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Inclusive BBQ Cook-Off Mardi Gras Style

Beauty Buzz Page Header is described in the body of the post.

Each year, more than 800 scholarships are awarded to Texas students by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™. As one of the largest scholarship providers in the U.S., the Rodeo has presented more than 19,000 scholarships valued at $230 million since 1957. Currently, more than 2,300 students are on Rodeo scholarships, attending more than 80 different Texas colleges and universities. The value of these scholarships is more than $50 million.

~RodeoHouston.com
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5 Sense Tour Gang

Last week I returned home from a week-long trip to Houston, TX to experience the World Championship BBQ Cook-Off (WCBBQ). What made this event so special is how it came into existence 5 years ago through the vision of Advocate Extraordinaire Chelsea Nguyen.

A Little Background

Houston Chronicle Newspaper clipping is described in the body of the post.
Houston Chronicle Newspaper Clipping

My friend and business partner, Chelsea, is a professional stylist, makeup artist, bilingual educator, and business owner. Her involvement in the blind, visually impaired (B&VI) and the disabled community began with her volunteer work with Sight Into Sound in 2011. Chelsea’s company, CN Vision Image Consulting, offers one-on-one as well as group training that empowers B&VI or disabled individuals. With her client’s independence and self-confidence in mind, Chelsea provides them with the adaptive visual and non-visual life skills needed to enhance their lives. In addition to being an advocate for equal employment opportunities for the B&VI and Disabled Community Chelsea also serves on several boards:

Collage 1 described in body of the post.
Collage 1

The Birth Of WCBBQ 5-Sense Tour

Chelsea’s passion for the inclusion and accessibility of people with disabilities (PWDs) is extraordinary. This drive prompted her to connect with the WCBBQ Publicity Committee to strategize ways to enable PWDs and B&VI people to enjoy the event. As an invited guest I was able to do the pre-tour walk-through with Chelsea and Scott Arthur a Publicity Committee Volunteer who helps with Media Relations.

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Collage 2

The day before the tour Chelsea and I were greeted by Scott, our golf cart-riding escort. Can I stop here a sec and say how giddy I was to ride on a golf cart for the first time? What can I say? I led a sheltered life. Anyhoo, I thought I understood how big the WCBBQ was gonna be but I.WAS.WRONG! Scott gave me a little history:

  • 2020 is the 47th year of the WCBBQ
  • This particular cook-off is one of the largest in the world
  • Money raised for the WCBBQ provides higher education scholarships for Texas students
  • There are over 1,100 volunteers
  • Over 250 teams compete
  • It takes about a week to build the pop-up tent city and 1 day to tear it down in preparation for the rodeo
  • The number of attendees is staggering and the event is similar to Mardi Gras
  • I can’t remember how many international teams there were but I do remember the Australian team. I could have listened to them talk for days.

The first stop after leaving the parking lot was the Volunteer’s Committee tent for lunch. Only volunteers and invited guests with wrist bands were cleared by security and allowed entry. The tent was massive and filled with tables, chairs, full bar, a stage for live entertainment, cafeteria-style setup offering (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), an all-day al la carte station that served hot dogs and such. Then they even had an outdoor courtyard with fancy facilities, not your average porta-potties.

After lunch, we visited 6 team’s tents to discuss logistics with the pit bosses in preparation for the next day. While we made good time riding in a golf cart, I didn’t realize the walking distance until the actual tour.

Paloma, Brandon & Steph Image is described in the body of the post.
Paloma, Brandon & Steph

It’s Go Time

The day of the WCBBQ was absolutely beautiful with temperatures rising near the 80s. Chelsea and I got an early start donned our cowgirl gear, packed equipment and headed to the meeting spot. We met up with the other invited guests then boarded shuttles to take us to the BBQ tour grounds.

