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Embracing Language Through Touch | Sam Latif

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WOMEN ON THE MOVE

Editor’s Note:

Bold Blind Beauty is thrilled to present Sam Latif, Accessibility Leader at Procter & Gamble as our September Woman On The Move. If Sam’s name sounds familiar to you it’s probably because she was responsible for bringing to life the tactile features on the bottles of Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner. Below the audio interview is the transcript of Sam’s interview with Bold Blind Beauty’s Nasreen Bhutta. Enjoy!

I want a new language of touch. Touch is a sense, just like sight is a sense, so why can’t we introduce a language for everything that we do so that blind people don’t need to put braille labels on. We don’t need to put sticky tape or bump dots or things to help us identify
one product from another.

Sam Latif

Nasreen Bhutta:

Welcome to Bold Blind Beauty, home of Beyond Sight Magazine, an online community where real beauty transcends barriers. Our Women on the Move segment focused on monthly profiles of inspirational women, their capabilities, achievement, and journeys, as they navigate through the course of sight loss and blindness. I’m your host Nasreen. For our September 2020 segment of Women on the Move, our featured guest is the lovely Sam Latif. She’s an accessibility leader and a consultant for inclusive design and a parent of three, passionate, positive, and a change maker, always championing inclusion. Let’s all give a warm welcome to Sam. Hi, Sam. Good afternoon.

Sam Latif:

Hey. Good afternoon Nasreen. Hello to everybody listening.

Nasreen Bhutta:

You have quite an incredible journey. So you were diagnosed with RP [retinitis pigmentosa] while still in high school. Can you tell us a little bit about that journey and the support systems that you had at that time?

Sam Latif:

Yeah, sure. So I was diagnosed at the age of four and I couldn’t read very well ever. I didn’t really realize at the time that I couldn’t see, I was just a very slow reader I thought. But when it came to high school and when I was about 16 years old, I just suddenly lost the ability to read overnight. I lost the ability to read completely and write. I almost lost my ability to learn, because schoolwork was no longer accessible. And the advice at the time was to stop my education both at school, and then later at university. And when I was at school, the head teacher decided that maybe I needed a couple of years out to come to terms with my new normal, blindness, but I didn’t really want to do that. I wanted to do what other kids were doing. I didn’t want to be any different. So I tried to come up with ideas for myself to make life a little easier.

One of the ideas I came up with was to record information onto the old fashioned cassette tape. You probably, I don’t know if you’re of that generation, but it’s to record the information on tape and I didn’t know any better. I would try and listen to chapters here and there and I would fall asleep because I couldn’t find, if I had to go to page 56, I couldn’t find that on the tape. I used to rewind, fast forward, rewind and then fall asleep. But anyway, that’s how I managed school. And then when I went to university. At first, the university said that they didn’t take on blind people. They didn’t want to fail me. It wasn’t something that they knew how to handle. I got declined from university, but then I wrote to them and said, “Hey guys, you’ve not done this before, I’ve not done this before, but how about we learn together and if I mess up, it’s okay. You’ve got nothing to lose and if I succeed, then we might be opening the doors to other people with disabilities.” So they agreed.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Well today, you are part of a huge company. To get there as you’re losing your sight and the changes of lifestyle and the new norm as you mentioned, that must have been overwhelming and very difficult.

Sam Latif:

I think I figured out some hacks. Well, you can call them hacks now, back then I didn’t know. But one of the things I started doing was just to cut the crap and give me the data, give me the information, the decision. You don’t need to read lengthy books and you don’t need to read every single chapter and you don’t even need to read the book. You can ask 10 people if they’ve read the book and then you kind of summarize what they’ve read and then make your own judgment. And that’s how I used to actually, when I got to university, that’s how I started to do my assignments. I would socialize, talk to people, understand their opinions and then form my own from that.

I started letting go of always being concerned about getting the latest book on tape. Because, if you could think about it by the time you got your book list at university, getting someone to record it on tape would take you two or three months if you wanted the entire book. So I started just paying students to read a chapter here or a couple of chapters there then just to say, that I would socialize and do the best I could. I honestly don’t know how I got through it. It’s not the way people do it, but in real life and the real world, you don’t have time to read every single report. It’s all about communication, talking to people, understanding and using your initiative or common sense to come up to an agreement. So, I’m not the academic type.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So Sam, finding employment for anyone with a disability can be difficult. How did you manage to overcome any struggles that you might have faced in this area?

Sam Latif:

I always wanted to work. I had this thing that I didn’t want to be financially dependent on anybody. And I remember as a student, I started looking for jobs, but I couldn’t do your typical jobs like working a bar or a restaurant. Somehow back in the day, telesales was something new. I found myself in a tele sales job. I thought, well, that’s the only thing I can use, is a phone. So I started selling kitchens, cars, windows, doors, and even wells on the phone. Just imagine-

Nasreen Bhutta:

Wells?

Sam Latif:

Wills, my accent. Yeah. Will, something that you put together in the event that you die. So this was my lane Nasreen, right? I used to say “hello Mr. Smith, have you ever thought about dying? Don’t worry, invest in a will and you’ll live happily ever after.” But to do this job, I needed to be able to read telephone numbers because in those days it wasn’t on the internet. It was on this thing called the yellow pages, a big thick book with everybody’s names and the telephone numbers. So I used to get paid five pounds an hour at my job. And I used to pay someone else five pounds an hour to record as many telephone numbers on tape for me so that I could then do my job. One hour of them recording would last me like three or four hours of work.

And that was my first experience of working. I also, whilst I was at university, I was trying to find a graduate job. And I went to multiple interviews and assessment centers and I used to do well in them. But ultimately, there was so much open discrimination. I mean, imagine being told “Yeah, we really liked you, you passed the test, but we feel uncomfortable because we don’t think a blind person can do the job.” And I would get feedback like that. And it was like, it was so direct. And I didn’t realize that that was actually discrimination and it hurt. But one day, I was at this assessment center. I don’t know where I met this guy. He’s a billionaire and he was Scotland’s largest car retailer. So he sold, he had like a hundred showrooms of new and used cars and I happened to bump into him and I was chatting away.

And then I said, I was here to look for a job. And he said, “Oh, I’ll give you a job. How about coming to work for Arnold Clark?” I was like, “Oh wow, that’s amazing. And so what’s your name?” And he said, “My name is Arnold Clark. I own the company and you can come and work for me any day.” So actually, I had a job before I even graduated from university, just because of this billionaire guy who wants to give me a try. So I started working there. It was really great. I had to design my own job and he didn’t have any nervousness about employing a blind person, because he was a billionaire, he had nothing to lose. And he asked his staff to be kind and helpful to me and they were. So I was working there for a year and a half.

Then my next big break came with Procter & Gamble. There was a parent of a disabled child who was a director at Procter & Gamble and he wanted to recruit people with disabilities into P&G. He then reached out to an agency to ask them to help recruit people with disabilities, into Procter & Gamble and that’s how I initially came to P&G about 20 years ago. One thing that’s been consistent, in my experience, when I’ve either wanted a job or even progress inside the company is, somehow people who discriminate against you are the ones that are unsure, uncomfortable about working with a disabled person and they’re too scared to make a mistake and them looking bad. The people who have given me a break, are people who don’t really care. They’ve made it, they’ve got nothing to lose and they’re happy to take the risk and they’re happy to do something good.

And again, it’s one of those things, it’s a good thing for society, but it’s a good thing for their business as well. Because, I’ve not, never let anyone down so far. So, it’s a win-win. One of the good things is that large companies are beginning to realize the value of people with disabilities, because there are about 1.8 billion people in the world with a disability, and companies like P&G, we do want to reflect the diversity of our consumers, the diversity of the people that use our products. We want to reflect that inside the company. We’re not there yet. Obviously, everyone has a lot more work to do, but we’re recognizing that it’s really helpful to have people on with disabilities. And so, we’ve got dedicated programs now. We really encourage people with disabilities to apply.

We’re partnering with Gallaudet University and one of our deaf colleagues, Scott Van Nice, he’s brought in many deaf interns to P&G and full time hires. We’ve brought in people from the autism spectrum, neurodiverse people into the company. And what we do is we use the experience of real people with disabilities at P&G to bring more of those people inside the company. It’s really refreshing to see that the needle is moving in the right direction. Obviously not fast enough, but that’s to people like if I meet people with disabilities, I’m always encouraging them. Definitely yes, do apply and let me know when you’re applying and sometimes they may be successful and sometimes they may not be, but at least there’s someone that can help them within the company. And there’s so much more we can do, to be honest, but I really see that lots of companies are trying to change.

Nasreen Bhutta:

As someone who is a successful businesswoman, you are P&G’s, accessibly leader, why so passionate about changing the status quo when it comes to making everyday products more inclusive?

