At various points in my sight loss journey, I volleyed between acceptance and denial which are totally human and natural responses to trauma. Today’s post while written for GAAD (Global Accessibility Awareness Day), deeply touched me and is one of the reasons I created Bold Blind Beauty. When we talk about awareness a huge part of it is simply seeing us and respecting us as part of humanity. Awareness for anyone with a disability is not a trend, it’s our lives. The tools we use to live our lives represent strength, resilience, and independence.
The young woman you are about to meet today, Mady Amirah, has used her white cane for several years. What makes her post monumental is that this is the very first photo of her posing with her cane. She is a Boss! ~Steph
Monumental Moment: The Passage To Acceptance
For Global Accessibility Awareness Day, I’m posting my very first white cane picture. For those of you who don’t know, I’m visually impaired and was born with a genetic condition called retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Without this white cane, I would be royally screwed after sunset, in any dimly lit area, or in novel environments. Although I don’t like to admit it, I am an independent woman because of devices such as this. I definitely hope this opens up a door for more accessibility posts in the future.
Global Accessibility Awareness Day always gets me reflecting on how I am able to be the boss I am. It’s days like these when we are reminded of the importance of raising awareness, and it’s my goal to raise awareness for visual impairment every day of my life. I’m applying for my MA in special education to do just that. I’m starting a blog to use my experiences to inspire others.
P.S. This whole outfit is a Ross & Marshall’s mash up.
Can you remember your monumental (literal or metaphorical) white cane moment?
Header: The Beyond Sight Magazine cover has a gray/white marbled background. The date & edition numbers are in the upper right corner in black ink. Mady’s photo is aligned on the right margin with the background appearing on the top, bottom, and left margin. In this photo, Mady is smiling, sunglasses atop her head, and holding her white cane while sitting on a cement wall. She is wearing a white tank top with blue jean shorts, sandals, and a mauve sweater exposing one shoulder. “Beyond Sight” is in large black text and a teal-colored circle with Mady’s name is in yellow text.
It was 25 years or so and I was a young mom sitting on our front porch. It was a summer morning and I had just learned Orientation and Mobility Training. Yet this morning, my first thought wasn’t the newfound freedom I had felt with the cane. I was experiencing the grief and needed to take a pause and experience all the feels that went with that.
Look up, move forward
Let me introduce myself, my name is Becky Andrews. I am blind as a result of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) diagnosed at age 18. I have been blessed to travel with a guide dog by my side for the past 23 years. As I type this, my third guide dog, Georgie is at my feet. My husband, Steve, and I have been married for 36 years (we are a pretty great team) and we have two adult children. I love living an active life. We love to tandem bike… more on that to come, run with a tether – have run 9 marathons with the tenth to be the NYC Marathon again in November. I also love to hike and travel. I wrote my memoir, Look up, move forward in June 2016. Currently, I am working on completing a workbook: Cultivate Resilience – one of many courses that I teach in my practice.
On a professional level, I am a small business owner – Resilient Solutions, Inc. A licensed clinical mental health counselor myself, the practice is an individual, marriage, and family therapy, business which employs 18. Five years ago, we established a small nonprofit Oasis Center for Hope with its mission to educate, support, and empower individuals, families, and communities experiencing a loss. As a part of this nonprofit, four years ago I fulfilled a dream to establish retreats for women who are blind and low vision — The Daring to Own Your Story™ Retreats. Our 8th Retreat is scheduled to be held this July. These retreats are a combination of adventure, connection, empowerment, and truly owning and celebrating our stories.
When Saying ‘Yes’ To Life Is Suspended
At the time of the pandemic, Steve, and I were into a bucket list goal – cycling across the country on our tandem bike. It began on March 7, we put our back tire in the Pacific Ocean in San Diego and were scheduled to put the front tire in the Atlantic Ocean 52 days later April 27 – the day before Steve’s birthday. We put our careers on hold as much as possible for this endeavor. This time of cycling through the country was anticipated to not only be an amazing physical feat yet also further clarity on where else to put the energy of YESSS in my life.
As we began this journey our tour began to give us updates on what was happening in our world and we continued to take the necessary precautions also very aware as schools, stores, campsites, and hotels were closing around us. On March 17 which was a day of a lot of climbing, almost to the continental divide and 571 miles into the ride, we arrived in Tombstone, Arizona. It was on this evening we learned that our bucket list item was to be suspended. Although we understood, we were so disappointed. The hotel shut its doors after we checked out.
I’ve now had a month to reflect on this disappointment since being home while quickly needing to bring our office up to speed on Telehealth Therapy. Because I wasn’t scheduled to see clients until May 4 with our bike ride, I’ve also had some time to study, learn, ponder, reflect, and offer courses to individuals throughout the country on Cultivating our Resilience.
Getting Through The Pain
This is such a unique time for us all. It is a time of uncertainty, collective grief, ambiguous losses, and anticipatory grief. I am feeling such compassion for those who are suffering at this time and experiencing such grief. As of writing this post, our family is healthy and all employed of which I am so very grateful. I also recognize that this could change. So many are hurting. As I search to find ways to make a difference, I think of the message: Do what you can with what you have where you are.
It is also a powerful time to take a pause and reflect on what is important to us, what we are grateful for and what we want to bring back into our lives after we return to our sense of new normal. I have found myself taking many pauses and reflecting deeply on these questions.
Up to this point, there has been much drive, hard work, perseverance in achieving my dreams as a blind woman. I know firsthand discrimination, access denial, and the extra effort it takes to reach those goals. There have been times where a ride to the office on Lyft may entail access denial with my guide dog leading to a phone call to the corporate office and extra advocacy to follow up before summoning another ride and getting to the office or a follow up later. I also believe my journey that has occurred through RP has been one of growth, learning, resilience and so much joy. It has given me a depth and compassion that I wouldn’t trade. This quote resonates with me and I’m grateful for the beauty that has been added by this journey.
The Power Of Choice
My journey in the past several years has been about movement, growth, reaching for that next goal, some pretty remarkable awards, professional expansions, and many adventures. So very grateful.
However, in the past month since returning home from this bike ride with this significant pause in our lives, my thoughts have turned to another significant day.
It was 25 years or so and I was a young mom sitting on our front porch. It was a summer morning and I had just learned Orientation and Mobility Training. Yet this morning, my first thought wasn’t the newfound freedom I had felt with the cane. I was experiencing the grief and needed to take a pause and experience all the feels that went with that. After some time on the porch doing some reflection and shedding a few tears and reassuring my husband, I would be okay, he could leave for work.
I took that next step that Victor Frankl describes as: “The last of all human freedoms the power to choose one’s own way given any set of circumstances.” I chose to once again feel empowered, to see RP as an opportunity to grow and have new adventures. I got up from the front porch morning of grief and went inside. I told my kids we were going on an adventure on the bus to meet dad for lunch.
Feeling The Feelings
During this past month, as I have returned home and resumed meeting with clients a common theme has emerged: grief and loss yet also gratitude and gains. We are experiencing grief in various ways. My words have been consistent with clients. Give yourself permission to feel. Honor the feelings you are experiencing and give them the space they need to process with self-compassion. Only then can you take that next step to action. As much as we want to we can’t bypass this step in our journey to Look up, move forward.
In this time of pause of feeling, there is much duality of emotions — both loss and such deep gratitude. Both clarity of what matters and missing events that kept me busy. Both simplicity and comfy sweats and missing dressing up and hustling into work. Both intense compassion for those around us and uncertainty for our own situations.
I’m having some clarity of what is next for me as I Look up and move forward. I have loved having the opportunity to speak to large and small groups, that will look different in the months to come. I just accepted my first Conference Presentation by Zoom. I have loved teaching my Cultivate Resilience Courses to people throughout the country by Zoom. Again, a unique, new experience. I dream of doing a podcast and simply asking the question tell me your story. Let’s dare to own it and share it with others. We can learn so much from others. I look forward to continuing to manage our business, expand and plan more retreats as soon as we are once again able to travel, and continue to meet with clients individually. The journey with a client as they navigate life’s losses, traumas, and find their resilience is inspiring.
