evaluation, I applied for my first Guide dog in 1997.  While traveling with the U.S. Team, I realized society’s urgent need for guide dog accessibility education. I became a member of the Guide Dog for the Blind Speakers Bureau in 1999 and began providing guide dog awareness training to community organizations and elementary schools throughout California. I continued promoting guide dog inclusion and acceptance by appearing on KUSI News in San Diego, Wake-up Clackamas County in Oregon, and Facing Florida here in the state of Florida. I presented quarterly lectures for Kaiser University’s Occupational Therapy program, instructing emerging therapists on visual impairments and considerations for service delivery. I have also been a guest lecturer for Florida State University’s course on living with visual loss, and was fortunate to provide in-service training to companies who serve people with disabilities, including a request by Florida’s Secretary of State, Ken Dexter, to provide guide dog accessibility training to his staff.

I believe that the most important gift that I can share with the world is education. I do not mean handing someone a leaflet about blindness and feeling like I’ve done my part. I mean provide people the opportunity to metaphorically walk in my shoes. Stereotypes and biases will not be squashed by someone being able to recite the three most common eye conditions. Instead, opportunities that allow people to experience how seemingly inconsequential aspects of daily living with blindness compels a person to constantly think outside-of-the-box just to participate. This way of educating the public promotes open-minded thinking and brings about true learning. When this type of instruction is combined with a free, non-judgmental forum for attendees to ask questions without the impediment of political correctness, fear of offending, or ridicule, I find that misconceptions evaporate and new foundations are constructed.

This mindset motivated me to create My Pink Cane.  My Pink Cane is an Instruction and Advocacy business specializing in training and auxiliary consultation services to businesses, Government Agencies and community groups in the surrounding Capitol region in the areas of Blindness Etiquette, Guide Dog laws, and various accommodations/tools that may be used by people who have blindness or low vision. Rather than simply lecture to the audience, I provide informative, lively, and interactive presentations that include hands-on experiences that are molded to address the specific goals, and possible hard-set misconceptions of the audience.  

Clearly, my Glaucoma diagnosis was the key to a new beginning. It has taught me to not ‘dis’ my abilities, but rather to discover, and strengthen my abilities. My blindness has taught me to change my goal setting to be limitless, by keeping creativity and open-mindedness on my virtual tool belt. Most importantly, blindness has motivated me to share my life experiences, and strive to release society from the blindfolds that perpetuate stereotypes, thus allowing society to see with the clarity of creative, open-minded people who are blind.

Tiffany Baylor, TVI, FCCM, MEd
Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments, TVI
Florida Certified Contract Manager, FCCM
Masters of Education, MEd

Connecting WIth Tiffany:

Image Descriptions:

  • Beyond Sight Magazine Cover – Tiffany’s photo is on the cover, she is dressed professionally in a stylish jacket and her dark hair is pulled back from her smiling face cascading in spiral curls. Her circular silver statement earrings perfectly omplement her jacket. The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is the eye used for our 2020 Year of Vision Campaign (described HERE). There are 3 lines of white text that says “Tiffany Baylor Opening doors with open-mindedness and creativity.” In the bottom right corner is a teal circle with an illustration of Abby rollerblading. She has on a black crop tank top complete with her logo on the front with black shorts, and gray & teal roller blades. And of course, Abby wouldn’t be Abby without her signature explosive hairstyle and “Women On The Move” is in yellow text under the circle.
  • Hiking Desoto Falls – Tiffany is standing with her guide dog a black lab. In the background is a waterfall surrounded by lush greenery.
  • Tri-panel gallery -1) Tiffany is standing at a podium cohosting a Dining In The Dark Event with a man. 2) Tiffany is sitting with a child on the floor teaching them braille. 3) Tiffany is at the front of the room leading a public speaking conference as a woman looks on.
  • USABA Photo – Action photo of Tiffany running rounding the bend on the track, representing Team USA as she competes.
  • Team USA – Tiffany is among the entire team consisting of 4 rows of people. All are dressed identically in navy and white athletic gear.
  • 7-panel gallery – (clockwise top l to r) 1) Tiffany and her clogging team wearing American flag tops. 2) Tiffany and her guide dog are on the Appalachian trail crossing the Potomac and Shenandoah on a narrow footbridge. 3) Tiffany is all smiles while riding a Cyco Cycle in the parade. She has on a black cowboy hat, red top, boots, and black jeans. Her bedazzled cane is guiding the way. 4) Action shot of Tiffany water skiing in Hot Springs Arkansas. 5) Top of Hill at Harper’s Ferry Tiffany, with her guide dog, is standing with her back to the camera. In the background rooftops and a tree-covered mountain can be seen. 6) Ice Skiing in Vermont Tiffany poses with her skis in hand. She’s wearing a red puffy jacket, black helmet, and bright orange “Blind Skier” vest. 7) Tiffany and her guide dog are at the Appalachian Trail Railroad. Tiffany has a large backpack on her back. Trees and mountains can be seen in the background.
Posted on 1 Comment

Facing Down The Silent Thief of Sight

Image is described in the body of the post.

