Visually Impaired: Now What?

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Easy Ways to Become a Guest Blogger with Low Vision

Do you often think about sharing your experience of vision loss but lack the resources to blog your own post? Perhaps you have a passion in other areas of your life you know would help others if they only knew what you knew, but coding a web post is not your forte? No problem—consider becoming a guest blogger!

Maribel Steel, who is legally blind, a VisionAware peer advisor, and a Top 100 Freelance Blogger (as listed on Feedspot.com) wants to let you know it’s absolutely possible!

Here are some easy ways to help you get started as a blogger without having to set up your own blog and why it is a great way to "sneak into writing" on the Internet.

Open the Gate to Possibility

Maribel looking out at the mountains from a look out spot on the hillside

By Maribel Steel

I began blogging in 2011 because I wanted to share my perspective of living with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). It seemed there were a whole lot of blogs out there on every topic you could imagine but that didn’t perturb me; who else could say what I had to say? As a freelance writer, I felt a passionate urge to share my life stories and expertise as I stood "At the Gateway to Blindness," which became my first blog.

What I’ve learned on the blogging-journey is that it is important to take notice of other bloggers and to read their posts. Here is the key to open the gate to possibility, you have to imagine where your story, your personal expertise and advice, your passionate voice will fit into their theme and ultimately inspire the editor of that blog and their readers. In short, you can pitch your ideas and be a guest blogger on someone else’s popular site!

Being Blind as an Advantage

There are countless bloggers who are open to receiving a pitch from a guest writer. The main thing a host blogger is looking for is a great story, something to catch attention, a refreshing article that reflects their themes and values. Your visual disability is not a barrier to blogging; in fact, living from your sensory world, you are at a writing advantage. You see, most writers who study the craft of writing are highly encouraged to bring a sensory element into their stories. You are at an advantage here because of the following reasons:

  • You can naturally write from your feelings where all the senses inform your story, including a sensory description (like describing what you hear, taste, smell, and touch) that brings images alive for the reader as an evocative piece.
  • You can use those moments of frustration that can occur with vision loss and offer your insights or reflections that fire up your writing (once polished as a helpful article, not a rant against the world).
  • You have most probably gained skills in other areas of your life and have overcome difficult hurdles and live to tell your tale.
  • Use your natural skills to delegate and let your host do the posting!
Maribel sitting in a tree with her laptop on her lap, looking off into the distance

How Serendipity Gets You Started

In 2012, when my first pitch on using assistive technology for the blind was accepted by a male editor of a popular writer’s blog (I had a feeling he’d like a tech piece), I received an immediate e-mail request to be interviewed on another person’s blog. As serendipity played her part, I was connected to Amy Bovaird’s blog (another writer with a visual disability and now a peer advisor on VisionAware), which led to the next guest post on "Vision Through Words," which led to.... and so on. It dawned on me that I had found a writing niche by offering anecdotes true to my personal experiences of living with blindness. Knowing my field of expertise gave me a boost of confidence and a whole lot of new stories to pitch and polish. My point here is to encourage you to just take that first step, that first well-honed pitch, and yes, leap across Cyberspace with your ideas to land in the inbox of a blogger you admire and feel would benefit from your knowledge.

Before You Send Your Story

First of all, identify what you want to write about. Do you have a flair for cooking, have a hobby, a sport, a travel experience that is memorable in more ways than one? Do you have advice and specific solutions you would like to share with others? What are your insights and passions?

Consider for a moment the topics that could become your writing "niche."

  • What are your personal strengths or professional talents?
  • What can you share exactly?
  • Who would be your type of reader? (This is known as your target audience).

Homework Pays Off

Once you are confident about what you can write, now go on a Google search to find blogs in your passion-topic. This is crucial homework if you want to find the perfect place for your guest posts. It is also a valuable use of your time to discover what is out there on the Internet that will inspire even more creative ideas so do keep your findings in a file to refer to later.

A hint here: VisionAware has a blogroll with a list of over 70 bloggers who post on the topic of blindness. You may like to begin there and investigate if any of the bloggers are open to receiving guest posts.

Maribel using a video magnifier, looking back at the camera

Checklist for Success

As you look around to find those blog sites who could be interested in your story, keep in mind the following considerations.

  • Does the blog you would like to write for actually ask for submissions? Tab around to find out, and if so, what are the categories and guidelines?
  • Can you identify a gap where your story could appeal to or entertain their readers? This can be done by taking an in-depth view on a popular topic and then explore that one aspect from your point of view. Spin it around and come up with a refreshing perspective (as I did on the assistive technology post).
  • Silence the inner critic who will try to throw you off track.
  • Take time to create a quiet writing space to nurture these seed-thoughts to fruition.
  • Think of the reader and how you can shape a story that will enhance their lives.
  • Write to your best ability, rewrite, edit, check for errors, and have someone else proof read the final draft to catch anything you may have missed.
  • Make your pitch short and to the point.
  • Re-pitch to another blogger if your first attempts fall short of your target.
  • Keep in close communication with your host blogger-editor if they do accept your pitch so they know they can rely on you to deliver the goods. This creates goodwill for future guest posts.

Guest Blogging out on a Limb

When you decide on your "right" pitch and post, it will be like going out on a writer’s limb to propose an article to a person with a successful blog and to deliver on time when it is accepted will push you right out of your comfort zone. The key is to stay true to your expertise, have fun writing to an audience who are waiting to welcome you into their readership and let your creative ideas come alive on another person’s blog.

Maribel out on a limb, holding on to a branch and using her long white cane

As a new guest writer, you can relax once your post is accepted because you are free of all website coding, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Social media connections, and so many other aspects of maintaining a blog you will never have to do as a guest blogger with low vision—ain’t guest blogging grand!

Further Resources

Maribel’s PDF "Feature Writing: 7 Essential Elements to an Engaging Article"

Self-Publishing: A Pathway to Sharing Your Story

Self-Publishing: Challenges and Rewards

Self-Publishing: My Great Learning Experience


Topics:
Employment
Low Vision
Personal Reflections
Reading
Self-Publishing
Social Life and Recreation

A Tribute to Veterans with Disabilities

A chalk board with Thank You, Veterans in white chalk in front of an American flag

Editor's note: November 11 is Veterans Day, and VisionAware is honoring those who have served us with this special tribute from VisionAware Peer Advisor DeAnna Noriega. For further information, VisionAware has an entire section devoted to Veterans including services, resources, and personal stories about veterans with vision loss.

A Tribute to Veterans with Disabilities

By DeAnna Quietwater Noriega

I was born into a military family. My father was a Master Sergeant in the Army serving in Korea. Two of my brothers and two of my uncles were also in the Army. Two of my brothers-in-law served—one in Vietnam and one in Desert Storm. My stepbrother was a Marine; my stepfather was an Air Force Chaplin. One nephew served in Kosovo. Throughout history, Native American men and women have enlisted in various services from the Revolutionary War to the present. Native Americans have joined the military as a way to leave the poverty of the reservation and to prove their courage. At every Powwow, veterans are honored with special recognition.

We, in the visually impaired community, owe our veterans much in our increased mobility. Guide dogs were first trained in Germany to lead blinded World War I veterans. The long white mobility cane was developed here in the U.S. also to assist veterans to gain back their independent travel ability. Thinking of all these things led to my writing this tribute, which I wish to share on this Veterans Day.

The Brotherhood

Wounded veterans with Helen Keller

Once you could mask fears with a uniform.
When you stood tall, they saw courage and strength.
You had brothers and sisters beside you.
Then came pain, anger, the loss and despair.
You wondered if you could bear the changes.
Society's mirror can’t reflect you.
It shows only your disability.
You can’t accept yourself in that image.
You’re a soldier in a new battle zone,
A draftee in a war not of your choice.
But you don’t stand alone in this conflict.
You have comrades in arms to support you.
Some recruits joined the fighting at their birth.
They armored themselves with resolution.
Their weapons were determination and will.
They fight for equality not pity.
They challenge the walls of indifference.
Redefine what it means to be human.
They will protect your back wounded warrior.
You will always be welcome among us.

