The Value of Orientation

Today I’m delighted to introduce a guest to you. Amy Bovaird and I met through an online writing group. From her, I realized how much I was missing by the way I was seeing the world. She has

Amy3-3 copytaught me much with her blog posts. She writes with humour and joy, but she is honest about the challenges that face her as she approaches the world with vision and hearing loss. My mom faces the world with similar issues, and Amy’s writing has helped me to offer more grace to her. I am grateful.

Amy Bovaird delighted in traipsing around Latin America, South East Asia and the Middle East teaching English – undaunted by vision loss. Today she is an author and inspirational speaker. In her memoir, Mobility Matters, she steps out of denial and into faith as she chronicles her progress in cane training with a completely blind instructor. She’s currently penning her new memoir, Cane Confessions: The Lighter Side to Vision Loss.


by Amy Bovaird @Amy_Bovaird

Connecting With a Rehab Group

Owning My Blindness

Fear of Blindness

“I had to get past my fear of what ‘blindness’ meant to me,” I explained. “In our society, that word conjures up frightening images in our minds–in my mind, at least.”  For over twenty-five years, I had clung to my “clumsiness,” something I must have unconsciously felt I had some control over.orientation and mobility 2

I was speaking to a group of individuals in rehab training. Some were about to begin orientation and mobility training. Some were in the midst of it. All had various stages of vision loss. One had recently lost all sight.  The oldest one in the group was 93.

When I shared my story, I found them easy to connect with. I simply focused on the important parts I would have liked someone to share with me at the same point of my training.

My Orientation and Mobility Training

At our first meeting, my mobility instructor quietly posed the question, “Why don’t you just tell people you are blind?” He seemed curious. I didn’t know he was prying away at my tough, fossilized exterior. I immediately backed off any training I might have received, trying to continue living the lie I told myself.

He even patiently explained to me that blindness isn’t like a switch, being sighted or blind.

“I’m not blind,” I assured him, “I am clumsy.”

It took time to pierce through that tough defense I’d built up to protect myself for so long. Like many other vision-impaired individuals, I believed my life would change if I admitted I were blind. Like I would lose everything that I was.

How silly. 

It’s a word.

Orientation and Rehabilitation Specialists Erie PAThe Key is Self-Perception

“Who I am can only get lost if I choose to perceive myself in a negative way, that I am losing something. But the truth is I define who I am, not what I am. Equipping myself with a positive mindset and learning new skills to adapt will always give me a better life and outlook.  I have that power to choose.”

Suddenly, one of the visually-impaired orientation and mobility instructors interjected, “You have to own it.”

Own it.

Accept it.

I liked that. What a great way to think of it.

I shared how my mobility instructor modeled positive and straightforward ways to respond to others we encountered when he taught me how to use a cane.  At the time, I felt like there was too much to grasp in those lessons.  In fact, I learned just as much from what I observed in his responses to the community as I did cane techniques.

Connections are Important

“I’m so glad you’ve chosen to begin mobility training,” I said to the group. I told them what I wished someone had told me. “Losing one’s vision is not a prison sentence. Each of us can have a fulfilling life when we adapt to the challenges.  I am not, and you are not, an island to yourself. We need to connect with others and this training will help us get out and do that again.”

My mobility instructor has since retired. But his teaching continues on as I share the life lessons and how I learned to view myself through that training. He was direct. No nonsense. At times, unyielding. That’s what comes out in my talks as I strive to encourage others to see themselves in a positive light.

I concluded by saying, ” We are our own best advocates and we can only do that when see ourselves as people of vision with futures filled with hope even with our varying degrees of sight. Or without sight. Don’t doubt yourselves. Embrace your training because it will provide independence. Educating ourselves will lead to educating others. ”

Throughout and after my talk, attendees posed questions. I had feared not hearing all of the questions–but guess what? I did hear them all this time. Maybe it was the face-to-face interaction. Maybe I read their lips. But we had no difficulty understanding and sharing with each other.

I think together we took another step in “owning” this word.

Strength through Navigation

My hope is that blindness will lose its power over us. The more we share with each other and point out practical ways to navigate around word barriers, the faster we can focus on actual navigating skills to connect us with the people and places we enjoy being a part of.

3 thoughts on “The Value of Orientation

  1. Amy,

    I appreciated your post. The key you said is self-perception. It’s funny but that’s the key many times. It even says in scripture that the way a may thinketh in his heart, so is he. And yet, I think we spend out lives trying to get people to affirm who we want to be. This perception we’ve created and hoped would materialize.

    I could appreciate what you said about refusing to let go of your tough defense. I think I push myself past what I can do. Then I stand totally exhausted. Okay past exhausted, as I try to berate myself for not doing it faster, or better or ___________. Acceptance. It’s something we all need to do.

    Thanks for your post.

    1. Acceptance IS something we all need. Self-perception is the thing that gets in our way more often than not. I’ve learned so much from Amy, Anne. I’m glad you have as well. Thanks for stopping by!

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