#HowISee

93% of people registered blind or partially sighted can see something, meaning that only a very small percentage of visually impaired people are completely blind. The RNIB’s #HowISee campaign aims to raise awareness of this fact and dispel the misconceptions that surround visual impairments such as using a guide dog or white cane means that you are totally blind, or that not using a mobility aid means that you are fully sighted.
Watch the #HowISee video here

 

I am one of the 93%. I have been registered blind since I was seven years old, but I have a limited amount of residual vision which I used to its full advantage.

 

I have a condition called Lebers Congenital Amaurosis (LCA) which means that my retinas don’t function properly causing my Visual impairment. I also have Nystagmas meaning an involuntary movement of the eyes as they try to focus.

 

My condition has meant that I have never been fully sighted, but when I was a child I did have a considerable amount of residual vision which meant that I could read, see colour and use magnification for a time.

 

The nature of my condition however means that my site has been gradually deteriorating since birth, culminating in a sudden deterioration in my teens. This left me with light perception in my right eye and a small amount of residual peripheral vision in my left. My site has stabilised since, though there is the possibility that it could deteriorate again.

 

I try to use my remaining vision as much as I possibly can, which is something I have had to learn to do. It was only when I received mobility training from a rehab worker who is actually also visually impaired herself two years ago that I was able to teach myself to utilise the remaining vision that I have.

 

With the peripheral vision in my left I, I can distinguish contrast and rarely I can make out a bright colour. This doesn’t sound like much, but you’d be surprised how useful even that is in daily life. It means that I can follow a building line by distinguishing a white building from a darker one; I can see distinctive road markings such as a zebra crossing; I can find the counter in a Starbucks by spotting the bright lights. All these things help immensely in my orientation and are things I use on a daily basis when getting around independently.

 

This is my experience of visual impairment, my experience of LCA. But that is not to mean that everyone’s experience is the same. Out of all the visually impaired people I know I don’t think I know two people who see the same thing. Not even people with the same condition as me. I know others with LCA who have enough residual vision to read print and yet others who are totally blind.

 

I am often asked if I am my guide dogs trainer because I apparently “don’t look blind”. I’m not entirely certain if this is because of how are use my residual vision to get around, or just because I am a reasonably confident young woman who doesn’t fit into the traditional stereotype of a plain old blind man with a white cane. Either way this always feels like a bit of a backhanded compliment to me, because besides the fact that I’m not totally blind so why would I look as such, what does blind look like anyway?

 

I have mentioned previously on this blog that the spectrum of visual impairment is huge, as is is the spectrum of ways that people live with their visual impairment. This is why it’s problematic to put people in boxes such as guide dog user must be totally blind, or symbol cane user must be able to read small print.

 

The important message that the #HowISee campaign is trying to convey is not to judge a book by its cover, or a blind person by their mobility aid (or lack there of). Everyone is an individual, even blind people 😉

 

Join in the campaign by explaining how you see the world and sharing your own stories of any awkward moments or misconceptions you’ve experienced using the #HowISee hashtag throughout August.

Deferring my dissertation

10 May has been a date branded onto my memory for months now. Why? Because it is the deadline date for my dissertation. Or at least, it was.

When I started my third and final year of university, I made a promise to myself that this year it would be different. That I would get organised, manage my time brilliantly, get all my work done on time and meet all my deadlines. When I came back in September I felt wildly optimistic that I would power through the year and emerge on the other end with a first class degree. 

I say wildly optimistic because my time at university hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride. My struggle in Higher Education isn’t really something I have gone into great detail about on this blog. I intend to, one day, after I’ve finished my degree. But for now, those of you who don’t know me personally need to understand that it has not been easy. I’ve struggled socially, mentally and emotionally and I’ve been so tempted to drop out on numerous occasions.

I think the only reason I haven’t dropped out is because I’m stubborn. I have a fierce desire to prove people wrong; to show that I am just as capable as anybody else of doing everything, even getting a degree, despite my Visual impairment. In fact, this often leads to me wanting to overachieve, not just to do as well but to do better than everyone else to prove that I can. What this means is that I end up putting a enormous amount of pressure on myself. Worse, because I feel as if I need to be able to do everything on my own, because nobody expects me to be able to, I used to feel unable to ask for help for fear of being labelled incapable. Thankfully this has gotten much better recently, proven by my action of requesting a deferral for my dissertation.

In September 2015 I felt like requesting a deferral would make me a failure. I thought that getting extensions would make me a failure. I thought that coming out with anything less than a first class degree, would make me a failure. I want to stress again that nobody explicitly said this to me. It was all me, all these expectations and ambitions were in my head. 

I can think of a few reasons why I feel like this, one being that being undermined and degraded on a daily basis because of an impairment that has nothing to do with my intelligence or mental capability makes me feel so patronised that it drives me to want to prove myself. 

I’m not someone who lets been disabled get them down often. I’ve said before on this blog that I feel 100% content with who I am, blindness and all. The main thing that I struggle with is societies attitude and treatment of me because of my Visual impairment. This is why I’ve think I’ve developed this instinctual determination to exceed expectations. Because if you’re treated and meant to feel inferior for 90% of your life, then if you don’t have some kind of drive and faith in yourself, you will start to think of yourself as inferior.

Anyway, back to the point. It was this attitude that make me so reluctant and somewhat frightened of the possibility of requesting extensions. I’m not going to lie, third year terrified me. The pressure and stress I put on myself to be the best in everything often makes it hard for me to fulfil my potential. In first and second year I had been forced to request extensions usually because of institutional failings. With third-year being such an important year, I was determined that I would need to be on the top of my game to make sure that all of my materials were accessible, that all of my note takers were arranged, that I would have a suitable place to study and that everything I would need academically would be put in place. This did happen; ironically, and terms of accessibility my third year has been the easiest of my whole degree. 
What I didn’t count on was me sabotaging myself and my own ability.

 I spent so long focusing on how I could make sure that nothing to do with my visual impairment would get in the way of me meeting all my deadlines, I didn’t stop to think about what I could put in place to ensure that my mental health would not impact on my work either. So that’s what happened. I became ill, I eventually sort help and I was granted a deferral for my dissertation until August.

It was a very hard thing to be for me to accept, because when you’re so used to dealing with a physical disability, a mental illness is a completely different ballgame. One thing I’ve always prided myself on is the fact that in spite of how people treat me, my intelligence and mentality is not compromised by my disability. I have a visual impairment, this is what I tell people; my eyes don’t work, it has nothing to do with my brain. So just because I can’t see you standing in front of me doesn’t mean that I can’t hold a conversation, alright an essay. So, to then be dealing with a mental illness that does impact on that element of myself that I had always depended on being so stable was very disconcerting.

I definitely think a part of the reason I struggled to understand and accept my mental illness is also because of the stigma that surrounds mental health. Even me, as someone who lives with a sensory impairment and therefore nose in some ways what it feels like to be treated differently because of something that is out of your control, still subconsciously harboured these fears and misconceptions of mental illness.

I am however pleased to say that I feel much better. Even though my year didn’t go to plan and I ended up doing the thing that I dreaded most, I’m now quite proud of the fact that I have asked for a deferral. It doesn’t make me less capable, it doesn’t make me less of a person and it doesn’t make me a failure. I think it makes me someone who understands themselves, someone who is self-aware and better for it. 

So even though the 10th of May is almost been and gone, I will carry on chipping away at the D-Word, I will feel proud of the achievement of just completing a dissertation never mind what grade I get, and I will take the obligatory submition selfie in August 😉

A huge congratulations to everyone who has submitted their dissertation so far, everyone on my course who submitted their dissertations today and everyone who will be submitting in the next few weeks. Be proud of yourselves! You did it!

#VIPTag

VIP tag
I’ve been tagged to complete the VIP (visually impaired people) tag by a fantastic blogger who I follow diligently. Check out her blog called Thinking Out Loud here: http://www.thinkingoutloud-sassystyle.com/vip-questions-tag/
1. What medical condition caused you to be blind or visually impaired?
Lebers Congenital Amaurosis and Nystagmus
2. In 3 words, describe your vision. 
Confusing, temperamental, unreliable.
3. What is the hardest thing to do being blind OR visually impaired?
Interpreting body language – 90% of human communication is done non-verbally, so not being able to tap into that information can sometimes put me at a disadvantage when meeting people. Not being able to interpret body language and facial expressions can make trying to connect with someone a little awkward in certain situations. 
4. What is the best part about being blind? 
We live in a world and a society that places so much emphasis on the visual that being unable to see can often feel somewhat of a barrier to a lot of different things. However I believe that it’s not so much a barrier as just a block for one particular path. I think that being blind has made me open-minded and able to think outside the box in terms of problem solving to find ways around things that might initially seem impossible to do without sight. I’m forced to think of ways around doing things every day, from reading the instructions on a food packet to finding a specific shop. I think it’s also made me a determined, resilient and ambitious person that I might not be in the same way if I wasn’t visually impaired. 
5. What question do you get asked most about or because of your vision? 
“Are you totally blind?”
I’m registered blind and can see very little, but the light perception and tiny bit of peripheral vision I have comes in really useful sometimes – I try to use it to the max. I think this makes it confusing for people though because sometimes it’ll seem like I can see something and other times I won’t, so most often I get questions about what I exactly can and can’t see.
6. Do you have a cane, a guide dog, or neither? 
I have a guide dog, a 2 year old black Labrador/retriever called Jazzy. I also have a cane for non-dog-friendly situations
7. What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is losing, going to lose, or has lost their vision? 
Allow yourself to grieve, but don’t allow yourself to wallow. Of course it’s natural to feel the loss of something as integral as your sight; I think it’s important to let yourself feel the sadness, anger, fear and whatever else comes with it so that you can work through these feelings in a healthy way. But once you’ve dealt with the grief, don’t let your loss take over your life. Losing your sight can feel like the end of the world, but it’s really not. It just means that it’s the start of a new chapter in your life, a chapter that will make you stronger, more resilient and a boss at problem solving like I mentioned above 😉
8. What is one piece of advice you would give to a sighted person about interacting with a person who is blind or visually impaired? 
Never assume, always ask:

Uncertain whether a VI person needs help to cross the road? Don’t assume they want you to grab their arm and escort them across, ask if they’d like your help. If they accept, feel good that you assisted someone who needed your help. If they decline, respect their answer and feel content that you offered. 

Assumptions can often do more damage than good because your assumption is rarely accurate. This is especially true of visual impairment which is an umbrella term for a huge spectrum of conditions and abilities, not to mention the vast variety of ways that people deal with their visual impairment. Even people with the same conditions can have different levels of useful sight and can have different ways of dealing with their impairment. No two people are the same, even blind people. 
When you ASSUME, you make an ASS out of U and ME.
9. Why did you join YouTube/ Blogging?
I created this blog because I wanted to show people that it’s perfectly possible to lead a normal life despite not having much sight. The fear of the unknown often means that people can’t imagine doing barely anything without being able to see; that’s just not true and in my blog I try to demonstrate that.
10. Name 3 people to do this tag next.
I’m tagging three visually impaired bloggers who I follow and admire. Check them out via the links below.
Fashioneyesta – http://fashioneyesta.com/

Where’s Your Dog – https://wheresyourdog.wordpress.com/

Life Unscripted – https://blindbeader.wordpress.com/
Thanks for reading and if you’re visually impaired why not get involved and post your own VIP Tag!