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2022 Owens Family Update

Hi everyone, Hope you are well. Blog updates are few and far between these days as Kai is living his best life in college!

Kai is enjoying his sophomore year studying music theory and jazz drumset. The college is fulfilling all of his accommodations and it’s so refreshing after years of battling with our local school district.

Over the summer, Kai got matched with a guide dog, named Pride. The two of them make a great team! He’s living independently in a rental house just off campus with two roommates. Big brother Cash lived there in college, then purchased it as an investment when he started his job as a geologist in Houston, TX.

Kai and Pride walk to campus and then use the university transit system to get to class. If the weather is terrible or he needs to be someplace early, the university sends a paratransit van to assist. He could not be happier with his college experience. He’s involved in several activities including Spike Squad, performing at the local jazz brunches and open mics, volunteering at the animal shelter, and working part-time (consulting for Vispero). His plate is full but he couldn’t be happier.

Kai and his girlfriend Hannah just celebrated their one-year dating anniversary. You’ll have to ask Kai how they met because the story is incredible. Cash and his girlfriend Sydney are enjoying their jobs in Houston and we plan to visit over the holidays. I miss them all madly!

Chris and I are adjusting to empty nesting. Cash has been gone for a while and as much as I miss him, he’s happy and busy adulting. Even after a full year of college, Kai’s absence feels fresh. After fighting so hard for his education I find myself feeling a mixture of emotions: pride that he’s a strong self-advocate + joy about his college experience + relief that I’m not having to fight anymore + loneliness in the quiet house.

While Chris is at work, teaching, I took time to write a book about our family’s experience navigating blindness. I’m currently working with an editor and exploring publishing options. If you are interested in knowing more about the book please click here and sign up to receive updates about the book writing process and launch. My goal is to publish in paperback, Kindle, audio, and braille.

Thanks for all of your support and as always, you can find the most current updates on our Instagram and our blog’s features page. You may reach us by completing the contact form.

Take good care and keep in touch, Kim

Kai kneels down beside Pride. This picture was taken as we drove away after move in.
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Graduation, College & The Empty Nest.

Hi everyone! It has been a while since we posted an update. This is Kim/mom and I hope you are well. Kai graduated high school back in May and moved to a huge college campus in August – 4 hours away with 40k students! He’s 6 weeks into his new college career and is thriving. He rates his college experience as a 9 or 10 out of 10. We are so thrilled for him!

He graduated his mainstream high school as Valedictorian. You can watch his valedictory speech by clicking here. The support we received along the journey was simply amazing. We have met the most incredible people in the blind/low vision community. We have worked with amazing mentors and educators and we have grown so much. Most importantly, Kai has developed the confidence and skills to advocate for himself in a university setting. He’s working closely with his vocational rehabilitation counselor, his professors and the University’s Disability Resources Center to get access to the education he desires. He’s traveling all over the campus and town independently with his excellent orientation and mobility skills.

This blog allowed us to record major milestones, meet amazing people and it opened many doors to experiences and adventures. I’m so grateful for the time we’ve spent together and I will remain available to parents of blind and visually impaired kids. If you need support, please click here to access our contact form and I will respond. Kai and I will continue to participate in panels, podcasts, webcasts, etc., so if you have an opportunity for either of us, please reach out. You can find our most recent content by clicking here to access our features page.

If you’d like to reach or follow Kai directly, I’d recommend clicking here to visit his Instagram page at www.instagram.com/Kai.Owens.

We will continue to update and promote our friends in the blind/low vision community on our family’s advocacy page. Click here to go to www.instagram.com/NavigatingBlindness.

And, don’t forget about our t-shirt shop: www.EyeSwearApparel.com Blindness Advocacy with a twist. Great gift ideas for you and your blind/vi friends and all proceeds go toward Kai’s educational expenses.

We look forward to getting to know you and continuing to navigate blindness together. — The Owens Family

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Blind & Adaptive Skaters Take Over a Skate Park for the Weekend – A group filled with Ambition, Perseverance, and Grit, by Kelly Anne Walborn

Check out the great article about the skaters experience at this link:

https://turmerictea.substack.com/p/blind-and-adaptive-skaters-take-over

Image of all the adaptive skaters mentioned in the article. They are standing in front of a wall that is covered in graffiti with the word Modern at the top. Many of the skaters are holding white canes. Kai is in a wheelchair and Shane has arm crutches.
Thanks for the great article, Kelly!
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“Should” Parents of Blind Kids Learn Braille?

Today I mailed off my final project in hopes of earning my national braille transcriber certification from the Library of Congress! It’s a 35 page manuscript and I must pass with an 80+.

