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WOTM Featuring Diane Krek

Dieane featured image description is in the body of the post.

Women On The Move Featuring Diane Krek

“Being an artist all of my life, I started to lose my vision over 25 years ago. But I was determined not to let my vision impairment let me down.” ~Diane Krek

An Artistic Calling

I was born in Mt. Lebanon Pennsylvania and after marriage, moved to Canonsburg in 1992. My sight was good all of my life until 1990. For many years my career as a graphic designer bloomed before noticing vision distortion and night-blindness.  

I was a self-taught artist when I was a young girl. My mother was an artist who excelled in oil paintings which inspired me to study under her. Having no patience with oils, I liked acrylics better.

While in school, I explored other variety of arts, including macramé, rug hooking, weaving, stitchery, pottery, pastels, and, pen and ink. My mainstream was painting.

In 1990, my brother and I both had minor accidents while driving. Our mother arranged an appointment with an eye specialist and we found that we both had Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). In 1994, my mother passed away suddenly before she was able to schedule blood tests to see if she was a gene carrier.

Life After Diagnosis

Like everyone else, my brother and I were told there is no cure. My sight remained stable for 10 years and I continued to work. Later my sight started failing quickly. Struggling at my job, I then found Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services (BVRS). BVRS trained and supplied me with special computer software programs, magnifiers, and a Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) that extended my employment 5 more years.

In 2012, after I departed the working world I lost my brother of 49 years. Being at my lowest point, I didn’t know how to spend the rest of my life. My husband, Melvin, and I traveled with our RV, fished, and played our accordions, but there was an empty space in me.

After watching a television show in 2014 that featured blind artists, I told my husband I wanted to start painting again. He wasn’t sure how I could do this, but he thought we’ll give it a try. So for my birthday, he bought me a set of acrylic paints and a canvas. This is where “Lighthouse Cove” started. Melvin asked, “How did you do this”? I showed him my techniques – I outlined the special position of the object on my canvas using colored tape.

Diane Krek Image 1 description is in the body of the post.
Image #1
Diane Krek Image 2 description is in the body of the post
Image #2

Also, the brand of paint that I use never changed their color names. This enables me to know what color I want to use.

It was a challenge for me so I kept on painting, painting, and painting. Eight pieces later, each piece was more difficult being harder to add clever details with my sight diminishing over time. Using hand-held magnifiers and my CCTV helps me achieve the details in my paintings.

A Mission To Help Others

Helping others through my artwork was my vision, so I created a business called “BLT Art” for a Cause. I make and sell prints of my originals and donate a portion of the profits from every print sold to blind advocacy organizations, and research groups.

A “Where’s Waldo” style creative touch in each of my pieces includes a hidden bear, lighthouse, and train. By doing this, it creates an eye awareness for those fully sighted, to appreciate being able to find these objects, versus those visually impaired who can’t. Many of the great advancements today wouldn’t be possible without doctors, scientists, and engineers with good sight.

I devote most of my time serving the blind community. Currently, I am president of the local chapter of the Washington County Council of The Blind. In addition, I am active with Pennsylvania Council of the Blind’s (PCB) Vision Loss Resource Group.

I have met a lot of people and learned from them on how to survive independently. There is so much to find and learn from a support group. I encourage folks to not let their disabilities get them down. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Because you have a limitation doesn’t mean you can’t stop going. There is a talent in everyone…fulfill that dream!

You can read more about me and view my artwork at bltart.com.

If Diane’s name sounds familiar you may recall that she was recently featured in one of our local newspapers. She is also mentioned in a BBB article When We Connect We Are Stronger

Diane Krek Featured Image Description:

Diane is seated on a bar stool next to a table displaying her art at a show. She is wearing a floral v-neck top with black pants and is holding her white cane in front of her.

Diane’s Painting Process Images:

Image 1: This photo shows how Diane begins painting a blank canvas. She has used blue and green tape to mark off the main areas of her painting.

Image 2: This photo is near completion. Autumn foliage can be seen in the upper left corner and blue water in on the right. Bridge piers can be seen standing in the water. Strips of blue and green tape can be seen as guides to help Diane through her process.

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WOTM Featuring Eileen Robinson

Eileen Robinson featured image description is in the body of the post

Women On The Move Featuring Eileen Robinson

Eileen Robinson, aka The Blind Gypsy and one of Bold Blind Beauty’s lead beauty advisors is from South Africa. While we haven’t met in person, before we spoke live I felt like I already knew her. Her writing style is so authentic and energetic it feels like you’re having an actual conversation. Enjoy!

A Young Old Soul

I’m an old soul living in a world full of people who wish to be younger, I am embracing my old age, being 30 is the new 21 my dears. My favourite music is from the seventies and the eighties. My mother forced me to listen to old school music when I was a little child and I grew in love with it. Thanks, mom, you rock.

Queen is the absolute best band ever (go listen to them, you won’t regret it). Their music motivates me and is literally my life anthem song, as Queen sang loud and proud “Don’t stop me now, I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball. Don’t stop me now” These words describe me perfectly.

Growing Up

I grew up in a happy home (for the most part, remember, no family is perfect, they are all full of interesting folks). I was the eldest sibling and had two younger brothers. My folks are still together today, a whole 33 years, sheesh, well done Mom and Dad! Growing up, we always had animals, chickens, cats, dogs, rabbits, doves, fish, snakes, Bearded Dragons, guinea pigs and lastly my little brothers, hehe, I’m kidding. I grew up loving and respecting all things great and small.

After I finished school, I studied bookkeeping and credit management. I love numbers, they are so interesting and when the books balance, then that’s just one of the best feelings in the world. My career has always involved numbers, pretty nerdy right? Oh well, someone has got to do it.

Life carried on, I planned on having children before I reached the age of 30 (back then I thought 30 was ancient, little did I know what curve balls life throws at you) needless to say the only kids I have are all covered in fur, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, as Bon Jovi sang “It’s my life and its now or never”, clearly I love my old school music right. Quotes from songs for days.

Subtle Clues To Eileen’s Impending Sight Loss

I have always struggled to see in the dark for as long as I can remember, I didn’t think it was an issue, as many people would say they were “night blind”, so I assumed I was “night blind” too. I was 28 when I realised something was not right with my eyes, I was sitting on my bed, waiting for Netflix to start up.

At the time I was quitting smoking and had one of those Vape Goodies (it was completely black, black is my favourite colour) I was sitting on the bed and looking down at the bedspread and looking, just looking for the Vape. I couldn’t see it. What the hell? I knew I had put it down in front of myself on the bed. I frantically started patting the bedspread (like a little kitty trying to have fun with your sheets when you are making the bed) eventually I found it, it was where I had put it, RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME.

Joh, I need glasses, is what first popped into my mind. However, being a typical person, I put off the optometrist appointment for about a month or so. I had accustomed myself to just patting my bed if I “lost” something on it, I had accommodated to my bad eyes. Which is not on, if you feel uncomfortable with your eyes in any way folks, go to the optometrist, they are there for a reason.

“Making Visual Impairments beautiful. I have Retinitis Pigmentosa. Loud, Proud & honest. Just a normal gal living in this world. South African.” ~Eileen Robinson

The day I booked an appointment with the optometrist I was going downstairs and all the steps seemed to mould together into one colour, again WHAT THE HELL. That’s when I decided, enough was enough, you need glasses girl. So off to the optometrist I went.

He did the regular tests and confirmed that I did need glasses, however, he wanted to refer me to a specialist. Huh. Why? What’s wrong? All these funny questions went through my mind. Believe it or not, going blind was not one of those thoughts, the irony.

So yet another adventure to an eye specialist. I felt welcomed there, it was a place that felt warm and friendly. My name was called, my turn to hear what the optometrist was going on about. The one thing I love about my specialist is that he doesn’t beat around the bush. He told me I had a rare degenerative eye disorder (which I was born with, it’s not contagious, don’t worry folks) called Retinitis Pigmentosa.

I literally just sat there in my chair and stared at him. Seriously, all I needed was glasses, now I found out I would probably go blind. I was upset hey. So angry, I said I would much rather be deaf blah blah blah. What an ignorant fool I was.

Emotional Trauma Of Sight Loss

The next couple of months were very rough. I cried a lot like so much I thought my eyeballs were going to dry out. I was angry, lashing out at my family and friends. My fiancé was my rock though, listened to me, I was also a stuck record, kept saying the same things repeatedly, “why me? This sort of stuff happens to other people” silly things like that.

Anything bad that would happen, for example, knocking a glass over, kicking my toe on the corner of a couch etc. I would blame my eyes and get all angry over again. My fiancé reminded me often, even people with sight and no eye issues do the same, he reminded me that I am just a human who makes mistakes like everyone else and to let the anger go.

It took some time before I eventually took his words to heart. I started to get out of the dark hole, it was not an overnight transformation. It took time to be happy with myself again and to start loving myself again. I had a great support base, for which I am eternally grateful for. I was surrounded by people who loved me regardless of my eye issue and the clumsy situations I got myself into.

“Ignorance may be bliss, however when you have a degenerative eye disorder it’s not. Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) is killing my eyes slowly but my heart and soul have never been more alive.” ~Eileen Robinson

To be honest, this Retinitis Pigmentosa was a blessing in disguise. I stopped being a vain woman, stopped judging a book by its cover and got to know a person for who they were. The world is a beautiful place and it’s what you make of it.

Most of my RP stories are hilarious, I once laughed so hard that my chair actually fell off the balcony. I was seated way to close to the edge and it was dark (the balcony was 2 metres high above a flower bed) I was in the chair when it went over the edge. All I remembered was what my father said, tuck and roll (as I didn’t want to break my neck) all I could hear was my friend laughing, I got up off the ground, dusted myself off and laughed till I cried. Good times. Full of bruises though. Each bruise is a story and a conversation starter to be honest. I am ALWAYS covered in bruises.

Eileen Robinson—The People Person

Currently, I work as an office manager at a Fraud and Forensic firm. It’s a fascinating environment, catching the bad guys is awesome. If you do the crime, then be prepared to do the time folks. My employer and my fellow colleagues have accepted my eye condition. I have told them about it. They are like a second family to me.

I am studying Human Resources as well. I love people. To understand people is a fascinating thing for me, to know what makes them tick, to know what makes them sad, happy etc. I feel like this is a good choice in my career, as being a people person, you don’t necessarily need sight. You can “read” a person purely by speaking to them. I love to talk, as many people know. Verbal diarrhea, as some of my friends say, sorry not sorry.

Living Life The Best Way Possible

My mission in life is to bring joy. I want to educate people that there are different levels of going blind. Visual impairments happen on all different levels. While I still play with my makeup, I just make sure that my make up station is by the window for more light. I still drive, daytimes only though. I still cook, clean and carry on with my daily life.

Just always need to make sure that there is enough light around me. It can be frustrating at times. I’m not saying my life is perfect, no one’s lives are perfect. I am just trying to make the best of this situation that I have been dealt with. You can either let something terrible bring you down and you can be angry forever, but what’s the point? What is the point?

As Queen sang once again “ Tonight I’m gonna have myself a real good time, I feel alive and the world I’ll turn it inside out – yeah”

Remember, everyone is special, disabled or not. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You were put on this wonderful planet for a reason. Smile away, folks.

Let’s make Visual Impairments Beautiful.

Love The Blind Gypsy

xxx

Eileen Robinson Featured Image Description:

In this selfie, Eileen is wearing a white top with a rhinestone embellished neckline. She is sporting dark-framed eyeglasses and her long dark hair is slightly covering her left eye.

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Featuring Christina Holtzclaw

Christina Holtzclaw featured image description is in the body of the post.

“Like most blind people, I found getting a job a struggle and even wondered if I had wasted my time.” ~Christina Holtzclaw

Christina Holtzclaw is a wife, mom, and Assistant Director at the Center for Independent Living. She has also shared other words of wisdom here on Bold Blind Beauty in Blind Beauty Issue #3 and Eyesight, Judgement & Independence.

The Early Years

Christina Holtzclaw closeup photo image description is in the body of the post.

Born almost blind, I learned to navigate the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains at an early age. Wading in the streams, hiking, fishing, and picking strawberries and honeysuckles has always been part of my life.

I was the first blind child to enter the public school system after the Rehabilitation Act passed. This act granted children with disabilities access to public schools. With very little assistive technology available at the time, I began Braille and typing when I was 6 years old.

Attending the blind school nearly 150 miles away from my family was a possibility if I couldn’t keep up with my sighted peers. I recall being told this before Christmas in my 1st-grade year. I vividly remember facing it with such innocence and naïvety. My focus was on Santa coming and bringing my new doll and in a month, I would turn seven years old.

I didn’t realize I was blind because I had always been treated the same as my sighted brother and sister. My school years were a rollercoaster of trial and error as the schools tried to create a space for me. I did not have other blind children in my life, so I learned about Country Singer Ronnie Milsap at our county fair when I was seven years old. He is my friend to this day and is credited with much of my success.

Beyond College

When I graduated high school, I won scholarships to attend a private college where I earned a Bachelor Of Science degree in Psychology. I also got my first guide dog named Chloe who lived with me in the dorms until I graduated.

Like most blind people, I found getting a job a struggle and even wondered if I had wasted my time. I finally took a job at a sheltered workshop for a while and later obtained a customer service job. During this time, I got married and had four children, 3 sons, and 1 daughter.

Being a blind mother has been an adventure. Often, people find it easy to want to interfere using blindness as an excuse although I’ve supported my family and have been a loving mother.

In 2004, I was contacted by the Center For Independent Living (CIL) to help open a new center. I was excited to build the center from the ground up and have been with CIL for 14 years now. 

As the assistant director, I love my job and being able to help others. I have learned so much from the people with disabilities that I have the honor of knowing. The position I’m blessed with has helped me grow, learn, and face my blindness as I help others.  

Thriving With Blindness

My vision took a turn for the worse in 2010 when I got glaucoma. The glaucoma pressure was uncontrolled and after surgeries and many medications, I lost my remaining eyesight in October of 2016. One of the most difficult things about losing my vision for me has been not seeing my family and friends. But, I have learned over the years, that I can still see them in different ways.  

I have my guide dog, Felicia, now and am constantly adjusting and trying new technology. My goal is to continue to assist people with disabilities on a local, state, and national level. I work with the Council and Federation of Georgia, the FCC panel, NCIL committees and serve on various transportation groups to promote access for people with disabilities. I always hope to pave a better way for those with disabilities who come behind me. The one thing I’m determined is to never allow blindness to stop me.

Christina Holtzclaw Image Descriptions:

In the featured image, Christina is posing in a wooded area with her right hand against a tree. She is holding her white cane in her left hand and wearing blue jeans with a black top. Sporting oversized sunglasses, she smiles for the camera while cloaked in a red, black and white flyaway jacket.

The photo included with the post, is a close up of Christina flashing her megawatt smile. Her blond falls over her left shoulder while her bangs frame her face. Christina is wearing a dark brown and tan-colored print top with a dark brown beaded necklace.

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Featuring Casandra Xavier

Casandra Xavier sits at a table with a microphone at Perkins School for the Blind, was in the middle of asking a question. She wears polarized aviators. In the background are two people glancing attentively at her while she asks her question. In this photo, her dreadlocks are draped down her back with a heavy, natural brownish-red color. Around her neck is a phone loop for her hearing aids, she wears a crisp white button down shirt with her braille display strap exposed. She was fully aware of Perkins photographer.

“I identify as deaf-blind and was born with blindness and deafness.” ~Casandra Xavier

Casandra Xavier stands in front of the Massachusetts State house side entrance with her long Iowa cane in right hand with her braille display slung at her right side. She has a tent of green and blue dreadloacks carefully turned into a Bantu-knot Mohawk. Her hearing aid matches the color of her hair. Her eyes are shaded with frameless sunglasses. She wears a crisp white button down shirt with a Swedish grey vest and deep grey slacks. In the background is the side entrance of the house of reps in Boston displaying an awesome ancient structure. She posed for state house news reporter.
Photo credit: Sam Doran from statehouse news

When Casandra Xavier crossed my radar on January 3, I wanted to learn more about her. I saw her in a Blind New World article and needed to share her Woman on the Move story. A quick Google search took me to her amazing address to the Massachusetts legislature video. To see advocacy in action, check out Casandra’s video at the end of the post. You won’t regret it! 

My name is Casandra and I go by the ghostwriter name, “CaspHer.” I am originally from Miami, FL but I grew up in Boston, Massachusetts.

I identify as deaf-blind and was born with blindness and deafness. The conditions I have are both separate and just happen to be with me simultaneously from birth. Those conditions are Anophthalmos and Microtia Atresia.

During my academic career, I did not attend Perkins School for the Blind even though I lived one town over. I also live near the Carroll Center for the Blind and was never introduced to either establishment until I was twenty-four.

Currently, at twenty-eight years old I lived twenty-three years of my life trying to pass as sighted and hearing. I hadn’t begun to learn American Sign Language (ASL) until I was almost twenty-six. Since then I’ve developed enough skill to establish a comfortable working experience with an ASL interpreter.

A Course Redirect Changes Casandra’s Life

I studied visual arts and English literature in college. My plan was to remain in the art world since art was all I knew from a very early age. Looking beyond my world of writing fiction stories, digital photography, and tactile art was no-go. That is until I attended the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Massachusetts.

While attending the Carroll Center, I realized I could potentially become a great instructor for the blind or deaf-blind. I learned Braille with ease and quickly absorbed my other blindness courses. I wanted to learn more blindness related practices.

After training at the Carroll Center, I attended Blind Inc. in Minnesota to fine-tune my blindness skills. This helped to reassure me that I would be okay. On completing my Blind Inc. training I learned I was not your typical blind person. I was indeed a proud deaf-blind woman straight out of the depths of Massachusetts!

During training in Minnesota, I lost more hearing! Most people would have fled the scene but I’m not most people. I’m Casandra. I dug my heels in further and rode it out until the wheels fell off with extreme but minor modifications to my training.

Satisfied with what I accomplished in Minnesota and teaching at a center for the blind; I flew back to Massachusetts and dove hands-first into ASL class at Perkins (2015-16). During my first ASL class, I excelled and was ready for the next level. I outdid myself at all other levels as well! I used a pro-tactile ASL interpreter to access information in an extremely visual class. Deaf-blind students use pro-tactile ASL interpreters to gather classroom information. The pro-tactile ASL interpreters use a technique to sign into the students’ hands.

The Student Becomes The Teacher

As I submerged myself into the deaf and hard of hearing (HOH) community, I was presented an opportunity to become an assistive technology trainer. For the longest time, I was totally stunned that something so great would happen to me.

I worked diligently with my students and ensured everyone learned something. While doing all of these awesome things, I was still working on my signing skills which were coming along very well.  I felt it was totally fine to feel proud of myself since I worked and struggled so hard to get where I was at the time.

Though I missed out on learning deaf-blind skills when I was young, I have become an advocate for the disabled and the LGBTQ community. In the past year, I filed some legislation on disability awareness training starting in Massachusetts with intentions of it becoming federal law.

While there are many pieces of similar legislation, mine will stand out because people within the disability community can observe and offer constructive commentary. This will ensure a positive experience for everyone.

I enjoyed the wonderful opportunity working with the Massachusetts State House while bringing this legislation to life. During this encounter last summer, I got to see the inner working of the House of Representatives.

At college, I learned a technique called, “application of knowledge” and I’ve carried it with me until today. I have decided that I would take all of what I’ve learned from the Massachusetts State House and apply it to my work as an advocate in the community. Not only did I use this method while advocating, I’ve also used it as an assistive technology trainer for the blind and deaf-blind as well.

Freedom Of Being Heard

Letting my voice be heard after many years of being left in the dark and forgotten was the best and most encouraging experience ever. The power of exposing my strength was far too good to let go of, so I held onto that exposure and gave myself the title, “Disability Advocate.” I feel I have earned this title and it’s exactly how I want to be recognized. In the past few months, I have been invited to speak at schools in Boston and online podcasts to talk about my story and what I am doing. For a majority of my presentations around the city, I will use an interpreter.

These days, I am still an assistive technology trainer in Massachusetts and still learning additional ASL skills. I am very involved with advocating for and with the constituents of Boston.

Whether I am presenting or not, I always enjoy wearing a fedora hat with or without a necktie from Men’s Wearhouse and crisp white button down. A lot of my friends tell me I look like I am about to perform a music video whenever I dress up. Speaking of music, I enjoy shredding on the electric guitar and occasional karaoke sessions. I’ll be honest, outside of the extreme seriousness, I enjoy going out to gay clubs and having a blast with the drag queens and some friends in downtown Minneapolis.

I hope you enjoyed this trip down story lane.

Thank you.

Casandra Xavier’s Featured Photo Description: 

Casandra sits at a table with a microphone at Perkins School for the Blind, was in the middle of asking a question. She wears polarized aviators. In the background are two people glancing attentively at her while she asks her question. Casandra’s dreadlocks drape down her back with a heavy, natural brownish-red color. Around her neck is a phone loop for her hearing aids, she wears a crisp white button-down shirt with her braille display strap exposed. She was fully aware of Perkins photographer.