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Living Life To The Fullest | Tekesha Saffold

Cover image is described in the body of the post.

WOMEN ON THE MOVE

Introduction:

Welcome to Bold Blind Beauty and Beyond Sight Magazine, an online community where Real Beauty Transcends Barriers. Our Women On The Move segments focus on monthly profiles of inspirational women; their capabilities, achievements, and their journeys as they navigate through the course of sight loss and blindness.

I’m your host, Nasreen. For our July 2020 segment of Women On The Move, our featured guest is the lovely diva herself, Miss Tekesha Saffold. Hi, Tekesha. Welcome.

“Living life to its fullest,” that’s her mantra. And she’s a former contestant of the Ms. Blind Diva Empowerment Pageant. She’s a disability advocate, role model and mentor, and a captain of the Braille Bandits, just to name a few of her extraordinary things she has done thus far. And also, she was our Monthly Beauty for the month of May.

So let’s all give a warm welcome to Tekesha.

Interview with Tekesha Saffold & Nasreen Bhutta

Transcription

Tekesha Saffold:

Hello. I’m so excited to be with you all this afternoon.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Can you please tell us a little bit about your background?

Tekesha Saffold:

Takesha Saffold Photo #2
Tekesha Saffold Photo #2

Well, I was born and raised in Palm Beach County, Florida, I reside currently in Riviera Beach, and I was born to a pretty large family. My grandmother had eight kids. My father is a seventh out of eight kids. I’m the oldest. I have a younger sister and I have four brothers. I went to local schools here in Riviera Beach, and I graduated from Suncoast Community High School and worked in various jobs.

Later on in life, at the age of 26, I became visually impaired from retina detachment. And so from there, I had to be rehabilitated, learning various things to make me as independent as I am now. I joined the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), which I joined the local chapter here in Palm Beach County, and I immediately was voted in on the board. I became treasurer the following year, and I have served as president for the NFB of Palm Beach over the last six years.

Also, during that time, I attended Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, where I majored in social work. And I’m involved in so many different things. I consider myself a consumer advocate for the disabled community, which I have served as the liaison for our disabled community in the city of Riviera Beach.

Throughout my journey, I’ve had various experiences of traveling various places and being involved in various things, which some of those things I’m quite sure I will be sharing with you all.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Let’s just go back to when you first were diagnosed with the, I guess it’s ROP, at the age of 26. I mean, that’s a young age. You’re just finishing college, just starting life really. How did that make you feel?

Tekesha Saffold:

At that age, 26, which was a very fun time for me being sighted. I was working, I was working two jobs at the time, I was living independently, and I was driving. And for myself, I never thought that I would be visually impaired.

So it just sort of happened out of nowhere, within two weeks. I was losing eyesight. And I thought, maybe, like many others, I thought that I would regain my sight at some point because I was in denial. But it’s a life changing experience at that age. Definitely.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So you love to travel. What has been your favorite place to travel to thus far?

Tekesha Saffold:

Let’s see. There are so many places that I have enjoyed visiting, but I would have to say visiting Washington DC has been one of my favorite places I have visited, primarily for advocacy purposes for the NFB Washington Seminar. I’ve been able to attend quite a few times, and I enjoy the atmosphere and the culture and things of that nature.

And I have to just include one other place. I love New York city. I cannot forget about New York.

Takesha Photo #3
Tekesha Photo 3

Nasreen Bhutta:

Me too. Any tips for first time travelers?

Tekesha Saffold:

I would say to not be nervous or afraid, and don’t be afraid of asking. Planning and organizing it, how you want to do it from step-by-step certainly would help the journey. Not just sort of spontaneously getting up and traveling, but just sort of mapping things out. But confidence is key. So if you have the confidence, you will certainly have the ability to feel comfortable with moving around using your cane and just being comfortable with asking people for assistance if you need to.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Can you tell us a little bit about the Just Us Blind Girls initiative?

Tekesha Saffold:

Yes. I want to say in 2011, I went to a conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Miss Virginia Gray, who was the founder of Just Us Blind Girls, because it originates from out of Atlanta, Georgia. I attended a conference in it in 2012 in Palm Beach County. Myself, along with other women, we hosted a conference here as well. I wouldn’t say it died out, but the participation was low.

And so when I graduated in 2017, I was asked if I would like to carry the name in Palm Beach County and facilitate a support group for blind and visually impaired women, just to discuss some of our challenges that we have. I also bring in guest speakers. I call them “sheroes”, women who are heroes in our blind community and who set an example and who are doing things in their community to make a difference. But primarily, it’s a sisterhood of women where we can support one another; how we can turn those challenges into actual things that can be celebrated.

Nasreen Bhutta:

First of all, is that remote or is it onsite? And is it just in the Florida area?

Tekesha Saffold:

Well, since this pandemic, we have been meeting remotely, which has been a benefit to our support group because we’ve been able to invite many other women from other areas. So there’s no geographical restrictions. We meet every third Wednesday of the month, which I can provide the conference call number that we use, which is 2539933677.

So we invite any visually impaired or blind female, or just any women in general who’s interested in knowing more information, and we plan to have many guest speakers in the near future.

Nasreen Bhutta:

You also took part in the Blind Diva Empowerment Pageant. What was that experience like for you?

Tekesha Saffold:

Well, that experience was a great experience. I would have to say, first of all, when I was a contestant in the pageant, which is in 2018, I was the only contestant that was out of state. So it was interesting for myself flying back and forth to Newark, New Jersey, which I had to fly for various workshops and practices that we had. So it gave me an opportunity to be in a different area that I never traveled, and also to meet other women and to know that there are other women who are involved and who are doing things in their community, and just meeting new friends. So it was certainly a great experience and I would encourage anyone to take on any type of activities or different opportunities that we do have in our blind community throughout the country.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Were you crowned Ms. Diva?

Tekesha Saffold:

No, I wasn’t. But we had to do a video that displayed our independence. It was called the Miss Independent YouTube Challenge. And so I think I got about 2100 views, but I was crowned Miss Independent for the YouTube challenge. So I looked at that as a great win.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Who is your major influencer, would you say?

Tekesha Saffold:

I would have to say our former First Lady, Michelle Obama. I think that she’s certainly a very classy, conservative, educated female, and she certainly inspired me in many ways.

Nasreen Bhutta:

And how do you define success and failure?

Tekesha Saffold:

Success shouldn’t be measured as to how large the accomplishment is. I mean, I think that if I could lose a couple of pounds, that’s a success for me.

I would say that to count the small things and don’t be so hard on yourself, just look at it as it’s a learning experience, and how can you better in that area? And I think that failure, in my opinion, is not an option, even if it’s just taking a couple of steps back, because sometimes in life we adjust back and forth, back and forth, but as long as you continue to have the determination to move forward, that’s where you’re succeeding, no matter if it’s just a small step ahead.

So I just look at those things as just having a positive attitude and outlook on anything that you do in life.

Nasreen Bhutta:

And what do you foresee in longterm goals? What is next for you?

Tekesha Saffold:

There’s quite a few different things. I hope to pursue further education. I’m always looking for various employment opportunities. And I’m also in the process of writing a book on just my experience in different aspects of my life and in marriage.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So how can we reach you Tekesha?

Tekesha Saffold:

Well, I am on Facebook. My Facebook name is T. Nicole Saffold (S-A-F-F-O-L-D). I also have a LinkedIn profile, which is my name, Tekesha Saffold. You can also find me on Instagram at TK Saffold. And also my email address, which is tnsaffold82@gmail.com.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Thank you so much for sharing your incredible and insightful journey with us.

You’ll be able to find Tekesha’s story in Beyond Sight Magazine, under Women On The Move for July 2020, at www.boldblindbeauty.com.

