Steph McCoy

@steph-mccoy | contributor
Businesswoman, advocate, and Founder of www.boldblindbeauty.com an online community connecting sighted and non-sighted worlds while eradicating long-held stereotypes about people with sight loss.

Blind Children, You May Touch Your Elf on the Shelf

Blind Motherhood is hand-delivering a note from Santa, who gives permission to children who are blind or visually impaired to touch their “Elf on the Shelf.” We hope you utilize this post to make the holidays even more meaningful for your child with a visual impairment. “Elf on the Shelf” has quickly become a popular holiday tradition in families and schools around the globe. This combination book with plush elf tells the story of how Santa Claus relies on scout elves to help him determine who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. Once children go to bed, each elf flies back to the North Pole, offering Santa a full report on that day’s events. Before the children awaken, the elf returns to his assigned home. He chooses a different place to hide but not before causing a bit of mischief of his own, engaging in various holiday antics like dangling from the Christmas tree or making snow angels from the family sugar bowl. Children who participate in this activity gleefully anticipate finding their elf each morning and seeing just what he’s been up to while they were fast asleep. There is only one rule according to the story: if the child touches the elf, it will lose its magic. Herein lies the problem for so many parents of blind and visually impaired children. Many kids have been experiencing stress, anxiety, and in severe cases bullying, as a result of their instinctively wanting to touch these elves so they too may fully experience this tradition with some tactile connection. In an attempt to remedy these issues, Santa has issued a letter to all the blind and visually impaired children of the world. He asks that you read this note to your child and print a copy to keep in your “Elf on the Shelf” storybook for years to come. A Letter from Santa Claus   Dear ____________________, I am so glad you have welcomed my magical Scout Elf into your family! I know you will love visiting with him as we count down the days to Christmas Eve. In the book that came with your elf, you probably heard my rule, “if you touch your elf, his magic ‘might go’ and then I won’t hear all your elf has seen or knows.” My dear child, part of my job as Santa Claus is to know everything I can about each little boy and girl on my list. I know you are a blind child, and I understand how you use your other senses, like hearing, taste, smell and touch to help you experience the world around you. You may even read braille. Did you know I can read braille too? Christmas is a magical time of year, and everyone deserves to “feel it.” The elf I sent to be your scout was selected especially for you! His magic is extremely unique, because he can only be touched by a visually impaired child! Every morning when you discover where your elf has been hiding, you have my permission to feel what he’s been up to. Grab his hands and see what he’s holding. Run your fingers down his legs to feel if he’s cold from his journey back from the North Pole. Hold his tiny body close to your nose and take a whiff. Does he smell like gingerbread? If he does, I bet it’s because he’s been sneaking cookies from Mrs. Claus’ kitchen. Ho! Ho! Ho! If anyone may have worried you about ruining the magic of Christmas because you have touched my elf, please don’t listen to them. There are many people in this world who are convinced we “must see in order to believe,” but I know each of us all feels the spirit of Christmas differently. Your visual impairment will never stop you from knowing the joy and magic of this wondrous season! Remember, you have my permission to always touch your Elf on the Shelf. I look forward to visiting your house on Christmas Eve, and I will do my very best to make sure you get everything on your list. I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas! Take good care of my elf! Love,Santa We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Image by S. Claus.

Steph McCoy

Common Misconceptions About Blindness

“It’s about walking boldly with confidence, transcending barriers and changing the way we perceive blindness.” — Stephanae McCoy When I lost my eyesight as a mildly seasoned professional, I quickly learned thriving within the sighted world meant overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The most significant hurdles are the misconceptions around sight loss, blindness, and the capabilities of blind people. Transitioning into an unknown major life-altering event is a process that can be scary and overwhelming at times. However, after the acceptance of, and acclimation to sight loss, for the most part we remain the same. Personal adjustment to blindness training enables those new to blindness to learn new ways of accomplishing tasks. Following is a list of common misconceptions and brief explanations: 1. Blindness means a complete lack of sight, total darkness. False. The majority of people who are considered blind have some functional vision. This could range from a little light perception, shapes or shadows, lack of peripheral or central vision, cloudy, obstructed vision, etc. 2. Legal blindness is when a person can’t see after taking off corrective lenses. False. Legal blindness is a specific measurement required for an affected individual to receive government benefits. Legal blindness does not define or describe functional vision. When a person is legally blind their functional vision affects day-to-day living and cannot be corrected by lenses, medicine or surgery. There are legally blind people who, for personal reasons, do not use mobility aids or self identify. This is their right and requires no explanation. 3. People who use white canes or guide dogs are totally blind. False. As indicated in points one and two, there is a vast range of sight loss, and it differs from person to person. Many people who are legally blind and use mobility aids may in fact “appear” to see. These individuals need these devices to navigate safely and independently. 4. There is a distinct differentiation between blind and sighted people. False Many people who are blind do not “appear” so for a number of reasons. Many people who are blind carry themselves confidently and are well put together. Many people who are blind are highly skilled in a number of areas including, law, health care, technology, art, science, sports, politics, teaching, etc. 5. Blind people cannot read text or use devices like smart phones and tablets. False. Keeping in mind the vast range of sight loss — this includes people who are totally blind — many of us are adept at using technical devices and could in fact, depending on our personal situation, read text. While the above list is not all inclusive, most of us, at one time or another, have encountered situations where our lack of eyesight is questioned. If there were one takeaway I would want people to understand it would be this: when coming across anyone who has a mobility device or self-identifies as having a “hidden disability,” take it at face value. Many times things are not as they might appear, and just because we may not understand the situation does not change the fact that everyone — even people with disabilities — are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. Stephanae McCoy, is a businesswoman, style setter, blogger, abilities crusader and founder of www.boldblindbeauty.com a successful website that makes a connection between the sighted and non-sighted worlds eradicating misconceptions and long-held stereotypes about people with vision loss. Ms. McCoy can be contacted at smccoy@boldblindbeauty.com. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo by Andrey Popov

Unexpected Gifts of Vision Loss

After an extended bout with bronchial pneumonia, my life turned upside down. I woke up one morning and found I could not see. My gift of sight was stolen from me, leaving feelings of isolation, loneliness and fear. At first I felt completely lost. Denial sets in as you first think it will simply go away like a common cold. But it didn’t. Nights are days. Days are nights. You live with it 24 hours a day. Vision loss can bring profound challenges along with moments of intense frustration and discouragement. At first I was very sad about my loss, but then I made a decision — after going through some very dark moments (excuse the pun) — to go on with my life. When you’re faced with vision loss, you can either engulf yourself in self-pity or find ways to overcome this obstacle and continue to live. I believe as soon as you acknowledge this, work to accept new gifts, not accept limitations, and move on with your life, the better off you are. With vision loss you become a somewhat different person. How could you not? You learn to navigate by learning new skills. Eventually you adapt to living a new life. I understand sorrow is a natural feeling, but when I first lost my vision, it was much harder for everyone else to adjust to it than it was for me. The hardest part is people treating me differently. Strangers have even asked me what’s “wrong” with me. I just say let’s talk about what’s right with me. People who don’t even know me will often start a conversation without introducing themselves. They tend to get hung up on all the wrong, personal and inappropriate questions such as, “Have you been blind since birth? What caused your vision loss? Are you completely blind? Will you ever see again? How do you use that ‘big stick’? How do you get around? Can’t glasses fix it? Isn’t there an injection for that?” And my favorite, “Gee, you don’t look blind.” Really? This is insulting and frustrating. I usually respond, “Well, you don’t look sighted.” I now have a white cane, which I love. Although I still bang into things, I can’t imagine traveling without it. It is how I now perceive the world. My self-consciousness about it is gone in exchange for my increasing level of mobility. I’ve been asked, “Don’t you wish you could see again?” This is a difficult question and hits me on many levels. People of course expect me to immediately exclaim “Yes!” But I’m finding it increasingly hard to answer. It’s been almost a year at this point, and I can’t do anything more about it apart from what I’m already doing. I also find the question somewhat offensive and subtly biased, coming from a sighted person who I feel is really asking me how I could possibly go on with my life while being blind. Yes, early on I desperately wanted to see again, because that’s all I had ever known. I suspect I was dealing with some level of denial and anger. But now, I’m finding I would answer the question differently. I live in a very different world and have learned a lot. I don’t look back, feeling as the lyric in the jazz standard “Here’s to Life” says, “There’s no ‘yes’ in yesterday.” I don’t feel like a broken machine that has to be “fixed.” I guess it’s about coming to terms with my vision challenges and accepting what is. Now that I have accepted my blindness, I’m beginning to feel joy and happiness once again as I continually learn to adapt. I do everything I did before — work as a writer, perform as a jazz musician, listen to cool books on tape, walk fast with my new longer white cane, and sail big fast boats, among many other cool activities. I’ve also met many new and wonderful friends I never would have met before. I have new windows of perception opening up to me every day. I believe having meaningful relationships with people is what makes life worth living, not whether or not one of your senses works the same as everyone else’s. I’m the same person I was before, I just happen to not be able to see with my eyes. It’s only one aspect of who I am. My goal now is to help other people who are perceived by others to have a disability — to communicate that we just have a different ability. My gift of sight may be gone, but my gift of vision is just beginning. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here .

Johna Wright

7 Awkward Situations Legally Blind People Experience

When people learn I’m legally blind, assumptions are made — for example, that I’m completely/totally blind, which I’m not. Then I have to explain the situation to a complete stranger in the line at Starbucks or something like that. So here are the seven most awkward situations I can recall: 1. “What does she want?” Oh, this question. It has been asked to my grandma, friends, boyfriends, everyone. Picture this: I’m sitting in a casual restaurant, glancing over the menu. I’m holding it probably less than three inches from my face. The waiter/waitress walks over to my table and looks at me pityingly. Then, they look over to whoever I’m currently dining with and asks, “What does she want?” as if I cannot speak. Then my grandma responds with the grand ol’, “I don’t know, why don’t you ask her?” and I have to reply with “Oh, sorry. I have a vision problem, but I can order for myself. Oh, and I’d like the filet mignon, please.” 2. “Do you know sign language?” A boy from my school bus asked me this. “Did you mean Braille? In that case, no. I can read print if it’s large enough,” I reply. At this point, I receive the most confused look ever. “But I thought you were blind.” I spend the next five minutes explaining that I am not blind, but I have a visual impairment. This means I can see. I also had to explain the difference between sign language and Braille to him. 3. “Betcha don’t know how many fingers I’m holding up!” I hate this question, and you would never believe how many times it’s been asked to me. I was just minding my own business, using my video magnifier to enlarge my notes in an American Lit class, when a fellow classmate walks over. Oh gosh, it’s the class clown. Keep walking, keep walking, I think. But nope, he stops right in front of my desk, sneers and holds two fingers so close to my face, I could tell you what he ate for lunch two days beforehand. “Betcha don’t know how many fingers I’m holding up!” When everyone starts staring, he felt the need to say, “Well, she’s blind so…” Then I had to explain once again that I’m not blind, and that he was in fact holding up two fingers. 4. “Here, _______. Do this for her.” I’m right here, and I can hear everything you’re saying. Maybe instead of asking my friend to fill out a paper for me or cut something out for a project, quietly ask me if I am able to see well enough to complete the task myself. I’ll usually say yes. However, if I don’t say yes, I’ll politely ask you for help. Then, it is completely acceptable to get a friend or someone else I trust to assist me. Or you can ask how you could make the task easier for me. I could always give a suggestion. I like to be independent, and it really hurts my feelings when people make the assumption that I cannot do things for myself. Also, it’s quite embarrassing when you ask a random person to do something for me. Therefore, just ask me. I don’t bite most of the time! 5. “Stop, you’ll hurt yourself!” I have a visual impairment (which is a disability), but I don’t recall taping a “fragile: please handle with care” sticker to my forehead. I will not break, I promise. I am comfortable with my abilities, or lack thereof, and I know my limits better than anyone else. Accidents can happen to anyone, including me. But please don’t make a mountain out of a molehill regarding my visual impairment. 6. “If you hold that phone so close, you’re gonna go blind!” I was in the line at Starbucks, glancing over the menu on my phone so I could be fully prepared when the barista asked for my order (darn you, social anxiety). The woman behind me snickers. I turned around, hoping to see something pretty funny, but she was looking my way. I turned back behind me, completely confused. She then said, “If you hold that phone so close, you’re gonna go blind!” Then she went back to looking at the pastries, as if nothing happened. I didn’t want to say anything, but something in me began talking anyway. “I have a problem seeing things far away, so I do hold my phone a bit closer. Sorry if it’s bothering you.” Then we had to stand in line silently for the next three minutes until I could order my Grande White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino and leave. Can we say awkward? 7. “I’m pretty sure that’s $10.” This was possibly the most uncomfortable situation ever when it happened, but it’s funny to me now. I walked into the Dollar Store to buy a birthday card for my cousin, and I was just getting ready to pay when the cashier saw me having a hard time with my money, struggling to read the numbers on the bills. I finally handed him a $20 bill. I waited for my $17 and change back when he hands me $7 instead. “Excuse me, but I gave you a 20.” He looks absolutely disgusted. “I’m pretty sure that’s $10,” he says. I had no idea what to say. Thank goodness a lady I knew from church was behind me in line. She proceeded to tell him how rude it was to take advantage of someone who couldn’t see. She literally made me cry, right there in the checkout line, because I was so happy someone had stuck up for me. As you can see, many misconceptions and generalizations are made about someone with a visual impairment — or any disability for that matter. However, I believe you have to make the best of the bad situations and see the humor in it. The moral of this story is: (a) things aren’t always as they seem, and (b) don’t buy birthday cards from the Dollar Store. The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. 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.