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Positive Change Begins With Action Through Advocacy

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“We rise by lifting others.”

~Robert Ingersoll

I’ve blogged (another form of advocacy) for nearly 5 years and I’ve been an Abilities Crusader (advocate) for most of my life. While my advocacy journey has been lengthy, my purpose wasn’t fully clear to me until 2016 during a flubbed speech. Thankfully, my persistence to help people understand the value of people with disabilities enabled me to learn more about me. Kindness, compassion, and a deep desire for social justice are central to who I am; these are my values. Bold Blind Beauty was born out of a personal need for empowerment that I wanted to share with others.

The Ripple Effect of Advocacy In Action

I love the work I do however there are times when it’s lonely and I feel like I’m not doing enough to create real change. Being an introvert, I’m comfortable working in a distraction-free atmosphere but one drawback is relying too heavily on my internal processes. Recently I learned a valuable lesson on how I sometimes get it wrong and can unintentionally hurt people. Being independent is great, but in advocacy, there’s no room for ego.

In preparation for two speaking gigs this month I requested some custom materials from a good friend of mine. Since the cost of producing the materials is rather high I offered to pay—a huge MISTAKE! When I received the quote I nearly passed out and had to eat some rather tasteless crow. Long story short, an email prompted me to make a phone call that resulted in me being told: “Don’t rob me of my blessing.” Then I was told how much my work means and how our collaboration is benefitting many people. I don’t mind sharing that as he spoke I broke down and cried. To have someone believe in me like this was so incredibly touching, humbling, and unbelievably motivating.

Advocacy isn’t a solitary venture and what I love about advocacy is its simplicity—identify something that needs to be done, then do it! Many people are highly skilled at identifying problems however when we don’t take the next step to become the solution, well, nothing happens. Take Blind Beauty, for example, I noticed there weren’t any fashion magazines who featured blind women so I created one.

I’m only one person but when I share my message of empowerment with another this starts the ripple. Like a chain reaction, when the message is relayed to others it becomes a small movement.

The Necessity of Awareness

While broken crayons may still color, as humans who are we to determine who’s broken? Frequently when we talk about people living with disabilities it’s from a point of view that there is something wrong. When in fact having a disability is only one of many traits that make us different not broken.

Through the years the number of awareness days/months has increased which makes sense as our population continues to grow. What’s so exciting to me about the explosion of awareness events is being able to witness the beauty of our differences.

During the month of October, there are numerous awareness days among them are:

As I mentioned earlier in the post, I have two speaking gigs this month:

  • Disability InSIGHTS – October 18, Erie, PA
  • SPARK Saturday (Self-confidence, Peer support, Accessibility, Resources, & Knowledge) – October 19, Harrisburg, PA (Pennsylvania Council of the Blind Annual Conference)

Now that I’ve finally figured out how to get from Erie to Harrisburg I’m so fired up! The themes, “showcasing the accomplishments of others with disabilities” and “Peers Challenging Beliefs” are straight up my alley. Promoting awareness by breaking down barriers while creating meaningful connections is what advocacy is all about.

Advocacy is 24/7/365 and it begins the moment we ‘leave our homes.’ To be clear, leaving our homes could be as simple as sharing our stories online.

People will probably always leap to the wrong conclusions about us and that’s okay. It’s not our job to convert people who aren’t open to understanding that all of us are temporarily abled. Our job is to live our lives to the best of our ability and continue to build awareness.

Building Community Through Our Shared Experiences

I feel like one of the luckiest people on the planet because I belong to a wonderful community of people. My life is so enriched mainly through the people I’ve connected to within the disability community.

I’ve befriended some of the most amazing people who are driven to make the world a better place by breaking down barriers. Ironically, one of these people, Kristin Smedley, a mom, speaker, author, and one of my heroes I’ll meet in person. As a matter of fact, Kristin will also be speaking at the SPARK Saturday event in Harrisburg. Oddly enough, I recently won a Kindle version of Kristin’s book Thriving Blind. So I asked her if she would provide a blurb for me to share here on Bold Blind Beauty:

Blindness. A tough topic to discuss? Not anymore. In this groundbreaking book, readers will see blindness in a whole new light. In fact, the compelling and entertaining stories will not only change perceptions of blindness, they’ll make readers forget the people featured are actually blind. Thriving Blind will transform your idea of what is possible for people who encounter a devastating disability or life challenge and will catapult your motivation to set extraordinary expectations for your own life.