All in all, my next step, I hope, is to reach back and help someone along their journey. So many have been there for me along my journey. When I was denied a position that was promised to me over the phone when he realized I was blind, a mentor picked me up and helped me navigate the private practice field. When I was denied access to a grocery store because of my guide dog, a mentor helped me navigate and taught me to advocate for myself. Others reminded me I could do it and helped me instill that in myself.
In life, we simply keep looking up and moving forward a step at a time; perhaps a pedal at a time. Sometimes bucket lists are suspended and other insights, lessons learned, come in the pause.
What has happened in my life since that first cover on Bold Blind Beauty Magazine where I was climbing to the top of a challenge course? Oh, so much growth, learning, expansion both externally and internally. So grateful for the power of the stretch and for the opportunities to continue to Look up and move forward.
Header Image: Scrabble tiles spelling out the word ‘resiliency.’
Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune L-R: Suzette Hirst, Becky Andrews, and Brenda Petersen. Hirst and Peterson ran as Becky’s guide in the Boston Marathon, and take turns guiding her, nearly everyday, as they run in their Bountiful neighborhood. Friday, July 23, 2015.
The Journey Begins: Becky and Steve in matching tops are standing with their tandem with back tire in the Pacific Ocean before a climb to Alpine, CA. Day one 42 miles.
Climb to Tombstone, AZ: Steve and Becky are on their tandem in their biking gear. A mountain range can be seen in the background.
Becky is sitting on outdoor steps next to her guide dog, Georgie, a gorgeous yellow lab.
As we continue practicing physical distancing, I hope you and your loved ones are well. I couldn’t quite sum up how I’ve beenfeeling lately until I saw the word “melancholy” earlier today. What’s been helping me deal with the pandemic, is being present and truly appreciating each moment as it happens. My life has been so much more than I ever anticipated and I embrace it all; the ups, downs, mistakes, heartbreaks, everything. Who knows how different my life would be had I not endured my experiences? I’ll never know the answer to this question and it’s alright because today I choose to be better than I was yesterday.
Even during a pandemic life presses onward and we can always learn new lessons to enrich our lives. In today’s post, you’ll hear from Catherine Harrison about accepting help no matter how far we’ve come. I’m also happy to announce that Catherine will be an ongoing contributor to Bold Blind Beauty. ~Steph
Stopping Traffic…With My Pride
I’ll bet many women have imagined looking so fabulous in an outfit that heads turn and traffic stops just to watch them walk past. So, I guess it counts that in downtown Austin, Texas I brought traffic to a dead standstill at the intersection of 6th Street and North Lamar. Unfortunately, it was not because I was wearing a fabulous Oscar de La Renta dress or looked particularly on point…it was because of my white cane and my location.
With the progressive loss of my eyesight, due to RP (Retinitis Pigmentosa), I attended a school for blind adults in Austin, Tx to get the skills I needed to navigate life visually impaired. One of the daily classes I attended was mobility training. Blindfolded for 8 hours a day I learned to travel about totally independent using only my wits, a cell phone, my four other senses, and my white cane.
Near the end of my 4 months of training, I was sent downtown on an errand. Feeling very confident in my skillset I navigated public transportation like it was my job, maintained my sense of direction like a Navy SEAL, and even stood in line at the bank to complete the task. On my return, I had to cross the intersection of 6th street and North Lamar.
I listened for the flow of traffic then set off walking confidently behind my cane to what I thought was the opposite corner. After walking a bit, I stopped and waited, listening for the traffic pattern to confirm I had reached the other side.
Nothing…all around me I heard nothing. No roar of cars speeding past me, only the sound of idling engines. Several minutes passed and I heard a car door close, then a woman touched my arm and asked me if I needed help. “No, I said…I am doing great thanks”. Well clearly, I was not doing great but I was the last one to figure that out. The cars were not moving because I was standing smack dab in the middle of this busy intersection. No one was honking or yelling at me…they were just waiting as if holding their breath and cheering me on.
Yes, I did eventually make my way out of the intersection and I could almost hear the collective clapping from those who wanted me to succeed. I learned a big lesson that day, not to let my pride get in the way of accepting help from others. I also discovered that when I let others see me fail it encourages them to know that if I can rise strong and navigate the hard times then so can they!
