When you’re teaching at a medical conference, listen to your audience!

After the UMDF conference last year, I thought about all the people I saw with a vision impairment. How could I help? I submitted a proposal for a workshop addressing the needs of people coping with vision loss and their loved ones. UMDF liked the idea and put me in touch with the head of the L.H.O.N. group.

L.H.O.N, which stands for Leibers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, is a vision impairment caused by mitochondrial disease. Even though I’m an Orientation and Mobility Specialist with a Master’s Degree in Vision Impairments, I had never heard of this disorder (more about L.H.O.N. in a later post). Maria (Girl Gone Blind) and I talked on the phone and she helped me develop my presentation. I would give the talk twice, once for those affected by L.H.O.N, and again in the general assembly for anyone dealing with other forms of vision loss. I put together a Power Point presentation, wrote my bio, packed my suitcase, and flew to Washington DC (Alexandria, VA to be exact. Just across the Potomac river).

People asked me if I was nervous. Funny thing, I wasn’t. The idea of talking to a room full of interested strangers didn’t worry me at all. I have information, I love to teach, they want to learn… perfect. However, as I stepped in front of a crowd of people with a vision impairment and their loved ones, I suddenly felt afraid. What did I have to offer these experts? They were living with vision loss while I’m just a teacher who can show them how to travel with a white cane.

That’s how I began. I focused my talk on communication between the person with vision loss and their family and friends. The only way to be an effective partner is through respect and communication. I did an abbreviated demonstration of Human Guide technique and moved on to how to support a person with vision loss in crowded and unfamiliar areas. Basically, “don’t ditch your loved one at a party.” After my talk I heard mixed reviews. Some people gave me a big thumbs up and said it was “great.” Others felt I didn’t present anything new and was “preaching to the choir.” I realized that mostly the people who thought it was great were people without vision loss. The people with vision loss were mostly bored. Oh well… like I said, they’re the expert.

The next day I gave my talk to the general assembly. However, as I began talking about supporting your loved one with vision loss, a woman raised her hand and asked, “Is this just about blind people?” I was afraid that would happen. The conference program left out vision loss in the description. Standing in a room filled with people looking for information about wheelchairs, walkers, and coping with changing mobility, I realized I had no idea what to say. So I took a deep breath, threw my notes aside, and started talking about my own experience working with my daughter and her changing needs. I also talked about working with older adults and how they struggled as their needs increased. Thankfully my audience started talking and sharing stories. I stepped back and facilitated the conversation. Dropping my teacher role, I became the advocate, a role I’ve played for 20 years. Once again, I was not the expert in the room; the people sharing their stories about declining mobility and strength were the experts. My talk went in a completely unexpected and unplanned direction and I loved it!

It’s funny that I was more nervous with my planned talk in front of an audience of mostly visually impaired people than I was winging it without notes. All those years I spent doing improv paid off. I used my theater background, advocacy and mediation training, and what I’ve learned being the parent of a child with a disability, and just followed my gut. But if the people in the room hadn’t starting talking, I would have been screwed. Once again, thank you experts!

I hope to give more talks in the future. I love teaching and interacting with people. My next topic will be on advocacy and independence. Need a speaker?

My next blog post will be about the day I spent lobbying for health care on Capitol Hill. This just happened to be the week the vote on repealing The Affordable Care Act was being debated by the GOP.  Interesting adventure.

 

Just when you think your career is over…

…something unexpected can happen.

Several years ago, I was injured by a student while teaching. It was an accident, but it left me unable to go back to work. I lost my job, had shoulder surgery, spent three years dealing with Worker’s Comp Insurance, and wondered if I would ever teach again. I teach Orientation and Mobility to visually impaired children and adults. With a certification and a Master’s degree, I am qualified to teach people with vision loss how to travel safely and remain as independent as possible. But with a permanent injury, it looked like my career was over.

Slowly, the pain of my injury improved. It would never go away, but I had learned to manage it and had regained much of the muscle strength I’d lost while recovering. I taught visually impaired adults as a contractor through a non-profit, and although I missed teaching kids, the work felt good. But as the deadline for my certification renewal approached I wondered if I should find a new career. Would getting an MSW be a good idea? Or add another certification to my current one? If I was going to only work with adults, would becoming a Rehab therapist pay better? I even thought I’d go back to school and get my MFA. If I had to double my student loan debt, why not do it pursuing something I loved? There were no jobs locally, so I would have to move and start all over somewhere else, probably out of State.

Then one day, I saw an on line add for an Orientation and Mobility teacher at a school district close to my home. I applied and they called me back that day. It’s a rural community and my combination of skills was perfect for their needs. It was only part time, so that was perfect for me. It felt like a gift. I didn’t have to move, or change careers, or go deeper into debt. Here I thought those three years of grad school to get an O and M Master’s and Credential was a waste of money and time when actually the right job was next door.

Life is funny that way. You can spend hours hunting for answers, but most of the time if you just wait and listen, the answers come to you. You may be convinced your best days are behind you and the future has nothing to offer, but life can surprise you if you let it.

Unfortunately, I do need to renew my certification. It’s due in two weeks. I still have 15 CEU’s to earn. Ugh! If you’ve wondered why I haven’t been writing, it’s because for the last two months I’ve been glued to my computer taking on line courses to earn Continuing Education Units. I decided to renew a little late.

This is another lesson; wait for the answers, but be prepared when they come.