My vision changes every hour, sometimes I can read a street sign, recognize a friend, or read a newspaper headline. Some days I can’t see an inch past my nose.~Dr. Amy Kavanagh
Women On The Move 59
Visual Impairment Leads To Advocacy Campaign
It’s taken 27 years for me to accept my visual impairment. I was born with nystagmus, limited depth perception, and almost no peripheral vision. Alongside light sensitivity and myopia, it’s a mixed bag of sight issues that my doctors continue to puzzle out. My vision changes every hour, sometimes I can read a street sign, recognize a friend or read a newspaper headline. Some days I can’t see an inch past my nose.
In a typically British approach, my parents didn’t want to make a fuss about my disability. They encouraged me to be as normal as possible and it was the best solution when no other help was offered. To this day, my mum says how much she wishes the internet had been around when I was growing up. Although I knew I was different, I didn’t really feel the impact of my visual impairment until I went to university.
I’ve always loved history and I pursued my passion all the way to a
Actively Seeking Help Opens The Floodgates
It was only through starting a new career at a disability charity that I realised how much help I denied myself. So I started to reach out for some support. First I turned to my twitter community, I had used the social media platform for a few years, mostly for academic networking, but I soon discovered an entire online family of visually impaired people. These new friends had so much advice and guidance. They had been there; they had struggled, they had denied the difficulties, and also finally they had asked for help. It was so refreshing and such a revelation to hear so many similar stories and read about so many people living confident lives after sight loss.
I was encouraged to contact Guide Dogs UK, but I was skeptical. Part of my problem was that I just didn’t identify as “blind.” Even though I was born with a visual impairment, I didn’t think of myself as disabled. Everyone always went on about sight loss, but I’d never had it in the first place! It was my normal, but I was fast realizing I didn’t just have to put on my stiff upper lip and accept it.
Contacting Guide Dogs UK changed my life. The support, skills, and encouragement they have given me,
Advocacy Born Through Acceptance
I’ve even started a campaign to encourage the public to offer help to disabled people. My #JustAskDontGrab message uses my experiences of positive help, and unwanted grabbing, pushing or pulling, to educate people about how to offer assistance politely and respectfully. Over the last few months it’s gone viral, and I’ve been on the radio, tv and in newspapers! It’s been a whirlwind, but such an empowering experience. Also, I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of visually impaired people who’ve contacted me to say they’ve experienced the same journey. They’ve told me, my story of accepting my visual impairment and the cane has encouraged them to do the same.
I will keep sharing my story because it’s the message I needed growing up. I want young people struggling with their disability to know that they don’t just have to cope. They don’t have to manage alone, there is help out there, and that asking for support is the first step to being themselves, rather than hiding who they really are.
Since embracing my visual impairment as part of my identity I’ve been a happier and more confident person. Using a long white cane has given me freedom and I can travel independently and safely. Most of all, I finally feel like the real me. Of course, there are still difficult days, but I’ve stopped denying my real self and now I openly love my disability.
Visual Impairment Featured Image:
Profile photo of Amy walking through a park. She is using her long cane and wearing a summer dress.
- Head and shoulder shot. Amy is sat in front of a wall with the BBC logo on. She is wearing big headphones over her bright pink hair. She is smiling and looking at the camera.
- Amy is standing at a London underground station, with the classic red, blue and white sign behind her. It’s a sunny day, Amy is wearing sunglasses and holding her long cane across her body. She has a light turquoise 50s style print dress on.
- A selfie, it’s a sunny day, trees and blue sky in the background. Amy is smiling looking at the camera in large round sunglasses. Her hair is blond with bright pink hair fading from the top. She is wearing a black t-shirt and badge, the badge shows a pair of sunglasses and reads, medical necessity not fashion accessory.