Thanks for listening.

Bio:

Tekesha Saffold has served for six years as President of the Palm Beach Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and formerly served on the state board of the NFB for two years, which has been guided by strong, committed, and passionate leadership since 1940.  She has been visually impaired for about 12 years and is a passionate consumer advocate in Palm Beach County, where she was born and raised.  The owner and founder of Saffold’s Consultant Service, LLC, she has helped organize campaigns for various politicians and their causes in South Florida.

Among Saffold’s advocacy projects are providing ADA sensitivity training to employers and serving as an advocate for the local transportation system as a member of the Local Coordinating Board for Transportation Disadvantage, which focuses on transportation needs of the disadvantaged in our community, including individuals with physical and economic challenges and seniors.  In addition, she facilitates a support group for Just Us Blind Girls to mentor and empower blind and visually impaired women in Palm Beach County. She is also involved with community service projects through the Lake Worth Lions International Club to empower volunteers to serve their communities, meet humanitarian needs, encourage peace and promote international understanding.

Outside of her professional activities, Saffold plays beep baseball and is the captain for the Braille Bandits of Palm Beach County, which played in the 2019 World Series in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She enjoys traveling the world, whether it is legislating in Washington, D.C. for various issues pertaining to the civil and equal rights for individuals who are disabled or being a former contestant for the Ms. Blind Diva Empowerment Pageant in Newark, New Jersey.  

Saffold, who lives in Riviera Beach, Florida, graduated with honors from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton with a bachelor’s degree in social work and will be pursuing a master’s degree in public administration.  One of the most important roles in her life is being the mother of a beautiful young lady who is currently pursuing her dreams and art and other crafts. She lives life to its fullest potential and anticipates other opportunities in the near future.  

Image Descriptions:

  • Beyond Sight Magazine Cover. Tekesha is on the cover wearing a red Express sweetheart long sleeve dress with an Aldo purse with hearts and matching pumps. Heart-shaped earrings with glittery eyeshadow and soft pink lipstick from Sephora. The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is the eye used for our 2020 Year of Vision Campaign (described HERE). There are 3 lines of white text that say “Auditioning for Bold, Blind, and Beautiful.” In the bottom right corner is a teal circle with an illustration of Abby rollerblading. She has on a black crop tank top complete with her logo on the front with black shorts, and gray & teal roller blades. And of course, Abby wouldn’t be Abby without her signature explosive hairstyle, and “Women On The Move” is yellow text under the circle.
  • Tekesha is wearing a beautiful white spaghetti strap dress that has floral sequences in bright colors, soft pink open toe heels with fur along the toes and glitter on the heel, rose gold accessories with a hint of rhinestones in the earrings to bring out her beautiful makeup by Sephora.
  • Tekesha is wearing a bright yellow maxi dress with a Tory Burch rose gold purse and sandals and other rose gold accessories which bring out her beautiful makeup by Sephora. 
CREDITS:
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Becoming A Blind Photographer

A black & white image of a long stretch of railroad track taken from the caboose.

Introduction:

When I began Bold Blind Beauty my original intent was to empower others by sharing lessons I learned through my sight loss. As this site has evolved, however, many of us are beneficiaries of empowerment from the sight loss stories of others. Each of the Women On The Move (WOTM) and Blind Beauties featured here has unmatched strength and resilience. Every story is different as we walk separate paths yet the one thing we share in common is a change in our perspectives.

Experiencing losses in life is universal. How we each deal with our losses is the difference between living and thriving as Megan Sinks, today’s WOTM explains.

Becoming A Blind Photographer

There are events that draw very bold lines between your life “before” and your life “after”, in which nothing is the same on the other side. This is my story.

