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Trust Is Key To Unlocking Confidence & Independence

Trust Is Key To Unlocking Confidence & Independence featured image description is in the body of the post.

Trust Is Key To Unlocking Confidence & Independence

My other goal is to teach the community that people with visual impairments are just anyone else. They just use additional tools to access the world. This access should be universal and a normal part of day-to-day life.

~Michele Danilowicz
1. Michele Danilowicz image description is in the body of the post
#1. Michele Danilowicz

I am a Michigan-based Teacher for the Visually Impaired (TVI) and a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS). My undergraduate degree is in teaching elementary and special education with a focus on visual impairments. In addition, I have a masters degree in Specific Learning Disabilities and Orientation and Mobility for Children. For 14 years I’ve taught students aged 3-26 years old.

My passion is teaching students to help them gain confidence and independence so they are successful adults. I work with students on accessing and using the technology and tools they need to live independently after they age-out of the system.

Oftentimes, students with visual impairments are led to believe they can’t be successful, independent adults. So the most important part of my job is building trust with them. This enables them to believe me when I tell them that they can do anything.

How Trust Delivers Results

I had an elementary student who lacked confidence and hesitated while crossing streets. His parents were fearful and did not want him crossing a street on his own either. He was a fourth grader and at this time was not independently doing what his peers were. Together we went out weekly rain, snow or shine to work, navigate the neighborhoods, and cross intersections. So he was able to walk to friends houses to play and hang out.

I never pushed him if he ever felt uncomfortable to cross. We would cross the street when he built up his confidence. He achieved all his goals that year and crossed at stop signs and even small, lighted intersections. Once he began, he advanced so quickly after he gained confidence and is now unstoppable.

Building trust with parents is crucial also. So after he mastered some of these skills, I invited his parents to a lesson. His parent’s witnessed how confidently their son now crosses intersections, independently and safely. Seeing him progress was so rewarding!

The Long-Lasting Effects Of Trust

Recently, a former student contacted me to tell me she was accepted to a dual masters program. This student and I worked together ten years earlier. I was beyond excited to hear that she is starting a master degree!

She has been living independently since starting her undergraduate degree. Now she is moving across the state by herself to start and complete her master’s program. This student also made a huge transition in her life and is transgender. I was so grateful to hear from her and learn that she trusted me enough to share with me, her transition. The trust and confidence that she has built is amazing!

Passion & Pursuit of Personal & Professional Goals

2. Two women presenting image description is in the body of the post.
2. Two women presenting

My other goal is to teach the community that people with visual impairments are just anyone else. They just use additional tools to access the world. This access should be universal and a normal part of day-to-day life. Part of my job is to teach awareness in local schools about the tools people use who are visually impaired. I also spread this awareness to the public about what helpful accommodations they can use. Along with how to help (or not help) people in the community.

Recently, I was teaching an accessibility workshop to third graders. One of the students stopped me before I walked into the classroom. She said she knew someone who was blind and felt sorry for them. My immediate response was there is no reason to feel sorry for someone who is visually impaired or blind. They are people just like you or me they just access the environment differently. I told her how I knew many successful people doing amazing things. They read by using braille and travel the community and even the world, independently with a cane. The cane helps them to “see” where they are going.

I began the presentation and thanked the students for coming to hear about how everyone can be independent and successful. Everyone just approaches it differently. This is one of the most important parts of my job, educating the public on how and when to help. To not pity visually impaired or blind people, but to appreciate how they navigate the world with the tools at their disposal. When the average person realizes how independent the VI community members are, it gives them a whole new level of respect. Respect is most important, not pity.

3. Table of materials image description is in the body of the post
3. Table of materials

Featured Image Description:

A woman talking while holding up a white cane looking off camera. There are backs of participant’s heads watching the woman present about white cane safety.

Collage Image Descriptions:

  1. Pedestrian Walk Sign: Woman (O&M instructor) is holding a folded white cane, smiling looking off camera, standing at a detectable warning next to a pedestrian walk sign.
  2. Bus Stop Shelter: Woman (O&M instructor) smiling at camera holding a folded white cane standing next to a bus stop shelter.
  3. A city bus. 
  4. Boarding Bus: The back of a woman (O&M instructor) walking onto a city bus. 

Additional Image Descriptions:

  1. Close up of Michele Danilowicz with long brown hair in her 30s smiling at the camera. 
  2. Two women presenting on cortical visual impairments. The power point presentation behind them says: “Tips for Providing Interventions cont.” One presenter is looking at the camera and smiling. The other presenter is looking at the audience holding up a red Elmo stuffed animal and a red and yellow stuffed monster. They are both standing behind a table full of red and yellow materials and toys. 
  3. Table with materials scattered across, a light up magnifier, dome magnifier, Braille writer, telescope, two vision simulation goggles, Braille book, large print book, large Braille cell drawn on paper with the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 next to the dots and worksheets to learn Braille for print readers. 

Connecting With Michele:

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Holly Lynn Connor Changes Viewpoints

Holly Lynn Connor Changes Viewpoints Featured Image Description is in the body of the post

Holly Lynn Connor Changes Viewpoints

It’s takes a village to raise a child.
It takes a child with autism to raise the consciousness of the village.

~Elaine Hall

Holly Lynn Connor, the young lady you are about to meet today, is mesmerizing. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about check out this YouTube video of her singing. While I’ve been following Holly on Instagram for some time, it was only recently that I learned her story. I knew she was blind, I knew she had autism, and I also knew she was extremely talented. What I didn’t know was her backstory and how she came to be who she is today. Today, Holly’s Mom, Katie, invites Bold Blind Beauty readers into her beautiful daughter’s life. Enjoy! ~Stephanae

The Diagnosis

1 Holly Lynn Conner image description is in the body of the post.
1. Holly Lynn Connor

On November 22, 2004, Holly Lynn Connor was born in Seattle, Washington with no complications. From day one, we noticed Holly never seemed to look at us and cried nonstop. We were assured by the pediatrician that her eyes were simply developing at a slower rate and not to worry. By four months Holly showed no improvement and was diagnosed with Septo Optic Dysplasia (“SOD”) and Panhypopituitarism (“Hypopit”).

A person with SOD has optic nerves that are small and poorly developed. Instead of having over 1 million nerve fibers from each eye to the brain, there are far fewer connections. Holly is rare in that she was affected in both eyes and could see little to nothing at birth. When Holly was diagnosed, there were minimal online resources and support groups. I felt alone in the world with no answers. To date, there are still no explanations as to what causes SOD.

Besides being blind, at an early age Holly displayed signs of autism (obsessive-compulsive behaviors, single words language, etc.). The combination of being blind and autistic really made for a difficult time, particularly the first 4 years. Until she was three-years-old, she:

  • wouldn’t walk outside,
  • eat solid foods,
  • go anywhere with fluorescent lighting,
  • sleep through the night,
  • wear shoes or any clothing below the knees or elbows.
  • And she cried pretty much nonstop.

Improvements Achieved Through Treatments

When she was four-years-old, we took her to China for seven weeks to receive stem cell treatments. The effect was miraculous. While the treatment was geared towards her vision, we saw a nearly 50% improvement in her autism almost immediately. Roughly two years later, her vision improvements also became apparent. Her vision increased from an inch or two to seeing contrast and movement up to 10 feet away.

Due to Holly’s successful treatment in China, we booked another round of stem cell treatment when she was twelve. This time it was to Panama. The trip to Panama was slightly more abbreviated at only 7 days. Since that visit, she has seen additional autism reductions. In addition, her vision, while still being blind, picks up contrast and movement up to 30 feet.

