Twenty-six years later, the women in that carpool and the woman I walked to synagogue with are amongst my dearest and closest friends. Soon, because my vision was decreasing, I knew the jig was up anyway, so I asked for the help I needed. I was very conscious of not abusing people. For example, my husband worked full-time out of the house those days and couldn't participate in carpool. So, he drove to every single Sunday birthday party or after-school thing.
I don't think that I ever took the help for granted. It just didn't serve me anymore to keep my condition a secret if I wanted to be a contributing member of my community. I have always known I could count on my sisters and my parents but I had to learn to trust other people. So, I decided to take the risk and be honest and open and it has paid off a hundredfold. I am blessed to have the most supportive family and friends. I've come a very long way - from being cautious and not wanting anyone to know about my disability and, for sure, not wanting help - to the me now. I will ask anyone for an arm. I'm totally comfortable with who I am as a disabled person and the greatest compliment my friends can give me is when they shrug or wave or point to something and say, "Oh my G-d, what am I doing?" and we have a good laugh!
JB: Tell us a little about your professional life, Michelle. What did you study in grad school and what have you done with it subsequently?
MF: My graduate degree is in counseling psychology and, as I said, I worked for access living, an independent living center for the disabled in Chicago. When I had my first baby, I just couldn't leave my baby, so I became mostly a stay at home mom. I did some volunteer work and a little private counseling from home once my two oldest children were in school. But, for the most part, I began my long career of volunteering on boards and doing fundraising for organizations around that time.
Shortly after I went blind, I discovered I had a very small window of opportunity to get my license as a therapist. Unfortunately, I was going through a really tough time. It was long before exams were routinely computerized. I was just learning how to use a computer and I needed the adaptive equipment and screen-reading programs that blind people require to use a computer. Also, in those days, the study materials [and the exam] were not in an accessible format. I did not have the energy, confidence or personal strength to advocate for what I needed to take the exam, so I missed that window of opportunity to get my license which meant I could no longer practice privately as a therapist.
I gave up the idea of working and thankfully, all the organizations i was involved with saw value in what I was doing and never flinched at my continuing to fundraise and serve on their boards.
About six years after I went blind, I found out I was pregnant again. Once my youngest son turned two and started preschool, I felt the need to be doing something with my career. I was in a much much better place emotionally around my blindness and in terms of learning how to use computers and all the adaptive equipment available to the blind. I began looking for ways to get back into the mental health world and generate some income for our family.
This was just around the time that coaching was becoming popular. Coaching incorporated working with people, which I was craving to do again. It complemented the style of therapy I did and many of the coaching programs were done on the phone, using bridge lines. I didn't have to deal with transportation getting to and from, figuring out how I would deal with childcare and could still be home when my kids were home. I began taking classes over the phone with a coach training program that was designed for psychologists, social workers and therapists.