your stories: growing up legally blind

Many thanks to Melissa for sharing her story about growing up legally blind.  I hope you enjoy it, and find it as helpful as I did.  You can read more of Melissa’s writing at her blog, Wisdom from the Other Side.  – Ann Z

I went through it all as a kid.  I had my first surgery at 18 months to correct my crossed eyes, my second at 5 years to try and correct a nystagmus.  At different points in my childhood I wore glasses, contacts and a patch.  Growing up legally blind never stopped me from pursuing my dreams.  For those moms out there raising legally blind or visually impaired kids, I want you to know that even though your child may have to work a little harder in other areas then sighted kids they are capable of doing anything, and being anything!

I was born legally blind with crossed eyes, cataracts, nystagmus and severely underdeveloped optic nerves.  My vision is only slightly correctable.  I’m nearsighted as all get out.  During eye exams the only thing I can see is the big E which makes my vision un-measurable.  My vision can be corrected up to 20/800 in my good eye, but with glasses I have to give up seeing anything up close for a small amount of distance vision.  A trade off that just isn’t quite worth it when I spend all day in front of a computer.

picture of a young girl in glasses from the '80s

the author, at age 20 months.

Having been where a lot of your kids are now I want you to know that growing up, I never knew that I had a disability. I never felt different from other kids and I’ve always known that I could do anything I set my mind too.  I knew I had to do things differently than other kids, but what set me apart also made me special.  I can only imagine what it must be like to be a parent raising a legally blind or visually impaired child – but from the point of view of the kid it’s all perfectly normal.  I’ve never been able to read subtitles, or see the chalkboard from the front row.  I’ve always had a pair of glasses or a monocular with me.  My life isn’t any more or less difficult because of my vision, it’s just different.

I spent the entirety of my K-12 education in a regular classroom.  I did the same assignments and was given the same expectations as the other kids, with some modifications as needed; I was also given special Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instruction.  My O&M instructor taught me how to go grocery shopping, read traffic patterns and ride the bus – all the skills I would need to move out and go to college.

I truly believe that part of the reason I’m a successful adult is because of my vision. Not being able to see something was never an excuse for not doing it.  I might have to do things differently than other people, but it still gets done.  I know that I can do anything, and I have.  I earned a Masters degree, I work full time in a position of responsibility and best of all I’m the mother of a wonderful baby boy.  I’ve completely mastered my disability, and I’ve been able to turn it into an asset.

There are a lot of resources available to legally blind children, including tuition assistance for college.  Most states have a Department of Services for the Blind that offers vocational training.  If a legally blind child wants to pursue a vocation that requires a bachelor’s degree, the Department of Services for the Blind will cover part, or all of the tuition.  State departments for the blind also offer orientation and mobility instruction, equipment and a network of individuals in similar circumstances.  They are a wonderful resource!

To any mom who has questions about what did and didn’t work for me growing up, please feel free to e-mail me at Melissa@wisdomfromtheotherside.com.

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  1. ingrid
    April 21, 2011 at 12:30 am

    shed a tear with this story what a remarkable woman.

  2. MelW
    April 21, 2011 at 4:36 am

    What a wonderful article, THANK YOU: I am now printing your story to put up on the wall, for me and my husband to reread whenever we get down about our children’s ‘special needs’.

  3. Cherryl
    April 21, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    I was really touched reading your story. I have to give credit to your parents for letting your grow up with such optimism and confidence. Thank you so much for the inspiration you have given us parents and children as well who have the same condition as yours.

  4. Mea
    April 28, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Thank you very much for this post! My daughter has opitc nevere hypoplasia (left eye) nystagmus and she had some crossing that was helped with surgery. Your story really touched my heart and I am very happy I came across this. This is being passed around to my family as we speak. And like you my daughter is a very normal child!

  5. May 3, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Cherryl – You are absolutely right about my parents! I’m the third kid of four, and I was expected to do the same things and behave in the same ways as my siblings. My mom also realized that I would have to be able to succeed in a sighted community. When she was getting me ready for pre-school she made arrangements for me to attend a Braille school and a regular pre-school. There were lots of conversations with teachers and coaches so they all understood what I needed. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my mom!

  6. Keri
    June 1, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Thank you so much for your post. I have an 8month old daughter who is legally blind due to a rare cornea problem. She is having surgery this week to hopefully correct it, but I’ve always know she would be wonderful no matter what her vision turns out to be. As a mother, it is such an inspiration to hear “your side” of the story. Most of my fears revolve around how she will be affected, so your thoughts gave me comfort. I teach school, so I will be sure to be her biggest advocate on making sure she gets the best education possible. She plays, smiles and interacts like any other child. Thank you again, you are such a blessing.

  7. candy
    June 20, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Thanks Melissa for your post and honesty – we have a 10 yr old grandson who has been blind since birth – ONH diagnosis -he continues to amaze us. He goes to regular school, rides the bus – to/from school – has played T-Ball,(counts to hit the ball) Goal ball, can dribble the basketball over 1000 x’s and shoots baskets into the basket 10 x’s in a row! – He plays piano, is one of the smartest kids in his school. This past year, he joined the school wresting team and won 2 matches…he has a memory better than mine…and is just a delight to be around…He has many friends at school – they all love him… – he is very involved in a boys club at church called Royal Rangers – and they go camping – he loves the outdoors..and really he does just about everything the other kids do…..his favorite thing he has at home ..is a large tampoline (with netting) in his yard…loves it! –
    We always worry the next stage of his life will be difficult…he always proves us wrong…
    Thanks for sharing about the State college info…very helpful.

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