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WOTM 25 Featuring Susan Kennedy

Women on the Move

Black and white line drawing. The leaves of the dress are not solid black.In keeping with the new identity of this site, and as I alluded to in my most recent post, With Hope Anything is Possible, today marks the beginning of the new monthly series called “Women on the Move.” The series will feature capable, independent, intelligent, beautiful, and talented women who just happen to be blind/vision impaired.

It is my belief that by marrying the new icon on Bold Blind Beauty with the stories of these fascinating women that it will help society to see beyond the disability to their individuality. So without further ado I’d like to present Susan Kennedy from Adventures in Low Vision.

There’s Beauty in Character

In the 90s, I was a dorky kid. Nearsightedness didn’t stop me. I swam on swim teams, cycled to the local pool and ran track and cross-country like an amateur triathlete. Years before I earned my driver’s license, I earned a paycheck. My busy childhood built a healthy outlook: if I worked hard, there’s usually a payoff. There’s beauty in character.

Balance is beautiful, too. When necessary, I cut back. Goodbye girl scouts and intramural soccer. Goodbye honors math and Maybelline Great Lash mascara. I didn’t chase a flawless appearance, rather an inner strength. I aimed for above average, but a few B’s didn’t haunt me. I discovered wise choices led to accomplishment.

A tour guide on a college visit said, “There’s a lot of things to do here, but no one is going to hold your hand. Your college experience will be what you make of it.” I took his advice to heart. As an undergrad, I joined the rowing team and student council. I studied abroad in London and realized America wasn’t everything. I continued to moderate. Got things done so I could have fun.

Junior year, my retinas misbehaved. My university has a diverse medical complex within walking distance to my rowhouse where I underwent many eye surgeries. My mom, thanks to FMLA and a strong mama bear instinct, found herself driving west on the PA Turnpike to nurse me through post-ops. Roommates dosed me with eye drops before class. I fell asleep reading coursework with my good eye. I wanted to graduate on time; no one told me I couldn’t do it. Earning credits made me feel like a normal student rather than a woman fighting vision loss. Family and friends would call and send encouraging cards. I requested an extension to finish papers. I quit the rowing team. I ignored dating and a fair amount of socializing–I was too exhausted anyway.

A year later, degreed and employed, I sat in my retinal surgeon’s office. I pulled tissues from the offered box and said through tears, “But it’s my spare eye, I don’t have a back up anymore.” Round 2 of surgeries commenced. Mom once again hit the highway. I endured tedious facedown recovery. Once cleared to work, I changed jobs to be a massage therapist where I learned the importance of boundaries and self-care. Soon I fell in love and moved to MD. My husband proved to be a tremendous support, his reliability and kindness shine through medical uncertainty. We bought a house and welcomed a feisty terrier to the family.

A few weeks into 2011, my retinas initiated Round 3. Greater vision loss happened and I was angry yet anxious to heal and get back to work, but life dealt me delays and letdowns. I stared down my final operation and with my STD and FMLA time spent, unemployment. My payroll deducted LTD plan didn’t cover my “pre-existing” condition. My state denies unemployment benefits due to medical disability and I couldn’t file for SSDI until living a year disabled. I tell you this because If I was single, I could’ve racked up plenty of credit card bills. Medical hardship is the speedway to debt and homelessness. Health insurance doesn’t pay your mortgage. Luckily, my husband worked full-time and our parents pitched in, too. I don’t take family support for granted.

While I navigated the mysterious waters of paperwork and incremental vision loss, my husband and I coped with anticipatory loss within his family. I landed hard. I talked to my doctor about depression. She prescribed a course of antidepressants which helped to manage stress and anxiety. So did dog walks. Also, I kept a journal. It’s a good way to deal with change.

In 2012 my state’s department of rehabilitation services (DORS) approved my application and assigned a caseworker. I was rehab-ready, physically and emotionally. My vision impairment wasn’t going to stop my life. A specialist at a low vision clinic fitted me for glare-reducing lenses. At her recommendation, I bought a hand magnifier to read things like menus and labels. My world was opening up. With DORS, I did OT to learn new ways to cook and clean. I did Orientation and Mobility training to learn how to use a white cane to travel alone. Freedom.

Eventually I started the blog, Adventures in Low Vision. It’s like an after school activity. It’s a way to connect with people like Stephanae who understand the consequences and triumphs of vision loss. It’s a stress relief to find understanding in experiences whether they are tough or awesome.

Meanwhile, I enrolled in a program with Jewish Community Services (JCS) to reach my ultimate goal of employment. I submitted resumes as in previous job hunts, but this time I focused on proximity to public transportation and flexible hours to accommodate my needs. I landed interviews. Once I accepted a law office position, DORS provided a digital magnifier for documents and magnification software for my computer. Goal met.

The added bonus is I’m breaking stereotypes of blindness while I go about my business. I wear glasses and use a white cane. I work and have a visual impairment. I’m fit and disabled. I’m not in a classroom, but I’m educating. I needed emotional support from family and friends, organizational resources like DORS and JCS, plus a beautiful will to work hard and connect with others to find my way. As I live well with vision loss, I see a team of people who encouraged me to earn my independence. I continue to be a woman on the move.

25 thoughts on “WOTM 25 Featuring Susan Kennedy”

  1. “Women on the move” is such a great concept. What I loved the most is when Susan says ‘I am fit and disabled’. It requires so much strength to admit it and at the same time it is reality. She has definitely derived the good. This is why we should call “disable” people as “differently abled”. After all everyone is equally capable in different ways. At least that is my philosophy.

    Kudos to both of you and I hope to read more of this feature.

  2. Hi Joy, thank you for your kind comment. You and Jenelle are also remarkable examples of people putting themselves out there to bring awareness to the issue of vision loss and what one can continue to do when such loss occurs. <3

  3. I, too, loved reading Susan’s story, as I’ve been following Adventures in Low Vision for awhile. I got goosebumps reading about all of her struggles and the ways she has overcome vision loss. There is such power in sharing our stories, and I feel so grateful for people like Susan and Stephanie, who put themselves out there.

  4. Susan, your story has to be encouraging to others whose sight is impaired. You are a testament to the can do spirit. When many of us are confronted with a possible life debilitating illness it likely throws us. That is when we all can use some support, but you also provided another element. The inner fortitude it will take to see (no pun intended) it through. It obviously requires inner strength and resolve to not let something like what you face stop us from living life. No one is exempt from possible ailments, but you’ve provided a shinning example that any person can fight through to succeed cope and overcome obstacles that life throws in our way. You also illustrated that it won’t be easy, but with a can do attitude, anything is possible.

  5. Hi Casee, Thank you for stopping by, reading Susan’s story, and commenting. Yes, she is a strong lady who is such an inspiration to others and I’m honored to have met her through her blog.

  6. Hi Steph! Love your “Women on the Move.” concept and series. I enjoyed reading Susan’s story, and I’m looking forward to read more of your inspiring posts and phenomenal women you’ll be featuring. Lesson to be learned are universal.

  7. What an inspiring story. I have enjoyed reading Adventures in Low Vision for a while now and it is nice to know about the journey that the author has had thus far. What a strong lady. It is also such a blessing to have helpful family and friends.

  8. Thank you for stopping by, I appreciate it!! Yes, Susan and the other women I’ll be featuring are testimony to what can be achieved when we focus on working with what we have. She’s an amazing person.

  9. What an inspirational post! It just proves the setbacks in life can be temporary and the end result is they can make us stronger. Thanks Steph for sharing this.

  10. Thank you for your kind words Patricia!! I’m sorry to hear about your daughter’s situation. Losing vision is not an easy thing to go through but we can adjust and go on to live very fulfilling lives. It takes time and there will be setbacks but as long as she has the support of family, friends and can hold onto the inspiration of others like Susan Kennedy she will be okay. I wish the best for you and your daughter. ~Steph

  11. Hey Jenelle, thank you for popping in. Yes, I too did not know Susan’t story until she submitted it to me for publication. It speaks loudly to what we can do when we focus on what we have as opposed to what we don’t.

  12. Steph, Thanks for featuring Susan on your blog. I really enjoyed reading Susan’s story. I have been following her blog for awhile, but I did not know the whole story and it gave me goosebumps as I read.

    Susan, Not only do I love your writing style, but I admire the way you live your life with authenticity.

    Bravo, ladies!

  13. Hi David, Happy New Year!!! Thank you so much for your kind remarks. I will pass this along to Susan and when you get a chance check out her blog, she’s an excellent writer. Hugs right back at ya!!! <3 <3 <3

  14. Once the problem has been faced, coping with it becomes easier and this young lady has certainly not let anything stand in her way. Massive Congratulations to anyone who forges ahead under these circumstances.
    xxx Massive Hugs Stephanae and Happy New Year xxx

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