Posted on

Freedom In Acceptance

Freedom In Acceptance

After extensive tests, I just remember the words “you are going to go blind.” My world just shattered, the room spun and I just had to get out of there. 

Victoria Claire

Women On The Move 57 | Victoria Claire

When I was first diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) at the age of 19 was a very pivotal point in my life. I was already studying at art college and had just been offered a university place on a figurative sculpture degree course. With only 28 offers in Europe, was one of those 28.

Victoria Claire & The Guardian image description is in the body of the post.
Victoria Claire & The Guardian

After extensive tests, I just remember the words “you are going to go blind.” My world just shattered, the room spun and I just had to get out of there. I drove home and dropped off my mum and then drove off. Ending up on the beach, I sat on the end of the jetty. The sky was grey and the wind was howling, I just cried, and thought the tears would never stop.

That was 24 years ago and my sight loss has taken me on one heck of a journey. I was registered legally blind back in 2002. Currently, I have between 3-5% residual vision, this is hand movement in the left eye and shapes and light in the right.

Although I had to walk away from university I could not deny that sculpture was in my veins. After taking some time to adjust to my new circumstances, picked up a chisel and mallet and begin creating. This was really for therapeutic reasons at first but then I began to put my work into local galleries. In a short amount of time, I was gaining private commission work. Since then my work has gone from strength to strength. I’ve worked in teaching for many years and this was a nice way to diversify my artistic skills and share them with others.

Turning The Corner

My personal epiphany with my attitude towards my sight loss came only 3 and a half years ago. I had always dodged the need to use a long cane. For years organizations tried to introduce me to using a cane without success. Then about 5 years ago I had a very big wake up call.

I was out walking my little Westie dog. It was November and the autumn sun was very low in the morning sky. I had on my sunglasses but it was very difficult to see and I misjudged a left turn. Instead of turning onto the pathway leading to the park, I fell 6ft into a culvert.

The fall damaged my right knee severely, tearing my inside medial ligament. It was extremely painful and I could not walk and it took 3 months to properly heal. This was when I decided I could no longer keep on struggling without a mobility aid.

Initially, I thought perhaps I needed a Guide dog so I contacted my local Guide Dogs Association. After some initial training, I had to stop my application, when we realized our Westie would never let another dog in the house! So there was no other option for me than to bite the bullet and learn how to use the long cane.

After 3 months of long cane training with my incredible trainer, I passed and became a proficient cane user. I now have gone from a cane hater to a cane lover, owning 4 long canes including my faithful purple one and a bamboo one that I created myself.

Crucial Component To Acceptance

Self-development has played a very important part in my acceptance of my sight loss. I worked very hard with my holistic counselor. For nearly 4 years we worked on my self-worth, learning how to love myself, and embracing every part of myself. It’s been the most wonderful journey, connecting on a spiritual level feeds me with all I need. This is the very reason why I am where I am today, through an acceptance of who I really am and a love of all my imperfections. It is truly a beautiful lesson, and I look forward to all the future lessons ahead.

I am happily married to my husband, who is an incredible support, he has such a positive outlook on life and helps me find solutions to how I can continue breaking boundaries. My parents have always been there for me, providing practical help and support throughout this journey.

True Work/Life Harmony

My work has been my source of connection to my inner self. It has seen me through some very tough times and has brought me the success I now enjoy today. My work is symbolic, based on form and shape and I use piercings in many of my pieces–I create my sculpture from wood and I like to suspend gemstones.

I have exhibited all over the South East of the UK, including central London, the Houses Of Parliament and America Square. Also, I have been featured by the BBC and in many national magazines; my work is owned internationally.

A national gallery is reviewing my Blind A Sixth Sense exhibition for inclusion in their exhibition programme for 2020-2021. This exhibition explored a unique concept of placing 6 sculpted pieces depicting the senses into a pitch black gallery space. The public was invited to interpret the work by using their other senses. This was an incredible success seeing over 500 people visit the exhibition and a sell out on work.

Sight Loss Change Agent

As an Ambassador for the national charity Retina UK, I advocate the work of the charity. This includes social media, public speaking and offering support to those newly diagnosed with RP. This advocacy work is very dear to my heart. I want to offer help to those who may be struggling with their sight loss by helping them navigate their own pathway through this very life-changing time.

Victoria Surfing
Victoria Surfing

I share my experience of sight loss through public speaking, exhibiting my work and will be writing my memoirs later this year. I’m also designing a new website which will act as a central hub for those with sight loss. It will be a place where the blind and VI community can connect, share stories, and support one another.

The website will also highlight all of my activities, including my career as a professional sculptor, public speaking and my Ambassador work. I will share all of my other loves, this includes surfing, something that I learnt only 4 years ago. Surfing is one of the most freeing activities I’ve ever done. There are no obstacles in the ocean and the feeling of connection to the force of mother nature as you ride a wave is just incredible. I’m also a keen skateboarder, and again, like surfing it gives me such a sense of freedom. I use my long cane out in front of me in my left hand, this helps me navigate. I am learning to snowboard too, I think the board sports give me such joy.

Finding Freedom

I’ve been a musician for over 20 years, singing and playing in many bands as well as solo work. I love to write new material on my piano, it’s a beautiful form of expression.

I feel so very blessed to have found a sense of freedom within the acceptance of my sight loss. This acceptance has shown me the beauty within blindness–a sense of stillness, a sensory experience that you cannot gain when sighted. A connection to one’s own trust, this trust is what will open you to all possibilities.

I have learnt that blindness is not to be feared, it is to be embraced wholeheartedly, through acceptance, adaptivity, and accessibility. You can live a life that is full, joyous, successful and incredibly meaningful, with limitless potential.

Freedom In Acceptance Featured Image Description

In this photo, Victoria is stunning as she stands facing the camera with her bamboo long cane. She is wearing a beautiful cream lace dress and her straight blond hair frames her face.

Additional Images:

  • Victoria & The Guardian. In this photo, Victoria, in a purple sleeveless sheath dress and matching long cane is posing with her sculpture, The Guardian. The Guardian is a wooden sculpture of a vertical wing. The photo was taken at the FLY Freedom In Acceptance exhibition in central London. 
  • Shaded of Lillies is a lovely wooden tactile tabletop delight. Three graceful flowers, from light to dark shades stand atop a light wooden base. The slender stems of the flowers ever so slightly bend upward to the floral base which resembles raised cupped hands.  
  • Surf, Sand And Spirit. This piece depicts a symbolic upright surfboard with an amber suspension hanging from the piercing. The base represents the ripples that form in wet sand, this piece is created from alder wood and oak wood.
  • Victoria Surfing: An action shot of Victoria riding a wave on her surfboard in a wetsuit.

Connecting With Victoria Claire:

Posted on

Naomie Inas | Blind Beauty 53

Blind Beauty 53 image description is in the body of the post.

Naomie Inas | Blind Beauty 53

“My hope is for my music to reach and inspire as many people as possible. Especially those with visual and other challenges to encourage them to be anything they desire. Because sight is mostly internal, having limited or no vision will cause you to adapt to your world to accomplish things.” 

~Naomie Inas

Reaching for the Moon

Musical Artist, Naomie Inas, was recently featured here on Bold Blind Beauty as a Woman On The Move. A talented woman dedicated to her craft, she is pursuing her dreams and is an excellent role model. Naomie exemplifies what a person can do when their passion takes center stage.

Blind Beauty 53 Featured Image Description:

Featured image is a faux fashion magazine cover titled Blind Beauty. Naomie is on the cover and she has a certain je né sais quoi that makes her look like a star. Fashionably elegant and sporting a blond bob, she is wearing an open cropped jacket with a fur-trimmed collar. In muted shades of brown, her outfit includes a bra with a coordinating skirt and a long pendant necklace. She is standing with her left hand against a red brick wall.

Blocks of text superimposed on Naomie’s photo are: “Bold | She Keeps Pressing Onward,” “Blind | She Has Deeper Insight,” “Beautiful | She Sees To The Heart Of Others.”

Connecting With Naomie:

Posted on

WOTM 39 Featuring Silvia Seyringer

Stanley & The Staircase To The Light

Silvia (white cane in hand) and her daughter (wearing Mickey Mouse ears) are posed standing in Disneyland.I am a survivor. I tell myself this every day, so it must be true! When I found out I was losing my sight, I was devastated, but although it was a harrowing and speedy process, it was not the worst thing that had happened in my life. Having gone through worse and survived, I knew I possessed the key to letting myself out of this dungeon and I knew the staircase to take to see the light again (pardon the pun!)

