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Exchange Program Sparks Sense of Adventure

Exchange Program Featured image description is in the body of the post.

Exchange Program Sparks Sense of Adventure

My (then) boyfriend’s parents refused to let me into their home, solely because I was visually impaired. At that point, my world fell apart.

~Fern Lulham
Women On The Move 61

Inherited Eye Condition Affects Sight

#1 Fern at lectern image description is in the body of the post.
#1 Fern at lectern

I was born with a condition called aniridia. This means the colored part of my eye (the Iris) is absent. The severity of aniridia varies from person to person. In some people, the condition affects only one eye and they are able to drive. For others, it can lead to total sight loss.

Because of aniridia I’ve been severely visually impaired all my life. Even so, when growing up I had enough vision to do virtually everything my friends could do. Although I had little support in my lessons, I went to mainstream schools and could join in all the activities. I was happy in school and made lots of friends who remain my friends to this day.

Communication has always been my passion. As a child, I pretended objects like egg whisks and large spoons were radio microphones to “interview” family members! Before going to sleep, I preferred listening to a local phone-in radio program to a bedtime story. Once I fell asleep I dreamed of hosting my own show. So it was no surprise when I went to university, I studied Radio Broadcast Communication.

Chasing The Communications Dream

I spent my early university days in Cardiff, South Wales. Since Cardiff is several hours drive from home, I lived away from home for the first time.

I never thought my visual impairment would be a barrier to independent living and I loved my new way of life at university. However, when the chance for a year’s exchange to Western Carolina University in the USA came along, my sense of adventure went into overdrive!

While my parents were always supportive, they were nervous about me living on the other side of the world. They could have tried to stop me, but I’m so glad they didn’t. I literally had the time of my life in Carolina.

I made friends from all over the world, hosted the breakfast show on the local FM radio station, and ultimately became the station manager. Such was my love of life in the Great Smoky Mountains. What began as a one year exchange ended up as three years and I graduated from WCU. After graduation, I got a job as a drive-time host at a commercial radio station in Michigan. I felt unstoppable!

Returning Home Brings Bad News

When my visa expired I returned to the UK. After I returned home, routine hospital checks identified conditions often associated with aniridia were starting to affect me. I developed glaucoma, cataracts and corneal problems which needed treatment to avoid further sight loss.

The reality of finding a job in the UK as a visually impaired person, combined with newly diagnosed issues was challenging. The latest news concerning my sight, affected my confidence, my mood, and my sense of self-worth.

Although I’d always presented myself as a positive, happy person, the truth was more negative thoughts were never far from the surface. These feelings grew, when, for the first time in my life, I experienced rejection. My (then) boyfriend’s parents refused to let me into their home, solely because I was visually impaired. At that point, my world fell apart.

Hope Leads The Way

#2 Fern & Mr. Samer Hamada
#2 Fern & Mr. Samer Hamada

Despite the fact my sight worsened as I’ve got older, one of my guiding principles is always to have hope. Thanks to this principle I’ve carried on; found a job, stayed involved with radio, and pursued a public speaking career.

I’m now President of Eastbourne Speakers Club, part of Toastmasters International and I use my skills as a speaker to inspire others. Encouraging them to never to give up hope and to value the person they already are. I am passionate about becoming more influential in the area of mental health and have a youtube channel devoted to the subject.

I am so lucky to be surrounded by positive, supportive people. One of these is my Consultant, Mr. Samer Hamada. In November, I am due to have stem cell surgery carried out by him. If this is successful, it might slightly improve my vision, or it might just prevent further sight loss. Either way, it contributes to the feeling of hope for my future.

Like so many others, I have dark days – days when it would be so easy to just give up. But I won’t give up. I have the love and support of others and hope in my heart. Hope that my best days are ahead of me!

Connecting With Fern On Social Media:

Exchange Program Featured Image Description:

Fern is a pretty brunette who has bangs and hair length just beyond her shoulders. She is wearing a white tank top with a chunky silver statement necklace. Fern’s quote overlayed on the image reads: “My (then) boyfriend’s parents refused to let me into their home, solely because I was visually impaired. At that point, my world fell apart.” 