Sam Latif:

I think, I mean, for people who don’t know Procter & Gamble, we’re one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world. So we do brands like Pantene, Herbal Essences, Olay, Tide, Pampers, Gillette, and many, many more products that we do. We are in 180 plus countries. Really, we want the maximum number of people to enjoy our products and enjoy our advertising and we want to improve the lives of the world’s consumers, as we say. And that includes consumers with disabilities. That includes blind consumers. I fundamentally believe that every human has the right to access our products and our services. For that to really be true, we need to be accessible for our consumers and customers and that comes through making our products inclusive. That comes through making advertising inclusive as well. We are a company that is committed to being a force for good, doing good in the world, and a force for growth. So we’re growing our business as we’re doing that.

P&G we, I don’t know if your viewers are aware of the tactile work that we’re implementing on our shampoos and conditioners, so the big vision is that every single shampoo and every single conditioner will have tactile markings on them to differentiate between shampoo and conditioner. This is a new language that we’re trying to introduce that people will be able to read that language through touch. It won’t be braille, but it will be something a little easier than braille. And we’ve got four stripes to say, shampoo. S for stripes and S for shampoo. I’ve got eight circles to say conditioner. 

Maybe two years ago, we launched these tactile symbols on our Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner products. The idea is that, you know like on your keyboard, the letter F and the letter G has a tactile on there to help you orientate your hands on the keyboard when you go to an ATM, the five has a dot on that digit, or when you go into a store to pay for stuff, there’s a dot on the number five? Similarly, I wanted language for people to be able to know what’s shampoo, what’s conditioner, and then what’s body wash, just through touch.

The idea is that, yes, we’ve got these on Herbal Essences bottles in North America, but we want these on every shampoo and conditioner bottle. Just like the word shampoo and conditioner is in print for the sighted world, we want tactile stripes for shampoo and tactile circles for conditioner for people who can’t read print for one reason or another.

I think every human being has the right to use our products, to access our products and there are people with different needs in the world. There’s 1.85 billion people with a disability. Some of them have got learning difficulties, some of them have vision, mobility, dexterity challenges and we really need to take that into account as we’re developing our products, as we’re researching on how consumers are using our products. We need to understand some of the barriers that people are experiencing on a daily basis using our products and we need to design better and we need to address their needs. And I believe that by designing to address some of the challenges that people with disabilities experience when it comes to using our products, we can actually create superior products that delight everybody. And I really think that the better it is for people with disabilities, the more delightful it is for the rest of the consumers as well. And it’s a fundamental, basic human right, ultimately. That’s what drives me.

I encourage every shampoo company in the world to copy it, reapply it, so that it becomes a language for touch that will help us with the shampoo and conditioner. And my vision is broader than that. I want everything to have a language so that we have, like I said, sighted world has a hundred percent of that real estate. We have 0%. All I’m asking for the manufacturers in the world is to say, give us a little bit. Gives a 10th of that space and put some tactile marking that’s a common language in the industry for that category, and it will make our lives simpler. We are paying consumers, we have money to spend, we don’t want the daily tension of knowing, oh what’s in this, what’s this again?

Nasreen Bhutta:

So you’re a successful business woman, leader and a role model in our community, what advice do you have for future aspiring women leaders?

Sam Latif:

I think as women or as people working together, it’s really important to make friends with people that you interact with on a daily basis. From school, from the blind community, having a variety of groups of people that you can turn to and talk about your ideas is really, really helpful. So making friends and learning from them is one thing and then perseverance is really important, I believe. I think you can get through by persevering. You can really get what you’re really looking for. I really wanted these tactile stripes. I had no idea… I believed in it so strongly that I kept going even if there was lots of barriers in the way.

But the thing is, sometimes it’s going to be legitimate, real barriers, but many times people put invisible barriers that don’t really exist and that stops you from achieving your dreams. Those invisible barriers that are just in your head, they only exist in your head. So, like I said, meeting other blind people, meeting other people from different walks of life, I’ve just found that having a good set of friends to talk to, to bounce ideas, is the best advice I can give.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Thank you so much. I think that’ll really help a lot of people. Who is your biggest influencer, Sam?

