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
taught 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.
THE VALUE OF ORIENTATION & MOBILITY TRAINING
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.
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.
It’s a word.
“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.”
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.