Since I have been writing my blog, I have come to realize something. Some people have given me feedback on my blog posts and I have been noticing other things on social media, but they have brought me to the same conclusion. People without low vision don’t understand what it is like to live with it. This is completely understandable, but what I don’t understand is why they would have opinions, or in some cases pass judgements, on people with low vision.
There was a post I saw on social media of a woman with a walking cane who was texting on her phone. I didn’t think anything of it, until I saw what people were saying about it. There were negative comments about how she shouldn’t be texting if she was blind with a walking cane. What those people didn’t understand is that there is no one way to be blind or have low vision.
This was such a bizarre concept to me because I have been immersed in the blind community from a young age. I had to remember that not everyone has been exposed to the variety of ways there are to be visually impaired. Not everyone understands that there is no black and white to low vision, but a world of grays that many people in the blind community fall within.
There is a wide range of ways to be visually disabled, not just seeing and not seeing. Everyone with a vision impairment has different strengths and weaknesses in their vision. Similar to the woman in the photo, I have a friend in Australia who is legally blind and uses a walking cane, but can still do many “normal” things like texting. It is impossible to know the visual capabilities of someone with a vision impairment unless you ask them. Being visually impaired isn’t something that lies on the surface for everyone to see.
I am a perfect example to make this point. Most people wouldn’t know that I struggle at all with my vision because I show no outward signs of low vision I don’t use a cane, have a seeing eye dog, or read braille. Ever since I have started my blog, people I have known for years have read it and said they didn’t know I struggled as much as I did with my vision. There is more than one way to be blind or have low vision, and that middle area is where most of us fall, which is why others often don’t understand it.
Vision impairments can be a tricky thing to understand and figure out, especially considering that everyone who has them bears it in a different way. It is okay to not understand it. I know there are a lot of things in this world that I don’t understand. All I ask is that other people not judge something or someone for reasons that they aren’t educated enough on to fully understand. I don’t think that is too much to ask for.
On the last school camp I went on, one of the activities the class did was stand up paddle boarding. Each student received their own board and we were all instructed on how to stand up and paddle without tipping ourselves over.
Once on the river, I stood up on my board like everyone else. However, I was then approached by one of the girls in my class who told me “Congratulations, this must be such a big accomplishment for you!” I asked her why she thought it was such a “big accomplishment” for me in particular to which she replied with “you know, because you can’t see well”. I did not think much of it at the time, but much later, when I revisited the conversation in my mind it really annoyed me.
A theme I seem to be finding more and more often, as I am getting older is that people have different expectations of what it is that I can achieve purely because of my visual impairment. Being visually impaired does not impair what I can achieve; it simply changes how I achieve. I may not read a book with my eyes the same way my peers do, but I will read that same book just as well with my fingers. I may not write my school assignments with pen and paper, but I will write them just as well on my computer.
I want people to understand I am just as capable and that they should not expect less of me because I am visually impaired. I know my own limitations; if I cannot do something, I will not do it. I do just as much as everyone else does; I simply use slightly different methods to even the playing field.
Great news! This past month I got my score back from the AP exam I took this year. It turns out that I got . . . a 5!
Now, I am going to very briefly break-down AP exam scoring for those of you who aren’t familiar with it. First of all, AP stands for “advanced placement”. These are classes you can take in high school for college credit. The exams are known for being brutally hard and are scored on a scale from 1-5. A 5 is the highest score possible, but you only need a 3 to pass.
So, to sum up, I did pretty well on my exam. I mean, I got the highest possible score so I couldn’t have done much better. In all honesty though, I was really just hoping to pass. The reason being, I had some extra challenges when dealing with this exam. It was a bumpy ride, and I can’t even describe how relieved (and surprised) I am that I came out on top.
You would think that a college level class and an exam designed to challenge the students taking the advanced class would be enough stress for a high school freshman, right? Well, it turns out that I had a couple more hurdles to jump for that passing credit.
About a month before the exam date, I emailed my counselor to confirm that I would be getting a large print exam and extended time. I almost didn’t email her because it seemed a little unnecessary since I have an IEP in place that assures I receive these accommodations. The purpose was more to ease my mind and to be absolutely certain that everything was in order. You can imagine my surprise when she emailed me back and said she had yet to put a request in to College Board for the accommodations I needed.
She was referring to a process that I was completely unfamiliar with. Apparently, regardless of an IEP or any other on-record forms, all requests for accommodations must be made to College Board by school counselors at the beginning of the year. This is not what happened to me.
My counselor should have made the request months before I emailed her. It shouldn’t have ever been something that I had to worry about. She didn’t though, and I did.
It was now a week before the exam and I was busy cramming in study sessions whenever I could. Then we received the good news that College Board sent a large font test for me. It was a relief and I was able to study while being slightly less stressed. For about three days. That is when we learned that I couldn’t use any of the materials that they sent specifically for me because they hadn’t approved the accommodations.
To say the least, I was annoyed. I mean, it didn’t make any sense. I had a legitimate need for those special materials and they were right there with my name stamped on them, but because some idiot sitting in an office hadn’t hit the “APPROVE” button on their computer, I couldn’t use them.
If I was annoyed though, my mom was beyond outraged and one notch away from barreling into the school to yell at anyone who would listen. I had to avoid bringing it up and keep my anger in check to keep her from going off about it. For a little bit I was worried that she wouldn’t let me take the exam and I would have to wait until next year when my accommodations would be approved. I really wanted to get it over with so I tried to calm her down and reason with her.
To say the least, it was a stressful few days leading up to my exam. If only the stupid system was a little bit more efficient or my counselor had made the request when she was supposed to. The entire mess could have been avoided, but that isn’t how the system works.
The dreaded day had arrived. I had studied and prepared to the best of my abilities. All that there was left to do was take the test.
Let me give you a quick rundown of what I dealt with during this two hour long test. Part one was one hundred multiple choice questions in seventy minutes. These were not easy little questions either, with one sentence questions and one to two word answers. The questions that I had to tackle consisted of long paragraphs and multi-sentence answers. It was brutal and I had less than a minute for each question. I ended up running out of time and filling in the last ten questions on my answer sheet as C. The second part was much easier because it was writing and there was very little reading involved.
Overall, it was a draining experience and I walked out of the testing room questioning if I even did enough to pass. Not to mention my eyes hated me for putting them through that and had their revenge with an awful headache that lasted the rest of the day.
Surprised doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings when I found out I scored a 5 on the exam. I was preparing for the possibility of not even passing when I logged in to view my score. Looking at my screen I had one of those moments where I just stared and questioned if my eyes were playing tricks on me. I was stunned for about ten more seconds and then realized that I actually scored a five and was more relieved than anything. The horrible stress of the exam and then the waiting for the results was finally over. It was a bonus that my score was so high.
It was also nice to prove that even with the extra challenges in my path, I could still pull out a pretty decent success. In the end, it doesn’t matter what life throws at me or how my vision hinders me. I can come through for myself without help from anyone else.
My five is proof that I can create my own mini success stories with perseverance and determination. How will you write yours?
Today I got a new car.
At the age of 1, I was legally deemed to never be able to get my drivers license or drive a car. Like a big ole stamp, legally blind. I was stripped of the pure excitement of getting your license and independence when you turn 16.
All at the age of one.
But today, I got my new car. I got my first white cane. My mobility device to help me navigate from point A to point B.
A tool in my toolbox that will become my eyes on the ground as my vision progressively declines over the years. Today was my first day of newfound independence. And my oh my, does adventure await! I got new car. And by golly, it’s a Lamborghini! At my first Orientation and Mobility training, I explored my new cane. I felt it, swung it around (safely), listened to it hit different objects, and of course, tasted it. It didn’t taste too good! I generally toss everything handed to me as I like both hands free and I hate holding hands but … I held on to my cane. Like it was the missing puzzle piece I was looking for. My training begins with excitement, exploration, and the habit of carrying it when I go outdoors. It will become as natural for me as putting on shoes. And I couldn’t be more excited.
Adventure awaits. All I can say is…watch out world.
Dance competition season ended a few weeks ago. I competed twice and it was amazing to be back on stage after the pandemic.
The one thought I have been pondering since then is how lucky I am. I feel privileged that I am able to compete in spite of my low vision. It only presents a slight problem back stage where the lighting is low. Even so, it is insignificant to the joy I feel on stage.
As usual, when I started thinking, I didn’t stop. I started wondering about all the other things I am able to do in spite of my low vision. With all these thoughts bouncing around in my head I decided to make a list. I titled it, “My CANs and CAN’Ts of Blindness.”
It was a surprise to me that I was able to come up with a reasonable amount for each side. Let’s focus on the positives first:
Dance/Compete: Of course the activity that inspired this list is first the be written down. I have been dancing since I could walk and I absolutely love it. It would never let my low vision keep me from dancing. It has never presented much of a problem before, and I plan to keep it that way.
Put on Makeup: Any dancer knows that you can’t step out on stage without a full face of makeup. It can be a tedious process to apply, but with an extremely magnifying mirror I am learning.
Read: I can read! Books are my favorite pastime and I am fortunate enough to be able read them without braille yet. This might not last forever, but I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.
Play Piano from Sheet Music: Sometimes I will sit down and draw a song from the keys of my piano. Occasionally, I will enlarge the music, but for the most part I can print off any song and read the music from my piano bench.
Everyone knows that brightness can’t exist without the dark for comparison. Here are the dark spots of my low vision.
Embroider/Sew: I can be a hard-core thrifter. I love to remake old clothing into cute outfits. Sewing and embroidering are the cornerstones of these projects. I have tried and failed to do this on my own. It is too hard to see the tiny threads and needles. It’s not worth it to me.
Look at the Stars: My brother has gotten into astronomy over the last few years. Whenever he and my parents go out to look through a telescope or look at the moon, I don’t. It’s frustrating to squint up and see only darkness.
Play Sports: Balls terrify me. I have terrible depth perception and can never seem to catch them. They more often end up bouncing off my head than landing in my hand. Whenever I see a ball flying through the air, I run in the opposite direction. I was out about sports from the beginning.
Blindness is like everything else in life. There are ups and downs that are out of our control. I find it better to accept the things that I can’t do as just that. It is not accepting defeat, but rather choosing what to fight for.
Everyone has to choose their battles wisely because no one can fight everything. My question to you is: What do you fight for?