Once we arrived on the grounds, we were taken to United Airlines’ tent for lunch. United kindly hosted our group for a tasty meal of brisket, sausage, hot potato salad, baked beans and more. During lunch, we were paired with volunteers to serve as sighted guides and audio describers. After we were done eating the United team took us on a tour of their tent which included a large Boeing 777 replica grill. Before our next stop, we had a photo op in front of United where we took turns sitting on a saddled wooden horse.

During our walks to each subsequent tent, Chelsea and the volunteers described everything along the way. A full sensory experience, it was wonderful to participate in an event that appealed to smells, tastes, touch, and sound. Each of the hosts was also extremely kind and accomodating to our group as they explained their particular barbeque technique. Aside from the care put into the event, what touched me the most about it were comments from fellow attendees. “I wasn’t expecting all of this,” said one person. “This is so much fun,” and “I’m so glad I came because it exceeded my expectations,” said others.

Since a few of us stayed after the tour we said our goodbyes to those who boarded the shuttles to go home.

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Collage 3

Did I Mention Mardi Gras AKA The Carnival?

So Chelsea told me there was a carnival after the tour and I should have known it’d be HUGE but again I was surprised. After all, they say “everything’s bigger in Texas” and it’s absolutely true. This carnival was like a full-fledged amusement park back home in Pittsburgh and did I mention all the people? It was so crowded for a heartbeat I thought I’d have a panic attack.

The highlight of the night for me was when I got to see a real-life mechanical bull. And yes, I even thought I might give it a go but there was a problem. If I were bold enough to ride the bull my cowgirl hat along with my wig would have flown off. Then there was the possibility of my body becoming a mangled mess cause I wouldn’t have lasted more than a second.🤣 But wow, it looked like a blast!

Mechanical Bull is described in the body of the post
Mechanical Bull

When In Rome…

When in Texas and especially when attending a huge shindig like the WCBBQ, western gear is a fashion essential. With this in mind, I ordered cowgirl boots online and broke them in prior to leaving for Houston. The day before the event Chelsea and I went thrifting and we couldn’t believe our great fortune. Our color palettes ended up being black and orange for Chelsea and for me, it was blue and beige. Chelsea snagged boots, top, vest, and a crossbody bag. Meanwhile, I scored a super cheap cowgirl hat, blinged-out belt, cross-body bag, and a gorgeous leather vest. Pairing these items with my jeans, chambray shirt, accessories, and boots, I felt fabulous.

Being a minimalist serves me well especially when traveling as I wear the biggest items that otherwise would take up space. So just in case, you were wondering how I got my boots to Houston, the answer is I wore them. Likewise, when flying home I wore the entire outfit because I didn’t want to crush my hat and vest.

Cowgirl Gear Collage is described in the body of the post.
Cowgirl Gear Collage

And The Winner is…

Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ 2020 World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest is a mouthful isn’t it? I must admit I was confused about the barbecue contest and how the rodeo fit into the scheme of things. It wasn’t until Scott explained that the contest and carnival launch the opening of the rodeo that I understood. So who won the barbecue contest? Drumroll, please…

Congratulations to The Overall Grand Champion Fayette County Go Texan! Full results can be accessed HERE.

Summary

My entire trip was so magnificent and I can barely wait to share some of the other things I did while in Houston. For now though I’ll be seein’ ya.

Image Descriptions:

  • Beauty Buzz Header Image: Background on the header is half black and half white. The words “Beauty” and “Buzz” are white on black and black on white text. At the end of the word, “Buzz” is a colorful bumblebee.
  • 5 Sense Tour Gang: 5 Sense Tour attendees, volunteers, and United Airlines Team are standing behind a wooden fence and in front of the 777 replica grill. A wagon wheel and the saddled wooden horse are in the foreground.
  • Houston Chronicle Newspaper Clipping: Photo of Brandon Munoz and Chelsea with a caption that says “Brandon Munoz of Missouri City feels an African sable head with Chelsea Nguyen, an advocate for the visually impaired and disabled, during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest on Friday.”
  • Collage 1: 5 photos clockwise top L. 1) BBQ Social Club tent pit boss holding a walkie talkie and telling us about the whole hog on the grill as the attendees and volunteers look on. 2) Attendees are lined up and touching the United 777 replica grill (only used as a warmer and safe to touch). 3) Chelsea is talking into a walkie talking as Scott and several volunteers look onward, an occupied golf cart is in the background. 4) Attendees, volunteers, and the Australian Team posing for the camera while standing. 5) Scott looking sharp in his black western outfit paired with the volunteer orange vest is helping to serve food to the attendees.
  • Collage 2: Two photos. Top) Steph, Brandon and Chelsea are posing with one of the funniest Texans I met. Bottom) At the carnival Steph, Chelsea and Brandon are each holding a yellow duckie from one of the games.
  • Paloma, Brandon & Steph: L to R Photo of my friends Paloma Marquez, Brandon, and me. We are all dressed in our western gear and while it wasn’t planned all of our outfits complement one another. Paloma’s beige top perfectly matched my vest & ‘cowgirl’ hat and my chambray shirt went great with Brandon’s blue flannel. All three of us are wearing shades. We are sitting at a round countertop table.
  • Collage 3: 6 photos clockwise top L. 1) Brandon and Chelsea are posing for the camera while sitting at a table in the volunteer committee tent. 2) Steph, Brandon, and Chelsea are standing in front of a huge Ferris Wheel at the carnival. 3) Brandon, Steph, and Chelsea are among a group of seven posing for the camera in the Volunteer Committee tent. 4) Selfie of Steph and Chelsea taken at the carnival. 5) Steph, Brandon, and Chelsea outside of the Volunteer Committee tent headed to the carnival. 6) Steph and Brandon standing in front of a very tall ride shaped like a palm tree with swings.
  • Mechanical Bull: A brown and white bull in the center of a red inflated ring.
  • Cowgirl Gear Collage: 5 photos clockwise top L. 1) A rhinestone-embellished fleur-de-lis black crossbody bag and a black western style belt covered in rhinestones. 2) Beige cowgirl hat with decorative brown thin leather stitching on the brim and around the crown. 3) Back of a beige leather vest with lacing detail at the bottom. 4) Front of the vest with a braided strip down each side. 5) Cowgirl boots – The bottom of the boots is olive/brownish. The shaft is cream with an olive embroidered design.
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Tatum Tricarico From Author To Advocate:

Pushing For Disability Representation

People yelled mean things, whispered to each other, kicked my cane, stared, pointed, laughed, and ultimately made me feel like I was less worthy because of my blindness.

Tatum Tricarico

The above quote breaks my heart but I know all too well, the truth its words convey. Even so, I’m so grateful that the ignorance and hatred displayed here didn’t stop Tatum. In recognition of International Women’s Day which was yesterday, I’m thrilled to introduce you to an exceptional young woman. Tatum Tricarico, March’s Woman On The Move, is a powerhouse who is breaking barriers! Her fight for the inclusion of people with disabilities began with her personal story of exclusion. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to a fierce young woman, Tatum Tricarico. Enjoy!

Growing Up

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I often remember learning about Helen Keller in school because when people see my cane, many decide to fumble into an awkward story about learning about Helen Keller when they were young. But as a child, I don’t remember feeling connected to her.

I knew I had a vision impairment and had already undergone many surgeries, but for the most part, I considered myself sighted. I could “pass” as sighted well, aside from the occasional large print. Then all of a sudden as a sophomore in high school, seeing began to cause me pain. Just using my eyes hurt so badly that I would have to stop whatever I was doing. I suddenly realize that I couldn’t keep “passing” as sighted and that I was going to have to stop using my vision to avoid constant, debilitating pain. I began functioning as blind. I started using a cane and reading braille. My functional blindness came on very quickly and had a huge impact on how I lived.

“Independence”

Independence was definitely a buzz word in special education. I was told that I needed to be as independent as possible or I wouldn’t be able to be a college student or adult. I felt like I had lost so much independence when my vision changed and was convinced that I would need to be fully independent before I could be a “real” adult or bring good to the world. This definitely helped me motivate myself to learn braille, figure out accommodations in college, and learn how to travel with a cane. But what it didn’t do was prepare me for life.

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I realized in college that being dependent on those around me is not a bad thing. The only way I am making it through college is:

  • depending on my friends to be student readers and notetaker in my classes,
  • depending on my professors to accommodate and
  • depending on both friends and professors to help me in relation to my functional blindness
  • and in ways that everyone else needs help.

But I also know that my friends are dependent on me for things, too. That’s community. My independence has come from recognizing when I need help and when I am called to help those around me.

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Imperfections

As I gained more of this independence within the community, I started going out and doing more things with friends. I quickly realized that people did not respond well to seeing my cane. They were scared of me, rude to me, and occasionally mean to me or mad at me. People yelled mean things, whispered to each other, kicked my cane, stared, pointed, laughed, and ultimately made me feel like I was less worthy because of my blindness. In response, I turned to something that I have always loved: writing.

I started writing the story of a man named Will living with a disability in a futuristic society. I wrote the story of his journey to prove his worth. I got my friends, family, and professors to help me edit it, and eventually, I published my novel Imperfections. Now that it has been made available on Amazon, several people have read it and my advocacy journey has started to take off.

Women’s March

Recently, I connected with the San Diego Woman’s March and expressed the importance of having disabled women in their speaker line up. Eventually, I was chosen to speak to the tens of thousands of people there. As a junior in college, this was the biggest honor of my life and I loved every minute of it.

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Getting the opportunity to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities in front of so many people including many of my family and friends was empowering and monumental in my journey. I encouraged people to recognize the worth of those with disabilities, to pay attention to our stories, and to think about what role people with disabilities play in their lives.

Classroom Speaking

After the Women’s March, I was contacted by several elementary schools that wanted me to come to speak. To know that the most disability education people have is the occasional story of Helen Keller makes me think deeply about how wonderful it is that these students will get to learn from a blind college student. It fills me with joy to wonder how one interaction can impact them and prove the worth of people with disabilities. The fact that my vision changed in high school was so incredibly scary, but now, to realize the independence and confidence it has given me is an incredibly beautiful thing.

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Connecting With Tatum:

Image Descriptions:

  1. The B3 Magazine cover has a gray/white marbled background. The date & edition number, are in the upper right corner in black ink. Tatum’s photo is aligned on the right margin with the background appearing on the top, bottom and left margin. In this photo, Tatum (full body) is in front of a white wall holding her cane in the air with a shirt that says “what makes you different makes you beautiful!” “B3” is in large teal text and a teal-colored circle with Tatum’s name and “Women On The Move” in white text. There are four 4-lines of dark gray text on the image that reads “From Author to Advocate The Push for Disability Representation.”
  2. Tatum (close up) in front of a white wall holding her cane in the air with a shirt that says “what makes you different makes you beautiful!”
  3. Tatum smiling holding her book Imperfections. It has the title and her name on the cover along with a pair of red men’s shoes with the laces untied looking beat up.
  4. Tatum with a shirt that has a picture of a sign reading “blind person in area” and a poster in her hand that says “anything you can do I can do blind” with a cane and Braille letters drawn on.
  5. Tatum in her “blind person in area” shirt standing at a podium speaking with two microphones in front of her.
  6. Tatum in front of a classroom with her cane speaking to children.
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Sports: A Vehicle to Disability Advocacy

Introduction

Last week I introduced you to Blind Beauty Eliana Mason. Today, in her Women On the Move article, you’ll learn more about how she became a fierce sports competitor. A Disability Advocate in the making, I can see Eliana changing perceptions about visual impairment through her love of sports.

