Quick – what comes to mind when you think about people who are blind? YouTube sensations? Pole vaulters? Rock stars?
If none of those descriptions were on your mental list, maybe it’s time for a new list.
Meet the new generation of young people who are blind. For them, blindness is one part of who they are – but not the most important part. They’re not afraid to take chances. They’re proof that determination overcomes any limitation. And they’re so busy achieving their dreams they may not even realize they’re rewriting the rules about what it means to be blind.
When teen girls need makeup tips, they go to the Internet. When they need really good makeup tips, they go to YouTube and get advice from a young woman who’s blind.
She’s Lucy Edwards, 20, a UK native whose make-up tutorials have been viewed more than 650,000 times. She has her own YouTube channel called YesterdaysWishes, which promises: “You can have blindness and beauty.”
Edwards lost her vision completely three years ago from a rare condition called incontinentia pigmenti. So she memorized key points on her face and practiced applying her makeup by touch. Her videos were originally intended for other teens who are blind, but Edwards soon attracted a sighted audience who appreciated her fail-proof advice and product suggestions.
Being able to do her own makeup gives her a sense of confidence, Edwards said. “Because I’m making myself pretty, it makes me feel better about myself on the inside,” she said. “I don't have to ask someone, ‘Do I look good today?’ Because I know that I do.”
Vaulting over blindness
She’s the only pole vaulter in Texas who needs a guide dog to get to the starting line.
But once Charlotte Brown gets there, athletic skill takes over. She sprints down the 81-foot runway, counting each step and planting her pole at step number seven. She soars more than 11 feet in the air over a crossbar she can’t see.
Brown developed cataracts when she was four months old, and began to lose her vision at age 11. In high school she became completely blind – but she didn’t let that stop her. As a senior in 2015, Brown won a bronze medal at the Texas high school state championships, and her guide dog Vador joined her on the podium.
Now Brown is heading to Purdue University on an academic scholarship. “The message I would pass on to anyone my age is don’t put limits on yourself,” she said. “No matter how impossible something may seem, there is a way to do it!”
Rock star cool
On stage, Casey Harris could be just another musician with styled blond hair and hipster shades. His white cane is the first clue that he’s more than that.
Harris is the keyboardist for the buzzed-about indie rock band X Ambassadors. He’s been blind since birth because of Senior-Loken syndrome, a rare genetic condition. “I might be visually impaired but I’m just an ordinary guy playing pretty dope music,” he said.
Harris plays a Nord Lead 4 keyboard synthesizer, which has tactile knobs he can operate by touch. His old-school synthesizer sound anchors the Brooklyn-based band’s melodic songs like “Renegades,” which hit the top of the alternative rock charts in 2015. The “Renegades” video also offers a clue about that makes Harris different – it features people with blindness and other disabilities hiking, lifting weights and boxing.
“The message of our music is the extraordinary exists within the ordinary,” Harris said. “It celebrates the ordinary person and says no to discrimination and ignorance.”