Sam Latif:

I think Apple as a company are my biggest influencer. I love the fact that they make everything out of the box almost fully accessible. Obviously, there’s so much more they can do as well. They really inspire me to make my product successful in my company. Who would have thought a flat screen phone would be completely accessible out of the box. Quirky things that they do, like putting a screen curtain on, so other sighted folk can’t see my stuff, I just think is really cool. And then they’ve used blind people to develop new cool, funky ideas, like unlocking your phone with a thumbprint was inspired by a blind employee at Apple. So yeah, so they’re probably my biggest influence in terms of a company.

Nasreen Bhutta:

On a personal, anybody?

Sam Latif:

I like seeing young influencers out there. I think you guys are doing a great job with Bold Blind Beauty. I was really impressed with this platform. It’s nice and it’s a great name, but it’s also a great topic that you’re covering. I think it’s amazing for us blind women who like to become beautiful. And also, people like Molly Burke and the likes of all these young influencer girls who are not shy to talk about some of the challenges that they experience and showing that they can live their life to their fullest, I think is amazing because it really helps the able-bodied world realize that we are also very capable of doing stuff. But if they made their products more accessible, life would be a lot easier as well.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Oh, thank you so much. The fact that you have persevered with purpose and passion is just incredible. So you’re playing the piano these days. How’s it going for you?

Sam Latif:

Yeah, I’m playing Fur Elise. It’s going good. I’ve almost finished it. I’ve still got a bit left. I don’t read music. I’m not very good at braille and I like the shortcuts, so I get my piano teacher to tell me where to move my finger, how many keys, is it up three or two keys? And I just learn the rhythm of where my fingers need to go. But it’s really good. It’s something very different to other things that I do. And it’s really relaxing and good fun and it’s a new skill that I’m really enjoying. So yeah, it’s good.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So Sam, how can we reach you?

Sam Latif:

You can just drop me an email anytime. Give me a call. I’m very approachable.

Nasreen Bhutta:

How about your social handles? Want to share those?

Sam Latif:

Sure. SamLatif7 on Twitter. On Facebook, I’m Sam Latif. My email is Latif.s@pg.com. So that’s L-A-T-I-F, Lima alpha, tango and then foxtrot, dot S for Sam at pg, putt-putt golf, dot com.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Thank you so much, Sam, for being here this afternoon. You’ll be able to find Sam’s story in the onsite magazine under Women on the Move for September, 2020 at http://www.boldblindbeauty.com. Thanks for listening.

Connecting With Sam:

Bio:

Sam Latif is P&G’s first Company Accessibility Leader and is leading the P&G’s thought leadership and commitment to making products, packaging, and advertising accessible for the growing aging population and 1.7 billion people around the world with a disability.  

Winning with 50+/PwD consumers is critical for P&G to grow. By 2030 we will have more >50 consumers to serve vs under 50 and 36% of 50+ consumers will experience a disability. We estimate today we are losing 1BN dollars per annum across our Categories not serving this segment. P&G has an opportunity to reach more consumers with more accessible and irresistible products and packaging for all.  

Sam Latif was born in the UK and is a first-generation Scottish Pakistani. She is blind and the passion for what she is doing at P&G has been inspired by the personal access challenges she has experienced as both a consumer and an employee. Sam studied Marketing and Business Law at the University of Stirling in Scotland and began her career at P&G in IT. She has led IT transformations across multiple worldwide businesses (including Fragrances, Pampers, Olay, and Gillette).  

In 2015 Sam switched focus from running IT businesses to figuring what it would take to make P&G become the most accessible company for the consumers we are serving and was appointed as the company’s first Special Consultant for Inclusive Design. During this time, Sam worked with the Herbal Essences business to explore how we could make it easier to help people tell the difference between shampoo and conditioner, especially in the shower when people are not wearing their corrective eyewear. It’s estimated that 79% of the population in the west wear corrective eyewear and so its quite hard for people to tell by sight alone our shampoo and conditioner bottles apart. 

In February 2019, Sam was promoted to Associate Director and became P&G’s first Company Accessibility Leader and is responsible for making P&G workplace, products, and packaging and communications fully accessible to everyone.

Sam is married and has 3 kids, boy and girl twins aged 7 and a 10-year-old boy. Sam is enjoying the challenge of learning to play the piano and working out at the gym.  

Image Description:

  • Beyond Sight Magazine Cover. Sam’s headshot is featured on the cover and she’s wearing a gray hijab. 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.
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Vision Without Sight | Gabby Mendonca

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WOMEN ON THE MOVE

Editor’s Note:

As promised a couple of months ago, today, we are thrilled to share the sight loss story of Gabby Mendonca. Recently featured as our June Monthly Beauty, Gabby returns for the August edition of Women On The Move. Gabby is a beautiful person, a passionate self-made digital content creator, and a positive role model. Keep an eye on this young woman because she is going places.

