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Embracing Language Through Touch | Sam Latif

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WOMEN ON THE MOVE

Editor’s Note:

Bold Blind Beauty is thrilled to present Sam Latif, Accessibility Leader at Procter & Gamble as our September Woman On The Move. If Sam’s name sounds familiar to you it’s probably because she was responsible for bringing to life the tactile features on the bottles of Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner. Below the audio interview is the transcript of Sam’s interview with Bold Blind Beauty’s Nasreen Bhutta. Enjoy!

I want a new language of touch. Touch is a sense, just like sight is a sense, so why can’t we introduce a language for everything that we do so that blind people don’t need to put braille labels on. We don’t need to put sticky tape or bump dots or things to help us identify
one product from another.

Sam Latif

Nasreen Bhutta:

Welcome to Bold Blind Beauty, home of Beyond Sight Magazine, an online community where real beauty transcends barriers. Our Women on the Move segment focused on monthly profiles of inspirational women, their capabilities, achievement, and journeys, as they navigate through the course of sight loss and blindness. I’m your host Nasreen. For our September 2020 segment of Women on the Move, our featured guest is the lovely Sam Latif. She’s an accessibility leader and a consultant for inclusive design and a parent of three, passionate, positive, and a change maker, always championing inclusion. Let’s all give a warm welcome to Sam. Hi, Sam. Good afternoon.

Sam Latif:

Hey. Good afternoon Nasreen. Hello to everybody listening.

Nasreen Bhutta:

You have quite an incredible journey. So you were diagnosed with RP [retinitis pigmentosa] while still in high school. Can you tell us a little bit about that journey and the support systems that you had at that time?

Sam Latif:

Yeah, sure. So I was diagnosed at the age of four and I couldn’t read very well ever. I didn’t really realize at the time that I couldn’t see, I was just a very slow reader I thought. But when it came to high school and when I was about 16 years old, I just suddenly lost the ability to read overnight. I lost the ability to read completely and write. I almost lost my ability to learn, because schoolwork was no longer accessible. And the advice at the time was to stop my education both at school, and then later at university. And when I was at school, the head teacher decided that maybe I needed a couple of years out to come to terms with my new normal, blindness, but I didn’t really want to do that. I wanted to do what other kids were doing. I didn’t want to be any different. So I tried to come up with ideas for myself to make life a little easier.

One of the ideas I came up with was to record information onto the old fashioned cassette tape. You probably, I don’t know if you’re of that generation, but it’s to record the information on tape and I didn’t know any better. I would try and listen to chapters here and there and I would fall asleep because I couldn’t find, if I had to go to page 56, I couldn’t find that on the tape. I used to rewind, fast forward, rewind and then fall asleep. But anyway, that’s how I managed school. And then when I went to university. At first, the university said that they didn’t take on blind people. They didn’t want to fail me. It wasn’t something that they knew how to handle. I got declined from university, but then I wrote to them and said, “Hey guys, you’ve not done this before, I’ve not done this before, but how about we learn together and if I mess up, it’s okay. You’ve got nothing to lose and if I succeed, then we might be opening the doors to other people with disabilities.” So they agreed.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Well today, you are part of a huge company. To get there as you’re losing your sight and the changes of lifestyle and the new norm as you mentioned, that must have been overwhelming and very difficult.

Sam Latif:

I think I figured out some hacks. Well, you can call them hacks now, back then I didn’t know. But one of the things I started doing was just to cut the crap and give me the data, give me the information, the decision. You don’t need to read lengthy books and you don’t need to read every single chapter and you don’t even need to read the book. You can ask 10 people if they’ve read the book and then you kind of summarize what they’ve read and then make your own judgment. And that’s how I used to actually, when I got to university, that’s how I started to do my assignments. I would socialize, talk to people, understand their opinions and then form my own from that.

I started letting go of always being concerned about getting the latest book on tape. Because, if you could think about it by the time you got your book list at university, getting someone to record it on tape would take you two or three months if you wanted the entire book. So I started just paying students to read a chapter here or a couple of chapters there then just to say, that I would socialize and do the best I could. I honestly don’t know how I got through it. It’s not the way people do it, but in real life and the real world, you don’t have time to read every single report. It’s all about communication, talking to people, understanding and using your initiative or common sense to come up to an agreement. So, I’m not the academic type.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So Sam, finding employment for anyone with a disability can be difficult. How did you manage to overcome any struggles that you might have faced in this area?

Sam Latif:

I always wanted to work. I had this thing that I didn’t want to be financially dependent on anybody. And I remember as a student, I started looking for jobs, but I couldn’t do your typical jobs like working a bar or a restaurant. Somehow back in the day, telesales was something new. I found myself in a tele sales job. I thought, well, that’s the only thing I can use, is a phone. So I started selling kitchens, cars, windows, doors, and even wells on the phone. Just imagine-

Nasreen Bhutta:

Wells?

