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
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?
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.
As we continue practicing physical distancing, I hope you and your loved ones are well. I couldn’t quite sum up how I’ve beenfeeling lately until I saw the word “melancholy” earlier today. What’s been helping me deal with the pandemic, is being present and truly appreciating each moment as it happens. My life has been so much more than I ever anticipated and I embrace it all; the ups, downs, mistakes, heartbreaks, everything. Who knows how different my life would be had I not endured my experiences? I’ll never know the answer to this question and it’s alright because today I choose to be better than I was yesterday.
Even during a pandemic life presses onward and we can always learn new lessons to enrich our lives. In today’s post, you’ll hear from Catherine Harrison about accepting help no matter how far we’ve come. I’m also happy to announce that Catherine will be an ongoing contributor to Bold Blind Beauty. ~Steph
Stopping Traffic…With My Pride
I’ll bet many women have imagined looking so fabulous in an outfit that heads turn and traffic stops just to watch them walk past. So, I guess it counts that in downtown Austin, Texas I brought traffic to a dead standstill at the intersection of 6th Street and North Lamar. Unfortunately, it was not because I was wearing a fabulous Oscar de La Renta dress or looked particularly on point…it was because of my white cane and my location.
With the progressive loss of my eyesight, due to RP (Retinitis Pigmentosa), I attended a school for blind adults in Austin, Tx to get the skills I needed to navigate life visually impaired. One of the daily classes I attended was mobility training. Blindfolded for 8 hours a day I learned to travel about totally independent using only my wits, a cell phone, my four other senses, and my white cane.
Near the end of my 4 months of training, I was sent downtown on an errand. Feeling very confident in my skillset I navigated public transportation like it was my job, maintained my sense of direction like a Navy SEAL, and even stood in line at the bank to complete the task. On my return, I had to cross the intersection of 6th street and North Lamar.
I listened for the flow of traffic then set off walking confidently behind my cane to what I thought was the opposite corner. After walking a bit, I stopped and waited, listening for the traffic pattern to confirm I had reached the other side.
Nothing…all around me I heard nothing. No roar of cars speeding past me, only the sound of idling engines. Several minutes passed and I heard a car door close, then a woman touched my arm and asked me if I needed help. “No, I said…I am doing great thanks”. Well clearly, I was not doing great but I was the last one to figure that out. The cars were not moving because I was standing smack dab in the middle of this busy intersection. No one was honking or yelling at me…they were just waiting as if holding their breath and cheering me on.
Yes, I did eventually make my way out of the intersection and I could almost hear the collective clapping from those who wanted me to succeed. I learned a big lesson that day, not to let my pride get in the way of accepting help from others. I also discovered that when I let others see me fail it encourages them to know that if I can rise strong and navigate the hard times then so can they!
The header image of the Beyond Sight Magazine cover has a gray/white marbled background. The date & edition number are in the upper right corner in black ink. Catherine’s photo is aligned on the right margin with the background appearing on the top, bottom and left margin. With short blonde hair, Catherine is on the cover wearing a white shirt. She’s sitting with her arm on a sofa and her eyes are downcast.“Beyond Sight” is in large black text and a teal-colored circle on the lower left corner of the photo has yellow text that says “Catherine Harrison.”
In this image of Catherine relaxed in a chair we can see her full outfit; white shirt with blue jeans and gold jewelry.
So recently I sat down with my creator, Stephto get a better understanding of how I came into existence. It was so cool talking with Steph, learning a little about her creative process, and eventually becoming the voice of Bold Blind Beauty. During our conversation, I mention two fabulous people Chelsea Nguyen, CN Vision Image Consulting, and Alexa Jovanovic of Aille Designs. You’ll hear more about these remarkable women going forward. So, sit back, relax, and listen to our conversation or if you prefer to follow along by reading I’ve provided the transcript. ~Abby
Abby: Hey, guys. It’s me, Abby. I’m super excited to be here and it’s awesome! I’m hanging out with my creator, Steph, and she’s amazing, the creator of Bold Blind Beauty and me, the fashion icon Abby. How are you today, Steph?
Steph: I’m doing well, Abby. How are you?
Abby: I’m feeling so alive! I mean, there’s so much that you and I have done together, and as many lives as we’ve changed and people that we’ve met, it’s just super exciting! Don’t you think?
Steph: It’s extremely exciting to know that you came about from the idea of all the blind and visually impaired women around the world who are doing amazing things and focusing on what we can do versus what we can’t do. It’s just amazing to me.
Abby: It is, and I feel like the fact that I was created by taking parts of different women that are everybody… I mean, people that are like super outgoing, people that can rock stilettos and have our canes and we don’t care because we know that we’re awesome!
Steph: It makes me happy knowing that you’ve come to life. You were just an idea, and to know that life was breathed into you from a mere seedling of an idea, a combination of every blind and visually impaired woman around the world is just something I could only dream of. And now to know that you are here totally blows me away!
Abby: It does me, too, and I love the fact that we’re doing this. But let’s talk about those dreams. What were you thinking of when you were dreaming of this personally?
Steph: Personally, what I was thinking was, my own personal experience of losing my sight, and how people looked at me, was how to help them understand that just because I use a white cane or because I can no longer see doesn’t mean that I’m less of a person, that I still have value, and that the white cane is simply a tool that I use to now navigate the world.
Abby: Yeah, and I think we rock ours very well with our stylish clothing and our impeccable makeup that we learn to do from so many people like Chelsea, and we have our fashion designers like Alexa and all of the fun people in our lives. I don’t understand how a cane can be looked at in such a way of negativity. I think it’s almost fear. Don’t you?
