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Telling Our Stories…|Empish Thomas

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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

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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

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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.