It’s not easy living “in-between” (not fully sighted, not fully blind). Like a vast number of conditions, visual impairment/blindness is a spectrum. None of us “see” the same, even those who have the exact same condition. We all “see” differently and whatever residual sight we possess impacts day to day living.

Visual Impairment & The Public

Peru 2019 Calahan & Eliana
Peru 2019 Calahan & Eliana

When I was born the doctors thought I was completely blind. I have underdeveloped eyes along with congenital glaucoma and cataracts. At just 9 days old I underwent surgery to remove my lenses. However, because my eyes were not fully developed the doctors were unable to complete the procedure, and my lenses were not replaced. This resulted in me having very limited vision in my right eye and only light perception in the left.

People always ask me “what can you see?” I find this difficult to answer because I was born with my eyes this way. All I can see is all I have ever known, therefore it makes comparison almost impossible. One big frustration I have is that most people don’t realize what it means to be visually impaired. Our brain wants to quickly categorize things and so others typically either think you are sighted or blind.

Visual impairment is a concept that confuses a lot of people and I have been accused of “faking” my disability. Who would even want to do that?

I get anxious using my cane because people have said to me “you are looking at your phone, why are you using that cane?” What they don’t understand is my font is HUGE, I have my screen zoomed and I am holding my phone right in front of my face. I want there to be more education on what it means to be visually impaired, and that no two individuals’ eye conditions are the same.

I want to feel confident and empowered using my cane, a tool meant to help me. However, often I am nervous due to the stigma and reactions by other individuals. It is my goal to be a disability advocate and change the way disabilities and especially blindness is viewed.

Natural Born Competitor

Team USA Red Carpet 2016
Team USA Red Carpet 2016

I grew up as the middle child between two brothers. Thus, it was my mission in life to keep up with them in every way possible. They are to blame for my competitive, stubborn, determined, and assertive nature. You really have to be tough growing up with only brothers. I would get frustrated when I couldn’t keep up with them athletically due to my vision.

Growing up I led a very active lifestyle; I loved hiking, camping, skiing, and of course playing sports. I tried a variety of sports, including cheerleading, track, gymnastics, and soccer. While I loved them all my vision became a barrier to my overall success.

At 15 I was so excited to discover goalball, a sport I could excel in without having to compensate for my vision loss. It was the first time in my life that I felt like I could be an athlete first. I was able to focus solely on the sport, without making adaptations or accommodations for my visual impairment.

You may be wondering what goalball is? It is a Paralympic sport geared specifically for blind and visually impaired athletes. It was developed in WWII for blinded vets and is now played internationally around the world in over 200 countries. I highly suggest looking it up. I joke that it is a sport for blind individuals, however, the easiest way to understand it, is to watch a game. Goalball is unlike any sport you have ever heard of and has changed my life.

Taking Love Of Sports To A Higher Level

Lima 2019 Throwing Photo is described in the body of the post.
Lima 2019 Throwing Photo

Through sports, I have really developed a stronger sense of self. Competing with other athletes who share my visual limitations helps me see them as role models, not only in sports but in life. I felt like I was part of a community bigger than myself and it really improved my overall confidence and identity.

Sports have shaped me into the person I am today. Through playing a competitive team sport, I appreciate the hard work, dedication, failure, loss, success, perseverance, and extreme joy that comes with the game. These are skills I can take off the court and implement throughout the course of my life. I would be lost without the opportunity to compete in sports and am so thankful I found goalball.

At first, I enjoyed goalball because it was something new, accessible, and sports-related. However, something changed for me after competing for a year and I realized I wanted to try and make the Paralympic team. I knew this would take a lot of drive, determination, and sacrifice which I was ready to give. I made the 2016 Rio Paralympic team and helped Team USA win a bronze medal in the sport of goalball. While this was amazing I am hungry for more and am training fulltime to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics with the overall goal of winning a gold medal. Training involves strength and conditioning, on the court practice, and nutrition.

Rio 2016 medal photo
Rio 2016 medal photo

Athlete Becomes World Traveler

Goalball has expanded my world, opportunities, experiences, confidence, and ability to navigate the world as a blind individual. I first started the game at 15 and am now 24. During this period of time I have been to:

Additionally, I’ve met other Olympic and Paralympic athletes, and had the privilege and opportunity to represent the USA on a world stage in the sport I love. I am currently living in Fort Wayne Indiana to train fulltime for goalball. We have our resident training center out here where we conduct on and off the court training five days a week. Having the opportunity to train with my team daily has exponentially increased our team’s skill and ability. I am so thankful to the City of Fort Wayne and Turnstone Center for Adults and Children with Disabilities for providing us with this experience.

It has been worth it to make the move in my life, however, it was honestly really scary to do so. Moving across the country away from my friends and family to an unfamiliar location was a very hard decision. I have grown a lot from this experience in my independence and have learned a lot about myself.

My boyfriend competes on the USA Men’s Goalball team. We are blessed that we get the opportunity to travel the world together and cheer one another on. Dating someone who shares my disability has taught me to be creative in how I do a lot of things. However, it has been really empowering to navigate the world together and teach others that we can accomplish anything we put our minds to.

Furthermore, I am a graduate student at Antioch University, aiming to achieve a Master’s in clinical mental health counseling. It is a passion of mine to work with children and families and I would ultimately love to specialize in disability counseling. I want to ensure that all families understand disabilities and know how to foster growth and independence in their children. A quote I really like (not sure where it comes from, I saw it written somewhere online) is “disability does not mean inability” this is how I live my life, and this is the message I am hoping to impart on the rest of society.

Lima 2019 medal photo
Lima 2019 medal photo

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured image – an action shot of Eliana playing goalball at the Para Pan American Games in Lima 2019. In this photo, she is on the ground blocking a goal shot from the opposing team.
  • Peru 2019 Calahan & Eliana – Lovely capture of Eliana’s boyfriend, Calahan (his right arm wrapped around Eliana), while standing in the arena in Lima 2019. Both are grinning as they are about to bite into their silver medals.
  • Team USA red carpet banquet in DC after the 2016 Rio games. Eliana is standing on the carpet wearing a red dress and gold sandals. Eliana has honey blonde hair just below her shoulders. She is wearing a bronze medal around her neck and behind her is a dark gray backdrop with the Team USA logo and logos of company sponsors.  
  • Another action shot of Eliana from the Para Pan American Games in Lima 2019.
  • A team photo on the medal stand from Rio 2016.
  • Another team photo on the medal stand from Peru 2019.
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My Journey to Becoming Fully Me Albinism & All

The Journey to Becoming Me featured image is described in the post.

My albinism doesn’t define me, but it sure makes me who I am. It is because of my albinism that I have become an incredible problem-solver and out-of-the-box thinker.

~Antonia Lliteras Espinosa

My Journey to Becoming Fully Me Albinism & All

Baby Antonia
Baby Antonia

I was born with albinism a rare genetic condition, which affects about one in 20,000 individuals in the United States. Albinism is the lack of pigment in hair, skin, and eyes. The type of albinism I have means I have no pigment or melanin in my body. However, there are other types where some melanin is present. Persons with albinism are visually impaired and often fall under the legally blind category. I am legally blind and have been since birth. 

Growing up I was very aware that I was different, even so, I had a happy childhood. My family was incredibly accepting and they were fierce advocates on my behalf. I always had everything I needed in school and my parents pushed me to become my own advocate. Self-advocacy began from a very young age and for that, I am ever so grateful.

I grew up in Spain where most people have brunette or black hair, dark eyes, and olive skin. Standing out from the crowd, I was often teased by my peers because of my appearance. However, since I grew up in a small town, my appearance became normal and my classmates moved on to the next thing.