WOMEN ON THE MOVE

I knew something was wrong, but I assumed that perhaps all I needed was a prescription of some kind. Still, I was nervous when I got to the ophthalmologist’s office. And with good reason, as it turned out. I was in my early 30’s and I was diagnosed with end-stage glaucoma.

~Helen Gentry | Woman On The Move

In early 2014, I knew something was wrong with my eyes.

A haze had appeared around fluorescent lights in public buildings. Also, my vision always seemed blurry no matter how often I blinked to try to clear it. One day while walking quickly in front of my office building, I ran into a sign and was knocked to the ground. That got my attention! “How could I have not seen that?!” I wondered.

I was busy working fulltime, attending graduate school and raising a daughter, but I finally couldn’t ignore my symptoms anymore. So I scheduled an appointment with an ophthalmologist in my small town. I knew something was wrong, but I assumed that perhaps all I needed was a prescription of some kind. Still, I was nervous when I got to the ophthalmologist’s office. And with good reason, as it turned out. I was in my early 30’s and I was diagnosed with end-stage glaucoma.

Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide and it is called the “silent thief of vision” for a reason— first the peripheral vision leaves, and the patient doesn’t notice because the loss is so gradual. Once the central vision begins to be affected, alerting the patient to the fact that something is wrong, a significant loss has already occurred.

Heartbreaking News After Diagnosis

After receiving my diagnosis, I also had to digest an additional fact: My condition had resulted from medical malpractice. My optometrist had prescribed a steroid eye drop that I was instructed to use up to four times a day to treat discomfort caused by eye allergies. I now know that this medication is intended for use following cataract surgery. It is not intended to be used for more than 10 days. I used it for 13 months. I also now know that patients who are using this drug are supposed to be closely monitored by a medical professional, and if eye pressure increases, they are to discontinue use immediately.

I was not closely monitored nor was I informed of the risks of using the medication. Instead, I was assured that it was FDA approved and perfectly safe. I was told that the eye allergies could cause some blurriness, which was why I was unconcerned at first about the changes in my vision once I finally did begin to detect them. Just a short time before this medication was prescribed, North Carolina changed state law to allow optometrists to prescribe medications, although they have not been to medical school as ophthalmologists have. My optometrist failed me, and so did my state by allowing this atrocity to take place. Every time I raised the bottle to my eyes thinking that I was being responsible and helping myself, I was giving myself an incurable disease.

Chain Reaction Set In Motion

In the months that followed my diagnosis, I experienced anger and overwhelming grief. I also began to fight to retain my remaining vision. I was a patient at Duke, UNC and Johns Hopkins. At Duke, I underwent trabeculectomy surgery in which a metal shunt was placed in each eye to help drain the pressure. The two surgeries, which I was awake for, were daunting and required a lengthy recovery during which I had to try to stay off my feet.

After the second surgery, I felt pressured to return to work too soon. Once I did, my supervisor put pressure on me to give a brief speech at a large meeting of leadership, faculty, and staff at the college campus where I worked. When I took the podium (a mere week after my surgery), I began shaking uncontrollably. I couldn’t speak and I suffered what I now believe to be a nervous breakdown of sorts. I now understand that major surgery can easily lead to temporary emotional instability, but no one had told me that at the time.

A Difficult Aftermath

In addition to feeling pressured to return to work, I also experienced workplace discrimination in a variety of ways. My boss would periodically stop me on campus and jokingly ask me if I could see how many fingers he was holding up.

A different supervisor condescendingly asked me if I had any doctors’ appointments coming up. His reason being that he needed to be aware if I would be feeling emotionally unstable in the days ahead. He then informed me that he had a wife and daughters and therefore understood the emotions of women. He also said that I could talk to him if I needed to, adding that the word “panties” was a regular part of his vocabulary. It was obvious that he thought that my breakdown had not stemmed from receiving a devastating medical diagnosis and undergoing a terrifying surgery, but it was because I am a woman. No woman should ever be cornered by her male boss while alone in his office and be encouraged to talk about her undergarments.

Sometime later, I received my “TPD discharge” from the US government. This was a letter in the mail stating that I had been found by a government-contracted medical professional to be “Totally and Permanently Disabled.” (Let those three words sink in for a moment…..I can see them now, in bold font across the top of the document.) The letter continued to explain that my outstanding student loans were being discharged completely. As a totally and permanently disabled person, I was not expected to have significant work, so I was not expected to pay back my student loans.

Reclaiming A Vibrant Life

Fast forward to the present, and I am not totally and permanently disabled, nor have I ever been. I am happily self-employed as a life coach, franchise broker, and realtor. I get to partner with my clients to support them in building the life that they want to lead. Meanwhile, I am living my most vibrant adventurous life.

I love being an active mother, wife, and friend. I am currently enjoying traveling as much as possible and seeing as much of the world as I can. I enjoy hiking, taking painting classes and cooking. Soon I will be starting piano lessons. There is so much I want to do. I am filled with gratitude every day that I get to live in the gorgeous mountains of Western North Carolina. My mission through my work and volunteer service in my rural community is to see people, particularly women and families, empowered and lifted out of poverty.

Healing

I’m currently 38 years old, and my worst-case prognosis at one time was that I will be completely blind by the time I am 50. I do not accept this prognosis. (At one point I had a friend strongly encouraged me to simply accept my prognosis, and I concluded that no real friend would encourage another to voluntarily sit down, shut up and go blind without a fight.) I understand that many patients report feeling that it is helpful to them to accept their diagnosis; however, I choose to draw my strength and courage from fighting and defying mine. This is a daily journey of faith in Christ and His healing power. The distinct discrepancy between my medical records and the kind of life that I actually experience on a daily basis is nothing short of a miracle, and I want to continue to be a walking miracle all of my days.

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured image taken last summer near Helen’s home in NC shows her standing outdoors. A pretty brunette with shoulder-length wavy hair, Helen is wearing a print tank top and skirt. The waterfall behind her makes a beautiful backdrop.
  • A gallery of two black & white photos (before and after) of Helen from her surgery at Duke. In both photos, she’s on a bed in her hospital gown. In the post-surgery photo, her left eye is bandaged.
Posted on 4 Comments

We Can Change – The Power Of Community

We Can Change – The Power Of Community

“Life has changed me from being fearful and insecure, into now working to help others find themselves and reach for the resources and tools they need to thrive.”

~Carrie Morales

The Struggle of Growing up with a Visual Impairment

1. We Can Change – The Power Of Community image of Carrie and her son description is in the body of the post.
1. Carrie Morales

Growing up being legally blind with Aniridia was an immense challenge. Aniridia is the lack of an iris and the underdevelopment of the eye. In my case, it also comes with glaucoma, cataracts, microcornea, and nystagmus.

I struggled with insecurity, lack of confidence, loneliness, and a general sense of un-belonging. Though surrounded with other family members who were also blind or visually impaired, I felt disjointed from the rest of my peers. As a result, I was never able to fit in despite all my efforts.

I struggled and concealed my depression and hurt with rejection, when people avoided or gossiped about me, and asked things such as “why do your eyes move like that?” or “what’s wrong with her?” Because of microcornea, my eyes appear smaller and nystagmus causes my eyes to constantly and uncontrollably move around.

I wasn’t “normal”.

My defense was to emotionally detach. I was shy and became shyer and there would be days that I didn’t speak to anyone unless forced to by a teacher.

What brought me out into the proverbial light was the help and support I found through community.

Beginning to Find Myself

My TVI (teacher for the visually impaired) told my parents about a summer camp for the blind. That camp literally changed my life as I thought I was alone, the only one struggling, but I wasn’t. It was through that program and others, I met fellow peers who shared my struggles. Attending these programs while in high school and transitioning to college taught me so many things. I learned independence, life skills, assistive technology, social skills, and leadership.

What’s more, I saw other people who were blind and visually impaired being successful. I met and interacted with those who were living their dreams and striving toward their goals. This is what I wanted to do; to be like them, to have confidence and show that I was able. To reach past what society said I could and could not do and surpass even my own expectations.

As a teenager, I stumbled and fell, was reckless, and made bad decisions. But life continued and led me to eventually move with my family to North Carolina. It was here I took a job at a company that hired many blind people.

Starting out in manufacturing, I was promoted to being a receptionist. Eventually, I began working at the low vision center that was part of the company. NC is quite different from New Jersey which is where I mostly grew up. In the northeast, people generally mind their own business and didn’t speak to strangers.

Well, North Carolina is the opposite. People would ask how I was, about my life, what I liked to do —all in the first interaction! Oh my, it was such a culture shock, to say the least. Yet, it pried me out of my shell and changed me.

A Force of Change

I went from being anti-social to not being able to stop talking. Over time, I gained more confidence and learned how to present myself.

I’ve always loved technology and had a thirst for knowledge. Through my time working at the low vision center, I learned so much. I gained experience in:

  • services,
  • resources,
  • government agencies,
  • available technology,
  • and met countless people with differing amounts of vision and needs.
2. Pablo & Carrie image description is in the body of the post.
2. Pablo & Carrie

Along the way, I met my then to be husband, Pablo; we moved in together, got married, had a son. Due to the high costs of childcare and transportation, I decided to stay home with our son. Becoming a stay at home mom allows me the opportunity to invest in him completely as my father did for me.

With Little Pablo being the first child, it was so exciting learning and enjoying him. This new life, a whole bundle of potential is everything to us. We found out that he has aniridia like me. Though it hurts because we all want the best for our children, he’ll be okay. I know that he will grow up with all the resources and support he will need.

As life went on I grew accustomed to the new way of life with a little one. Settling into my routine, I began to have more time. It was in a moment of looking for something to do besides the day-to-day tasks, I had an idea. I decided to start an organization to share what my husband and I have learned and give others encouragement. Afterall, we all have it within us to continue, to move forward, and to reach for our goals.

A New Journey

3. Big Pablo & Little Pablo image description is in the body of the post.
3. Big Pablo & Little Pablo

I grew up visually impaired, but my husband, Pablo, went from fully sighted to totally blind.  None of us have the same exact stories. We have our own journeys, but we still face similar struggles and we can support and help each other.

I began my youtube channel (Live Accessible) and website (http://liveaccessible.com) on November 1, 2018 and am amazed at the growth we have had.

Our mission through our YT channel and website is to share hope, encouragement, community, resources, tips, and technology to help others who are blind, visually impaired, and sighted supporters. Along the way, I’ve made many friendships, met so many amazing people, and have learned so much from my viewers.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to give back to this community. Together, we can make this world into a better place where we can tear down invisible barriers in society and in this world through raising awareness, mutual support, technology, and creativity.

We can all live accessible.

We Can Change – The Power Of Community Featured Image Description:

Outdoor selfie of Carrie Morales smiling. Carrie’s long black hair frames her pretty face. She is wearing a black leather jacket and a black top embellished with silver accents on the neckline.

Additional Images:

  1. An outdoor selfie of Carrie and Little Pablo. Carrie is holding Little Pablo with her right arm and she’s wearing a blue long-sleeved sweater. Little Pablo is wearing a red fleece jacket.
  2. Big Pablo & Carrie share a sweet embrace. They are standing outside and sunbeams are illuminating Carrie’s hair.
  3. Big Pablo is standing on a lawn holding Little Pablo in his arms with his white cane tucked under his right arm. Both are casually dressed and wearing sneakers. Little Pablo has on a red puffer jacket and his dad has on a navy blue jacket.

Connecting With Carrie:

Posted on Leave a comment

World Glaucoma Week 2017 #7 – March 18

Week In Review

NEI/NIH Info card: Is there more to see in your family tree? Glaucoma runs in families.
Courtesy: National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health (NEI/NIH)

Now, this is embarrassing. I thought I was being ultra clever by pre-scheduling my draft glaucoma posts for this week. Since I had a morning appointment I changed today’s post time to later in the afternoon to give myself some time to update it prior to publication.

Well, you can probably guess what happened. Yeah, it was published at noon with only a title. Tsk, tsk, I’m so disgusted right now for a number of reasons but I refuse to let this become a rant. So without further ado let’s begin.

I covered quite a bit of ground this week on glaucoma and I hope you are a little more familiar with the disease and steps you can take to preserve your eyesight. The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that people who have a higher than normal risk are:

  • over age 40
  • have family members with glaucoma
  • are of African or Hispanic heritage
  • have high eye pressure
  • are farsighted or nearsighted
  • have had an eye injury
  • have corneas that are thin in the center
  • have thinning of the optic nerve
  • have diabetes, migraines, poor blood circulation or other health problems affecting the whole body

Talk with an ophthalmologist about your risk for getting glaucoma. People with more than one of these risk factors have an even higher risk of glaucoma.

If you missed any glaucoma-related posts from this week following are links to each one:

  1. Eye-Q Test
  2. What You Need To Know
  3. Seeing Through Glaucoma Diagnosed Eyes
  4. Glaucoma By The Numbers
  5. Main Types Of Glaucoma
  6. Arriving At A Diagnosis

Remember you are the advocate for your health. Stay on top of your healthcare, be informed by asking questions and don’t stop until you have satisfactory answers.