The header image of the Beyond Sight Magazine cover has a gray/white marbled background. The date & edition number are in the upper right corner in black ink. Catherine’s photo is aligned on the right margin with the background appearing on the top, bottom and left margin. With short blonde hair, Catherine is on the cover wearing a white shirt. She’s sitting with her arm on a sofa and her eyes are downcast.“Beyond Sight” is in large black text and a teal-colored circle on the lower left corner of the photo has yellow text that says “Catherine Harrison.”
In this image of Catherine relaxed in a chair we can see her full outfit; white shirt with blue jeans and gold jewelry.
For people with RP, there is a significant chance that they will eventually lose most of their vision. Vision is worse at night, often resulting in night blindness before losing their peripheral fields.
As we sat facing one another in the principal’s conference room, I asked him what he envisioned for his future. His once jolly smile turned into a saddened face. He looked down and suddenly began avoiding eye contact.
“I don’t know, I think I will always be with somebody”, he said. Describing what he thought his night-time travel needs might look like in 10 years.
“Even as an adult?”, I probed.
Here I was, a stranger without a visual impairment, trying desperately to casually bring up the forbidden “C” word; CANE.
There have been many of these instances in my career. I’m a person who doesn’t have a visual impairment, and yet I am pushing boundaries. Their boundaries. The boundaries of what they think they can do; the boundaries of what their family members think they can do. Sometimes I even push the boundaries of the perceptions of what their community members think they can do.
It’s my job to push the boundaries of my students’ independence level and get them out of their comfort zone. That does not come without its own fair share of push-back.
Stradling the Fence of Independence & Pushing Boundaries
Supporting the independence of people with visual impairments when you are not blind yourself is a delicate balance. A balance between knowing when to push those boundaries, and knowing when to sit quietly. When we are new to our students we are still outsiders who have not yet earned their trust.
President Roosevelt once said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care”.
When we aren’t blind ourselves, we must remember a few things when supporting the independence of people with visual impairments:
We must remember everybody goes through cycles where they’re dealing with the stages of grief. Even those who have been blind since birth.
We also must remember the student and their loved ones may be on different parts of this cycle at any given time.
We must remember that building relationships and trust can take a long time.
When we only see a student once a month, this can take a lot of persistence to overcome. We are outsiders coming into their inner circle. Sometimes the pushback we receive is simply because we haven’t yet proven our worthiness.
Most of all, we must remember while we’re both cheerleaders and coaches to our students’ independence, we’re NOT the quarterbacks. We cannot do the work for them.
We can teach them the skills. We can coach them to make that big play. We can cheer them on from the sidelines. We can even get their water-filled after the game.
BUT, we cannot make the moves for them. Ultimately, this is THEIR independence; not ours.
Reminders For Students & Clients
To our students and clients reading this, there are things for you to remember, too:
Remember that we care.
Each and every O&M Specialist in this field care about each and every one of you. We may be pushy. We may be bold in our attempts. And we may step on your toes.
But overall, it is out of a deep sense of caring for you and your independence.
For most of us, the privilege of sight is actually a burden in our careers. We know that even though we have no pity for anyone, our sympathy is not empathy. We don’t actually know what it is like to live with a visual impairment every single moment of the day.
It is our joy to help support the independence of people with visual impairments. And it’s our passion to see every person with a visual impairment live their most independent, successful, and fulfilled lives.
I hope this gives some insight into how we try to support the independence of people with visual impairments. Leave a comment and share your story.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject!
Featured Image: The B3 Magazine cover has a gray/white marbled background. The date & edition number are in the upper right corner in black ink. Kassy’s photo is aligned on the right margin with the background appearing on the top, bottom and left margin. In the photo, Kassy is smiling while sitting in a chair with her left arm casually propped against the chair’s back. She is wearing a black cami with a rose-colored skirt and gold medallion around her neck. “B3” is in large teal text and a teal-colored circle with Kassy’s name is in white text. There is a 4-line of black text on the image that reads “creating an inclusive society that values all of our abilities”
Kassy during an O&M session is walking behind her student who is learning to navigate with the white cane. Both brunettes with shoulder-length hair are casually dressed in jeans and flats. Kassy is wearing a black tank top and her student is wearing a green top. Some green foliage and city buildings can be seen in the background. It looks like they just came down a set of cement stairs.