Sam Latif:

Wills, my accent. Yeah. Will, something that you put together in the event that you die. So this was my lane Nasreen, right? I used to say “hello Mr. Smith, have you ever thought about dying? Don’t worry, invest in a will and you’ll live happily ever after.” But to do this job, I needed to be able to read telephone numbers because in those days it wasn’t on the internet. It was on this thing called the yellow pages, a big thick book with everybody’s names and the telephone numbers. So I used to get paid five pounds an hour at my job. And I used to pay someone else five pounds an hour to record as many telephone numbers on tape for me so that I could then do my job. One hour of them recording would last me like three or four hours of work.

And that was my first experience of working. I also, whilst I was at university, I was trying to find a graduate job. And I went to multiple interviews and assessment centers and I used to do well in them. But ultimately, there was so much open discrimination. I mean, imagine being told “Yeah, we really liked you, you passed the test, but we feel uncomfortable because we don’t think a blind person can do the job.” And I would get feedback like that. And it was like, it was so direct. And I didn’t realize that that was actually discrimination and it hurt. But one day, I was at this assessment center. I don’t know where I met this guy. He’s a billionaire and he was Scotland’s largest car retailer. So he sold, he had like a hundred showrooms of new and used cars and I happened to bump into him and I was chatting away.

And then I said, I was here to look for a job. And he said, “Oh, I’ll give you a job. How about coming to work for Arnold Clark?” I was like, “Oh wow, that’s amazing. And so what’s your name?” And he said, “My name is Arnold Clark. I own the company and you can come and work for me any day.” So actually, I had a job before I even graduated from university, just because of this billionaire guy who wants to give me a try. So I started working there. It was really great. I had to design my own job and he didn’t have any nervousness about employing a blind person, because he was a billionaire, he had nothing to lose. And he asked his staff to be kind and helpful to me and they were. So I was working there for a year and a half.

Then my next big break came with Procter & Gamble. There was a parent of a disabled child who was a director at Procter & Gamble and he wanted to recruit people with disabilities into P&G. He then reached out to an agency to ask them to help recruit people with disabilities, into Procter & Gamble and that’s how I initially came to P&G about 20 years ago. One thing that’s been consistent, in my experience, when I’ve either wanted a job or even progress inside the company is, somehow people who discriminate against you are the ones that are unsure, uncomfortable about working with a disabled person and they’re too scared to make a mistake and them looking bad. The people who have given me a break, are people who don’t really care. They’ve made it, they’ve got nothing to lose and they’re happy to take the risk and they’re happy to do something good.

And again, it’s one of those things, it’s a good thing for society, but it’s a good thing for their business as well. Because, I’ve not, never let anyone down so far. So, it’s a win-win. One of the good things is that large companies are beginning to realize the value of people with disabilities, because there are about 1.8 billion people in the world with a disability, and companies like P&G, we do want to reflect the diversity of our consumers, the diversity of the people that use our products. We want to reflect that inside the company. We’re not there yet. Obviously, everyone has a lot more work to do, but we’re recognizing that it’s really helpful to have people on with disabilities. And so, we’ve got dedicated programs now. We really encourage people with disabilities to apply.

We’re partnering with Gallaudet University and one of our deaf colleagues, Scott Van Nice, he’s brought in many deaf interns to P&G and full time hires. We’ve brought in people from the autism spectrum, neurodiverse people into the company. And what we do is we use the experience of real people with disabilities at P&G to bring more of those people inside the company. It’s really refreshing to see that the needle is moving in the right direction. Obviously not fast enough, but that’s to people like if I meet people with disabilities, I’m always encouraging them. Definitely yes, do apply and let me know when you’re applying and sometimes they may be successful and sometimes they may not be, but at least there’s someone that can help them within the company. And there’s so much more we can do, to be honest, but I really see that lots of companies are trying to change.

Nasreen Bhutta:

As someone who is a successful businesswoman, you are P&G’s, accessibly leader, why so passionate about changing the status quo when it comes to making everyday products more inclusive?

Sam Latif:

I think, I mean, for people who don’t know Procter & Gamble, we’re one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world. So we do brands like Pantene, Herbal Essences, Olay, Tide, Pampers, Gillette, and many, many more products that we do. We are in 180 plus countries. Really, we want the maximum number of people to enjoy our products and enjoy our advertising and we want to improve the lives of the world’s consumers, as we say. And that includes consumers with disabilities. That includes blind consumers. I fundamentally believe that every human has the right to access our products and our services. For that to really be true, we need to be accessible for our consumers and customers and that comes through making our products inclusive. That comes through making advertising inclusive as well. We are a company that is committed to being a force for good, doing good in the world, and a force for growth. So we’re growing our business as we’re doing that.

P&G we, I don’t know if your viewers are aware of the tactile work that we’re implementing on our shampoos and conditioners, so the big vision is that every single shampoo and every single conditioner will have tactile markings on them to differentiate between shampoo and conditioner. This is a new language that we’re trying to introduce that people will be able to read that language through touch. It won’t be braille, but it will be something a little easier than braille. And we’ve got four stripes to say, shampoo. S for stripes and S for shampoo. I’ve got eight circles to say conditioner. 

Maybe two years ago, we launched these tactile symbols on our Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner products. The idea is that, you know like on your keyboard, the letter F and the letter G has a tactile on there to help you orientate your hands on the keyboard when you go to an ATM, the five has a dot on that digit, or when you go into a store to pay for stuff, there’s a dot on the number five? Similarly, I wanted language for people to be able to know what’s shampoo, what’s conditioner, and then what’s body wash, just through touch.

The idea is that, yes, we’ve got these on Herbal Essences bottles in North America, but we want these on every shampoo and conditioner bottle. Just like the word shampoo and conditioner is in print for the sighted world, we want tactile stripes for shampoo and tactile circles for conditioner for people who can’t read print for one reason or another.

I think every human being has the right to use our products, to access our products and there are people with different needs in the world. There’s 1.85 billion people with a disability. Some of them have got learning difficulties, some of them have vision, mobility, dexterity challenges and we really need to take that into account as we’re developing our products, as we’re researching on how consumers are using our products. We need to understand some of the barriers that people are experiencing on a daily basis using our products and we need to design better and we need to address their needs. And I believe that by designing to address some of the challenges that people with disabilities experience when it comes to using our products, we can actually create superior products that delight everybody. And I really think that the better it is for people with disabilities, the more delightful it is for the rest of the consumers as well. And it’s a fundamental, basic human right, ultimately. That’s what drives me.

I encourage every shampoo company in the world to copy it, reapply it, so that it becomes a language for touch that will help us with the shampoo and conditioner. And my vision is broader than that. I want everything to have a language so that we have, like I said, sighted world has a hundred percent of that real estate. We have 0%. All I’m asking for the manufacturers in the world is to say, give us a little bit. Gives a 10th of that space and put some tactile marking that’s a common language in the industry for that category, and it will make our lives simpler. We are paying consumers, we have money to spend, we don’t want the daily tension of knowing, oh what’s in this, what’s this again?

Nasreen Bhutta:

So you’re a successful business woman, leader and a role model in our community, what advice do you have for future aspiring women leaders?

Sam Latif:

I think as women or as people working together, it’s really important to make friends with people that you interact with on a daily basis. From school, from the blind community, having a variety of groups of people that you can turn to and talk about your ideas is really, really helpful. So making friends and learning from them is one thing and then perseverance is really important, I believe. I think you can get through by persevering. You can really get what you’re really looking for. I really wanted these tactile stripes. I had no idea… I believed in it so strongly that I kept going even if there was lots of barriers in the way.

But the thing is, sometimes it’s going to be legitimate, real barriers, but many times people put invisible barriers that don’t really exist and that stops you from achieving your dreams. Those invisible barriers that are just in your head, they only exist in your head. So, like I said, meeting other blind people, meeting other people from different walks of life, I’ve just found that having a good set of friends to talk to, to bounce ideas, is the best advice I can give.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Thank you so much. I think that’ll really help a lot of people. Who is your biggest influencer, Sam?

Sam Latif:

I think Apple as a company are my biggest influencer. I love the fact that they make everything out of the box almost fully accessible. Obviously, there’s so much more they can do as well. They really inspire me to make my product successful in my company. Who would have thought a flat screen phone would be completely accessible out of the box. Quirky things that they do, like putting a screen curtain on, so other sighted folk can’t see my stuff, I just think is really cool. And then they’ve used blind people to develop new cool, funky ideas, like unlocking your phone with a thumbprint was inspired by a blind employee at Apple. So yeah, so they’re probably my biggest influence in terms of a company.

Nasreen Bhutta:

On a personal, anybody?

Sam Latif:

I like seeing young influencers out there. I think you guys are doing a great job with Bold Blind Beauty. I was really impressed with this platform. It’s nice and it’s a great name, but it’s also a great topic that you’re covering. I think it’s amazing for us blind women who like to become beautiful. And also, people like Molly Burke and the likes of all these young influencer girls who are not shy to talk about some of the challenges that they experience and showing that they can live their life to their fullest, I think is amazing because it really helps the able-bodied world realize that we are also very capable of doing stuff. But if they made their products more accessible, life would be a lot easier as well.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Oh, thank you so much. The fact that you have persevered with purpose and passion is just incredible. So you’re playing the piano these days. How’s it going for you?

