Lessons Learned in the School of Life by People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: Part One

stack of books with page open next to quill. Drawing by Piluca Steel

Going Back to School

As families and students old and young prepare to go back to school, VisionAware peer advisors share their insights on what they have learned when enrolled in the “school of life” as blind or visually impaired life-students. No matter how old we are, it helps to realize there is always something new to learn. As the vision worsens, most people who are blind or visually impaired start to rely on other abilities to help adapt to their career requirements or hobbies.

Vision Loss Teaches Patience

by Audrey Demmitt, R.N.

Plato, the Greek philosopher said “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Struggles and difficulties often prompt us to find a better way. Similarly, I can say that vision loss has taught me to discover many valuable adaptations in life.

Patience Is A Virtue

“Patience is a virtue,” as they say, and is one of the hardest and most painful lessons of all.

Early on in the process of learning to live with my progressive vision loss from retinitis pigmentosa, I found myself on a dark street curb waiting for my ride to pick me up. It was all arranged ahead of time-where and when. After about 45 minutes, I began to get anxious and angry. It seemed that I had been forgotten!

Audrey holding sign saying going my way.

It was an awful introduction to what it would be like to have to “wait” for others now that I no longer was able to drive. I told my impatient self that I would need to learn patience.

Patience–The Ability to Suppress Annoyance

Patience is the ability to suppress annoyance when confronted with delays. Over the years, I have had many opportunities to learn this virtue. Well-meaning family and friends can sometimes try our patience when assisting us. Often, I must schedule my life around their schedules and “wait” for the help I need. There is a lot of this “waiting game” when you are visually impaired. For example, just the other day, a friend forgot to pick me up for an appointment. Ah, what are you going to do? Let it ruin a perfectly nice day? No-these are not catastrophes. Complaining and getting angry do not help any such situation and can be detrimental in the long run.

Now, I try to remind myself to “just breathe,” be grateful for the support I have, and stay calm. In fact, I have even learned ways to use the time productively while I am waiting. It is a blessing to be forced to slow down in this fast-paced life we all live.

Patience with Self

Another important facet to this beautiful virtue is patience with self. As a person with a visual impairment, there are times when I will make mistakes and have mishaps. Everything takes a bit longer to accomplish. And I cannot rush or hurry very well anymore. This calls for steady perseverance and calm too. Don’t beat yourself up! Take your time and be kind to yourself when you are working on a new skill or task. Patience is a gift we can give to those we love and to ourselves. It is an attribute we can cultivate. Life with vision loss will teach you how! And your life will be more peaceful as you expand your capacity for patience.

Vision Loss Has Changed My Perception of the World

by Leanne Gibson

Becoming More Positive

I have found that I have become a more positive person. And that has has resulted in me becoming a kinder person, understanding that everyone is fighting some kind of battle. What I have learned over the last three years is that it is not only my attitude that has changed but also my perception of the world and the people in it. Seeing people at face value holds no value anymore, I can no longer judge people in the same way by appearance or by perceived situation, which in hindsight I certainly was guilty of doing. Without realizing it, I had been closing myself off from experiences by such a trivial barrier.

I haven’t been willing to subject myself to negative environments anymore. I have started to step out of my comfort zone and embrace new experiences. The truth is through my vision loss I have opened doors and connected with some of the most amazing people which would never have happened before.

Expanding My Self Confidence

Sometimes we grasp on to fear when something is different than what we know, it holds us back stunting our growth. But a surprising development from losing my sight has been a surge in my self confidence. The light I put forth is returned in multifaceted colors that fill me with an endless supply of strength and energy. I now hold a deep appreciation for the human condition and just how far a positive attitude can change the dynamics of life in so many rewarding ways.

Vision Loss Teaches Trust

by Maribel Steel

I often think of these wise words of Mother Teresa, “I have never had clarity. What I have always had is trust.” For me, this is very true. When I can’t rely on my sight as my loss of vision increases, I have learned to develop a level of trust.

To Trust Is to Let Go of Controlling an Outcome

Young children do this very well – they trust every need will be taken care of, they trust when they launch into thin air that their parents will catch them, or that the ground beneath their feet is soft enough to take their fall.

But, letting go of control is one of the hardest things for adults to do, regardless of vision. For all of us life is a constant balance of letting go and holding on. I have found that being able to trust myself to know when to do either of these has been a major life lesson. There are times when I trust myself to do a task even if it is slower or seems ridiculous, and then there are times when I have to accept my visual limitations and ask for assistance.

Maribel's father handing hat to Maribel

What Trust Has Shown Me

Being able to trust in the kindness of others, even total strangers I meet on the street, triggers something amazing. Seeing my white cane, people become extremely helpful. I am not a threat to their safety, but, a person they feel they can trust. So they reach out with compassion to inquire if they can assist me. Then my obstacle becomes a challenge we meet together, and my letting go to trust another enables a sense of achievement for both of us. With the many obstacles I face as a visually impaired person, being in the “school of life” has shown me that to trust another’s willingness to help brings a genuine connection with a kind-hearted community. Within the lesson of trust, my self-confidence grows every day!

Other Readings

Lessons Learned in the School of Life Part Two

Independence Versus Interdependence

Going to School with the Dinosauers


Do you have an experience you would like to share from the school of life as a blind or visually impaired person? We’d love to hear it in the comments here and stay tuned for the next post in this series.