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Trust Is Key To Unlocking Confidence & Independence

Trust Is Key To Unlocking Confidence & Independence featured image description is in the body of the post.

Trust Is Key To Unlocking Confidence & Independence

My other goal is to teach the community that people with visual impairments are just anyone else. They just use additional tools to access the world. This access should be universal and a normal part of day-to-day life.

~Michele Danilowicz
1. Michele Danilowicz image description is in the body of the post
#1. Michele Danilowicz

I am a Michigan-based Teacher for the Visually Impaired (TVI) and a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS). My undergraduate degree is in teaching elementary and special education with a focus on visual impairments. In addition, I have a masters degree in Specific Learning Disabilities and Orientation and Mobility for Children. For 14 years I’ve taught students aged 3-26 years old.

My passion is teaching students to help them gain confidence and independence so they are successful adults. I work with students on accessing and using the technology and tools they need to live independently after they age-out of the system.

Oftentimes, students with visual impairments are led to believe they can’t be successful, independent adults. So the most important part of my job is building trust with them. This enables them to believe me when I tell them that they can do anything.

How Trust Delivers Results

I had an elementary student who lacked confidence and hesitated while crossing streets. His parents were fearful and did not want him crossing a street on his own either. He was a fourth grader and at this time was not independently doing what his peers were. Together we went out weekly rain, snow or shine to work, navigate the neighborhoods, and cross intersections. So he was able to walk to friends houses to play and hang out.

I never pushed him if he ever felt uncomfortable to cross. We would cross the street when he built up his confidence. He achieved all his goals that year and crossed at stop signs and even small, lighted intersections. Once he began, he advanced so quickly after he gained confidence and is now unstoppable.

Building trust with parents is crucial also. So after he mastered some of these skills, I invited his parents to a lesson. His parent’s witnessed how confidently their son now crosses intersections, independently and safely. Seeing him progress was so rewarding!

The Long-Lasting Effects Of Trust

Recently, a former student contacted me to tell me she was accepted to a dual masters program. This student and I worked together ten years earlier. I was beyond excited to hear that she is starting a master degree!

She has been living independently since starting her undergraduate degree. Now she is moving across the state by herself to start and complete her master’s program. This student also made a huge transition in her life and is transgender. I was so grateful to hear from her and learn that she trusted me enough to share with me, her transition. The trust and confidence that she has built is amazing!

Passion & Pursuit of Personal & Professional Goals

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2. Two women presenting

My other goal is to teach the community that people with visual impairments are just anyone else. They just use additional tools to access the world. This access should be universal and a normal part of day-to-day life. Part of my job is to teach awareness in local schools about the tools people use who are visually impaired. I also spread this awareness to the public about what helpful accommodations they can use. Along with how to help (or not help) people in the community.

Recently, I was teaching an accessibility workshop to third graders. One of the students stopped me before I walked into the classroom. She said she knew someone who was blind and felt sorry for them. My immediate response was there is no reason to feel sorry for someone who is visually impaired or blind. They are people just like you or me they just access the environment differently. I told her how I knew many successful people doing amazing things. They read by using braille and travel the community and even the world, independently with a cane. The cane helps them to “see” where they are going.

I began the presentation and thanked the students for coming to hear about how everyone can be independent and successful. Everyone just approaches it differently. This is one of the most important parts of my job, educating the public on how and when to help. To not pity visually impaired or blind people, but to appreciate how they navigate the world with the tools at their disposal. When the average person realizes how independent the VI community members are, it gives them a whole new level of respect. Respect is most important, not pity.

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3. Table of materials

Featured Image Description:

A woman talking while holding up a white cane looking off camera. There are backs of participant’s heads watching the woman present about white cane safety.

Collage Image Descriptions:

  1. Pedestrian Walk Sign: Woman (O&M instructor) is holding a folded white cane, smiling looking off camera, standing at a detectable warning next to a pedestrian walk sign.
  2. Bus Stop Shelter: Woman (O&M instructor) smiling at camera holding a folded white cane standing next to a bus stop shelter.
  3. A city bus. 
  4. Boarding Bus: The back of a woman (O&M instructor) walking onto a city bus. 

Additional Image Descriptions:

  1. Close up of Michele Danilowicz with long brown hair in her 30s smiling at the camera. 
  2. Two women presenting on cortical visual impairments. The power point presentation behind them says: “Tips for Providing Interventions cont.” One presenter is looking at the camera and smiling. The other presenter is looking at the audience holding up a red Elmo stuffed animal and a red and yellow stuffed monster. They are both standing behind a table full of red and yellow materials and toys. 
  3. Table with materials scattered across, a light up magnifier, dome magnifier, Braille writer, telescope, two vision simulation goggles, Braille book, large print book, large Braille cell drawn on paper with the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 next to the dots and worksheets to learn Braille for print readers. 