Sam Latif:

Yeah, I’m playing Fur Elise. It’s going good. I’ve almost finished it. I’ve still got a bit left. I don’t read music. I’m not very good at braille and I like the shortcuts, so I get my piano teacher to tell me where to move my finger, how many keys, is it up three or two keys? And I just learn the rhythm of where my fingers need to go. But it’s really good. It’s something very different to other things that I do. And it’s really relaxing and good fun and it’s a new skill that I’m really enjoying. So yeah, it’s good.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So Sam, how can we reach you?

Sam Latif:

You can just drop me an email anytime. Give me a call. I’m very approachable.

Nasreen Bhutta:

How about your social handles? Want to share those?

Sam Latif:

Sure. SamLatif7 on Twitter. On Facebook, I’m Sam Latif. My email is Latif.s@pg.com. So that’s L-A-T-I-F, Lima alpha, tango and then foxtrot, dot S for Sam at pg, putt-putt golf, dot com.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Thank you so much, Sam, for being here this afternoon. You’ll be able to find Sam’s story in the onsite magazine under Women on the Move for September, 2020 at http://www.boldblindbeauty.com. Thanks for listening.

Connecting With Sam:

Bio:

Sam Latif is P&G’s first Company Accessibility Leader and is leading the P&G’s thought leadership and commitment to making products, packaging, and advertising accessible for the growing aging population and 1.7 billion people around the world with a disability.  

Winning with 50+/PwD consumers is critical for P&G to grow. By 2030 we will have more >50 consumers to serve vs under 50 and 36% of 50+ consumers will experience a disability. We estimate today we are losing 1BN dollars per annum across our Categories not serving this segment. P&G has an opportunity to reach more consumers with more accessible and irresistible products and packaging for all.  

Sam Latif was born in the UK and is a first-generation Scottish Pakistani. She is blind and the passion for what she is doing at P&G has been inspired by the personal access challenges she has experienced as both a consumer and an employee. Sam studied Marketing and Business Law at the University of Stirling in Scotland and began her career at P&G in IT. She has led IT transformations across multiple worldwide businesses (including Fragrances, Pampers, Olay, and Gillette).  

In 2015 Sam switched focus from running IT businesses to figuring what it would take to make P&G become the most accessible company for the consumers we are serving and was appointed as the company’s first Special Consultant for Inclusive Design. During this time, Sam worked with the Herbal Essences business to explore how we could make it easier to help people tell the difference between shampoo and conditioner, especially in the shower when people are not wearing their corrective eyewear. It’s estimated that 79% of the population in the west wear corrective eyewear and so its quite hard for people to tell by sight alone our shampoo and conditioner bottles apart. 

In February 2019, Sam was promoted to Associate Director and became P&G’s first Company Accessibility Leader and is responsible for making P&G workplace, products, and packaging and communications fully accessible to everyone.

Sam is married and has 3 kids, boy and girl twins aged 7 and a 10-year-old boy. Sam is enjoying the challenge of learning to play the piano and working out at the gym.  

Image Description:

  • Beyond Sight Magazine Cover. Sam’s headshot is featured on the cover and she’s wearing a gray hijab. The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is the eye used for our 2020 Year of Vision Campaign (described HERE). There are 3 lines of white text that say “Auditioning for Bold, Blind, and Beautiful.” In the bottom right corner is a teal circle with an illustration of Abby rollerblading. She has on a black crop tank top complete with her logo on the front with black shorts, and gray & teal roller blades. And of course, Abby wouldn’t be Abby without her signature explosive hairstyle, and “Women On The Move” is yellow text under the circle.
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The Power In The Journey Interview With Amy Bovaird

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ABBY’S CORNER | AUDIO INTERVIEW

Editor’s Note

Author Photo
Author Photo

I recently sat down to have a chat with Amy Bovaird a world traveler, teacher, author, and advocate. Amy has traveled to more countries than many of us will accomplish in our lifetimes and she did it while losing her eyesight and later her hearing. Her story is one of perseverance and faith intermingled with a great sense of humor. Below the audio interview is a transcript for your reading pleasure. Enjoy! ~Abby

Abby:

Hey everybody, it’s Abby. I hope everyone is enjoying their summer. It’s uber hot where I am right now. I’m getting the time to spend with Amy Bovaird today and I’m super excited about her story because you guys know I’m a traveler and I’ve been all over the place. And it’s so fun for me that I get to talk to her about travel in different aspects that we’re going to cover. So, Amy, thank you for hanging out with me today.

Amy Bovaird:

Yeah, I’m really happy too.

Abby:

I know. I want to talk about your travel experiences because they’re so amazing. And I wonder if I need to know just a little bit about you and all the places you’ve been. Where all have you been during your international travels?

Amy Bovaird:

Well, gosh, it seems like I counted up one time and it was 33 different countries.

Abby:

33? Golly.

Amy Bovaird:

I’ve lived in seven, so yeah, that’s a little bit less. Yeah.