In November 2018 we went through a formal complaint and mediation process with our school district because Kai was not receiving timely, accurate braille materials for his math and science classes. We “won” at mediation and things got much better, but while fighting for braille I felt so helpless. My son was completely at their mercy. It was then, that I decided I wanted to learn to create braille materials, and I set the goal to get certified by the time he graduates high school.

Y’all, when I registered for training to become a braille transcriber in Feb 2019, I didn’t even know the braille alphabet! I honestly cannot believe I’ve made it to this point.

Parents of kids who are blind or low vision often ask if they “should” learn Braille. Here are my thoughts on that, and my answer may surprise you!

Continue reading ““Should” Parents of Blind Kids Learn Braille?”
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Kai is Featured in Beyond Sight Magazine’s Men in Motion

We’d like to thank the fabulous team over at Bold Blind Beauty for choosing Kai to be featured in Beyond Sight Magazine’s Men In Motion. Below is a bit about their online magazine and a link to Kai’s feature article and video.

From Beyond Sight: In 2021 we will be introducing you to incredible young people like Kai Owens who are doing extraordinary things. These young people are extraordinary because in spite of the barriers they encounter daily they persist. Many have learned from an early age to self-advocate and the strength, resilience, and tenacity they possess will change perceptions.

Click here to watch his video on YouTube.

Click here to visit Kai’s feature page which includes a video of him telling a bit about his life.

Beyond Sight Magazine Cover featuring Kai standing on a beach. He’s wearing a wet suit and holding his surfboard.

“…It’s all just about finding what you like, and not letting anyone hold you back or other people’s notions about you hold you back.”

Kai Owens, 18
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EyeInspire Book Release

“Are you a visually impaired person who just does not feel that there are any opportunities open to you? Are you a parent of a visually impaired young person, and at a loss for how to encourage your child to believe in themselves? Are you a charity that works with visually impaired young people and believes that hearing experiences of others will help inspire your youth group, or individuals and families you work with? …”

Here is the link to the book “Emerging Proud Through Eye Sight Loss” that launched on World Sight Day! Kai is one of the story contributors.

Available in print, kindle and audio.

Emerging Proud Through Eye Sight Loss https://smile.amazon.com/dp/191608608X/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_ZRzGFbZERQKPF

About the launch video: Reposted from EyeInspire2020

Join us to celebrate the Eye Inspire book release on WORLD SIGHT DAY 2020 at 1pm ET (6pm BT). Featuring some of the amazing visually impaired story contributors, talking about their experiences with sight loss and amazing achievements, plus their involvement in the Eye Inspire project as a whole. Also news on how the book will benefit young people with sight loss and how the project will develop further. Expect oodles of inspiration and VIPs!

Kai speaks at 22:30 but the event is filled with awesome guests!

Facebook link: www.facebook.com/eyeinspire2020/posts/2359661507491986

YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guWsedrjWIU

Our special guests span the globe, from USA to Australia! Spread the word and join us for a super inspiring live stream event full of great interviews with amazing VIPs. Featuring Kai Owens, Jonathan Goerlach, Nicole Kada, James Laird, Nigel Limb, Alice Cadman, Bari Azman and Daniel Williams, plus hosted by our founder DJ MissChivers. Nothing is impossible.

Picture of book jacket: Titled Emerging Proud EYE INSPIRE with the pictures of 17 story contributors.

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The Fight For Equal Educational Access Continues

We are grateful for the support of NFB in our fight for equal educational access. Here is a link to the NFB article chronicling our experience: https://www.nfb.org/blog/equal-access-education-nfb-priority

Are you or a loved one utilizing a virtual educational platform for learning this year? If so, please complete the Educational Technical Survey by NFB here: https://www.nfb.org/programs-services/legal-program/education-technology-survey

We’d love to hear from you. Please give our post a like, leave a comment or complete our contact form to be featured.

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Feel the Facts by Kai Owens (17)

To wrap up our month of braille literacy guest blogs, I’ve asked Kai to share his thoughts about braille literacy. Kai has helped several families, with children who are losing their sight, to understand how braille is helpful & relevant in 2020. Kai is now a college-bound senior in a mainstream, public high school and he is at the top of his class. Here’s what he wants you to know about braille.

Feel the Facts by Kai Owens

30% of all blind people are employed, which means 70% are not. 90% of the employed are braille readers. This means that if you do not read braille then there is only a 3% chance that you will be employed in your lifetime. THREE PERCENT!

So, for every 100 blind people who do not read braille there will be only 3 who are employed. 

Continue reading “Feel the Facts by Kai Owens (17)”

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A Step Forward & Other Hijinks!

Below is a link to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts called A Step Forward by Kassy Maloney. In this episode, Kassy hosts a panel of 4 adults who are blind or low-vision and encourages them to share openly about their Orientation and Mobility skills and history.  I could relate to so many of the stories shared and the episode sparked memories of one of Kai’s epic hijinks.

No Fear Kai

One lazy Saturday, there was a knock at my door. I opened the door to find an intimidating, bulky, 6’4″ tall police officer.  I could tell by the look on his face that something was wrong.  It turns out that he had just had an altercation with Kai and his friends. They were all 12-14 at the time, and up at the school playground. This is a regular occurrence in our small town — kids meet up at the school to play on the playground, ride scooters and skateboards. However, on this particular day, one of Kai’s friends pointed out that there was a built-in metal ladder to the roof which hung about 6 feet from the ground. The boys thought it would be a good idea to climb up and check out the roof (and post IG pics from the tip-top! what!?)  A passer-by called the police saying that there were 3 kids on the roof and one was wearing a neon yellow jersey.

Continue reading “A Step Forward & Other Hijinks!”

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Legally Blind Teen Shares Comfort Items while Encouraging Peers to Step Outside Their Comfort Zones.

When Kai was 10 and first diagnosed with degenerative sight loss, he was scared. He began to have trouble seeing at night and his first reaction was to build a nest on his bed out of blankets and pillows. One night as mom was tucking him into his nest, he said that he felt bad for all the kids around the world who do not have comfortable places to sleep. Mom had no idea how to tackle that issue on a global scale while also helping her son deal with sight loss, but after many conversations together: Kai’s Comforts was born.  Kai decided to collect new, soft, highly tactile pillows and blankets from his community to deliver to his peers who are living at schools for the blind. At first, it started out as a great way for us to do something positive, and connect Kai to peers dealing with sight loss. His first collection was delivered to kids at the Georgia Academy for the Blind. A school for children who are blind and visually impaired about 3 hours from Kai’s mainstream school. The first delivery was a huge success the kids were thrilled to receive their comfort items, and Kai got to meet lots of kids who were “like him.”

Kai is 17 now, and he’s just completed his 4th delivery. This year, in addition to delivering comfort, he had a message to share: Comfort is important, but he now believes it’s even more important to push himself outside of his comfort zone. Continue reading “Legally Blind Teen Shares Comfort Items while Encouraging Peers to Step Outside Their Comfort Zones.”

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The Struggle is Real

I speak a lot about acceptance and how our family has adapted to our son’s sight loss from Retinitis Pigmentosa. However, I want to be real with you, I’m struggling right now.

We just returned from a visit to Duke Eye Center. Our youngest son, Kai, has previously been followed by Emory. We’ve visited Emory Eye Clinic 3 times over the last 7 years and they’ve run a number of tests and have run genetics tests twice.  At the age of 10, Kai was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa. RP is a rod-cone dystrophy that causes a restriction in the visual field (think of looking through a tunnel) and eventually, in the late stages, causes the central vision to fail. RP is typically diagnosed later in life and is a typically slow progressing disease. Continue reading “The Struggle is Real”

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See, Strechay & Momoa

Hi everyone!  This post was written by our boys — Kai who is 17 and legally blind and Cash who is 21 and typically sighted — about their recent travel to Canada to visit the set of the Apple TV+ original See! That’s right, they even got to meet Jason Momoa and watch a fight scene in a cave, as it was being filmed. (Season 1, Episode 6 – which aired this past weekend.) The post is wrapped up with comments from both dad and mom. Enjoy!

From Kai’s Perspective:

My brother Cash and I’s trip to Canada taught me so much and it was a great experience. We traveled to Vancouver to meet my mentor Joe Strechay, who is the blindness consultant on a new Apple+ TV show called See. Joe is an awesome guy who has helped me learn how to thrive with a visual impairment, so I was super excited about the trip. Continue reading “See, Strechay & Momoa”

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On Your Mark, Get Set, Go! How Do You Keep Your Blind/VI Child Active & Safe?

by Kim Owens & Hilda Dunford (@OurBlindSide)

Many parents of children who are visually impaired or blind find it difficult to keep their children engaged in physical activities and sports. Hilda and I are often asked: How do you keep your child active and safe? Continue reading “On Your Mark, Get Set, Go! How Do You Keep Your Blind/VI Child Active & Safe?”

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When Drivers & Mobility Canes Intersect

This post was written by Kai Owens.

