Guest Post – DoubleVisionBlog

“I don’t understand why I didn’t get the job,”

I said to my supervising teacher, “You gave me such stellar reviews from e and goals really well in my interview. I have a 4.0 GPA, and the students loved me! Did the principal say anything to you about why he didn’t hire me?”

thomas03142016-31
Photo Credit: Morry Angell, Guide Dogs for the Blind
My supervising teacher hesitated.

“Well, um, he did mention that you didn’t maintain strong eye contact throughout the entire interview. He said your eyes didn’t always follow where he was pointing when he was explaining the school set up. He said your eyes kind of trailed off, and it made him skeptical about you.”

Her words came as a swift, unexpected punch in the gut.

That was 13 years ago, and I cringe thinking about the conversation, but not because I am embarrassed about my eyes, like I was then. I cringe now because I remember how much time and energy I wasted trying to hide my vision loss.

The principal had no idea that I literally couldn’t see his finger when he moved it even a half inch to either side, much less follow the sweeping motion of his hands. My supervising teacher knew about my loss of peripheral vision and even that I was legally blind, but I had asked her not to say anything because I didn’t want it to keep me from getting hired. I didn’t use a cane in my interviews, or really much at all at that point in my life because I didn’t want to look “blind”.

Fortunately, my supervising teacher did not listen to me when I went to my next interview, choosing instead to mention my vision loss as one of my strengths, stating how hard I worked and how well I communicated with the students to compensate for my vision loss.

joy-thomas-7
Photo Credit: Morry Angell, Guide Dogs for the Blind
That principal hired me.

I held my own as a middle school English teacher for several years, but I continued to struggle much more than I needed to because I still spent a great deal of time and energy trying to do everything the “sighted” way. I still felt very ashamed of my vision loss, and I think that came across to my students and colleagues. I always felt that I was just one incident away from disaster. I had several incidents where parents thought I had purposely ignored them in passing, and one even complained to the school dean about it. These incidents unnerved me and made me feel like people were getting closer and closer to finding out the truth about me. The truth that, because of my eyesight, I was incompetent.

When a 7th grader with special needs fell asleep while I was reading a book to the class, and I failed to notice him sleeping outside of my line of vision, the special education teacher’s aide reported this to her, and she stormed into my classroom and demanded an explanation. I spoke with her privately about my vision, and she was irate and said that she couldn’t trust her students with special needs in my classroom. I became terrified that she would “tell on” me to administration, and since the principal who hired me was no longer there, I wasn’t quite sure if the new principal even knew that I was visually impaired and how he would feel about it. Since I was still one year away from earning tenure, I knew that the school could legally lay met off at any time, without giving any reason, so I would never even have a case if anyone discriminated.

So, despite my outstanding observation reviews and the fact that I was a creative, organized teacher and had spent 2 years and a small fortune getting my master’s degree, I chose to resign from my job. My reasons for leaving were numerous, and as a new mom who wanted to spend more time with my baby girl, my reasons made sense to all those around me. It’s just that no one, aside from my husband a couple close friends, knew that fear and shame were among the top reasons I chose to resign. I figured that if I were the one who quit, there would be no chance of me ever being fired.

joy-thomas-5
Photo Credit: Morry Angell, Guide Dogs for the Blind

I was consumed with blending in and not appearing weak, which took away all of my strength.

Thankfully, I’ve come a long way over the past 9 years since I left my teaching job. I now get around very well with the help of a guide dog. I have also gone through training in technology and other life skills to make everyday living more accessible.

Ironically, now when I use my guide dog, people continue to make comments about my eye contact, except the exact opposite opinion from that first principal. “But you don’t LOOK blind. You’re looking right at me and making eye contact!”

That’s the tricky thing about degenerative eye conditions like Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). Whether you’re using a mobility tool or not, people are constantly asserting that you have “not enough” or “too much” vision. It’s akin to visual purgatory.

joy-thomas-4

When you linger between the worlds of sight and complete darkness long enough, a few things become apparent.

There are certain tools available, such as canes and dogs and magnifiers and smartphones, that can be helpful and do not have to define you.
The general public has a very black and white view of blindness, and when we’re out in the world, living our lives with whatever tools help us, we are often educating people about the wide spectrum of sight loss.
Sharing stories of vision loss helps connect us and changes stigmas about blindness
I’d like to say that shame over vision loss is something that I just woke up having conquered one day, but the truth is that it has been a lengthy process. And on certain days, it still takes a lot of awareness, reflection and self-compassion.

I cannot pinpoint one breaking moment, or even one particular thing that helped me move forward. It was a series of breaking moments and a series of steps forward. Part of it was having my daughters and wanting them to grow up with a happy mommy; part of it was sharing stories with my twin on our blog; part of it was getting a guide dog.

joy-thomas-3

Photo Credit: Morry Angell, Guide Dogs for the Blind

It was only when I began to lean into that part of myself that I always thought of as flawed that it truly began to lose power over me.

I may not be teaching in a classroom right now, but I am now confident enough that I could go back at any point in the future, For now, I am homeschooling my 2 daughters, who are growing up with a mom who doesn’t let the stigma of blindness stand in her way.

And they don’t seem to care whether I make too much eye contact, or not enough. I hear them tell their friends their mom is “half blind”, and I suppose that is half true. I am not concerned with correcting them or having the most accurate label to describe me and my vision. My only concern now is living the most authentic life possible and spreading the message that we do not need to be ashamed of blindness.

Be sure to connect with Joy and her twin Jenelle on their social media accounts:

Double Vision Blog
Twitter
Facebook

Blind Photography

Hello Everyone ! I hope you are having an amazing summer. We have been doing pretty good and enjoying the nice weather. The kids have finished swimming lessons and my husband is now on holidays for two weeks. So summer for us is now in full swing.

IMG_0057

At the end of May I got a new camera to take better blog pictures and to start my YouTube channel. This has now really peeked my interest in photography. I had to learn how to use it and memorize all the buttons and how many times to push them to get to where I wanted to go. It has been a lot of fun. I have really enjoyed taking pictures even though I can not see them, it has really been fun learning and just relaxing doing something new.

 

IMG_0110

It may seem weird that I have been enjoying photography since I can not see but I have never taken my blindness into consideration when I want to try something, so I figured that there was no need to consider it now. I am aware of my surroundings, so I will touch Rick or whatever I am taking a picture of and back up and then shoot away. I take a whole bunch of photos and then I get my husband to check them out and see which ones have turned out good.

IMG_0100

I have really enjoyed learning something new and finding a new hobby. Along with taking pictures I have enjoyed making videos and sharing a part of my life with people and breaking down the misperceptions of blindness with my videos.

IMG_0113

I think that no matter what you have going on, whether you have a disability or not, if you want to try something take that leap and give it a try you might just surprise your self and find something you love to do.

Until Next Time !
Ashley and Rick

Guide Dog vs White Cane

 

 

IMG_0106

Hello Everyone !

I have had a sad day today as I took Rick to the vet early this morning to have surgery. He has broken a tooth and needed to have it removed. I was so sad this morning when I woke up and the day to take him in was here.

After I began getting ready I realized that I would not be able to work Rick to the vet this morning as I use food reward and he could not have any food or water this morning. So I thought it would be better for him to just walk on leash but this meant that I had to use my White Cane. I have not had to use my cane all that much since I have gotten Rick. As I was getting ready I started to feel this anxiety and worry creep up on me. I found myself really in a state of panic and anxiety, just like I used to feel every time I left the house.

This was not something that I talked with many about, mainly just my O and M instructor. I would never not go somewhere because I was nervous or anxious but it really could take a hold of me if I was not careful.

This was one of the main reasons that I chose a Guide Dog I hated the feeling I got every time I left the house. I hated having to run into things to find them or miss things that I was looking for like a pole for a bus stop, or a doorway to the coffee shop, the low hanging branch that smacks me in the face, the puddle that soaks my shoes. I wanted a better way of travelling alone. When I was gifted Rick my life as I knew it changed, the confidence I felt when I left the house was amazing, the independence I had increased even more. The way I had wanted to travel was finally a reality.

I am very aware that having good cane skills is essential as there are times like these when you are not able to work your guide dog, and there is going to be a point where you may have to retire your dog. You need to have options for getting to where you want to go and doing the things in life that come up. There is nothing worse than needing to rely on others to take you where you want to go and needing to be guided around.

This is something that I need to work on and conquer so that I don’t have this anxiety when I have to travel with a cane. This can be done, it will just take some work. I know what I am capable of and the independence that I want. I also will make sure that I have that level of independence and confidence in all aspects of my life.

For those of you that are wondering, Rick is home and doing good. He is still a little dopey and we are just waiting for the anesthetic to ware off and recovery to start. Cuddles make everyone feel better !

Until Next Time !

Ashley and Rick