Sacred Space Interview: Meditating on the Great Universe

After a long hiatus, I’m excited to rekindle my Sacred Space series with the thoughtful words of my friend and literary colleague, Sohrab Homi Fracis. Sohrab is a fiction writer currently living in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of Ticket to Minto: Stories of India and America and the timely new novel Go Home. He has visited my classes several times to read for my students and lead fantastic discussions on the power of culture and literature. In this interview, he discusses his inherited faith and his current spiritual beliefs.

Do you believe in a God, gods, or other spiritual forces? If so, what name(s) does your spiritual force have? Where does the name come from?

I was born into a Zoroastrian family in India and taught prayers in the ancient-Persian language Avestan to Ahura Mazda, the spirit of light / creator / God. But as an adult, while I respect my ancestry, I’m not religious, in a traditional sense. I don’t practice “blind faith.” I can only “believe in” what is established fact. In the words of the narrator of my story “All right, now, Cupid,” forthcoming in an anthology from Burrow Press: “I’m agnostic myself, happy to believe in the incredible yet credible universe.” That requires no “faith”: the universe (from the Latin universus: combined into one, whole) that spawned all of life quite evidently exists, in all its vast magnificence. There is much we factually know about it and much we don’t, with the former slowly but steadily making gains on the latter. Why invent something beyond that?

Sum up your faith in three words. Why did you choose these words?

The Zoroastrian prayers in Avestan do a good job of this: “Manashni, Gavashni, Kunashni.” That means “Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds.” That pretty much covers it, right? It’s also pretty much impossible to pull off all the time. Other than that, I’m good with it, pun intended.

My three words, on the other hand, would be “Nobody really knows.” And the more people who realize and/or acknowledge this around the world, instead of insisting on their particular religion’s fiction (I’m a fiction writer, so I recognize it when I see it), the less divided and more peaceful that world will be.

How do you practice your faith? What kinds of prayer, texts, service, or other rituals do you use?

Well, once I came to the somewhat obvious conclusion that there was no traditional God, I stopped praying for many years. And they were tough years in which I felt the absence all the more, because prayer and faith can be a comfort, of course. But I saw it as false comfort, and didn’t want that. So I toughed it out. When I finally realized that the entirely credible universe was “God” enough for me, I felt I could reconnect with it, in a sense pray to it again. This was my logic in a literary-studies manuscript called The Game Against Death that I’ve worked on, off and on, over the years: “One does not need blind faith to believe in the great universe—no wonder more and more people invoke it directly in their prayers. It is an evident, verifiable, omnipresent, magnificent, awe-inspiring ‘God,’ a constant and powerful presence in and influence on all our lives. It is even, in at least one sense (and possibly also at its primal core), conscious: its living creatures, to which it gave birth, are a conscious part of it. One should not instead insist on a hypothetical consciously creative and interventionist being to blindly believe in.” And/or pray to, I might add.

Describe a moment when you felt that your god was real, that your faith was making a difference in your life.

Once I began to feel reconnected with the universe at large, there was a huge feeling of relief that came with that, and a lasting one of being more at peace with life/existence.

Have you had any spiritual mentors or teachers? If so, describe their role in your life. How did they help you find your faith?

I found cumulative epiphanies over the years, often when reading insightful books such as The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins, and Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse. And those epiphanies consolidated themselves in my mind during more years spent reading and researching for The Game Against Death.

Where and when do you feel most in tune with your faith or spirituality?

Probably when finding some slight success meditating, which is when I can get beyond/behind my chattering mind and separated-out human consciousness/persona to catch serene glimmers of reassimilation into the larger universe.

What is one misconception that others have expressed about your faith? How would you correct it?

Well, if we’re talking about Zoroastrianism, then it’s the Western world’s label of it being a “dualistic” faith instead of (along with Judaism) one of the earliest monotheistic faiths in history, introducing to civilization the concepts of a supreme creator/God (Ahura Mazda, the spirit of light) who prevails over an evil antagonist/devil (Ahriman, the spirit of darkness), of a judgment day, and of Paradise, thus strongly influencing other monotheistic faiths and scriptures that came later, including Christianity.

If, however, we’re talking about my personal agnostic philosophy, it’s sometimes misconstrued to mean that I believe in at least the possibility of the traditional religious God. But, as you can see from my earlier answers, I have no belief in such a figure other than as an invention of humans. By “agnostic” I only mean that, as I said earlier, nobody fully knows what forces or powers or phenomena underlie/underpin our known universe. I certainly trust science more than I do religion, but even the best of science crosses over from verified fact to theoretical conjecture at some point along both the macro and micro scales of existence.

Assign some “spiritual homework” for our readers. What is one practice, prayer, or lesson you’d like to share?

Extended mass meditations conducted by the Transcendental Meditation folk in troubled areas have resulted in lowered violence/crime rates recorded officially over the period. That supports their belief that the more people there are around the world who practice meditation the more in tune and at peace the global population will be. So my assignment is twofold. Find 10-20 minutes a day, for a start, to seat yourself comfortably, close your eyes, still your mind to whatever extent you can, and find some inner quiet. Enjoy the release from stress and the peaceful feeling. Secondly, encourage others to try it for themselves.

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My interview with the Eyes On Success podcast!

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by Nancy and Peter Torpey from the Eyes On Success podcast. Eyes on Success interviews blind people from all over the world about their careers, passions, hobbies, and challenges. I had a blast doing my interview! I was excited to discuss teaching, writing, and publishing!

My interview was released in today’s episode. Listen here. You can also subscribe to Eyes on Success in iTunes.

October Interview: Spark, Startle, Enlighten!

Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen, age 53, is an  associate professor in the Department of English at Bowling Green State University (in Bowling Green, Ohio).  She teaches technical linguistics courses for people who wish to teach English to speakers of other languages.  She says it’s a marvelous job: “I sort of love it.”

She has a scattering of background hobbies such as bread baking, knitting, whittling, and reading good science fiction and nonfiction science books.  And she likes standing on beaches feeling simultaneously small and exalted.

But music is what takes up most of her free time and makes a good try at her non-free time as well.  She’s one of the Grande Royale Ükulelists of the Black Swamp, a strumming, picking, harmonizing, rock-and-rolling, song-writing, carrying-on quartet which is maybe the most fun she’s ever had; go to http://www.grubsmusic.com for all the happy details. Find her and her band on Facebook and iTunes!

How would you describe your vision or blindness? Is it congenital or has it developed recently?

I have been blind since birth.  I could perceive a little light and color as a small child, but lost all light perception more or less around age 12.  Although I have no external light perception whatsoever, what I perceive visually now — perhaps due to some ongoing random stimulation of my retina — is unpatterned brightness in a variety of colors which I can no longer accurately name but which I have learned to control to some extent.  This is sometimes very disorienting and sometimes moderately interesting.

Do you use a cane, guide dog, or other mobility aid to get around? Why have you chosen this aid?

I use a cane.  Always and only a cane.  Although I love dogs, I prefer to get into my own mischief.  I can also tolerate the foolish things sighted people say to cane travelers better than I could tolerate the foolish things they say to dog guide users.  The cane is so much a part of my identity that I sometimes find myself stopping when reading an action sequence in a book thinking: “Wait! If he’s running down the hall, and he’s got the alien artifact in one hand and his laser rifle in the other, how is he holding his cane?” Yeah … I know.

What is the most consistent challenge or frustration you experience with your blindness? How do you handle it?

To start, I’m going to sound like a very broken record here — or perhaps today we say a skipping CD — the most consistent frustrations I face related to blindness are the public’s bizarre, distorted ideas about blindness, and their perverse inability to notice, examine, and discard those ideas. They are fiercely ingrained, and anything that contradicts them is dismissed as an “exception to the rule” rather than evidence that the rule itself is faulty.

For example, I was appalled by the dependent blind character in Anthony Doerr’s All the Light we Cannot  See, but many of my sighted friends had no trouble with her passivity or her literal inability to put on her own shoes. What I read as destructive stereotypes went unnoticed by most of them.

If, to take another example, I talk to my students about prejudice against disabled people and negative stereotypes about blindness in particular, the majority regularly inform me happily that these no longer exist: “You have a good job,” they say, and that finishes the deal for them. I become silent. What am I supposed to say?

So, I suppose my problem is that the harmful stereotypes that keep 70 percent of blind folks unemployed … simply do not exist in the minds of sighted people. They are omnipresent and thus invisible.

How do I handle it? Increasingly, I write. I try to let the experiences which enrage or frighten or dismay me flow in and out through my fingers.  I feel like … I hope that … it helps. And, maybe, if I keep doing it, these little sparks born of frustration will fly out and startle, or enlighten, or bring hope … or set fires. Here, for example, is a YouTube video I recently made in response to the destructive yet perversely popular #HowEyeSeeIt campaign from the Foundation Fighting Blindness:

 

What resources have helped you to handle your blindness best, either in everyday matters or in moments of crisis?

There are, of course, my indispensable friends who hold space for me in the ordinary/extraordinary way that people can do for each other. (I hope that this is everybody’s answer to this question.) Beyond this, my very own front line defense against despair, rage, and exhaustion is dropping into wordless music. It’s planless: I don’t know if it’s the playing or the waiting to hear what will be played, but a space is cleared around me when I pick up an instrument to play and let go of whatever else I’m carrying. I can feel the day receding and the space opening, and afterward, I’m both more distant from, and more entirely a part of, whatever it was that set me off. It’s a connection that gives me courage and serenity, and inspires musings that are sometimes inexpressibly sacred and sometimes very satisfyingly profane. It is my power source.

What would you say is the most harmful or annoying belief that people have about blindness? How would you change this belief?

The belief about blindness that harms me most often is that blind people are viewed as basically useless in most situations. If there is a table to be moved, or something that needs retrieved from a high shelf, or even a long line to stand in, I am offered a chair while the work goes on around me … “Because it’s easier.” When I hear “because it’s easier”, I also hear exclusion from responsibility and isolation from the community.

And, horribly, part of me has gotten used to it. I’m so conditioned to things being inaccessible that I am not the first to jump when someone yells, “Who can get this?” If I’m standing at the side of a soccer field, and a ball rolls my way, I often stand unmoving, unwilling to risk diving for it, even though diving for it would be the fun thing to do. And I know why. I grew up in the same culture as everyone else, absorbing spoken and unspoken information about race, gender, and ability along with my language and my style of dress. These beliefs are everywhere, and I know that my own little acts of education or compassion or assertiveness are not going to sweep them all away. But I’m still hopeful; as Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” So, that’s what I do: I spend my days birdwatching and tending my tresses.

What is a book that you could read over and over again? Why do you feel this way about it?

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. What can I say about this book? The blurb pulled me in: “Puerto Rican Jesuit linguist in space”. For real. Who would not love that?But the bit that fixes the attention is not the well-wrought story or the lovely prose; it’s a story about people who leap guts-first into life, struggling together with humor, compassion, grace, and dignity to do the right thing, and (quasi-spoiler alert!) when they fail, reassembling with courage and humility.  Ms. Russell asks the big questions, and the answers — when there are answers — are complex and beautiful. Rereading this book restores my faith that people are good, smart, and will work toward justice and peace … once they understand what that is.

What is one dream you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?

The next ten years? I’m still sort of figuring out Saturday.

I would like to become a more precise and effective voice in the ongoing struggle for equality for disabled people, and in case that sounds too pretentious, I would also very very much like to become a more expressive and powerful musician and make more and better music. I would like to continue to simplify my life so that I can concentrate my attention on the things I can do that might make a difference. That, and please let me go back to Hawaii again where I can practice being small and exalted for several uninterrupted days!

What topics do sighted (or blind) interviewers usually ask you about? What topics would you prefer to discuss?

If you had asked me about interview questions when I was 25, I would have said that journalists are incapable of detecting any kind of complex human existence beneath the dazzling light that reflects off a white cane. Everything I did had to be about blindness. Now, though, I seem to have emerged into new cultural territory. The media feeds on young disabled people who they can present as inspiring or old disabled people who are either heroic or poignant. In the middle, blindness, at least, is less interesting. I stopped being a prototype around 30, I think: middle-aged blind women aren’t as useful for inspiration porn, and my children are old enough now that nobody thinks to ask me how I raised them. So, in many ways, I am freer now than I have ever been before to be a linguist, musician, or anything else I want to be … and maybe because of this freedom, I am now actually ready and willing to talk about blindness. However, it is often clearly communicated to me that what I want to say about blindness is not nearly as welcome as the things they want to ask about blindness. But I’m not a young woman just starting to sort through these things any more; now, I’m a much older and stronger woman … with a power source, and an increasing desire to swat birds out of the sky.

 

October Interview: Faith in a Life After Loss

April Ogden, age 45, is a full-time manager with the Florida Department of Education in Northeast Florida. She enjoys reading and traveling. You can learn more about her on her LinkedIn page.

How would you describe your vision or blindness? Is it congenital or has it developed recently?

I was diagnosed with Glaucoma during December of 1989,shortly after graduating from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, a performing arts high school, in June of 1989. Previously, before December of 1989, I had not experienced such significant vision loss. Over the years, and more specifically, after the birth of my two children, my vision slowly began to decline. My depth perception began to fade, and later I experienced a severe decline in the loss of my central vision.

What was once seen with my eyes as thick black bold print on a sheet of paper, over time became a faded thin black line, which eventually became an all-white sheet of paper. No matter the number of characters on a page demanding my attention, my vision only allows me an opportunity to see a blank sheet of paper, at best on a good day. My vision fluctuates from day to day, and some days, I’m unable to even see the sheet of paper at all.

Do you use a cane, guide dog, or other mobility aid to get around? Why have you chosen this aid?

I use both a white cane and sighted guide in order to assist me with my orientation and mobility needs. I use the white cane to travel independently and safely in familiar areas.  The sighted guide is used when I am in an unfamiliar area.

What is the most consistent challenge or frustration you experience with your blindness? How do you handle it?

I have certainly experienced my fair share of challenges. I would have to say the challenge that bothers me the most is a challenge I experience consistently in professional settings.

I am a very independent individual. In a professional setting, I require very little assistance. I call this level of independence my coat of colors. This phrase refers to a person’s inability to understand another person’s knowledge, skills, talents, and abilities, without focus on the vision limitations.

The challenge for me in the past was that I became aware that many sighted persons had low expectations of those who are blind or visually impaired. The majority of the individuals without vision limitations do not believe in this notion; however, there are enough individuals who think like this to perpetuate the lack of advancement of well qualified individuals who are able to contribute to a conversation, project, the progress of an agency, and so much more.

By communicating, demonstrating, and educating individuals more about me and the strengths that I possess and/or the areas in which I may want assistance, I’ve been able to work more closely to help others understand that people with unique abilities are just as deserving of an opportunity to be successful and live meaningful lives as their non-unique ability counterparts.

What resources have helped you to handle your blindness best, either in everyday matters or in moments of crisis?

I have found that having a great support system is key. You have to balance the use of your support system. Relying too much on your support system enables you to be more dependent and less independent. Your support system should be aware of the resources to assist you in being more independent. For example, a family member could contact the local State agency for the visually impaired or blind to learn more about resources to help an individual to become independent. Moreover, a member of your support team may contact a local Community Rehabilitation Program, to learn about resources for individuals with vision loss. There are so many resources available to educate families, support teams, and most importantly, the individual living with the vision loss.

As your independence grows, you should expect the structure of your support system to change. What I described above, is a support system for someone new to vision loss or who has experienced a decline in vision.

My husband, children, and family members have all been an excellent support system for me.

What would you say is the most harmful or annoying belief that people have about blindness?  How would you change this belief?

The most harmful belief that people have about blindness is that people who are blind are satisfied with mediocracy. We are not, and we want more than just an opportunity, but we want an opportunity to exceed the expectations of others.

What is a book that you could read over and over again? Why do you feel this way about it?

The Bible is a book that I could read over and over again. Throughout the pages, countless examples of changing one’s prospective is provided to the reader. Examples of how to recognize and face a challenge are displayed all throughout the Bible. The ability to face a challenge and overcome that challenge is so important to me.

What book, person, or perspective makes you feel most centered?

For me, it is my Bible. My faith in God, has been a part of who I am before my sight loss as well as after my sight loss. It has not only encouraged me, but it’s allowed me the chance to encourage others.

What is one dream you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?

The many dreams that I will accomplish in the next 10 years is that I will work in a Senior Leadership role within the federal or state government. My work experience and education supports this goal. In this role, I will be able to create effective policies, procedures, and standards that will promote the advancement of individuals with cross disabilities. I will be able to be in a position where I’m evaluating overall agency programs and services. Most of all, I want to have a significant positive impact on the lives of others who are faced with what I’ve overcome

What topics do sighted (or blind) interviewers usually ask you about?

Usually the questions are limited to rehabilitation technology, and the discussion of how did I lose my vision. Rarely do I have an opportunity to discuss life after vision loss. It does exist!

What topics would you prefer to discuss?

I was satisfied with the list of questions presented. It provided me with an opportunity to express myself.

October Interview: Understanding Begins in Presence

Jennifer Pearlstein, age 26, is a graduate student in Clinical Psychology at University of California -Berkeley. Outside her professional life, she enjoys reading, running, and spending time with her dog. She has recently started a blog on issues related to vulnerability and identity.

How would you describe your vision or blindness? Is it congenital or has it developed recently?

I describe myself as having low vision. I was diagnosed with a form of early-onset macular degeneration at age 17. My vision progressed passed the threshold of legal blindness within a couple years. My central vision is very poor – I see a gray fuzzy blur when I look directly at something. However, I have functional peripheral vision.

Do you use a cane, guide dog, or other mobility aid to get around? Why have you chosen this aid?

I recently received orientation and mobility training and have since begun using a cane. I generally use an ID cane at times when my vision is weak, such as at night or when the glare from the sun is particularly bad. I also gravitate to using my cane when traveling in unfamiliar places, shopping alone, and various other contexts in which it helps me for those around me to be aware of my low vision. My dog is a trained service dog (not a guide dog), performing tasks centered on helping me navigate crowded spaces, perceive depth, and regulate my low-vision related anxiety. Although I still use him in lieu of a cane when traveling and hiking, I do not use him daily anymore; primarily because he required guidance and attention that distracted me from my environment.

What resources have helped you to handle your blindness best, either in everyday matters or in moments of crisis?

I started working with the Department of Rehabilitation about a year ago, and they have been instrumental in introducing me to resources. Beyond technology, Braille, and orientation and mobility, working with the DoR has enabled me to connect with others experiencing low vision and blindness. The practical aides of technology – many of which I truly could not succeed professionally without – and the connection to others in the community makes the DoR a phenomenal resource.

What would you say is the most harmful or annoying belief that people have about blindness?  How would you change this belief?

I see the most harmful and annoying belief as having two parts: first, that people experiencing blindness or low vision are defective and second, that overcoming the limitations imposed by blindness is incomprehensible and inspirational. The ramifications of these beliefs range from outwardly and obviously offensive (i.e. strangers making derogatory comments) to the subtle and unintentional (i.e. family, colleagues, and friends referring to my way of completing tasks as unfathomable and remarkable). I realize the intention is generally compassionate, and I acknowledge how challenging it is to strike a respectful balance between acknowledging how a disability impacts individual identity while simultaneously not defining an individual by the presence of a disability. Nonetheless, this belief stigmatizes the blind as being different from “normal.” Perceiving the way the blind navigate the world as incomprehensible further denotes an “us” – the sighted, and a “them” – the blind.

I think correcting this belief involves a shift towards showing blindness as part of normal experience for millions of people. The media and popular culture generally (1) ignore people with disabilities, (2) portray people with disabilities as decrepit and (3) depict disability as an experience foreign and impossible to imagine. Publicly revealing the blind are just people. We are friends, parents, professionals, athletes, and artists. As is the case with any marginalized group, the blind are underrepresented politically, culturally, and in the work force. Until we are seen, we will continue to be misunderstood.

What is a book that you could read over and over again? Why do you feel this way about it

I am generally most attracted to nonfiction, especially memoirs. However, I am also a fervent Harry Potter fan. When stressed by life, I gravitate to rereading the series. I grew up reading these books, and feel nostalgic when reading them. I cherish the characters, disappear in the magical wizarding world, and deliberate on the broader implications of the themes. I appreciate the series both for its entertainment value and for the important messages embedded throughout.

What is one dream you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?

I aim to graduate with my PhD!

What book, person, or perspective makes you feel most centered?

I feel centered by mindfulness. I find reading, practicing, or learning more about self-compassion, non-judgment, and focus on the present grounding.

I am most attracted to these themes in the context of individual authenticity One example that comes to mind is Kay R. Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness. Dr. Jamison powerfully reveals her personal experience with bipolar I disorder while simultaneously sharing her professional expertise as a clinical psychologist. I admire her for taking the chance to be exceptionally vulnerable. I get the privilege of revisiting this gem often through my research and clinical work and every time I reread this, I gain a more profound understanding of the science and phenomenology of bipolar disorder. Works like these that weave together informative content and portray a unique facet of human experience are particularly striking to me.

October Interview: Scholar, Teacher, and Guide

Eric Harvey, age 34, is a Ph.D. candidate at Brandeis University in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. He studies the texts, religions, and cultures of ancient Israel, Syria, and Mesopotamia (what is now Iraq). He is writing his dissertation on a group of biblical Psalms which reused pieces of older texts. He lives with his wife Kristin, 2-year-old daughter Jane, and dog Faye in the San Francisco Bay area. For hobbies, he hangs out with Kristin and Jane, reads a lot, listens to too many podcasts, and enjoys strength training and yoga. Find him on Twitter and at his blog.

How would you describe your vision or blindness? Is it congenital or has it developed recently?

Both. I have always had low vision, but in the past four years it has begun to deteriorate in earnest. I have a diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa, but it is unusual in that I am losing central vision first.

Do you use a cane, guide dog, or other mobility aid to get around? Why have you chosen this aid?

Our dog is a good dog, but she’s not a guide dog. In fact, she’s kind of an anti-guide dog, and she can get me into trouble when I try to walk her. So I have a cane. I don’t use it all the time, but more and more often I feel safer with it than without. I always use it now when I venture far from home or take BART.

What is the most consistent challenge or frustration you experience with your blindness? How do you handle it?

The unpredictability. I have a degenerative retinal disease, and my vision varies wildly from day to day, even hour to hour. Some days I can see and do certain things just fine, and the next I can’t. Also having to retool every habit and workflow that I have ever learned.

What resources have helped you to handle your blindness best, either in everyday matters or in moments of crisis?

Oh wow—so many. My family and friends first and foremost. My wife is a huge support and cheerleader. Knowing my daughter relies on me to show up and care for her every day keeps me centered and focused on living life day to day. The rest of my family has also been incredibly helpful, but I don’t want this to turn into an Oscar speech!
Also, books. I’ve been binge-reading blind-lit for the past few months. I love to read memoirs by blind people who refuse to be held back by their blindness.

What would you say is the most harmful or annoying belief that people have about blindness? How would you change this belief?

I think a lot of people feel there’s no right way to talk to us, like if they open their mouths at all their foot will inevitably find its way in. It’s true that people say a lot of dumb stuff to blind people. Blindness activists in the last century rightly fought against the open mockery and condescension with which blind people were often treated. Now in the post-ADA world, the political and social climate is such that people don’t voice those noxious opinions as much (even though some still hold them). Instead, people tend to tell us how inspiring we are. But disabled folks have pointed out (again, rightly) how hard those comments are to hear over and over, how they objectify us and betray the speaker’s diminutive expectations for us. So now I think sensitive, thoughtful people are afraid to say anything at all, lest it cause offense, and this is not really a solution. It prevents dialogue and understanding, and leads to a greater sense of isolation among the blind.

I’m not sure how to solve this problem on a societal level, but for myself I take it as a challenge to be a teacher and a guide to sighted people. Those of us who are blind know much more than the sighted about blindness—what it is, what it isn’t, and what it means to live with it. We have thought through all of these things because we have been forced to. Most sighted people know no blind people, and meeting us prompts them to think about issues of blindness often for the very first time. Whenever anyone starts thinking about any topic for the first time, their thoughts are bound to be simplistic and naïve. They ask us the natural first questions, the simple questions that we asked and answered for ourselves long ago.

When I hear those questions, I try to remember that this is what’s going on, and that this is a chance for me to teach someone about something new. I try to have an answer ready to questions that I hear more than once—not a snarky witticism that shuts the conversation down, but an answer that invites them to rethink their assumptions. It’s not easy, because a lot of these questions poke at our exposed nerves. It requires a kind of strength and self-awareness from us that the people we engage with often do not demonstrate. But I think the effort is worth it, if it leads to more engagement and connection between the blind and sighted worlds.

What is a book that you could read over and over again? Why do you feel this way about it?

I seldom reread books, because that’s time I could spend reading a whole new book. I’m a novelty junky. I do have the strange urge to reread a book right now, though, so I’ll mention that one: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. It is a beautiful, nuanced depiction of family, generational strife, American religion, and small town life that unfolds in a series of letters from a very old Midwestern pastor to his young son. It ends up being about something unexpected that reframes the whole work in a surprising and poignant way.

What book, person, or perspective makes you feel most centered?

Honestly, I don’t know how to answer this one. I feel centered with my wife and daughter, or when I’m reading and engaging with new perspectives or new information, or when I’m alone and chewing on ideas from things I’ve read or heard, or when I’m doing yoga, or… I guess a lot of things make me feel centered. I feel decentered when I’m overwhelmed or pulled on from too many different directions.

What is one dream you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?

I want to finish my Ph.D. and get a job teaching somewhere.

What topics do sighted (or blind) interviewers usually ask you about?

No clue. This is my first one!

What topics would you prefer to discuss?

I’m happy to discuss anything: my field, adapting to blindness, fatherhood (I’m the primary caregiver for my 2-year-old daughter), hobbies, the history of language, etc.

October Interview: Magic, Swimming, and Social Acceptance

Alan Brint, age 19, is a swimmer at Beloit College in Beloit, WI. He loves to read and watch sports. He describes his vision as light perception from Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis (LCA). He travels with a white cane. You can find him on Facebook as Alan Brint.

What is the most consistent challenge or frustration you experience with your blindness? How do you handle it?

Socially it can be hard to fit in sometimes. But even then I am not doing poorly in it. Sometimes I do not know what is going on when, but I almost always eventually figure it out someway, although it is not always a consistent way. I have to ask sometimes, which can be a bit embarrassing, but such is life.

What resources have helped you to handle your blindness best, either in everyday matters or in moments of crisis?

I tend not to use my blindness as a crutch ever—well except in a car, although my brother decided even that was an unacceptable place to call it a crutch when I was 13. Don’t worry, it was just a parking lot where he put me behind the wheel, and my parents had enough brains to almost take away his license. But now that he is 23 and I am 19, we have brains and we don’t do that, but I guess you can say that I go to my brother as my way of living “sighted.” But honestly, I have a good friend, Peter, who I go to with questions about blindness related stuff. Also, you would be surprised how receptive friends can be. It is more than you would think, even if they are not blind themselves.

What would you say is the most harmful or annoying belief that people have about blindness?  How would you change this belief?

It is extremely shocking how dumb people can be sometimes. People think we cannot get around physically. We have two legs that function just as well as most pairs of legs. We can do absolutely anything anybody else can do with our legs, just not necessarily in the same way as everyone else. People are always shocked out of their minds when they hear me say that, but unfortunately that is a good thing and I look for those reactions in people sometimes, it makes me feel really good.

What is a book that you could read over and over again? Why do you feel this way about it?

Harry Potter. I am rereading the books again. It is just such a universe, and I get immersed in it all the time. It is great. Who knows, the Foundation Fighting Blindness may not be needed anymore if J.K. Rowling can come up with a spell that will give full sight back to us? If you can think of it, please charge me in dollars for the wand, I do not have galleons, sickles or knuts in my pockets. I guess their hard work is for nothing…

What book, person, or perspective makes you feel most centered?

I love it when people believe that people can always do everything, just not necessarily the same way. This is the perspective that many of my friends have, and it makes me feel the best about myself.

What is one dream you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?

I want to swim across the English Channel. I am not sure if any people have done it without sight, so it would be very cool. Plus, a challenge in the water is where I am most like me.

What topics do sighted (or blind) interviewers usually ask you about?

I typically am asked about swimming in interviews honestly. This is the time where I got interviewed the most. They ask me how I do it differently than most people, and the answer is simple and consistent with what I have said before: not that different. I don’t need to see the wall when I get used to a 25 yard pool.

What topics would you prefer to discuss?

I can talk about anything with any intelligent people. As long as your question doesn’t ask about my physical mobility, I am all in for anything!

Sacred Space Interview: Power in the Word

Melissa, age 56, is a retired network engineer, educator, and computer programmer from Central Florida. Her passions include photography, dogs, and reading. Today she shares her reverence for the God’s Word and for our words.

Do you believe in a God, gods, or other spiritual forces? If so, what name(s) does your spiritual force have? Where does the name come from?

I believe in the one God as described in the Bible. I am currently reading the Amplified Bible but enjoy reading different versions.

How do you practice your faith? What kinds of prayer, texts, service, or other rituals do you use?

I believe daily bible reading is important. In just the same way we must feed our bodies we must also feed our souls. Spending time each day with Jesus (who is described in John 1:1 as The Word) is central in maintaining (soul) peace and happiness.

I strongly believe that the words we speak are important. God created the world with his words: “And God said,  “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3, English Standard Version). And since we are all created in God’s image it follows that the words we speak are also powerful, not only in our own realm but in the spiritual realm. It breaks my heart to hear someone say how stupid they feel they are or how they never have any luck.

I feel I am best described as non-denominational but really I embrace all denominations as avenues to aid different types of people in embracing God. When I was very young my family attended a Presbyterian church but after my parents divorced we stopped attending church. I have always been an avid reader and at the age of fourteen I was given a copy of The Living Bible.  I read it cover to cover. To this day I mispronounce many of the place/people names because I was self taught.

Describe a moment when you knew that this faith was right for you.

I married a man who is a cradle Catholic. He was in the service when we were married, we had a civil ceremony so any faith questions/problems were delayed until we had our first child seven years later. At first we tried attending both the Catholic and Presbyterian churches. Interestingly enough the thing I remember most about that time is that the Presbyterian church was vigorously fundraising to restore their pipe organ at a cost of $100,000 while the Catholic church wanted $1200 for tables for their preschool. At the time the Catholic church was led by an Irish priest whose ideas and values seemed to most closely match my own. I have a story about how we finally chose a faith home for our two sons. (Cue those who know me to roll their eyes and sigh in a long suffering fashion.)

When our oldest son was old enough for kindergarten I began to tour the local private schools in an effort to be fully informed about all options. One day my son and I were recycling newspaper at one of those drop off dumpsters with sliding doors on each side located in the parking lot of the Catholic school. My son looked over at the building and asked if we were going to visit that school. I remember dubiously looking at the building myself while recalling my husband’s stories of ruler wielding, wrist slapping nuns. A woman who had been removing newspapers from the other side of the dumpster while we were putting them in (something I found slightly odd) quickly offered to take us on a tour. The look I gave her must have been even more dubious than the one I gave the building because she laughed and introduced herself as the kindergarten teacher. We did take her up on her offer and were thoroughly impressed with the school and it’s loving Christian staff and atmosphere. Turns out the Irish priest I mentioned earlier was very accepting of non-catholic students and teachers at his school. The only problem (there’s always a problem) was that there was a long wait list for the school. Something inside me made me insist on adding our son’s name to the list even though we were told our son’s chances of actually attending were very small. I went home that night and prayed, I promised that if God would let my son attend that school then I would raise my boys in the Catholic Church. The next day we got a call from the school telling us they had decided to start a second kindergarten section and there was a spot for our son if we wanted it. My sons were raised in the Catholic church and attended a wonderful school. They had a thorough faith and bible education and are good men. What more could a mother want?

In review I don’t believe I have really answered the original question but as my faith is ever evolving then that might not be possible anyway.

Describe a moment when you felt that your God was real, that your faith was making a difference in your life.

I was about seven years old when my parents divorced (it was the 60’s and divorce took a lot longer back then). I remember lying in my bed one late afternoon, a sunbeam streamed through the window dancing with dust flecks, the light was that soft gold of late summer. I was crying, desperately afraid of living without a father and felt so alone. This next part is hard to adequately describe but I heard someone call my name. Not “Melissa” but my real name, the name only our own heart knows. I knew, I knew right away that I was not alone, that God had called my name and he would be my Father. Volumes had been spoken in the breath of a second. I immediately stopped crying and rose from the bed no longer afraid. I am always grateful that God chose me, not because of anything I did or who I was but because He loves me.

Have you had any spiritual mentors or teachers? If so, describe their role in your life. How did they help you find your faith?

There have been many people in my life whom I have admired, who have some quality that I find inspiring. Almost everyone has something special about them if we take the time to look closely enough. Strangely enough I find that dogs are fantastic examples of faith. They love unconditionally. They forgive completely. We can push away their nose in our preoccupation with things “more important”  but they keep no record of our wrongs. Dogs offer affirmation in their exuberant greetings. Dogs have a purpose, my setter is driven to hunt, the guide dog puppy I raised was born to guide. We people often behave as if we were placed on this earth for our own entertainment but we also have a purpose in this life. Dogs live in the present, they don’t regret the past or fear the future, they never feel sorry for themselves but carry on in whatever circumstances are present.  I would love to be the person my dog thinks I am. I would love to be as good a person as my dog is.

Where and when do you feel most in tune with your faith or spirituality?

Out in nature. God created it all! The vast expanse of the universe was created by the same God who loves you, who knows the number of hairs on your head.

Assign some “spiritual homework” for our readers. What is one practice, prayer, or lesson you’d like to share?

Be kind. Our words have power, more power than we know. We can build someone up or tear them down with just a few words. All of us have a memory of someone who devastated us with just a few words, how crushing to think we may have been that person to someone else.

October Interview: Love, Work, Play, and Pray Like Everybody Else

Welcome to October, and welcome to Blindness Awareness Month! On the Blink is celebrating blindness with a second round of October Interviews. In the coming days, you’ll hear from blind friends and colleagues as they describe their passions, their challenges, and their perspectives on disability.

Our first October conversation features Katherine Schneider, Ph.D., a retired clinical psychologist living in Eau Claire, WI with her ninth Seeing Eye dog. Katherine has published a memoir To the Left of Inspiration: Adventures in Living with Disabilities, a children’s book Your Treasure Hunt: Disabilities and Finding Your Gold, and a book for seniors, half of whom will develop disabilities, Occupying Aging: Delights, Disabilities and Daily Life. She originated the Schneider Family Book Awards for children’s books with disability content through the American Library Association and an award for superior journalism about disability issues through the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

Locally, she started the Access Eau Claire fund through the Eau Claire Community Foundation to help non-profit organizations work toward full inclusion of people with disabilities. She’s a passionate advocate for access for all to the good things of life. Subscribe to her blog for details.

What is the most consistent challenge or frustration you experience with your blindness? How do you handle it? 

I’d say information access is the biggest problem. I handle it by trying to learn and use every technology possible, asking early and often for what I need and advocating for better access to information whenever and wherever I can.

What resources have helped you to handle your blindness best, either in everyday matters or in moments of crisis?

Information from many sources about how others have dealt with a similar problem is helpful as are good friends who listen. When it’s a crisis, prayer and friends who just show up help the most.

What would you say is the most harmful or annoying belief that people have about blindness?  How would you change this belief?

I think the most harmful belief is that we are so different from them that they stay away. Yes I may do some things differently, but I want to love, work, play and pray like everybody else. I reach out by getting involved in community activities and I do disability education in schools, university classes or wherever I can find an audience.

What is a book that you could read over and over again? Why do you feel this way about it?

I read very few books over and over; so many books, so little time. If I had to name one, it would be the Psalms from the Bible.

What book, person, or perspective makes you feel most centered?

I’m a backrow liberal Catholic Christian with ecumenical leanings.

What is one dream you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?

I’d like to read the Bible from cover to cover, but am only in Leviticus after several gallant efforts. I’d also like to become a member of the 50 year club at Seeing Eye; I’ve now had Seeing Eye dogs for 43 years.

What topics do sighted (or blind) interviewers usually ask you about?

They usually ask about the guide dog, the technology, is access getting better and what’s your next book going to be about.

What topics would you prefer to discuss?

I’d also like to discuss what other people can do to make access to the good things of life better for those with various disabilities.

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Keep celebrating Disability Awareness with On the Blink! My call for interviewees has been widely shared and answered, so we’ve got more fascinating perspectives on the way!

Poetry as Activism, The Rhetoric of Empathy, and The Breaking of Beliefs: My interview with Primal School

I am honored to be featured on Hannah Lee Jones’s fabulous poetry blog, Primal School. Her blog is designed as a place to discuss poetry outside the academy, to go back to basics and understand what makes a poem tick. In this interview, she asked me to describe my motivation and process for “A Phenomenology of Blindness,” which was published by Rogue Agent this summer.

About the interview, Hannah says:

[Emily K. Michael’s] poem ‘A Phenomenology of Blindness’ is a lesson not just in poetic craft but also how to talk about disability: ‘There’s a sense with the average non-disabled person that we should try to minimize or hide our disabilities — as if their discomfort is our discomfort. That’s another reason I write as a blind poet; I want people to know that I’m bringing blindness forward. I’m not ashamed. It’s a part of who I am. It’s something that belongs in poetry — not as a novelty but as a reality.’ Read, learn, and if so moved, please share widely — Emily’s work is vital.

Read the full interview here.

Sacred Space Interview: God Is the Beauty in All Things

Kathy, age 59, is a retired radiologic technologist from Jacksonville, FL. She loves reading, cooking, gardening, doing crafts of all kinds, and caring for her family. Today she is speaking with On the Blink about her Catholic faith.

Do you believe in a God, gods, or other spiritual forces? If so, what name(s) does your spiritual force have? Where does the name come from?

Yes, I strongly believe in God the Father, Jesus God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
These names have always been a part of my life since I am a cradle Roman Catholic.
I come from a long family history of Catholics.

Sum up your faith in three words. Why did you choose these words?

Love God always and put Him first in all things. Keep the holy commandments.

How do you practice your faith? What kinds of prayer, texts, service, or other rituals do you use?

Roman Catholicism is a religion of sacred rituals, sacraments and time honored traditions. I keep the holy commandments, I keep the laws of my faith, honor holy days with special services and fasting.  I attend Mass, pray daily and pray the rosary. I read Scripture from the New American Bible.

Describe a moment when you knew that this faith was right for you.

My faith is how I was raised and I never thought to question if it was right for me. I will always be Roman Catholic. It’s a deep part of my being. It fulfills me in a way that is indescribable and brings comfort to my soul.

Describe a moment when you felt that God was real, that your faith was making a difference in your life.

My God has always been real to me. I feel His presence in my everyday life and especially during dark times. He is my joy during happy times. During life crises when I needed to make difficult decisions, my prayers were answered. These answers were defining moments for me personally.

Have you had any spiritual mentors or teachers? If so, describe their role in your life. How did they help you find your faith?

I have found support and guidance in the elders of our family. Those whose faith was so much stronger. They were my spiritual guides. I married a man of the same faith and all of his family were Catholic. Two relatives were priests so this Catholic environment has been very real and supportive from day one.

Where and when do you feel most in tune with your faith or spirituality?

God is everywhere—in the beauty of children, nature and all things. Celebrating mass, receiving the Eucharist (the body of Christ) often. Holy days such as Easter and Christmas is a very intensely spiritual time for me. Easter is the foundation upon which our faith is built.

What is one misconception that others have expressed about your faith? How would you correct it?

A common misconception is our love and honor for the Blessed Mother, Mary mother of Jesus. We do not worship Mary but implore for her intercession. As a son we believe that Jesus would do everything His mother asks. Another confusion is the many statues we choose to have in our churches and homes. Catholics are not idol worshipers, but these symbols remind us of holy figures. We need not ask for intercession in prayer, but it can be part of our faith life.

Assign some “spiritual homework” for our readers. What is one practice, prayer, or lesson you’d like to share?

Seek and examine to find a truth for yourself and a place or way of peace, love and worship. Respect all life from conception to the natural end. including yours. Be happy with your life and know each life is a worthy gift. Be thankful every day.

Sacred Space Interview: Live By Doing

Welcome to the first of my Sacred Space Interviews! Today, I’m honored to present my conversation with Elaine.

Elaine, age 65, is a retired teacher living in Jacksonville, FL. She describes herself as a lifelong learner with a passion for meditation and travel. She speaks in today’s interview about the beliefs and practices of her Jewish faith.

Do you believe in a spiritual force or forces? If so, what name(s) does your spiritual force have? Where does the name come from?

I believe in one G-d as my spiritual force.  G-d’s name should never be used in vein so one speaks of G-d with words such as:  Adonai (“My Lords”),  HaShem, and many other words. Adon (singular) is found in the Tanakh, which has the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings.

Sum up your faith in three words. Why did you choose these words?

“Live by doing.” Judaism focuses on one’s actions, one’s belief in following G-d’s laws in their daily life.

How do you practice your faith? What kinds of prayer, texts, service, or other rituals do you use?


Judaism is deeply grounded by rituals and religious observances. These traditions found in Judaism are intertwined in the framework of the commandments as well as the rabbinical laws and traditions. The Jewish religion recognizes significant occasions in a person’s life.  Specific rituals use specific prayers and traditions to recognize these occasions such as birth, bar/bat mitzvah, marriage, death.

Describe a moment when you knew that this faith was right for you.

I was brought up in a Jewish home and knew no other faith.  When experiencing all the traditional rituals throughout my life, attending services in a Conservative Synagogue and attending Religious School, it became my way of life.

Describe a moment when you felt that G-d was real, that your faith was making a difference in your life.

 
I feel comfort knowing that when I am in a difficult situation or in a good place, I am able to believe G-d is always with me.

Have you had any spiritual mentors or teachers? If so, describe their role in your life. How did they help you find your faith?

 
The Rabbis from my many congregations that I have been affiliated with have been my spiritual teachers.  I enjoy learning each of their philosophies and their beliefs on Judaism. My Judaism is deep rooted, but I do believe I can expand my knowledge of the faith.

Where and when do you feel most in tune with your faith or spirituality?

 

At home, in synagogue, around my family celebrating Jewish rituals and traditions

What is one misconception that others have expressed about your faith?  How would you correct it?

Many people do not understand why the Jewish people do not believe in Jesus.  One needs to explain that we do believe Jesus was the son of G-d but believe G-d is our spiritual force.

Assign some “spiritual homework” for our readers.

Reflect upon who you are, who you could be and who you should be. How are you living up to the image of who you could be by your actions.

What is one practice, prayer, or lesson you’d like to share?

Think about your family, work, love life, social life, community, spiritual and religious life and make a list of the ways you are blessed.

* * *

I am still seeking participants for this series. If you would like to discuss your spiritual practice, please contact me here.

October Interviews: Elaine from Pennsylvania

Our next interviewee is Elaine Mara, age 28. She lives in Pennsylvania and works with disabled individuals at the high school level, preparing them for the transition to college or work. She enjoys public speaking, disability awareness, guide dog lifestyle awareness,  creating and delivering dynamic presentations, and composing music for piano.

How would you describe your vision loss? Is it congenital or has it developed recently?

Without getting too technical, here’s the simplest way to understand it: I was born with
underdeveloped optic nerves and a host of other diagnoses. Growing up, my vision was pretty stable, though I needed large print to read and I tripped over my own two feet all the time. As an adult, I had noticed that my periphery on my right side was closing in and so began four long years of tests, two brain surgeries, and many follow-ups. Today, I have 20/50 vision in my left eye; 20/70 vision in my right eye; 20/50 vision with both eyes open (all on a good day) but I have a visual field of around 10 degrees in my right eye and somewhere around 20 degrees in my left eye. I have nystagmus, an eye movement disorder, that makes focusing very difficult but I’ve worked hard over the years to learn to live with all of this!

Do you use a cane, guide dog, or other mobility aid to get around? Why have you chosen this aid?

Most currently, I am using a cane to get around because my first guide dog, who I trained with back in 2014, decided to retire early. Before I got him, I was an avid cane traveler but I found my confidence dwindling as my eyesight was changing; that’s where Guiding Eyes for the Blind (GEB) came into my life and changed it drastically. I am currently waiting to go back into class at GEB to train with a successor dog, hopefully early next year. I much prefer the dog to the cane.

With the cane, I’m always bumping into things and running up the backs of people’s feet when I’m walking much faster than they are. With a dog, we avoid the obstacles and the travel is much more fluid and friendly, too. I have met so many wonderful and unique people just doing my day-to-day activities when I’m with my dog than when I’m with the cane. People, kids especially, have a great love for the fur at the end of the harness and they marvel at what he can do for someone like me, so they’re more apt to approach me and socialize with me than when I’m accompanied by a stick with no personality. Who want’s to cuddle a cane? Not I!

What is the most consistent challenge or frustration you experience with your low vision? How do you handle it?

For me, low vision means I’m constantly in limbo. Sometimes I can see and do a task flawlessly with the vision I have and other times, I’m lucky I don’t make a mess. Personally, I laugh it off and let it go because I know what’s really going on. Some days, my vision rocks and others, it decides it doesn’t want to get out of bed in the morning but that’s all internal; it’s not like everyone else can see it, so some days, it does get tiring having to explain the same concept to ten different people, though I know it’s usually because they’re curious.

What resources have helped you to handle your low vision best, either in everyday matters or in moments of crisis?

I truly believe everything in this life takes a village. My biggest assets are the people I have on my team. My family has been my rock. The last four years have not been easy with my vision and neurological conditions and yet, they’re still by my side, taking me to appointments and holding my hand when the news comes down. We celebrate the good days and shake off the bad…together. I have two amazing eye care specialists and a neurosurgeon who are always available if and when I need them. I have rehabilitation professionals who have hearts of gold and care only about my success. I have the technology and skills, too, but nothing is more important than trusting, caring relationships when life hangs upside down.

What would you say is the most harmful or annoying belief that people have about vision loss? How do you cope with this belief?

I think the most harmful belief that people have is that vision loss is all or nothing: that we are either sighted or we’re blind. I don’t think people understand that, like anything, vision loss exists on a continuum and because it is not a static, unchanging characteristic, there are going to be days where a pot on the sidewalk will be seen and avoided without contact and there will be others where that same pot, on that same sidewalk will fall in an area of blindness and not avoided, tripped over and harm done. The truth of the matter is: vision is constantly changing. We live in a world where so much of life is consumed by the visual that those of us who use different senses have a unique way of looking at the world and it should be appreciated for what it is.

What’s your favorite way to celebrate autumn?


I love walking in the autumn weather. Hearing the leaves crunch under my feet. Smelling the burning firewood from nearby bonfires. Fall is such an aromatic season, built for the senses. When I have my guide dog, I love taking them out to play in the leaves and making huge piles for them to romp in.

What is a book that you could read over and over again? Why do you feel this way about it?

I could read Shel Silverstein’s poetry over and over again because there always seems
to be subtle nuances and imagery that come to mind when reading his work in all different moods.

What book, person, or perspective makes you feel most centered as a writer?


I feel like there is no one person or perspective that can center a writer. Yes, there is
subject matter that each of us excels in writing about but that subject has many perspectives, many details, many events that combine to make that person an expert. I enjoy reading blogs the most because they tell a different kind of story; I feel that they give meaning to a person’s life and provide their perspective on the world in which they live and their readers gain another insight into the world in which they live. Blogs can be so very inspiring and uplifting and if a reader is committed to a particular blog, that individual will get to know the writer or creator in a way that stories and articles can’t.

Blogs have added an entirely new dimension to the world of literature and how we experience the world. I believe in the power of words and using as many formats to put those words into action as possible.

What is one dream you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?


In the next ten years, I would love to be a published author, traveling the world with my guide dog, telling my story and inspiring others to work through the difficult times in their lives because there is always something bigger on the other side of challenge. I want to make a difference in this world and I want my story to mean something to someone somewhere. I’d love to be married and, maybe have a family, but I want to know myself first!

October Interviews: Krista from FSCJ

Krista Waters, age 29, is a DeafBlind Human Services major at Florida State College at Jacksonville. She has found her passion working with other disabled people, and she currently holds two positions in disability services organizations. She enjoys discussing assistive technology, self-advocacy, and accommodations for disabled students and employees. She agreed to talk with me about her academic experiences.

Why did you choose to attend Florida State College at Jacksonville?

I chose this institution because the disability services are incredible. The staff really embraces the students they are in charge of educating.

What is the most significant access issue you’ve had in college? How was it resolved? Was this solution ideal?

I would say the most difficult access question has been access to materials in a timely manner. Because I am visually impaired as well as hearing impaired, things can take a while. I receive syllabi in advance, handouts in advance if available. However, computer software still leaves a lot to be desired. Its not always accessible for people who use screenreading programs like JAWS. I’m flexible though. I’ve realized when I’m fighting for accessibility for myself, it’s not always about me in the long run. It’s about my fellow students and peers as well.

If you could implement training for faculty or staff, what skills or concepts would you emphasize?

I would emphasize that all students are different. Just because you have had one blind student does not mean the second or third blind student will require the same things. Your student comes first, then the disability.

How do you judge whether a professor will be a good fit for you? What clues in the syllabus or in their personal communications let you know that they’re willing to collaborate with disabled students?

Whether a professor is a good match for working with our college’s disabled population is based on a number of well-defined factors. First of all, a lot is based on the student’s first meeting with the professor in question. Does the student email and ask for a meeting (something that is highly recommended)? Does the professor respond in a timely manner? Does the professor seem interested and open to your request for a meeting? Are you clear about your disabilities? Does the professor ask good questions related to you being in this class and how to make the environment as conducive as possible?

What’s the most satisfying project you’ve completed during college? Why do you feel this way about it?

The most satisfying project I’ve performed in college is my Cold War presentation in my American History class. I’m a quiet person by nature, especially in the classroom environment. I have difficulty speaking up in the classroom, and the professor in question took it upon himself to ensure I became comfortable. He did not ignore me; instead he engaged me. I did my presentation complete with PowerPoint.

What was the most challenging college course you’ve ever taken? Why was it so challenging?

I think the most challenging class I’ve taken thus far is my Integrating Educational Technology class. This class was all lab-based and completely 100% visual. As a visually impaired person, I like to be as independent as I can, and this class challenged my sanity.

What advice would you give to disabled students entering college for the first time?

I would say talk to other college students who have disabilities. Know what your rights are and understand the terminology related to disability accommodations. Try first and if you do not get anywhere, then ask for help. Talk to your professors: open and honest communication.

Quick Q&A | Emily of On the Blink

Adventures in Low Vision is also celebrating Blindness Awareness Month with interviews! Here’s mine. Enjoy!

Adventures in Low Vision

The celebration of Blindness Awareness Month continues here on Adventures in Low Vision. Today I’m launching the Quick Q&A series. Check in over the next few days to hear from people who all have their own unique perspective on blindness. Don’t miss a post–subscribe on the right sidebar!

Today you’ll hear from Emily, the writer of the blog On the Blink. Enjoy.

Headshot of Emily

Q: Name/Region.

A: Emily K. Michael from Jacksonville, FL

Q: Describe your visual impairment in one sentence.

A: I have low vision and am extremely sensitive to light.

Q: How do you want others to refer to your vision loss?

A: I call myself a blind woman, so others can, too!

Q: Why did you start blogging?

A: I began my blog as a way to keep my prose in shape, to play and experiment with my writing. I never thought of it as an educational tool…

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