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Pushing Boundaries…

Supporting Independence of Visually Impaired People

Updated February 24, 2020. Originally published on October 23, 2018

“I asked him what he envisioned for his future…“I don’t know. I think I will always be with somebody”, he said.”

~Kassy Maloney

“I… I just don’t like to talk about it”, my student told me. It was our first Orientation and Mobility (O&M) class together. He was about 15 years old with the degenerative eye condition, Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP).

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.

Featured Image Description is in the body of the post

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.

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.

Kassy Maloney

President Roosevelt once said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care”.

Reminders For O&M Instructors

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!

Image Descriptions:

  • 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.

Connecting With Kassy:

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Sword, Lightsaber Or Broomstick?

So indeed, there are days I choose to use my white cane like a sword. I use it to cut away at the misconceptions people have about my capabilities. I cut through the limitations as if they are coiled thick vines, which others place on my dreams.

~Catherine Harrison, Women On The Move

Fantasy To Reality

There are days I wish my white cane was a sharp sword, able to cut through the complexities of life coiled around my ankles like thick vines.

Or perhaps if it were a lightsaber that glowed in the dark and could vaporize the enemies of my greatness like fear, self-doubt, impatience and my horrible spelling.

Or better still if I could ride my cane like a magic broomstick and use its power to turn my competitors into toads.

But it’s not any of those things.

My white cane is one of the tools I use to navigate life in pursuit of my dreams.

It not only identifies my handicap but it gives me the freedom to travel alone.

Embracing Tool Crushed Fear

I will admit, I was not too happy about having to use it at first. I didn’t like how people stared at me; I didn’t like “looking blind.” It was humiliating having to re-learn how to safely cross the street using a cane. But after I ran into enough walls, stepped out in front of a car and repeatedly fell down steps I got over my pride and embraced the tool designed to help me.

Now, it takes lots of training and practice to travel by myself without getting lost or run over, and I have certainly made my fair share of mistakes. But the experience I gained through the years has taught me to pay close attention to the cues my white cane gives.

My cane is designed to go out in front of me to find the obstacles, curbs or steps I am not able to see. It is long enough to give me two steps to either stop or change direction.

The metal tip makes a noise as it strikes the ground allowing me to hear the difference between a smooth sidewalk or street pavement, carpet or tile flooring. It’s painted with white reflective material for travel at night and comes in several styles for different purposes.

My cane, however, has one drawback…it only works when I follow, letting it go ahead of my steps. It doesn’t work if I drag it along behind me, then wonder why I ran into a wall or fell down a step. I have to unfold it, put it out in front of me, trust what I hear, respond to the obstacles it finds and never take a step forward without it.

Acceptance Is My Superpower

So indeed, there are days I choose to use my white cane like a sword. I use it to cut away at the misconceptions people have about my capabilities. I cut through the limitations as if they are coiled thick vines, which others place on my dreams.

There are also days I choose to use it as a lightsaber. It is a glowing symbol of my independence, my ability to rise strong and defeat my inner enemies.

And better still are the times I use my cane like a magic broomstick. I learned early on in my training just how much power it has when you swing it in a wide arc…people WILL get out of your way! It makes me feel a little like Moses parting the Red Sea when I can clear a path through a crowded airport.

I am fearlessly equipped to walk (in high heels) with my cane in front because I learned to use the tool that will get me where I want to go.

👠Don’t let fear alter your steps.

👠Excuses will kill dreams.

👠Choose your tool and use it!

About Catherine:

Catherine was diagnosed in 1995 with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), only weeks after returning from serving for two years on the mission field in Nigeria, Africa. She has been a national public speaker and article writer for several magazines, sharing her story of learning to walk with strength and faith behind a white cane.

Catherine holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Baylor University and had a wonderful career as an operating room nurse. She is a former ballerina and studied dance at Julliard’s School of American Ballet in New York. She is currently a professional commercial print and fitness model with DMG modeling agency in Dallas, Tx. She is the proud mother of 3 grown sons and wife of Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Craig Harrison. Catherine serves on several non-profit boards and regularly volunteers in her local community.

Her mission is not only to successfully work as a model, who happens to have a visual impairment but also to empower women of all ages to step into their strength, regardless of their circumstances, with poise and courage.  

