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WOTM 5 Featuring Amy Hildebrand

WOTM Featuring Amy Hildebrand

There’s nothing more we can do for you…

Photo collage of Amy Hildebrand, ourtesy of PetaPixel.com
Amy Hildebrand, photo courtesy of PetaPixel.com

If you’ve experienced severe vision loss you’ve probably heard these words before and their impact can be devastating. Imagine then, the excitement on the birth of your first child and upon delivery, when the doctor places the baby in your arms he tells you that your baby is blind and has a genetic disorder for which there is no cure. This is what happened to Teri Shields the mother of Amy Hildebrand, the young woman I’m featuring in today’s Fierce Fridays.

“…and the doctors told my parents I was blind. My mom was 20, my dad 24, and as if they didn’t receive enough shock when the doctor placed a white haired baby in their arms, he then proceeded to tell them that I had a severe case of Albinism, and that there was nothing they could do to “fix” me.”

After Amy was born, the doctors told her parents that she wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things because of her blindness due to severe albinism. Albinism occurs when one of several genetic defects makes the body unable to produce or distribute melanin, a natural substance that gives color to hair, skin, and iris of the eye.

The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation (NOAH) states that approximately 1 in 17,000 people in the U.S., has some type of albinism. Vision problems that are not correctable with eyeglasses occur in all people with albinism however the extent of visual impairment differs depending on the type of albinism.

While Amy’s albinism makes her unique, I was struck by her resolve to prove the doctors wrong as detailed in an excellent article by Susan Donaldson James (ABC News). One of the things that impressed me most; aside from the fact that Amy’s a wife, mother of 2, professional photographer, and Best Day Ever business owner is her tenacity.

Back in 2009 Amy challenged herself to a 1,000 day journey where she would shoot a photograph that summarized each day and then post to her blog, With Little Sound. She started her challenge on September 14, 2009 and ended it with the 1,000th photograph on June 12, 2012. I have not seen all of Amy’s photos but I can tell you the ones I did see were awe-inspiring. It takes special fortitude to make a commitment and follow through like Amy did on this challenge.

During an interview in 2012 with Rachel Devine and Peta Mazey of Beyond Snapshots, Amy was asked “What is it about this project that speaks personally about you?” “Thankfully my parents weren’t the type to believe everything they hear, and so they started searching for doctors who had studied the albino eye, in hopes there might be some way I could gain my sight back. Ironically enough there was a young medical student here in Cincinnati that was wanting to research the affects of contacts on infants’ eyes. My parents eagerly signed on the dotted line, and at three months I had my first pair of contacts.”

“A few weeks later I was grasping for shadows and the experiment was deemed a huge success. The med student and I were written up in medical journals across the country. The next twelve years or so I was fitted for all different types of glasses and contacts, but around fifth grade I sort of topped out. I can still remember those early days though, around the age of 2 or 3 studying shadows and light on the kitchen floor of our apartment. I think even then I knew how lucky I was.”

When I read the above excerpt I had goose-bumps and I realized that Amy came by her steadfastness honestly. To put oneself in the place of her parents who fought valiantly on her behalf so that Amy would have the same opportunities in life as her sighted counterparts speaks volumes.

“My photos are sometime straightforward and sometimes more imaginative, but I treat every one with the mindset that I never would have seen these amazing images if it had not been for my parents, that med student and God’s grace.”

After reading the Beyond Snapshots interview and the ABC News article, I was not surprised that Amy would eventually come to love and then become a successful photographer. Amy, you are a remarkable person who is proof that in the paraphrased words of Jesse Jackson “if the mind can conceive it, the heart can believe it, then you can achieve it”!

If you haven’t already done so by clicking on the links provided in this post you can visit Amy and her husband Aaron’s website at Best Day Ever.

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

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Telling Our Stories…|Empish Thomas

Telling Our Stories featured image description is in the body of the post.

Telling Our Stories…|Empish Thomas

The following article was lightly edited and updated. Our featured Woman On The Move is someone I’ve only met virtually by conference calls, email, and phone. Empish and I serve as Peer Advisors for VisionAware and in this role, we offer advice and helpful tips to those new to sight loss. Empish is a prolific writer, advocate, and mentor. She has also been an invaluable resource to me and a voice for blind and visually impaired people.

My Journey as a Blind Writer and Editor

“From the time I was a small child I have always been intrigued by the written word. From checking out children’s books at my local library to reading the newspaper out loud to my parents. Words have always moved and compelled me.” 

~Empish Thomas

Fast forward to my adult life. With a journalism degree and a disability, I focused my career on writing stories and advocacy for people in my community. I noticed the negative and sometimes incorrect portrayal of the disabled in the news media and became proactive in changing that image. I believe language is powerful and people with disabilities must tell their own story. Hence the Nigerian proverb “Don’t let the lion tell the giraffe’s story.”

So here’s a little bit of my own tale

My journey as a visually impaired writer started about 20 years ago. After finishing my rehabilitation training at the Center for the Visually Impaired (CVI), I volunteered to write and edit their newsletter. Eventually, the volunteer opportunity blossomed into a paid position. In this new role, I provided information and resources to people with disabilities. Simultaneously I worked part-time as an AmeriCorps member providing peer support and advocacy.

Later, I launched my freelance writing career with an emphasis on the disabled and landed a column in Dialogue Magazine. I wrote career profiles on people who are visually impaired as a direct result of my passion and journalism experience. In each issue, I profiled people successfully working in a variety of career fields from education, government, science, self-employment, arts, and entertainment.

In addition to my column, I worked at CVI as their Public Education Manager. I conducted facility tours, managed exhibit booths at community/resource fairs, and posted InfoLink, our community bulletin board. I’m also a public speaker for United Way and manage our speaker’s bureau. Recently, I entered the blogosphere by managing CVI’s website blog called Sightseeing. This was an exciting undertaking for me as I:

  • blogged about issues that impacted the blind community,
  • solicited guest bloggers,
  • researched story ideas and
  • planned the editorial calendar.

Volunteering within the blind community

And if all of this was not enough I volunteer in the blind community as well! I am a peer advisor and blogger for VisionAware. On this site, I lend my professional and personal experience to people experiencing vision loss. I’ve volunteered with the American Foundation for the Blind’s Career Connect. Here I interacted via e-mail with others interested in pursuing a journalism career.

Previously, I was a volunteer producer for a monthly hour radio show for the blind called “Eye on Blindness.” The show was sponsored by the Georgia area Radio Reading Service (GaRRS). It was an interview-style program which featured special guests who provided information on a variety of topics such as travel, employment, health, and politics.

I am proud that I’ve been able to take my education, disability, work, and life experiences, and combined them. Not only do I have a rewarding and meaningful life but a fantastic career that I absolutely love!

Connecting With Empish:

Telling Our Stories Featured Image Description:

Empish Thomas is seated at CVI Exhibit Table at Coca-Cola’s Disability and Diversity Awareness Fair.

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WOTM 3 | Featuring Susan and Sherri Rodgers

WOTM 3 Featured Image description is in the body of the post.

WOTM 3 Featuring Susan & Sherri Rodgers

“I was born profoundly deaf with a double hare lip & cleft palate. When I was 3 years old, I attended DePaul Institute where I learned how to talk & lip-read.” ~Susan Rodgers

Women On The Move x2

For as far back as I can remember I have always been fascinated by identical twins. I imagined it would be so cool to trick parents, teachers, and friends with shenanigans by trading places. Throughout my life, I’ve befriended several sets of twins and I also appreciated the differences among each set. Enter Susan and Sherri Rodgers two of the most remarkably fierce ladies I’ve had the pleasure to call my friends.

When facing a new situation do you ever get that stomach-churning feeling that triggers the flight or fight response? That’s how I felt in 2011 when I attended my first local Council of the Blind meeting here in Pittsburgh. I wasn’t sure what to expect and thought maybe this wasn’t one of my best ideas. Even so, I ventured forward into the unknown. Of course, my fears were unfounded and I was thrilled to meet the remarkable Rodger sisters.

Susan and Sherri both have a hereditary condition known as Usher Syndrome. Usher syndrome is a double whammy and is described as “the most common condition that affects both hearing and vision.”One would think a person who is sight and hearing impaired would have great difficulty navigating in a sighted world. However, after meeting Susan and Sherri, both of whom are very active members of the community, one’s thinking would change.