The first sign I was losing my eyesight was a rare cataract condition resulting from damage inflicted on my eyes as a child. After operations and exploration of the nerves, it was discovered that I had an additional, rarer condition: juvenile macular degeneration, rods and cones dystrophy. Instead of viewing the world through rose-colored glasses, I view the world through a blue lens, with black polka dot spots! (I still see through rose-colored glasses metaphorically, though.)

It was extremely hard for an independent person like me to adapt to the seeming lack of freedom when sight had deteriorated such that I was provided a white cane by Vision Australia. I absolutely detested asking for help. My daughter helped as much as her busy life allowed, guiding me on her arm whilst I used the cane (Stanley) to navigate uneven ground surfaces. Why Stanley? Because I couldn’t stand ‘him’ but essentially, he led me around, plus a reference to black and white era comedians, Laurel & Hardy (Stan being the extremely skinny one!) A very wise woman had recommended naming your cane. It makes it more personal and like a member of your family, whom you need to accept.

We had planned a trip to Disneyland because my daughter missed out on another trip, so this was to be our time together. Little did we know that by the time we left Sydney, I would not be able to see beyond 10cm from my face. Working our way through those throngs of bodies, everyone out to get to where they were going as fast as possible, is a story in itself. I was so grateful that I had a solid body to hold on to and that Stanley announced that I could not see ahead of me. It made it so much easier for others to accept that I had not walked into them deliberately or bumped them with intent. When people are rushing (especially in huge crowds), there sometimes isn’t even the time to apologise properly, so a glance at a cane alleviates this courtesy.

Needless to say, my favorite ride was Space Mountain (which is set entirely in the dark). I could really enjoy that one as I could relate! The non-vision impaired screamed in terror, I just screamed because the sensations of going through space without seeing what was ahead of me was so eerily familiar! And because I was strapped in, I felt safe and it was fun when compared to the unpredictability of day-to-day travel.

Having lost the use of my sense of sight to a large extent meant that I really had to use my brain. I am beyond thankful that my memory still functioned and I could work out where to go using logic when I couldn’t see. I learned to really listen for train station names and sounds after missing my (extremely well-known) stop so many times because I couldn’t recognise it anymore. Trying to ask for directions (or even just to find out where you were) was problematic in a city of 5 million people; no one has patience or time for you, however, at one glimpse of the cane, people were immediately more forgiving and accommodating.

I realised I had to stop working when I didn’t see clear glass and broke many beakers in my laboratory at work. There was a bit of an existential crisis when I realised I couldn’t work as a scientist – “Am I still a scientist?” I need to transition to theoretical science rather than conducting practical experiments. Or retrain altogether, in a different field.

Every day is a challenge but as time goes by, it becomes the norm as you get used your new way of being. And it is not so bad, as many unexpectedly good things have come from being differently-sighted. I now regard it as a blessing. I have gained so much more in terms of valuing life and experiences. At the conclusion of each day, I give thanks that I was privileged to experience it, no matter that the shape and look of these days is different to all those previous years.

Image: Silvia (white cane in hand) and her daughter (wearing Mickey Mouse ears) are posed standing in Disneyland.

I met Silvia on Instagram and was immediately captivated with her photography. Not only does she take breathtaking photos but her descriptions are sublime. You can connect with her via @silviasalzburg to enjoy her craft.

Posted on

WOTM 30 Featuring Joy Thomas

“I don’t understand why I didn’t get the job”

Thomas03142016-31
Photo Credit: Morry Angell, Guide Dogs for the Blind

I said to my supervising teacher, “You gave me such stellar reviews from my student teaching, and I feel like I described my teaching style and goals really well in my interview. I have a 4.0 GPA, and the students loved me! Did the principal say anything to you about why he didn’t hire me?”

My supervising teacher hesitated

“Well, um, he did mention that you didn’t maintain strong eye contact throughout the entire interview. He said your eyes didn’t always follow where he was pointing when he was explaining the school set up. He said your eyes kind of trailed off, and it made him skeptical about you.”

Her words came as a swift, unexpected punch in the gut

Photo Credit: Morry Angell, Guide Dogs for the Blind

That was 13 years ago, and I cringe thinking about the conversation, but not because I am embarrassed about my eyes like I was then. I cringe now because I remember how much time and energy I wasted trying to hide my vision loss.