I’m both excited and scared silly to share a speaking engagement with Kristin. What will help me get through it? Two things: My why and the knowledge that I’m not alone.

Bold Blind Beauty’s mission is to improve humanity by changing the way we perceive one another. When we place the focus on abilities versus disabilities – anything is possible!

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A black and white close up photo of a drop of water making gentle ripples in a body of water.

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When Passion Is Palpable One Must Pursue It

“The one thing you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that just possibly you are walking down the street naked…that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”

~Neil Gaiman

Advocacy can occur on many levels from creating a massive movement to a simple blog but it all begins with a passion for positive social change. When I was asked to participate in an upcoming event to bring awareness to the abilities of people with disabilities I couldn’t say no. 

Disability InSIGHTS is a seminar designed to increase awareness of the abilities of people living with disabilities. I will be one of 7 speakers who will share stories of triumphs, obstacles, and breaking down barriers. More on this in a moment.

Typically when we hear stories of people who are on the front lines of social justice the conversation revolves around passion. There is something that ignites the fire within us to create positive change. While it’s true passion has a defining role in our advocacy efforts we seldom talk about another major player—fear.

Working Through Fear

Fear is universal and yet many times when we talk about success fear isn’t a major topic of conversation. I’ve lived a life of fear and a life of overcoming. Losing my eyesight was one of my greatest fears that I never thought I’d be able to accept. However, it was my fear of blindness that in part prompted me to create Bold Blind Beauty. 

Fear was the reason why I declined an all-expense-paid trip to Kansas earlier this year. Even though the opportunity to empower blind & visually impaired youth was seductive I just couldn’t let go of my fear.

The thought of traveling out of state on what would be my first solo flight after my sight loss terrified me. Questions swirled around in my head like:

  • would I know where to go once I was dropped off curbside at the airport?
  • what if the assistance I requested ahead of time wasn’t available?
  • would I have a panic attack because everything I see is indistinguishable?
  • what if I had to use the restroom, would I get lost?
  • would the flight attendants show me to my seat?
  • since my trip connected through another airport what would that be like?
  • what would I do if I encountered problems because people doubted my disability?
  • how would I handle the prospect of being stranded?

With all these questions and more, you’d think I’d be satisfied with declining the trip but I wasn’t. Truth be told I was still unsettled yet I couldn’t articulate why. Thankfully, I was given another chance, this time I said YES! and I went to Kansas.

The Cumulative Effect

The Kansas trip was only the beginning of all the wonderful things to come this year as a result of my work at Bold Blind Beauty. While I’ve been blogging for nearly 5 years I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve questioned myself as to whether this is a fruitful effort. Then last year I partnered with advocate extraordinaire, Chelsea Nguyen, and together we founded CAPTIVATING! Magazine, a free, accessible online lifestyle magazine. CAPTIVATING! provides monthly content about culture and style for people of all abilities proving that inclusion is limitless.

As a result of my partnership with Chelsea, and my work with Bold Blind Beauty I’ve enjoyed these amazing experiences:

Next, in the lineup of this year’s events are:

My trips to Kansas and Utah were sublime. CAPTIVATING!’s award from the Texas Rehabilitation Association was a delightful and totally unexpected surprise. Then filming the behind the scenes story of Bold Blind Beauty last week was extraordinary. 

I’m eagerly anticipating the Disability InSIGHTS Seminar where I can share my tips on the path to social entrepreneurship. This event is being held in recognition of International Blindness Awareness Month and National Employment Disability Awareness Month. It will take place on October, 18 from 11 am – 3 pm at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center in Erie, PA. 

Seeing The Beauty In People

I believe everyone has value. I also believe our perceptions of people can get in the way of our ability to appreciate their value. For far too long we’ve looked at people who are ‘different’ from ourselves and immediately leap to conclusions without knowing their story, without knowing them. When we add disabilities (visible and invisible) to this equation we become ‘experts’ in determining their worth and it isn’t fair nor is it right. 

