One day soon, Laura Kiefer will likely be completely blind. For now, her vision is impaired only in her periphery, meaning that her best field of vision is directly in front of her. At the age of 22, Laura was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare eye disease that causes breakdown and damage to cells in the retina. Because it is an inherited degenerative eye disease, Laura watched her mother work through the same diagnosis, including giving up her driver’s license on the same day she became legally blind.
All of this shaped Laura to become the fascinating woman she is today, including her career as a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist with Louisiana Association for the Blind, where she helps young students and adults to move about safely, efficiently and with confidence in their everyday lives.
How has your vision impacted your career?
I always wanted to be a teacher. I worked in a daycare while I was going to school part-time and I hated being stuck in one classroom. All of a sudden, it was like a light bulb went off because my mom had gone through orientation and mobility when I was in high school. It clicked that I could be a teacher, but it would be one-on-one. Right now, I’m an itinerant teacher for Bossier and Caddo schools, in addition to working with all ages outside of those two programs.
What about your students? Has their vision impairment impacted their career paths?
I do have one student who wants to be an ophthalmologist. It’s on my to-do list to investigate that job more so he can make an informed decision about that career path. There are some difficulties with my job because I do have to be the realist who says, “I know you’ve heard your whole life you can do anything you want to do, but let’s examine this and see if this is a good fit for you.” And, if maybe not, we can find something that parallels that job and your interests. Let’s pursue that.
In a perfect world, everybody would have the accommodations that they need. But I know that we live in the real world. We live in a day and age where there are so many technological advancements that make it easier for people with vision loss. Sometimes, it’s really just about finding the right person to take a chance on them.
Do you drive? How do you and others get around town?
At this point in my life, I am still able to drive in optimal conditions, but I’m right on the cusp. Our catchphrase in this field is “it depends.” We live in an age that people probably would have dreamed of years ago because of Uber and Lyft. Sportran has a service called LiftLine and it’s a reduced $2.50 fare. It’s a really cool time to be visually impaired. There are more opportunities for independence now, more than ever. There is also a way for some people who are legally blind to drive with something called a bioptic, which is like a telescope or binoculars mounted to glasses. Bioptics may be an option for people with an acuity of 20/200 or better.
How do low vision or blind women navigate dating?
So, I actually wasn’t diagnosed with my condition until after I”d already met my husband! The percentage of married versus not married for those with visual impairments is really close to people without disabilities. I think we all have baggage and we all have our problems and visual impairment may just be one of those bags. I think that maybe it’s your confidence and your self-esteem that helps you which is the same as anybody, whether you’re visually impaired or not.
What about parenthood?
When I met my husband I said, I didn’t want any kids because I didn’t know how I would navigate parenthood without vision. We’re planning to be foster parents and we’re going through that process. But we have to be real. I’m going blind and for my husband to transport me and kids may be difficult. So, I think I’ll just learn to adapt and make it work. Two people I went to college with are both totally blind and they have a daughter together. So, it can be done!
So, if you or someone who is blind wants to wear makeup, is it difficult?
I do have a slightly decreased acuity that does make it difficult for me to match my skin tone. Actually, yesterday I was buying foundation and they were out of the usual stuff. I had to kind of ask my husband: is this the same color? I heard from a woman who also has Retinitis Pigmentosa that she goes to the cosmetic counter at a department store every season and she has them show her how to apply. A former student who is totally blind used apps like AIRA and Be My Eyes, where you can video chat with a sighted person for help in any situation. There are a lot of resources!
What’s the one thing you wish everyone could know about being blind?
Everyone’s an individual. It’s fascinating. It’s a constant adaptation and evolution of people. You can have two people with the same exact condition, and how they’re experiencing it will differ completely. If people would just give it a try and just see what we’re capable of, their minds would be changed, for sure.