Posted on 15 Comments

Elaine Huitt | ‘Seeing’ Her Way Through Life

Image is described in the body of the post.

You don’t need full ‘vision’ to have a ‘vision’ to ‘see’ your way through life.

~Elaine Huitt

Intro:

What are the odds that two blind women would run into one another at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)? I’m sure a statistician would know the answer but this is beside the point because, This Facility. Is. Massive!!

“Do you know the new departure time for the Wichita flight”, she asked? I told her I wasn’t sure as I just relocated to this new gate. Then ‘poof’ she was gone! My friends met me and together we flew to Wichita for a conference where we’d bunk in a university dorm suite.

The conference, for blind and visually impaired youth from across the country, promised to be a jam-packed week of activities. It was at the next evening’s kick-off event where I would formally meet Elaine Huitt. When she came over to our table I said: “weren’t you at DFW?” We laughed when we realized not only were we in the same airport unknowingly we were on the same flight headed to the same conference. Like so many of the women featured here on Bold Blind Beauty, Elaine has a story. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to today’s Woman On The Move, Elaine Huitt.

Growing Up With A Hidden Disability

Image is described in the body of the post.
Elaine Huitt

As a poised Sr. Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, no one would ever guess that Elaine Huitt is 60 and blind. A beautiful lady, who walks confidently, without a white cane I might add, said even her doctors don’t understand how she does it. Because of the severity of her sight, it’s not uncommon for Elaine’s doctors to ask her how she walked in their offices.

Elaine and her brother were both born with Idiopathic Congenital Nystagmus. While she wasn’t diagnosed until after high school graduation, Elaine began wearing eyeglasses at 11 months of age. She explains that her condition is a blockage of the pathway from the eyes to the brain.

When Elaine was growing up it was taboo in her household to talk about her and her brother’s visual impairment. It’s partly because of this that Elaine and her brother didn’t receive accommodations in their mainstream school to help them succeed. Since her sight was so poor, and her teachers weren’t aware of the issue, Elaine fell through the cracks at school. Were it not for the help of one astute teacher, Mr. Frederick, she wouldn’t have been able to glide through school. As unlikely as it was, she managed to graduate high school while never having any reasonable accommodations. Her brother wasn’t as fortunate and didn’t finish high school because he was so ashamed of his sight loss. He was, however, able to find employment as kitchen staff at the Department of Education and he’s been there for 36 years.

The Burden Of Shame

Right after graduating high school Elaine began looking for work. Since her condition causes her eyes to constantly move she struggled at each interview. Unable to look the interviewer in the eye was problematic as it was assumed Elaine was on drugs or medication. Therefore, as a direct result of her eyesight, she had great difficulty finding employment and would go home feeling discouraged.

Elaine went to college briefly then dropped out because she didn’t know about adaptations that were available. When a person carries a secret disability it complicates getting the required assistance. Sadly, this scenario Elaine faced is not unique. All too often people with hidden and (some not so hidden) disabilities aren’t aware of the tools and resources that are available to help them. Even so, many people in these situations develop strong coping mechanisms as workarounds, such is the case with Elaine. Memorization was the skill Elaine relied upon to get her through and it worked!

Eventually, Elaine got married, had two children, and went back to college, however, she wouldn’t even tell her exhusband that she couldn’t see. Shame, embarrassment, and perhaps a little pride prevented her from sharing her secret. What’s even more astonishing is how she kept this secret from her children while they were growing up. I can’t imagine how she must have felt when she couldn’t ‘see’ her daughter’s dance recitals or her son’s football plays. Her children became the reason why Elaine would slowly divulge her secret with her husband. Oddly enough, her husband was her major supporter and also a great source of inspiration for her.

Help Banishes Shame

Graduating college with a BA in Human Services and an MS in Public Administration wasn’t easy but Elaine pulled it off. Keeping her secret was even more difficult, yet there were people in her corner whom she could trust. For three years, one good friend would take notes and made copies for Elaine for studying.

On the work front, since Elaine was so good at memorizing everything; from her environment to the company manuals, she progressed. While it may have looked easy to her peers, what they didn’t know was the incredible amount of behind the scenes effort it took for her to do her job.

Because of her sheer determination and grit, Elaine would ultimately become a supervisor then move up into management. Of course, promotions like these meant more challenges as she had more responsibilities. Elaine spent 30 years of service in the Department of Social Services then it was time for her to move on.

Part of Elaine’s moving on process included divorcing her husband then relocating to Delaware. After her divorce and subsequent remarriage, life was very good as Elaine’s new spouse became her greatest champion. The downside was once again she began seeking employment opportunities and applied for 150 positions. Once again her eyesight became the barrier where she was turned away from each job she applied for.

As I listened to her share how she overcame so many obstacles I was stunned when she told me it was only in 2016 help arrived. This help, in the form of a Vision Service Coordinator, told her to stop being ashamed. This counselor recommended that she apply for a particular job. After applying for so many jobs it plays with your psyche so Elaine was surprised to get called back for a second interview. Midway through the interview, Elaine told them the questions they were asking weren’t giving an accurate portrayal of her story. Then she explained who she is and what she was about and asked them to give her a chance to work with them. This bold move, being her authentic self, got her the job.

Paying It Forward

Today, Elaine loves her job as a counselor and is helping her students take advantage of many opportunities. By the way, the one thing I neglected to mention was her reason for being at the conference. She served as a chaperone for a group of teenage B&VI students who participated in the conference. And the quote at the beginning is something Elaine developed and she shares it with her students to inspire them.

I’ll leave you with a motto Elaine adopted:

“How can you help someone else unless you help yourself”

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured image – A headshot of Elaine wearing a crisp white shirt paired with a silver statement necklace. She has straight red hair, with on-point makeup that includes pink lip color.
  • In this outdoor photo, Elaine is sitting casually on the edge of a water fountain. She is wearing a black jacket, gray pants, and a white shirt. Her hair in this photo is long, dark, and wavy. Assorted trees and shrubs can be seen in the background.
Posted on 2 Comments

The Power Of Three On Confidence & Style After Sight Loss

Terese Goran's image is described in the post.

“When you base your confidence on who you are, instead of what you accomplish, you have created something that no one or no circumstance can ever take away from you.”

~Barbara De Angelis

Today’s Woman On The Move and fashionista, Terese Goran offers her insight on the topic of confidence for those new to sight loss. Terese was featured on Bold Blind Beauty last week, you can check out the article here: Blind Beauty 77 | Terese Goran

Early Love For Fashion & Makeup

I have to confess, when I was asked to write this, I wasn’t sure how to contribute. Personal style and confidence in how we look are so important to our identity. Growing up I really struggled with the way I looked, frequently hearing comments about how my eyes looked funny. Even at the age of 50, there are still some days where I lack confidence in my appearance. When I was growing up, my parents owned and ran a ladies fashion store, and this is where I developed my love for clothes and makeup.

As someone who has been legally blind all my life, I can’t speak to knowing what it’s like to lose my vision, because I never had it to begin with. However, in my career as an Assistive Technology Specialist, I work with a lot of people who are at the beginning of their vision loss. Most of these people are trying to come to grips with their situation. They may still be overwhelmed and not realize that it is still possible to do most things, even without vision. One question that I get asked repeatedly is “How do you get dressed?”. The simple answer is one step at a time.

Easy Answer To A Simple Question

It is such a simple question and a task that many take for granted. But no matter what your vision situation is, looking and feeling confident and put together can be possible. So here’s my advice:

First things first. Be open to learning to do things in a different way than you have done them in the past. There ARE ways to do practically anything you want to, from putting on makeup to matching your clothes, but they will likely be different than how you did them before. You have to be open to learning new ways of doing things.

Secondly, take things one step at a time and be patient with yourself. Learning to do things in new ways will take time and practice. I’ve had to develop my sense of feel over the years to tell where my makeup is applied. I don’t mean by paying attention to what my fingers feel, but how my face feels as I run my fingers over it.  I have to first put it on and then look in the mirror when I’m done to see how it turned out.

When it comes to makeup and clothing, some days things come together better than others. I remember quite a few days that I thought my clothes matched and when I left the house I realized they clearly don’t. To help with this, ask people that you trust for their feedback. I’ve had a lot of help from my family. They aren’t afraid to tell me if I look like a hot mess. Moms, sisters, and nieces are good like that, but if these aren’t available, close friends or even significant others can give helpful feedback. 

Speaking more generally, I’m a big believer in the power of three. Pick your base, sweater and pants or dress, then add 3 pieces to bring the outfit together. This may be shoes, a necklace, and a jacket. It could also be a hat, belt, and earrings. It could even be your eyeglass frames, handbag, and your cane. Whether you’re in work clothes or a t-shirt and jeans the rule can still apply.

I know this world is all about “the look”.  Almost every morning I strive to put myself together. What’s more important is the confidence and belief in yourself. The truth is you can be dressed to the 9’s but if you don’t have the confidence to back it up then that look isn’t going to work. At the end of the day, I just want to be the best me I can be.   

Image Description:

In this photo of Terese, she is looking very stylish in jeans, a burgundy top, and a long taupe sweater. She paired her outfit with a gold statement necklace and brown peep toe, sandals with a block heel.

Posted on 4 Comments

Grace Nzomo On Living Positively With Albinism

In this stunning headshot, Grace is wearing a red tam and lip color. The colors are a bold contrast against her thick gold statement necklace.

