Guest blog post by Meegan Winters | Co-Founder/CEO | Able Eyes
Almost 4 years ago I lost my dear friend Jessica as a result of her lifelong battle with Muscular Dystrophy. Muscular Dystrophy is a genetic condition that results in weakening and deterioration of muscles in the body.
Jessica spent her whole life in a wheelchair, watching others experience things she knew she never could. Fortunately, she was born into the most amazing family ever! They never ever let “disability” impact her experiences in life (or her brother’s, who also has MD). They took several family vacations, included her in community events, had wild and crazy parties at their house, and even had the courage to send her off to Central Michigan University where she nearly completed her Master’s degree.
As a result of Jessica’s Muscular Dystrophy, she required assistance for many of her daily needs: dressing, using the restroom, taking a bath, picking things up off the ground, brushing her hair, and so many daily activities we take for granted. Her ability to navigate life, advocate for herself, and show so much compassion for others (never feeling sorry for herself) was admirable and incredible to say the least.
Jessica and I lived together at Central Michigan and although I have many stories of our fun times, I will keep those to myself for now 😉 This was probably the first time I truly understood how challenging accessibility can be. It was our goal to not be held back due to her disability, but the reality is that some bathrooms were impossible to get into, house parties were very challenging (but luckily plenty of strong fellas were there to help lift her chair), and trying something new was always a risk because it may be an hour before the taxi with a lift would be able to come back to pick us up (Able Eyes would have helped immensely here).
During the last few months of Jessica’s life I learned the most about her condition. She was suffering, she was unhappy, she wasn’t even able to eat solid foods anymore (one of her favorite things to do!). Selfishly, I didn’t want to let her go. How would I survive not talking to her every day? Jessica assured me that she would be with me even after she passed and she would be happier than ever.
I believe both of these statements now. She IS with me on the journey to creating Able Eyes and having an impact on people EVERYWHERE. This is what she would have wanted to do and I believe this journey is in honor of her and also a part of her.
Because of her passing, this amazing service was created and she and I are both able to follow our true path and passion for helping others.
In addition to my experience with Jessica, I also worked with children and adults on the Autism Spectrum for over 15 years as a teacher and administrator. These experiences paired with my passion for having an impact has created what is now Able Eyes…
What is Able Eyes?
- Do you know someone with Autism? If you do, you know that visiting new locations can cause a LOT of anxiety and sometimes results in loud, disrupting, and even destructive behaviors…
- Do you know a person that uses a wheelchair? If you do, you know that going out into the community can be a challenge. Curbs. Parking. Small restrooms. Steps…
- Do you know someone that has experienced trauma or has anxiety? If you do, you know that something that seems simple to many people can feel like drowning. Large crowds. Tight spaces. Anything out of the ordinary…
- Do you know anyone of ANY ability that experiences challenges out in the community?
- Do YOU often Google places to learn more, read a menu, or take a tour before you visit?
Able Eyes (www.AbleEyes.org) is working to make communities all over the U.S. more accessible and comfortable for people of all abilities. 360 degree virtual tours can be used as a “accessibility tool” for those who may experience challenges in the community. If EVERY business had a 360 degree virtual tour, people would have a chance to view accessibility, decrease anxiety, and potentially feel comfortable enough to enjoy more experiences in life.
This movement to improve accessibility has so many benefits:
- Improve quality of life for those with accessibility challenges (and their families). Simply “knowing” is half the battle. “Can I access the bathroom?” “Is the seating spaced out?” “Is there a quiet(er) space?” The more information a person has, the easier it is to prepare, and the more likely they are to try something new.
- Creates community awareness, understanding, and empathy when creating an inclusive environment.
- Ultimately, this tool has the potential to have an impact on our economy as a whole.
According to the most recent US Census report, 20% of the population has a disability. Do you know where many of the people in that statistic are each day? Sitting at home, feeling isolated, scared, unwelcome, and misunderstood. The most recent statistic on Autism shows that one in 52 children born in America have Autism. How are we going to prepare our communities for this reality? It’s likely that many people with disabilities also have a strong support system of family members and healthcare professionals who are also NOT going out into their communities while they are serving as caregivers.
Able Eyes will help people get out into the community eating at restaurants, shopping, traveling, etc. It will also send the message that “You are welcome here!”
Please help us spread the word about this amazing service. It has the potential to not only change lives for the better, but to help all people develop more inclusive mindsets regarding abilities.