By Bob Sonnenberg, CEO, Earle Baum Center of the Blind
Sight loss happened in a moment for me. I was driving on the freeway and suddenly, I couldn’t see the road ahead. Everyone experiences this moment differently, but many of us are left with the same question: now what? I hope to help answer that question and share my advice for this uncertain time.
Photo by Chris Kittredge
1) Grieve, Acknowledge, and Embrace
Allow yourself time to grieve. As with any major transition in life, this will likely come with strong emotions and that’s okay. When you are ready, embrace and acknowledge that you have sight loss. When you stop fighting the loss, I promise you can move forward.
2) Ask for help!
Don’t be afraid to do things in a new way or to get support, even when that is difficult at first.
During a mobility and orientation program I went through to get certified to have a guide dog, I was expected to travel under blindfold. I had to walk a distance in a familiar location. We went to a local mall in Marin County, CA.
I was asked to find a specific meeting spot that was before you got to the movie theater. I knew if I smelled popcorn, I had gone too far.
I smelled popcorn and stopped.
Two women came over to me and asked if I needed help. I said “yes,” and they supported me to find the meeting spot where my instructors were waiting.
At the end of this exercise, the instructors reassured me that asking for help is okay. You don’t have to do this alone.
I like to remember Helen Keller’s famous quote:
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
You can find organizations like Earle Baum Center that will help. You will meet people who will take your arm when you smell the proverbial popcorn.
3) Learn to do new things in a new way
There are many people with sight loss who work full-time and live fully. To reach this place, you will have to learn to do things in a different way.
Embrace using a travel cane (also called a long cane and white cane) and guide dog. Reach out to organizations with orientation/mobility training, guide dog services and other lifestyle learning. Find accessibility devices that will support your use of smartphones, TV monitors, accessibility tools, books, and more.
I lived with others who have sight loss for one month towards the beginning of my journey. I came out of my 30-day experience with no limitations and a guide dog.
I worked for Guide Dogs for the Blind for 10 years and now serve as the CEO of Earle Baum Center. I travel by myself and connect with new people every day. I continue to expand my life and feel like there is nothing I can’t do.
4) Have fun in your life, move forward and do things you enjoy.
Another piece of wisdom from Helen Keller:
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”
At first, it may feel like some of the things you love to do are suddenly out of the question. This can be true for some things, but there are so many ways of adapting activities to allow you to do just about everything you love. I predict you will find joy in new things (some that surprise you) if you keep a flexible mindset.
I spend my downtime with family and friends. I garden, walk, hike, and tandem bike. I do the same things I used to, just in a different way. It can be frustrating and challenging. Things take longer. But with the determination, a positive outlook, and support, all the joy (and more) that you had in your life before sight loss is still accessible.
So, these are my tips. Grieve, take a deep breath, keep things in perspective. Focus on what you’re grateful for and be fearless. Oh, and allow yourself to have fun and laugh again.
I like to think about the inspirational people I’ve met who deal with sight loss daily to stay inspired. Billy North, the retired baseball player who played with sight in one eye. Everyone has a story. I know another blind person who has climbed Mt Everest. I recently connected with an 80-year-old at Guide Dogs for the Blind who is a professional art broker.
Focus on all the things you can do; imagine. Give the gift of a positive attitude back to others when you are able.
None of these steps are easy. We are here at Earle Baum Center to support you through all of them. If this list is feeling insurmountable, come in and pay us a visit. We would love to meet you and be with you on your journey.
Earle Baum Center