We all have moments of insecurity, uncertainty, and fear. I nearly let my fear keep me from life-changing events where I’ve learned so many valuable lessons. None of this means I won’t ever feel uncomfortable or downright scared. However, when I ask myself why inclusion, accessibility, and representation are so important my passion will continue to help me push through my fear.

Courage is contagious and when we share our vulnerabilities it empowers others. How about you? Can you think of a time that fear nearly prevented you from meaningful achievement? 

Disability InSIGHTS Information:

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Carla The Exuberant Chief Communications Officer

Carla The Exuberant Chief Communications Officer

Hello, I’m Carla Ernst’s publisher and I’m contacting you because I know she was involved with Bold Blind Beauty. I’m very sorry to tell you that she passed away a couple of days ago.

Image of Carla and her white cane is described in the post.
Carla With Her White Cane

I’d just come home from visiting my friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer. The stress is palpable as I’m working on getting the June edition of CAPTIVATING! issued. I heard the email notification on my cell. Figuring it was one of our CAPTIVATING! team members, I glance at it and the next thing I know I’m screaming.

When anyone calls the Bold Blind Beauty 800 line it automatically sends a transcript of the voicemail. I thought this has to be a mistake when reading the transcript. So I open the email on my 32-inch monitor, then read and re-read the message. Comprehension slowly creeps up on me as my heart is breaking—Carla is gone!

Gosh, just writing this brings it all back—the tears, sorrow, and devastation of losing someone so close to me. While it’s been two weeks since she died a very large part of me still can’t believe she’s gone.

Exhuberant & Extraordinary Carla

I met Carla on November 10, 2016, right here on Bold Blind Beauty. It all began with a comment she left on one of my blog posts:

You look fab Steph! (I’m trusting my sighted girlfriend Ann who told me so). I lost my vision several months ago, but I have not let that negatively impact my sense of fashion one bit. I wear a lot of pencil skirts too, but I’m thinking of upgrading to pen skirts. Way more permanent. These pencil skirts could erase. Which would not be good because they have a no-nudity policy here in Milwaukee.

~ Carla Ernst

How was I to know that this one comment would lead to such an extraordinary friendship? The funny thing is, Carla and I never met in person. Yet this comment was the beginning of something very special. The comment led to an email which in turn led to a phone call that completely changed my life.

It’s so interesting how meaningful relationships can evolve while living in the virtual 24/7 world. My friendship with Carla was such a relationship. From the very beginning, her corny sense of humor was contagious; I remember telling her she should become a standup comedian. In addition to being a person who could make you laugh non-stop, Carla was extremely intelligent and uber professional.

Writer Extraordinaire

My relationship with Carla was life-changing because she clearly understood my passion for advocacy. Because of this understanding, she offered to help me to improve Bold Blind Beauty.

In a matter of months, we consolidated messaging and websites. If you’ve been following Bold Blind Beauty for a while you’ll remember there was a separate online store. The standalone online store was named after Abby our fashion icon. Then there were individual social media platforms for each site which made things a little hairy.

Carla’s offer to create a concise message made me feel a little; no, I was actually extremely uncomfortable. Living on disability means finances are tight and I knew I couldn’t afford her services. Here’s the kicker though: when I told her I couldn’t pay her she said all she wanted to do was to help. Who does this in this day and age?

Carla wasted no time developing a strategy She:

  • wrote Abby’s story and rewrote my bios (I now have several from which to choose)
  • hosted two focus groups to gather data to learn more about our audience
  • advised me to create a Steering Committee
  • updated the site’s structure to make more sense
  • helped me consolidate the obsolete Abigale Style into Bold Blind Beauty
  • contributed tons of content to Bold Blind Beauty
  • represented Bold Blind Beauty as Chief Communications Officer
  • presented endless ideas the most recent was giving Abby a voice

As a communications guru, Carla’s passion for writing could only be matched by her advocacy. She had a heart for volunteerism and gave so much of her time and talents to organizations who help improve the lives of others. What’s ironic about me writing this piece is I feel like I cannot do her justice.

What Carla Taught Me

Acceptance has to be one of the most important takeaways from my friendship with Carla. Remember how I said I met her in 2016? It wasn’t until last year that I learned something about Carla that hurt me to the core. Her memoir, Life Without Pockets: My Long Journey Into Womanhood, was a subtle hint.