Abby:

Oh my gosh. I definitely classify you as a mega world traveler. That’s awesome. So Amy, what I love about this whole story that you share with us is, when you were traveling, can you kind of talk to us about the time that you started to realize that you were losing sight and your hearing?

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Park Bench

Amy Bovaird:

Well, so when I first started kind of realizing that something was going on with my sight was when I was in the jungles of Ecuador, in the interior jungle, the Amazon. And I noticed that it was always dark and I was stumbling a lot and people just didn’t get why I was doing that and I didn’t get it and they didn’t want to go with me when we were checking out the caiman with the phosphorescent lights. And I was just like, “Why am I always tripping and falling?” And, “I guess I need stronger glasses.” So that was the first time I really noticed a marked change.

And I guess plus probably because in the interior jungle, it’s so dark. So I came home and I told the doctor I needed stronger glasses because at that time, I had a wonderful job opportunity in Indonesia. So I had a couple, two, three weeks between that. So I thought, “Okay, I’ll get these new glasses and I’ll go.” And it was a little bit more complicated than that. That’s when they had found out my condition, which is called retinitis pigmentosa. So anyway, I decided to continue with my teaching overseas and I would just do it no matter what. I was going to pursue my goals, and this was halfway across the world. I could learn another language or languages. So I just did, I didn’t know at that time if I was ever going to see my family’s faces again because they didn’t know at what rate this was going to happen to me.

So I just took my chances and it really paid off. I had such amazing experiences. But in the beginning, I noticed I was a lot more frightened. I had this opportunity to go in another island and we were exploring a cave. And so it’s super dark in a cave. And one guy, There were maybe six or seven of us, and he’s like, “Oh, you’re like my grandma, but 28 years old.” And he says, “Oh, you walk like my grandma.” [inaudible 00:03:50] I didn’t really tell anyone about my sight loss so it was just like, oh my gosh.

Abby:

Yeah no one wants to be told at 28 they’re like a grandma, but I mean, so you found this out, were you using a cane at the time?

Amy Bovaird:

I wasn’t at that time. I was just sort of feeling my way and I don’t think I needed a cane at that point, but it definitely was a decrease in my visual. Yeah so as I got on, as I continued to travel, my field narrowed more and more and more. So I had to, for example, I went to Scotland and I was climbing a mountain and I was afraid I was getting lost on the mountain. So the flashlight was the people ahead of me. They were wearing bright lights, bright-colored clothing. So I just fixed my eyes on them as it started to get dark so that I wouldn’t get lost.

Abby:

There’s so much here, Amy, that I know you and I talked earlier about your love for teaching and your passion for it, coupled with your need for travel. Was it just when you came back and you were told that you had RP which you weren’t expecting, because you’re thinking you’re just going to get your glasses and run to your opportunity, what was that passion that you felt that you were like, “I’m going to continue with this no matter what.” Because there’s a lot of fear there I’m sure.

Amy Bovaird:

There is.

Abby:

What propelled you?

Amy Bovaird:

Yeah. Well, it was actually a scripture in the Bible because there’s Abraham and he was the father of all the nations and God and told him to go to a place that he did not know. And he would show him. And so I felt, “Oh my gosh, he took care of Abram,” at the time it was Abram, then it turned into Abraham, “He can take care of me just as well. He’s not going to let me get hit by a car or,”

Abby:

Or get lost in the woods and climb a mountain and a cave, all the things we’ve talked about here already.

Amy Bovaird:

Yeah. I mean, there were a lot of instances, but I just wanted to do it so badly that I just said, “It’s okay, we’re going to adapt and we’re going to do that.” So I would take taxis so I didn’t have to drive and everything was doable.

Abby:

Amy, I really want to hit the point though of, I mean, all I’m hearing faith. Faith, like no other and just the confidence that you exude and not letting yourself be held back. But it wasn’t just that, you’re extremely innovative. I mean, you were on your feet thinking about, “Okay, this is what I want to do, and this is what I’m going to do to get it done.”

Amy Bovaird:

Yeah, yeah. That’s right. Yeah. And I didn’t tell people, because I thought that if they knew they would treat me differently. So I just kind of kept it to myself and if they thought that I was kind of an airhead, by maybe walking too closely to them or running into them or whatever, it was okay because I was living my life. So I just maximized what I could see. I used whatever I could and whatever transport I could. And I just continued. And it was easier sometimes overseas because you could take trains and you could take ships and so there were lots of ways to accommodate without really saying I’m accommodating. The hearing was a little bit more of a challenge.

Abby:

Yeah, can we talk about that?

