Hello letter friends,
This is my last letter for the series, “Seven Degrees of Strangers”. If you haven’t followed the journey, you can check it out on my website. I’ve written about 6 different people I talked to one degree of separation apart.
For those of you who may have noticed an error, the phrase is six degrees of separation, not seven. I would like to say I did that on purpose. I didn’t. I could have lied and said this is to close the loop. To be frank, I was deluded by my title, I thought this would be a great experiment.
Nevertheless, Raina chose a wonderful person last. Someone with a perspective I don’t have, yet we had a fantastic conversation.
Megan lives in Portland and met Raina through a basketball camp Raina’s husband was starting. I believe Raina chose to ask me to speak with Megan because of Megan’s vision impairment. She has Leber’s disease, a mitochondrial defect that affects the optic nerve and can lead to blindness. Men are more prone to blindness from this recessive trait, and Megan is one of the unlucky ones in the gene pool. She found out in 2016 when she was getting a new prescription for her glasses. That was subsequently the last time she drove.
Megan isn’t completely blind. She’s got no central vision and about 45% of her peripheral vision. Before her diagnosis, Megan’s life was playing soccer, working in non-profit land, hanging out with friends. And after the diagnosis, Megan still does many of the same things, but some activities are a lot harder. Since Megan doesn’t drive, she relies on public transportation. While service is good in Portland, it takes longer to travel. Also, Megan can’t do some of her finances, so her friend became her power of attorney since the banking website she’s supposed to use has poor accessibility support.
For the first two months, Megan’s life wasn’t going well. A few months in, Megan’s mom found the Oregon Commission for the Blind and got her to sign up.
The Oregon Commission for the Blind is a state agency with paid staff to help teach the blind best practices by delivering courses. They also help students find jobs. The classes run 4 terms a year and each of them lasts around 12 weeks. These classes range from orientation and movement to sightless self-defense.
The instruction is 1 to 1, tailored for each student. Everyone’s skill level is different, like computer competency. Megan’s an expert at using a computer, so the teacher tailored her education accordingly. Someone with no computer skills would have to start out as a novice, like starting by using a keyboard.
While the curriculum has some general guidelines and best practices, the teachers help with one-off things too. Megan wanted to vote for the upcoming election but didn’t know how to do it. Her instructor and she went to the voting station and the person manning the booths didn’t know either. They investigated and figured it out given some other voting staff support.
The commission’s job is to help the blind reach the point of doing what people normally do. Megan loves to hike, so with her instructor James, she’s been able to hike around. Some spots are a bit tricky than others. She recommends Angel’s Rest if you’re every around Portland want to see an awesome view of the Columbia River.
As I was doing some follow-up research about the organization, I ran across this quote. “The real problem of blindness is not the blindness itself—not the acquisition of skills or techniques or competence. The real problem is the lack of understanding and the misconceptions which exist.” It’s from the National Federation for the Blind. After talking to Megan, I walked away with a better understanding of blindness and how it affects us.
I loved talking to Megan. I was able to learn how her disability does not limit her. She told me how the commission has sightless defense classes, how students there come to learn about blind athlete events such as dragon boat races. She is mentally competent, and would like some kind takeaways for readers.
I’ve opened my eyes to a new kind of awareness by talking to Megan. So if you have the chance, strike up a conversation with a visually impaired person. You never know what you’ll learn.
I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped me with this project. This wouldn’t be possible without all of you readers who have stuck with me, even while I went through a few months hiatus. It’s time for me to re-read Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art”. First, I’d like to recognize Megan Gebhart whose blog turned book, 52 Cups of Coffee, inspired me to write this short series.
Of course, I’d like to call out every person I got to interview. To my good friend, Simon, who helped kick off this series and being kick-ass at what he does and reminds me how much potential we have. To the fantastic Evan whose illustrations elevate the writing and logo that signifies the connections between all of us. To Joe for being such a great storyteller and having such a great philosophy on life. To Mary who gave me a phone call earlier this year and continues to remind me how much connections matter. To Julie for writing a book that read after and uses her last concept as a mantra for life. To Raina for waiting patiently for my piece to come out and for reaching out and being a champion. To Megan for showing me a part of life I rarely get to see. You all have been great guests, and I thank every one of you.
And I thank my family and friends for sticking with this series. Your feedback has inspired me to continue writing. And maybe had to stick around and were forced to listen to me talk about all of my guests. Thank you. You’re the best.