Billy’s Story

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Faces of the Foundation:

Visual Impairment

Mayo Clinic

U.S. National Library of Medicine



Meet Billy B.

I was born in Denver, Colorado in 1963, the youngest of six kids. As I look back, I can see different clues that I had a visual impairment, but at the time, I just thought I was different but didn’t know why.

In first grade I started wearing glasses. I would drop things on the floor and couldn’t find them because of blind spots I didn’t know I had. Out at night, such as trick or treating, I would fall constantly. Playing games like Red Rover, I would run into the person instead of between them because I couldn’t see their arms linked together. I remember times out at night with my dad, he would point out a star and keep asking if I could see it & I would finally say yes, even though I couldn’t. At movie theaters, I couldn’t acclimate going from light into the dark.

As I got older and began driving, I had several close calls and near misses on dimly lit streets. I continued to know something wasn’t right, but never knew what.

At 19, I was finally diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa. Although the diagnosis brought answers, it also brought the realization that I would slowly go blind. The first indicator of progression was night blindness, followed next by loss of peripheral vision.

Losing My Sight:

For several years, my ability to cope with slowly losing my vision caused me to turn to drugs. It was a time of never ending grief, on a roller coaster of emotions I didn’t choose to be on. I continually dealt with one loss of part of my vision and just as I would come to terms with that loss, I would have to face the next loss just around the corner.

Things to know about me:
  • I played alto & soprano sax and received a music scholarship to Berklee College of Music. As my vision to read music deteriorated, as flats & sharps disappeared, so did my confidence and I gave up music.
  • I received a B.S. degree in Hotel & Food Administration from Boston University. I also received two masters degrees from Boston College: the first is in Secondary Math Education and the second is in Educational Research, Measurement and Evaluation.
  • I taught High School math for 20 years. I had a passion for working with students and sharing knowledge with them, purposely working with inner city kids. Unfortunately, as my vision continued to deteriorate, the school I worked at would not provide me with reasonable accommodations, which would have allowed me to utilize computerized instructional aids. Even though it was a full inclusion school for the students, it was not for me as a teacher, and without these reasonable accommodations, I was unable to continue teaching.
  • I love music, particularly jazz, folk music and classic rock from the 60’s & 70’s.
  • I am grateful that before losing my sight, I was able to travel all over the world with my dear friend Beth. We experienced incredible international places like Costa Rica, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Morocco, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Italy & Israel. We also traveled within the U.S. to both major cities and national parks.
  • I have been clean and sober for 26 years.
My Greatest Joy:

My greatest joy in life is my service dog Osage. He is a black Lab I received from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. I have had him by my side for 9 years, even during hospitalizations.. He is my friend, my companion and an amazing part of my life.

Favorite Quotes:

You keep what you have by giving it away.
The more you give of yourself, the more you get back.

Things I want you to know about people with visual impairment:
  • See me for what I have and not for what I don’t.
  • Visual impairment can cause withdrawal and isolation.
  • Give me an opportunity and get to know me as a person.
  • It is always OK to ask if we need help. Sometimes we will & sometimes we won’t, but it is always nice to be asked and certainly appreciated when we do need help.
  • Never grab a blind person – ever. Let them take your elbow and then you can guide them (called being a sighted guide).
  • Announce yourself when you come near a visually impaired person so that we aren’t startled.
  • When we are having a conversation, tell me when you leave so that I don’t feel foolish continuing to talk to someone who isn’t there.
  • Don’t compare one person with visual impairment to another as our journeys are different and everyone copes differently.
  • Don’t speak in pronouns. “It’s over here – or There it is” mean nothing. Tell me what it is and specifically where it is located (Example: Your water bottle is on the table just in front of your left hand).

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