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‘Blind’ How Embracing This Word Led To Empowerment

'Blind' How Embracing This Word Led To Empowerment featured image description is in the body of the post.

‘Blind’ How Embracing This Word Led To Empowerment

I found I was living life feeling like a ‘broken sighted person’ when I could choose to live as a ‘whole blind person.’

~Liz Wisecarver, Woman On The Move
1 VW Bug
#1 VW Bug

I was born with cone-rod dystrophy, but growing up, I didn’t know I was “blind.” Professionals said I had too much vision to be blind, I was “low vision.” That meant I didn’t have to learn braille or use a cane.

My parents asked about braille lessons when I was about five, but professionals advised against it. They said I would try to look at the dots instead of feeling them. I remember thinking that sounded crazy since I couldn’t even see the dots on the page. But again, we were not the experts, so large print was the medium of choice.

I didn’t have a teacher of blind students or an IEP (Individualized Education Program); terms I didn’t learn until I was an adult. Ocassionally, I received orientation and mobility lessons (O&M) with a heavy marshmallow tip folding cane that came up to my armpit. But why would I need to use that in my tiny K-12 school a place I knew inside out? So the cane stayed folded up and out of sight.

The large print books were huge and heavy. Plus straining to read all day caused terrible headaches, so by high school, I almost completely stopped reading. Despite this, I graduated high school with OK grades and had a fairly normal adolescence.

2 Cannon
#2 Cannon

Finding Change In Between Two Worlds

In college, I felt something needed to change if I wanted to live an independent, fulfilling life. The problem was I wasn’t sure how to accomplish this change. My Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VRC) helped me get a CCTV (closed circuit TV) to read with on my desktop. And even though I didn’t use it, I at least carried my folding cane.

Since I couldn’t see in the dark I missed out on a lot of social activities. My fear was compounded because I was scared to travel to unfamiliar places by myself. I remember one evening in particular where I unexpectedly needed to stay on campus later than usual. This resulted in me not getting on the bus until twilight. When I arrived at my large apartment complex, I had trouble seeing the contrast of the buildings against the waning light. With only a  bit of light left in the sky I had to count the rooflines to find my building. There were several stressful incidences like that, and looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t get hurt.

But I wasn’t ‘blind,’ after all, I was ‘low vision.’ I felt like I was the only person in the world stuck somewhere between blind and sighted.

Thankfully, I eventually found out how to make a change. After graduating from college, I got a new VRC, Matt Lyles, who was blind himself. He said if I really wanted a challenge, I should check out the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB). He described it as boot camp for the blind, and he would know since he went there himself. Matt told me the most important thing he learned at LCB was that our limitations have more to do with our own personalities than blindness.

3 Tower
#3 Tower

Accepting A New Perspective About Blindness

Up until my conversation with Matt, that was the first time anyone talked to me about a residential blindness training program. I was ecstatic to start the nine-month training at LCB in 2010. The Center was different from the bit of blindness skills training I’d experienced before. Students with residual vision wear sleep shades during classes to focus on learning nonvisual skills like:

  • cane travel,
  • daily living,
  • braille,
  • technology,
  • and industrial arts.

Most instructors are blind themselves, and those who aren’t, often wear shades while teaching. Some of the most impactful moments for me were during trips:

  • white water rafting in Tennessee,
  • mountain climbing in Arkansas,
  • and in New Orleans at Mardi Gras.

LCB helped me develop a positive philosophy about blindness. Previously, I didn’t like to use the word ‘blind,’ I thought that was only for totally blind people or an insult. But I gradually learned I wasn’t fooling anyone by holding onto someone instead of using a cane. Or pretending to read along in print—I was blind, and that was ok. I found I was living life feeling like a ‘broken sighted person’ when I could choose to live as a ‘whole blind person.’

It was fascinating to me how many people experienced a similar lack of resources. After training, I earned my Master’s in O&M from Louisiana Tech University. I also hold a National Orientation and Mobility Certification
(https://www.nbpcb.org/nomc) to share the structured-discovery (http://www.pdrib.com/pages/canetravel.php) style of training with more blind people. Matt showed me the impact one blind person can make on another, and I hope to do likewise through my service.

4 Wedding
#4 Wedding

Paying Forward A Positive Philosophy

I’ve taught people of all ages cane travel and a positive philosophy about blindness through a variety of programs. Currently, I work for the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) of Texas as the NFB-NEWSLINE® Texas Coordinator. This position marries my undergraduate Journalism degree with my experience in the blindness field. NFB-NEWSLINE® is a free electronic newspaper and information service available to legally blind and print disabled subscribers. We also host training events for Texans of all ages across the state to teach people how to use NFB-NEWSLINE® and other blindness skills.

Outside of work, I am involved with the NFB of Texas CAREER Mentoring program for blind youth. My husband Trae and I live with two cats, and a weenie dog. I enjoy traveling, hanging out with friends, and shopping. Recently, I’ve gotten into paper crafting and became a Stampin’ Up! demonstrator. Art, like most anything, is something blind people can do with the right tools and techniques.

Not only would I have missed out on an amazing career and wonderful people without LCB, I would not have the tools and confidence I needed to be successful. I gained the skills to do small, everyday tasks like using a screen reader on a laptop and the confidence to understand that I am not inferior simply because of my blindness. I encourage everyone to find successful role models to serve as your mentors, and ask them what they did to develop the skills you appreciate in them. Blindness is not a tragedy, it’s just a characteristic.

5 Helen Keller
#5 Helen Keller

Connecting With Liz:

‘Blind’ How Embracing This Word Led To Empowerment Featured Image Description:

Liz smiles and is wearing a black scoop neck tee and sunglasses. Her shoulder-length chocolate brown hair is blowing in the wind, as she sails with the Sailing Angels Foundation based in Houston. The sky and sail are visible in the background.

Additional Image Descriptions:

  1. VW Bug: Liz poses with a brightly psychedelic floral-print painted Volkswagen Bug car inside her favorite boutique, Beehive Outlet in Ruston, Louisiana. She wears a mint green tunic top with white lace side panels and front pocket, white leggings, and a long gold and pink floral necklace.
  2. Cannon: Liz stands beside a Civil War cannon at the Tupelo National Battlefield wearing a salt-and-pepper wrap top over a black lace camisole, black skinny pants, and black flats. Her cane is decorated for Halloween with purple spiderweb Duct Tape.
  3. Tower: Liz stands atop the 85-foot-tall Wilder Brigade Monument tower at the Chickamauga Chattanooga National Military Park. She wears a short-sleeved teal floral-print kimono cardigan over a white t-shirt, the sky, and treetops visible in the background. Her cane is decorated with sparkling silver material and a blue satin bow tied beneath the handle.
  4. Wedding: Liz walks down the aisle at her friend’s outdoor wedding wearing a lavender V-neck ankle-length dress with lace accents, her brown hair styled in an up-doo with curls. Her long cane is decorated with the same lavender material as the dress.
  5. Helen Keller: Liz recreates the iconic well pump pose at the Helen Keller Birthplace & Home in Tuscumbia, Alabama. She stands smiling at the camera with one hand under the pump’s spout and the other pulling the lever. Liz wears a black sweater dress trimmed with blue and white stripes around the hem, black tights, and a long matching black and blue necklace.