~Megan Sinks

The Body Battles Itself

Megan & Her Mom (#1 Supporter)
Megan & Her Mom (#1 Supporter)

My line was drawn when I was 25 years old. It was 2011; I was a newlywed and recent college grad with big dreams. What started as excruciating pain in my feet became much scarier when I could no longer see my face in the mirror. Although it’s still not well understood, I’d had an autoimmune attack. Many of my nerves had been damaged, including my optic nerves. Fortunately, after the hemorrhaging subsided, I was left with some functional vision, but I’m legally blind and in constant pain.

My first 25 years were as bright, as I had been, in terms of both grades and spirit. I was a happy person who studied abroad in Germany while getting my Bachelor’s degree in philosophy. My plans were to either go on to graduate school to teach or attend law school. Those plans—everything, really—changed when I was plunged into a disorienting, blurry world of alternating darkness and unbearable light.

My body and mind couldn’t make sense of the sheer amount and variety of pain sensations that never stopped. When I did sleep, it was during the day to avoid the harshest light. I didn’t have much of a schedule, sleeping or otherwise, for the years it took to get my pain under control. I could no longer drive, work, walk well unaided, even prepare a meal or have any semblance of a social life.

In Search Of Answers

My family and I were doing all we could to find the cause for my body’s deterioration, regularly seeing new specialists and trying increasingly dangerous treatments. Our lives were focused totally on this. My young marriage couldn’t handle the stress of this sudden and debilitating illness that made me very dependent, depressed, and… different. We all wanted “the old Megan” back.

I was no longer the bubbly, vivacious, smart young woman I had been, I was desperate and exhausted. I had become a tragic version of myself. In moments of lucidity, I recognized how bad things had gotten but had no idea how to address them.

When my husband and I separated, I felt even more physically and emotionally isolated, living on my family’s farm in rural southern Illinois. As difficult as that time was, I am so grateful for it because I had a lot of internal work to do. I had to learn how to live in this body that seems to hate me, how to appreciate what I have and define what I wanted. My primary goal was to become a contributory, functional part of society again. The only way to do that was to reframe how I saw myself and my situation. I’d been missing “the old Megan” so much, I hadn’t thought I’d appreciate my current self.

The Awakening

In my “Before,” I took everyday beauty for granted like most everyone else. That is until I lost most of my sight and identity. Sight loss caused me to see the world differently, both literally and metaphorically. I used the camera on my phone to take photos of things I wanted to see or read. Then I zoomed in to see the details I couldn’t identify without help. This was my first taste of assistive and adaptive technology which opened up a whole new world for me.

Organically I started to take more and more photos, which gave me a positive way to view my disability. I see the world differently than others and that can be positive as I can use my new perspective to become a better photographer. I’d taken photography classes in college but truly fell in love with it after becoming legally blind. I feel so much joy in rediscovering the visual world and sharing the experience with others.

After spending years going to doctors like it was my job, we were left with more questions than answers. It’s been almost 9 years since the autoimmune attack. I haven’t given up on finding the name of my disease, but I no longer see that as the key to my ability to live a good life I had to move on, somehow.

I attended a school for the blind in Chicago for a year, where I learned essential skills like using my cane properly, reading Braille and performing regular daily activities without sight. (Thank you, Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education/ ICRE-Wood!) From there, I was hired to work at the Base Supply Center at the Great Lakes Naval Center for the nonprofit AbilityOne agency, Beyond Vision.

Moving Onward

My husband and I decided to give our marriage another shot, so he moved with me to the northeastern Chicago suburbs. That was in the summer of 2017 and we are still here, I am still working at the Base Supply Center and I continue to explore the world around me with my camera.

I want to show people, through my art and life, that our limitations can become our strengths and there’s great beauty in disability. Disability is often thought of as simply a lack of ability, but it’s truly having different abilities and perspectives with value. Blindness and other disabilities are so badly understood, yet nearly one in five Americans is living with a disability. Widespread misconceptions are a problem that I hope to help, as no one expects a legally blind person to be a photographer (especially if they don’t realize that most blind people have some vision.) I hope to spread awareness and advocate for people with disabilities we have value and unique talents to offer if given the opportunity.

When I lost my sight, I didn’t think I’d be gaining anything, but I was wrong. The “old Megan” had more depth of field and visual acuity, but the new me has more depth of character and emotion, plus more vision than she could’ve imagined.

Connecting With Megan:

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured photo
    • A black & white image of a long stretch of railroad track taken from the caboose.
  • First Gallery (before Megan’s autoimmune attack):
    • A color wedding day photo of Megan standing with her arms around her smiling Mom and #1 supporter. Both ladies look lovely with Megan wearing a strapless white wedding dress and her mom in a sleeveless black dress.
    • Black & white wedding photo of Megan, her husband, and two adorable young nephews. The boys are being held by Megan and her husband.
    • Photo from Megan’s vision test at the beginning of her illness.
  • Second Gallery 3 Black & White Photos:
    • A bare reflection of a tree in a puddle of rainwater on asphalt. 
    • Closeup of the center of a flower.
    • Another closeup of a leaf with water droplets on it.
  • Third Gallery 7 Color Photos:
    • A partial closeup image of a bright yellow sunflower with a brown center.
    • Downward perspective closeup of the pink and white petals and filaments of type of lily.
    • The veins of a brownish leaf with water droplets.
    • Closeup of white tufts of a dandelion.
    • Reddish/brown veins on a green leaf.
    • Yellowish/brown withering leaf and the bright glow of the sun can be seen in the distance.
    • Another pale pink flower belonging to the lily family whose filaments are the focus of the photo.
  • Fourth Gallery 3 Color Photos of Megan today:
    • In the first and third photos, Megan is posing with her mom sporting a stylish cropped haircut.
    • The second photo is Megan, her husband, and adolescent nephews. The four of them are standing close together decked out in winter gear.

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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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Elaine Huitt | ‘Seeing’ Her Way Through Life

Image is described in the body of the post.

You don’t need full ‘vision’ to have a ‘vision’ to ‘see’ your way through life.

~Elaine Huitt

Intro:

What are the odds that two blind women would run into one another at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)? I’m sure a statistician would know the answer but this is beside the point because, This Facility. Is. Massive!!

“Do you know the new departure time for the Wichita flight”, she asked? I told her I wasn’t sure as I just relocated to this new gate. Then ‘poof’ she was gone! My friends met me and together we flew to Wichita for a conference where we’d bunk in a university dorm suite.

The conference, for blind and visually impaired youth from across the country, promised to be a jam-packed week of activities. It was at the next evening’s kick-off event where I would formally meet Elaine Huitt. When she came over to our table I said: “weren’t you at DFW?” We laughed when we realized not only were we in the same airport unknowingly we were on the same flight headed to the same conference. Like so many of the women featured here on Bold Blind Beauty, Elaine has a story. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to today’s Woman On The Move, Elaine Huitt.

Growing Up With A Hidden Disability

Image is described in the body of the post.
Elaine Huitt

As a poised Sr. Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, no one would ever guess that Elaine Huitt is 60 and blind. A beautiful lady, who walks confidently, without a white cane I might add, said even her doctors don’t understand how she does it. Because of the severity of her sight, it’s not uncommon for Elaine’s doctors to ask her how she walked in their offices.

Elaine and her brother were both born with Idiopathic Congenital Nystagmus. While she wasn’t diagnosed until after high school graduation, Elaine began wearing eyeglasses at 11 months of age. She explains that her condition is a blockage of the pathway from the eyes to the brain.

When Elaine was growing up it was taboo in her household to talk about her and her brother’s visual impairment. It’s partly because of this that Elaine and her brother didn’t receive accommodations in their mainstream school to help them succeed. Since her sight was so poor, and her teachers weren’t aware of the issue, Elaine fell through the cracks at school. Were it not for the help of one astute teacher, Mr. Frederick, she wouldn’t have been able to glide through school. As unlikely as it was, she managed to graduate high school while never having any reasonable accommodations. Her brother wasn’t as fortunate and didn’t finish high school because he was so ashamed of his sight loss. He was, however, able to find employment as kitchen staff at the Department of Education and he’s been there for 36 years.

