Disclosure – I am not an affiliate for the product shared in this post. This means I do not earn anything if you make a purchase.
‘The Reality Of…’ is a series with the aim to raise awareness of disabilities, illnesses, impairments, etc. Also, educating others about the barriers that disabled people and carers face. I hope this series helps to break down misconceptions and stigma.
My name is Anneliese Knop, I’m a mental health counselor who works in northern Alabama, a southeastern state in the United States. I grew up in Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest of the US. When I’m not in the office I write fantasy novels, practice martial arts and the piano, knit and crochet, and engage in both nerd sports like LARPing and D&D, and outdoor sports like hiking, camping, and kayaking.
I’m a self-proclaimed “blindfluencer” and I published my first novel, Jubilant in 2021. I blog about life as a blind woman with a service dog here on The Dark side.
There are already lots of posts from blind and visually impaired people describing their unique conditions and superpowers, so today I’d like to take a slightly different angle on the topic. I am a blind healthcare provider, and this is my reality.
I’m yet another blind superhero. I was born about 75% blind and am now somewhere around 90%, due to a congenital retinal degenerative condition called… -takes a deep breath – CRB-associated Severe Early Childhood Onset Retinal Dystrophy within Lieber’s Congenital Amaurosis.
Essentially, I see through fuzzy little pinpricks of vision. I trip on things, misjudge doorways, can’t see in bright or dim light, and listen to the voices of my technology for everything from emails to bank transactions. I work with a service dog or a long white cane, depending on the day, activities, and my dog’s current health status.
Every superhero has a cause they’re more passionate about than just the generic dispensation of heroism and justice where needed. Mine is the current challenges faced by blind healthcare workers. The few of us I’m aware of usually find ourselves having to work twice as hard to prove we’re providers, not patients. Yet this approach has blinded the healthcare community to some unique resources which only we on the Dark Side can show them.
I want to create a community of blind and visually impaired healthcare workers where we can focus on developing strengths-based approaches to our various fields, collaborate on solving communal issues in an ever-evolving industry, and inspire a generation of blind sidekicks to take up capes and causes of their own.
My Villain Squad
No origin story is complete without a cadre of nefarious creatures trying to thwart the heroine’s titanic efforts for the good of mankind. Mine are Touchscreens, Paperwork, and Transportation.
The transition from a paper-based healthcare system to an electronic one should have been a door swinging wide open to blind providers. Though we have yet to fully eliminate paperwork from the equation, its impact has been drastically reduced in the past five years. I don’t anticipate it taking long for us to go completely paperless.
But remember how you had to check in using a touchscreen at your local hospital or doctor’s office? What about the touchscreens on fax machines, scanners, and printers? While mobile devices can be taught to speak up for us, appliances such as basic office equipment lack the software space for assistive technology. The ability to beam control options from fax to phone exists but isn’t widely implemented enough to render office settings fully accessible to compassionate care providers without vision.
And then there’s transportation. While some larger urban areas boast advanced mass transit systems, and ride-sharing has become much-needed competition for taxi services, these tend to take longer than driving routes. They also only exist in a few locations. While I have always managed to arrange regular cost-effective transportation to various workplaces, it’s an additional burden to plan one-time trips for professional exams, continuing education, and networking events.
And that doesn’t include the so-far impenetrable barrier around new community-based healthcare initiatives. I’ve had to turn down 3 job offers in the past year because I can’t drive to five client houses a day, and because these programs usually serve poor and otherwise disenfranchised populations the clients often lack the resources to simply transition to telehealth-based care.
And of course, no superhero stat sheet is complete without a breakdown of powers! So let me show you what I’ve got…
I can’t tell you the number of times clients have told me they feel less judged knowing I can’t see them. It’s a frequent comment I get during intakes when first impressions matter so much. While information like weight, manner of dress, and personal hygiene are important to a counselor for assessment purposes, in my intakes I am solely focused on what the client has to say, and they know it.
The intake is their session, not mine. It’s the foundational step in building a sense of safety and trust that will allow us to gently, intelligently probe into more sensitive areas to begin our collaborative healing work.
Black Canary and I wouldn’t make a good team-p. I can hear a tension headache at an accuracy rate of 56% and climbing – an ability canary’s scream would probably obliterate. Adding the dimension of listening to assessing physical status has allowed me to distinguish fine details that exist between what a person says and what a person feels.
It also means that when you sit in my office we won’t’ be doing worksheets or drawing pictures. You’re going to get your hands dirty – sometimes literally. Instead of focusing on externalizing thoughts onto paper, I try to engage the entire body and as many senses as possible in each activity and skill-coaching session to make the experience more memorable and effective.
If the eyes are the window to the soul, then I skip the window and meet my clients on the doorstep.
My Favorite Superhero
My favorite superhero is my future self. I realized recently I’ve been living the first part of an origin story, unaware of my powers, always seeking permission or assistance to make necessary moves in my life. But the cosmic ray has struck, part two begins with the discovery of strengths and abilities that have lain dormant within me my entire life.
In the last two years I accomplished things in my personal and professional life I never dreamed possible, from earning my master’s to publishing a novel. With this newfound trajectory, what heights might I reach in act three?
I’ve begun to approach my life and work with the question “if I didn’t know how sighted people did this, how would I solve this problem?”
With the right questions, we can change the world.
If you’d like to stay up-to-date with Anneliese, you can find her on Amazon, Goodreads and Facebook for book updates, LinkedIn for mental health articles, and Twitter for a little bit of everything!
4 thoughts on “The Reality of Being A Blind Healthcare Worker – Guest Post by Anneliese”
cool! Well done what a fab post! I am also blind! I want to say I think you are awesome!
You are amazing, Anneliese! I love your story and I just know Act III will be incredible, too!
Well done to Anneliese, she is inspirational indeed!
Best wishes, Pete.
Right now I am studying the life of my great great Aunt Lucy who went to China in 1901 to teach blind girls. At the time they were having to turn to prostitution. Instead they learned to do legitimate massage in above board medical settings. I love reading about another blind woman with a health profession.