Women On The Move: Joy Thomas

Last week it was Joy’s turn to be on Bold Blind Beauty!

Bold Blind Beauty

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

I said to my supervising teacher, “You gave me such stellar reviews from my student teaching, and I feel like I described my teaching style 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?”

Thomas03142016-31Photo 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…

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Women On The Move: Jenelle Landgraf

Jenelle was featured on Bold Blind Beauty several weeks ago, and we thought our readers would enjoy reading her post!

Bold Blind Beauty

Freedom in Acceptance

Jenelle & JoyIt’s 1983, and two curly-haired 5 year-old girls sit on their dad’s lap, staring into a screen of flashing lights.  They hold their heads back as doctors place stinging drops into their matching hazel eyes, and they wonder what all the fuss is about.  They hear adults whispering about problems with their eyes, and they become aware that something is wrong with their vision.  

It’s been over 30 years since that initial diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative eye condition that begins with the loss of peripheral vision and night blindness.  The journey of vision loss hasn’t been an easy one, and each twin has dealt with it in her own way.  

I’m the older sister, by 4 minutes, and this is my story.

For many years, I felt caught between two worlds.  Parts of me felt like I belonged in the sighted world…

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Happy Birthday to Us!

Hey friends… Today’s our birthday! We gave ourselves a present by switching over to a new server that will allow us to grow our site a lot more. Unfortunately, our email subscribers don’t get switched automatically, so your present to us can be you visiting our site at doublevisionblog.com and subscribing.

Again, unless you re-subscribe at doublevisionblog.com you will no longer receive notifications about our posts (even though the site looks the same as it always has).

Thank you!

Joy & Jenelle

Advice for Parenting Visually Impaired Children: Tip #6

Tip #6: Give Your Child Age Appropriate Opportunities for Exploration

I’ve always loved magazine quizzes – anything from “take this quiz to find out if he really likes you” as a pre-teen to “learn which decorating style suits your home” in my housekeeping magazines.  When I was trying to think of an interesting way to present this week’s tip, I decided to design my own little quiz.  If quizzes make you nervous, calm down.  This is a self-graded quiz in which there are no “right” answers.  These questions are designed to help you constructively evaluate the boundaries you set for your child.  I tried to incorporate different age scenarios, so that there is something that applies to everyone’s current stage.

Note: If you’re like my husband and think these types of quizzes are a waste of time, then just skip on down to the conclusion of this post to read my advice on giving children age appropriate opportunities for exploration.

1. When my toddler wants to “help” me in the kitchen…
a. I find something else for him to play with, there are too many dangers he might not see.
b. I open up a cabinet filled with tupperware and muffin tins.  He can crawl around inside and take items out without harming himself.
c. I explain to him what I am doing in the kitchen, and give him little jobs to do, such as sorting large and small spoons.

2. When my 6-year-old daughter is struggling with learning to read…
a. I suggest we wait to work on reading skills until she is older.
b. I enroll her in a braille class even though I know she can see letters.  I think that learning to read in braille could be easier for her.
c. I ask her teacher to give me some suggestions on how to work with her in order to make learning to read a fun and enjoyable experience.

3. When my 9-year-old wants to go ride bikes with neighborhood friends….
a. I suggest they find something fun to do in our backyard.
b. I ask him to stay within 5 blocks of our house, and remind him to be aware of his surroundings.
c. I ask him where they will be going, and suggest making a stop at the nearby bakery to pick up a fresh loaf of bread to go with dinner.

4. When my 12-year-old daughter and I visit the museum downtown, we have to cross a lot of busy unfamiliar streets, which causes me to…
a. I insist on grabbing her hand as we cross streets.  It is way too chaotic not to hold hands crossing the street in this new setting.
b. I talk to her about the new place we’re traveling to, and offer her my arm if she needs a guide in this unfamiliar setting.
c. I remind her to bring her cane, and talk about all the exciting new exhibits at the museum.

5.  My 16-year-old son wants to enroll in drivers education classes.  I know his vision is too limited for safe driving:
a. I tell him I am sorry, but driving is absolutely out of the question.
b. I allow him to enroll in the class to learn the rules of the road, and suggest he talks to the instructor about ways he can participate in the class.
c. I take him to visit the eye doctor to discuss the matter in detail.

Every good quiz should have a bonus question.  Here it is: Have you set boundaries and expectations for your child that mirror those of their sighted peers? I chose an open-ended bonus question rather than multiple choice to encourage you to take the time to examine your current beliefs about your child’s capabilities.

As I stated above, there is no “answer key” for this quiz.  There are all different types of parenting for different types of kids.  If you tended to answer “a” to these questions, you may need to work on more age appropriate responses.  If you chose “b” and “c” for most of your answers, you have an approach that tends to align with age appropriateness.

When I was growing up, my parents allowed Joy and me to have a lot of freedom.  They took measures to keep us safe, such as making sure we were riding our bikes with responsible friends around the neighborhood.  Yet they did not coddle us or prevent us from trying many of the activities our peers were participating in.

Now that I am a mom, I understand the strong instinct to protect children.  I also have come to realize that different parents have varying comfort levels when it comes to setting boundaries.  I can see how it could be tempting for parents of blind children to set extra limitations in order to protect their children.  But I think it’s important to take a step back and evaluate how these boundaries are affecting your child’s growth.  While trying to “protect” your child, you could be standing in the way of their creativity, ambitions, and independence.  By expanding your child’s ability to explore in age-appropriate ways, you are offering them opportunities to reach their highest potential.

Read more in our series, “Advice for Parenting Visually Impaired Children”.

Advice for Parenting Visually Impaired Children: Tip #5

In honor of Mother’s and Father’s Day, during the months of May and June, we’d like to give all the moms and dads of children with RP and other eye conditions a gift:  some free advice from 2 people who grew up with low vision.  

Each week, we will be featuring a different tip.  We would LOVE your feedback, comments, and any questions you might have.


 

Tip #5:  Talk About Blindness in Positive Ways in Everyday Conversation

Your child’s blindness doesn’t have to be the elephant in the room, even if your child struggles to talk about it.  I think it’s possible to help normalize a tough topic when you find ways to bring it into casual conversation.  While you don’t want your child’s eyes to be the thing you’re constantly talking about and obsessing over, you also don’t want it to be the thing you never bring up.

Our parents tell us they avoided bringing up our vision loss too much because they could tell it bothered us.  I think they were great at picking up on our cues and following our lead, and I’m grateful for that because I think we needed space and time to process it on our own to a certain extent.   I think we eventually came to a point, however, where we didn’t know how to process further on our own, which is why it’s also important for parents to take the initiative at times, even when it feels uncomfortable.

If you’re having trouble doing this naturally, it could be helpful to see a counselor as a family, even for just a session or two.  My parents took us to a counselor in 8th grade to talk about how we would handle our vision while on a month-long overseas trip that we were preparing to go on without them.  My twin sister, parents and I all sat down with a gentleman who was also visually impaired and talked with him for about an hour.  The conversation opened up a lot of dialogue, and I remember continuing to talk on the car ride home, telling my parents about embarrassing moments in PE class, things I had felt too ashamed to bring up before.  In hindsight, I think our entire family could have benefitted from more regular conversations about RP and blindness, and possibly more sessions with this counselor.  I remember the counselor talking about how he and his 11-year-old son took trains and buses together and how much more independent his pre-teen son was as a result of having a visually-impaired dad. I remember feeling comforted by this fact, knowing he was an independent dad who found ways to get around town with his son.

I recently came across an open letter to parents of partially-sighted children (link), written by the mother of a  partially-sighted son, who is now grown.  I absolutely loved reading this letter and felt like her approach to discussing her son’s vision was spot-on, even though it sounded like her son sometimes became frustrated with how matter-of-fact she treated his blindness.  What intrigues me most about her approach is that it started with her own beliefs about blindness and the capabilities of people who are blind.  It made me question my own beliefs, even down to my definition of blindness.

I highly recommend reading this letter and using it as a starting point for examining your own thoughts on blindness and some of the opinions and even emotions it brings up.  I think it’s easy to say “yes, blind people are just as capable of success as full sighted people.”, but when we really stop to think about blindness and the way it is portrayed in society via the media and public interaction, we may not be as confident in that statement as we thought.   Kids pick up on parents’ beliefs and feelings, stated or unstated.  Even when parents are not particularly conscious of their fear or discomfort surrounding blindness, children can sense it.

Being a mom myself now, I notice this with my own kids.  My 9-year-old has tended to approached the topic of my vision loss with hesitation and sadness, and I think it’s because that’s how I used to bring it up with her since she was very little, whereas my 5-year-old candidly asks questions about blind people and about how I am going to do certain tasks differently, in a very upbeat, matter-of-fact way, which I attribute to the only way she has ever heard me approach it. Her older sister is now following her lead.

I love bringing up stories about vibrant, successful blind people to my daughters, and I hope to keep an open dialogue with them, one that feels matter-of-fact and positive.  And I hope that parents of blind children will do the same, and that by empowering and equipping the next generation in small, matter-of-fact conversations, large shifts in society’s perceptions of blindness will take place.

I posted this question in a “parents of blind children” group, and I’d also like to hear from our readers:  How often do you and your child talk about blindness, and in what contexts?  Do your children seem comfortable discussing their vision loss, particularly if it’s a slow degeneration?  How much do you think your words influence their perspective on blindness?

Advice for Parenting Visually Impaired Children: Tip #4

In honor of Mother’s and Father’s Day, during the months of May and June, we’d like to give all the moms and dads of children with RP and other eye conditions a gift:  some free advice from 2 people who grew up with low vision.  

Each week, we will be featuring a different tip.  We would LOVE your feedback, comments, and any questions you might have.


 

Tip #4:  There’s No Such Thing As Over-Communication With Your Children’s Vision Itinerant

Growing up, my sister and I had a Vision Itinerant who was responsible for meeting with our teachers and parents to go over our IEPs and any necessary modifications. She came to meet with us monthly in elementary school and every so often in middle school and high school.  I always dreaded her visits, Continue reading

Advice for Parenting Visually Impaired Children: Tip #3

In honor of Mother’s and Father’s Day, during the months of May and June, we’d like to give all the moms and dads of children with RP and other eye conditions a gift:  some free advice from 2 people who grew up with low vision.  

Each week, we will be featuring a different tip.  We would LOVE your feedback, comments, and any questions you might have.


 

Tip #3: Provide Opportunities For Your Child To Play Sports

Sports may not be the first word that pops into your head when thinking of extra-curricular activities for a child with vision loss.  While some traditional childhood sports like baseball and soccer may not be options for children with low vision, that does not mean they want to sit on the sidelines. Continue reading