Steph: I do and honestly, that’s the way I had to look at it. Before I started using the cane, I, too, looked at it as a negative. I felt that using the cane would make me a victim. I felt like I would have a target on my back. I didn’t look at it as a tool of empowerment until it came down to the point where I had to use it and today, I’m so happy to say that I go nowhere without my cane. As a matter of fact, if I do, perchance, when I’m out somewhere and I lean it up against something to look at something close up, if I walk away, I feel naked without it. So I have to have my cane with me everywhere I go, and I’m so happy.
Abby: I myself was so incredibly nervous at first, but the more and more confident you got, I believe as my creator, the more confident I got to be able to rock my cane, too. I couldn’t have been able to go do the amazing things I’ve done all over the world and met the amazing people had it not been for your strength. So tell us. How did you get over that fear?
Steph: Getting over the fear of using the cane, it took some time, it was a process. I can’t pretend that one day I woke up and I wasn’t using the cane, then I woke up and started using it, it was not like that. It was something I had to go through and it’s different for everybody. Not everyone looks at the cane initially as a negative thing, there are some people who look at it as the tool that it is a tool of empowerment. They know that it is a gift of independence, but for me, it really took some time. After I had my orientation and mobility training, I had to really think about it. I put it away, I put it in a closet and I just needed time to think. But while I was thinking, of course, I was living and in so doing, almost got hit by a car on a route that I traveled regularly. Because I knew the route, I thought it was safe. It was during that time that I realized I needed to rethink some things.
Abby: Yeah, I think you made a really good point, there’s a point in every person’s life men and women alike that we do have a yikes moment and ours (you and I) just happens to be blindness. But it’s still going through that process of living and figuring out who we are and still rocking forward. So tell us how did you get to that point where you were like ‘okay I’m done with the fear of blindness and being able to bond with it, because I feel like we had to get over that first before we could embrace our canes as power? Talk about what that was like.
Steph: That too was a process. What I had to do was accept my new normal. I had to accept the fact that I could no longer do things that I used to do the way I used to do them. I had to learn how to do things a little bit differently. I think one of the major fears of blindness is the fact that people feel they’re out of control, and the way I had to look at it was, number one, I’m not in control of much anyway as far as life is concerned, and I would have to learn how to trust, and I think the cane taught me that. Because the distance between my feet and the farthest the cane can reach, that’s all the further that I can really see. I can’t see beyond that, but that’s OK because as long as I’m within that perimeter with my cane, I’m good to go. So it was sort of a combination of learning to trust, learning to do things differently, learning to trust myself and above all, learning to accept my disability.
Abby: And how much power is in that, finding acceptance?
Steph: There is so much power in finding acceptance! Finding acceptance helps to wipe away the fear, and if not wipe it away, at least it makes the fear more manageable. I was so afraid when I was told I was legally blind and that there was no more the doctors could do for me. All I could think of was what I couldn’t do, how my life was going to be impacted and all the things I wouldn’t be able to achieve. I didn’t think that I could still achieve those things but achieve them in a different way. So once I got to the point where I could accept the fact that I could no longer see, that was when I felt empowered.
Abby: And that’s the day that I was born.
Steph: Yes it was!
Abby: Let’s tell everybody about what all I am.
Steph: Oh my goodness! There are so many things that you are! You’re everything that I wanted to be. You’re my alter ego. You are strong. You’re a go-getter. You just don’t let anything stop you, and yet at the same time, you’re vulnerable.
Abby: Tell everyone what all I encompass, for you, and for other women that you’ve met, sighted or not.
Steph: Abby, you encompass everything I’ve ever wanted to be within myself, and really, when I view other women, you’re strong. You’re outgoing. You’re unafraid to face obstacles. You know that these things exist, but yet, you are the type of person who looks at them as opportunities. You don’t look at obstacles as something that is going to take you down or something that can hold you back. You’re just someone who is persistent, you encourage other people, and you allow others to feel like there’s nothing that they can’t do because of who you are.
Abby: I can’t imagine being anybody else than the person that you’ve created me to be, and what I want to tell everybody is, I’m so glad to be here! I’m so glad to be talking! You guys are going to see so much coming from this amazing woman and my creator and myself! We’re going to take on the world and we’re going to bring it to you, because together, we are strong and we are going to squash fear, one cane tap at a time, in our stilettos with our fashion and our fun and our purpose. That’s who we are. High five to you, Steph.
Steph: High five right back you, Abby.
Abby: For now we’re out, guys, but stay tuned. Can’t wait to correspond with you. Check out my fashion tips, my fun, my adventures, and my vulnerability. Because I share it all.
Be well and be safe everyone. I leave you with a song I’ve claimed as my anthem. Enjoy!
In one bubble Abby says: I myself was so incredibly nervous at first, but the more and more confident you got, I believe as my creator, the more confident I got to be able to rock my cane, too.
In the other bubble Steph says: There is so much power in finding acceptance! Finding acceptance helps to wipe away the fear, and if not wipe it away, at least it makes the fear more manageable.
Photo of Abby in Central Park on a sunny afternoon. She’s looking chic in a teal tank top paired with gray joggers while posed kneeling next to her retired guide dog, Alexis, a beautiful Yellow Lab. As in all of her photos, Abby is sporting her signature explosive hairstyle.
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.
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.
President Roosevelt once said, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care”.
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!
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.