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Tatum Tricarico From Author To Advocate:

Pushing For Disability Representation

People yelled mean things, whispered to each other, kicked my cane, stared, pointed, laughed, and ultimately made me feel like I was less worthy because of my blindness.

Tatum Tricarico

The above quote breaks my heart but I know all too well, the truth its words convey. Even so, I’m so grateful that the ignorance and hatred displayed here didn’t stop Tatum. In recognition of International Women’s Day which was yesterday, I’m thrilled to introduce you to an exceptional young woman. Tatum Tricarico, March’s Woman On The Move, is a powerhouse who is breaking barriers! Her fight for the inclusion of people with disabilities began with her personal story of exclusion. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to a fierce young woman, Tatum Tricarico. Enjoy!

Growing Up

Photo 2 is described in the body of the post.

I often remember learning about Helen Keller in school because when people see my cane, many decide to fumble into an awkward story about learning about Helen Keller when they were young. But as a child, I don’t remember feeling connected to her.

I knew I had a vision impairment and had already undergone many surgeries, but for the most part, I considered myself sighted. I could “pass” as sighted well, aside from the occasional large print. Then all of a sudden as a sophomore in high school, seeing began to cause me pain. Just using my eyes hurt so badly that I would have to stop whatever I was doing. I suddenly realize that I couldn’t keep “passing” as sighted and that I was going to have to stop using my vision to avoid constant, debilitating pain. I began functioning as blind. I started using a cane and reading braille. My functional blindness came on very quickly and had a huge impact on how I lived.

“Independence”

Independence was definitely a buzz word in special education. I was told that I needed to be as independent as possible or I wouldn’t be able to be a college student or adult. I felt like I had lost so much independence when my vision changed and was convinced that I would need to be fully independent before I could be a “real” adult or bring good to the world. This definitely helped me motivate myself to learn braille, figure out accommodations in college, and learn how to travel with a cane. But what it didn’t do was prepare me for life.

Image 3 is described in the body of the post.

I realized in college that being dependent on those around me is not a bad thing. The only way I am making it through college is:

  • depending on my friends to be student readers and notetaker in my classes,
  • depending on my professors to accommodate and
  • depending on both friends and professors to help me in relation to my functional blindness
  • and in ways that everyone else needs help.

But I also know that my friends are dependent on me for things, too. That’s community. My independence has come from recognizing when I need help and when I am called to help those around me.

Image 4 is described in the body of the post.

Imperfections

As I gained more of this independence within the community, I started going out and doing more things with friends. I quickly realized that people did not respond well to seeing my cane. They were scared of me, rude to me, and occasionally mean to me or mad at me. People yelled mean things, whispered to each other, kicked my cane, stared, pointed, laughed, and ultimately made me feel like I was less worthy because of my blindness. In response, I turned to something that I have always loved: writing.

I started writing the story of a man named Will living with a disability in a futuristic society. I wrote the story of his journey to prove his worth. I got my friends, family, and professors to help me edit it, and eventually, I published my novel Imperfections. Now that it has been made available on Amazon, several people have read it and my advocacy journey has started to take off.

Women’s March

Recently, I connected with the San Diego Woman’s March and expressed the importance of having disabled women in their speaker line up. Eventually, I was chosen to speak to the tens of thousands of people there. As a junior in college, this was the biggest honor of my life and I loved every minute of it.

Image 5 is described in the body of the post.

Getting the opportunity to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities in front of so many people including many of my family and friends was empowering and monumental in my journey. I encouraged people to recognize the worth of those with disabilities, to pay attention to our stories, and to think about what role people with disabilities play in their lives.

Classroom Speaking

After the Women’s March, I was contacted by several elementary schools that wanted me to come to speak. To know that the most disability education people have is the occasional story of Helen Keller makes me think deeply about how wonderful it is that these students will get to learn from a blind college student. It fills me with joy to wonder how one interaction can impact them and prove the worth of people with disabilities. The fact that my vision changed in high school was so incredibly scary, but now, to realize the independence and confidence it has given me is an incredibly beautiful thing.

Image 6 is described in the body of the post

Connecting With Tatum:

Image Descriptions:

  1. The B3 Magazine cover has a gray/white marbled background. The date & edition number, are in the upper right corner in black ink. Tatum’s photo is aligned on the right margin with the background appearing on the top, bottom and left margin. In this photo, Tatum (full body) is in front of a white wall holding her cane in the air with a shirt that says “what makes you different makes you beautiful!” “B3” is in large teal text and a teal-colored circle with Tatum’s name and “Women On The Move” in white text. There are four 4-lines of dark gray text on the image that reads “From Author to Advocate The Push for Disability Representation.”
  2. Tatum (close up) in front of a white wall holding her cane in the air with a shirt that says “what makes you different makes you beautiful!”
  3. Tatum smiling holding her book Imperfections. It has the title and her name on the cover along with a pair of red men’s shoes with the laces untied looking beat up.
  4. Tatum with a shirt that has a picture of a sign reading “blind person in area” and a poster in her hand that says “anything you can do I can do blind” with a cane and Braille letters drawn on.
  5. Tatum in her “blind person in area” shirt standing at a podium speaking with two microphones in front of her.
  6. Tatum in front of a classroom with her cane speaking to children.
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Facing Down The Silent Thief of Sight

I knew something was wrong, but I assumed that perhaps all I needed was a prescription of some kind. Still, I was nervous when I got to the ophthalmologist’s office. And with good reason, as it turned out. I was in my early 30’s and I was diagnosed with end-stage glaucoma.

~Helen Gentry | Woman On The Move

In early 2014, I knew something was wrong with my eyes.

A haze had appeared around fluorescent lights in public buildings. Also, my vision always seemed blurry no matter how often I blinked to try to clear it. One day while walking quickly in front of my office building, I ran into a sign and was knocked to the ground. That got my attention! “How could I have not seen that?!” I wondered.

I was busy working fulltime, attending graduate school and raising a daughter, but I finally couldn’t ignore my symptoms anymore. So I scheduled an appointment with an ophthalmologist in my small town. I knew something was wrong, but I assumed that perhaps all I needed was a prescription of some kind. Still, I was nervous when I got to the ophthalmologist’s office. And with good reason, as it turned out. I was in my early 30’s and I was diagnosed with end-stage glaucoma.

Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide and it is called the “silent thief of vision” for a reason— first the peripheral vision leaves, and the patient doesn’t notice because the loss is so gradual. Once the central vision begins to be affected, alerting the patient to the fact that something is wrong, a significant loss has already occurred.

Heartbreaking News After Diagnosis

After receiving my diagnosis, I also had to digest an additional fact: My condition had resulted from medical malpractice. My optometrist had prescribed a steroid eye drop that I was instructed to use up to four times a day to treat discomfort caused by eye allergies. I now know that this medication is intended for use following cataract surgery. It is not intended to be used for more than 10 days. I used it for 13 months. I also now know that patients who are using this drug are supposed to be closely monitored by a medical professional, and if eye pressure increases, they are to discontinue use immediately.

I was not closely monitored nor was I informed of the risks of using the medication. Instead, I was assured that it was FDA approved and perfectly safe. I was told that the eye allergies could cause some blurriness, which was why I was unconcerned at first about the changes in my vision once I finally did begin to detect them. Just a short time before this medication was prescribed, North Carolina changed state law to allow optometrists to prescribe medications, although they have not been to medical school as ophthalmologists have. My optometrist failed me, and so did my state by allowing this atrocity to take place. Every time I raised the bottle to my eyes thinking that I was being responsible and helping myself, I was giving myself an incurable disease.

Chain Reaction Set In Motion

In the months that followed my diagnosis, I experienced anger and overwhelming grief. I also began to fight to retain my remaining vision. I was a patient at Duke, UNC and Johns Hopkins. At Duke, I underwent trabeculectomy surgery in which a metal shunt was placed in each eye to help drain the pressure. The two surgeries, which I was awake for, were daunting and required a lengthy recovery during which I had to try to stay off my feet.

After the second surgery, I felt pressured to return to work too soon. Once I did, my supervisor put pressure on me to give a brief speech at a large meeting of leadership, faculty, and staff at the college campus where I worked. When I took the podium (a mere week after my surgery), I began shaking uncontrollably. I couldn’t speak and I suffered what I now believe to be a nervous breakdown of sorts. I now understand that major surgery can easily lead to temporary emotional instability, but no one had told me that at the time.

A Difficult Aftermath

In addition to feeling pressured to return to work, I also experienced workplace discrimination in a variety of ways. My boss would periodically stop me on campus and jokingly ask me if I could see how many fingers he was holding up.

A different supervisor condescendingly asked me if I had any doctors’ appointments coming up. His reason being that he needed to be aware if I would be feeling emotionally unstable in the days ahead. He then informed me that he had a wife and daughters and therefore understood the emotions of women. He also said that I could talk to him if I needed to, adding that the word “panties” was a regular part of his vocabulary. It was obvious that he thought that my breakdown had not stemmed from receiving a devastating medical diagnosis and undergoing a terrifying surgery, but it was because I am a woman. No woman should ever be cornered by her male boss while alone in his office and be encouraged to talk about her undergarments.

Sometime later, I received my “TPD discharge” from the US government. This was a letter in the mail stating that I had been found by a government-contracted medical professional to be “Totally and Permanently Disabled.” (Let those three words sink in for a moment…..I can see them now, in bold font across the top of the document.) The letter continued to explain that my outstanding student loans were being discharged completely. As a totally and permanently disabled person, I was not expected to have significant work, so I was not expected to pay back my student loans.

Reclaiming A Vibrant Life

Fast forward to the present, and I am not totally and permanently disabled, nor have I ever been. I am happily self-employed as a life coach, franchise broker, and realtor. I get to partner with my clients to support them in building the life that they want to lead. Meanwhile, I am living my most vibrant adventurous life.

I love being an active mother, wife, and friend. I am currently enjoying traveling as much as possible and seeing as much of the world as I can. I enjoy hiking, taking painting classes and cooking. Soon I will be starting piano lessons. There is so much I want to do. I am filled with gratitude every day that I get to live in the gorgeous mountains of Western North Carolina. My mission through my work and volunteer service in my rural community is to see people, particularly women and families, empowered and lifted out of poverty.

Healing

I’m currently 38 years old, and my worst-case prognosis at one time was that I will be completely blind by the time I am 50. I do not accept this prognosis. (At one point I had a friend strongly encouraged me to simply accept my prognosis, and I concluded that no real friend would encourage another to voluntarily sit down, shut up and go blind without a fight.) I understand that many patients report feeling that it is helpful to them to accept their diagnosis; however, I choose to draw my strength and courage from fighting and defying mine. This is a daily journey of faith in Christ and His healing power. The distinct discrepancy between my medical records and the kind of life that I actually experience on a daily basis is nothing short of a miracle, and I want to continue to be a walking miracle all of my days.

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured image taken last summer near Helen’s home in NC shows her standing outdoors. A pretty brunette with shoulder-length wavy hair, Helen is wearing a print tank top and skirt. The waterfall behind her makes a beautiful backdrop.
  • A gallery of two black & white photos (before and after) of Helen from her surgery at Duke. In both photos, she’s on a bed in her hospital gown. In the post-surgery photo, her left eye is bandaged.
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Sword, Lightsaber Or Broomstick?

So indeed, there are days I choose to use my white cane like a sword. I use it to cut away at the misconceptions people have about my capabilities. I cut through the limitations as if they are coiled thick vines, which others place on my dreams.

~Catherine Harrison, Women On The Move

Fantasy To Reality

There are days I wish my white cane was a sharp sword, able to cut through the complexities of life coiled around my ankles like thick vines.

Or perhaps if it were a lightsaber that glowed in the dark and could vaporize the enemies of my greatness like fear, self-doubt, impatience and my horrible spelling.

Or better still if I could ride my cane like a magic broomstick and use its power to turn my competitors into toads.

But it’s not any of those things.

My white cane is one of the tools I use to navigate life in pursuit of my dreams.

It not only identifies my handicap but it gives me the freedom to travel alone.

Embracing Tool Crushed Fear

I will admit, I was not too happy about having to use it at first. I didn’t like how people stared at me; I didn’t like “looking blind.” It was humiliating having to re-learn how to safely cross the street using a cane. But after I ran into enough walls, stepped out in front of a car and repeatedly fell down steps I got over my pride and embraced the tool designed to help me.

Now, it takes lots of training and practice to travel by myself without getting lost or run over, and I have certainly made my fair share of mistakes. But the experience I gained through the years has taught me to pay close attention to the cues my white cane gives.

My cane is designed to go out in front of me to find the obstacles, curbs or steps I am not able to see. It is long enough to give me two steps to either stop or change direction.

The metal tip makes a noise as it strikes the ground allowing me to hear the difference between a smooth sidewalk or street pavement, carpet or tile flooring. It’s painted with white reflective material for travel at night and comes in several styles for different purposes.

My cane, however, has one drawback…it only works when I follow, letting it go ahead of my steps. It doesn’t work if I drag it along behind me, then wonder why I ran into a wall or fell down a step. I have to unfold it, put it out in front of me, trust what I hear, respond to the obstacles it finds and never take a step forward without it.

Acceptance Is My Superpower

So indeed, there are days I choose to use my white cane like a sword. I use it to cut away at the misconceptions people have about my capabilities. I cut through the limitations as if they are coiled thick vines, which others place on my dreams.

There are also days I choose to use it as a lightsaber. It is a glowing symbol of my independence, my ability to rise strong and defeat my inner enemies.

And better still are the times I use my cane like a magic broomstick. I learned early on in my training just how much power it has when you swing it in a wide arc…people WILL get out of your way! It makes me feel a little like Moses parting the Red Sea when I can clear a path through a crowded airport.

I am fearlessly equipped to walk (in high heels) with my cane in front because I learned to use the tool that will get me where I want to go.

👠Don’t let fear alter your steps.

👠Excuses will kill dreams.

👠Choose your tool and use it!

About Catherine:

Catherine was diagnosed in 1995 with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), only weeks after returning from serving for two years on the mission field in Nigeria, Africa. She has been a national public speaker and article writer for several magazines, sharing her story of learning to walk with strength and faith behind a white cane.

Catherine holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Baylor University and had a wonderful career as an operating room nurse. She is a former ballerina and studied dance at Julliard’s School of American Ballet in New York. She is currently a professional commercial print and fitness model with DMG modeling agency in Dallas, Tx. She is the proud mother of 3 grown sons and wife of Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Craig Harrison. Catherine serves on several non-profit boards and regularly volunteers in her local community.

Her mission is not only to successfully work as a model, who happens to have a visual impairment but also to empower women of all ages to step into their strength, regardless of their circumstances, with poise and courage.  

You can find Catherine on:

Image Descriptions:

  • Photo credit Julia Wagner at Feather and Root Photography.
  • Featured image shows Catherine walking with her white cane wearing a white long-sleeved keyhole dress.
  • In this headshot with short blonde hair and mesmerizing green eyes, Catherine is wearing a blue halter dress. The neckline on the sleeveless top is cut to partially expose Catherine’s shoulders. 
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Becoming A Blind Photographer

A black & white image of a long stretch of railroad track taken from the caboose.

Introduction:

When I began Bold Blind Beauty my original intent was to empower others by sharing lessons I learned through my sight loss. As this site has evolved, however, many of us are beneficiaries of empowerment from the sight loss stories of others. Each of the Women On The Move (WOTM) and Blind Beauties featured here has unmatched strength and resilience. Every story is different as we walk separate paths yet the one thing we share in common is a change in our perspectives.

Experiencing losses in life is universal. How we each deal with our losses is the difference between living and thriving as Megan Sinks, today’s WOTM explains.

Becoming A Blind Photographer

There are events that draw very bold lines between your life “before” and your life “after”, in which nothing is the same on the other side. This is my story.

~Megan Sinks

The Body Battles Itself

Megan & Her Mom (#1 Supporter)
Megan & Her Mom (#1 Supporter)

My line was drawn when I was 25 years old. It was 2011; I was a newlywed and recent college grad with big dreams. What started as excruciating pain in my feet became much scarier when I could no longer see my face in the mirror. Although it’s still not well understood, I’d had an autoimmune attack. Many of my nerves had been damaged, including my optic nerves. Fortunately, after the hemorrhaging subsided, I was left with some functional vision, but I’m legally blind and in constant pain.

My first 25 years were as bright, as I had been, in terms of both grades and spirit. I was a happy person who studied abroad in Germany while getting my Bachelor’s degree in philosophy. My plans were to either go on to graduate school to teach or attend law school. Those plans—everything, really—changed when I was plunged into a disorienting, blurry world of alternating darkness and unbearable light.

My body and mind couldn’t make sense of the sheer amount and variety of pain sensations that never stopped. When I did sleep, it was during the day to avoid the harshest light. I didn’t have much of a schedule, sleeping or otherwise, for the years it took to get my pain under control. I could no longer drive, work, walk well unaided, even prepare a meal or have any semblance of a social life.

In Search Of Answers

My family and I were doing all we could to find the cause for my body’s deterioration, regularly seeing new specialists and trying increasingly dangerous treatments. Our lives were focused totally on this. My young marriage couldn’t handle the stress of this sudden and debilitating illness that made me very dependent, depressed, and… different. We all wanted “the old Megan” back.

I was no longer the bubbly, vivacious, smart young woman I had been, I was desperate and exhausted. I had become a tragic version of myself. In moments of lucidity, I recognized how bad things had gotten but had no idea how to address them.

When my husband and I separated, I felt even more physically and emotionally isolated, living on my family’s farm in rural southern Illinois. As difficult as that time was, I am so grateful for it because I had a lot of internal work to do. I had to learn how to live in this body that seems to hate me, how to appreciate what I have and define what I wanted. My primary goal was to become a contributory, functional part of society again. The only way to do that was to reframe how I saw myself and my situation. I’d been missing “the old Megan” so much, I hadn’t thought I’d appreciate my current self.

The Awakening

In my “Before,” I took everyday beauty for granted like most everyone else. That is until I lost most of my sight and identity. Sight loss caused me to see the world differently, both literally and metaphorically. I used the camera on my phone to take photos of things I wanted to see or read. Then I zoomed in to see the details I couldn’t identify without help. This was my first taste of assistive and adaptive technology which opened up a whole new world for me.

Organically I started to take more and more photos, which gave me a positive way to view my disability. I see the world differently than others and that can be positive as I can use my new perspective to become a better photographer. I’d taken photography classes in college but truly fell in love with it after becoming legally blind. I feel so much joy in rediscovering the visual world and sharing the experience with others.

After spending years going to doctors like it was my job, we were left with more questions than answers. It’s been almost 9 years since the autoimmune attack. I haven’t given up on finding the name of my disease, but I no longer see that as the key to my ability to live a good life I had to move on, somehow.

I attended a school for the blind in Chicago for a year, where I learned essential skills like using my cane properly, reading Braille and performing regular daily activities without sight. (Thank you, Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education/ ICRE-Wood!) From there, I was hired to work at the Base Supply Center at the Great Lakes Naval Center for the nonprofit AbilityOne agency, Beyond Vision.

Moving Onward

My husband and I decided to give our marriage another shot, so he moved with me to the northeastern Chicago suburbs. That was in the summer of 2017 and we are still here, I am still working at the Base Supply Center and I continue to explore the world around me with my camera.

I want to show people, through my art and life, that our limitations can become our strengths and there’s great beauty in disability. Disability is often thought of as simply a lack of ability, but it’s truly having different abilities and perspectives with value. Blindness and other disabilities are so badly understood, yet nearly one in five Americans is living with a disability. Widespread misconceptions are a problem that I hope to help, as no one expects a legally blind person to be a photographer (especially if they don’t realize that most blind people have some vision.) I hope to spread awareness and advocate for people with disabilities we have value and unique talents to offer if given the opportunity.

When I lost my sight, I didn’t think I’d be gaining anything, but I was wrong. The “old Megan” had more depth of field and visual acuity, but the new me has more depth of character and emotion, plus more vision than she could’ve imagined.

Connecting With Megan:

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured photo
    • A black & white image of a long stretch of railroad track taken from the caboose.
  • First Gallery (before Megan’s autoimmune attack):
    • A color wedding day photo of Megan standing with her arms around her smiling Mom and #1 supporter. Both ladies look lovely with Megan wearing a strapless white wedding dress and her mom in a sleeveless black dress.
    • Black & white wedding photo of Megan, her husband, and two adorable young nephews. The boys are being held by Megan and her husband.
    • Photo from Megan’s vision test at the beginning of her illness.
  • Second Gallery 3 Black & White Photos:
    • A bare reflection of a tree in a puddle of rainwater on asphalt. 
    • Closeup of the center of a flower.
    • Another closeup of a leaf with water droplets on it.
  • Third Gallery 7 Color Photos:
    • A partial closeup image of a bright yellow sunflower with a brown center.
    • Downward perspective closeup of the pink and white petals and filaments of type of lily.
    • The veins of a brownish leaf with water droplets.
    • Closeup of white tufts of a dandelion.
    • Reddish/brown veins on a green leaf.
    • Yellowish/brown withering leaf and the bright glow of the sun can be seen in the distance.
    • Another pale pink flower belonging to the lily family whose filaments are the focus of the photo.
  • Fourth Gallery 3 Color Photos of Megan today:
    • In the first and third photos, Megan is posing with her mom sporting a stylish cropped haircut.
    • The second photo is Megan, her husband, and adolescent nephews. The four of them are standing close together decked out in winter gear.