Many misconceptions continue to exist in contemporary society regarding disability. Educating others about blindness and social etiquette is vital for many reasons. Raising awareness of vision loss can help to promote positive change for individuals who are blind, and for society as a whole. As a person who is blind, I have experienced many obstacles. I believe that the barriers I have experienced as a person with a disability are not because I am not able. I think the barriers I have experienced are often because others have placed limitations on what they may think I am capable of doing. I believe these limitations are the result of societal attitudes, misconceptions, and a lack of knowledge regarding blindness. Educating the public is essential for changing the narrative for those living with disabilities.
Developing self-advocacy skills has become an integral part of my daily life. I will continue to develop these skills in many aspects of my life. Self-advocacy skills have helped me gain the confidence I needed to use my voice, learn new skills, and become the independent person I am today. I will discuss self-advocacy and how it has helped me. It is my hope that in sharing my lived experience with others, others too may find the benefit in developing self-advocacy skills. According to Castellano (2010), self-advocacy involves being able to “speak for – and speak up for – yourself – effectively” (Developing Competence, para. 1).
The first year of the diagnosis of my eye condition was challenging for me. While adjusting to my vision loss, I was raising a young child and working a full time job. I often struggled to find my voice and speak up for myself and what I needed. Navigating my community with a white cane was daunting at first, and I personally struggled with accepting my vision loss and how others perceived me now that I had a disability. Having peers in the blind community helped me in a multitude of ways. I felt understood and supported through this transition in my life. My peers also empowered me to learn new skills which enabled me to adjust to my vision loss. I was able to mentally move past the misconceptions I had about myself as a person who is blind and recognize that I am a very capable individual. I began to focus on my abilities as an individual rather than my vision loss diagnosis. My disability may be a part of who I am, but it does not define me. I used to be a quiet, shy, reserved person. I believe that my blindness has enabled me to grow in more ways than I could ever have imagined. I began to find my voice and was able to share with others my abilities, try new things, learn new skills, and request assistance or accommodation as needed. Learning how to self-advocate has helped me in various aspects of my life: in my role as a customer service agent working in a call centre, as a patient navigating the health care system, as a single parent who is blind raising a child, as a university student, and as an active resident in my community.
As a student with a disability it has been important for me to self-advocate for the assistive technology and other accommodations I needed to succeed in my academic endeavours. I agree with Krebs (2002), who states “I think that when students with visual impairments understand their individual strengths and needs, they will be more assertive and be empowered to find or create optimal learning environments. Students with visual impairments need to be able to explain their disability in everyday language, to list their strengths and needs, to make choices about how they learn best, and to communicate effectively with their peers and teachers…” (para. 1). While attending Vancouver Island University, most of my professors were understanding and accommodating. At times I had challenges with accessing materials from the library in an accessible format. Sometimes there were delays in me receiving my course readings and books. I had support from the department for students with disabilities, which was a great resource. It was very important for me to learn what it is that I needed to fully participate in the courses I was taking. I can remember my very first semester, and I was new to using a screen reader and ZoomText. I did not even know what an RTF file was! I had so much to learn regarding computers and technology, specifically assistive technology. When materials or books were not accessible, I learned how to advocate for myself in order to access the information I needed to complete assignments and course readings. Over the ten years I attended school I have come a long way! I have learned how to use ZoomText, Kurzwell, and VoiceOver on a MacBook. Currently, I am learning JAWS. There is so much to learn that I think I could spend my lifetime learning and growing. The more I experience life, the more I gain confidence in my abilities and having the skills to accomplish whatever I may put my mind to doing.
Castellano (2010) explains that we tend to think of self-advocacy in terms of an individual understanding their disability, knowing what their needs are, and having the ability to request accommodations in an effective manner. The author recognizes that it is essential for a person who is blind to be able to do these things. Castellano (2010) further emphasizes the importance for those who are blind to direct their focus on learning the skills they need to accomplish tasks and then be able to communicate to others how they can complete the task or job. I agree with the author’s insights. As a person who is blind, I believe that it is important to understand my disability, understand what my needs are, speak up for myself, and ask for accommodation when needed. I think it is empowering to learn new skills and how to accomplish tasks such as cooking, cleaning, assistive technology, braille, and orientation and mobility skills. All of these skills are essential for an individual who is blind to become confident, skilled and independent. The more I learn, the more confidence I gain.
The more society sees people who are blind as confident, independent, and skilled, the more potential there is for perceptions and attitudes of blindness to change. For persons who are blind, self-advocacy can also raise awareness and help to promote an inclusive and accessible society. As individuals we can advocate for ourselves and for others. As a community we can stand together, speak up, and speak out for change, change that sees no disabilities and instead embraces abilities. I am excited to be a part of this change, and I encourage others to join me.
learning the skills they need to accomplish tasks and then be able to communicate to others how they can complete the task or job
As Shauna says, “it is empowering to learn new skills and how to accomplish tasks such as cooking, cleaning, assistive technology, braille, and orientation and mobility skills… The more I learn, the more confidence I gain.”
All of these blindness/Deafblindness skills will be taught at the Bowen Island Recreation, training and meeting Centre. Through programs at the centre, individuals who are blind and Deafblind will learn to become confident, skilled and independent. They will also learn about self-advocacy, an important tool in the toolbox for any person who is blind or Deafblind as it can raise awareness about blindness/Deafblindness and promote a more inclusive and accessible society.
As Shauna points out, “the more society sees people who are blind as confident, independent, and skilled, the more potential there is for perceptions and attitudes of blindness to change.”
Join us on this journey and let’s build the centre! Whether you can help by making a donation or by sharing articles like this one, no gesture is too small.
- Castellano, C. (2010). Developing self-advocacy skills: Or, the pursuit of living a normal life. Future Reflections, Retrieved February 15, 2021
- Krebs, C.S. (2002). Self-advocacy skills: A portfolio approach. Re-view Rehabilitation and Education for Blindness and Visual Impairment, 33 (4), Retrieved February 16, 2020