Unexpected Clarity: How Vision Loss Changed My Life

A person with a backpack and a guide dog walks along railroad tracks surrounded by greenery

“I hate to tell you this…” The ophthalmologist handed me a box of tissues as she shared the news that I could not drive. I shook my head and chuckled as I pushed the box away before noticing my parents crying in the corner of the room.  

Despite my parents’ tears, I was sure the doctor had made a mistake; someone must have handed her the wrong chart. My vision was fine! The board just looked a little blurry from the back of the classroom. I had been excitedly studying for my driver’s permit test for months and had already picked out my first car. The doctor continued to talk about visual field loss, services, and transition planning; however, none of her words registered as I began to imagine what people at school may think. 

Returning to the Classroom 

When I returned to school, I decided to move forward as if the ophthalmology appointment never happened. I didn’t share the news of my vision loss with anyone. Before long, I stopped going to lunch because I struggled to find my friends in the cafeteria, and pop quizzes were submitted blank because I couldn’t read the questions on the board. As an angsty teenager, I preferred to fail rather than be perceived as “different.” The idea of graduating high school began to feel impossible.  

Navigating Vision Loss 

I met my Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) during my freshman year. Too embarrassed to meet with him during the school day, our lessons were in the morning before school. I laid my head down each time my TVI came to work with me for the whole first semester. Even though he traveled from an hour away to meet with me, I saw no value in engaging with him, yet he continued to show me patience.  

Early into the spring semester, my TVI invited me to visit our state school for the blind. I interrupted to decline before he could finish his invitation; however, when he reminded me that visiting the state school for the blind with him meant that I’d have a free day off school, I agreed to join him without a second thought.  

The School Visit 

When we arrived at the school for the blind, I visited a class of fellow high school students, and they immediately included me in their conversation. Even though I had never met any of them, the discussion flowed easily, and I suddenly realized that I was talking about my vision loss for the first time. 

In this room full of peers who became instant friends, they started to share pieces of their own stories. Many of them had been blind since birth, yet they each assured me that the process of understanding and accepting your disability is a journey regardless of the circumstances. The students encouraged me that things would get easier and that I would adapt if I put in the work to learn the skills that I needed to finish school and be independent.  

I returned home with a new commitment to working with my TVI. My braille lessons were still reserved for the early morning hours, and my cane remained hidden in my bedroom closet, but I began to develop the language to talk to my teachers and close friends about my vision loss. With their support, I graduated at the top of my class and was accepted to college on a full-merit scholarship.  

Transitioning to College 

Although I faced challenges when I moved to college, I noticed I was more comfortable in my identity than ever before. I quickly met other college students who were blind, and I gained confidence in advocating for my accommodations. My cane allowed me to walk with my head held high, and I explored the entire campus before classes began.  

I built a community of diverse friends, and I learned that my disability contributed to the value of my perspective. Gradually, I realized that my blindness has many more positives than negatives. I started to lean in more than I withdrew, and I felt empowered to educate more than blend in with those around me. 

Partnering with My Guide Dog 

Once I felt secure being noticeably different, I applied for my first guide dog. When I arrived on campus, I sat with my ear pressed to my dorm room door, listening for dog tags to come jingling down the hallway. I opened the door mid-knock, and my guide dog, Tasha, came rushing into my room – all energy. That evening, I folded my cane, zipped it into my suitcase, and put Tasha’s harness on for the first time. Our first route as a team was scary, exciting, strangely emotional, and – when I let myself stop holding my breath long enough to trust her training – fun.  

Tasha’s fan club spans 16 countries across six continents. Tasha and I have shared 37 flights, 26 presentations, 21 roommates, 15 foster children, 14 moves, three classrooms, two college degrees, and officiated one wedding. When I sat at that ophthalmology appointment, I never could have imagined how full my life would become one day. 

Embracing the Path Ahead 

Acceptance came slowly over time. I can’t pinpoint a specific date when I felt confident in my vision loss and my identity as a woman who is blind, but I know that it changed – improved – the trajectory of my life. Embracing my blindness has led me to a field and life I love. It’s been a path of challenges, yes, but also one filled with growth, friendship, and opportunities. My journey has allowed me to see the world in a unique and enriching way.