Resources for Veterans with Vision Loss


Topics:
Independence
Low Vision
Personal Reflections
Veterans

Where to Find Help When Your Loved One Is New to Vision Loss

Editor's Note: November is National Caregivers Month with a special day celebrated on November 1. We have had a large number of inquiries from family members seeking advice, so VisionAware's support group advisor has written a special blog post to help provide some answers and resources.

older woman and adult daughter
 

Vision Loss: A Distressing Experience

Vision loss is a distressing experience for not only the person with the eye condition but also for their loved ones. When a family member begins to have difficulties with activities of daily living, can no longer drive, and cannot get around safely, it can affect their partner, children, and close friends. Suddenly, the family dynamic changes, and it is difficult to navigate this new experience until you learn more about vision loss and where to find help.

Vision Loss Happens to the Whole Family

While the affected person is trying to adjust to vision changes, they may be frustrated, angry, and withdrawn, which in turn, affects their relationships. In the initial stages, they may feel lost, isolated, and fearful. Vision loss has a powerful effect on a person’s self-esteem and can even lead to depression. These emotions are all normal and quite common in this situation. Even spouses and caregivers will have their own strong feelings in response to how their lives are changing. It can be really hard at times for family members to work through these strong emotions or be the target of them. Indeed, vision loss happens to the whole family.

Caregivers Need Support and Information Too

Until a person who is losing their vision learns to use tools and techniques to return to a desired level of independence, roles and responsibilities within the family may change and be strained. Partners take on new duties and extra tasks around the house, and this can cause stress and tension. Sometimes, partners are unsure how to help; they may help too much or not enough. They may have difficulty understanding how much their loved one sees and what they are still capable of doing. Maybe the person with vision loss becomes "helpless" and unmotivated. Everyone involved needs support and information to find equilibrium again, including the caregivers.

VisionAware Can Help

The VisionAware website is dedicated to supporting adults new to vision loss and their family and friends. It has a wealth of information that can assist families who are facing this new challenge in life. In the "Emotional Support" section, there is information specifically for family and friends. It includes a video of a husband and wife story, communication tips, steps to take to help your loved one, and more. There are a couple of book titles recommended for family members also.

What Can Caregivers Do?

Caregivers can order a Getting Started Kit, learn about eye conditions, ask questions on message boards, and begin to understand about basics like vision rehabilitation and low vision services.

There are many personal stories of encouragement, everyday living tips, and hope offered throughout the site. You and your loved one can even watch informational videos together on VisionAware. Information and knowledge will ease your stress and point you to helpful resources.

Finding Resources and Services for People Who Are Visually Impaired

Use the VisionAware national directory of services to find agencies that serve the visually impaired in your community. Just enter your state to narrow your search. Did you know many agencies offer low vision services and training at no cost to seniors with vision loss through a federally funded program? Learn more about this program, which provides services nationwide for older persons with vision loss. Vision rehabilitation agencies can also help you and your loved one connect to other services like the free Talking Book program for reading, counseling, fall prevention programs, and support groups.

Most support groups for the visually impaired welcome caregivers, spouses, and family members. It can be a very empowering experience to learn how others are managing successfully and receive support and information from them. If the affected person is resistant to attending this type of group, caregivers can go alone for their own benefit. I would recommend private counseling for any couple not coping well with this experience to help them adjust together to all of the changes and losses it can bring. Local counselors could also suggest other support groups.

Learning from Books on Blindness

It can be very helpful to read books on blindness. VisionAware has an exhaustive book list, including one written by a spouse. Maybe you could read some of these books together. You might also want to read an interview with Mary Hiland about her recently published book The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: A Daughter's Memoir of her caregiving experiences.

It’s Important to Take Care of Yourself

Caregiving is stressful and can be physically and emotionally demanding. VisionAware offers some tips and resources for taking care of yourself. You have to take time for your own health needs in order to remain strong for your loved one. Make time for yourself every day to manage stress and take a break.

Have the Conversation

It can be very enlightening to have a conversation where spouses, partners, and other family members try to understand each other’s experience and perspective on what is happening. Like the old saying suggests, put yourselves in each other’s shoes and imagine what it must be like for them. Step out of your own experience for a moment and ask yourself, "What is this like for my spouse to lose his/her vision," or "What is it like for my caregiving spouse to put up with me and take on more responsibilities?" Empathy for each other will lead to open communication, greater understanding, and cooperation.

Additional Resources

This link offers publications including a free Caregiver support manual.

Living Well with Low Vision—This website provides lots of information on living with vision loss.

Low Vision Focus@Hadley—Find out about this program for older adults that promotes independence at home by sharing practical ways to address daily living skills made difficult by vision loss.


Topics:
Caregiving
Health
Independence
Low Vision
Support Groups

Mike Robertson, Cross-Country Cyclist Who Is Visually Impaired, Challenges Blindness and Disability Employment Stereotypes

Mike Robertson and his riding partner standing in front of a lighthouse on the coast with their bikes on the ground in front of them

On June 26, 2017, Mike Robertson and Hans Breaux, team Shared Vision Quest, left Cape Flattery, WA, on the northwest corner of the country to ride their bicycles 4,000 miles, coast-to-coast, to West Quoddy Head Lighthouse in Lubec, Maine. Forty-nine days later, the pair arrived at their destination on August 8, 2017. Their adventure was different from many other treks across the country because Mike Robertson is legally blind. Mike rode independently on a lightweight Carver bicycle, following Hans Breaux, using a two-way radio for support with obstacles and road conditions. During the trip, Mike surmounted dehydration, being run off the road by a truck, and tumbling over a road barricade!

In an interview before their adventure, Mike reported that one of his goals for the ride was to bring awareness to the abilities of individuals with vision loss and challenge some of the stereotypes about blindness.

Since October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and Mike's ride is finished, I wanted to ask him a few questions about these challenges and stereotypes, how to overcome them, and what was next on his bucket list.

Overcoming Employment Challenges Related to Vision Loss

Steve Kelley: The unemployment rates for individuals who are blind or visually impaired are not good. If you could, suspend your notions of what might be at the root of this problem—employers' beliefs, stereotypes, institutions—and focus instead on the individual looking for a job, what could that person be doing to achieve greater success in the job hunt?

Mike Robertson: That's difficult to answer because, just like every visual impairment, it is very personal. In general, you have to do your homework. You need to learn about the company and people you're interviewing with and your potential boss. You have to take those steps to make yourself more appealing to them. You have to do that whether you have a disability or not. You have to want it, be willing to step out of your comfort zone, and put in the work to get a job.


Mike Robertson from Shared Vision Quest riding his bike down the street

Steve Kelley: This mindset is similar to what you did with your trip across the country.

Mike Robertson: Yes. That was a year's work, a lot of work, and research on equipment, bikes, gear for the bikes, the mapping of the route, camping gear, transportation, 14-18 hour days just getting to the starting line for a 49-day ride! A year's worth of work for six and a half weeks! Anytime you want to do anything, go on a trip, get a job, even a trip to the local post office, you have to create a plan in your mind. You have to use this same mindset to figure out how you are going to get that job you want.

Addressing Workplace Accommodations

SK: As you pointed out, this process is no different for someone without a disability. But with a disability, you have an added dimension that you have to be prepared for in both the interview and on the job.

MR: The question may come up. "How are you going to accomplish that task?" Well, I'm going to get a CCTV so that I can read print; I'm going to get an OCR (optical character recognition software) so that I can do X,Y, or Z. If you sound competent and confident, like you know what you're doing, the employer will recognize that you are capable. I know it can be embarrassing and tough to be in those situations. I liken it to a single mom who goes in for an interview and gets asked, "What are you going to do for daycare?" Those questions are not supposed to be asked, but they come up.


SK: Did these sort of questions come up with you and Hans before your trip?

Two bike riders from Shared Vision Quest riding on a paved road

MR: We just winged it. We’ve ridden on the Trek (Trek Across Maine) for a couple of years, so we discussed different possibilities. We had the radios in place; we used the "Push to Talk" radios to be hands-free. We put all those tools in place so while we were on the road, we didn't have to have that conversation.

That’s what people have to do to find employment—they have to have that conversation with themselves. I would say that people with a visual disability have to plan ahead, to the nth degree, every move we make, every day, whereas people with no disability are able to go on autopilot because they don’t always have to have that conscious thought of "how am I going to get to work?" They just get in the car and go. They don't ask, "how am I going to read this material at the seminar?" We have the skill set to do the work; we just have to want to do the work! That statement right there is an advantage in a job interview. These are some of the things I've had to overcome in my life—there's very little this organization is going to throw at me that is going to rattle me.

You have to develop these problem-solving skills. You can’t expect some social service agency to come in and do it for you. There’s no magic pill. In some situations, you can have these skills taught to you, but you have to practice those skills.

Convincing a Potential Employer to Hire You

SK: Let’s assume you’ve done your homework, and you’ve gotten your foot in the door, how do you convince a potential employer that you are capable without finding yourself on the defensive about your vision?

MR: From my previous experience, I just try to stick to the facts and sound as knowledgeable and capable as I can. I think at the end of the day, unless you’re a blind person applying for a truck driver’s job, employers just want somebody who’s going to be there, be competent, and do a good job. I think employers sometimes get wrapped up in the Americans with Disabilities Act description of "reasonable accommodation," and nobody really knows what that means, and what they might have to put out.

Planning the Next Cross Country Trip

Mike Robertson from Shared Vision Quest standing outside with this bike in front of a road sign stating blind person in area

SK: Are there any things you would incorporate into your next ride?

MR: There were no failures on the trip, just obstacles to be overcome and lessons to be learned. The only way I could have failed on that trip is if I packed it up, parked the bike, and said, "I’m done." That would be failure to me, and I would have had to be in pieces to have done that.

I’d like to do a lot more speaking. I would go to organizations like the Lions and Rotary Clubs. I would have a less direct route that was more conducive to traveling the extra miles to go to a club and talk to them because even though we got a lot of media coverage, there’s nothing like seeing the person, having them see the bikes, lift the bikes, hearing the passion in their voice, and talking to them directly. You just can’t get that with a 10-second news clip on TV or a newspaper article.


SK: Any other thoughts about the coast-to-coast ride?

MR: I can say I’m glad it’s over at this point. When we wrapped up, I just wanted to turn back around and keep riding because I did not want it to be over. I kept thinking, once I got off the bike and into a vehicle, it was going to be over. Now, that I’m acclimated back to reality, it’s time to plan the next adventure, and I’m looking at how I can bring other people together who want to do the same thing on a bigger scale.

But I think the next trip for me may be a solo trip across the country. I’m going to start sending out letters to companies like Google, MIT, Tesla, and Toyota, that have the technology to build driverless cars, and ask them to convert that technology for bicycles so that I will get audible alerts for obstacles in the road, turn-by-turn directions, indication of when the traffic light is red. Can they do it? Is somebody willing to take that on as a project? Build a bike for the blind? That’s what I’m thinking next.


Topics:
Employment
Independence
Low Vision
Personal Reflections

Book Review: The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season

The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season is Alice Jane-Marie Massa’s first book. It’s a collection of holiday-themed memoirs, fanciful stories, and poems. Readers are immediately drawn into the book for two reasons.

picture of a Christmas carriage on a snowy day

First, the book’s cover photo features a picture of a Christmas carriage on a snowy day. This photo by photographer Cindy Kennedy-Lesky reflects a nostalgic illustration of the winter season and holidays. The image holds in it the memories we all have of our own personal recollections of holidays and family gatherings.

Second, when I opened the book, I began reading the "Introduction" first. Massa’s excitement is apparent as we can almost hear her voice welcome us and invite us to join in her festive holiday spirit. I felt like I entered the home of a dear friend, and she was hosting a special holiday event. Shortly after I started reading, I began to feel at home with Alice and her family members.

When asked what inspired the book's title, Alice said:

“For the holiday season of 2014, I wrote the short story "The Christmas Carriage." This title for the short story seemed the most logical for the story and later the collection because a horse-drawn carriage plays an important part in my Christmas story.”
“Since living in Milwaukee's East Town area, I have enjoyed hearing the horse-drawn carriages that go by my townhouse and that travel in the area where my guide dogs and I have walked through the years. All four of my guide dogs have worked very well parallel to the working horses. Besides the clippity-clop sounds, the horses are bedecked with bells for the holiday season.”

On the back cover is a photo of Alice’s third Leader Dog, Zoe, to whom this book is dedicated. The author’s sister, Mary E. Massa Fanyo snapped this picture. For a reader who is new to the world of blindness, you will quickly discover that guide dogs are often a vital part of a blind person’s life; it is not unusual for blind writers to celebrate their experiences with their dogs in various ways through writing and photography. This recognition of Alice’s cherished dog adds a personal touch and depth for the reader.

In the introduction to her book, Alice Jane-Marie Massa offers her readers a special gift. She invites her audience to feel the excitement she experienced as she wrote the pieces. Each is focused on the anticipation and delights of special activities that take place from Thanksgiving to Christmas and into January. The stories are mostly memoirs from her childhood and her present life. This book also features poetry and fiction, all based on her life with her extensive Italian family.

A Perfect Holiday Gift

The 100-page book would be a perfect item to include in your gifting this year. I plan to give it to friends, family, and in some anticipated gift exchanges. While the stories are seasonal, I was just as interested in reading them much earlier in the year. I think it’s a book that the reader can pick up and enjoy reading at any time and would be a volume I would keep on my coffee table or bedside for reading random samples periodically.

Each piece in the book is in the form of a diary entry; she puts a date with each piece and offers various aspects of the circumstances when it was written. Alice includes weather conditions, personal family history as well as a unique insight into her life as a blind writer who had the companionship of four Leader Dogs over her lifetime. Currently, Alice has her fourth Leader Dog, Willow.

The book has a second dedication which is to Alice’s parents. Many of the works in this book feature them and other relatives. As I read, I had the feeling that I was a visitor who was welcomed into their private world. I also learned about Alice’s Italian family customs, foods, daily life, and relationships.

The book features 13 stories and six poems. Alice included two surprises: one is a poetry game for Thanksgiving Day, and the other is a creative project for making a Christmas card. Each one is suitable for adults and children and can be done alone or by a pair or even as part of a team.

As I read the book, Alice inspired me to begin thinking early in the year about how I can make a special Christmas card for my friends and family too. Alice called this chapter, "Keeping the Christmas Memory of the Best Gift Ever." I’ve already started working on my own card inspired by Alice Jane-Marie Massa.

More About the Author

Alice Jane-Marie Massa grew up in Blanford, Indiana, but her teaching career took her to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she taught for over 20 years at the Milwaukee Area Technical College. After her retirement, she remains in Milwaukee.

The variety of influences and inspirations in her stories evolved from her life experiences as she grew up in both Indiana and later when she lived and worked in Wisconsin. Her family history and Italian ancestry is an integral part of her first book. We read stories about her childhood holidays with her family, and we read stories about fictional characters brought to life because of Alice’s keen insight into human nature and her love of people and animals.

“My guide dog and I went off in search of a Christmas tree. We were not en route to a store for a new artificial tree; we were on the lookout for an 88-foot white spruce, weighing in at 13,000 pounds.”

Find out about this remarkable day in the chapter titled, "Leader Dog Zoe Visits U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree."

In another of my favorite family stories, Alice begins with this passage:

“With or without snow, our family home in Blanford,Indiana, was a hallmark of a home for the holidays. That house, near the top of the knoll on the cut-off road, is still a house full of beloved Christmas memories for me.”

Find out about the "The Snowflake Garden," "Zoe’s Christmas Eve," and lots more.

Alice Massa’s work has been published in a variety of literary journals such as Magnets and Ladders, Indiana Voice Journal, Dialogue, Newsreel, and The ACB Braille Forum. She is also in the anthology, Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look. Alice is a past president of the non-profit organization, Behind Our Eyes.

For additional information about ordering the print or electronic version of The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season, please visit the author's web page.

You can also read a collection of writings posted on Alice’s blog.

I can easily recommend this book for your own gift-giving this year! In a word, it is simply "delightful!"

Other Reviews from the Bookshelf Series


Topics:
Arts and Leisure
Holidays
Low Vision
Reading
Social Life and Recreation

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