Seeing the World through a Survivor’s Lens
Seeing the World through a Survivor’s Lens

Categories: My Story

Photo of Zaakirah MuhammadBy Guest Blogger Zaakirah Muhammad, Photographer

I was born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on December 20th,  almost four weeks prematurely. At nine-months-old, I was diagnosed with retinoblastoma; a rare children’s eye cancer where a tumor develops in the retina. Shortly after, my right eye was surgically removed. Since then I have worn a prosthetic eye. As a result of radiation, I experienced hearing loss, which is still declining to this day, so I also wear hearing aids in both ears.

For the longest time, I limited myself. I never put much emphasis on the word “survivor,” nor truly understood it. It took a really long time to connect the dots—that survivor is actually a positive thing. I made it through something really difficult. Most children with retinoblastoma rarely lived to be a year old. Any light that shone was upon the negatives—my vision and hearing disabilities, which could lead to other disabilities and eventually death. It took time for me to realize that there is so much more to life than focusing on just that side of things.

I was always a quiet child and an introvert, but I have a voice that I have found and used through my photography. At six-years-old, I was given my first camera—a Kodak Polaroid. From there on, nothing could stop me from photographing everyone, everything and every place I went. With a camera, I could allow those in my life and around the world to see life and humanity as I do through my monocular vision.

As a youth, I started with travel and landscape photography, then capturing candid moments of close friends and family. By middle school, I considered going to school for psychology, social work or something similar because of my ability to be a good listener and a good friend to those in need. And I enjoyed helping.

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When Talking Hurts
When Talking Hurts

Categories: My Story

Photo of Sue MeismerBy Guest Blogger Sue Meismer, Instructional Designer and Virtual Administrator

Looking at me, you would never know. Sometimes, I still see my reflection in the mirror and forget that the person looking back may look like my old self  ̶  except she’s not. This “new” me constantly yanks me back with painful reminders and crushing fatigue whenever I try to work or live like the old me. Still, I have that incessant drive to advance my chosen career fields of Training and Organizational Development and Human Resources. Except that drive no longer has an outlet.

Old me had a successful nearly 20-year run in major companies and consulting, holding multiple career certifications and a graduate degree from a top flight program. She was highly employable and earning a comfortable living.

Fast-forward 10 years to “new” me. This me strives to maintain an even keel at all times. If I don’t, I know I will pay my price in the currency of pain. Talk to relatives at a holiday gathering, and pay in pain, nausea, dizziness, and hissing in my ears like the seven-year locust season. Have a deadline or an argument? Instant shot of all-over pain that lasts even when the stress subsides. The one pain trigger I can’t choose or predict: Barometric pressure.

I was in good health until New Years’ Eve day, 2004. That afternoon, a few blocks from home, a silver flash of car changed my life. A distracted driver ran a red light. Our lives intersected at my driver’s door, from which the paramedics extracted me with the Jaws of Life. My own jaw, would become my primary disabling source of pain, with my back and head vying for second place.

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Share Your American Dream for the Chance to Win $1,000, a Tablet and a Mentor!
Share Your American Dream for the Chance to Win $1,000, a Tablet and a Mentor!

Categories: Community Life

A photo of a video camera with the words, "Lights, Camera, Action!"

By Guest Blogger Dominic Manecke, Communications Specialist, National Disability Institute

National Disability Institute is proud to announce the launch of its fourth annual My American Dream – Voices of Americans with Disabilities Video Contest!

Like all Americans, people with disabilities strive for and are working tirelessly toward realizing their American dreams. That is why we want to hear from individuals with disabilities across America about their dreams and the steps they are taking to achieve them. Whether it’s landing a dream job, owning a home, going to college, starting and running a business or taking steps toward financial independence, we encourage people with disabilities to share their goals and show that all Americans want the same thing – a piece of the American dream.

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