Additional Images:

  1. In this photo, Fern is standing at a lectern at a speaking event. She is wearing a dark-colored cold shoulder dress with a silver necklace and ankle boots.
  2. Fern is posing in this photo wearing a sparkling lacy red dress with her consultant, Mr. Samer Hamada. 
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Finding Confidence Through Vision Loss

Finding Confidence Through Vision Loss featured image description is in the body of the post.

Finding Confidence Through Vision Loss

Today’s Woman On The Move, Jennifer Dunlap shares her heartbreaks and triumphs while living with RP. FYI – Jennifer was also a recently featured Blind Beauty.

“I am more than my vision loss. I am more than my disease. At the same time, my eyes have helped define my character as I grow into the woman that I want to be. It’s a fine line that has had difficult moments, but that line is one I will continually walk, some days with my cane, and some days without.” 

~Jennifer Dunlap

Knowing From the Start

Finding Confidence Jennifer Dunlap photo description is in the body of the post.
Jennifer Dunlap

I wasn’t surprised by my diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). What surprised me was how the disease took hold of my youth and unraveled it unexpectedly.

It’s fairly common for women in my family to have RP. My mother, her mother, one of my aunts as well as her daughter―all have this eye disease. There are a few members of our extended family with RP as well. We all have varying degrees and different sight loss stories. With the exception of me and my mother, the other female family members were able to drive among other things. They were able to drive and only had vision loss in dim lighting or issues with peripheral vision.

With RP, gradual vision loss and eventual blindness are expected. Not knowing when or having the exact timeline didn’t scare me as a kid. The majority of my family with this disease didn’t start losing a lot of vision until their late 30’s.

My only setbacks as a child were not being able to play cops and robbers in the dark and decreased peripheral sight. When high school hit, everything changed and my vision began decreasing rapidly. It took a toll on my self-esteem because I felt like I couldn’t actually see what I looked like. I struggled with body issues and developed bulimia, yet I was able to hide my self-loathing very well.

Facing the Obstacles

Once my vision became an unavoidable obstacle, I got a mobility specialist. Then I looked at my options with a counselor who could help me find my footing in the blind world. In a matter of two weeks, I found out I wouldn’t be able to drive and was declared legally blind. I wasn’t heartbroken, I was angry and still struggling with my appearance.

My senior year of high school was when I was fitted with my white cane and low vision aids. I pretended to be strong on the outside to get through my senior year. But in reality, I was up and down with depression and an eating disorder. I hid things so well from my family and was already accepted to a great college one town over. They didn’t notice the internal struggles, and I wanted to keep it that way.

Seeing Through the Storm

Even though I did really well in college, I still had issues I was hiding from everyone. My vision kept getting worse, but I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in writing. I also had two minors- Professional Technical Writing and Women’s and Gender Studies.

Getting my degree helped me find a new understanding of my eyes and what I could accomplish, but I couldn’t shake the self-loathing. My purging and depression became so bad, that I was hospitalized for a suicide attempt.

Seeing my body crash from the damage I caused, made me realize that my blindness wasn’t at fault for my bulimia. After a lengthy period of rehabilitation and out-patient counseling, I was able to find some hope. I married my best friend from high school and only had a few issues with relapse. Once we decided to start a family, I didn’t let my vision loss hold me back, and I decided to be healthy. It was a decision only I could make.

Blinder, Bolder, and Busy with Babies

Having kids was the self-loathing turning point in my life. I realized that seeing beauty isn’t as powerful as feeling it. Being a mother made me love myself.

I couldn’t see the detail in my babies faces. My vision was like seeing through a straw and there with broken glass at the end of the tunnel. The colors were dim and lighting played a big part in what silhouettes I could see. I didn’t let the vision loss hold back my opinions about how beautiful my children are or how beautiful my life had become.

Motherhood showed me that blindness wasn’t my weakness, it was my superpower. Blindness made my other senses stronger, and it helped me find the self-love that I needed. I was wrong to blame RP on my self-doubt. RP became the backbone for my character and confidence.

Finding Confidence Featured Image Description

In the photo, Jennifer is holding her adorable son and daughter. All three are smiling for the camera. 

Additional Photo:

This photo is a selfie of Jenn. The softly smiling, long-haired brunette beauty is wearing a yellow tee under a plaid shirt.

Connecting With Jenn On Social Media:

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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:

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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: