Zein Al Maha Oweis discusses the ways her visual impairment has opened the doors for a richer, fuller life.
We have been on such a wild and crazy adventure together these past 27 years. Starting at six years old when you were diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), meaning that I would have tunnel vision as a mutation of genes attacks your cons and rods, I still appreciated all you did for me. Later on, however, I did not like how you blindsided me when I turned 21 - losing peripheral vision gave me quite a fright but, I forgive you … these things happen.
Today, on World Sight Day, the visually impaired such as myself and people who experience sight loss dedicate this day to loving our eyes or what sight we have left. This year the theme is “Love Your Eyes”.
Isn’t that lovely?
So, because I love you so much and because you have been with me every clumsy step of the way, I wanted to say thank you, because without you I would not have experienced such a whirlwind adventure. I would not have learned that you are one of the most precious gifts to have, even with all the bumps and bruises I have gained over the years. I promised I would not tear up but, how could I not with all the memories we have together?
From taking the first step with my very first cane when I was 16 in Jordan to graduating as valedictorian when I was 22, you have been there every step of the way. Besides, if it had not been for your determination while I was walking to the podium in London, then I would have missed a step and fallen - that would not have been a pretty sight. Remember when we stood in front of eight hundred high-schoolers in Jordan last year and shared our wonderful tales about tackling university with a visual impairment? You have taken me through the best of times.
Look how far we have come! I am 27 and still have my sight! I am so thankful that you can function even with only five degrees of peripheral vision. Well done, you! I thank you for working so hard, through all the screen time and reading so many academic research materials for my PhD - because of you I am able to do what I love.
I am able to live independently where I can walk on my own and see the world around me through my own colour scheme, with a little help from my friends and family. I am able to witness their laughter, love and joy, all because of you! Oh, I cannot forget to say thank you to “Bonnie”, my lovely white cane. You guys get along so well!
The most important thing I am thankful for today, though, is the gift of wisdom. You have taught me that I do not need to see the way others do to understand, think and feel. I learned that with an open mind, heart and mental power I can live and explore life in a different, magnificent way. I am able to view my surroundings through my ears and through my sense of touch. It brings me so much joy to hear birds chirping at seven in the morning, to smell flowers blooming while walking through the Botanical Gardens and to hear the pitter patter of rain hitting the streets of Glasgow on my daily commute to campus. I am able to explore new experiences through heightened senses and it has made me a wiser person.
From the bottom of my heart I say thank you! I cannot wait to see what the next few years have in store for us.
Your Friendly Visually Impaired Companion
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