I was born with a visual impairment (legally blind-meaning I was extremely near-sighted and it could not be corrected with glasses or medical procedures). But, I am very blessed to have parents who just decided to give me the best life they could. My parents were actually told that they should institutionalize me-now can those of you who know me just imagine me in an institution-I would have taken the place over by now. And, before all of you who don’t know me start thinking “she must be old” I am not. I am only 40-a very young and pretty 40 according to my clients (smile)! I am not beyond taking a compliment where I can get it.
Now, back to the serious.
I grew up in Monticello, Florida (a very small town). My parents, again, amazingly supportive parents-had 5 children. I am the oldest-and the bossiest-at least I like them to listen to me-it seems they don’t do so anymore (smile). I went to public school. There were many challenges in school and generally it was a tough time for me. I was fortunate to have a wonderful TVI (teacher of the visually impaired), Ms. Sassard (hi Ms. Sassard-I mean Eleanor-she told me I am too old to be calling her Ms. Sassard anymore-since I graduated over 20 years ago). We met for a couple of hours a week from K-12 (13 years) and she helped me on some skills I needed, and the best thing she ever taught me was typing-which I use every single day-thanks Ms. S-Eleanor! Yes, we do still keep in contact-and she better be reading my BLOG (smile)!
Anyway, after graduating from Jefferson County High School I was blessed to be able to go to college. I started off as a music major at North Florida Junior College in Madison, Fl. -but soon realized I didn’t like all of the singing rehearsals-and I am no American Idol. So, I got a B.A. in Psychology and then a Master’s in Social Work (from FSU).
During my last year of college I met Roger Perez, a very compassionate and good looking law student, who then became my husband. We moved to Miami-his home town. I went to work for the Miami Lighthouse as a social worker. When I had our daughter I worked as a part time community college instructor for 4 years. Then I went back to the Miami Lighthouse. I eventually became the program director. Then, two years ago I had the amazing opportunity to get the position of Executive Director at the Lighthouse for the Visually Impaired and Blind in Port Richey / Brooksville, Florida. My husband was willing to sacrifice his great job for me-and I am so thankful to him for that. We love our new home town and I love being the Executive Director of the Lighthouse. I have an amazing staff and we really do change lives everyday-for the better. And, most of the time we have a lot of fun doing it.
To back up a bit, my parents and I were always told by my ophthalmologist that my eye condition was stable. But, when I was in my 20’s I started noticing some changes. After some really uncomfortable and annoying tests I was diagnosed with RP Retinitis Pigmentosa. This is a condition that involves a gradual deterioration of the retina, and can lead to total blindness. Essentially there is a closing in. People always ask me what I can see-I don’t know how to answer this most of the time-the answer is not much-I essentially have a very small window right in front-so if you were to put a straw up to your eye-(do not try this at home because we do not want you to blind yourself)-but if you do please call us we can help you live as a blind person)-I can only write this stuff b/c I am blind-LOL!
Needless to say, the diagnosis of RP was devastating. I was very depressed for a while. I couldn’t imagine myself as a blind person, having to use a long cane, and hello-a guide dog! I was then just so blessed to meet so many individuals who were blind who were and are living independent and successful lives. They helped me understand I could do it. I also believe my faith in God helped me understand I am not less of a person because I can’t see. I believe God helps me and has helped me accomplish everything I have and will continue to help me change lives and be my best.
The most wonderful part of my life is my daughter Olivia. She is a constant blessing and joy to her father and I. She has adjusted so wonderfully to a mother who is visually impaired. Yes, I’ve had to do many things differently over the years-but I never let not seeing stop me from being a full participant. I have gone to her school and talked to her classes about blindness-and for the most part I think most of her classmates/friends just think I am cool. They hang out at our house and even make jokes about blindness. Yes, my daughter is very very excited about the guide dog. She is a total dog lover-she has about 50 stuffed dogs and is still collecting! She now just tells me to go so I can bring back a “real dog”. She has been around many guide dogs, and has excellent guide dog etiquette-she knows what she can and cannot do-more on that later.
I decided to BLOG my experience to help inform about disability, the capabilities of persons with disabilities-with the right training/resources, and to help the general community gain a more positive and accepting feeling towards individuals with disabilities.
There are many stereotypes about individuals with disabilities, and I consider one of my goals in life to help dispel some of the misconceptions. I hope I can help individuals who experience disability and the general community (who themselves one day could experience a disability) understand and sincerely believe that we all have the potential to be “normal”, competent, intelligent, successful, beautiful, productive persons. We all can and do contribute-and have a God given talent and mission-sometimes we just have to work hard to figure out what it is.
Disability is only a small part of who I am-yes, it has shaped a lot of my life-but all of our experiences do that-it is how we respond that determines if it will be for the positive or negative. I choose everyday to be my best.
You are special-don’t forget it!