Rockin’ Disability In Spite Of

“Our culture of reality TV and aggressiveness leads to some strange personal interactions. When you wield a white cane, you never know what you’re gonna get.” ~Susan Kennedy, Adventures In Low Vision

Sadly, there’s a lot of truth to Susan’s quote when using a white cane or any other type of mobility tool for that matter. Yet we press onward, in spite of. Never let anyone or anything prevent you from pursuing your best life!

Image: Susan is in the grocery store standing in front of her grocery cart with her white cane in her right hand.

Women on the Move: Susan Kennedy

Women on the Move

Black and white line drawing. The leaves of the dress are not solid black.In keeping with the new identity of this site, and as I alluded to in my most recent post, With Hope Anything is Possible, today marks the beginning of the new monthly series called “Women on the Move.” The series will feature capable, independent, intelligent, beautiful, and talented women who just happen to be blind/vision impaired.

It is my belief that by marrying the new icon on Bold Blind Beauty with the stories of these fascinating women that it will help society to see beyond the disability to their individuality. So without further ado I’d like to present Susan Kennedy from Adventures in Low Vision.

There’s Beauty in Character

In the 90s, I was a dorky kid. Nearsightedness didn’t stop me. I swam on swim teams, cycled to the local pool and ran track and cross-country like an amateur triathlete. Years before I earned my driver’s license, I earned a paycheck. My busy childhood built a healthy outlook: if I worked hard, there’s usually a payoff. There’s beauty in character.

Balance is beautiful, too. When necessary, I cut back. Goodbye girl scouts and intramural soccer. Goodbye honors math and Maybelline Great Lash mascara. I didn’t chase a flawless appearance, rather an inner strength. I aimed for above average, but a few B’s didn’t haunt me. I discovered wise choices led to accomplishment.

A tour guide on a college visit said, “There’s a lot of things to do here, but no one is going to hold your hand. Your college experience will be what you make of it.” I took his advice to heart. As an undergrad, I joined the rowing team and student council. I studied abroad in London and realized America wasn’t everything. I continued to moderate. Got things done so I could have fun.

Junior year, my retinas misbehaved. My university has a diverse medical complex within walking distance to my rowhouse where I underwent many eye surgeries. My mom, thanks to FMLA and a strong mama bear instinct, found herself driving west on the PA Turnpike to nurse me through post-ops. Roommates dosed me with eye drops before class. I fell asleep reading coursework with my good eye. I wanted to graduate on time; no one told me I couldn’t do it. Earning credits made me feel like a normal student rather than a woman fighting vision loss. Family and friends would call and send encouraging cards. I requested an extension to finish papers. I quit the rowing team. I ignored dating and a fair amount of socializing–I was too exhausted anyway.

A year later, degreed and employed, I sat in my retinal surgeon’s office. I pulled tissues from the offered box and said through tears, “But it’s my spare eye, I don’t have a back up anymore.” Round 2 of surgeries commenced. Mom once again hit the highway. I endured tedious facedown recovery. Once cleared to work, I changed jobs to be a massage therapist where I learned the importance of boundaries and self-care. Soon I fell in love and moved to MD. My husband proved to be a tremendous support, his reliability and kindness shine through medical uncertainty. We bought a house and welcomed a feisty terrier to the family.

A few weeks into 2011, my retinas initiated Round 3. Greater vision loss happened and I was angry yet anxious to heal and get back to work, but life dealt me delays and letdowns. I stared down my final operation and with my STD and FMLA time spent, unemployment. My payroll deducted LTD plan didn’t cover my “pre-existing” condition. My state denies unemployment benefits due to medical disability and I couldn’t file for SSDI until living a year disabled. I tell you this because If I was single, I could’ve racked up plenty of credit card bills. Medical hardship is the speedway to debt and homelessness. Health insurance doesn’t pay your mortgage. Luckily, my husband worked full-time and our parents pitched in, too. I don’t take family support for granted.

While I navigated the mysterious waters of paperwork and incremental vision loss, my husband and I coped with anticipatory loss within his family. I landed hard. I talked to my doctor about depression. She prescribed a course of antidepressants which helped to manage stress and anxiety. So did dog walks. Also, I kept a journal. It’s a good way to deal with change.

In 2012 my state’s department of rehabilitation services (DORS) approved my application and assigned a caseworker. I was rehab-ready, physically and emotionally. My vision impairment wasn’t going to stop my life. A specialist at a low vision clinic fitted me for glare-reducing lenses. At her recommendation, I bought a hand magnifier to read things like menus and labels. My world was opening up. With DORS, I did OT to learn new ways to cook and clean. I did Orientation and Mobility training to learn how to use a white cane to travel alone. Freedom.

Eventually I started the blog, Adventures in Low Vision. It’s like an after school activity. It’s a way to connect with people like Stephanae who understand the consequences and triumphs of vision loss. It’s a stress relief to find understanding in experiences whether they are tough or awesome.

Meanwhile, I enrolled in a program with Jewish Community Services (JCS) to reach my ultimate goal of employment. I submitted resumes as in previous job hunts, but this time I focused on proximity to public transportation and flexible hours to accommodate my needs. I landed interviews. Once I accepted a law office position, DORS provided a digital magnifier for documents and magnification software for my computer. Goal met.

The added bonus is I’m breaking stereotypes of blindness while I go about my business. I wear glasses and use a white cane. I work and have a visual impairment. I’m fit and disabled. I’m not in a classroom, but I’m educating. I needed emotional support from family and friends, organizational resources like DORS and JCS, plus a beautiful will to work hard and connect with others to find my way. As I live well with vision loss, I see a team of people who encouraged me to earn my independence. I continue to be a woman on the move.