The principal had no idea that I literally couldn’t see his finger when he moved it even a half inch to either side, much less follow the sweeping motion of his hands. My supervising teacher knew about my loss of peripheral vision and even that I was legally blind, but I had asked her not to say anything because I didn’t want it to keep me from getting hired. I didn’t use a cane in my interviews, or really much at all at that point in my life because I didn’t want to look “blind”.

Fortunately, my supervising teacher did not listen to me when I went to my next interview, choosing instead to mention my vision loss as one of my strengths, stating how hard I worked and how well I communicated with the students to compensate for my vision loss.

 

That principal hired me

Joy Thomas-7
Photo Credit: Morry Angell, Guide Dogs for the Blind

I held my own as a middle school English teacher for several years, but I continued to struggle much more than I needed to because I still spent a great deal of time and energy trying to do everything the “sighted” way. I still felt very ashamed of my vision loss, and I think that came across to my students and colleagues. I always felt that I was just one incident away from disaster. I had several incidents where parents thought I had purposely ignored them in passing, and one even complained to the school dean about it. These incidents unnerved me and made me feel like people were getting closer and closer to finding out the truth about me. The truth that, because of my eyesight, I was incompetent.

When a 7th grader with special needs fell asleep while I was reading a book to the class, and I failed to notice him sleeping outside of my line of vision, the special education teacher’s aide reported this to her, and she stormed into my classroom and demanded an explanation. I spoke with her privately about my vision, and she was irate and said that she couldn’t trust her students with special needs in my classroom. I became terrified that she would “tell on” me to administration, and since the principal who hired me was no longer there, I wasn’t quite sure if the new principal even knew that I was visually impaired and how he would feel about it. Since I was still one year away from earning tenure, I knew that the school could legally lay met off at any time, without giving any reason, so I would never even have a case if anyone discriminated.

So, despite my outstanding observation reviews and the fact that I was a creative, organized teacher and had spent 2 years and a small fortune getting my master’s degree, I chose to resign from my job because of fear and shame. I figured that if I were the one who quit, there would be no chance of me ever being fired.

I was consumed with blending in and not appearing weak, which took away all of my strength

Thankfully, I’ve come a long way over the past 9 years since I left my teaching job. I now get around very well with the help of a guide dog. I have also acquired technology and housekeeping skills to make everyday life more accessible.

Ironically, now when I use my guide dog, people continue to make comments about my eye contact, except the exact opposite opinion from that first principal. “But you don’t LOOK blind. You’re looking right at me and making eye contact!”

That’s the tricky thing about degenerative eye conditions like Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). Whether you’re using a mobility tool or not, people are constantly asserting that you have “not enough” or “too much” vision. It’s like visual purgatory.

When you linger between the worlds of sight and complete darkness long enough, a few things become apparent.

  1. There are certain tools available, such as canes and dogs and magnifiers and smartphones, that can be helpful and do not have to define you.
  2. The general public has a very black and white view of blindness, and when we’re out in the world, living our lives with whatever tools help us, we are often educating people about the wide spectrum of sight loss.
  3. Sharing stories of vision loss helps connect us and changes stigmas about blindness.
Photo Credit: Morry Angell, Guide Dogs for the Blind

I’d like to say that shame over vision loss is something that you just wake up having conquered one day, but the truth is that it’s a million little baby steps. And on certain days, it still takes work.

I cannot pinpoint one breaking moment or even one particular thing that helped me move forward. It was a series of breaking moments and a series of steps forward. Part of it was having my daughters and wanting them to grow up with a happy mommy; part of it was sharing stories with my twin on our blog; part of it was getting a guide dog.

It was only when I began to lean into that part of myself that I always thought of as flawed that it truly began to lose power over me.

I may not be teaching in a classroom right now, but I am now confident enough that I could go back at any point in the future, For now, I am homeschooling my 2 daughters, who are growing up with a mom who doesn’t let the stigma of blindness stand in her way.

And they don’t seem to care whether I make too much eye contact, or not enough. I hear them tell their friends their mom is “half blind”, and I suppose that is half true.  I am not concerned with correcting them or having the most accurate label to describe me and my vision. My only concern now is living the most authentic life possible and spreading the message that we do not need to be ashamed of blindness.

You can connect with Joy and her twin Jenelle on their social media accounts: