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How Technology Has Made My Visually Impaired Life More Accessible | As Told By a Legally Blind Photographer

I remember being 16, waiting in line to order food, not being able to read the menu on the wall. I would strain my ears to hear what the person ahead of me was ordering, and hope whatever they ordered was tasty because whatever they were gonna order, that’s what I would order too.

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Refresher: I have Macular Dystrophy, a genetic eye condition causing extreme near sightedness, lack of central vision and sensitivity to light, currently cure-less. I got a Macbook when I was 17, my first smartphone when I was 18 (a Sidekick, remember those?) then an iPhone when I was 20. Life has changed for the better ever since.

Here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years. All of them require you to turn ON the specific functions thought the Macbook > System Preferences and iOS>General>Accessibility.

Without these, I would not be able to use neither my phone nor my laptop. As you can see from the images above, i zoom in LIKE YOUR GRANDMA.

Zooming in on the Macbook.

Control + swipe in and out with 2 fingers on your trackpad.

Zooming in on the IPhone

Triple tap with three fingers and swipe in and out.

Large Fonts on the IPhone

Crank it up to 11, bruh (or, whatever the largest font is!!)

The Magnifier Tool on the IPhone

Triple tap the home btuton on the iphone to enable to magnifier tool, which is basically a fancier camera app that lets you zoom in a lot. My vision in 2018 deteriorated to the point where I could not read anything smaller than a size 14 or so, so this tool has become my GO TO for everyday living.

Using The Phone’s Camera To Read What My Eyes Cannot

Take a picture. zoom in. Read with ease.

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Misreading Information Because Your Eyesight Sucks

I was supposed to go to yoga at 6:30pm today, I’s thought. I’d signed up on the ClassPass app two days ago. I’d double-checked 5 times. I was sure it was at 6:30pm.

So I Show up to YogaWorks at 6:20pm where they tell me their last class was at 6:00pm, not 6:30pm. I had read the time wrong. I had read the time wrong MORE THAN 5 TIMES. YogaWorks has “show up more than 15 mins late rule and you can’t go in to class rule “ (BS rule if you ask me), so I called my mom and asked her to turn around and pick me up please, because she had just dropped me off 2 minutes before.

The drive to my house from the yoga studio is only 5 minutes, and during that time my anger and frustration was rising like no amount of yoga could have calmed down. I was angry and sad and pissed and AND THERE WAS NO ONE TO BLAME.

I came straight here to write this all down to capture a bit of what the raw emotions I’m feeling. We don’t like to pity ourselves, we like to pretend we are humble, grateful, kinds of people, generally.

But right now I’m pissed because I feel like this would not have happened to someone with better vision. Someone with better vision could have driven themselves to the studio, would have seen that the class was at 6:00 (at least by the 5th time they had checked the fucking schedule), could work at any job without wondering if fucking font would be too small, could leave the house without a backpack full of gear + clothes + shoes (all in one fucking backpack), could read a guitar tuner pedal, COULD READ A DAMN BOOK, could send texts while holding their phone on their laps, could see which bus # was coming from 10 feet away. ETC ETCETC

But alas. I am not someone else.

so I’ll stop complaining. realize this is my life. there is no way to fool proof it. there is no loop hole.

I’m going to miss classes, I’m going to miss busses, I’m not going to be able to work at any cash register, I will never be able to drive.

In another post I’ll explore what I AM able to do.

For now, good riddance and good night.

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How I Get Around LA Without A Driver's License | As Told By A Legally Blind Photographer

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All my friends started getting their driver’s permits in 10th grade. By then, I had been dealing with my vision problems for five years.By then I was sitting in the front row in class and wasn’t able to see the board. Even though we hadn’t figured out my issue, it was pretty obvious: I wasn’t getting my driver’s license. Fast forward 11 years. I am now 26, 4.5 years out of college, and 4.5 years into learning how to live independently in a big urban sprawl that is Los Angeles.

Google Maps and LA METRO are my best friends and the banes of my existence. Traffic is mean and uber co-riders are inconsiderate. I’ve seen parts of LA only pedestrians can see, and I’ve smelled them too! It’s a love/hate relationship I’ve fostered with this lifestyle. I used to feel stuck and angry all the time because it was never a choice to be car-less in LA. I didn’t choose this life, and I wished things were different. But alas. THIS IS MY LIFE, whether I liked it or not. Sometime in 2015, abut a year out of college, I realized how wrongly I had been viewing my situation. I don’t have a driver’s license, and so I don’t need to spend money on a car, insurance, gas, spend stress on traffic and finding parking, and most importantly, contribute to global warming, gosh darnit.

Thanks to my inability to drive, I’ve developed a relationship with the city that’s not much better than it was before honestly, but it’s definitely more intimate and gnarlier than it is for most. I’m rubbing shoulders with all kinds of people, places, smells, and sights from the west to the east, and as much as I still hate it, as much as I still get annoyed when the bus drives right past me, I wouldn’t be the person I am now were it not for the amount of busses I’ve taken home at 12:30am and the amount of miles I’ve walked to avoid waiting for the second bus.

How It Works

I take the bus, I Uber or Lyft, I ask for rides, I walk a ton. I get by. I can’t say I’ve figured out a perfect system. Since I don’t work a 9-5, my freelance, part-time, creative schedule is ever changing, taking me to all parts of the city for a day’s worth of work and projects. I ca'n’t really be spontaneous, because I need to plan my journey based on the bus schedule or when I need to call an Uber.

I pack my backpack with everything I could possibly need from the moment I leave the house to whenever I’ll be getting back home, whether it will be that afternoon, or two nights of couchsurfing later. But alas, I can’t pack everything, for my back is one of the worst backs around (thank you genetics!), so I’ve learned to minimalize and adapt.

But I’m still learning. I generally have time to kill between appointments,and since I don’t have a car where I can go hide, I have to park up at a coffee shop or cafe to seek some shelter where I have to spend money for a roof over my head. It’s not ideal. Maybe I’ll find parks where I can kill time at instead? bring my own lunchbox? bring my own coldbrew?

note to self: never, ever forget your portable charger. geez, when will you learn!!!

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Hey, it's good to see you here.

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Hey, it's good to see you here.

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Hi there, thanks for coming. It’s good to see you here. I’ve decided it’s time I start talking more frequently about my problems on the internet, specifically the one big issue that has taken control over my life for better and for worse. Maybe this is to exercise my writing skills, maybe I’m sick and tired of complaining to my mom and my friends, or maybe I’m trying to learn more about how to live my life better. In any case, hopefully this will help someone else out there, because I for sure had / have no one to turn to who knows what it’s like being 26, living with Stargardt’s Disease (Macular Dystrophy) with decently low vision, in Los Angeles, without a driver’s license, trying my best to live an independent life.

Before I continue, here’s what you gotta know:

  • At age 11, II started having issues seeing the board in class. We went to a doctor, who couldn’t see anything wrong with me.

  • By age 14 I couldn’t see the board even as I sat in the front row

  • By age 17 I had seen 9 doctors, had an MRI, seen an eastern medicine guru in Iran, all to no avail. I had convinced myself that there was nothing actually wrong with my vision but that it was all just in my head.

  • My last semester of high school my mother convinced me to go see her eye doctor friend, and I reluctantly agreed to go to my 10th doctor’s visit, thinking it would lead nowhere. Well, for the first time in 7 years, the doctor noticed white spots in my retina so she referred me over to the retina specialist where I was diagnosed with Macular Dystrophy (or Stargardt’s Disease)

What is Macular Dystrophy?

According to the US National Library of Medicine: Vitelliform macular dystrophy is a genetic eye disorder that can cause progressive vision loss. This disorder affects the retina, the specialized light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye. Specifically, vitelliform macular dystrophy disrupts cells in a small area near the center of the retina called the macula. The macula is responsible for sharp central vision, which is needed for detailed tasks such as reading, driving, and recognizing faces.”

Simply put: I have 20/200 vision, am legally blind, am very near sighted, cannot see much detail, cannot focus on one point, do not have a driver’s license,too much light bothers me, and most importantly glasses/contacts do not help.

In later posts, I’ll be going into things like how it’s affected my life, possible trials that are being done to find a cure, and how I’ve found my new normal to live my life as best as I can since being diagnosed, since graduating college, since entering the world as a legally disabled person and navigating spaces and places in search for accessibility, independence and happiness.

ps: there might be typos along the way.. I’m legally blind, it’s bound to happen lol

thank you for reading.

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