You can find Catherine on:

Image Descriptions:

  • Photo credit Julia Wagner at Feather and Root Photography.
  • Featured image shows Catherine walking with her white cane wearing a white long-sleeved keyhole dress.
  • In this headshot with short blonde hair and mesmerizing green eyes, Catherine is wearing a blue halter dress. The neckline on the sleeveless top is cut to partially expose Catherine’s shoulders. 
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Men In Motion | Juan Alcazar

On the first Monday of every month in 2020, you will meet some amazing blind & visually impaired male influencers. For January’s “Men In Motion” Bold Blind Beauty is thrilled to introduce you to Filmmaker Juan Alcazar.

Juan is the talented creator of the YouTube Channel JC5 Productions and is also a valued member of our CAPTIVATING! team. From 1 minute short films to dramatic shorts, collabs, vision impairment, and disability awareness, Juan has a varied collection of video content.

Always remind yourself why you do what you do.

In September of 2018, I made a comment on an Instagram post of Juan’s that led me to view his video “A Second Chance.” The storyline in this poignant video tugged my heartstrings because the subject matter is universally relevant to all of us at some point in our lives. Questioning, doubting, and underestimating our value can leave us feeling like what we do doesn’t matter. I think Juan beautifully captured the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness experienced when we make comparisons. Many creatives, who also happen to be sensitive, are especially vulnerable because we feel so deeply.

It took Juan some time to find his “why” as he didn’t want to be known as “the blind filmmaker.” While he doesn’t let his sight loss define who he is, he realized he had a bigger purpose for creating videos. Today, we share his powerful story in “Accepting My Blindness” (transcription is below the video).

Accepting My Blindness | Juan Alcazar

Accepting My Blindness Video Transcription

When I was really little my parents would see me staring at the TV from a really close distance. At first, they thought I was just fascinated by looking at the pixels but little did they know that I couldn’t see well and I would eventually need glasses. 

So I did end up getting glasses and yeah they helped out a lot during my grade school, middle school, and high school years. But I still had problems. I still had to sit in the front row and I still had trouble seeing what the teacher wrote on the blackboard or the overhead.

It wasn’t until college when I finally was able to wear contact lenses. It was great, but it lasted for about just nine or so years and that’s because my vision was still getting worse and worse and then they told me “You know what they don’t make contacts that go to your prescription. Your prescription is too high now.” So I eventually went back to wearing glasses.

So fast forward to present day now where I’m making this short film mix sit-down video. This YouTube video where I’m here to tell you hey, uhh, I’m legally blind and I know I’ve mentioned my vision problems in a few videos before but I’ve never really wanted to say that I was legally blind.

Being born with nearsightedness and living with it every day. It’s a real interesting experience actually. Everything is just completely out of focus and only comes into focus when you put something really really close to your eye, but it’s not just nearsightedness. I have problems with my peripheral vision. I drop something and I take maybe 20, 30 seconds to find it and also when I look straight forwards that’s also a problem because I tend to see things a little bit darker than usual and this can be really really problematic when I’m walking around at night. 

And here’s the thing I was in denial. I didn’t want to admit that I was legally blind and the reason for that is I could still see quite a bit. I mean I still have trouble seeing with glasses but compared to what other people have. They have more severe vision problems.

I just didn’t feel like I was blind enough to even say that I was legally blind. And here’s another confession. I did not want to be known as the legally blind filmmaker on YouTube and that’s because for some reason I kept thinking that if I focus on that it’s going to take away the attention from my creative stuff to my vision and I didn’t want that to happen.

But after watching a few YouTubers with disabilities it really made me just stop and think why I’m feeling this way about my own disability and why am I so insecure about it? They’ve helped me accept my blindness. They’ve helped me accept it and that it’s a part of me. That is part of who I am. That it’s part of my daily life but at the same time they’ve also taught me that this doesn’t completely define me who I am as a person. 

In many ways, this has all left me pretty empowered and just confident and motivated to do what I want to do. When I stop and think about it I’m like, “Dude, you’re doing something that you shouldn’t be doing technically. You’re a filmmaker. You’re making movies but yet you’re visually impaired. You’re doing something that heavily relies on your eyes.”

And it’s almost like I’m telling my disability, “Hey, you may be slowing me down but you know what I’m not gonna let you stop me from doing what I want to do.” In a way that’s pretty cool.

What matters to me the most as a filmmaker is trying yo get my stories out there. Trying to get my content out there. Sure it may take me a little longer to set up my camera and edit. It may be more challenging but then again hey life is full of challenges and this is my challenge and I’m willing to accept it and you know what? I’m okay with that.

