This is an edited portion of Chapter 3 from Real Life Interviews.
Charlene is a middle-aged woman that has had to deal with the challenge of being legally blind since childhood. I’ve had the privilege of knowing her for a very long time and she has been a blessing to me and countless other people.
I admit I have no idea how difficult it must be to cope without sight, so I asked Charlene to share with us everything associated with growing up and living with this condition.
Join our telephone conference call as we converse about her struggles and fears and how she became victorious over them.
Russ: So Charlene, where would you like to start?
Charlene: I have had people ask me how bad my vision is… And I can’t answer that. I can’t compare myself to normal vision because I don’t know what to compare it to. I have never had normal vision. So, let’s start with my diagnosis.
When I was born in 1951, I was a two-and-a-half-month’s premature identical twin baby. I was born with premature retina which they call Retinopathy of Prematurity or R.O.P. Also, the cones in the back of my eyes that help me focus did not fully develop either.
So, I was extremely nearsighted in my right eye and there was nothing happening in my left eye. My identical twin sister did not have any issues with her eyesight.
Before I started going to school, I had a lot of difficulty maneuvering in my environment. The doctors thought that if they put a patch over my right eye it would help improve my left eye and make it get stronger.
So, when I was four years old, I went around with a patch over my good eye bumping into everything. This caused me a lot of fear which eventually carried over into my adulthood. After a long while, the doctors figured out that the patch idea was not working and had me fitted for some very strong glasses.
So I entered the first grade with very thick lens glasses. Even with the strongest glasses, I still had to lay my face directly on a piece of paper in order to read it. My first grade teacher did buy me some books in large print out of her own pocket just to help me because there were no Special Education classes back then.
R: How did the other children treat you?
C: Of course I was teased a lot and called four eyes. I wasn’t quite aware of what I wasn’t able to see. I just knew I had trouble but I didn’t think of myself as different. Throughout the rest of elementary, I just went to regular classes and used their regular books. I didn’t have any difficulty keeping up in a normal classroom setting and did not require any special treatment from any of the teachers.
What would you tell someone experiencing a similar situation?
I know what it’s like to be blind and I know what it’s like to be treated like I am blind. It’s real important to not pretend that you’re normal if you’re not. It’s better to be open and upfront about your condition so other people can help you if you need it.
It took me a long time to get there because I had hidden my disability from others so well. I had to just be honest about it and ask for guidance.
Do you wish you had asked for help sooner?
I was too embarrassed to ask for help. My mother had taught me to act normal… like I was not a person with low vision. She told me to act like everybody else. That prevented me from asking for help for a long time. Plus it was pride. Pride got in the way.
So your advice is, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help”?
It’s not hopeless. Do not be embarrassed to seek help. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. I lived my life in fear until I got help. And once I got help, I was no longer afraid. And that’s the absolute truth.
I’ve been around people that had gotten a type of eye disease that they lost some of their vision or even became totally blind. This caused them a great deal of fear. Sometimes people can get so depressed that they do not reach out.
They just need to be encouraged. I’ve helped several people that have been in that situation. The main thing that I do when I’m around people like that is give them sources to call to get help. No one should have to live in fear for the rest of their life.
Just do not give up in spite of your condition. There’s one thing I never did and that was give up. There are no excuses even if you’re totally blind. Don’t think of yourself as a lesser person. You are not less of a person; you are just as great as anybody else.