Sight Stealing Tumor

I was born with my vision but at 18 months of age, developed a tumor on my optic nerve. I underwent several surgeries to try to remove the tumor, however, I lost my sight and became completely blind.

When I lost my sight, it took my family a while to adjust. As a young child, I was very energetic and self-reliant, so adjusting and accepting my disability was not difficult for me. This was very new to my mom, and at first, she needed to learn what resources I would need in order to succeed. After doing some research and getting involved in agencies that represented those with visual impairments, my mom was able to guide me.

I attended mainstream schools, and also participated in programs where I was able to connect with other blind individuals and continue to adjust to my disability. I learned how to perform daily tasks such as mobility, how to apply to jobs, and how to cook. Through these programs, I was able to grow as a person and learn more about how to live life with a disability. I also learned how to advocate for myself. 

At the age of 5, I developed a passion for music and enrolled in a music school where I interacted with other blind individuals. To this day I am still passionate about music.

Life After High School

When it was time to apply for college, a million thoughts ran through my head. What if people don’t like me? How will I adjust to a new environment? What if my professors aren’t accommodating? I was very anxious.

When I finally applied to college I wanted to make a change. Being the first and only blind student on campus, I wanted to pave the way for any future blind students. After I adjusted to this new environment, I began working closely with the office of accessibilities and the dean of students to begin labeling different rooms around campus. Although this was a fun project, there were times when I felt very discouraged. I felt like there was so much more I should be doing and yet, felt very isolated on campus. At times, I felt like I didn’t have a voice and like something was wrong with me. 

Being very social I was confused as to why I wasn’t making friends. It took me 2 years to realize that this was all new to everybody around me. I realized that people don’t know how to approach someone who is ‘different‘ from them. People continue to assume the unknown, and that is what makes them blind to reality. Not knowing what someone is capable of makes some people appear closed-minded.

As an upcoming senior, I am happy to say that now I have made many accomplishments. I have helped make my school more accessible, I won an emerging student leadership award, and performed at multiple events. I have joined some clubs and I have made some amazing friends. This is not to say that I don’t ever feel discouraged, but I feel as though I have made my mark at my college. I am forever grateful for my mom, who has been my rock throughout my life. Being a single parent, she put her dreams on hold, to make sure that my siblings and I achieve our goals. Therefore, my family and my disability have made me the person that I am today.  

Continuing To Achieve Through Self-Love

Aside from the many accomplishments I made at college, I’ve made so many personal accomplishments. A year ago, I decided to start a YouTube channel. At first, I didn’t quite understand all of the concepts, I didn’t know what it meant to schedule videos, or how to be consistent. I wanted to start my channel because I wanted to help other blind individuals and use my voice to let them know they are not alone, digital creation is my passion.

On the other hand, self-love is very important to me. When I first started college, I didn’t know what it meant to practice self-love or how to even begin. I realized that, if I want to help others, I have to help myself. Although I was a very happy and energetic teen, I doubted myself a lot. I believe that mental health is very important and I am very proud of how far I have come. I have found creative outlets that have helped me to continue to take care of my mental health and love myself.

I can’t wait to continue on my journey and I am proud to be a confident blind young woman breaking down barriers.

Gabby’s Social Media Platforms:

Image Description:

  • Beyond Sight Magazine Cover. Gabby is on the cover sitting on a wall wearing blue shorts, white tee, and silver sandals. 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.
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Living Life To The Fullest | Tekesha Saffold

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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. 
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Auditioning for Bold, Blind, and Beautiful

Cover photo image 1 is described in the body of the article.

WOMEN ON THE MOVE

Editor’s Note:

I met Sylvia Stinson-Perez at an event in New Jersey earlier in the year and was immediately drawn to her. As I grew to learn more about her it was her authentic beauty that was so magnetic to me. When I first read Sylvia’s Women On The Move article I was deeply moved as her words resonated with me very much. After an extremely difficult past week on reading her story again this morning, parts of it felt like my own and I was reminded of my personal value. We can be so caught up in trying to be like everyone else we can fail to see our unique beauty which is considerably more than our exterior. It gives me great pleasure to introduce you to Sylvia Stinson-Perez.