Hey JC5ers what’s going on? So yeah I wanted to make this video for a while in this format because you’re going to see a few more short films kind of, well…short films mixed in with sit-down videos in this format and I wanted to talk about my vision, my eyesight and that’s going to become a little more prominent on my channel. It’s not going to completely dominate my content but I just want to talk more about it.

It wasn’t just those YouTubers who I watched with disabilities that helped inspire me it was you guys as well, uh. I’m grateful that you guys are watching me and I’m hoping that I continue to entertain you guys and educate you guys here and there as well. 

So anyway if you happen to like this video then give it a thumbs up if you found it hey a little bit inspirational for you then feel free to share it if you want. I will see you guys next week or next time hopefully you next week cuz I missed last week’s upload anyway I’ll talk to you later. See ya

Here are a few of our favorite JC5 Production videos:

If you are a fan of creative and authentic storytelling you will want to add JC5 Productions to your playlist.

Connecting With Juan:

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured image is a closeup of Juan with a big smile on his face. He has a knit gray beanie on his head and is wearing a green crew neck sweater. In the blurred background is a redbrick fireplace next to a doorframe.
  • In the second head & shoulders photo, Juan appears more serious with his right hand wrapped around the handle of his white cane. Wearing a casual, open, button-down gray shirt he has a navy blue tee underneath. Juan, sporting his bald head looks distinguished against a stark white backdrop.
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Blind Beauty 81 | Catherine Harrison

Featured image is described in the body of the post.

“I am not the victim, the enemy or even the hero…I am the author of my dreams. I am not afraid to fall because I know how to rise with strength and dressed on point”.

~Catherine Harrison

While I’ve shared with you my frustrations on the pitfalls of social media, there is an equal amount of positives. One of those positives comes in the form of today’s featured Blind Beauty, Catherine Harrison.

I was introduced to Catherine by Vicky, a good friend of mine who lives in the UK. Vicky felt that Catherine would be an excellent feature on Bold Blind Beauty because of her line of work. Catherine is a Commercial Print Model by trade whose outer beauty is incomparable to her inner beauty. And believe me when I say this woman is gorgeous!

The Author Of Her Dreams

“Sassy blind southern gal encouraging bold strength while swinging a cane & in high heels”

Catherine harrison

During our first telephone conversation, I learned that Catherine was a Registered Nurse prior to her sight loss. When her eyesight worsened to the degree she could no longer be effective in nursing she chose a different career path. What struck me most about Catherine, aside from her humanity, is how warm, funny, and down to earth she is. I guess the saying “Everything’s bigger in Texas” is true because as a proud Texan Catherine’s personality is stellar! The above quote from her Instagram profile should have been a clue as to who she is. And make no mistake, Catherine “KNOWS” who she is and she shares her inspirational wisdom with others. A very well-rounded individual, following are some of Catherine’s hobbies/skills that include:

  • Weight training/working out,
  • Waterskiing
  • Snow skiing
  • Public speaking
  • Writing
  • Ballet
  • Western horseback riding
  • Handgun shooting
  • Social media marketing
  • Event planning and fundraising

Catherine also spends a great deal of time giving back to the community in numerous capacities. From serving on numerous boards and committees to major fundraising activities, Catherine is the epitome of a warrior of change.

Stay tuned to learn more about Catherine when she will be featured in Women On The Move in January 2020!

Connecting With Catherine:

Image Descriptions:

  • Photo credit Julia Wagner at Feather and Root Photography.
  • Featured image is a faux fashion magazine cover titled Blind Beauty. With short blonde hair and mesmerizing green eyes, Catherine is on the cover wearing a stunning red keyhole top. The neckline on the sleeveless top is cut to partially expose Catherine’s shoulders. Blocks of text superimposed on Catherine’s photo are: “Bold–She Keeps Pressing Onward, Blind–She Has Deeper Insight, Beautiful–She Sees To The Heart Of Others.” “Real Beauty Transcends Barriers.” “Makeup Trends for 2019–How To Maintain A Flawless Look”
  • A gallery of 5 photos from a professional shoot:
    • Catherine is rockin’ her white cane in a chic blue halter dress.
    • Another white cane photo, this one in black & white. Catherine is in her red keyhole top, white leggings, and white heeled sandals.
    • Catherine in the blue halter dress and wedge sandals is posed against a wooden column.
    • In this white cane photo, Catherine is wearing a white long-sleeved keyhole dress.
    • The last photo is a close-up headshot of the third photo.