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Fashion Trends Surge Among Blind and Visually Impaired Community

Tri collage of me posing in front of my counter with my white cane wearing a black off the shoulder choker top, white jeans, black suede chunky high heels and silver jewelry..

Fashion Trends Surge Among Blind and Visually Impaired Community

I wrote the following article (posted 3/14/2018) for VisionAware.org:   

Editor’s Note: The week of March 11 was World Glaucoma Week. Peer advisor Steph McCoy, Founder, and CEO of Bold Blind Beauty, has written eloquently about her journey with this eye condition. As a real fashionista, in this post, she shares her thoughts on fashion trends, an important topic as Spring approaches. 

Does Loss of Vision Equal Frumpy?

There’s a misconception that sight loss equals frumpy and unfashionable. Likewise, there’s a silent societal expectation where people with sight loss shouldn’t be fashionable.

The truth is, there are people with sight who either have no interest in or lack fashion sense. Also true, there are people who are blind or have sight loss, and they are fashionistas.

Thankfully, maintaining a sense of style and keeping a finger on the pulse of trends isn’t wholly reliant on eyesight. Like anything else, we can continue to enjoy and immerse ourselves in the world of fashion if we desire.

While the fashion industry still has a way to go where inclusion is concerned, the Internet has improved access to information. The Internet has made it possible for individuals with disabilities to become mouthpieces for change.

Fashion Trends Resources with Persons Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired In Mind

Today, there are many blind and visually impaired fashion content creators with plenty room for more. With this in mind, here are few tips to help a person who is blind or visually impaired remain connected to fashion.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

  • When you know your style, stick with it.
  • Keep it simple and classic.
  • For trendsetters, taking risks is part of the fun in fashion, continue doing what you do.

Expand Your Fashion Resource Network

  • Follow and engage with fashion bloggers, vloggers, and writers. You can find them on blogging platforms, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.
  • Read about and discuss the latest trends, styles, and seasonal colors with friends who have similar tastes and interests.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from someone you trust who will give you honest feedback.
  • Testing new looks? Take photos and share with your trusted online community or friends and family for feedback.

Easy Low Tech Fashion Resources

QVC does a remarkable job in describing their merchandise. Following is a small sampling of their fashion segments.

  • Morning Q Live – Style Edition
  • Amy’s Closet (Amy Stran)
  • Denim & Co.
  • Susan Graver Style

Seek Professional Assistance

  • Professional consultants develop in-depth personal profiles to suit individual needs
  • Personal Shopper/Styling Service
  • Beauty Consultant
  • Image Consultant

Final Note

As blind and visually impaired people, we face our share of barriers. We are not what’s happened to us, and we have the power of choice. Thankfully, we can choose how to move forward with our lives and allow fashion to play a role.

Featured Image Description:

Tri collage of “yours truly” posing in front of my counter with my white cane wearing a black off the shoulder choker top, white jeans, black suede chunky high heels and silver jewelry.

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Alzheimer’s, Vision Loss, and Caregiving

The Long Road to Diagnosis

Picture of my mom at the nursing home sitting in her wheelchair. She's posing with her sunglasses and a colorful scarf tied around her neck.
My mom in her room at the nursing home.

I wrote the following article on Alzheimer’s for VisionAWARE. November is National Awareness Month for Alzheimer’s and Caregiver appreciation month.

Twenty years ago Alzheimer’s took my grandmother. And now my mother has been diagnosed with it. Though the contrast of how the disease manifested itself between my grandmother and mother was significant, after consulting with my mother’s physicians, it seems that 13 years ago, the clock began ticking for my mother.

While my grandmother lived with the most severe symptoms of Alzheimer’s for roughly five years prior to her death, the disease progressed slowly in my mother. Fear, denial, and disability, contributed to mom’s stubborn refusal to be assessed and ironically enough these factors allowed her to live independently up until three months ago. Continue reading…

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Experiencing The Magic of Eye Makeup While Practicing Eye Safety

The Magic of Eye Makeup

In recognition of Women’s Eye Health Safety during the month of April I wrote the following article that was published on visionaware.org.

eyeOh, the wonders of makeup. It’s one of those things that from the time we are young girls we cannot wait to get glammed up with cosmetics. The use of lipstick, blush, mascara, and eye shadow is not only transformative; it’s almost magical. But did you know there are dangers lurking in your cosmetics arsenal, especially when it comes to your eyes?

The Past and Present of Eye Makeup

“Eyes are captivatingly beautiful. Not because of the color but because of the words they hold within them.” This quote from an unknown author speaks to the powerful mystique of the eyes. From as far back as ancient Egypt women and men enhanced their eyes with makeup for cosmetic, medicinal and religious purposes.

Today, we’ve come a long way from just using colors and liners to beautify our eyes. We have choices like mascara, eyeliners, false eyelashes and eyelash extensions. We also use eyelash enhancer serums, eyelash dye, permanent eye makeup and colored contacts. All of these intensifying enhancements of our eyes can have a dramatic effect on our overall appearance.

colored contacts

Cosmetic Secrets You Need to Know

Damaging our eyes through the use of cosmetics is not something we typically associate with makeup but harmful bacteria, ill-advised application techniques, some types of cosmetics, and certain procedures can have harmful and lasting effects on our vision. Below we’ll look at four cosmetics/procedures, associated risks, and what can be done to remain safe.

1. Eyelash extensions are individually glued to each natural eyelash to increase volume and length to lashes.

  • Formaldehyde is one of the ingredients used in many of the glues for false eyelashes and extensions. Allergic reactions, swelling, inflammation, infections and even the loss of natural lashes are some of the issues that can arise from the use of extensions and false eyelashes.
  • Careful consideration and research should be done prior to using false eyelashes or eyelash extensions. Reviewing the list of ingredients in the adhesive for potential red flags could help avoid eye injury. Going to a reputable establishment is highly recommended.

2. Eyelash enhancer serums help promote natural lashes to become longer and lusher.

  • The side effects to some of these serums are itching, redness of the eye and darkening of the eyelids and iris.
  • Consultation with your doctor prior to using any eyelash enhancer serum is recommended, especially if you are currently on a treatment plan for glaucoma or any other eye condition.

3. Permanent eyeliner is a tattoo application that replaces the need for liquid, pencil or gel eyeliner. It can be done on the upper/lower or both lids.

  • Irritation or infection can result from the use of pigment applied to the delicate skin around the eye.
  • This procedure is relatively safe if done by a reputable salon. I checked with my ophthalmologist who said that there is no danger of sight loss from the use of permanent eyeliner. However if you are considering this for yourself I recommend following up with your doctor.

4. Colored contacts for cosmetic use are packaged under different names (decorative, Halloween, doll-eyed, theatrical, etc.) but they all change the appearance of the iris. To learn more about colored contacts read Maureen Duffy’s post titled “Halloween,Lady Gaga, and Cosmetic Contact Lenses.”

  • In the U.S., all contacts (corrective or non-corrective) are considered medical devices and require a prescription. The risks on the use of these contacts are the same as with prescription contact lenses. Some of these risks include: corneal scratches, conjunctivitis, infection, decreased vision and blindness.
  • Always get a prescription for cosmetic contacts. Wash your hands before handling lenses, never share contacts with another person, only use contact lens solution for cleaning and storing lenses, follow the doctor’s instructions.

Cosmetic Eye Safety Tips

In addition to all of the above, being aware of harmful ingredients in cosmetics is a key step in preventing allergic reactions or infections in the eyes. Dangerous ingredients such as parabens, petrolatum, formaldehyde, fragrance, phthalates and many others can be found in mascaras, eyeliners, and glues. I have heard it said that if you can’t pronounce the name of the ingredient it probably isn’t safe for use in or on the body. In addition, contrary to what many believe, the FDA does not approve any tints or dyes for eyelashes and eyebrows. Though the FDA takes a strong stance on the use of color additives, they do not regulate the ingredients in cosmetics. In view of this the burden is on us, the consumer, to become personal product safety advocates. We have to do the necessary legwork to ensure that the cosmetics we are using, especially those that we use on our eyes, are safe. So, I have listed some resources from the FDA below for further information.

Follow Good Eye Safety Tips

eye pencil

Even though you’ve done your homework, and learned how to properly apply makeup as a visually impaired person choose eye makeup deemed safe, avoid specialized procedures like eyelash extensions or permanent liner. Unfortunately, These steps still don’t make you immune to allergies or infections, so follow these steps to minimize these situations:

  • Always wash your hands before applying your eye makeup
  • When applying eyeliner do so at the lash line and not inside the eye
  • Throw away mascara at 3 months (perfect breeding ground for bacteria is the dark, moist container)
  • Throw away dried out mascara do not add liquid to it to extend its life
  • Throw away liquid eyeliner at 3 months
  • Throw away eyeliner pencils at 2 years and frequently sharpen them
  • Do not store makeup in the bathroom (heat and humidity contribute to the growth of bacteria)
  • If you notice eye irritation from the use of any eye makeup throw it away
  • If your eyes are irritated or you have an eye infection do not put on eye makeup until it clears
  • Never share or borrow makeup
  • Always remove makeup before going to bed

Educate Yourself and Be Safe

Undoubtedly a person’s eyes are the focal point and as history has shown us women have and will continue to use products to enhance their eyes. Even so just ask anyone who has lost their vision to inappropriate use of cosmetics or through a cosmetic procedure gone awry and they will tell you that no amount of beautification is worth the loss of eyesight. The final message is to educate yourself on the products you are using, ensure that you are using the correct tools and techniques in makeup application and protect the health of your eyes by following safe practices in storing and discarding cosmetics.

FDA and CDC Resources on Eye Makeup and Decorative Contact Lens Safety:

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Living With Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve and can result in vision loss and blindness. The leading cause of blindness in people over 60 years of age damage caused by glaucoma is permanent and cannot be reversed. The good news is if caught early glaucoma can be treated and controlled.

The silent thief of sight, most people don’t notice they’ve lost vision to the condition until it’s too late which is why prevention is so important. In recognition of World Glaucoma Awareness Week March 12-18, 2017, I will share information each day on this topic.

Being diagnosed with primary open-angle glaucoma a few years back I had no symptoms but I’m very fortunate because of my other eye issues my retina specialist and ophthalmologist monitored my situation very closely. Initially I was diagnosed with ocular hypertension which meant my intraocular pressure (IOP) was high. While most eye care professionals define the range of normal IOP as between 10 and 21 mmHg, which is a pressure measurement, my range was running around 30 to 40 mm.
I’m a little fuzzy on when my condition went from ocular hypertension to glaucoma but I wasn’t surprised by the diagnosis since my grandmother also had the disease. Even though it took quite a bit of time to get to the diagnosis it wasn’t the end of treatment because in addition to seeing my ophthalmologist every four months, to maintain my remaining eyesight I have to take Latanoprost (eye drop prescription) everyday for the rest of my life.

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Makeup Perfection & Vision Loss

The Continuing Conversation

Image of two empty conversation bubbles (one blue one pink)
Image found on Disability Blog

I received the BEST surprise on Friday. After spending all day at a very informative and productive networking event it was such a pleasure to come home, get warm & toasty, go online, open my inbox and find a hidden treasure.

“I featured you on my website today under my Friday Friends column.” Was the lead-in sentence and of course I recognized the sender’s name so it was off to their site to check out the article.

Amy Bovaird, author of Mobility Matters: Stepping Out in Faith, liked a post I wrote for VisionAware so much that she decided to share it with her readers – Thank you Amy!

Friday Friends: Spotlight on Stephanae McCoy begins with a brief history on my sight loss then it goes into how women who are blind or vision impaired can be fashionable. The response from some of Amy’s readers was so kind and supportive I wanted to share it with you today.

If you’re human and I can only assume you are or you wouldn’t be reading this post, depending on your age, you’ve probably been through some stuff. One minute we’re merrily skipping through life then all of the sudden BAM…a significant life-altering event has occurred.

While the recovery period is not the same for everyone, broadly speaking it could be said that during the initial aftermath of said event your body goes on autopilot (I think this is a built-in safety mechanism for our protection during the adjustment period). Once the haze has lifted and we fully recognize what has happened to us we react with the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Again, depending on individual circumstances, the recovery period can be short, long or indefinite. If we are able and willing to make the choice to get through the after-affects of severe trauma it’s at that point we make use of any resources at our disposal to do what we need to do to keep going.

None of us are immune to disability or unfortunate situations that may arise in our lives. It becomes a matter of how we respond to these circumstances that determines our being able to move forward.

It’s important that we look at people as unique individuals who are capable of achieving our hearts’ desire. For some of us who have disabilities this may be more of a challenge but not impossible. The most difficult obstacle we face is breaking through the preconceived notions of others.

When many people experience a painful, life-changing event, though it may take time to adjust while learning new skills and techniques of doing what we used to do, we are fundamentally still the same. In my case I took pride in how I carried myself and my appearance with makeup, dress. Since losing my sight these things have not changed as they are integral to who I am however the way I achieve the end result had to be modified.

The Elephant

Photo of elephant sitting on his hind legs taking a shower under a waterfull. looks like he's having a grand time. Found on Pinterest via Buzzfeed
Found on Pinterest via Buzzfeed

People are afraid of going blind, it’s a fact that has been proven time and time again in numerous studies and surveys. Losing vision is scary.

No longer being able to see yourself during personal grooming, applying makeup, getting dressed then heading out into a world who doesn’t understand how to approach you is scary. But here’s the good news – you can adapt and go on to live a fulfilling life.

Though vision loss impacts every aspect of our lives, letting go of the need for self-imposed perfection, and opening ourselves up to new perspectives can go a long way in the healing process.

In the area of makeup, I initially decided I just wasn’t going to wear it anymore because trying to apply it was too difficult (can’t you just hear me whining?) I think this was more a matter of   a lack of control because it was like I was having an adult temper tantrum. “I’ll show you Steph, since using this makeup is too hard I’ll just quit” (picture an image of me with closed fists, arms crossed, and my best sulking face and that was my stance).

Once I got through this nasty pity party period I did several things:

  • Evaluated my processes and products, eliminated what wasn’t working and tweaked what was doable.
  • Up until last year since I couldn’t manage liquid eyeliner I just  used pencil to line under the eyes. Now I use pencil on the lids as well.
  • Stopped using foundation for a few years then began using mineral makeup, to now using a sheer liquid that blends so easily I don’t have to worry about streaking.
  • Stopped lining my lips although I think I can begin doing this again.
  • No longer use mascara on lower lashes (tried this on a number of occasions and I always end up looking like a panda – no biggie)
  • Stopped using blush
  • Went to a cosmetologist to help me with developing a personalized makeup routine

Today, my makeup technique is nowhere near what it used to be but then again neither am I. Oh sure, I’m still my harshest critic, stubborn, judgmental, and nitpicky but I’m also, a smart, resourceful, introspective, problem-solver who is still learning. I’m glad to say that though I still strive to be the best me I can be, letting go of the all-consuming perfectionism has been liberating.

Always remember – when you feel good, you look good.

“Man is the only creature that refuses to be what he is.” ~Albert Camus

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Featuring Empish Thomas – Telling Our Stories…

My Journey as a Blind Writer and Editor

Today’s fierce woman is someone I’ve only met virtually by conference calls and email. Empish and I serve as Peer Advisors for VisionAware and in this role we offer advice and helpful tips to those new to vision loss. Empish is a prolific writer, advocate, and mentor whom I am so glad to have met because she has been an invaluable resource to me and a voice for blind and vision impaired people. It gives me great pleasure to introduce you to Empish Thomas…

From the time I was a small child I have always been intrigued by the written word. From checking out children’s books at my local library to reading the newspaper out loud to my parents, words have always moved and compelled me.

Empish Thomas at CVI Exhibit Table at Coca-Cola's Disability and Diversity Awareness Fair.
Empish Thomas at CVI Exhibit Table at Coca-Cola’s Disability and Diversity Awareness Fair.

Fast forward to my adult life-with a journalism degree and a disability I decided to focus my career on writing stories and advocacy for people in my own community. I had noticed the negative and sometimes incorrect portrayal of the disabled in the news media and decided to be proactive in changing that image. I believe that language is powerful and that people with disabilities must tell their own story. Hence the Nigerian proverb “Don’t let the lion tell the giraffe’s story.”

So here’s a little bit of my own tale. My journey as a visually impaired writer started about 16 years ago. After finishing my rehabilitation training at the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI), I volunteered to write and edit a newsletter that blossomed into a paid position. In this new position I provided information and resources to people with disabilities. At the same time I worked part-time as an AmeriCorps member providing peer support and advocacy. I later launched my freelance writing career with an emphasis on the disabled. This passion and journalism experience landed me a column in Dialogue Magazine writing career profiles on people who are visually impaired. Each issue I profile people working successfully in a variety of career fields from education, government, science, self-employment and arts and entertainment.

In addition to my column, I work at CVI as their Public Education Manager. For the past 5 years, I have been conducting facility tours, managing exhibit booths at community/resource fairs, and posting InfoLink, our community bulletin board. I also am a public speaker for United Way and manage our speaker’s bureau. Additionally, I have entered the blogosphere by managing CVI’s website blog called Sightseeing. This has been an exciting new undertaking for me because I get to blog about issues that impact the blind community, solicit guest bloggers, research story ideas and plan the editorial calendar.

And if all of this was not enough I volunteer in the blind community as well! I am a peer advisor and blogger for VisionAware. On this site I lend my professional and personal experience to people experiencing vision loss. I have been a volunteer with the American Foundation for the Blind’s Career Connect interacting via e-mail with others who are interested in pursuing a journalism career. In the past I was a volunteer producer for a monthly hour radio show for the blind called “Eye on Blindness” sponsored by the Georgia area Radio Reading Service (GaRRS). The interview-style show featured a special guest providing information on a variety of topics such as travel, employment, health and politics.

I am proud of the fact that I have been able to take my education, disability, work and life experiences and combined them. Not only do I have a rewarding and meaningful life but a fantastic career that I absolutely love!

Empish, thank you for taking the time to share your personal journey and how you were able to continue to lead a productive and fulfilling life. You are an inspiration and role model for all of us!

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

My career www.linkedin.com/in/empishthomas

Freelance  www.empishthomas.com