Auditioning for Bold, Blind, and Beautiful

Photo 2 is described in the body of the post.
Photo 2

As a teenager in the 1980’s, I watched the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. I wanted to be considered bold and beautiful. Like any young woman, I struggled with seeing myself as beautiful. Now, add the fact that I was also visually impaired. I had been ostracized and bullied in school because of being considered different, which resulted in me being extremely shy. In addition, like many with low vision, I spent many years trying to pretend I was sighted. Today, as a 50-year-old woman, with many experiences, challenges, and opportunities, I now understand what it really means to be a bold, blind beauty… and I count myself as someone who is still auditioning, but closer every day to getting a leading role. 

Blind is a term many are uncomfortable with, and that includes people who are severely visually impaired. I was born legally blind. It was challenging, but I had an amazingly supportive and loving family. My parents pushed me to not let my vision impairment stop me from being a “regular kid and teen”.

Success Found In Unexpected Changes

For many years it was expected that my vision would not change and I would have the benefit of being able to navigate without a cane or guide dog, read regular print-even if really close, and be able to use my vision for almost all tasks but driving. However, in my mid-20’s, shortly after getting married to my husband of almost 27 years, I started noticing declines in my vision. Test results revealed I had Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), which I knew meant eventual blindness. I was devastated… for a few months. But then I realized I had a whole life in front of me and that my visual impairment had not stopped me up to that point despite all of the challenges, so why would it let it now.

It took time, in fact, several years, but eventually, I became a proud blind person. Today I have very limited vision, not much more than light perception. And, I can honestly say, I have not let my declining vision ever stop me. I am a wife, a mother of a 20-year-old daughter, and I’ve had a great career in the blindness field.  

Positive Gains In Vision Loss

I came to understand and advocate that people who are blind are required to be more innovative, better problem-solvers, and smarter overall. We are not less because we cannot physically see. We have to learn to own blindness as a part of our characteristics, and one that makes us special and unique. I thought this is a persona I can certainly own. Yes, there are times when I feel pity, like when I have not been able to see my daughter, the beauty of nature, and even my own face anymore. But, a pity-party can only last for 15 minutes and it is back to life. Blindness has given me opportunities and strengths I am certain I would have never had as a sighted person. 

Bold to me represents being authentic and confident. As I said, I like many, experienced bullying as a young person in a public school setting where there were very few with disabilities. However, when it was time to go to college, I made a decision that I needed to be more outgoing or bold. I can admit that often I was pretending to be confident. I once heard a quote that has stuck with me:

“Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”

~Dorothy Bernard

Most who know me think I am an outgoing and confident woman, but the reality is that there are still moments when I just say a prayer and hope for the best. I have worked hard to ensure that I have good “blindness” skills, including orientation and mobility, technology, and social skills. These skills give me confidence in my ability to work, network, socialize, and live life to the fullest. Admittedly, I spent many years pretending to be more confident than I am, but in the past few years, I have come to understand that being authentic, with my strengths and challenges, makes me more human and real to others. I have also realized that I am much bolder as myself than as a pretend persona. 

Famous Last Words

Helen Keller said, “The most beautiful things cannot be seen or touched, but are felt with the heart.” Beauty is a term that women who are blind often struggle with, especially if we cannot see ourselves. We all want to be beautiful, and coming to the realization that beauty is way more than the outside appearance is critical.

Yes, I believe looking our best is important, and you will not likely find too many who love to get all dressed up, made up and glammed up more than me. But, I have learned that beauty is more often found in my attitude and how I treat others. I still want to be seen as beautiful, but the older I get the more I realize I want to be recognized for a beautiful person who is kind, compassionate, and wise. One of my life goals has become helping others find their beauty. 

Being bold, blind and beautiful is found in being our best selves!

Connecting With Sylvia On Social Media:

Image Descriptions:

  1. Beyond Sight Magazine Cover (Photo Credit: J. David Wright). The cover image is a headshot of Sylvia all glammed up at a formal event. 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.
  2. Sylvia in front of a building shows her walking with her white cane in front of the building where she works at MSU
  3. Sylvia and daughter Olivia (Photo Credit: J. David Wright), shows her and her daughter all dressed up and attending/hosting a Dining in the Dark event in 2017. The event was hosted by Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind, Inc. (LVIB).
  4. Sylvia’s family pic shows Sylvia with her husband Roger and their daughter Olivia at Olivia’s high school graduation in 2017.
  5. Sylvia in Las Vegas is a recent photo (Feb. 2020) in Vegas
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