The Burden Of Shame

Right after graduating high school Elaine began looking for work. Since her condition causes her eyes to constantly move she struggled at each interview. Unable to look the interviewer in the eye was problematic as it was assumed Elaine was on drugs or medication. Therefore, as a direct result of her eyesight, she had great difficulty finding employment and would go home feeling discouraged.

Elaine went to college briefly then dropped out because she didn’t know about adaptations that were available. When a person carries a secret disability it complicates getting the required assistance. Sadly, this scenario Elaine faced is not unique. All too often people with hidden and (some not so hidden) disabilities aren’t aware of the tools and resources that are available to help them. Even so, many people in these situations develop strong coping mechanisms as workarounds, such is the case with Elaine. Memorization was the skill Elaine relied upon to get her through and it worked!

Eventually, Elaine got married, had two children, and went back to college, however, she wouldn’t even tell her exhusband that she couldn’t see. Shame, embarrassment, and perhaps a little pride prevented her from sharing her secret. What’s even more astonishing is how she kept this secret from her children while they were growing up. I can’t imagine how she must have felt when she couldn’t ‘see’ her daughter’s dance recitals or her son’s football plays. Her children became the reason why Elaine would slowly divulge her secret with her husband. Oddly enough, her husband was her major supporter and also a great source of inspiration for her.

Help Banishes Shame

Graduating college with a BA in Human Services and an MS in Public Administration wasn’t easy but Elaine pulled it off. Keeping her secret was even more difficult, yet there were people in her corner whom she could trust. For three years, one good friend would take notes and made copies for Elaine for studying.

On the work front, since Elaine was so good at memorizing everything; from her environment to the company manuals, she progressed. While it may have looked easy to her peers, what they didn’t know was the incredible amount of behind the scenes effort it took for her to do her job.

Because of her sheer determination and grit, Elaine would ultimately become a supervisor then move up into management. Of course, promotions like these meant more challenges as she had more responsibilities. Elaine spent 30 years of service in the Department of Social Services then it was time for her to move on.

Part of Elaine’s moving on process included divorcing her husband then relocating to Delaware. After her divorce and subsequent remarriage, life was very good as Elaine’s new spouse became her greatest champion. The downside was once again she began seeking employment opportunities and applied for 150 positions. Once again her eyesight became the barrier where she was turned away from each job she applied for.

As I listened to her share how she overcame so many obstacles I was stunned when she told me it was only in 2016 help arrived. This help, in the form of a Vision Service Coordinator, told her to stop being ashamed. This counselor recommended that she apply for a particular job. After applying for so many jobs it plays with your psyche so Elaine was surprised to get called back for a second interview. Midway through the interview, Elaine told them the questions they were asking weren’t giving an accurate portrayal of her story. Then she explained who she is and what she was about and asked them to give her a chance to work with them. This bold move, being her authentic self, got her the job.

Paying It Forward

Today, Elaine loves her job as a counselor and is helping her students take advantage of many opportunities. By the way, the one thing I neglected to mention was her reason for being at the conference. She served as a chaperone for a group of teenage B&VI students who participated in the conference. And the quote at the beginning is something Elaine developed and she shares it with her students to inspire them.

I’ll leave you with a motto Elaine adopted:

“How can you help someone else unless you help yourself”

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured image – A headshot of Elaine wearing a crisp white shirt paired with a silver statement necklace. She has straight red hair, with on-point makeup that includes pink lip color.
  • In this outdoor photo, Elaine is sitting casually on the edge of a water fountain. She is wearing a black jacket, gray pants, and a white shirt. Her hair in this photo is long, dark, and wavy. Assorted trees and shrubs can be seen in the background.