Amy Bovaird:

Yeah. Well, so I’m a teacher and I’m teaching English as a second language. So you have to hear your students when they would read something out loud or they would give me an answer. I’d say, “Sorry, can you repeat that? Again?” Nobody couldn’t know I wasn’t hearing them, but I just thought, “Gosh, I’m going to have to stand closer to these people, to my students, I’m going to have to pay more attention to them, I’m not hearing them.” And then in the back of my mind, I had this idea. I remember reading when I found out about my RP, that there’s another part of it that goes along with it, which is hearing loss. And I was like, “I have that. I must have that.” And so I kind of kept that in the back of my mind, that that’s why it’s harder to hear over the telephone or in context reduced situations.

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Street Corner

Abby:

So how did you adapt with that?

Amy Bovaird:

Well, I just started walking around the room and standing next to my students when I asked them questions, and sometimes I was adapting in two things. I remember being in Taiwan and my teaching platform was like a theater. It looked kind of like a theater with three steps going down. And I walk a lot when I teach. So the steps weren’t steep, they were quite broad. And so I sometimes walk down a step without knowing, I stumble down the steps. And so I’m trying to listen to my students and I’m trying to catch, “Oops missed that one.” So I would just try to make jokes. So that’s how I handled it. And I just kept asking them to repeat themselves and making jokes that I didn’t hear them. They were pretty good about it.

Abby:

That is great. Even listening to you talking about this, I, myself, there are struggles that we all face and I remember a very similar story where I thought it’s okay if people think that I’m, oh, well, you know what I mean, I was without someone and I didn’t want to have my cane and when I didn’t get to this level of acceptance, this is a different story for me, but I think it rings true with a lot of us in this situation, that we think it’s okay for someone to think we’re a ditz or in my case, maybe this person just thinks I’m drunk. And we’d rather them think that about us than thinking they’re going to think less of us because we can’t see.

Amy Bovaird:

Yeah. Isn’t that strange? When you think about it, I think it just has to come from within ourselves that we develop that confidence to share that information.

Abby:

Yes it does. Yeah. When did you come to the point of where it came from within?

Amy Bovaird:

I think it was that year. It was 2008 when I had my mobility training. My trainer was completely blind and he was saying hello to people. And I’m like, “How can he see them?” And he kept telling people, “Oh I’m helping Amy to see better so she could be more independent.” And I’m like, “Why is he telling people?” And I think because being so open about it, I started to become open about it. And I did have a travel, on a cruise after with my cane, and I traveled with people that were not accustomed to being around someone with a cane.

And I remember reassuring them that it was okay. By that time it was two years, it was 2010. So I had gotten used to people seeing me with a cane. So they were telling me, “Oh, they’re wondering about you with your cane.” And I had completely forgotten it by that time. So I had come so far in such a short time and I just realized that it’s okay to have that. And it was my job to make people feel comfortable about it instead of everybody feeling uncomfortable, what do I say? What do I do? How do I show her? And I think that coming, I was more approachable, it made everything so much easier for everyone.

Abby:

Yes. And I bet you your world opened up more.

Amy Bovaird:

Yes, it did. It absolutely did. And it made me very courageous to travel. I mean, I felt like I had the best of two worlds. I was able to have special accommodation. I was able to do it, to go. I remember there was a really interesting thing, my friend was in the water and she was really good at paddling, I don’t know what it was, paddling something, kind of a boat. And they’re all talking about how beautiful these fish were, and it was in the Caribbean, and I couldn’t see any of the fish. And when we went to get me on this canoe or whatever it was, they were like, “Be careful with her, be careful with her.” I’m like, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” And I started being afraid because they were afraid. But then when I was in the water and I couldn’t see any fish, and I was kind of putting my hands in the water. I go, “I’m wet. I’m getting wet. I’m going back to my travels.” And it was such a marvelous moment.

It was like complete joy because these people were enjoying themselves so much and I was part of it and I wasn’t being held back. I was still living my life with my cane. So it was a kind of eye opening moment. It was a moment where I realized that this was going to be my future. It wasn’t going to impact me.

Abby:

Amy that is the most beautiful story, I am speechless, which is hard for me to be. And I love that you shared that with us and wanted to share with me the power that just comes from that. There’s too many times that we in our lives hold our own and you realize that the end of the day, it’s holding yourself back when you don’t accept the things that are challenges. But knowing that when you do, and the minute the light hits in your heart, that you can be what you want to be, and you continued your travel. What are you doing now? Because you’re doing a lot I mean, you’ve written books, what do you do now? I feel like advocacy is totally in your heart and can you talk to us a little bit about what you’re doing now?

Amy Bovaird:

Well, mostly I’m writing and I’m kind of advocating for sight loss, but I’ve got some plans in my mind about where I want to travel overseas. I want to take my brother and show him some of these places. One of the places I want to go is Mexico. And just to really let my brother have that opportunity, my older brother, have that opportunity to just see what he hasn’t been able to see. So together, we will help each other. So that’s one of my goals and just a kind of a closer one, and instead of being in Africa or something, but I just wanted to start small and just help my brother to see what I’m so passionate about.

Abby:

Oh, that is beautiful. Because we all need to be sharing what it is that we’re passionate about. I mean, that is so critical. Don’t you think? Because it inspires other people to do it.

Amy Bovaird:

Yes. I think so.

Abby:

No matter our circumstances. Oh my gosh, can you tell us a little bit about the books that you’ve written? Maybe one piece or what it means to you to share, to write?

Amy Bovaird:

Okay. So really, the book that emerged first was the story of my white cane, because that is what gave me the freedom. And so it was that idea of what, I remember there was a moment where I was dropped off in the middle of nowhere and I had to find my way to the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services and only ask three questions, and I would pass go and collect $200 or whatever.

Can I ask this? Is there a person? Can I ask them? And my trainer said, because I would just go, I was really abrupt. I’d say, “Okay, what street are we on?” When I got to the Bureau of Blindness, I made my way there, a little bit late, but I made my way there, and I was so excited. I asked for my caseworker and I told her, “I made it, I made it, I found them.” And then turned around and walked into the wall. I thought that was really humbling. We are always small, not too big for our britches. And I think when we realized that and we’re able to laugh at ourselves and just see that we are all so imperfect in all of our strivings, then we’re going to enjoy our life.

Abby:

I agree wholeheartedly. If anybody wants to read your books, Amy, where could they find them?

Amy Bovaird:

On Amazon dot com, I have my audiobooks on Amazon, iTunes, and Audible. My website is Amy Bovaird dot com, they’re there. All of my books are in large print and Kindle, eBook, and they are regular print. I have a couple of recent eBooks that just went out about my diagnosis and I have some other issues and so the other ones are overcoming and finding joy in little things, family, and how God kind of gives us surprises. Stuff like that. I’m working on a book right now called Second Sight, which goes through some of my early travels and it goes through now what I’m coping with, like going to the wrong seat of the car, the backseat, thinking I’m in the front. All those kinds of things and looking at it from a perspective of acceptance.

So it’s called Second Sight because it’s like looking in the mirror. And instead of looking out of a situation of continually adapting, it’s more inside us. Instead of before, it was mostly outside, like the physical, we tried to get to [crosstalk 00:19:58] using a cane and now it’s more working on my perspective and how to change a negative into a positive and looking for the blessings and things, looking for the good things that arise out of my situation. There’s always something to be thankful for.

Abby:

Yes, there is. Amy, I could just sit here and talk with you for hours and hours. And I just want to thank you so much for your time with us today and sharing just pieces of priceless ways that we can live our lives and realizing vulnerability and realizing that we are human and accepting every bit of who we are and looking for those moments of joy. And, gosh, wow I’m super excited to be here with you today and thank you so incredibly much. You guys, I just want to hug you. I can’t wait until we can do that. So thank you so much for being here with me today and sharing your story and we’re going to definitely look you up and I’m going to get to reading your books, stat. So I can’t wait.

Amy Bovaird:

Oh thank you, that’s great.

Abby:

I hate to go, this was so wonderful. We’re going to go grab some lunch or something soon. It’s going to be awesome. You guys, this is Abby. Thank you for joining Amy and I today. And remember, just stay strong, stay natural, stay lovely, stay beautiful, one cane tap at a time, and we can do this together. Guys, take care and have a great one.

Connecting With Amy:

Image Descriptions:

  • Header photo from Amy’s visit to a small village in Kenya where she sponsored a child, Betty Mueni, through Child International. These are the villagers in her area. Amy is in the center. Sweet memory.
  • Amy’s official author photo with her white cane.
  • Park Bench – Amy is seated on a park bench smiling and happy in a park.
  • When she lived in Indonesia. Here Amy is carrying a backpack and pointing to the street name Jalan Salam with another teacher from her school. 
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Auditioning for Bold, Blind, and Beautiful

Cover photo image 1 is described in the body of the article.

WOMEN ON THE MOVE

Editor’s Note:

I met Sylvia Stinson-Perez at an event in New Jersey earlier in the year and was immediately drawn to her. As I grew to learn more about her it was her authentic beauty that was so magnetic to me. When I first read Sylvia’s Women On The Move article I was deeply moved as her words resonated with me very much. After an extremely difficult past week on reading her story again this morning, parts of it felt like my own and I was reminded of my personal value. We can be so caught up in trying to be like everyone else we can fail to see our unique beauty which is considerably more than our exterior. It gives me great pleasure to introduce you to Sylvia Stinson-Perez.

Auditioning for Bold, Blind, and Beautiful

Photo 2 is described in the body of the post.
Photo 2

As a teenager in the 1980’s, I watched the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. I wanted to be considered bold and beautiful. Like any young woman, I struggled with seeing myself as beautiful. Now, add the fact that I was also visually impaired. I had been ostracized and bullied in school because of being considered different, which resulted in me being extremely shy. In addition, like many with low vision, I spent many years trying to pretend I was sighted. Today, as a 50-year-old woman, with many experiences, challenges, and opportunities, I now understand what it really means to be a bold, blind beauty… and I count myself as someone who is still auditioning, but closer every day to getting a leading role. 

Blind is a term many are uncomfortable with, and that includes people who are severely visually impaired. I was born legally blind. It was challenging, but I had an amazingly supportive and loving family. My parents pushed me to not let my vision impairment stop me from being a “regular kid and teen”.

Success Found In Unexpected Changes

For many years it was expected that my vision would not change and I would have the benefit of being able to navigate without a cane or guide dog, read regular print-even if really close, and be able to use my vision for almost all tasks but driving. However, in my mid-20’s, shortly after getting married to my husband of almost 27 years, I started noticing declines in my vision. Test results revealed I had Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), which I knew meant eventual blindness. I was devastated… for a few months. But then I realized I had a whole life in front of me and that my visual impairment had not stopped me up to that point despite all of the challenges, so why would it let it now.

It took time, in fact, several years, but eventually, I became a proud blind person. Today I have very limited vision, not much more than light perception. And, I can honestly say, I have not let my declining vision ever stop me. I am a wife, a mother of a 20-year-old daughter, and I’ve had a great career in the blindness field.  

Positive Gains In Vision Loss

I came to understand and advocate that people who are blind are required to be more innovative, better problem-solvers, and smarter overall. We are not less because we cannot physically see. We have to learn to own blindness as a part of our characteristics, and one that makes us special and unique. I thought this is a persona I can certainly own. Yes, there are times when I feel pity, like when I have not been able to see my daughter, the beauty of nature, and even my own face anymore. But, a pity-party can only last for 15 minutes and it is back to life. Blindness has given me opportunities and strengths I am certain I would have never had as a sighted person. 

Bold to me represents being authentic and confident. As I said, I like many, experienced bullying as a young person in a public school setting where there were very few with disabilities. However, when it was time to go to college, I made a decision that I needed to be more outgoing or bold. I can admit that often I was pretending to be confident. I once heard a quote that has stuck with me:

“Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

~Dorothy Bernard

Most who know me think I am an outgoing and confident woman, but the reality is that there are still moments when I just say a prayer and hope for the best. I have worked hard to ensure that I have good “blindness” skills, including orientation and mobility, technology, and social skills. These skills give me confidence in my ability to work, network, socialize, and live life to the fullest. Admittedly, I spent many years pretending to be more confident than I am, but in the past few years, I have come to understand that being authentic, with my strengths and challenges, makes me more human and real to others. I have also realized that I am much bolder as myself than as a pretend persona. 

Famous Last Words

Helen Keller said, “The most beautiful things cannot be seen or touched, but are felt with the heart.” Beauty is a term that women who are blind often struggle with, especially if we cannot see ourselves. We all want to be beautiful, and coming to the realization that beauty is way more than the outside appearance is critical.

Yes, I believe looking our best is important, and you will not likely find too many who love to get all dressed up, made up and glammed up more than me. But, I have learned that beauty is more often found in my attitude and how I treat others. I still want to be seen as beautiful, but the older I get the more I realize I want to be recognized for a beautiful person who is kind, compassionate, and wise. One of my life goals has become helping others find their beauty. 

Being bold, blind and beautiful is found in being our best selves!

Connecting With Sylvia On Social Media:

Image Descriptions:

  1. Beyond Sight Magazine Cover (Photo Credit: J. David Wright). The cover image is a headshot of Sylvia all glammed up at a formal event. The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is the eye used for our 2020 Year of Vision Campaign (described HERE). There are 3 lines of white text that say “Auditioning for Bold, Blind, and Beautiful.” In the bottom right corner is a teal circle with an illustration of Abby rollerblading. She has on a black crop tank top complete with her logo on the front with black shorts, and gray & teal roller blades. And of course, Abby wouldn’t be Abby without her signature explosive hairstyle, and “Women On The Move” is yellow text under the circle.
  2. Sylvia in front of a building shows her walking with her white cane in front of the building where she works at MSU
  3. Sylvia and daughter Olivia (Photo Credit: J. David Wright), shows her and her daughter all dressed up and attending/hosting a Dining in the Dark event in 2017. The event was hosted by Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind, Inc. (LVIB).
  4. Sylvia’s family pic shows Sylvia with her husband Roger and their daughter Olivia at Olivia’s high school graduation in 2017.
  5. Sylvia in Las Vegas is a recent photo (Feb. 2020) in Vegas
CREDITS:
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Monumental Moment: The Passage To Acceptance

Beyond Sight Magazine cover is described in the body of the post

CANE ENABLED

Editor’s Note:

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

Image is the same as the header without the cover and Mady is sitting facing the camera.
Mady Amirah

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?

Connecting With Mady

Image Description

  • 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.