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Pushing Boundaries: Supporting Independence of Visually Impaired People

Featured Image Description is in the body of the post

Pushing Boundaries: Supporting Independence of Visually Impaired People

“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
Pushing Boundaries: Supporting Independence Image of Kassy is described in the body of the post.
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.

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 Malone

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!

Pushing Boundaries Featured Image Description:

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.

Additional Image:

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. 

Connecting With Kassy:

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Embracing Disability Through Self-Expression

Embracing Disability Through Self-Expression featured image description is in the body of the post.

Embracing Disability Through Self-Expression

I’ve always loved fashion and style. So when it came to my white cane I thought why not use it beyond its intended role? Why can’t it help express my inner sense of being, much like my hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, and jewelry?

~Abby
Abby & Gold Cane

Hi Everyone, Abby here! It’s been a while since I’ve last spoken with you. The boss lady (Steph) has me going hither and yon all while working behind the scenes. Today though, I want to talk about a topic near and dear to my heart―embracing disability through self-expression.

During my business trip to the UK, I met up with my friend Vicky (Victoria Claire) to accompany her to Dublin. As an Ambassador for Retina UK, Vicky serves to help people living with sight loss understand life is not over. She shares her message of hope through the 3 A’s―acceptance, adaptability, and accessibility.

Depending on the severity, acquiring a disability at any time during our lives can be a soul-crushing experience. There are a plethora of articles about the fear of blindness and how people feel it would end their life. It’s no wonder when we find ourselves in this very situation we balk and some of us give up. Granted, working through sight loss is a deeply personal ordeal and getting through it can be an ongoing process.

When we lose our eyesight it can feel like a small part of us is dying. Our whole world shifts and like a baby learning how to walk and talk, we have to learn to adapt. Sustaining a part of ourselves that’s familiar yet tweaked to our new life circumstance becomes a lifesaver.

Customized Colored Canes At Home & Across The Pond

For me, I’ve always loved fashion and style. So when it came to my white cane I thought why not use it beyond its intended role? Why can’t it help express my inner sense of being, much like my hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, and jewelry?

While there is some debate on using customized or more specifically colored canes, my canes are an extension of me. I believe what makes blind and visually impaired people stand apart from other cane users is our technique. Our canes are used to help us navigate by probing to let us know if there is an obstacle in our path. 

So it was fabulous meeting up with Vicky, both of us with canes in hand (hers black and mine gold). Both of us noticed a significant difference in how we were received by those around in our respective countries and Dublin. 

Here in the U.S., with the explosion of mobile devices, it seems like people aren’t really attentive to their surroundings in general. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Research Note “2016 pedestrian fatality count (5,987) is the highest number since 1990.”

In the UK when we were making our way through the airport people seemed to be oblivious to us using our canes. However, when we arrived at the Dublin airport the attitude was very different. It was immediately recognized that our mobility canes were for the blind.

Freedom To Express Ourselves

The hotel we stayed at was very lovely and had good lighting in the room, along with contrasting colors in the bathroom. We visited the Jameson Distillery which was really great and we also spent a lot of time walking. The River Liffey was well paved with decking and a nice and flat walk area for us.

When we went to the NewsTalk Radio Station Studio, they couldn’t have done enough for us. The conference, held in a large and well-lit conference room was very organized. Overall we had a great time in Dublin and I for one cannot wait to return one day soon. Vicky said it best:

The world can become a much more accessible place, somewhere we are all free to express ourselves and we are not stuck in a limiting space.

While I cannot speak for Vicky, I believe she would agree with me that those who choose to use the standard white cane rock as do we!

Embracing Disability Featured Image Description:

A futuristic image of a 3-D wire-frame female body rising through clouds with arms raised above her head. In the background, a silhouette of a mountain range can be seen peeping above the clouds.


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Gain Independence & Rock The Cane

Gain Independence Featured image description is in the body of the post.

It makes sense for advocates to be borne out of situations in which we find ourselves, like disabilities for example. However, let’s not forget those who dedicate their time, talents, and passion to improve our lives with the gift of independence.  

Bold Blind Beauty

The following article written by Jennifer Freeman Fullerton speaks to her role in helping people with sight loss regain their independence.

Gain Independence & Rock The Cane

Image description is in the body of the post.
#1 – Jennifer Fullerton

I have been an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist in the San Diego County area for approximately twelve years. My experience encompasses working with children ranging in age from three through twenty-two. Many of the students I have worked with have multiple disabilities.

Passionate about what I teach, I focus on helping my students gain independence in all aspects of their lives. As a professional in the field, I’ve seen first-hand what a long cane does for a student with vision loss. The level of independence and confidence a cane provides, cannot be described in words. I often show up to school campuses and am told by staff that my students are running down the hallways. Of course, as their O&M Specialist, I don’t want to hear that but as their teacher, I smile because I know that I was a part of building that confidence.

Image description is in the body of the post.
#2 – Jennifer & her daughter

Adding Technology To The Mix

Since technology is opening up so many doors for people with disabilities, I have pursued as many learning opportunities as possible.  Specifically, anything that can help people who have visual impairments. What I have observed across all educational platforms is that technology is underutilized, especially applications (apps). For that reason, I began writing blogs for Cane and Compass to share my ideas with an emphasis on how to incorporate technology into O&M instruction.

I recently started a Rock the Cane Facebook Page and Campaign about two months ago. Since entering my amazing profession, I have dreamed of starting the campaign, long before any type of smart device or social media platform was available to utilize. I consider Rock the Cane to be my hobby and passion project. My goal with the campaign is to change the world’s perception of vision loss. I believe that by invoking help from the community, social media, people in power and individuals who know what it’s like to live with vision loss, we can work together to globally change perception.

