A self-proclaimed “badass blind babe” is opening people’s eyes to what it’s really like not being able to see.
Jessie Wolinsky, 30, is using her handicap and social media presence to empower herself and others while also educating them about her disease.
Wolinsky became legally blind a few years ago after being diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare disease that slowly causes blindness over time when she was just seven years old.
Retinitis pigmentosa is an incurable disease that affects an estimated 100,000 people in the US, according to Cleveland Clinic.
According to Wolinsky, “blindness is a spectrum” and she explains why she doesn’t view her handicap as a “setback.”
“Me just walking down the street with my cane is a powerful statement,” Wolinsky said in an interview with SHERA, a social media platform dedicated to empowering women.
“It confuses people and they’re not used to seeing a blind person walking around or doing certain things like travel, so it definitely can get a lot of attention in that sense.”
Wolinsky is using her 44.2K TikTok followers to spread awareness and empower others by posting videos like “what NOT to say to someone who is blind” and “questions I get asked as a blind girl” all while posing in cute outfits.
“I love that I’m able to be different and use this as a way to help other people accept things about themselves that they don’t love. Or the things about themselves that society tells them is wrong or bad,” she said to SHERA.
One of the most important lessons that Wolinsky has learned and is trying to spread is “recognizing how little looks” matter.
“We grow up in a world, especially women, where we have so many things pushed on us on how our body needs to look and just, you know, all these different things in terms of our value and appearance being so linked,” she explained.
“Going blind has really flipped that on its head for me because one day I’m not going to be able to see what I look like. So why am I spending so much time now with the vision that I do have stressing out about my appearance or not posting this picture because I have a wrinkle or a double chin, or whatever it is.”
On a positive note, Wolinsky said that losing her sight has allowed her to become “a little bit more free with my appearance.”
But not everyone is as optimistic about Wolinksy’s handicap as she is. She recently received a comment from an online troll calling her “inadequate.”
“Just that word, ‘inadequate,’ it’s been sticking in my head since I read that comment maybe a couple of weeks or a month ago,” she said.
Although negativity does affect her, she tries to “not take it personally and try to use every single one of those interactions as a chance to educate people on the reality of blindness and that it is a spectrum.”
But the rude comment definitely struck a chord with Wolinsky who admitted that the worst part of her disease has been losing her sense of independence.
She explained that she’s never been able to drive, has trouble getting around and feels very anxious in dark situations.
“Obviously as a woman we have to be aware of people trying to attack us and I’ve had people do some unfortunate things to me and take advantage of me and it’s very, very scary,” Wolinsky admitted.
“So in that sense not feeling like I can be as independent and not feeling like I can quite literally watch my own back, it does get very nerve-wracking in that sense.”
Wolinsky explained that her retinitis pigmentosa has officially deteriorated her peripheral vision and described her eyesight as “tunneling in slowly” over the years.
“I also have to constantly let go of things, so like a couple of years ago I could read books, now I can’t read any sort of regular size print, so I listen to audiobooks or large print books or Braille books or things like that.
“I’m constantly letting go of things that I used to be able to do.”
While she’s now come to accept the reality of her disease, she initially struggled to come to terms with the harsh truth and suffered from suicidal thoughts and substance abuse.
“[As a teenager], I was just kind of a happy-go-lucky kid who had all these [visions] about my future and after that, I really truly felt like there was no way that I would be able to have any sort of life after that,” Wolinsky shared.
“It’s been a long journey to get to where I am now, to you know, find happiness in my life.”
The disabilities advocate has grown to become proud of her handicap. “I love it because it allows me to be different,” she insisted.
“I have worked so hard to get to a positive place in my life where I don’t view this as a setback, I really truly view it as something that helps the world.”
“I really, really like being someone who is different and getting to use this condition to find empowerment within myself and hopefully empower and inspire some other people to love themselves a little bit more. I think this world needs it,” she said.
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