“Looking into the eyes of a beautiful young lady and providing encouragement is the spark I need to continue in my mission to empower people with albinism. I am very passionate about education and ensuring its accessibility to the disadvantaged.”

Grace Nzomo

Growing Up In Kenya With Albinism

Grace Nzomo, a psychology graduate from USIU-Africa, is a 25-year-old woman who is living positively with albinism. “Albinism is an inherited genetic condition that reduces the amount of melanin pigment formed in the skin, hair and/or eyes. Albinism occurs in all racial and ethnic groups throughout the world.” While many people are unfamiliar with the term “albinism,” many are aware of the word “albino” (sometimes used as a derogatory remark towards people living with albinism).

Throughout her life, Grace has faced bigotry and injustice simply because she has albinism. When she was enrolled in school her teachers had no idea what albinism was nor how they could meet her needs. In each of Grace’s classes, her mother explained to the teachers why Grace required accessibility so she could receive an adequate education.

Because of her poor eyesight, when she reached the high school level, Grace’s teachers decided she would be unable to learn chemistry, physics, and geography. She was also informed that since she was visually impaired, it was mandatory for her to learn braille. For Grace, this was unsettling as she felt ostracized because of her sight. In the end, she taught herself how to use braille yet because of its complexity she equated its use in mathematics to teaching someone the Greek language.

The education system in Kenya prevents students who use braille from studying among other subjects, chemistry, physics, and geography. Improved braille transcription in Kenya is sorely needed especially as far as the science elements are concerned. Unfortunately, approximately 70% of Kenyan children with albinism attend schools for the visually impaired at primary and secondary school levels. It’s here where they are forced to learn braille yet they are not totally blind. Grace says this approach “narrows down the student’s career choices by 50% which is very unfair and a violation of their rights to holistic education. However, this should not deter persons with albinism from realizing their full potential. Given the opportunity, they can study in mainstream schools and obtain careers in whichever field they desire—be it Business, Hospitality, Banking, Medicine, etc.”

There are innumerable misconceptions associated with albinism. Most children with albinism in Kenya are kept hidden in the ‘backyard of society’ away from others where they acquire very poor self-concept which later on leads to low self-esteem. Others are raised in single-parent families since the father disowns the mother and child alleging that his wife has been unfaithful to him with a ‘white’ man hence bearing a child with albinism.

Grace Nzomo

Living With Discrimination In Graces Words

In school, fellow students treated me like an object of fascination and the questions never seemed to end. ‘Why is your skin white? Is that your real hair? Can you feel pain? Why are your veins blue? Is your blood blue too?’ and on and on…

In the past, children were left in the sun so as to ‘develop’ pigment so as to be ‘normal’ like the others. Unfortunately, this only led to skin cancer as the child grew older. Nowadays, because of who I am, there is a market for my body parts in neighbouring Tanzania, particularly during the election period because some politician has been told by a witch-doctor to get my hand or leg in order to win that tough election.

It seems people with albinism are worth more dead than alive because when we are born, we are hidden away from the discriminative society and when we grow up and can no longer be hidden. Then we are hunted down for our body parts to make the most potent portion to guarantee wealth, success, fertility… you name your problem, even our bones will solve it. Such violence in its many forms is too close to home and this is the albino mentality by the society that we need to eradicate.

Choosing The Empowerment Route

Supporting the efforts of Dr. Choksey Albinism Foundation is in the interest of my work to improve the lives of people with albinism. As its former programs officer, I still dedicate my time and skills to provide workable resources to children with albinism and their parents who may have never had the hope of living fearlessly in this discriminative society. Looking into the eyes of a beautiful young lady and providing encouragement is the spark I need to continue in my mission to empower people with albinism. I am very passionate about education and ensuring its accessibility to the disadvantaged.

I engage in part-time modelling as I see fashion and beauty a way through which I can express myself and create awareness about albinism in a world which is filled with innumerable stereotypes about it. I believe that when one is comfortable with their own skin colour, then they have the confidence to face the world. In my free time, I engage myself in reading novels, swimming and dancing the Latin dances especially Kizomba which is my favourite.

I envision a society where persons with albinism are fully integrated, appreciated, and empowered to realize their full potential. Being able to brighten the lives of those I come into contact with is only the beginning and accepting opportunities of impact will take me even further.


Image Description:

In her stunning headshot, Grace is wearing a red tam and lip color. The colors are a bold contrast against her thick gold statement necklace.

Posted on 7 Comments

My Journey to Becoming Fully Me Albinism & All

The Journey to Becoming Me featured image is described in the post.

My albinism doesn’t define me, but it sure makes me who I am. It is because of my albinism that I have become an incredible problem-solver and out-of-the-box thinker.

~Antonia Lliteras Espinosa

My Journey to Becoming Fully Me Albinism & All

Baby Antonia
Baby Antonia

I was born with albinism a rare genetic condition, which affects about one in 20,000 individuals in the United States. Albinism is the lack of pigment in hair, skin, and eyes. The type of albinism I have means I have no pigment or melanin in my body. However, there are other types where some melanin is present. Persons with albinism are visually impaired and often fall under the legally blind category. I am legally blind and have been since birth. 

Growing up I was very aware that I was different, even so, I had a happy childhood. My family was incredibly accepting and they were fierce advocates on my behalf. I always had everything I needed in school and my parents pushed me to become my own advocate. Self-advocacy began from a very young age and for that, I am ever so grateful.

I grew up in Spain where most people have brunette or black hair, dark eyes, and olive skin. Standing out from the crowd, I was often teased by my peers because of my appearance. However, since I grew up in a small town, my appearance became normal and my classmates moved on to the next thing.

Belonging to O.N.C.E., Spain’s equivalent to the National Federation for the Blind (NFB), was a great resource for me and my family. I went to summer camp with other visually impaired kids where we participated in sports and other fun activities. They also provided orientation and mobility ( O&M ) training and any other school or in-home support I needed. Since there weren’t any organizations specifically dedicated to persons with albinism in Spain, this was the best option. Through O.N.C.E. I met a handful of kids with albinism and so I knew I wasn’t the only one.

Smoothing The Way By Assimilation

As I got older, I went to college abroad and lost touch with the blind and visually impaired community. It wasn’t a choice, it was just life.

So, during my adult formative years, I didn’t have role models who used any sort of accommodations. Not having anyone to compare notes with; I didn’t miss it, I was getting by. Even though I was legally blind, I was proud of being able to do everything everyone else did. The only accommodation I had were magnifiers to read. I never asked for special treatment in or out of class. Looking back at those years I marvel at how I got myself through graduate school! I accepted my albinism but didn’t accept that my disability might mean I have to do things a little differently.

When I started working I never disclosed my visual impairment. In addition, I worked really hard to minimize what it meant for me on a daily basis. I’m an incredibly organized person who gets anxiety over going to new places. As much as I could, I would map out routes days in advance. Then I’d even go on a test run the day before I had to be there, just to be sure I would find the location. Similarly, networking events were torture. Sure, it’s partly because I am an introvert, but I had a terrible time remembering people’s faces or recognizing them!

Accepting Albinism Through Social Media

A couple of years ago after joining a few albinism groups on Facebook, I became enlightened. A lot of the quirks I thought were part of my personality, I discovered were probably due to my low vision. I found a lot of visually impaired people get anxious when going to new places; many don’t like networking events. And for me, it is no wonder I can’t remember or recognize people—I cannot see them! 

These online communities quickly became a place of solace, soul searching, and self-growth. I began to see very successful professionals use assistive technology. Also, I began to accept my visual impairment as a strength and no longer viewed it as a weakness. My albinism doesn’t define me, but it sure makes me who I am. It is because of my albinism that I have become an incredible problem-solver and out-of-the-box thinker. I tapped into the strength of the kid who was once such a fierce self-advocate. I knew I could become a better worker and person if I accepted doing things a little differently. Sometimes, I may need help but I realized that everybody has shortcomings and that we all need help at times.

Embracing Me Is Okay

When I began using a white cane it was my biggest moment of growth. It was both one of the best and one of the hardest decisions of my life. I was putting my disability on display for everyone to see, I was showing everyone what, for so many years, I considered my biggest weakness. I also questioned whether I truly needed it or not. With a lot of support along the way, I have found my cane to be so wonderful, in more ways than I expected. 

When I received cane training, I spent quite a bit of time with other blind and visually impaired individuals. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders! I began thinking about my journey and my struggle to come to terms with my blindness. Part of this process was understanding what it meant for me in my daily life. This is what triggered me to start blogging about being legally blind and still live a fulfilling life.

I want to show that my blindness is not my weakness, but an asset. While I can’t tell younger me what I know now, I hope my words will show other young people it is okay to be blind. It’s okay to talk about their disability and to seek help when they need it. They aren’t weak because of their visual impairment, they are strong in spite of it.

Connecting With Antonia On Social Media:

My Journey To Becoming Fully Me Featured Image Description:

Antonia with her crown of white/blond hair is posing outdoors with her white cane. She is broadly smiling as she poses confidently with her white cane that has a pink handle. Wearing a faux wrap light-colored top with jeans and adorable pointed flats Antonia is a beauty. Her jeans are accented with a pink bouquet of roses on the upper right hip.

Additional Images:

  • Baby Antonia is so adorable sitting on the floor playing with a toy. In this photo, she is dressed in a red top with green trim, white pants, green socks, and dark shoes.
  • Antonia is posing in her cap and gown holding a bouquet of pink roses. She has on sunnies and her white dress with black polka dots can be seen with dressy black flats.