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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:

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Education Paves Way To Limitless Life

Education Paves Way To Limitless Life Featured image description is in the body of the post.

Education Paves Way To Limitless Life

Receiving a devastating diagnosis is never easy. Being a parent of a child who’s the recipient of the diagnosis is especially difficult. As parents, it’s our job to shelter and protect our children from harm. The line between protection and a life without limits becomes blurry when we are raising children with disabilities.

A key component in advocacy (even parenthood) and diminishing fear is knowledge through education. The following lightly edited article was written by the mom of 3-year-old Arthur. She shares his blindness journey and how her and Lingga Arie (Arthur’s dad) are preparing him for a life without limits.  (Here is the Indonesian version of the article)

“Arthur has the opportunity and the right to play, learn, socialize, and move like other children in general. We do not limit it even though conditions are limited. We believe that someday, the work we do for him at this time will make Arthur go beyond its limitations to infinity.”

~Ranny Aditya

Greetings From Indonesia: Arthur’s Story

#1 Arthur image description is in the body of the post
#1 Arthur

Hi, my name is Ranny. I come from Yogyakarta, Indonesia. I will share the story of my son named Arthur.

A very long and extraordinary journey when awarded a child who’s born prematurely. Nobody asked, nothing hoped to happen. But whatever power when God wills. Babies born small with low birth weight, only one of the many problems that we found.

Arthur, he is our first child and a boy who was born prematurely. Arthur was born on January 24, 2016, at 30 weeks’ gestation, birth weight was only 1500 grams. He will only be 3 years old and he will spend a lifetime being a person with disabilities because of his premature birth.

Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), is one of the risks of prematurity that must be borne for life because blindness is permanent. Yes, he was diagnosed blind when he was 4 months because of the ROP stage 5. In fact, if detected earlier his vision could have been saved.

Not an easy diagnosis that Arthur got. Various types of medical examinations followed. In the beginning, Arthur is suspected of retinoblastoma (cancer of the retina). This diagnosis meant his right eye would be removed and replaced with a prosthetic eye, while the left eye would be treated with chemotherapy.

Luckily, we did not immediately agree with the doctor’s advice. The next day we took Arthur to Jakarta (taking an airplane 1 hour), to get a second opinion. We visited several hospitals, and finally, we met the right doctor, who diagnosed Arthur with ROP stage 5. Arthur’s retina was totally detached―blindness was permanent because of the damage in the retina.

#2 Arthur image description is in the body of the post.
#2 Arthur

When Options Are Few

The doctor said there was no hope to save Arthur’s eyesight. And the expected outcome from surgery was very small because his retina was completely detached. At that time the doctor gave me a choice:

  • The first choice, bringing Arthur to Japan for vitrectomy surgery with very little hope, or even risk worsening his current vision.
  • The second choice is to educate Arthur to be independent and move like other children in general.

We took the second choice because our financial condition at that time did not allow bringing Arthur to Japan for eye surgery. Moreover, doctors say the results of surgery can also risk worsening his current vision. So, we better save the money for education and preparation for Arthur’s future. But we are still grateful, Arthur was “only” diagnosed with Retinopathy of Prematurity stage 5, not retinoblastoma which is life-threatening.

Drooping, angry, sad, denial, we have passed all of that. What we are doing right now is to focus on preparing and educating Arthur to be stronger in facing life against the world. Arthur has the opportunity and the right to play, learn, socialize, and move like other children in general. We do not limit it even though conditions are limited. We believe that someday, the work we do for him at this time will make Arthur go beyond its limitations to infinity.

Arthur’s presence became a lesson for us, to be more grateful and interpret this life. We believe that God is never unfair to His people.

See the ability not the disability. Because it’s a time to focus on abilities not disabilities.

#3 Arthur, Mom & Dad image description is in the body of the post.
#3 Arthur, Mom & Dad

Information Continues To Strengthen Communities

In my country Indonesia, it is still far behind other countries regarding facilities for people with disabilities.

Luckily there is a small community accompanied by observers of blind children and also educational consultants from Perkins School for the Blind. We named it the “baby community”. Its members are parents who have blind children. There we learned how to teach our children to be able to be independent and grow well.

We also often learn from other countries’ websites because the source of information in our country is very limited. It is still far behind other countries, especially on how to educate blind children who are still young. In my opinion, the most important thing is educating children at an early age, because it will be a provision in his life in the future.

I hope we can create a world that is friendly to people with disabilities with accessibility, infrastructure, education, health, and social environments. Because the role of the government alone is not enough, but social life in the community must also support the existence of persons with disabilities.

For parents who have children with special needs, whatever the conditions. never give up! Look at how your child is struggling, you must always be with him.

Following Arthur’s Story:

Education Paves Way To Limitless Life Featured Image Description:

Arthur is laughing with his mom and dad as they pose in front of a multi-colored wall. Both smiling parents are holding Arthur between them with dad stretching out his son’s arms. 

Additional Images:

  1. In this photo, Arthur is standing in front of a field of brightly colored flowers. He looks absolutely adorable in blue printed shorts, print tee-shirt, and sandals as he examines a yellow flower with his right hand.
  2. This image, a meme created for “International Day of People With Disabilities,” shows Arthur standing in front of a wood-paneled and glass wall. The phrase at the top of the meme says “Even I only see the world with my heart, I’ll show you my ability than my disability.” He is dressed in a red tee with khaki shorts and white sneakers. 
  3. Dad and mom are standing close to one another, with dad holding Arthur in his right arm. They are in front of
    the campus of Arthur’s parents, the Fisipol Universitas Gadjah Mada (Faculty of Social and Political Science).
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Turning Fear Into Motivation For Change

Turning Fear Into Motivation For Change Featured Image description is in the body of the post.

Turning Fear Into Motivation For Change

Visual impairment and blindness is a deeply personal and individual experience. Some people are highly motivated to set goals and regain their independence immediately, while others take it one day at a time. 
Never forget, whatever stage you are in your journey, a compassionate team of vision professionals, O&Ms, and resources are always there to support and help VI people along the way.

~Amy Castleberry

Moving Forward In Spite Of Fear

#1 Amy Castleberry image description is in the body of the post.
#1 Amy Castleberry

You might think my classmates and professor were playing a vicious trick on me the day I was blindfolded. They led me around the winding corridors of my college campus until I was completely disoriented. Then they left me alone to my own devices.  In reality, it was the first lesson in my master’s degree training program as an orientation and mobility (O&M) graduate student. The first day of the rest of my life.

“I have no idea where I am,” I laughed nervously.

“You will,” my professor replied in a comforting and encouraging tone. “You have all of the tools you need. Just, use your cane.”

Did I mention two of my biggest fears are “the dark” and “getting lost”?

Fear is a funny thing we all confront at some moment in our lives. The nagging tic in the back of our brains, or the aching pit at the bottom of our stomachs. Fear can overwhelm in a flash of frustration and panic. Or, in a moment of enlightened courage, motivate us to actively change our circumstances and rise to the occasion.

#2 Salus University O&M cohort image description is in the body of the post.
#2 Salus University O&M cohort

So, what was I to do? I could stay stuck, remain literally in a corner, and give in to my fearful thoughts. Or, I could choose to move forward and continue moving until I eventually worked my way to my destination.

As I stood against the wall wracking my brain for my next move, I heard my professor’s voice: “You’ve got this. Take a deep breath, make a plan, be systematic.”

Easier said than done.

From Trainee To Trainer

About 30 minutes later I used my long white cane and worked myself out of the corner. I located the stairwell, walked up two flights of stairs, only to take a wrong turn, on the wrong floor. Trapped again, in another corner nowhere near my final destination.

“Not bad for your first time,” the professor said as I pushed away my blindfold. “We’ll have you crossing streets in downtown Philadelphia in no time.”

By the end of that month, my professor was right. I had all the tools I needed and I crossed my first street independently while blindfolded, then another, and then a whole intersection. Eventually, I worked my way through many other environments after that first intersection.

From parks with uneven terrain and dirt trails to riding public transportation in a congested center city. To taking escalators, exploring different departments in shopping malls, and my favorite lesson of all, training with guide dogs! When I wasn’t practicing cane navigation, I was learning to instruct my classmates. Lessons involved traveling systematically, safely, and independently while building their confidence and helping them achieve their goals.

Now, months later, I’m nearing the end of my fieldwork and I’ve worked with visually impaired (VI) children and adult clients. Next, I’ll be moving across the country to train at a Veteran’s Hospital with visually impaired members from our nation’s military.

Reflecting On The O&M Journey

Along the way, I’ve met incredibly diverse and unique people across the spectrum of blindness and VI. People who have welcomed me with patience, kindness, open hearts, and minds.

Thanks to Stephanae, I’ve enjoyed this opportunity to reflect on my experiences and training as an O&M graduate student, and my hope for the future.

Though I’ll never know what it’s like to live on a daily basis with a VI, I’ve learned some important things from my students and the generous VI community:

  1. VI and blindness is a deeply personal and individual experience.
  2. Some people are highly motivated to set goals and regain their independence immediately, while others take it one day at a time.
  3. The return to independence from VI is grueling, hard work. But the journey is supported by a relentless and compassionate team of: 
    • fellow VI community members,
    • vision professionals,
    • teachers,
    • technology professionals,
    • advocates, and
    • compassionate, creative, problem-solvers who are as deeply invested in helping our clients identify resources, overcome barriers to accessibility, and achieve their goals.

Life may never be the same, but quality of life can be enhanced through adaptation, creativity, and the emergence of innovative technologies.

#4 Guide Dogs image description is in the body of the post
#4 Guide Dogs

I am grateful to my classmates, professors, mentors, clients, students, and the VI community at large, for their patience and encouragement along the way. Though I know I will encounter barriers and systems that present challenges to my students and clients, I will always be a seeker and student, an advocate for equality and inclusion, and a warrior against fear in favor of love and light.

What’s Next?

In the coming year, I hope to find my place and purpose in this amazing community, and work hard to make a difference through passionate action. I look forward to serving the community in every and any way I can.

Many thanks to Bold Blind Beauty for allowing me to share my thoughts and experiences. Please reach out to me at any time, so we can connect and continue to educate, overcome barriers, fight for accessibility and independence, and continue to grow and learn as a team.

Connecting With Amy:

  • Instagram: @o.m.amy
  • Email: acastleberry.o.m@gmail.com

Featured Image Description:

This photo is a group of nine O&M students (including Amy) posing with white canes. There’s a Salus University sign on the floor that reads “Celebrating 10 Years.” A couple of students are holding the school’s mascot (Sal the Salamander) and others are holding school pennants. 

Additional Images:

  1. A closeup of Amy with a big smile and wearing dark-rimmed eyeglasses. Her blond hair parted in the center and she has on a black cold-shoulder top.
  2. Amy and five other Salus University O&M students are posed standing with white canes.
  3. Gallery of six photos:
    1. As part of her O&M training, Amy is approaching a set of escalators with her white cane as several onlookers watch. 
    2. Amy is standing on the upper level of a mall next to the railing with her white cane.
    3. This image is a couple of students doing O&M travel on the street.
    4. A photo of three people demonstrating O&M on a wooded pathway.
    5. Amy is kneeling next to a lovely dog who appears to be smiling. 
    6. A picture of Amy and four other students wearing white polos at Seeing Eye Guide Dog Training.
  4. Eight students (including Amy) are posing with three guide dogs. The three guide dogs are sitting on the floor with two students kneeling next to them while the others stand.