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Maribel Steel | Blind Beauty Issue #10

“As every artist knows and experiences, with persistence comes the magic of completion and the joy of accomplishment. Losing my sight gradually over thirty-five years has given me time to develop a clearer vision of who I am, so I also design presentations as a creative way to share my insights on the journey towards blindness.”

Description: Featured image is a mock magazine cover titled Blind Beauty. Closeup of Maribel on the cover smiling for the camera, in black crew neck top and multi-colored beaded necklace, her long hair cascading over her shoulders while she stands in front of a blue painting.

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

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The Year in Review #1

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Porcelain statues of Mary, Joseph, Jesus in the manger, 3 wise men with two lit candles in the backgroundHappy Friday! I hope everyone has just about completed their Christmas lists and are faring well during these last two frenzied weeks leading up to the holiday. Personally, with the exception of items purchased online I typically wait until a day or two before Christmas before venturing out into the madness. It’s not so much the procrastination thing that propels me as opposed to my distaste for mob scenes (which is one reason online shopping is tailor-made for someone like me).

Lately I’ve been experiencing some non-holiday related stress mainly due to my laptop. Last year I had similar issues where it would just shut down and of course it was always during the most inopportune times. After troubleshooting several things a laptop cooling fan was the solution. I suppose that adding an additional year to the life <sniff> of my ‘puter is something to be celebrated but why, oh why does it hurt so bad?

Unfortunately one of my most critical tasks revolves around finding a replacement laptop. I hate computer shopping almost as much as I hated car shopping (thank goodness looking for vehicles was removed from my list five years ago). See, there are a few positives to vision loss) but I’m getting off topic. Let’s just hope my machine will cooperate with me to get this post published before Christmas.

A few weeks ago I reflected on this past year of blogging and in particular the women featured during Fierce Fridays. So I’ve been sporadically contacting these amazing women so that I could publish several year-in-review articles on what’s happened in their lives since I last wrote about them.

Today it gives me pleasure to present Amy Bovaird, Kerry Kijewski and Maribel Steel.

Amy Bovaird

AmyBovaird on the cover of her book walking down stairs with her white cane
Amy Bovaird

Amy Bovaird’s book Mobility Matters: Stepping Out in Faith was published in October of this year and I’m so happy to let you know that the large print version is available now, just in time for Christmas. At the time of this post Amy is also in the process of making an audio version of the book that I cannot wait to snap up.

The newest book Amy is working on, A Sight for Sore Eyes: The Lighter Side to Facing Vision Loss, will allow us to glimpse into the humorous side of her everyday life as seen through her vision-impaired sight. If this book has stories on the level of what she shared in Mobility Matters it is bound to be a hoot.

To buy a paperback copy of Mobility Matters: Stepping Out in Faith on Amazon click HERE. The Kindle version of the book is free for Amazon subscribers and costs $3.99 for non-subscribers. For more information on Amy you can visit her site at amybovaird.com and follow her on Facebook at Amy Bovaird’s FB Page.

Kerry Kijewski

Kerry Kijewski
Kerry Kijewski

Before I wrote about Kerry Kijewski we had talked via Skype for over 1 and a half hours. Since she is such an intelligent, articulate, sharp young woman our conversation flowed so effortlessly that time just got away from us. In addition to her blog (Her Headache) Kerry also recently started a travel website called The Insightful Wanderer whose major goal is to paint pictures with words.

Kerry has been the subject of several articles where others have written about her. In one of my favorites, from the blog Change It Up Editing, titled Reading Challenges of a Visually Impaired Writer in the Digital World she talks very candidly about obstacles she encounters day-to-day in our technological environment.

A genuine love for words, Kerry enjoys reading and writing. In her latest post on her blog, Human Rights Day 2014: Fragility, her frustration with the state of our world is tangible.

Maribel Steel

Maribel Steel
Maribel Steel

When you visit the website Gateway to Blindness you will be met with a cornucopia of delightful stories, images and bursts of color your senses will come alive. Maribel Steel a talented writer, artist, speaker and one of the most positive people I’ve had the pleasure to meet has such a way of ever so eloquently stringing together words you will see the brighter side of life.

In 8 Threads to Weave into the Garment of Change for example, in this post Maribel takes the sometimes uncomfortable subject of vision loss and disability, she interjects a little humor and positivity to remind us that we do have a choice in how we respond to life’s situations. In this article we are given concrete steps to follow to make it through to the other side of adversity.

The topic of 8 Threads to Weave into the Garment of Change was so popular on Maribel’s blog earlier this year that since that time, she has expanded on the core message and now has over a dozen beautiful images to go with a 45 minute live presentation. As she will be promoting the presentation for 2015 her first live event was a week ago to a group of 175 sixteen year old girls at her old secondary college.

Once again I want to thank Amy, Kerry and Maribel for their positive impact within our local and global communities as well. You are making a difference!!

“I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.” ~George Bernard Shaw

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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

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Featuring Maribel Steel

8 Threads to Weave into the Garment of Change

01-Eight-Threads

Reposted with permission from the author, Maribel Steel, today’s featured Bold Blind and Beautiful woman.

When I began to lose my eyesight, it was natural to fear losing so many other aspects of my life that I treasured. Becoming an artist and failing to see colour was one of them. But the hardest hurdle to overcome was knowing how to weave positive threads into the garment with the label of disabled.

Did you know that the dictionary defines disabled as: to make unable, weaken, destroy the capability of, to cripple, to have a lack of competent power or strength in either physical or mental abilities, to be disqualified and to make legally incapable: to be deprived of  the right to engage and, lucky last, to be rendered unfit.

Hmm, a pretty disturbing label to be given to anyone. No wonder, as an adolescent, it didn’t appeal as an image I wanted to acquire: but it seemed that Miss Puberty had other plans…

No one had warned me about the sneaky tactics of Miss Puberty, the way she could change the life of a perfectly normal teenager when she brought an exclusive offer to our household. There she stood on the doorstep, bearing the garment of change, insisting I wear the new label of disabled.

“Sign on the dotted line,” she said, holding out an invisible pen. Miss Puberty worked with such authority, there was no option but to agree to the hidden terms and conditions of a membership I didn’t want but had to accept.

“Welcome and congratulations,” she said. “As you now have Retinitis Pigmentosa, whether you like it or not, you can spend the rest of your life freely indulging in any of the labels we proudly stock in our Blind-Bat Boutique. Please take your time to browse and choose carefully from our huge range of richly textured stigmas.”

I didn’t want a new image, or one of their ugly designer garments exclusive to Mademoiselle Black: Itza Shame: X-clude: Inferior Design: Kybosh: De Prive De Paris. I wanted to yell at Miss Puberty, “Take your unfashionable garment elsewhere and drape your labels over someone else’s life. I think you have the wrong house.” She thrust the package into my hands. “Too late. Like it or not, it’s your designer image now, you have to wear it.”

Fashion the garment

02-Choose-red-clothOver many years of trying to cut the cloth to suit my image, with the label of disabled firmly secured to the fabric of my life, it has taken 8 qualities to thread the garment I can now wear with pride. If you find yourself having to wear a particular label you consider quite unfashionable, let me introduce you to 8 colourful qualities essential to transform your dreary cloak of despair with chic threads of elegance.

1. Attitude is the key to accepting change in your life.

Cultivate a positive attitude and be aware of the choices you are making. Often it is fear and self-pride holding back your progress. When you take control of your attitude in a positive way, you begin to infuse your life with possibility.

Thread the colour RED into your new garment: it is the shade of glowing embers that will keep your fire alight.

2. Gather your support team

Don’t be afraid to gather around you a support team of loved ones, friends and colleagues and let them know how best they can assist you. In all truth, they really want to know how to co-operate in creating a balance in letting you take charge of your own life. Asking for help when you could honestly benefit from their genuine support is not a sign of personal weakness but can boost the morale of the entire team. With balance and flexibility, you reach your goals with team work.

Thread the colour ORANGE into your new garment: it is the shade of joyful co-operation.

04-Pink-Chaos3. Courage to commit and courage to be creative

Once you have accepted a different way of doing things, and have a circle of supportive friends who understand your unique needs, you can begin to commit to certain tasks you want to achieve. You can set creative patterns into the fabric of your life. You have renewed confidence, you muster a sense of inner strength that enables you to find creative solutions to the task at hand. With courage, you dare to persist when things go wrong. With a bold heart,  you insist on finding solutions.

Thread the colour YELLOW into your new garment: it is the shade of radiant sunlight, teaming with confidence, hope and good cheer.

4. Tenacity, persistence and effort

With any outcome you want to achieve, it requires a certain amount of focused effort. You may want to train to learn new skills, or adapt to a new way of doing familiar tasks. Effort, persistence, and tenacity can work together in shaping your reality by not giving up.

Thread the colour GREEN into your new garment: be as tenacious as Mother Nature in her attention to detail, in her cycles of consistent renewal.

03-Blue-lace5. Independence and freedom

Having woven the thread of acceptance, co-operation, commitment. courage and tenacity of spirit into the fabric of your life, you also can take brave steps toward reclaiming your independence. Again, this will require training, gathering of new skills but  you can make choices that best suit your lifestyle. You may want to have a guide dog as your seeing eyes or prefer to use a white cane in getting around. Maybe it is time to gain skills in new technologies that can enhance your independence – it is totally your choice. This is an empowering place to be. It is a time to express your talents, and appreciate just how far you have come. Enjoy the sense of freedom as you stride out to conquer those daily challenges.

Oh, and if by chance you find yourself falling into an embarrassing moment, as you will surely do, take along your sense of humour – it will get you out of any sticky situation!

Thread the colour BLUE into your new garment: it is the colour of sky that will keep you boldly stepping onward over the horizon to meet your victories.

6. Organise the chaos

In order to live confidently in a visual world when you are not equipped with sight, you will need a high level of organisation. Not only do you need to be more mindful of just about everything you do and where you last put things, your support team needs a friendly pep-talk to understand how important it is for you to move through their sighted world. It is full of unpredictable obstacles. Much mental effort is required in remembering every inch of your dwelling place – bringing order into the world of chaos is a matter of your survival and happiness.

Thread the colour PURPLE into your new garment: it is the shade where two textures (of red and blue) combine to form one predictable strand.

05-Sensory-Colour7. Trusting your intuition

Intuition is your inner voice, a direct perception of truth independent of any reasoning. Most people find trusting intuition extremely difficult, especially when eyes and brain dominate our sense of reason. As a person with very little sight however, I have learned to reflect and listen to the wise internal voice. It requires patience, stillness and letting go of reason and rationality. Sometimes it is a call to rest and place our own judgements to one side.

Thread the colour WHITE into your new garment: clarity of thought will become clear as you trust the pure guidance of your inner vision.

8. It’s a multi-sensory garment

You can touch your new garment of change, smell it, feel it, it has been skilfully woven by your life’s experiences thus far. It is your own designer garment fashioned from the threads of experience and skilled craftsmanship. Many threads are sewn into the fabric of your being, acceptance, co-operation, courage, tenacity, freedom, humour, patience, intuition,and trust.

© 2014 Maribel Steel

Maribel Steel is an author, writer, mentor and inspirational speaker living in Melbourne.

She has been legally blind with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) since her teens. She mainly writes nonfiction, expanding on her philosophy that there is an ART in being blind. She has self-published a book of short stories, My Mother’s Harvest, and has over thirty guest posts featured on blogs around the world. She is a peer advisor for VisionAware for The American Foundation for the Blind. For more information, you can visit her author website at:

www.maribelsteel.com