Two clear-cut examples of autism reduction are the reduction in Holly’s anxiety levels and the willingness to expand her diet. Pre-Panama her anxiety levels were nearly debilitating at times. As is common with most kids with autism, Holly would only eat about 5 things prior to Panama. Though she always objects at least once to a new food, now she eats nearly everything we give her.

Holly Playing Piano With Hands & Feet image description is in the body of the post.
2. Holly Playing Piano With Hands & Feet

Holly’s Musical Prowess

What makes Holly so unique and special is her musical talent, something we discovered at a very young age. When she was only a month old we played a Winnie The Pooh tape and she immediately stopped crying. After that, our house was filled with music 24 hours a day. It seemed to be the only thing that calmed her.

  • When Holly was 6 months old, she began playing the piano keys with her hands and her feet.
  • At age 1, she could count to 100, sing the alphabet backwards, and play simple notes on the piano. It was at this point where we realized she has instant memory.
  • By Age 2, Holly could play any song by ear on the piano.
  • At 3, we discovered she had perfect pitch, vibrato, and she could tell identify keys of songs on the radio.
  • When she was 4 we started piano lessons with a teacher specifically trained for kids with Autism.
  • By age 7, she could recognize and play complex chords on the piano. Holly also memorized and played songs on the piano after hearing them just once.
  • When she was 8, Holly picked up the harmonica and recorder. This was also around the time she started being ok in public. So we attended live theater and kids’ performances every weekend.
3. Standing at Piano image description is in the body of the post.
3. Standing at Piano

A Naturally Born Performer

Holly joined her first choir at her elementary school when she was 9 years old. She also began working with a vocal coach and attended her first vocal/piano classes. The facility worked specifically with kids with disabilities and paired them with typical kids. This year marked her first performance at a summer camp in which they highlighted her singing. The seed was planted for enrolling Holly in musical theater.

When Holly was 10, she had her first piano recital and first vocal competition. She sang opera and musical theater pieces and took 1st place for her age group. Shortly after, we moved to St. Louis for my husband’s job.

Holly started playing the cello in the school’s 5th-grade orchestra program and joined her first formal choir (STL Children’s Choirs). She also was in her first musical, Space Pirates. Being a new endeavor for everyone involved, she did her scenes sitting in a chair..

The following year, age 11, Holly started taking voice and musical theater classes. She was also cast in her second ever show, Seussical. This time she was doing limited choreography and even had a speaking line.

At age 12, Holly was cast in 8 consecutive shows with 3 named roles. The roles included Glinda in Wizard of Oz, Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, and Mama Ogre in Shrek. We also started her in ballet lessons.

Singing, Dancing & Acting

By the time Holly turned 13, it was an even busier year. She:

  • was cast in 10 consecutive shows with 4 named roles:
    • including Queen Victoria in a Little Princess,
    • Mrs. Darling in Peter Pan,
    • Bird Woman in Mary Poppins,
    • and Cinderella’s Mother in Into the Woods.
  • started taking tap lessons,
  • joined the school jazz band playing piano,
  • joined another choir, and
  • wrote her first original song.

That brings us to the present. At age 14, Holly is immersed in the arts 7 days a week when not in school. She is in 3 choirs, 2 jazz bands, acting and dance classes, private lessons for acting, ballet, tap, and piano.

Holly works out every morning on her spin bike. In addition, she also trains weekly with a personal trainer to help with low muscle tone. She is part of a tandem biking club half the year. At any given time she is in 2-3 musical theatre productions. Right now, she’s excited to be playing Medda Larkin in Newsies and Madame Aubert in Titanic.

Holly Continues Blossoming

The last few years of Holly’s development have been life-changing for Holly and for those around her. St. Louis musical theater community has been extremely accepting and inclusive. The directors have all been accommodating and understanding of both her visual and autistic needs. More than that though, the kids she performs with are more accepting than I could have ever imagined. They are always looking out for her and we never worry about her being in a safe space.

Now that she is fully immersed in the arts community in St. Louis and working with such a large number of kids, Holly seems to have friends everywhere she goes. For the first time ever, Holly found a best friend who’s become a huge part of her life. They talk every day, eat lunch together at school, and are in choirs and musicals together regularly. Her friend, Abby, has an effect on Holly which is hard to quantify. Through her friendship with Abby, Holly is learning more of what it means to be a typical teenager. She’s learning how to interact with others on a social level, and how to have empathy. Empathy is very difficult for someone with autism.

Being The Change

On January 1st, 2019 I began an Instagram awareness project, @365withhollyconnor, where I post Holly answering a daily question. Using the book, “Q&A a Day for Kids” by Betsy Franco, followers can learn about Holly’s life. They can also learn how she navigates the world being both blind and autistic.)

Recently, a girl from the local high school approached me. She told me that her twin brother has autism and Holly changed his life.  Peers began befriending him as a direct result of Holly’s involvement at school and her social media presence. Holly is showing it’s okay to:

  • talk to someone who is blind and autistic
  • be friends with someone who is blind and autistic
  • be unique and different

Holly is extraordinarily talented and we continuously keep her engaged with the world around her. Remaining involved in musical endeavors will position her for a greater opportunity for future success in life. Through the many ways she interacts with the world, Holly continues to influence and change how people see her. Hopefully, this will translate into how they see, interact with, and accept people with all abilities.

Holly Lynn Connor Changes Viewpoints Featured Image Description:

In the featured photo Holly is outside under a white event tent playing a baby grand piano. She is wearing a light print dress and her long hair is draped down her back. Her white cane is propped up in front of the piano.

Additional Image Descriptions:

  1. Professional headshot of Holly with long wavy red hair framing her pretty face. She is wearing an emerald green top.
  2. Black & white photo of Holly as a toddler sitting on a piano bench with her hands and feet on the piano keys.
  3. In this photo, little Holly is standing in front of the piano with her arms reaching up to play the keys. She is wearing a tan jumper paired with a white polo shirt and red (with white trim) Mary Jane shoes. Her blond hair is in pigtails.
  4. A photo grid with two photos. The first one is of a theatrical performance with Holly and a number of her peers in costume on stage. Holly and two characters on either side of her are wearing southern belle type gowns. In the second photo, Holly is singing solo holding a microphone. Outdoor photo of Holly casually dressed in a black jacket, jeans, and a white graphic tee. Her hair is pulled back and she has bangs and is also wearing sunglasses.
  5. This photo grid also contains two photos. In the first one, Holly and four friends are standing while posing for the camera. All five girls dressed for dance practice with black leotards and loose tops. Holly is in the center. The second photo is Holly with her best friend Abby. They are sitting on a pile of gym mats and Abby has her left arm around Holly’s shoulder.

Connecting With Holly:

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Standing Apart An Empowering Message To Teens From A Teen

Standing Apart An Empowering Message To Teens From A Teen Featured image description is in the body of the post.

Standing Apart An Empowering Message To Teens From A Teen

I am honored to introduce you to 12-year-old Blogger and Empowering Teen Extraordinaire―Maleeka. Maleeka, of the blog, Meeks Speaks, has a heart of gold and a passion for people. I love what she has to say to teens about standing apart by being unique. Maleeka, who recently received a letter from Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May congratulating her on her work, is going places.

“Unique and different is the next generation of beautiful.”

~Taylor Swift

Be Unique

The main problem for teens, in an era of social media, is being judged and becoming someone that society demands. Media does not help especially the fashion, beauty, music industries, and those magazines that target young people. Luckily as a VIP (visually impaired person) as I can’t see images and adverts:

  • I have the space to find out who I am,
  • what I love about myself, and my unique personality
  • I don’t pretend to be someone I am not to be accepted by others.

Pretending to be someone you are not to impress others can cause health issues like depression, anxiety, bulimia, and anorexia. It can also make teens feel suicidal when the pressure to keep up with societal expectations are just simply unrealistic.

Standing Apart An Empowering Message To Teens From A Teen Letter from Theresa May Image description is in the body of the post.
Letter From Theresa May

Being A Cool Kid

Also, people who do not “act cool” or follow the latest trends can be neglected. This is wrong because they are not appreciated and don’t get a chance to share their unique qualities. By “acting cool”, I mean dressing a certain way or using abusive language. Even bullying and disrespecting others to seem strong or being part of a collective force against a vulnerable person.

Some people also don’t stand up for injustice on another as seen as “not cool” by their peers. To me being cool is having a kind heart not about what you look like and treating people with respect. Being cool is being open to different people, their cultures and accepting for who they are.

Teens are obsessed with social media, likes, shares, and comments on their posts. But if you look deeper they really only want one true person who will accept them for who they really are. Social media is a fake reality and anyone can pretend to be anything they wish. But in day-to-day life, they may be really lonely and sad and suffer from many health problems. We all just want to have one special person or a small group of people who love you and are loyal to you

Tips To Help Yourself

  • Calm down, try to get away from the noise and have a think.
  • Understand the nature of social media and bring to your awareness that is not your real world.
  • Find out what you are passionate about, what makes you smile, brings joy into your life.
  • Find your unique way of expressing yourself whether through art, music, voice, writer, and comedy.
  • Put your focus on developing your area of interest and be the best you can be in your chosen passion.
  • Don’t take personal what people say or opinions about you. It is more important to be unique and find a special group of friends than to have many and still feel lonely.
  • It’s not cool to be part of a crowd but being unique is cool.
  • Don’t feel pressured to follow the everchanging trends that ruin personalities and confuses identities.
  • It is great to look good and look after yourself but don’t make this your purpose.

You will attract the people who will admire you for who you are and be happy in the process of genuine meaningful friendships and interactions with others.

As a VIP I love makeup and fashion. Luckily As a VIP, I can’t see what people are wearing or looking like so I don’t judge them for this. It is my hearts eye that “sees.” I am impressed with people who have good hearts and I like to surround myself with people who bring value into my life and I can do the same for them.

To Expect A Change

Helping people find their uniqueness is my big passion behind my blog. To empower young people not to copy others but to be you. There is only one of you just as our fingerprints are all different, we as people are all different too and should be happy to embrace this fact. This way society can grow as you bring unique ideas and creativity to the table rather than same old thoughts and being regurgitated over and over again.

“To expect a change, be the change and encourage others to do this too.”

~Maleeka

Connecting With Maleeka:

Standing Apart An Empowering Message To Teens Featured Image Description: 

Maleeka is sitting upright on a tree trunk wearing a big smile, black jacket and blue jeans holding a cane leaning to her right. A quote on the image reads: “Be Proud Of Who You Are.”

Letter From Theresa May Image Description:

This is a photo of the letter and envelope Maleeka received when she was in school. It was during her lunch break when her assistant came up to her and gave me her an interesting looking letter from the House of Commons. It was a letter from Theresa May.

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Mac’s Story A New Perspective On Life

Mac's Story A New Perspective on Life

I began following Mac’s story on Instagram when I came across a video of him using his first cane. Watching Mac use his AMD (alternative mobility device) was so cool as I’d never seen one before. My heart was nearly bursting as I witnessed this little guy claim his independence. So I asked Nicole (his mom) if she’d share his story with us and she said yes!

Mac’s Story A New Perspective On Life

#1 Mac's Family photo description is in the body of the post.
#1 Mac’s Family

When my son was 5 weeks old we found out he was blind. At that point, I was overwhelmed with emotion; angry, lost, and in denial. I had no idea of what this meant for our sweet son, Mac, or our family.

There are so many emotions I felt no one could have prepared me for:

  • I felt heartache when I saw other babies looking into their mama’s eyes;
  • feeling of failure as a parent when Mac couldn’t hold his head up or crawl;
  • comments of pity from others when learning about Mac’s diagnosis and blindness.

I was now a special needs mom. This meant I had to learn how to avoid letting these heartaches and struggles lead me down the wrong path. I needed to do something to prepare myself to handle this emotional rollercoaster and new life that we had begun.

Very quickly, we connected with our local early intervention program for the visually impaired. Before we knew it, Mac had a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) and occupational therapist (OT). These professionals taught us how to aid Mac in his development.

The more we connected with others, I quickly learned of the huge financial deficit for the visually impaired child. I felt compelled to do something to remedy this situation and bring it to light. So I began posting stories about Mac, and what we are learning about how to supplement a visually impaired child’s development. This was an important piece because 85% of all development is incidentally done through vision. Teaching Mac how to meet his developmental milestones without being able to see wasn’t intuitive to us. We are so thankful his TVI and OT are there to guide us.

The Healing Power of Sharing

I never could have imagined how therapeutic it would be to share Mac’s story. The outpouring of support from friends and strangers was so heartwarming. People began to ask for more updates and have specific requests for the next post. They wanted to learn how Mac navigates a new environment or if he seems to have refined his other senses. It was so nice to go from feeling alone and helpless, to feeling supported. Educating others about visual impairments and building inclusiveness was an added benefit. Amazingly, talking about the issue seemed to remove the avoidance and pity from others.

#3 Mac on a swing photo description is in the body of the post
#3 Mac on a swing

As Mac continues to grow, he is learning so much. I had no idea how much intervention is required for our son who is blind. In addition to his TVI and OT, he has an orientation and mobility specialist (O&M) and soon a speech-language pathologist. It’s amazing how much we incidentally learn through vision; even speaking is something that is primarily learned through watching others. We are so thankful for Mac’s team of specialists. This team has helped us learn to embrace this new life and prepare our son to achieve great things.

We have gained the same passion that so many others who are visually impaired have, to change the stigma, fight for the cause, and make a difference. We find ourselves advocating for early intervention and inclusiveness.

Paying It Forward

#4 Mac & him mom photo description is in the body of the post.
#4 Mac & him mom

While we cannot cure Mac’s blindness or give him sight, we can teach the world more about blindness. In addition, we can help make the world more accessible for all people. We’ve started an annual fundraiser, a gala that benefits the local early intervention program that has been so good for our souls. We feel like we are making a difference in the lives of other children with visual impairments by removing some of the financial barriers to accessing the care they need.

Mac has taught us so much in his less than 2 years of life. There is so much more to life than what you can see. You are not defined by your disabilities; they are a characteristic of the amazing person that you are. The uniqueness each of us possesses is what makes this world wonderful. If we learn from one another, our perspective will continuously flourish. While there are numerous challenges, I am so thankful for Mac’s blindness and our new perspective on life.

Mac’s Story A New Perspective On Life Featured Image Description:

Closeup of Mac shows the light blonde haired cutie smiling while he holds onto his blue and white AMD. He is sporting a chunky gray cardigan over a flannel shirt with blue jeans.

Additional Images:

  1. Mac’s family; mom, dad, Mac and his two sisters are standing outdoors in a grassy field posing for the camera. Mom and dad are holding one another and Mac’s sisters are standing in front while mom holds Mac in her left arm. In the background, golden orange autumn foliage can be seen.
  2. Is a tri-panel collage: The first image is in the same grassy field as photo 1. In this image, Nicole is holding Mac in her left arm while her two daughters are each holding one of her legs. Mac is using his AMD on the sidewalk it almost looks like he’s running. In the third photo, Mac’s oldest sister is holding his arms in the air while he walks in the grassy field.
  3. On a clear, sunny autumn afternoon bundled in a blue winter jacket, Mac looks like he’s having a blast on a toddler swing.
  4. A stunning black and white photo of Nicole holding Mac on her lap while he is smiling broadly.

Following Mac’s Story: