by Melanie Peskoe
Editor’s note: Watch our webinar, “Living with Low Vision: Insider Perspectives.” VisionAware peers with low vision will share their experiences of living with loss at different times in their lives including how they coped with their diagnosis and adjusted to life with vision loss.
I’d say all in all my life is pretty similar to the lives of most other people. I wake up each day, get dressed and put my pants on one leg at a time, too! I grab some coffee and get ready for work. Most days, I don’t really think about being visually impaired – it just is part of who I am.
Legally Blind Since Birth
I have been legally blind since birth. When I was about a year old my parents began to be concerned when I wasn’t hitting all the milestones as my cousin of the same age, so they inquired with the pediatrician who discovered that I couldn’t see much at all. As it turns out I was born with cataracts on both of my eyes. The cataracts were removed soon after the discovery, but I was left with permanent vision loss.
Vision Loss Did Not Slow Me Down as a Child
I’m very fortunate that my mother and father found great resources and help early on and they were instructed to let me be a child just like every other child. So, they let me skin my knee and fall down a time or two and I am so glad they did. Falling down taught me the skills to get back up.
As I grew up I gained confidence in my ability to learn, do and be just as any other person in the world. The only difference between me and anyone else was that I often needed to adapt things to suit my vision needs.
Using Assistive Tools Helped…
For instance, when I was old enough to start reading I learned to use assistive tools such as a magnifier and later on a closed-circuit television (CCTV). When I began to travel independently I learned to use a long white cane to walk safely and I learned how to travel using public transportation.
As a teenager I got into just as much mischief as my fully sighted friends and siblings (and I got into as much trouble from my parents too!) My parents never coddled me or kept me from experiencing life out of fear of the unknown, or worries about “what-if.”
As Did Having a Very Typical Upbringing
My very typical upbringing paved the way for me to have a very typical adulthood. This isn’t to say that I didn’t have extra challenges that were made more difficult due to my vision loss. I had plenty of obstacles along the way and life wasn’t always rosy.
There was a time when I nearly flunked out of college because I didn’t want to stand out from the other students by asking for help. Little did I know that my difference was obvious and by failing a class I not only looked visually impaired, but I also looked foolish!
Making It Through My Rebellious Phase
I really struggled during my late teens and early twenties. I was tired of the glasses and the cane, the magnifiers and the extra-large print. I just wanted to blend into a crowd. Looking back on that time, I now suspect I went through my own coming-of-age in a way. Don’t most teens or young adults have a rebellious phase?
I survived my rebellious phase though and I eventually finished college and graduate school. I grew up and dealt with the idea that I do look different and that’s okay.
Marriage and Family
I married a wonderful man and have two great children who are nearly grown themselves now. Often people have asked me over the years if my husband and kids help me do things and my response is that they help me about as much as any husband or kid would help a parent – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, and sometimes not at all!
Sometimes it’s just easier to walk hand in hand with my husband and after 20 years of marriage he knows what information I need from him. Or it might be faster to just ask one of my kids to read something real quick rather than finding a magnifier to read it myself. Then there are times when it’s important for me to do things on my own and when that happens I have the confidence to do it, knowing that if I don’t succeed the first time I can always try again.
Living a Fulfilling and “Average” Life
I have a very fulfilling life with plenty of opportunities, experiences and yes, challenges. Life is still not rosy all the time, but it’s not all doom and gloom either. Besides, I doubt anyone has a life without any challenges, but I don’t find my life to be any more challenging that anyone else.
I do most things anyone else would do, I just often do them differently. I use magnification and speech software on my computer to access information, which enables me to work and shop independently. I use a cane when I’m traveling alone. The cane both helps me to navigate the environment safely and it lets people know that I may not see them.
In my home I have several magnifiers in various drawers to do things like read cooking directions or see a label and I have little raised dot stickers on some of my appliances so I can “see” them. During game nights with my family I use large print and braille cards and sometimes one of my kids will help by describing game boards or reading.
Here’s the thing, in the media we hear about the “superstar” visually impaired people regularly. You know, the mountain climber, or the New York Times bestselling author, or the famous vocalist. I’m truly happy for all of them, but the truth is most of us just live very ordinary lives that are just as fulfilling. After a long day of work, cooking dinner, doing laundry, and hanging out with my family; I lay my head down at night feeling satisfied that my life is, well, average.