Diagnosis of Autoimmune Retinopathy: Becky’s Story

As you may know, our son Kai was recently diagnosed with Autoimmune Retinopathy. When we received the new diagnosis we were shocked and we are still adapting to the news. Thankfully, we had already built a strong network through this blog and our social media presence. We reached out to our community and thanks to your shares, our post was viewed more than 8,000 times.  Autoimmune Retinopathy (AIR) is extremely rare, but with your help, we were able to connect with 12 people who are navigating AIR and were pointed to a FB Community for Autoimmune Retinopathy with 166 members (#Rare). Becky is one of the people who immediately responded to our pleas for help with an abundance of support and information. I am honored she agreed to share her story here. Thank you Becky.

Guest post by Becky Jayakumar

Hello, I am Becky Jayakumar and I was recently diagnosed with autoimmune retinopathy (AIR).  AIR is a rare autoimmune disease that destroys the retinal cells of the eye leading to progressive vision loss.  There are different causes of AIR, no set diagnostic criteria, and no standard treatment which makes it a challenging disease to manage.

A year ago, I suddenly experienced visual changes and lost part of my left peripheral vision.  Nothing seemed to cause it, nor did anything make it better. That evening, I was hospitalized overnight for an eye ultrasound, brain imaging, and labs and ultimately, these exams came back normal.

Over the next few months, my vision continued to worsen with progressive peripheral vision loss and increasing visual disturbances.  During this time, I had more testing than you can imagine with many potential diagnoses which typically eventually got ruled out.  My abnormalities included an enlarged blind spot on the left and a slightly reduced thickness of my left optic nerve.  My local retinologist and neuro-ophthalmologist weren’t able to do the additional testing to look at function of the eye in NV, so I was referred to Mayo Clinic. Continue reading “Diagnosis of Autoimmune Retinopathy: Becky’s Story”

Navigating My Blindness by Kerry Kijewski

We love featuring stories of people making a difference in the blindness community. Kerry and her brother Brian are making waves – radio waves – on their show Outlook. We hope you enjoy Kerry’s post about growing up with sight loss and finding her voice in advocacy.

Guest post by Kerry Kijewski

In disability activist Judy Heumann’s book Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Activist, she says she believes she was meant to have a mother who would not give up on her daughter who was born with a physical disability. I don’t know about that in my case, but I do know I am lucky to have been given the advantages and foundation from my parents. I recognize my privilege, having them firmly in my corner.
This doesn’t mean I have it all figured out (no matter how much I wish I did), even as I am staring down forty in a few short years. I am further along because of the support I grew up with and still count on today. Continue reading “Navigating My Blindness by Kerry Kijewski”

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)”

Becoming a Certified Braille Transcriber by Elizabeth Symington, Founder UEB Study Group

July is braille literacy month on Navigating Blindness and we are honored to feature a blog post by Elizabeth Symington, CBT. She is a fearless leader in the Braille Community and a dear friend.

My Story of Becoming a Certified Braille Transcriber
By Elizabeth Symington

I was introduced to braille while attending art school in San Francisco, CA. One day while at the library, I discovered a picture book for children who are blind. At this point, I’d never met a blind person, nor did I even know there were picture books for the blind. I was instantly captivated.

The braille picture book is one of my childhood favorites, “A Color of His Own,” by Leo Lionni. The pictures looked like a wall fresco; they rose off the page. Instead of using color, different textures were utilized to describe the pictures. It was also a fun decoding game since the story was in braille and in print. Continue reading “Becoming a Certified Braille Transcriber by Elizabeth Symington, Founder UEB Study Group”

Aille Design: Clothing that Speaks

July is braille literacy month on Navigating Blindness and today we are excited to feature Alexa Jovanovic, founder of Aille Design!

By Alexa Jovanovic, Founder of Aille Design

Braille is much more than a communication tool. It enables freedom of expression, provides independence and increases literacy. When combined with mainstream fashion, it symbolizes the importance of inclusive representation in the fashion industry and empowers communities to advocate for social justice. Continue reading “Aille Design: Clothing that Speaks”

The Courage to Share: 11 Blogs About Living with Sight Loss

Kai & I are very excited to share these eleven blogs that are written by individuals who are living with sight loss.

The bloggers have different diagnoses, and their philosophies, cultures, and religious backgrounds vary, but what they all have in common is the courage to share. They are organized by year of diagnosis. Continue reading “The Courage to Share: 11 Blogs About Living with Sight Loss”

AIR? …We need your help & connections.

Friends, we need your help.

Yesterday, we learned that Kai has been misdiagnosed for 7 years! It’s not RP or Stargardts, it’s autoimmune retinopathy (AIR). If docs had listened & run proper testing his sight may have been saved. 😭 😡 😭

After 3 negative genetic tests, today Kai was officially diagnosed with AIR. 3 different retinal autoantibodies (AAb’s) were found and he’s being tested for a 4th.
Doc recommends one of 2 treatment paths:
Continue reading “AIR? …We need your help & connections.”

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!”

What Do You See? by Pamela Thistle

Hi, This is Kim and I’m excited to share a blog post written by our extremely talented and adventurous friend Pamela Thistle of www.TheBlindThistle.com:

Hi, my name is Pamela Thistle and I have Usher Syndrome, which is Retinitis Pigmentosa and hearing loss. I’ve been wearing hearing aids far back as I can remember but it wasn’t until my early teens when the RP was discovered. My eye disease is slow-progressing and it wasn’t until I was in my late 30’s that I was deemed Legally Blind.  It hit me hard and it was tough going for a year or so until I decided to fully embrace my disabilities. Since that moment my life has been a series of adventures and self-discovery. I am a retired Interior Designer but have discovered many interests over the years: photography, mountain biking, snowboarding, Olympic lifting and obstacle course racing to name a few. My motto in life is “No matter how hard it is or how many times I get my a$$ kicked I’m just gonna keep coming back!” Continue reading “What Do You See? by Pamela Thistle”

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”