By Annika Konrad and Various Blog Contributors
To celebrate the first one hundred stories published on The Outlook From Here, a blog about living with blindness and visual impairment from people in Wisconsin, we wanted to take the opportunity to tell you about who we are and reflect on the stories and experiences we’ve shared so far.
Who are we?
We are a community of people in Wisconsin living with blindness and visual impairment. We publish stories about blindness and visual impairment in collaboration with the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired. Most of us are blind or visually impaired, while some of us are parents or relatives of blind and visually impaired people. We live in large cities and small towns all across Wisconsin. We are young and old, working and retired, hunters and fishers, knitters and readers, woodworkers and auto mechanics. Most of us were not published writers when we began this project in 2014, but many of us have gained quite a bit of writing experience over the years.
What have we written about?
We’ve written about what everyday life is like for us. We’ve written about how we enjoy our favorite activities—hunting, fishing, cooking, reading, hiking, volunteering and running. We’ve written about life’s challenges too—from striving for equal access to employment, transportation, information, literacy, and social life to the emotional challenges of dealing with inaccessible environments and social exclusion. We’ve written about the strategies we learn and develop to navigate a world that is not created for people with little or no vision—using assistive technology, learning braille, traveling with a dog guide, traveling with a white cane, developing self-advocacy skills, and realizing the power of community and mentoring. We’ve written about life’s lighter moments too, like the times when living with blindness and visual impairment makes us laugh, which happens a lot more than you might expect!
Why have we been writing?
Below several writers from The Outlook From Here share thoughts on why they’ve been writing about their experience and what the project means to them.
Janell Groskreutz, writer, Chetek, WI
I am so excited to be a part of The Outlook From Here blog! It has been my first attempt at writing and I have found it to be very rewarding. As a former teacher I strive to educate, and hopefully my blogs have impacted those who read it. The blind community presents barriers for most of us with regards to transportation, and this blog has allowed me to meet and work with some wonderful people through writing and technology.
It is both comforting and reassuring for me to read others’ testimonials and know I am not alone in this journey, and can share thoughts, experiences and ideas with others through my writing.
Tammie Hefty, writer, former resident of Mount Horeb, WI
As the mother of a daughter who is blind, I have found my time spent collaborating with the other contributors to The Outlook From Here to come with the greatest reward: enlightenment. Not only have I been able to share my experiences as the parent of a young girl who is blind, but the other writers have given me such encouragement about my daughter’s future. They have made observations regarding some of our struggles and shared with me stories about their own experiences when they were my daughter’s age. I love reading the stories they contribute and being able to laugh, cry and shake my head along with them.
Chad Nelson, writer, Madison, WI
The Outlook from here has helped educate others about blindness and is a great outlet for the writers to express frustrations, accomplishments, or to tell a story. My personal feelings from submitting stories to the blog is that I think readers get a better sense of who I am, and how I cope with blindness, or even give a look at my childhood as a blind child. From reading the stories I can get to know people and what they enjoy doing in their personal life. The audiences who read the stories are becoming educated about blindness, and I hope that by writing these blogs, we can put some of the stereotypes about blindness to rest.
Dan Sullivan, writer, Minocqua, WI
By scripting your experiences about vision loss, you become a survivor rather than a victim. And while sharing these writings through The Outlook From Here, this mentoring of yourself and others serves as another opportunity to overcome adversity.
Steve Johnson, writer, La Crosse, WI
As a person who has submitted a couple of blogs, it helps me to reach both my blind and visually impaired peers as well as the non-sighted world helping them to understand that blindness isn’t a barrier to the things we do, and like anyone, we have a story to tell; not because we want to feel like everyone else, but we simply want to be treated the same.
Theresa Sweeney Smith, writer, Wind Lake, WI
Writing for this blog has been impactful in several ways. It has opened my mind to possibilities. Many of my partners in this blog have wonderful hobbies, are passionate for advocacy or have very interesting positions. They all handle low vision and blindness in their own ways. Some use different technology than me and others use the same technology in different ways which I have adapted. Even though each writer has his/her own style, we can read each other’s pieces, appreciate them and easily give each other feedback.
Katherine Schneider, writer, Eau Claire, WI
I’ve been in on this project from the beginning and have enjoyed meeting a variety of people with visual impairment as a piece of their identity, and with writer as another piece of who they are. The stories have made me laugh, cringe and sometimes say “amen.”
Katherine Corbett, Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired, Communications Coordinator
Being able to read about the lives and experiences of my fellow blind and visually impaired Wisconsinites has expanded my beliefs about what we can accomplish with determination, planning and encouragement from each other. Reading about Janell Groskreutz’s experiences as a member of the pom-pom squad in high school was particularly inspiring. As a writer, it has been wonderful to share my knowledge and experiences with a like-minded community.
Annika Konrad, Founder and Writing Facilitator, Madison, WI
I will always remember a moment during our first group conversation when I asked the new writers why they wanted to participate in The Outlook From Here. Nearly everyone said that they wanted to participate because they believe storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we have for creating change in the world. Now, having published one hundred stories about a range of topics related to blindness and visual impairment, I can say with confidence that these stories have created change in the world. I am constantly hearing from people who read our blog and how they have been touched by our stories, whether they are blind or visually impaired themselves, they know someone who is, or they have no connection to disability at all. I am so thankful for all the writers’ continued participation in this project and the constant support of the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired.
As we plan for our next hundred stories, we have some questions for you!
What would you like us to write about?
Let us know what you would like to know about blindness. What are you curious about? What are your fears? What questions do you have? How can we help you understand what it’s like to live with blindness, visual impairment, or disability?
How can you get involved?
If you live in Wisconsin and you are blind or visually impaired, or you have a connection to someone who is blind or visually impaired, we’d love to help you share your story. No prior experience necessary. We can help get your story on the page. If you are interested in sharing your story with us, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading!