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How Being Legally Blind Helps Me Be a Better Massage Therapist

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I’m celebrating my third anniversary of being a massage therapist. This landmark brings me much joy, and it’s a good time to reflect on how far I’ve come.  I hope you’ll take a walk down this road with me.

I am legally blind. I was born with cataracts in both eyes. These days when someone has cataracts, they are usually able to burn them off with a laser, which is a simple and mostly painless, routine procedure. In 1974, however, that technology wasn’t available yet. The best they could do in those days was to surgically remove the clouded lenses from my eyes. Without lenses, I was left legally blind. I have limited vision, but I can only see far away, and most of what I can see is extremely blurred. To make matters more complicated, in 1993 I had a retinal detachment in my right eye. This translated to complete blindness on that side. I went to regular school and was able to adapt to my environment in a sighted world, with only one very blurry eye.

My clients ask me what got me into massage. Looking back, I think the unique perspective I gained through my altered visual perception made it one of the most likely paths I’d wind up taking. It’s certainly not where I started, though. When I got out of college, my first “real job” was at a nonprofit paper manufacturing company that hired blind workers. It was there that I taught myself how to use the computer. For the next eight years I was the company IT person along with my other shipping responsibilities. It was stable enough work, and it paid the bills, but it wasn’t anything particularly unique, and I knew I had more to give. I’m grateful for my time there, as it was the beginning of the road that eventually let me find my calling. I left that job because I didn’t feel like I was making a real difference in the world, aside from fixing people’s printers or changing emails. I wanted to do more for the world, and not get caught up in office politics or get lost in the daily grind.

I took a year off and went backpacking across Europe and hiking the Appalachian Trail — the usual stuff you do when you are trying to “find yourself.”  I don’t know if it was due to spending so much time in nature, or because it was such a vastly different environment for me, but I learned a lot about myself on those trails. I’ve always had somewhat of a nurturing aspect to my personality, and getting out to see the world allowed me to develop it from a different perspective.

It was during this time in my life that I chose to begin massage school. The school I went to was very hands-on and got me excited about my new profession. Fortunately, they were able to work with me one-on-one when I was having trouble because of my limited eyesight. It took only a very short time for my new skills to seem completely natural to me, and by the time I graduated, it was like I had been doing massage my whole life.

After I got my license in Texas, I worked in the student clinic for about seven months. Each state in our great Union has a different feel to it, and unfortunately I found it more challenging to be accepted as a massage therapist in Texas, because I was male. I chose to temporarily return to the computer industry, and moved to Arkansas to get my networking degree. Some of you might think this was a step backwards. Instead, it turned out to be the best decision I ever made, because I met my wife Kelsey.

After I graduated, we decided to move to Oregon because Intel was up there, and there’s great transportation since neither of us drive. This was in 2008 when the recession was in full swing, and good openings in IT were scarce. Because we were in a new community with more open-minded people, I decided to give massage therapy another try. So in 2013 I went back to massage school for another year, at East West College. I was again blessed with instructors that were able to work with my visual impairment, so I could graduate with all the skills I needed.

I have been working as a massage therapist for several years now, and last year I started my own practice, Pleasant Touch Massage. I have had the joy to meet and work with some wonderful people over these years that have helped make this business a success. My wife Kelsey and I, as well as our 3-year-old daughter moved to a new home this past summer, and I am now working on putting my practice in the extra workspace we have.

I don’t feel that my blindness has hindered me. Sure, I have a little more of a challenge than most people in using a computer, so it takes me a little longer to make notes or appointments for my clients. I’ve always been adaptable, and technology is making it even easier for me to interact with the tools we use on a daily basis.

I believe that my blindness gives me unique skills that allow me to excel as a massage therapist. Because of the vision loss, my sense of touch as well as my intuition are heightened. I’ve often been told by clients that I end up finding trigger points, painful knots, and areas of tension on them that they didn’t even know about.  I pretty much let my hands do the communicating during every session.

Many people are labeled as having a disability, and that label can be more disabling than the disability itself. If I had just one piece of advice to give to anyone who has a disability or doubts their abilities, it is this: Trust your gut and your own instincts. If there is something you want to do, don’t let those voices in your head (or the well-meaning voices of friends and family) distract you. Just go for it! You can find a way, or you can make a way. You never know what you can do unless you actually try. You’ll be surprised at what happens next.

Learn more at Pleasant Touch Massage.

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Originally published: October 21, 2016
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