Belonging to O.N.C.E., Spain’s equivalent to the National Federation for the Blind (NFB), was a great resource for me and my family. I went to summer camp with other visually impaired kids where we participated in sports and other fun activities. They also provided orientation and mobility ( O&M ) training and any other school or in-home support I needed. Since there weren’t any organizations specifically dedicated to persons with albinism in Spain, this was the best option. Through O.N.C.E. I met a handful of kids with albinism and so I knew I wasn’t the only one.

Smoothing The Way By Assimilation

As I got older, I went to college abroad and lost touch with the blind and visually impaired community. It wasn’t a choice, it was just life.

So, during my adult formative years, I didn’t have role models who used any sort of accommodations. Not having anyone to compare notes with; I didn’t miss it, I was getting by. Even though I was legally blind, I was proud of being able to do everything everyone else did. The only accommodation I had were magnifiers to read. I never asked for special treatment in or out of class. Looking back at those years I marvel at how I got myself through graduate school! I accepted my albinism but didn’t accept that my disability might mean I have to do things a little differently.

When I started working I never disclosed my visual impairment. In addition, I worked really hard to minimize what it meant for me on a daily basis. I’m an incredibly organized person who gets anxiety over going to new places. As much as I could, I would map out routes days in advance. Then I’d even go on a test run the day before I had to be there, just to be sure I would find the location. Similarly, networking events were torture. Sure, it’s partly because I am an introvert, but I had a terrible time remembering people’s faces or recognizing them!

Accepting Albinism Through Social Media

A couple of years ago after joining a few albinism groups on Facebook, I became enlightened. A lot of the quirks I thought were part of my personality, I discovered were probably due to my low vision. I found a lot of visually impaired people get anxious when going to new places; many don’t like networking events. And for me, it is no wonder I can’t remember or recognize people—I cannot see them! 

These online communities quickly became a place of solace, soul searching, and self-growth. I began to see very successful professionals use assistive technology. Also, I began to accept my visual impairment as a strength and no longer viewed it as a weakness. My albinism doesn’t define me, but it sure makes me who I am. It is because of my albinism that I have become an incredible problem-solver and out-of-the-box thinker. I tapped into the strength of the kid who was once such a fierce self-advocate. I knew I could become a better worker and person if I accepted doing things a little differently. Sometimes, I may need help but I realized that everybody has shortcomings and that we all need help at times.

Embracing Me Is Okay

When I began using a white cane it was my biggest moment of growth. It was both one of the best and one of the hardest decisions of my life. I was putting my disability on display for everyone to see, I was showing everyone what, for so many years, I considered my biggest weakness. I also questioned whether I truly needed it or not. With a lot of support along the way, I have found my cane to be so wonderful, in more ways than I expected. 

When I received cane training, I spent quite a bit of time with other blind and visually impaired individuals. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders! I began thinking about my journey and my struggle to come to terms with my blindness. Part of this process was understanding what it meant for me in my daily life. This is what triggered me to start blogging about being legally blind and still live a fulfilling life.

I want to show that my blindness is not my weakness, but an asset. While I can’t tell younger me what I know now, I hope my words will show other young people it is okay to be blind. It’s okay to talk about their disability and to seek help when they need it. They aren’t weak because of their visual impairment, they are strong in spite of it.

Connecting With Antonia On Social Media:

My Journey To Becoming Fully Me Featured Image Description:

Antonia with her crown of white/blond hair is posing outdoors with her white cane. She is broadly smiling as she poses confidently with her white cane that has a pink handle. Wearing a faux wrap light-colored top with jeans and adorable pointed flats Antonia is a beauty. Her jeans are accented with a pink bouquet of roses on the upper right hip.

Additional Images:

  • Baby Antonia is so adorable sitting on the floor playing with a toy. In this photo, she is dressed in a red top with green trim, white pants, green socks, and dark shoes.
  • Antonia is posing in her cap and gown holding a bouquet of pink roses. She has on sunnies and her white dress with black polka dots can be seen with dressy black flats.