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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.
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Mac’s Story A New Perspective On Life

Mac's Story A New Perspective on Life

I began following Mac’s story on Instagram when I came across a video of him using his first cane. Watching Mac use his AMD (alternative mobility device) was so cool as I’d never seen one before. My heart was nearly bursting as I witnessed this little guy claim his independence. So I asked Nicole (his mom) if she’d share his story with us and she said yes!

Mac’s Story A New Perspective On Life

#1 Mac's Family photo description is in the body of the post.
#1 Mac’s Family

When my son was 5 weeks old we found out he was blind. At that point, I was overwhelmed with emotion; angry, lost, and in denial. I had no idea of what this meant for our sweet son, Mac, or our family.

There are so many emotions I felt no one could have prepared me for:

  • I felt heartache when I saw other babies looking into their mama’s eyes;
  • feeling of failure as a parent when Mac couldn’t hold his head up or crawl;
  • comments of pity from others when learning about Mac’s diagnosis and blindness.

I was now a special needs mom. This meant I had to learn how to avoid letting these heartaches and struggles lead me down the wrong path. I needed to do something to prepare myself to handle this emotional rollercoaster and new life that we had begun.

Very quickly, we connected with our local early intervention program for the visually impaired. Before we knew it, Mac had a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) and occupational therapist (OT). These professionals taught us how to aid Mac in his development.

The more we connected with others, I quickly learned of the huge financial deficit for the visually impaired child. I felt compelled to do something to remedy this situation and bring it to light. So I began posting stories about Mac, and what we are learning about how to supplement a visually impaired child’s development. This was an important piece because 85% of all development is incidentally done through vision. Teaching Mac how to meet his developmental milestones without being able to see wasn’t intuitive to us. We are so thankful his TVI and OT are there to guide us.

The Healing Power of Sharing

I never could have imagined how therapeutic it would be to share Mac’s story. The outpouring of support from friends and strangers was so heartwarming. People began to ask for more updates and have specific requests for the next post. They wanted to learn how Mac navigates a new environment or if he seems to have refined his other senses. It was so nice to go from feeling alone and helpless, to feeling supported. Educating others about visual impairments and building inclusiveness was an added benefit. Amazingly, talking about the issue seemed to remove the avoidance and pity from others.

#3 Mac on a swing photo description is in the body of the post
#3 Mac on a swing

As Mac continues to grow, he is learning so much. I had no idea how much intervention is required for our son who is blind. In addition to his TVI and OT, he has an orientation and mobility specialist (O&M) and soon a speech-language pathologist. It’s amazing how much we incidentally learn through vision; even speaking is something that is primarily learned through watching others. We are so thankful for Mac’s team of specialists. This team has helped us learn to embrace this new life and prepare our son to achieve great things.

We have gained the same passion that so many others who are visually impaired have, to change the stigma, fight for the cause, and make a difference. We find ourselves advocating for early intervention and inclusiveness.

Paying It Forward

#4 Mac & him mom photo description is in the body of the post.
#4 Mac & him mom

While we cannot cure Mac’s blindness or give him sight, we can teach the world more about blindness. In addition, we can help make the world more accessible for all people. We’ve started an annual fundraiser, a gala that benefits the local early intervention program that has been so good for our souls. We feel like we are making a difference in the lives of other children with visual impairments by removing some of the financial barriers to accessing the care they need.

Mac has taught us so much in his less than 2 years of life. There is so much more to life than what you can see. You are not defined by your disabilities; they are a characteristic of the amazing person that you are. The uniqueness each of us possesses is what makes this world wonderful. If we learn from one another, our perspective will continuously flourish. While there are numerous challenges, I am so thankful for Mac’s blindness and our new perspective on life.

Mac’s Story A New Perspective On Life Featured Image Description:

Closeup of Mac shows the light blonde haired cutie smiling while he holds onto his blue and white AMD. He is sporting a chunky gray cardigan over a flannel shirt with blue jeans.

Additional Images:

  1. Mac’s family; mom, dad, Mac and his two sisters are standing outdoors in a grassy field posing for the camera. Mom and dad are holding one another and Mac’s sisters are standing in front while mom holds Mac in her left arm. In the background, golden orange autumn foliage can be seen.
  2. Is a tri-panel collage: The first image is in the same grassy field as photo 1. In this image, Nicole is holding Mac in her left arm while her two daughters are each holding one of her legs. Mac is using his AMD on the sidewalk it almost looks like he’s running. In the third photo, Mac’s oldest sister is holding his arms in the air while he walks in the grassy field.
  3. On a clear, sunny autumn afternoon bundled in a blue winter jacket, Mac looks like he’s having a blast on a toddler swing.
  4. A stunning black and white photo of Nicole holding Mac on her lap while he is smiling broadly.

Following Mac’s Story:

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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

Image description is in the body of the post.
#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.

Image description is in the body of the post.
#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: