This post is the first in a new weekly series that I’m calling: “More than Meets the Eye.” Each week of the summer (and possibly into the fall and winter months, depending on the number of responses I receive), I am honored to share with you interviews from members of the disability community.
The goal of this project is to raise awareness about the diversity of the disability community. The words and ideas expressed in the interviews belong to the participants, not me. This project is welcome and affirming to all members of the disability community. By sharing our stories, we can develop empathy and understanding for one another as we all travel throughout the journey of life.
In this first post in the series, I am honored to share with you an interview with Carolyn McGhee. Carolyn writes about her experience living as a person who is visually impaired, her many diverse hobbies, and shares about her personal frustrations surrounding social distancing. Carolyn has also designed a relaxation class. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube so far @nostresscarelax (or just search for CaRelax). By the end of the year, she will have a functional webiste at carelaxweb.com.
Interview with Carolyn McGhee: Blind with a Vision
Name: Carolyn McGhee
Could you share a little bit about your disability? In what ways to you identify as a member of the disability community?
I am vision impaired due to hydrocephalus, a condition where the fluid surrounding the brain gets blocked. I also have optic nerve and retina damage. The brain damage may also be why I struggle with balance, have no sense of distance or direction, and don’t form habits easily. The vision in my left eye is significantly less than the vision in my right eye to the point where my brain ignores it most of the time. I thought I had x-ray vision in my right eye when I was little because I thought I had no vision in my left eye: if I looked left with my right eye, I’d see more on that side. I think the little bit of vision I have in my left eye makes up for missing peripheral vision in my right eye but not much more than that. I can read print but have to either get it close or magnify it to read it.
What do you think people see when they look at you?
I use a white cane to get around but people sometimes forget that it’s there. Even strangers think I’m at least ten years older than I am because of how well I get around and the fact that I’ve gotten involved in community leadership stuff. My boyfriend and I are both members of the local Volkswagen club and even though we both have our canes, they forget that we can’t see well. One beetle driver we know offered to give me a driving lesson on the highway! My boyfriend also got asked if he wanted to start up a guy’s motorcycle at one of our parades.
What do you wish people would see when they look at you? What parts of your identity are most important about yourself?
They see that I am independent and strong but they don’t see that I am loyal and a hard worker.
I wish sometimes that I could just find a job but that doesn’t seem to be the path I’m supposed to take. I volunteer at the national alliance of mental illness as well as serve on the local transit committee and a couple of local accessibility committees.
If I need to do something, I’ll do it. If I’m supposed to be at a meeting at 3, I’ll get there at 2:30. I take the bus to get around and try not to depend on individuals as much as possible. I take my work seriously and don’t let myself get away with excuses. Even if it’s cold, rainy, whatever I’ll still get out and do what I need to. Sometimes it takes an external force to stop me from going somewhere despite icy roads: I’ll still get out unless the person holding the meeting cancels it for example.
What common misconceptions do people often have about your or your disability? What do you wish people understood about your disability?
People think one simple surgery would fix everything but for me it’s more complicated. I’ve already had countless eye and brain surgeries. I have been like this since I was born. I don’t want to do any more surgeries unless absolutely necessary. I would rather find technology that can help compensate such as the camera on my iPhone or iPad.
God isn’t necessarily going to heal my vision on the spot either and I think I was born this way so that I can help advocate for others. If I could see better or was completely blind, I would get sucked into one world or the other. As it is, I don’t easily fit into either but I think this is helpful for me.
What makes you happy? What are your passions or your joys in life? Can you share a little bit about your big picture?
I want to help make my community better for all of us. I’m involved with several organizations and have even gotten in contact with state legislators. There is a good chance I will go back to the capital next year twice, first time to talk with them about blindness issues and the second to talk about mental health and other things. I’ve been in contact with my city council several times and have participated in public meetings, discussing our vision of the next 20 years for the city. They are focusing more on pedestrian safety, bike rider safety, and expanding public transit. All of this is not only going to help me and others like me but will also make it more normal for all of us. The question I’m always asking is how can we make things better, simpler, easier for all of us?
To balance things out, I also participate in a local Buddhist meditation group that uses Buddhist text as a basis for discussing how to get rid of stress for yourself and for others. I not only facilitate a group with the national alliance of mental illness but I also participate in others. This way, if I need someone to talk to I’ve got an easily accessible resource.
As far as hobbies go, I like horseback riding, riding on motorcycles, fishing, listening to music, going to the annual Volkswagen show in my area, and riding my 3-wheel bike around my neighborhood. One of the things Springfield is working on is a network of bike trails so within the next 5 years or so I’ll be able to go all over town instead of staying to the 2-block rectangle of dead residential streets by my house.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you as a member of the disability community? What do you wish the rest of the world understood about your personal experience of today’s post COVD-19 world?
The main thing is the fear of extra obstacles. A lot of places have only visual cues to tell people where to go, which direction to go, which tables aren’t available, etc. people aren’t going to magically acquire better communication skills because of this either. I hate dealing with Walmart or other stores anyway because of the close aisles and high chance of bumping into something or someone and knocking something over or breaking it. Now I have to worry about extra obstacles and signs or arrows I can’t see. if I have to wear a mask I can’t breathe and am constantly fighting the need to scratch my nose or eyes BECAUSE of the mask. One hour in ****mart was enough. I’m glad I can do delivery but I really wish this crap would go away. If it stays too much longer or they decide to make social distancing barriers permanent we are going to have to speak up because it is causing extra problems for me and others.
Do you have a business, book, website, or creative project that you would like to talk about?
I’ve designed a relaxation class. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube so far @nostresscarelax (or just search for CaRelax). By the end of the year I should have a functional website, carelaxweb.com. The class is based on techniques first introduced to me in Dr. Brian Luke Seaward’s textbook. The class covers what is stress, mindfulness, muscle exercises, creativity, visualization, moving meditation, energy, and more. I want to offer classes not only in person but also online as well. The website will have Microsoft Teams built in and I’m hoping I’ll be able to do online classes that way as well as set up a sign up sheet for both the online class and in person classes.
Follow Carolyn on Social Media!
Facebook and Twitter @nostresscarelax
My name is Rebecca and I blog about faith, books, and disability awareness. Please subscribe by typing your email into the box labeled subscribe so that you never miss a post! I am also the of the Through My Good Eye: A Memoir in Verse and The United Methodist Church and Disability.