Blind faith is when you don’t know where you’ll land, but you jump anyway. Blind faith is when you are not sure of the outcome, but you keep moving forward with confidence. Blind Faith is also a woman. Faith Penn said she lives in one of the best cities for blind people because she finds the streets of Austin effortless to navigate. A regular bus rider, she also finds that Capital Metro drivers give really good directions.
Born with glaucoma, she has been legally blind all of her life. “I grew up with some sight,” she states. Growing up in Dallas, Texas, she knew how to get around Oak Cliff where she lived for the bulk of her childhood. She recalls that she even rode her bike around the South Dallas neighborhood. She found curbs, steps and other depths problematic. Other than that, she didn’t let sight problems slow her down.
Faith left home and familiar sights to attend the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired(TSB) where she was classified as visually impaired. TSB is located in Austin, three hours from Dallas. By the time she was attending TSB she was a teenager.
Faith admitted that she often wondered why she was born with degenerative glaucoma, which came with the forecast of future blindness riding on its coattails. Eventually the disease did rob her of eyesight in one eye.
However, it wasn’t glaucoma that led to total blindness. It was an accident that could only be described as an oddity. She was standing around TSB recreation center talking to friends while other teens played with a soccer ball nearby. The ball hit a metal fire escape rail and ricocheted into her face. She was able to see well enough to run to her dorm at TSB.
The next day her eye began hemorrhaging. Doctors could not see what her eye condition was because it was filled with blood. This was the spring of 2003.
In 2004 the blood had finally drained from the eye and she regained sight for one and a half years. She was in college at Texas Tech University by then. “In my sophomore year, I could see again,” she recalls.
Her sight went away for good in 2006 when she was a Junior. Doctors discovered that she had a detached retina. She had found the back-and-forth volleying frustrating. “I just wanted it to be one way or the other,” she stated.
Faith moved on. She said she decided to obtain blindness skills, so she attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She also learned independent living skills.This included training in cooking and Industrial Arts, using Braille and the long white cane. Faith also learned to use accessible technology, such as JAWS. JAWS is a screen reading program that uses synthesized speech to help the blind and visually impaired to complete computer tasks. She also participated in confidence-building activities such as white water rafting.She learned to navigate the streets of the world famous Mardi Gras.
“I knew if I could use my cane and travel during Mardi Gras, I could travel anywhere.”
She finished college with a BA in Public Relations. She had always been interested in event coordination, having coordinated family events prior to formal training.
Now, she holds a full-time job, plays beep baseball with the Austin Blackhawks, and mentors blind youth.
She enjoys mentoring others with sight limitations where she encourages them to live independently; just as she does. She helps them to build their confidence and teaches them how to live every day life. She said that she insists that they use what they’ve learned instead of going back to old routines and letting others do for them.
In her state job she is a Technical Writer, where she writes benefit letters, updates web text, writes correspondence letters and composes help messages.
“I enjoy living alone,” stated Penn. She said she cooks for herself, picks out her own clothes and goes grocery shopping alone. She watches movies, hangs out with friends, works out to stay in shape, and text messages or talks on the phone with friends.
Faith is now putting her event coordination skills to work by helping to arrange a Tapping Into Style Fashion Show, which is hosted by the Austin Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas (NFBTX). Several blind models, and a mix of sighted and blind children will be featured. “This is a way for them to see us work our stuff,” she said.
She noted that every October, which is Meet the Blind Month, the federation does something fun and interesting to raise awareness about blindness. Last year they had a “Dining In The Dark” event. She said she helps the federation in various ways throughout the year.
The way she gets around, her handling of her cane, and her ability to locate it easily on the rare occasions when she drops it may stun the viewer. “I’ve had people come up to me and say that I inspire them,” she admitted.
“Me, I’m all about confidence. I’m all about independence.”