I read Carla’s book in one sitting. It was excellent. As soon as I finished reading it I called her. While I can’t remember our exact conversation what I do remember is how badly I felt for her. To be clear, learning that Carla was trans was not an issue for me. Instead, I was hurt that she thought if I knew it would turn me against her.

Carla and I would talk on many subjects the majority of which focused on preconceived notions of others. Blindness was a great starting point, I think because of the many metaphors on the topic. For example, when you can’t see how a person looks it doesn’t matter— it’s about character.

However, in Carla’s defense, I get it. Being a member of several marginalized groups myself I understand how much it hurts when people cannot accept you for who you are. The beauty of Carla was that she didn’t place conditions on her friendships. She was 100 percent the real deal and I’m so beyond honored to have known her and call her my friend.

Moving Forward

I talked to Carla two days before she passed away and we had such a great conversation. She wasn’t feeling well; hadn’t been for that entire weekend but she wanted to share some ideas with me.

Being who she was, Carla was also a CAPTIVATING! team member and had big ideas on how we could further impact the world. We talked by phone at least twice a month and no matter what was going on in her life, Carla was positive.

I’ve always believed the majority of the world is full of very good, well-intentioned people. People like Carla reaffirms my belief, yet it would be reckless of me not to acknowledge the hatred. Hatred is the reason why Carla was hesitant to tell me her story and no one should ever feel this way. We are all human and we all struggle. For those who cannot feel empathy for others, you’re the ones missing out. Nobody knows what’s in store for each of us but I’ll tell you what it’s far easier being kind and compassionate than filled with hate.

Everyone has biases but until we get to know one another, I don’t understand how we can feel dislike towards another. Carla, I will forever be grateful to you for bringing so much light into my life. You are a bright star and I will miss you terribly my friend. I love you. RIP

It takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, and a day to love them, but it takes an entire lifetime to forget them.

~Unknown

Featured Image Description:

A headshot of Carla with auburn hair and she’s wearing a black top.

  • The second image is a black and white full body shot of Carla posing with her white cane. She is wearing a floral dress with floral patterned hose.
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VIP Community Raises Voices & Shares Common Vision

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“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much”

~Helen Keller

VIP Community Raises Voices & Shares Common Vision

It’s so exciting to see how the VIP Community (short for visually impaired people) continues to grow by leaps and bounds. YouTuber team Matt and Corey of Blind to Billionaire help this growth by promoting the work of fabulous VIPs.

In Blind to Billionaire’s latest YouTube video, they feature 25 blind and visually impaired online communities. Everyone in this video sheds some light on what they are doing to raise awareness on blindness and visual impairment. Below the video are links to the channels I could locate.

Blind to Billionaire’s list of channels:

  1. Independently Blind
  2. Rafael Toro
  3. Six Blind Kids
  4. Lenny (supporter!)
  5. The Blind Life
  6. Bama Blind
  7. Technology for Blind
  8. Javier Diaz Finances
  9. Blind HypeBeast
  10. Yuki (supporter!)
  11. On the Fritz
  12. Bold Blind Beauty
  13. Its Rits Hits
  14. Living with Low Vision with Fernanda
  15. Ylluria
  16. The Blind Guy Show
  17. Eyes Free Fitness on YouTube or Blind Alive Website
  18. Blue Cloud
  19. Blind Visionary Woman
  20. Amanda Ulrich My Blind and Chronic Illness Life
  21. Stephanie Alma
  22. LegallyBlind.home.blog
  23. Chantelle Buys
  24. Mis Kaylers
  25. Two channels not featured due to technical difficulties:
    1. VI Blind Resources
    2. Blind Boomerang

To check out the more VIP channels be sure to visit: Top 45 Blind and Visually Impaired YouTube Channels of 2019

How Can You Help?

What’s so nice about being part of a community is working towards a common vision and drawing strength from one another. Each of the channels represented demonstrates the amazing possibilities VIPs can achieve. Together we are raising our voices to break down barriers and promote inclusion.

So the answer to how you can help is simple, just remember the 3 S’s:

  1. Support our efforts by being a VIP Champion. You can do this by becoming more familiar with us. I promise, most of us don’t bite.
  2. Subscribe and/or follow our online communities and engage with us.
  3. Share our content.

VIP Community Raises Voices Featured Image Description:

A closeup image of a gray microphone on a white background.