Hi, I’m Kai Owens. I am a 16-year-old athlete, drummer, and mainstream high school student. I’m also legally blind from Retinitis Pigmentosa. I’ve done a lot of Orientation & Mobility training locally, and I’ve also traveled extensively in the US and Vancouver, BC. I use my mobility cane at all times and I’ve recently been approved for a guide dog. I’d like to share a few of my observations about when drivers and mobility canes intersect.

At some point, most sighted people have been driving and seen a blind person and panicked.  Some of the encounters are full of mistakes that really do not make any sense. I’m going to walk you through a few common mistakes drivers make in hopes of raising awareness. Continue reading “When Drivers & Mobility Canes Intersect”

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Willingness is the Key

I am deeply tired. We have been having a rough time lately. My autoimmune disease has been flared up causing pain, fatigue and general malaise. Kai just underwent his bi-annual appointment at the eye clinic 4 hours from home. It’s hard to endure those long drives, long waits and painful tests when the outcome is only for school documentation — no treatment. Top that off with my oldest son having to learn some hard self-care lessons while away at college and sprinkle it with my dad’s inability to admit to a severe drug and alcohol addiction and I find myself wondering: Am I willing?   Continue reading “Willingness is the Key”

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Breathe, Mama Bear, Breathe

Last week was the first week my legally blind son was back in school since the holidays. It was also the week that the action items in our formal mediation agreement were to be implemented by his high school.

The amount of internal stress I felt about his return to school took me by surprise. My fight-or-flight instinct kicked-in keeping my muscles tense, my breathing shallow, my mind jumpy and making sleep elusive. Continue reading “Breathe, Mama Bear, Breathe”

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The Advocacy Tightrope

In student advocacy, partnering with the IEP team is a key concept. However, some days it feels impossible to straddle the divide between my child’s accessibility needs and the school’s ability to provide timely, accessible materials. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I ask myself:

  • What exactly is the issue?
  • What does his team believe is the best answer?
  • What does my child believe is necessary?
  • Is “good enough” okay, or will this problem seriously impact his future?

Continue reading “The Advocacy Tightrope”

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Blindness and the Sixteenth Birthday

Last week was Kai’s 16th birthday.  I remember when we first heard the words “your son is going blind” and the feelings of dread and loss that swept over me when I realized he would not be able to drive.  It’s been 6 years since diagnosis, but right now we are feeling the diagnosis and loss acutely — like a fresh wound. Continue reading “Blindness and the Sixteenth Birthday”

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A New Way to See

The following post was originally written by Kim Owens for FamilyConnect Newsletter:

At the age of 10, my son, Kai, began to lose his vision to an aggressive form of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). My dreams for his life were shattered with the doctor’s words, “blindness, no known cure…” I was blind-sided by his diagnosis and could see only darkness. Continue reading “A New Way to See”

See Us: Overcoming Obstacles to Employment

Hi everyone, I’m excited to introduce you to a new project by author Jon Marin. His new book, “See Us” is being released soon and it addresses a crucial factor in the lives of young people who are blind and visually impaired – finding meaningful work. Currently, in the US, 70% of blind and visually impaired people do not work. This is due to a variety of factors including prejudice, ableism, education, training and more, and Jon addresses several huge obstacles in his work as the Program Director of The Career Discovery Project. We can learn a lot from him and his clients in his new book “See Us.”

Continue reading “See Us: Overcoming Obstacles to Employment”

Touch Pad Pro is on the Horizon

Hi everyone, we hope you are well. We’ve been a little quiet over here, dealing with Kai’s new diagnosis, treatment, college applications, music auditions and a family death. (We’re always keepin’ it real over here!) So, you probably wont hear much from us over the holidays as we attempt to regroup and recharge. However, we wanted to take a moment to wish you a healthy, peaceful holiday season and tell you about something that is making us smile right now. Y’all need to check out the Touch Pad Pro! It’s everything we’ve all dreamed of and more! Below are a few highlights and for more information you can visit the website or listen to an audio interview with founder Daniel Lubiner and Bold Blind Beauty.

Continue reading “Touch Pad Pro is on the Horizon”

FREE – Succeed Without Sight Summit

I am speaking at a new event that is attracting hundreds of family, friends, and educators of the blind and visually impaired community, and shining an exciting light on those that are thriving with blindness.  I am one of over 20 speakers (from 6 different countries) for The Succeed Without Sight Summit! Below is a link to get your FREE tickets! I hope you can join us on 11/12-14! – Kim

Vancouver Harbour with boats in the water and mountains in the background. Text has all of the details of the Summit.
Image Description: Vancouver Harbor with boats in the water and mountains in the background.
Text has all of the details of the Summit.