I am lucky and blessed to impact the lives of many in my community who have vision loss.

Gain Independence Featured Image Description:

Jennifer is wearing a Rock the Cane navy t-shirt with images of brunette cartoon characters wearing black sunglasses. The image on the left is a brunette male and the image on the right is a female. Both characters are rocking long red and white canes. Jennifer is standing in front of a window and wood bench.

Additional Images:

  1. In this photo, Jennifer is wearing a navy “Orientation & Mobility Specialist” sweatshirt. This shirt has a graphic of a female cartoon character rocking her long cane. 
  2. Jennifer and her young daughter are holding hands. Jennifer is wearing a Cane & Compass gray tee that says “It’s Just A Cane.”

Connecting With Jennifer On Social Media:

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Trading Car Keys For A White Cane

Trading Car Keys Featured image description is in the body of the post.

Thought of you today when meeting with an independent living specialist. I told her of your post when you finally grabbed “the cane” 🙂 She gave me some raised dot stickers to put on the kitchen appliances so I know which button is which. As much as I hated to admit it, I needed some help. Please know you are so inspiring and your insights and humor are appreciated. 

~Melissa Welch

Trading Car Keys For A White Cane

Image description is in the body of the post
Stephanae’s Mirror Selfie

October marks 10 years since I gave up my driving privileges. My last day of driving began like most days as I went through the ritual of preparing for work.

With laptop, handbag, and car keys in hand, I headed out the door to my sexy silver Jeep. Not an impulsive person by nature, I bought this SUV when I began having vision problems with my good eye. The Jeep purchase was one of the best impulsive decisions I ever made with no regrets. Heck, I even had a silver trench coat to match―no one could tell me nothin’ when I was behind the wheel.

On that crisp fall morning, I got in the Jeep, put down my belongings, slipped on my shades, started it up, and with music blaring pulled off. I swung by to pick up my colleague, best friend and carpooling buddy. Midway to the office, I matter of factly said to her: “I can’t drive anymore.” There were no theatrics, tears, or tantrums, it was time.

The Numbers Were In My Favor

When I look back at how my blindness evolved I can honestly say I knew. Even when the doctors were so sure I’d never end up where I am today, I knew. I remember bluntly asking each of them if I would go blind the answer was always “no you won’t Ms. McCoy.” 

Nothing that happened to me was supposed to happen, or at least that’s what the doctors said. When my first macular hole was diagnosed I was told there was a 95 to 99 percent chance my sight would be restored. Odds of it happening in the other eye was also very low. 

What kills me to this day is up to the point of that first macular hole I had the best vision of my life. Sure, I was using readers but my distance vision was corrected to 20/15. When I wore contact lenses my sight was so good I felt like I could see through things. Maybe it was a sign of things to come? 

Fear Of Blindness Blocks Progress & Independence

During the height of my sight loss, I was seeing no less than two or three eye doctors monthly for several months. A snowball effect of related and unrelated issues began cropping up. Cataracts, a torn retina, glaucoma, uveitis, not to mention how bizarre my vision was. With blank spots in my vision, people’s faces were disfigured to me and everything was distorted. 

Still, my retina specialist maintained his stance that he could “fix” me. After four years of back and forth, I’d had enough and went back to Cleveland Clinic. It was at this last appointment I found out I was legally blind and no more could be done for me medically.

My acceptance of being a blind person didn’t happen overnight and on many days I was a miserable mess. I think my doctor’s fear of blindness hindered me from a smoother transition i.e. low vision rehabilitation. He was opposed to me learning how to use the white cane and I allowed him to project his fear onto me. 

Blindness Isn’t Always Obvious

Trading Car Keys for A White Cane Image description is in the body of the post.
White Canes

When it comes to blindness we’ve been so conditioned to believe that people who are blind have no sight whatsoever. The societal expectation is that we all wear dark sunglasses and have vacant stares. For many of us who were born with sight, once we lose it some of us can still do things like making eye contact. It should be noted while we ‘appear’ to make eye contact, many of us can’t see faces or facial expressions.

Since my remaining sight is next to none, I need to use a white cane to navigate the world safely. I read books by listening to them, magnification and screen readers allow me to use my cell phone and computer. Thanks to technological advances there are always workarounds and adaptations to allow us to sustain our independence.

When I began Bold Blind Beauty it was to bring awareness to blindness in the hopes of changing perceptions. So many people who cannot see won’t disclose it because of shame or fear and this needs to change. Eyesight without a doubt is so precious, yet it shouldn’t be the determining factor in who we are as people. Blindness is another way of seeing.

The opening quote to this post was written by one of my followers and it is a reminder of why I do what I do. Some may think trading car keys for a white cane isn’t a fair trade but when independence is on the line I beg to differ. 

The turning point for me was understanding I had a choice in how to move forward in life. I could give up or give in and embrace my blindness. Today, I accept being a blind person, and wouldn’t want to trade places with the person I was for anything.

Trading Car Keys Featured Image Description:

Photo is an image of a black key fob with a car keys and two other keys.

Stephanae’s Mirror Selfie

In this photo, I’m wearing a black “Ready To Conquer” Tee-shirt. Fashion icon Abby is to the left of a checklist “Handbag, Heels, White Cane.” Directly under her and the checklist is the slogan: “Ready to Conquer”

White Canes

This photo is part of my collection of white canes. These three are different colors/types: slimline black, slimline gold, green, gold & white cane with a rolling marshmallow tip.