Connecting With Michele:

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Gain Independence & Rock The Cane

Gain Independence Featured image description is in the body of the post.

It makes sense for advocates to be borne out of situations in which we find ourselves, like disabilities for example. However, let’s not forget those who dedicate their time, talents, and passion to improve our lives with the gift of independence.  

Bold Blind Beauty

The following article written by Jennifer Freeman Fullerton speaks to her role in helping people with sight loss regain their independence.

Gain Independence & Rock The Cane

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#1 – Jennifer Fullerton

I have been an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist in the San Diego County area for approximately twelve years. My experience encompasses working with children ranging in age from three through twenty-two. Many of the students I have worked with have multiple disabilities.

Passionate about what I teach, I focus on helping my students gain independence in all aspects of their lives. As a professional in the field, I’ve seen first-hand what a long cane does for a student with vision loss. The level of independence and confidence a cane provides, cannot be described in words. I often show up to school campuses and am told by staff that my students are running down the hallways. Of course, as their O&M Specialist, I don’t want to hear that but as their teacher, I smile because I know that I was a part of building that confidence.

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#2 – Jennifer & her daughter

Adding Technology To The Mix

Since technology is opening up so many doors for people with disabilities, I have pursued as many learning opportunities as possible.  Specifically, anything that can help people who have visual impairments. What I have observed across all educational platforms is that technology is underutilized, especially applications (apps). For that reason, I began writing blogs for Cane and Compass to share my ideas with an emphasis on how to incorporate technology into O&M instruction.

I recently started a Rock the Cane Facebook Page and Campaign about two months ago. Since entering my amazing profession, I have dreamed of starting the campaign, long before any type of smart device or social media platform was available to utilize. I consider Rock the Cane to be my hobby and passion project. My goal with the campaign is to change the world’s perception of vision loss. I believe that by invoking help from the community, social media, people in power and individuals who know what it’s like to live with vision loss, we can work together to globally change perception.

I am lucky and blessed to impact the lives of many in my community who have vision loss.

Gain Independence Featured Image Description:

Jennifer is wearing a Rock the Cane navy t-shirt with images of brunette cartoon characters wearing black sunglasses. The image on the left is a brunette male and the image on the right is a female. Both characters are rocking long red and white canes. Jennifer is standing in front of a window and wood bench.

Additional Images:

  1. In this photo, Jennifer is wearing a navy “Orientation & Mobility Specialist” sweatshirt. This shirt has a graphic of a female cartoon character rocking her long cane. 
  2. Jennifer and her young daughter are holding hands. Jennifer is wearing a Cane & Compass gray tee that says “It’s Just A Cane.”

Connecting With Jennifer On Social Media:

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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

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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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Poppi & Liz Wheeler | Blind Beauty 52

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Poppi & Liz Wheeler | Blind Beauty 52

“A guide dog has given me confidence to get out and about. When I’m feeling scared or overwhelmed Poppi is there to make me laugh or sometimes just sit with me and put her head in my lap. She is more than my eyes. She is my guardian angel and my very best friend. I’m so grateful to have her by my side.” 

~Liz Wheeler
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Image 1

All I could muster on visiting Poppi’s Instagram account was a long, drawn-out awe. Poppi is a yellow labrador who has the sweetest facial expressions. Knowing she’s given her mum the gift of independence is especially heartwarming.

Poppi’s account is pawsitively positive. She looks out for her mum, Liz, and ensures her safety whenever they are out and about. In addition to caring for her mum, Poppi tackles social issues in a solution-focused, educational and awareness-building way.

You see, Liz only has 5% of her remaining eyesight left which means her eyesight is severely impaired. As I’ve talked about many times, blindness is not a simple matter of seeing versus not seeing. Blindness is on a wide spectrum that takes into account many factors. The important thing to remember is that each of us is doing the best we can with what we have.

Poppi and Liz are advocates working to change perceptions on what it means to live with blindness. By doing so they are making this a smoother transition for those newly affected by sight loss.

Blind Beauty 52 Featured Image Description:

Featured image is a faux fashion magazine cover titled Blind Beauty. Poppi and Liz are on the cover laying in the grass with Liz’s right arm draped around Poppi. Liz is wearing a navy blue sweater with jeans and Poppi is in her harness looking very serious.

Blocks of text superimposed on Liz & Poppi’s photo are: “Bold | She Keeps Pressing Onward,” “Blind | She Has Deeper Insight,” “Beautiful | She Sees To The Heart Of Others”

Image 1:

Liz is looking absolutely stunning while she poses with her bedazzled black “white cane.” She is wearing black heels, pants, leather jacket, and a white blouse accented with a long cream frilly scarf.

You can connect with Poppi on the following social media platforms: