The One Regret I Live With as a Person Who’s Legally Blind

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I like to live with no regrets. By believing out of every mistake comes a lesson learned, I have been able to stay positive — most of the time.

Growing up, my parents helped me believe I could do anything I set my mind to, disability or not. As a child, I’m sure this was easy to believe because I was so happy and carefree. Not to say that I’m not happy now, but as an adult, I’m more aware of my strengths, weaknesses and limitations.

Emily Parma
Emily.

It wasn’t until I was sitting in a college class that I realized I do have one big regret. As I sat and listened to a guest speaker talk about her life as a fully blind person, it moved me. She talked about how people in her school said she couldn’t play sports, and yet she ran track. She ran and ran well.

She explained how she had a partner with her at every track meet, using a rope that they each held in their hands. When her partner ran, she ran, and when the rope tugged right, she ran to the right. She never let her disability stop her.

My stomach began to turn inside. Why couldn’t I do that? I too was told in high school that I couldn’t play sports because of my disability. I sat out during P.E. I accepted this then, growing up in a house that really had nothing to do with sports. I hated running and pretty much every sport out there.

I remember going to high school football games with friends, and no matter where I sat, I couldn’t tell who was who or where the ball was. It made me feel embarrassed and somewhat depressed.

I hated going to sports events. Everyone on the field looked the same, and I only knew where the ball went when the people ran in that direction. I went anyway, but I vowed I would never go again.

It’s a secret I held for so long — why I hate sports. I guess I was jealous of others’ abilities, and going somewhere where I couldn’t see what was going on made me sad.

It wasn’t just sports events; I also hated going to dance performances. I would sit in the crowd and cheer friends on without truly knowing who was who on the stage. I refused to use binoculars, of course. So I quit going to shows altogether. Avoiding it all was easy.

Here I am, three years into college, thinking about what that guest speaker said and regretting never giving what was hard a chance. If someone with no vision at all can run, then what is stopping me from learning to swim, to run or to play tennis? I want to prove to myself that I can do it. Surely there are resources out there for someone like me who is legally blind.

But as an adult, is it too late for me? I’m a huge advocate for the visually impaired, but I can’t fully advocate if I let my own disability hold me back.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When Praying Away My Disability as a Teen Didn't Work

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woman in red and white robe holding her hands up in prayer
Mandy.

As a kid, I grew up the Catholic way. I went to doctrine classes every Wednesday and made my sacramental milestones, from my First Reconciliation, my Holy Communion and then finally my Confirmation. My grandmother is a devoted Catholic whose nightly ritual was based on prayer cards and rosary beads. I even had great aunts that were nuns.

During my studies, I read many stories about Jesus healing the blind and the “crippled and lame,” and at one point, I was totally convinced that one day, I could pray my rare form of albinism away.

I spent many nights praying; rosary beads and prayer cards became a cluttered mess on my end table. I watched shows like Benny Hinn’s in the morning, hoping he could beam some of that magical energy my way and I’d be cured. I prayed every night I would have friends, that nobody would ever hurt me again, that I would be happy.

At age 12, my doubts became real. My nose stuck in a Bible during class wasn’t because I chose to. It was because I needed to make my family happy. Plus, my Game Boy on mute kept me from too much boredom.

I eventually gave up believing because at one point, there seemed to be nothing to believe in. I had a hard journey going through my teen years, trying to find out who I was and whether or not life would get better for me.

Little did I know that God wasn’t the only thing I had to believe in. Turned out I needed to make that change for myself. Wishing on a crucifix was not my only option. Turned out I could heal myself through hard work and determination. And eventually, things did get better.

Despite the fact that I wasn’t “healed” the way the Bible says, meaning I still am legally blind, I feel as though my life has come full circle. Those dreams of my preteen self have finally come true. I finally have friends and a meaningful life.

I still question my faith every now and again, and I’m not as religious as I used to be, but I do believe someone, somewhere, has pushed me in the right direction. It may not be the God that raised me, and I can’t take all the credit. But somehow here, I am thriving and surviving and overcoming adversity every day.

To whatever guiding force is up there, thank you for helping me see things as they are.

Follow this journey on Legally Blind Bagged.

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Why I Can Relate to ‘Zootopia’ Having Grown Up Legally Blind

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“Zootopia” has been one of the top movies for weeks. I originally thought it was just another silly kids’ movie, but it has brought me great inspiration, thanks to a little bunny known as Judy Hopps.

Mandy Ree and friends
Mandy (left) with her friends.

Judy reminds me of myself. Growing up as a person who’s legally blind, I faced prejudice due to my differences. I was always told by my peers that I would never fit in and wouldn’t accomplish anything in my life. Judy was just a wee little bunny, and I was just a “blind kid.” And yet, despite the odds against me, I still had the determination to chase my dreams even though the neighborhood “foxes” would taunt me and try to bring me down.

Like Judy, I also had compassion for my fellow “prey.” I always stood up for those who were facing challenges and wasn’t afraid to call someone out for any “predator-like” behavior. I was always a protector of the differently-abled, even if it meant getting beat up and taking one for the team.

Judy’s ultimate dream was to leave home, head to the big city, go to the police academy and chase her dream job. It was the same with me. When I graduated from high school, I took a chance and moved to the big city. I wasn’t afraid to take life by the horns and chase my dreams. In those years while trying to find out who I was, I met my version of Nick Wilde, Judy’s sidekick, in my friend, Bill. Like the fox protagonist in the movie, Bill knew what it felt like to be different and judged because of his wheelchair, and yet he somehow never let it get the best of him.

Like Judy, I failed many times trying to reach my goals. I eventually dropped out of college because of the economy and had to go back home to my small town for a few years. I missed the big city, but I eventually found my way back.

What made “Zootopia” even more inspirational for me was the song Shakira sings at the end called “Try Everything.” The lyrics nailed my life experience to the T. I wanted to try everything even if I thought I would fail. But I didn’t give in, and I reached the top, making my dreams a reality.

Life has its many challenges, and whether you’re a bunny trying to be a cop or a girl who’s legally blind trying to make it in the big world alone, you could find your way back to the top. It just may take some time, and a little help from a fox BFF, or, in my case, a man in a wheelchair.

I know it may sound silly to compare myself to a cartoon bunny. But unless you see the prejudices that people with disabilities face (or those faced by the species, as played out in the movie), you may never fully be able to see life on the other side of the fence.

If a bunny and a fox can team up to fight crime, imagine what humans with and without disabilities can do together united as one.

Follow this journey on Legally Blind Bagged.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a scene or line from a movie that’s stuck with you through your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Facebook's Automatic Alternative Text Gives Photo Descriptions to Blind Users

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Facebook just launched a program that reads keywords related to images on users’ newsfeeds. Automatic alternative text, or automatic alt text, uses object recognition technology to offer a “richer description” of the photo content.

On its Newsroom press page, Facebook stated that 2 billion photos are uploaded across its family of apps every day, and with “more than 39 million people who are blind, and over 246 million who have a severe visual impairment, many people may feel excluded from the conversation around photos on Facebook.”

“Each advancement in object recognition technology means that the Facebook Accessibility team will be able to make technology even more accessible for more people,” the social network added. “When people are connected, they can achieve extraordinary things as individuals and as a community — and when everyone is connected, we all benefit.”

Automatic Alternative Text from Facebook on Vimeo.

In the video above, one user with a visual impairment says:

That whole saying of pictures being worth a thousand words — I think it’s true, but unless you have somebody to describe it to you, even having three words, just helps flesh out all of the details that I can’t see. That makes me feel included and like I’m a part of it, too.

Prior to this advancement, people using screen readers only heard the name of the person who shared the image, followed by the word “photo.” Now, when they scroll through their newsfeeds, they might hear, “Image may contain three people, smiling, outdoors.”

Automatic alt text is first being launched on iOS screen readers set to English, but Facebook plans to add the program for other languages and platforms soon.

“Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected,” the social network concluded in the video above. “And that goes for everyone.”

You can read more about the development of automatic alt text here, and learn more in Facebook’s Help Center and at facebook.com/accessibility.

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When You Live in the Grey Area of Blindness

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When people see me read within five inches from my face, they ask me, “Do you wear contacts?” or “Do you have glasses at home?” To which I say yes, and then they have a look of confusion on their faces.

For most people, vision is something that can and must be fixed. They snap on some contacts or glasses and have 20/20 vision. For me, my retinas are scarred and can only be changed so much.

Emily Parma

At this point in my life, I’m tired of people treating my vision as if it’s broken. I have done what I can to adapt to my surroundings, and I live a happy life. When I tell people how my eyes work, they feel sorry for me.

I know I can’t get frustrated with this, though, because most people don’t understand what it means to be legally blind. Legal blindness is when your visual acuity is 20/200 or lower, with or without corrective lenses. It’s sort of a spectrum of conditions. No one person’s vision is the same, or happened the same way, but one thing we share is the stigma behind it — that we should fix ourselves.

In my case, I have congenital varicella syndrome, nystagmus and I’m near-sighted. When my mom was pregnant with me, she had chicken pox during her first trimester and it scarred my retinas. My vision won’t weaken and can only be corrected to 20/200 and 20/400.

For those who don’t understand what this means, let me explain: Something that’s 20 feet away from you appears to be 200 or more feet away from me. I wear contact lenses to help me see details further away, but I see better close up without any lenses.

I don’t focus on the distant blurs, however. I choose to focus on what is in front of me and my better senses. My sense of smell and hearing are heightened because they compensate for my vision. When someone doubts my ability to complete a task, I prove them wrong. I am strong. This is a part of me, and I never let my disability hold me back.

Living with low vision is often a struggle, but it can be transforming. Those who are legally blind are stuck between a culture of full blindness, where people use Braille to read, and total sight and never needing aids.

We are in the grey area of blindness, and we’re pressured to choose a side: blindness or normal vision. I have good days where I’m an advocate for the visually impaired, and other days I’m filled with self pity. It happens.

But when I am asked the million-dollar question, “If you could have surgery to fix your eyes, would you do it?” I have to say no. Why should I have to feel sorry for myself and fix part of my identity? I was born this way, and I can’t help but think there’s purpose in it.

I wasn’t meant to live a life where I have to feel broken. I’m not bashing on those who have undergone surgery to help their conditions, but I don’t believe people with disabilities should feel pressured to be “fixed.” If a person chooses to undergo surgery, therapy or anything else, let it be from personal choice and not because of a cultural stigma. We are beautiful, not broken.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the Man Who Wants to Marry Me

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I once believed that no man would want to spend the rest of his life with me, let alone date me. I have been called many names based on my disability, and those words are hard to forget. “She does not matter. She is blind.” “You poor thing.”

Having a disability can cause a battle between my self-confidence and the truth that I am strong and brave. I have many insecurities, and felt that no one would be able to put up with them. Many of these struggles are in my head, and many of them I will have the rest of my life. I fear new places, people, and being judged by others. I am strong, but I am only human, and everyone has their bad days.

Emily and Daniel


And then I met you. I knew I wanted to be around you, because getting to know you was easy. It was not scary; it was fun. You pursued me every day. You said you wanted to be a part of my life when we first met, whether it was romantically or not. I told you I was not ready to be in a relationship, even though I wanted to. We were falling for each other, but it was hard for me to believe someone as caring, funny and handsome as you wanted to be with me. I told you I was legally blind and that I was going through counseling at the time, but you said it did not matter, that it made me stronger.

We met only a couple of years ago in college, so the dating phase was fun. I could tell you anything at all, from my childhood or from a few months ago, and it was all new to you. It was fun getting to know someone who came from such a different background, and find someone with the same values. It was easy to fall for you. You listened to what I said, and remembered it all. You still do. This is important, because the little things you remembered meant you actually cared. You were the one I dreamed about, but never thought I would find. You made me feel special and still do every day.

After a few weeks I told you I wanted to be official because I could not ignore the fact that I already fell for you, and you caught me. You made me feel respected, and I respected myself around you. There was no question about being together. It was the way you respected me, loved me and made me laugh that caused me to finally be happy about who I was. I get so caught up in my own insecurities, but you bring me back to reality.

When you got down on one knee a year later, I could not wait to be Mr. and Mrs. Thank you for choosing me, and for the many things that you do. You make me feel like what I call my “silly girl emotions” are legitimate feelings. When you look me in the eyes, I am able to hold your gaze. You make me feel safe when I am anxious. Thank you for being the love of my life. Thank you for reading menus to me when I cannot. Thank you for driving me around because I cannot. Thank you for teaching me sports, when I do not know what is going on. Thank you for dancing in my apartment with me, even though you never dance without music. Thank you for being the man I will soon call my husband. I promise to see the best in myself, and always in you. I promise to always be there for you, like you are for me.

The Mighty is asking the following: What do you want your past, current or future partner to know about being with someone with your disability, disease or mental illness?If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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