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WOTM 27 Featuring Kimberly White

Introducing the Fabulous Kimberly White

Photo of Kimberly holding her bejeweled White caneMy name is Kimberly White, I am both honored and humbled to participate in raising awareness and helping to change society’s perception of blindness.

I am happily married, living in Portland, OR; my son is a junior at Santa Clara University, majoring in Physics; he too has RP.

I was born, an only child, in Cincinnati and grew up in a NW suburb of Chicago – Schaumburg, Illinois. Following college (The Chicago Art Institute of Design), I moved to San Diego where I embraced successful careers at Nordstrom & Nike. After having our son, I started my own interior design company and now, upon losing my sight, I am a community volunteer and Creator!

RP Simulation Glasses created to help raise awareness
Glasses created to help raise awareness

The greatest job title I’ve EVER held is “MOM” – after my one & only son was born 21 yrs ago, I was diagnosed with a genetic hereditary eye disease: retinitis pigmentosa (RP) – it rendered me night blind, which I had always been but was never aware of because you “don’t know what you don’t know”,  I never saw at night [as I told the Dr., I thought that’s why it was called night – believing that no one saw in  darkness]; I was notorious for sitting on total stranger’s laps in movie theaters and consistently falling off of curbs or tripping over chairs/tables. My overall visual perception can be explained as tunnel vision [close one eye and hold an empty paper towel roll over the open eye – that demonstrates what I see], in addition with RP, we struggle with the early onset of cataracts [smear Vaseline on your glasses for an understanding] and CME, which is inflammation [cysts] of the retina [much like opening your eyes underwater and what you would see].

I drove during the daylight hours not at night. But as my vision has deteriorated, four years ago I was forced to relinquish my drivers license and acclimate to a white cane. This new journey forced me to adapt to many changes in my life; one was giving up my design business and depending on others for ALL transportation needs!

Before and after photo of zebra print hand painted furniture and cork earrings designed with bling
Left to Right | 1) Hand painted furniture. 2) & 3) Cork earrings designed with bling

I am legally blind but I wake up every day with a desire to educate, motivate, &/or inspire, hopefully, one person. I love the beach, walking, socializing, crafting, celebrations and new adventures!

The adversity in life  has given me strength, I possess enormous passion to create a better community & world. My story is one of loss, depression, and isolation – turned hope, support & community. HOPE is something that everyone needs to hear at some point in life.

Collage of Kimberly at the beach (Oregon coast) mugging for the camera. 2) Kimberly & her husband at Cannon Beach, OR and Cork tops created - Kimbely & Sheila Blakeslee [owner of Blakeslee Vineyard]
Left to Right | 1) Oregon coast – Kimberly at the beach mugging for the camera. 2) Kimberly & her husband at Cannon Beach, OR 3) Cork tops created – Kimbely & Sheila Blakeslee [owner of Blakeslee Vineyard]
Throughout my own experience, using a cane, I have been on the receiving end of lack of understanding, support, bullying and inequity. Society has done a terrible job of educating and promoting visual impairment. Many people believe that being blind means the absence of ALL vision, which clearly is not the case. I wear makeup, I have “sassy” hair – by choice, I am a wife, a mother, I have friends and an active social life — I am alive, full of life and unstoppable! I plan, organize & execute events & fundraisers. I create unique items made with corks [living near the wine country in Oregon, it was a natural]: picture frames, wine bottle covers, earrings & apparel. I hand paint furniture and create cards and decor that sparkle! I recently completed my first Acting class and LOVED the experience!

Kimberly with her Acting class!
Kimberly with her Acting class!

Even though I have lost most of my vision, I possess a love [and sincere appreciation for life] … we all have “stuff”, adversity that others aren’t necessarily aware of, but the importance is educating others, in an effort to raise awareness in hopes of bringing kindness and acceptance to those suffering!

I hope & pray through science and medical research and advancements, that one day there will be a cure for RP. But until then, I maintain a commitment to helping others understand visual impairment!

“The eyes are useless when the mind is blind!”

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Telling Our Stories…|Empish Thomas

Telling Our Stories featured image description is in the body of the post.

Telling Our Stories…|Empish Thomas

The following article was lightly edited and updated. Our featured Woman On The Move is someone I’ve only met virtually by conference calls, email, and phone. Empish and I serve as Peer Advisors for VisionAware and in this role, we offer advice and helpful tips to those new to sight loss. Empish is a prolific writer, advocate, and mentor. She has also been an invaluable resource to me and a voice for blind and visually impaired people.

My Journey as a Blind Writer and Editor

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

~Empish Thomas

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

So here’s a little bit of my own tale

My journey as a visually impaired writer started about 20 years ago. After finishing my rehabilitation training at the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI), I volunteered to write and edit their newsletter. Eventually, the volunteer opportunity blossomed into a paid position. In this new role, I provided information and resources to people with disabilities. Simultaneously I worked part-time as an AmeriCorps member providing peer support and advocacy.

Later, I launched my freelance writing career with an emphasis on the disabled and landed a column in Dialogue Magazine. I wrote career profiles on people who are visually impaired as a direct result of my passion and journalism experience. In each issue, I profiled people successfully working in a variety of career fields from education, government, science, self-employment, arts, and entertainment.

In addition to my column, I worked at CVI as their Public Education Manager. I conducted facility tours, managed exhibit booths at community/resource fairs, and posted InfoLink, our community bulletin board. I’m also a public speaker for United Way and manage our speaker’s bureau. Recently, I entered the blogosphere by managing CVI’s website blog called Sightseeing. This was an exciting undertaking for me as I:

  • blogged about issues that impacted the blind community,
  • solicited guest bloggers,
  • researched story ideas and
  • planned the editorial calendar.

Volunteering within the blind community

And if all of this was not enough I volunteer in the blind community as well! I am a peer advisor and blogger for VisionAware. On this site, I lend my professional and personal experience to people experiencing vision loss. I’ve volunteered with the American Foundation for the Blind’s Career Connect. Here I interacted via e-mail with others interested in pursuing a journalism career.

Previously, I was a volunteer producer for a monthly hour radio show for the blind called “Eye on Blindness.” The show was sponsored by the Georgia area Radio Reading Service (GaRRS). It was an interview-style program which featured special guests who provided information on a variety of topics such as travel, employment, health, and politics.

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

Connecting With Empish:

Telling Our Stories Featured Image Description:

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