Being Born Blind with Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP)
I am a 22-year-old university graduate, I love music, going to concerts, seeing friends, shopping, and all the girly stuff. Oh, and I’m blind.
I was born at 24 weeks and weighed less than a bag of sugar as I was born so early. I developed an eye condition called Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). There are 5 stages of ROP. I have stage 5 which is the most severe. I have a detached retina in my left eye meaning that it is non-functioning and I only have light perception in my right eye. Despite this, I’ve lived a pretty normal life (with some adaptions obviously) and I do certain things differently to my sighted friends and family. For example, I’ve learnt braille, learnt to touch-type and also my key to independence: the white cane. I’ve been faced with many obstacles that some people wouldn’t even think about and been presented with many challenges, but I’ve never given up without a fight.
Being Blind In Mainstream Education
When I tell people that I attended mainstream education rather than going to specialist schools, have just graduated from university, and got myself my first graduate job, they’re shocked and surprised. Why is this? They think that just because I’m blind, that it’s incredible for me to achieve all of these things. Is it really? No, it’s not, well not to me anyway. I don’t think my sight loss should stop me from achieving the same grades as sighted people, or stop me from working and earning money. I don’t want to be left on the sidelines because of my visual impairment.
Going through mainstream education and university meant that I have been surrounded by sighted people, just like in the wider world, meaning that not all of them would understand my disability. Therefore, it allowed me to have a backbone, learn to stick up for myself and educate others on my visual impairment. I feel that these experiences have set me up for the future.
Mobility, Independence & Confidence
Granted, it’s been far from easy but that’s to be expected, not everyone understands what I can and can’t see, people are not educated on sight loss or disabilities, some may have never come into contact with a disabled person so of course they’re going to be amazed. There are many misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding visual impairment; blind people not being able to do things independently, not being able to look after themselves or have limited job options. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth, with the right support, equipment and adaptions, there is no reason why we can’t do all of these things.
Life hasn’t always been glossy, and I’m not the type of person to be unrealistic so I’m going to be honest. I have struggled at times but that’s all part of being human. I struggled with self-confidence for many years which made social situations a lot harder for me.
My visual impairment also had an impact on me when having mobility training. The thought of using a cane filled me with dread and anxiety and I felt that I couldn’t fit in with my peers because I was using a white cane and I felt like I probably stuck out like a sore thumb, which obviously isn’t true at all. I also thought that it made me look “blind” but really, it was a way of making others aware and it was my key to independence. It took me a long time to get used to the idea, but I eventually did and let me tell you, I am now so much more confident in using a cane. I enjoy mobility sessions now and enjoy learning new routes. I no longer have a sense of dread or anxiety when using a cane, which is such a great feeling. I think that university was the turning point for me in terms of mobility, independence, and confidence.
My blog: Life of a Blind Girl
I’ve always had an interest in helping others, and have wanted a career within the field of visual impairment for the last few years. I have done a lot of voluntary work with visual impairment charities in order to gain valuable experience. In 2014 I created my blog Life of a Blind Girl, to educate people on sight loss. I wanted to raise awareness of the common misconceptions surrounding sight loss, and how we are in fact normal people. I also created my blog to inspire, motivate and help others in any way that I can; this could be through Q&A’s, resource packs or even sharing my tips on completing a similar task. My little corner of the internet is a place where I can share my experiences, feelings and thoughts with the world.
When I first started blogging, I honestly didn’t think that people would even read my posts, it never even crossed my mind that it would give me so many wonderful opportunities, such as writing guest posts for other bloggers and charities, taking part in disability campaigns and being nominated for a blogging award! As cheesy as it sounds, I couldn’t imagine my life without blogging. Blogging has allowed me to meet some of my closest friends and connect with other disabled people who all share the same passions and have similar ambitions as me.
Embracing My Disability
I’ve worked extremely hard to get to where I am today, and I feel very lucky to be surrounded by incredibly supportive family and friends who love me for who I am despite my disability, they encourage and motivate me every single day and I am beyond grateful for everything that they do for me. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without their love and support. Many people tell me that I have such a positive mindset about having a visual impairment, this is because I don’t let it control my life, don’t let it stop me from getting to where I want to be, I try to embrace my disability and most definitely wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t have a visual impairment. This is not saying that I am positive all day every day, because I am really not and trust me, I have my down days but I try and have a positive attitude as much as I can. Make sure you try and do the same!
Don't Give Up
I wrote this post to encourage, motivate and inspire others. I do not think that I am an inspiration, but I know how hard having a disability can be so it’s important to try and look past that. Not giving up is key!
Remember that you can get to where you want to be, you may have to work that bit harder but it will be worth it in the end. Remember those people that said you couldn’t do something because of your disability? Well, make sure you prove them wrong, because guess what? You can. There may not be a cure for your disability, so you need to make it part of your identity by embracing it, no matter what. You may feel like you’re fighting a constant battle for the simplest of things, but you need to be determined and stand up for yourself and your rights. At the end of the day, you may go on to help others in a similar situation in the future. Your future self may thank you.
Make sure you grab life with both hands, strive to reach your goals and live life to the fullest, you may be disabled but happiness is what you deserve! I’m going to end this post with one of my favourite song lyrics - “just be true to who you are”. Don’t be anyone else but yourself, the people who truly love you will accept you for who you are. Go and do what makes you happy, work hard and never be anyone else but yourself.