I was on a Zoom call the other day when I heard this powerful message: “One out of one people has unconscious bias.” While many of us like to believe we have no biases, as uncomfortable as it might be to admit, we all do. Today’s featured Woman On The Move, Tiffany Baylor, very eloquently takes us through how she faced her unconscious biases and emerges victoriously. In addition to her article, here is a supplemental interview that will be uploaded to YouTube with Tiffany and Bold Blind Beauty’s Nasreen Bhutta. ~Steph
I was diagnosed with Glaucoma just before my 30th birthday. I was already operating with only one functioning eye since birth, so as you can imagine, learning that I was going to gradually lose my sight in my second eye was quite unsettling. Although I was accepted into an excellent training program for people with adult-onset sight loss, I emotionally avoided the diagnosis, and literally avoided the Orientation and Mobility instructor who came to pre-assess me for approximately 3 months.
Coincidentally, all of the blindness-related stereotypes that I would later work to dispel were the very stereotypes that triggered my fear and hopelessness. I didn’t want the label, the diagnosis, nor to be seen as one of those “poor, helpless, blind people.” Yet, at the urging of my family, I acquiesced and boarded the little white shuttle that displayed a large, colorful “Braille Institute for the Blind” sign on its side. I took my seat among the other “poor, helpless, blind people,” as the shuttle’s back-up safety beeps advertised the bus’s departure from my neighborhood. My cover was blown. I thought, “Well, now, the whole world knows that I’m broken.”
An Eye-Opening Experience
From the first day that I attended Braille Institute, I met people who dispelled every single stereotype that I had related to living with vision loss. I met people who lived independently, who had hobbies, who wore makeup, who gardened, sewed, cooked, and even played sports! There I was thinking that my diagnosis was the precursor to an ending, when actually it was unlocking a beginning. Creativity was the key needed to unlock that beginning, and I spent the next year training and learning how to use that key.
An Open Mind and Willing Spirit
One day while public speaking at an engagement hosted by the Braille Institute in California, I was asked to participate in the event activities as a show of support for the program. The event was the Braille Institute Youth Olympics. I laced up a pair of borrowed sneakers and took my position on the starting line of the 100-meter dash among an intimidating, powerfully built group of 16 and 17-year-olds. The starter commanded, “Runner’s to your mark . . . get set . . .” As the gun exploded, surprisingly, so did I!” I couldn’t believe that I was actually keeping up with this stampede of strapping teens! Later that afternoon, an official thanked me for coming and said, “You ought to turn your scores in.” I chuckled and thought that he was kidding, or just being polite.
Several weeks later, I received a telephone call from a gentleman who said he was from USABA (pronounced: You-sah’-buh). Assuming he was a telemarketer, I scolded, “I already have a Samsung with High Definition in my family room, and I’m not interested in purchasing a ‘You-sah’-buh!’
He continued, “Hello, are you, Tiffany Baylor? I am Mark Lucas of the United States Association of Blind Athletes.” (Apparently, USABA was an acronym and not a brand of television). Mark continued still, “You attended an event in Los Angeles, and your scores were sent to me by one of the officials. Your scores are quite good. I’d like to talk to you about being a member of the USABA Track and Field Team, and attending the upcoming Pan American Games.”
Off To the Races
The next thing I knew, I was being flown out to South Carolina for training, to compete in an international competition involving 17 countries. I was so awe-inspired by the events. I arrived at my athlete quarters to find an official red, white, and blue uniform with “USA” proudly displayed upon it. I think I shed a tear as I carefully examined the letters with my fingers as if to verify that this was really happening. There were classifications, prelims, heats, staggered starts, and other terminology that seemed like another language. My teammates prayed and encouraged me as I faced a plethora of well-trained opponents. I enjoyed the thrill of competition, the camaraderie of the team, and the opportunity to make life-long friendships with athletes all over the world. The resulting Gold and Bronze Medals were pleasing as well.
After 16 years of competition, 4 International Gold Medals, 2 television appearances, torch-bearing, and being the first blind athlete to compete/and win Gold at the California State Games, residing, and training at 2 Olympic Training Centers, earning an All American National Ranking twice, and earning a Gold Medal at the US Paralympic Track and Field Trials for a slot on the USA 2012 London Paralympic Team, my most prized accomplishment is speaking to people about being bold when creating goals, and noticing that each accomplishment is a gateway to another goal. One must continuously explore which gate the ‘key’ will open next?
