Coffee with Kalari: Finding My Voice in a Sighted World!

This article is part of a weekly series written by Kalari, a writer, athlete, mother and employee of The Chicago Lighthouse who is visually impaired. She shares her perspective on a variety of topics in order to build community.

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I know many of us who are blind or visually impaired have faced times when we’ve had to advocate for ourselves because of our disability. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable, but I have learned it is necessary. I want to share my experience of becoming my own self-advocate.

I first lost my vision at the age of six. I was born with a condition called Hydrocephalus, which is excessive water on the brain. At birth it was corrected but at the age of six a blockage formed within my optic nerve and I lost 90 percent of my vision as a child.  My biggest advocates were my parents. They fought for me and secured the services I would need to be successful. My parents, who were new to the blind world, researched and had countless meetings with teachers and doctors. They were my biggest supporters.

When I entered high school, I still was not comfortable speaking up for myself. I met a teacher by the name of Ms. Perkins that stressed self-advocacy and how important it was to my own success. This was the first seed that was planted.  At this time, I also began attending the Career Days hosted at The Chicago Lighthouse. This was especially important because it was my first time interacting with blind professionals. They shared their stories and I could identify with them. I began to envision how I would advocate for myself in the real world.   It was still scary, but I began to think about it more and how self-advocacy would look for me.

Kalari works as a Writer and Marketing Specialist at The Chicago Lighthouse
Kalari works as a Writer and Marketing Specialist at
The Chicago Lighthouse

I did not start to advocate for myself until college when I would have to argue with the disability offices to get my class materials scanned and Brailled. I began to trust my instincts to speak out to get the services I needed.  To address the issues I was experiencing, I raised my concerns every day until the office finally began to work with me. Speaking up was the only way I was going to get assistance. If you are quiet, you’ll get looked over.  I discovered the power in my voice, and I began to speak up all the time.

I carried this into the workplace, as I spoke up for my needs to have screen reading software and other adaptive technology I needed to be successful. It was a long road to discover the power of my voice, but I am now comfortable with speaking out and up for my needs.

How did you become an advocate for yourself? I would love to hear your story.

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