Articles, Newsletters, Podcasts, and Video

From Actor to Attorney, Woman’s ‘Work Ethic Outshines My Disability’

By Hawken miller / 2022-05-16
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From being a child actor to a lawyer in the entertainment industry, Alexa Dectis, who has relied on a power wheelchair to get around since

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Cane and Able Fitness: Accessible Exercise for People who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

By Evan Schwerbrock / 2022-05-11
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Evan, wearing dark glasses, a t-shirt and shorts, stands in a gym holding a large medicine ball up on one shoulder

I grew up in the country in Kewanee, Illinois, at our family veterinary clinic. Growing up, I was a skinny, nerdy little kid – and my interest in fitness developed to address that!

Fast forward to 2014: I had graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in Health Science and was working a couple of jobs in the fitness sector. Then that November, my sight went downhill suddenly. I had always worn glasses, then contact lenses, so thought I was just in need of a new prescription. As it turned out, I had developed Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy.

I learned the “fun” way that I could no longer drive, play typical sports or even do paperwork at my jobs. But I still had to lift my weights, and the horse stalls at home needed to be cleaned, so we figured out adaptations to use my limited vision to the maximum.

Getting the Cane…

After adapting my way through those jobs for another six months and getting driven around our little town, I moved to Chicago to pursue my Master’s Degree.

Thank goodness my sister lived there and went to the same college. As we were walking along the street, I tripped for the umpteenth time on something I didn’t see coming and she said “That’s it – the Chicago Lighthouse is a few blocks from here, we are going to get you a cane!”

Becoming Able…

That white cane and learning to better advocate for myself changed the game for me. At the end of two years, I had made friends, continued my fitness passion and earned my Master’s Degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Applied Exercise Physiology – all with a better GPA than I had in undergrad with all my sight.

Since then, I have relocated to Peoria, Illinois, first living with my brother and now on my own. I teach future personal trainers at the local community college and train clients at a chiropractic clinic and gym. I have gotten a few more certifications like my Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification. I also have competed in about a dozen strongman competitions in the last 6 years – even winning my class at Illinois Strongest Man in 2019.

Creating Cane and Able Fitness

But the most important thing I have done is start Cane and Able Fitness, LLC with my family. It’s a fitness resource for people who are visually impaired. I paired my education with my experience as a blind person to figure out the best and most relevant adaptations to exercise and nutrition. A huge focus is making accommodations without watering down the effects of physical activity and quality nutrition. We have several offerings I want to briefly discuss in the hopes that they can help many of you or those you know.

First is our website where we publish articles about myriad topics. We have it all – from at-home workouts and gym workouts with plenty of detail to cooking adaptations, everything is designed with visually impaired people in mind.

A big offering on our website is our free Gym Acclimation Program. This program is a two-day a week, three-week program specially tailored toward anyone with a visual impairment who wants to work out in a gym but isn’t sure how to start. Each day has a different style of programming scheme to see what you like, as well as independence-building tasks to quickly build your familiarity and comfort with aspects of the gym. In free, accessible file downloads and a YouTube playlist, I break down each day further.

Next is our social media. We are very active on Instagram and Facebook, producing content on different topics, giving adaptations and audio or written descriptions for those of any vision level.

I have also been doing consultation work wherein I go to an organization and teach important fitness concepts such as how to tactilely feel good posture and what exercises to use to support it. I have gotten to work with the SOAR program in St. Louis and the Central Illinois Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired and more, with more to come!

What’s next?

We are also developing online remote exercise programming and an online fitness and nutrition course for the visually impaired. The programming will allow people of any vision level to work with me to develop an exercise program to help them toward their goals, taking their equipment and fitness levels into account. And our online course is our most aggressive project to date. It will cover a multitude of exercise and nutrition topics in a beginner-friendly fashion.

Topics covered include basic nutrition principles adaptations to nutrition concepts, exercise programming basics, exercise instructions, and more. It will also include a video catalog of important exercises with high-quality and contrast video as well as thorough audio description for any vision level. These exciting resources will be coming soon, so stay tuned!

In the end, I really hope that my experience and expertise can be of great service to the global blind and visually impaired community. It is amazing how much we are still capable of and we look forward to playing our little part.

About the Author

Evan Schwerbrock is a Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He is currently responsible for all articles, seminars, training and information from Cane and Able Fitness.

Follow him on Instagram at @schwerbacca. For more information on Cane and Able Fitness, visit their website or follow them on Instagram and Facebook.

The post Cane and Able Fitness: Accessible Exercise for People who Are Blind or Visually Impaired appeared first on BlindNewWorld.

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Who Am I? Embracing My SMA Advocacy

By Kevin Schaefer / 2022-04-26
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I was at a friend’s wedding a few months ago when I pondered the question of how to properly introduce myself. Typically, I give the

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Disability Garrison – Episode 11: Health Equity and Disparity with Andy Imparato

By Abby Burch / 2022-04-26
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Listen Now or on Your Favorite Podcast Platform

The Problem

Health equity is when everyone can achieve their full health potential. And there are no barriers for them to do so. But we have not achieved health equity. Communities of color, …

The post Disability Garrison – Episode 11: Health Equity and Disparity with Andy Imparato first appeared on GT Independence.

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Embracing my Differences, Learning to Accept Cone Dystrophy, and Reaching for the Stars

By Mariagrazia Buttitta / 2022-04-13
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Author Mariagrazia Buttitta stands smiling against a brick wall in a casual portrait

At the age of fourteen, I was faced with a brutal reality – one I did not see coming – literally. Two words changed my life forever: cone dystrophy. At the time, I wasn’t ready to accept this rare eye condition, not to mention the term “legally blind” that followed it. And why should I have been ready? My Sicilian birthplace in Italy gave me no support or tools because teachers and peers only viewed me as incapable in every way.

Thankfully, my parents were not ready to give up on their legally blind daughter. They were determined to make sure I still had a bright future ahead of me, even if they weren’t quite sure what that future would look like.

Luckily for me, my parents and I moved to New Jersey, where I had an opportunity to embrace my disability. I joined the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, learned new skills and assistive technology, began walking with Casper the White Cane, and started attending college. But nothing could prepare me for what was to come: unbearable feelings of anxiety and depression that made me hit rock bottom. Why did I feel this way when I was finally in a place where I could feel accomplished?”

As a motivational speaker, I had become skilled at educating others about my eye condition, but I was still lying to myself because I hadn’t truly accepted or processed my disability. I still felt like the awkward kid who was bullied in grade school and seen as uncool.

Living – and thriving – with cone dystrophy

However, with time, professional help, and the unconditional love and support of my incredible mother, I recognized that cone dystrophy wasn’t something I needed to learn to overcome. It was something I had to adapt to, embrace, and be proud of. Vision loss wasn’t about learning to adjust and move on. It was about learning the skills that would help me cope.

Cone dystrophy is challenging; people don’t understand it. I am legally blind and wear sunglasses at all times because of abnormal sensitivity to light. In cone dystrophy, the cone cells in the retina of the eye are damaged. Cones help us see in bright conditions. Mine do not function, so when I am exposed to bright light (indoors or outdoors) I cannot see anything. Yet, in an environment with comfortable, dim lighting, I can see and process more visual information.

I live with the constant accusation that I must be faking my eye condition. Because how can I ride a bike at night while experiencing day blindness? How is that possible? Nonetheless, with time, I learned to not care about other people’s perceptions of me. I had become exhausted by the constant need to educate the world around me about my condition. But there was no need for me to be superwoman and be brought down by the metaphorical cape I kept holding onto.

So, I became more focused on changing how I saw myself than worrying about how others saw me. I am far from being the fearful kid I used to be. I have gone on to obtain a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from the College of New Jersey; become a nationally certified counselor, author, speaker, and advocate; and land a full-time position as a career coach at Monmouth University’s Office of Career Development. When I walked into my interview for the position, I made sure the interviewers saw me for my talents and skills and not for my disability.

Reaching for the stars

The only person who has the power to ever make you feel inferior is yourself. People will always judge, so I surround myself with a family that loves me as I am, friends who accept me for me, and colleagues who never make me feel less than. Put yourself out there and find the right people and environment that will help you see you for who you are. I have learned to reach for the stars and not let others ridicule me. Because the people and things that matter will always be there cheering you on throughout your life-loving journey. Be you, be proud, and never let your disability hold you back. Let it be the thing that makes you stand apart from others and something you are proud to share.

Always embrace your differences!

About the author

A native Sicilian-Italian speaker, Mariagrazia Buttitta is a National Certified Counselor (NCC), author, motivational speaker, career coach, wellness and health enthusiast, and a passionate mental health and disability advocate. Mariagrazia holds a master’s degree in Arts in Counseling: Clinical Mental Health Counseling from The College of New Jersey. Mariagrazia – the author of Now I See: How I Battled Blindness, Mental Illness, an Espresso Habit and Lived to Tell the Tale regularly educates and speaks to college students and organizations about her blindness and her battle with depression and anxiety.

Learn more about Mariagrazia by visiting her website, EmbracingYourDifferences.com. You can also connect with her on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn.

The post Embracing my Differences, Learning to Accept Cone Dystrophy, and Reaching for the Stars appeared first on BlindNewWorld.

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Advocacy Starts With Being Kind to Yourself

By Ari Anderson / 2022-03-31
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Today, I thought about the question, “How can I become a better advocate?” For the first time, I realized that I’d taken part in advocacy

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Living and Achieving Beyond my Blindness

By Dilani Sandamali / 2022-03-30
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Dilani Sandamali stands on a lush garden path wearing a bright pink and gold sari

No one becomes blind by choice. This is a tough road.

Yet despite the hardships that this condition brings, being blind does not automatically mean that a person is helpless or lacking in abilities or capabilities.

Nor should anyone ever deprive us of the respect and dignity that we deserve within our society.

From the blind person’s point of view, our disability is only confined to our eyes. All the other sensory and intellectual capacities are functioning similar to an abled person – and a blind person has the same creative, analytical and communication skills as anybody else.

We have the ability to design and coordinate projects and programs, as well as the ability to solve problems instantly. We are vigilant, especially with our surroundings, and we have the aptitude to be great listeners.

We are able to accomplish tasks using multiple methodologies and can contribute effectively and efficiently in team environments.

Unfortunately though, these qualities are often overlooked by the general public who often label us as an unproductive and incapable group.

Such discouraging outlooks have the potential to marginalize the blind community from the wider society, leaving us feeling rejected and forgotten.

Just because a person is physically limited in some way does not mean that their value to the community is diminished.

Such a broad generalization is often what leads to the unfortunate “underutilization” of the human potential that exists within this segment of our society.

Achieving with my blindness – not despite my blindness

I, personally, perform all of my tasks without the use of my eyes, and thus far, I have successfully completed university education – as well as engaging in both the design and coordination of educational and community projects that are of immense benefit to the wider society.

I am also competent in using technology, handling money, using public transport, accessing public institutions and participating in my favorite activities.

Though I live with blindness, this doesn’t mean that I allow it to dominate my life.

Instead, using my other senses, as well as my ability to be creative, flexible and adaptable, I have shown time and again that I am fully able to participate in tasks and that there are always multiple ways to perform any activity.

My endeavor here is to invite people to look at the individual person and his or her unique talents instead of only looking at the perceived limitation. And realize that a disabled person has all the energies, abilities, characteristics, qualities, feelings, ambitions and desires common to all human beings.

When we look at nature, it is so obvious that its beauty is found in its diversity. Nature shows us that not one tree or plant is exactly like another.

Yet we do not judge or compare. In fact, we clearly see the benefit of it all.

So why do we judge each other?

The uniqueness of each human, no matter what form that may take, can only ever add more character and strength to this world. And it’s up to each of us to embrace that.

 

About the author

Dilani Sandamali holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and works as an IT instructor at the University of Kelaniya in Sri Lanka. She’s also an audiobook editor and a regular contributor to the Facebook page Power Of Heart.

The post Living and Achieving Beyond my Blindness appeared first on BlindNewWorld.

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Disability Garrison – Episode 10: Barriers to Self-Determination with Judy Mark

By Abby Burch / 2022-03-29
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Listen Now or on Your Favorite Podcast Platform

The Problem

Self-Determination is a model of care that empowers a person to be involved in their own life decisions. It is also known as self-direction. This is quite different from nursing homes …

The post Disability Garrison – Episode 10: Barriers to Self-Determination with Judy Mark first appeared on GT Independence.

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What Disability Rights Activists Can Learn From Women’s Rights Activists

By Sherry Toh / 2022-03-23
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Back in 2019, I signed up for an online women’s health and rights course by women’s rights activist and Stanford teacher Anne Firth Murray. It

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Doing Your Thing With Disability: Adriana Mallozzi – Not Impossible

By T.Reid / 2022-03-23
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Ever since her first experience with Technology, Adriana Mallozzi knew it was the key to her independence. Empathy along with advocacy and leadership skills are the right components qualifying her to start Puffin Innovations. An Assistive Technology company – creating hands free access to consumer electronics for individuals with limited mobility in their upper extremities. […]

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