The Opened Doors
While competing for the U.S. Track and Field Team, I met people who used guide dogs for mobility. After much research, discussion, and evaluation, I applied for my first Guide dog in 1997. While traveling with the U.S. Team, I realized society’s urgent need for guide dog accessibility education. I became a member of the Guide Dog for the Blind Speakers Bureau in 1999 and began providing guide dog awareness training to community organizations and elementary schools throughout California. I continued promoting guide dog inclusion and acceptance by appearing on KUSI News in San Diego, Wake-up Clackamas County in Oregon, and Facing Florida here in the state of Florida. I presented quarterly lectures for Kaiser University’s Occupational Therapy program, instructing emerging therapists on visual impairments and considerations for service delivery. I have also been a guest lecturer for Florida State University’s course on living with visual loss, and was fortunate to provide in-service training to companies who serve people with disabilities, including a request by Florida’s Secretary of State, Ken Dexter, to provide guide dog accessibility training to his staff.
I believe that the most important gift that I can share with the world is education. I do not mean handing someone a leaflet about blindness and feeling like I’ve done my part. I mean provide people the opportunity to metaphorically walk in my shoes. Stereotypes and biases will not be squashed by someone being able to recite the three most common eye conditions. Instead, opportunities that allow people to experience how seemingly inconsequential aspects of daily living with blindness compels a person to constantly think outside-of-the-box just to participate. This way of educating the public promotes open-minded thinking and brings about true learning. When this type of instruction is combined with a free, non-judgmental forum for attendees to ask questions without the impediment of political correctness, fear of offending, or ridicule, I find that misconceptions evaporate and new foundations are constructed.
This mindset motivated me to create My Pink Cane. My Pink Cane is an Instruction and Advocacy business specializing in training and auxiliary consultation services to businesses, Government Agencies and community groups in the surrounding Capitol region in the areas of Blindness Etiquette, Guide Dog laws, and various accommodations/tools that may be used by people who have blindness or low vision. Rather than simply lecture to the audience, I provide informative, lively, and interactive presentations that include hands-on experiences that are molded to address the specific goals, and possible hard-set misconceptions of the audience.
Clearly, my Glaucoma diagnosis was the key to a new beginning. It has taught me to not ‘dis’ my abilities, but rather to discover, and strengthen my abilities. My blindness has taught me to change my goal setting to be limitless, by keeping creativity and open-mindedness on my virtual tool belt. Most importantly, blindness has motivated me to share my life experiences, and strive to release society from the blindfolds that perpetuate stereotypes, thus allowing society to see with the clarity of creative, open-minded people who are blind.
Tiffany Baylor, TVI, FCCM, MEd
Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments, TVI
Florida Certified Contract Manager, FCCM
Masters of Education, MEd
Connecting WIth Tiffany:
- Beyond Sight Magazine Cover – Tiffany’s photo is on the cover, she is dressed professionally in a stylish jacket and her dark hair is pulled back from her smiling face cascading in spiral curls. Her circular silver statement earrings perfectly omplement her jacket. 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 says “Tiffany Baylor Opening doors with open-mindedness and creativity.” 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 in yellow text under the circle.
- Hiking Desoto Falls – Tiffany is standing with her guide dog a black lab. In the background is a waterfall surrounded by lush greenery.
- Tri-panel gallery -1) Tiffany is standing at a podium cohosting a Dining In The Dark Event with a man. 2) Tiffany is sitting with a child on the floor teaching them braille. 3) Tiffany is at the front of the room leading a public speaking conference as a woman looks on.
- USABA Photo – Action photo of Tiffany running rounding the bend on the track, representing Team USA as she competes.
- Team USA – Tiffany is among the entire team consisting of 4 rows of people. All are dressed identically in navy and white athletic gear.
- 7-panel gallery – (clockwise top l to r) 1) Tiffany and her clogging team wearing American flag tops. 2) Tiffany and her guide dog are on the Appalachian trail crossing the Potomac and Shenandoah on a narrow footbridge. 3) Tiffany is all smiles while riding a Cyco Cycle in the parade. She has on a black cowboy hat, red top, boots, and black jeans. Her bedazzled cane is guiding the way. 4) Action shot of Tiffany water skiing in Hot Springs Arkansas. 5) Top of Hill at Harper’s Ferry Tiffany, with her guide dog, is standing with her back to the camera. In the background rooftops and a tree-covered mountain can be seen. 6) Ice Skiing in Vermont Tiffany poses with her skis in hand. She’s wearing a red puffy jacket, black helmet, and bright orange “Blind Skier” vest. 7) Tiffany and her guide dog are at the Appalachian Trail Railroad. Tiffany has a large backpack on her back. Trees and mountains can be seen in the background.