12 Nov 2014

Why be Fashionable if You Can’t See

When I give presentations to interested groups on what it is like to be visually-impaired, I can guarantee one question will ALWAYS be asked at the end of my talk – “How do you know what you are wearing?” Women especially, are surprised that I can be colour-coordinated from top to toe. There is no great mystery involved, there is no other person dressing me in the morning. The simple answer is – choosing one’s clothing is a matter of FEELING first, then seeing how it all fits together. When you feel good in what you wear, you will look great!

The other reason why I love clothes shopping is because browsing with my hands is an exquisite experience. Feeling textures of clothing or gliding my hands over jewellery is not always because I want to buy it but is a curious desire on my part to see the choices at my fingertips.

Here are some fashion questions I was asked recently, so let’s take a closer look why being fashionable is not just about seeing, but about feeling. Oh, and a little warning too, the photos, well, yes, they were taken a few years ago, funny how one can think one is being fashionable at the time!

How important is fashion and style to you?

Fashion is fun and I enjoy feeling garments which allows me to visualise the world of ever changing trends. I think it’s a ‘girlie’ thing – taking delight in touching clothes, lingerie, shoes, dabbing on perfumes or smelling leather hand bags because it is highly enjoyable to ‘see’ what’s in fashion.

The other reason for my ever-readiness to touch the world around me is because it is not normally permitted in galleries or museums so when I am in a store or market place, it allows me to touch all sorts of objects I can’t see and by doing so, I feel less excluded from the visual world.

What sort of fabrics do you enjoy the most?

Soft fabrics, satin trims, things with buttons and bows. I also enjoy knitting and making luxurious scarves for friends as winter gifts. In summer, I look for soft undergarments and layer my outfits with flowing chiffon tops. Lingerie is another one of my touchy-feely delights – as it is worn close to the skin, I won’t compromise the feel of luxury by purchasing cheap underwear – it has to be soft and silky (including hosery).

I believe that when you begin the first layer of clothing feeling feminine, you will wear the dress with an upright back and carry an air of chic – like a proud Spanish Lipizzaner!

What are your considerations when choosing garments?


Apart from seeking comfort and prettiness of garment, even in casual wear, I am fussy about colour and design. When on my own, I take quite a while to scout out an item as I examine the texture carefully and the cut by feeling the collar, shape etc. I know what styles suit me by past experience and many times, a garment falls off the hanger as if to grab my attention and often, it is a good choice – could this be intuition helping? Then I quiz the shop assistant for the colour and price and if it passes these two questions, I will buy it.

Colours seem to have a certain ‘vibe’ for instance, as soon as I put grey near my face, my skin begins to feel drained. My favourite colours are strong and bold as in red, orange, colbalt blue, sunshine yellow and hot pink as these tones not only feel ‘right’ for me, I can see them in natural daylight.

At home, I hang clothing in groups so that matching items are placed together to be colour co-ordinated.

What shops do you frequent the most and why?


I enjoy being independent and setting my own pace as well as going out with friends to meander into the odd gift or fashion store. I often end up buying things because my girlfriends or partner point out items on special I wouldn’t have seen.

I go to the same clothing stores because it is easier to get around the shop without feeling overwhelmed. I visit the local stores where the shop keepers know me and are quick to offer help – even though it might be more expensive, the price of being looked after is well worth it.

But I do have to be in the right mood as it takes a lot of concentration to keep track of my movement around the store, to avoid prams and other obstacles. Sometimes the bumping from one object off another can feel like being inside a live pinball machine and if I can’t cope I will leave the store.

I particularly love feeling shoes! As I have no idea what people wear on their feet, a shoe shop is a lovely place to wander. I get to understand the different types of heels, shape of shoes and just adore this sort of shopping.

My partner, Harry, takes a particular delight in bringing objects closer into my reach and we often take time to enjoy the experience together (unless it is a cactus plant, which he has accidentally done on one occasion, misunderstanding my fondness for feeling flowers!

What challenges do you face when shopping?

On the whole, people are pretty helpful and understanding if I ask for assistance. A few pointers however, when a person is training to work in a department store or fashion counter, it would be extremely beneficial to know not to do the following -  as the store assistant, don’t ask my friend, “Would she like this?” It is kinder to ask me personally.

Some of the main challenges are:

·        first is to locate the right shop and entrance, sometimes blaring music indicates a clothing store plus sense of smell helps me to sniff out the correct place

·        manoeuvring around a shop I have not been in before and avoiding the racks while keeping the cane tight in one hand, the other loose to stray over fabrics to give me some sort of clue as to what I am ‘looking’ for

·        main disadvantage is in not being able to see the size and price on tags, colour of garment

·        must be very careful that the clothing I am feeling is on a mannequin and not the clothing of another shopper!

·        have no idea where the ‘specials’ rack is unless I ask for assistance

·        indoor shopping centres are a nightmare to navigate through especially as there is a bombardment of clashing sound coming from all quarters that hinders my hearing and can be very stressful (so I tend to shop in places that I know or are on a street front)

·        a fashion item that is hard to choose on my own are sunglasses. Often whoever is with me will pick the style they like and then when I wear them, my family will comment “who helped you to buy those sunglasses?” which means – they wouldn’t have chosen them for me so needless to say, I have a few dead pairs in my drawer.

How important to you are the perceptions of others of you fashion wise?

I like to demonstrate that blind or vision-impaired women can enjoy being colour co-ordinated, wear smart and trendy gear with high heels and enjoy fashion just as much as our sighted friends do. People are often surprised to see me turn up at a function with matching jewellery, fashionable dress with lovely bag and jacket and I am surprised by their reaction – why wouldn’t a vision-impaired woman be dressed well?

I also have a passion for smelling fragrances at perfume counters and put my nose to the test to pinpoint individual scent molecules from cleverly concocted blends. The art of wearing fragrance – mmm, that’s another story…

If you want to be bold and beautiful, you can - let Stephanae (Steph) McCoy, the Blind Style Blogger show you how to strut your stuff at: 

Bold Blind Beauty: Style Concepts for the Visually Impaired

AND, in the UK, Emily Davison speaks the language of fashion That Comes From the Heart and Soul at

Fashioneyesta: Bridging the Gap between Fashion and Sight

you might also like to read eight threads to weave into the garment of change

Copyright © Maribel Steel 2014

12 Oct 2014

The Colour of Friendship – International White Cane Day


“Be thou the rainbow to the storms of life,
the evening beam that smiles the clouds away,
and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray!” Byron

When I recently felt shaken by the ‘storms of life’ after two unsuccessful applications to further my writing career, a group of friends rallied to offer words of kindness in such a supportive way that I was able to see beyond the disappointment, and felt carried to clearer skies on the wings of friendship.

These friends are a group of people I have never met yet they were able to lift me above my clouds of doubt to a sunnier outlook, bringing cheer to my heart to not give up my quest. How is this possible?

It is through our shared experience of blindness.

The group of peer advisors I belong to all share our stories, our reflections and advice on an American website called VisionAware. Led by the program manager, Pris Rogers, I was accepted into their group in May of this year – and ever since I feel I have found my tribe!

“From the colour spectrum, any pure hue and colour
can be combined with white, black or grey to produce a tonal family.” Anon

For me, the way in which we support and mentor each other as well as a wider community of readers to the Vision Aware website, and can genuinely understand the ups and downs that being blind or visually-impaired brings to our lives, has been uncanny. Sometimes my friends write articles I can relate to so closely that it is refreshing to hear such insights from the heart and mind of others.

Emails fly back and forth, full of admiration, empathy, understanding, laughter and shared experiences that keep us working together as a ‘merry band of peers’ writing posts that reflect so many of our varied interests and personal skills. The bond of friendship and camaraderie is strengthened through genuine thoughtfulness, carried on the invisible communication lines of the internet!

So in honour of International White Cane Day on October 15 2014, I’m sending out a huge thank you from my corner of the globe, hoping these rays of friendship come beaming towards all the people in the ‘blindness community’ who are helping each other as peers, mentors  and ambassadors working together for a more Vision-Aware world!

Two other friendships that I am enjoying across the web of connectiveness are with Stella de Genova and Jeff Flodin, founders of Vision Through Words. Like me, they both have Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and actively support a community of blind and visually-impaired writers and poets as we share our stories through the creative arts.

In a recent post by Jeff, his witty portrayal of two elderly friends trying to help each other as their vision declines, is a heart warming story of true friendship. I thank him for allowing me to repost the story here – I’m smiling already!


by Jeff Flodin

They call each other Al and Bert, these old men I know.  Al sold cars, Bert sold insurance. On Wednesday nights, they went bowling; on Saturday mornings, they went fishing.  They bonded, as men will.

Al and Bert were family men before the kids scattered, before Harriet got the cancer and Dottie just dwindled away.

Now Al and Bert live next door at Independence Village. They prowl the aisles at the Kroger store, resolute and clueless.  Al, bent by “Arthur itis,” steers the grocery cart.  Bert, lost in the blind spots of “macular,” pushes and follows.

“You’re pushing too hard, Bert.”
“I didn’t think I was pushing at all, Al.”
“Reach up there, Bert, and grab a box of Cheerios.  No, not there.  Over there.”
”Al, you gotta not say ‘over there.’  I got no clue where ‘over there’ is anymore.  You gotta say ‘up, down, left, right.”

“Left then,” says Al. “No, I mean your other left. A little more. Little more. Up now. There you go.”
“Got it,” says Bert. “Big yellow box.”

“What’s next on your list there, Bert?”
“Here, you read it. I left my glasses at the home.”
“It’s not the glasses you’re needing, Bert. You’re blind as a bat.”
“Am not.”
“Are too,” says Al.  “And this list. You got us back and forth all over the store.”
“I thought a list would help, Al. I was only trying to help.”
“But it’s got to be organized. Like an assembly line. I’m only trying to help here too, Bert.”
“Well, Al, you’re helping too much!”
“And you, Bert, you’re helping too little!”

They shuffle down the breakfast aisle, childish and childlike. “Jeez, Bert, I’ve never seen so damn many cereal boxes.

Used to be Grape Nuts was all you needed to get started in the morning.”

“Times change, Al, so I guess we oughta change too. Seeing as how it’s gonna take two of us, you be the hunter, Al, ‘cuz you can see things, and I’ll be the gatherer ‘cuz I can reach them.”

“You’re on, Bert. What’s next on your list here? Eggs. I’ll find them and you gather them.  Cheese and milk are over with the eggs.”

“And chicken fingers, Al.  Over with the eggs.”

“Chickens got no fingers, Bert. And you’re getting us off track again. We got to follow the system here.”

“I got the system, Al. Ice cream’s gotta be alongside milk.”

“Jeez, Bert, you’re a big help. Now reach over there and gather that carton of eggs. No, not that one, the one over there!”

Originally posted on JalapeƱos in the Oatmeal

For further reading

For further reading, you can read many inspiring articles  offering insight on VisionAware.

I highly recommend the personal story from one of the peers, Leanne Gibson,  which is truly moving. In only a few months from being given the diagnosis that she is going blind, she has written to help assure us all that “a negative mind will never provide a positive life.”

Her story, “As I was sleeping” reveals Leanne’s life was about to change.. A war was raging inside my head. My brain had the knowledge of how the world was to look, but my eyes were incapable of sending the information.”

Copyright © Maribel Steel 2014
Photographs Copyright © Harry Williamson 2014

22 Sep 2014

3-Easy-Steps to Hop Scotch into Your Dreams

'Dare to Dream' illustrated by gregory mackay

“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities.
Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.”   Gloria Steinem

Have you noticed how children have the ability to expect anything their hearts desire?

They dream big, persist with requests (which often involves nagging their parents to death), have the unshakeable belief their request is being attended to and sit back and wait for their dream toy, or other grand imaginings, to be delivered – and without too much delay!

They don’t stop for a moment to talk themselves out of their grand desires, even if as a parent, you point out, “Sorry, darling. We can’t afford it.” You can see their eyes glaze over with a defiant stare as thoughts tick louder in their warrior-like minds, and later, you are surprised to overhear them enrolling their grandparents into their plans.

You tell them off for continuing their crazy notions to achieve their impossible scheme.

But it works!

Next birthday and hey presto – their excitement is uncontainable. Not only did they manage to get what they wanted, they experienced something very special, another VICTORY!

Being blind is no different

What would it be like if as a person feeling limited by a lack of eyesight, we could adopt the same child’s innate ability to understand the law of attraction when reaching for our own goals? Well, here’s their secret formula…

Dream + plan = possibility.

Sounds too easy, right?

But as adults, somewhere in our growing up, we experienced the unthinkable – failure.

Our dreams were brought crashing to the ground and we became afraid to think big again, to reach for the stars, to launch another dream. The disappointment was so great, our mind took control of our heart and said, Trust me. You’re not doing that again.

In certain situations, this is great advice from the voice of reasoning, so you don’t make terrible mistakes over and over again. But your mind also likes to hold down your own dreams and has the canny ability to come up with dozens of excuses, in nano-seconds, why your heart’s desire can’t possibly come true. The booming voice of reason does its utmost to drown out your passions, creating an internal disquiet.

This is when the ‘fun’ begins

You have a CHOICE: you can either listen to reason, agree with the practical scenarios of why your desire is not going to happen, or you can be bold and hold on to your true feelings.

In my lifetime, especially as a visually-impaired person, I have seen how manifesting dreams to become a reality can work by following the same formula inherent in the child’s manifesto. It might be child’s-play to them but, boy, can it be hard work!

The three steps children play - try them!


Step 1. Your dream is believable.

Whatever it is you feel brave to dream, let the heart soar with the thought of potential.

Be like the child-warrior, knowing you want this is more real than knowing how to answer the doubting questions coming thick and fast. The warrior (not worry-er) believes with all their heart, and that is it. No asking how or what if; it is the phase of ‘I desire this because it feels right’.

Step 2. With effort, your dream is achievable

You have dared to dream and now it is time to make plans. You go on the quest to seek out those people who might be able to take you one step closer to your grand vision. You don’t need to convince them, you need to inspire them. The danger is taking ‘no’ from someone else as your answer. Keep going, throw the dice again and move forward (even if you feel you’re going no-where).  Remember, it’s child’s-play, they don’t give up easily.

Step 3. Hit and Miss

Your dream will take off and bring you to a place of amazement and uncontainable joy
OR, it may take you in a totally different direction than you had planned.
Either way, trust is your outcome. You played the game, you dared to dream and you learned to trust the warrior-soul.

You didn’t give up the quest. What you have gained is all the excitement and persistence of a brave heart to try again… Go on, you’ve got nothing to lose when you dare to dream….

Matty, Silver and Claire stepping out together

My thanks to Tania at The Shoe Alternative who first published my article online. She is always on the look-out for new articles – why not hop, skip and jump across Cyberspace and pitch your stories –
the shoe alternative

The wonderful surprise you get if your story is accepted is a unique drawing created by one of their talented illustrators. The image at the top of this post is the creation of Gregory Mackay -  I just love it!

Copyright © Maribel Steel 2014

8 Sep 2014

How to Flatter Your Editor

Brian, the thinker

Yes – meet the senior editor of all my blog posts, a man who ponders deeply about life, the universe and everything. A man who is dedicated to the craft of writing and the person who goes out of his way to help me at every stage of my writing career…and the dear man who has been devoted to caring for me and my kids over several decades…meet my father, Brian!

When I was recently invited to present a webinar for Hadley School for the Blind, by the Senior Vice President, Dawn Turco, my co-presenter, Maureen Duffy and I had many tips to share on the topic of blogging.

One of our points was about the importance of proof reading and asking a second editor to look over your work – especially if, like me, you are blind or visually-impaired.

Brian is a well-seasoned author and linguist and now in his semi-retired years, he is also one of the talented team members behind the scenes of this blog and my many writing projects. Being my collaborator, I can’t thank him enough for his impeccable editor’s eye, for his prompt proof reading and his skill in suggesting changes that stay true to my writing voice.

On some weeks, I may have more stories than usual to proof read especially when I am in a creative frenzy to enter writing contests. One day, I wrote him a poem in the desire to interest his curiosity with sweet words of praise to take on the extra work load…

Sweet Design

Hi father dear,
a pithy piece here,
won't take up too long,
you'll be free once it's gone,

and I promise not to send,
any more this weekend,
and if energy fades,
I have croissants and marmalade,

to bring with a smile,
as you toil for a while,
be assured no other man,
works as hard as you can

in polishing my prose,
heavens, it's worth it, you know,
because you can never tell,
who's reading the works of Maribel!

thanks to you, my talented scribe,
who plays his part, in keeping alive,
adjectives and adverbs and all things great,
a keen-eyed  editor, not afraid to fill his plate,

‘another one, Sir?’ I dare to ask,
‘bung it in’, you say, ‘I don't mind the task’
right, then, over to you,
to work your magic…
 as you always do!!

Lv, Poet-bel xxx
His reply?

‘Flattery will get you everywhere!’

Swapping ideas

With my thanks also to Dawn Turco and the web team of Hadley School for the Blind, you can listen to the audio webinar and catch our Ten Blogging Tips with a list of resources sourced by social media expert Maureen Duffy and myself, the link is: Webinar in Audio

You may also like:

Come on the Writing Journey

Being blind is the obstacle and the stepping stone

© 2014 Maribel Steel  -   Photos © Harry Williamson