Becoming Blind and Gaining A New Perspective

My name is Darcie Crane and I am the creative writer for AKALAKA. I will provide blog posts that aim to entertain and educate on disability topics and promote AKALAKA’s mission. For this post, I want to share my journey and how I came to be here, because for a long time, being active in the disabled community wasn’t a priority for me. In fact, I did everything in my power to distance myself from it.

I lost most of my sight at the age of five due to a neurological disorder called Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO). I understood that something drastic and permanent had happened, but I still felt like myself. I was still Darcie. So when I returned to school after the sudden loss of my sight, it was hard to accept that everything was different. Suddenly my classmates didn’t know how to interact with me anymore, and I didn’t know how to interact with them. My classwork took twice as long to complete because I had to use a large magnifier. Navigating around the school was intimidating since it was easy to get lost. I refused to use a cane, relying on the very limited vision I had to get around instead. I would have refused learning braille, but my parents and teachers didn’t make it optional. I spent most of my elementary and middle school years pretending that I was just like any other kid. All I wanted was to be normal.

I had a NMO relapse when I was twelve which caused even more vision loss. This made it even harder to pretend I was normal. I had to switch from magnifiers to screen readers. It was hard to let go of using notebooks, physical copies of assignments, and books, because these were items my classmates were using. No one else used a laptop in class. Standing out was one of the things I hated most about being blind. However, my perspective and relationship with my blindness started to change when I got my first guide dog.

I entered high school with my guide dog, and over those four years I learned to accept my blindness. I realized that not everything that came with blindness was negative. I had my dog, I discovered audio books, and even braille found its way into my life. My blindness didn’t prevent me from enjoying hobbies or accomplishing the things I wanted to accomplish. I was accepted to NC State University, where I lived on campus and only got lost a few times going to class. I was open with my professors about which accommodations I needed to succeed, and asked for help when I felt I needed it. I was just like any other student, I just happened to be blind.

It wasn’t until after I graduated from NC State, that I really began to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I majored in English because I love reading and have a passion for writing, but I wasn’t sure what to do with those skills. Interestingly enough, my career path began with board games. The amount of board games that are inaccessible to the visually impaired is astounding. My boyfriend and I started buying board games when the pandemic hit, since it was a fun activity we could do at home. There were so many games that I could play, all we had to do was modify it ourselves. I was able to put braille directly on cards, use tactile stickers on tokens, or simply have a partner if the game was too complicated. This hobby got me thinking about accessibility in general. I had only thought of accessibility as it related to me and my blindness. My curiosity led me to Ablr360, a company that offered a course in digital accessibility, where I not only learned about blind accessibility, but all different types of disabilities and their barriers and adaptive tools. The disabled community was so much bigger than I had ever realized. I learned how to review the different areas of accessibility for digital content and how it applies to a diverse set of disabilities. The knowledge was valuable and the work truly made a difference.

I enjoyed the work of an accessibility analyst, but it didn’t utilize my skills as a creative writer. This is why working for AKALAKA is the best of both worlds. AKALAKA is a company whose mission is to provide a community for care partners, including disabled members and caring family and friends. It can be hard to find available resources and services, and understand everything that comes along with them. That is why having a community to help navigate and support each other is so important. I am fortunate that I have this opportunity to contribute my writing for such a meaningful cause. I am excited for the projects and future blog posts that I will use to help spread AKALAKA’s mission.