“I’ve been a member of the Western PA Association for the Deaf/Blind (WPADB) for at least 15 years, being a part of the group I knew a few people but had to talk to them through an Interpreter. If you’ve never had this experience it can be quite challenging.” ~Sherri Rodgers

Being visually impaired myself, one of the main issues associated with sight loss is the general lack of access to information. With the advances in technology, access to information has greatly improved but there is still room for improvement. Take for example Sherri’s experience of talking through an interpreter to some of her deaf/blind friends. Or Susan at 3 years of age learning to talk and lip-read; these services and skills are critical to communication.

If not for social services, assistive technology, and mobility devices, people who are blind, deaf or deaf/blind would live life in a vacuum. For example, when a sighted person is suddenly unable to see faces or interpret body language, this becomes a barrier. Without the visual cues of body language, this can hamper how we communicate with one another. So imagine what it must be like for a person lacking two of their major senses. The idea here is not to invoke pity but awareness.

Susan and Sherri did not let Usher Syndrome stop them from living a fulfilled life. Both of them got an education, work, and actively advocate on behalf of blind, visually impaired and, deaf/blind people. They are extremely computer savvy supporters of the disability community.

Susan and Sherri’s Community Activities

The sisters serve in different capacities in the above organizations and if that weren’t enough, each of them, are employed. Susan and Sherri, are powerhouses who work to eliminate obstacles in their day-to-day living.

This post is not intended to minimize the challenges Susan and Sherri face in their lives. Rather it is to honor them as fierce bold blind beauties. I cannot imagine what it would be like to walk a day in the sister’s shoes. However, I can tell you that to walk along-side them is, in a word, amazing!

WOTM 3 Featured Image Description:

Sherri Rodgers & Friend Bill Newland

1 For additional information on Usher Syndrome visit www.ushersyndrome.nih.gov

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Helping Others Achieve Their Success Angela Winfield

Helping Others Achieve Their Success featured image description is in the body of the post.

Helping Others Achieve Their Success Angela Winfield

“…and I wanted to be a lawyer but I’d never seen anybody out there, practicing law that looked like me a blind, black woman.”

~Angela Winfield
Woman On The Move 2

When I think of what it means to be a fierce person I imagine people who are bold, passionate, and fearless. The blind/visually impaired women who fit this description on Bold Blind Beauty are those who face life’s obstacles with a tenacious spirit.

We all face situations in life that can bring us to our knees or cause us to want to throw in the towel. Major life-altering events like, losing eyesight, for example, and learning to navigate the world without sight can be daunting. Yet there are many people who, despite how challenging it might be, do this every day with grace and dignity. Angela Winfield is one of these people who, not only achieved personal success, but she helps others do the same.

“I help people get what they want out of life. I help them achieve success and experience happiness both personally and professionally. If you’re feeling stuck, unsatisfied or unfulfilled in your job or inability to find a job, I’m your gal. I’m a certified professional coach, motivational speaker, author and attorney.”

~Angela Winfield

Setting The Example 

On Angela’s website, www.myblindfaith.com, she talks about how we can take steps to live a life we “absolutely love living.” Angela, who’s been featured in the Wall Street Journal, a contributing author to Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive, voted a Super Lawyers’ Rising Star, and recognized as a Zeta Phi Beta Woman of Courage is a fellow peer advisor on www.visionaware.org. On VisionAware Angela shares with us the Four Master Keys to achieving what we want out of life.

“I’ve done it for myself and, now, it’s time for me to show others how to do it too. That’s why I started Blind Faith Enterprises LLC. I believe to get what you want out of life you have to move from self-consciousness to self-awareness. Regarding being and feeling beautiful, I believe the same holds true there. It comes from the inside out and then from the outside in.”

~Angela Winfield

Angela is an excellent role model who is giving back by helping others make a positive change in their lives. When you have a moment check out her website at www.myblindfaith.com.

Helping Others Featured Image Description:

Full body shot of Angela Winfield wearing a black business pantsuit with a white blouse. She is walking with her guide dog in what appears to be a hallway.