~ Meet my Guest Blogger Amy Bovaird, author of Mobility Matters ~
Fielding a Discussion about Mobility…
with Real Vision-impaired People
I took a deep breath and looked around me. It was as if I were seeing their faces through a couple of uneven layers of Vaseline ointment. But I could feel a solid hardwood table in front of me with my fingertips and I tapped it to reassure myself that I ‘had’ this. I knew my face was likely a blur to those around me as well. The participants were going through vocational rehabilitation, and, in most cases, that included orientation and mobility training. All had varying degrees of vision loss.
My book, Mobility Matters, had opened up the opportunity to open up a valuable dialog with them to gauge their interest and the direction of our talk.
“Okay, God. Lead me. I introduced myself then jumped in on our topic. “
Some of you are here because you’ve lost more vision and you need more mobility training. Others will be taking it for the first time. For those of you with experience, what were the top three obstacles you overcame in order to be successful with your cane?”
The group was silent. Then an older woman slapped the table and exclaimed, “Fear, fear and more fear!” She paused and a barrage of ideas followed. “I had to keep trying. It was scary but the end result was more independence.” She leaned forward. “Friends, keep thinking of what you will gain from the practice. If you really want, you can go anywhere. I am 58, overweight, losing my hearing, have no useable sight in my right eye and not much in my left.”
I nodded. “That fear is there on so many levels.”
Encouraged, she went on. “This isn’t during training but following up on my own. I don’t always want to be in the background. I want to live my life! So I decided to go to an amusement and water park. Took my cane and my one and two year-old grandsons. Scary? Yes! Worth it? Absolutely!” She let out a sigh. “I’m hoping to be able to catch them down the little water slide, take them on all water slides and enjoy summer. Crowds are a challenge but as you gain confidence by doing it, it’s amazing how the seas of people part.”
“That’s for sure!” I said.
She went on, breathless. “Be prepared for the unexpected. I fell a couple of times in my training. It hurt. I healed and kept trying—sometimes with tears. And that’s okay. That’s how we grow. It’s not the same and never will be. But mobility gives you a whole world to explore. Have fun and don’t give up”
I felt like clapping. “Bravo,” I said.
A man across the table clenched his hands. “Why are you here if you already know how to use a cane?”
The grandma didn’t take offense. “I recently lost more vision and need more training.”
“My biggest obstacle is mental. I don’t want to use a cane. I don’t mind being guided though. I can still see when the stop lights change. I still have a fair amount of vision left so I’m comfortable crossing streets…”
He reminded me of myself. It’s hard at that stage, with just enough loss to complicate things.
A woman near the end of the table cleared her throat. “Crossing streets. I always wanted to question my instructor, ‘Are there stop signs, stop lights, is it a two-way crossing or a one-way?’ She shuddered. “Malls, grocery stores. Anywhere crowded. Being trained with blindfolds was very scary.”
A slender young man turned to my direction. “Do you mean physical obstacles as when you are traveling along?”
“Sure, anything that stands out in your mind.”
He rubbed his chin and slowly said, “The top three obstacles would probably be navigating through huge fields or lawns where you don’t have a lot of feedback from the tap of your cane, really cluttered streets with narrow sidewalks—lamp poles, trash cans, parked bikes everywhere—”
I nodded encouragingly, “I heard you were in Nepal recently. Go on, John.”
“Really, the biggest obstacles were and are … it’s the questions. People asking me several times a day about my vision, how my going blind went down. It wears on a person. The cane has actually liberated me but it brings natural attention and even feelings of pity from others at times That said, for every instance of pity, there are thumbs up of encouragement.”
“Right,” I said. “Anyone else?”
“Stairs. Crowds are tough. Anxiety is raised a few notches in crowds for me,” a tall thin man, who spoke quietly, kept his eyes fixed on the table. I had to listen carefully to hear him.
“Water fountains. They muffle the noise and I can’t hear what I need to in order to know which direction to go.”
“Amy,” interjected a woman who looked to be in her forties and sat on the far end of the table, “I’m Debbie. What they’re saying echoes what I feel so much. For me, first obstacle: misplaced embarrassment. There’s another word. Self-consciousness probably best describes the feeling. Another obstacle is ‘coming out.’ Major hurdle. Had two dreaded lessons, actually. Think perseverance. That’s the word that got me through it.”
I thought that was a good place for me to jump in and start my talk.
I stood up and raised my voice. “Mobility Matters is about coming to terms with my vision loss after twenty-five years of denial. Like you, I can relate to having to face all these same obstacles. But the biggest and the hardest to overcome was this: picking up a cane meant I had to cross that gaping stretch from being sighted and independent to blind and dependent.
I didn’t understand that blindness was a continuum with many having some sight and not a scale with sighted on one side and blind on the other. That was a huge barrier for me. Then when I finally took that step, I felt like a ‘fake blind’ person because I still had sight. It took me a long time to internalize that my cane was helping others realize I had a vision problem and I didn’t have to wish away the sight I had out of ‘misplaced shame.’ And it took me awhile to learn that my cane brought independence. Plus, my mobility specialist was blind himself. One hundred percent. Trust was an issue for me.”
I knew I had their attention. “Yep, completely blind. Trusting him happened gradually. It seemed like God’s sense of humor to me—sending a blind man to teach me to get around. I had to get past silly prejudices I didn’t even know I had.”
I didn’t want to get off on another tangent so I quickly changed focus. “Like all of you, crowds threw me. One day in my training in the city, I found a block party going on and an enormous motorbike rally with 8,000 riders in my path. Yeah, what an adventure!”
“How did you do it?” John asked, his voice filled with a mixture of curiosity and awe.
Thank you, God, for opening this door. “There was a scripture from the Bible that helped me. It was from Psalms 23. ‘Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.’ So every time I took a step in my training, I imagined myself stepping out in faith and God protecting me.”
ANNOUNCEMENT:The Kindle version of Amy’s memoir is available today for .99. Grab your copy to find out how God worked in her life to move her forward in faith and insight.
The Kindle version of Amy’s memoir is available today for .99. Grab your copy to find out how God worked in her life to move her forward in faith and insight.
Amy Bovaird is an author, an inspirational speaker, and an educator. Although Amy suffers from a dual disability—progressive vision and hearing loss—she continues to enjoy running, hiking and traveling. She also volunteers with local and national animal rescue organizations. Amy blogs about the challenges she faces as she loses more vision. But more importantly, she shares the lessons God reveals to her through her difficulties. You can read about her experiences at amybovaird.com