As I reflect on what it means for me to embrace my disability, many concepts come to mind: acceptance, awareness, advocacy, perseverance, self-growth, gratitude, humility, empowerment, and independence. Many people who go through vision loss experience stages of grief and loss. As I look back on 2007 when I was initially diagnosed with my degenerative eye condition, my world was turned upside down. I went through a wave of intense emotions: fear, anger, and sadness. I felt helpless, and the thoughts that invaded my mind were negative and based on fear of the unknown. As a person who is blind and having adjusted to my vision loss, I would like my message to others to exemplify a positive philosophy of blindness. I have learned and gained a multitude of problem solving and life skills. I recognize that at the time of diagnosis, my feelings were very real, and it took time for me to grow and adapt to the new changes in my life. For the first few months after my diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa, I believe I was in survival mode, simply floating through life: eating, sleeping, working, and taking care of my child. I cried many tears and I wished I could sleep away my sorrow. However, I soon recognized that was not reality, and that I needed to learn about my eye condition and reach out for support. I was working in a call centre at the time as a customer service agent, and there were a few individuals at my workplace who were blind. Seeing others who were blind living confident, independent lives definitely helped me work through my own feelings regarding my visual impairment.
I have experienced many hardships in my life. The news about my visual impairment was very overwhelming and life-changing. As I reflect back on these initial days, I am thankful for the news of my vision loss. Not only have I learned skills that are essential for any individual whether sighted or blind, but I have grown emotionally and spiritually because of it. The relationships I have made with others as a result are also life-long and close to my heart. My faith in God has always been a constant in my life, and my faith and my experience with vision loss have shaped my outlook. I appreciate the finer things in life: my faith, relationships, and living a life with purpose. I do my best to walk by faith, not by sight in all that I do. Each person is an individual, and each person’s story is unique. Each person’s journey with blindness is different. I would like to share my story, and my hope is that you may be empowered to walk with confidence, think outside the box, and chase your dreams.
Shortly after I learned of my vision loss, I received a white cane and a lesson from an orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor. Up until this point I had navigated my community without a mobility aid and had fallen down flights of stairs, walked into poles, tripped over ditches and curbs, and walked into cement obstacles in parking lots. I soon recognized that my safety was compromised, and yet I was not quite ready to pick up the white cane and use it everyday. My white cane sat at the back of the closet in my front hallway for the first few months. Each time I opened the closet door to grab my shoes or coat, the cane was staring at me! My five-year-old son would hold my hand and help me navigate sidewalks and curbs along our route. However, I quickly recognized the need for me to be safe and independent, and for my son to be his own person. I humbled myself and pulled my nemesis out of the closet in my hallway and began to use it. I was unaware of how much independence and confidence the white cane would bring to my life.
Initially, using my white cane was very awkward. I can recall how challenging it was for me to coordinate the rhythm of holding my cane in a central position and swiping it from side to side while walking. I remember how hard it was for me when I learned how to ride a bike as a child. I recall having a similar feeling when learning how to use the white cane. As a child, I was afraid of crashing my bicycle. When I started using my white cane, I had already fallen and hurt myself many times throughout my life due to not having a mobility aid while losing vision. On a route I would stare at the pavement as I slowly walked down the street. I had a deep fear of falling. I felt self-conscious while using my white cane in public. I did not like the looks people gave me as they passed me walking down the street or how they would dart to get out of my way. I also received looks as if my white cane or my disability was the plague. The other challenge I have overcome was gaining confidence in using the white cane to navigate my world independently. When learning a new skill there can be challenges. I had my reservations about using the white cane. I also had my frustrations with the white cane. I learned how to hold my cane correctly, which definitely helps keep my cane from getting stuck in the sidewalk crack and then jabbing me in the stomach or groin!
When I learned that I was eligible to apply for a guide dog, I became even more motivated to learn travel and skills with my white cane. In order to train with a guide dog, it is imperative that an individual has strong O&M skills. I trained with my first guide dog in 2008 in San Rafael, California at Guide Dogs for the Blind. The bond I have with my dog is one of mutual love, trust, and respect. My guide dog accompanies me most places I go and has enhanced my life as a person who is blind. I am able to walk at a natural pace that is swift on my feet. Together we are able to get where we are going confidently, safely, and in a timely fashion. The companionship I have with my partner is life-changing and I feel very blessed to work as part of a guide dog team.
My story is one of challenges, resilience and overcoming adversity. As a single parent and a person who is blind, I experienced barriers with poverty, housing, and employment. My journey to “embracing” my vision loss has taken time to work through the stages of grief, loss and acceptance of my vision loss. I am a woman of faith, and this has always been the foundation that has supported me in life through good times and times of hardship. Having a strong support system has also helped me profoundly. Relationships with others are very important to me, and my friends in the blind community support and understand me in ways others are not always able to. I have learned so much from my peers and I am eager to share my experience and knowledge with others. As a community people who are blind can support one another. As a collective we can raise awareness regarding diversity and abilities and advocate for an inclusive and accessible society that embraces individuality.
For me, embracing my vision loss goes beyond acceptance. I have learned about myself and skills essential for daily life and problem solving. I have become an individual who is active and able to use my voice to advocate for myself and others. I am confident, independent and empowered about creating change. On my path of self-growth I also reached a place where I have been able to give and share with others. Educating the public about blindness is imperative in changing societal attitudes. Breaking down barriers based on a historical stigma of blindness is vital to changing the narrative of blindness. A positive philosophy of blindness is necessary for transforming what it means to be blind for future generations. My involvement in community initiatives has had a profound impact to my personal growth and journey. As I look ahead I encourage others to dream big, find their purpose, and be empowered to see the big picture that is full of opportunities! May the future be a society that embraces diversity, inclusion, and endless possibilities for everyone! Sighted or blind, may we come together and appreciate one another’s differences, gifts, and perspectives. As humans, there is so much that we can learn from one another. Rather than a society that sees disability, may it be a society full of love, dignity, respect, and an outlook that sees and appreciates one another’s unique abilities.
One of the most important aspects of the Bowen Island Recreation, Trianing and Meeting Centre project is bringing Canadians who are blind and Deafblind together to build a life-long support network. Many people who have trained and/or gone to camp together are still friends many years later. These life-long support networks are one of the ways we live, share, learn, and most of all, laugh together.
Along with learning blindness/Deafblindness skills essential for daily life and problem solving, participants also learn to be confident, independent and empowered to live the lives they want.
As Shauna says, “a positive philosophy of blindness is necessary for transforming what it means to be blind for future generations.” It is with this philosophy that we are working together to build the Bowen Island recreation, Training and Meeting Centre.
Join us in building this life-changing centre today! Whether you can help by making a donation or can help by spreading articles like this one to your networks, no act is too big or too small. Let’s go forth and change the future of what blindness/Deafblindness means in Canada!
We’ll end today on this quote from Shauna that bares repeating. “May we come together and appreciate one another’s differences, gifts, and perspectives. As humans, there is so much that we can learn from one another. Rather than a society that sees disability, may it be a society full of love, dignity, respect, and an outlook that sees and appreciates one another’s unique abilities.”