Minnesota Writer's Journey of Giving Back to Others with Vision Loss
Zenobia Carson of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, has a lifelong passion for writing, beginning by authoring short stories and poems at the age of nine and later attending the prestigious Art Institute of Chicago, winning accolades for her visual work creating collages and publishing several books.
Today, at 74, Zenobia has little time to reflect on her past, which could fill many books. Bringing up six children as a single mother, Zenobia moved from Chicago to the Twin Cities, where she continued to write plays and poetry, later getting involved with the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, more recently she organized a journal-writing class, obtained a minister's license, wrote her memoir, and participates in the Extraordinary History Project, a program that pairs older people with professional writers.
Zenobia refers to her life as a "continually changing journey." Her love for the written word comes from the joy she gets from talking to new people and learning their own stories.
As a resident of a senior living facility, Zenobia accepted a job as an event coordinator at her retirement community just so she could continue to socialize and meet others. "It was a dream job for me, I was helping people stay active and engaged." A few years into her new role Zenobia began noticing that her vision was becoming increasingly blurred, she first tried using reading glasses, working her way up to the most powerful magnification levels, and later experimenting with lighting in her office in order to see her computer screen, nothing helped. "I was panicked and started thinking that I wouldn't be able to read, write, or work anymore as my vision worsened," said Zenobia, who was eventually diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes.
She began treatment but was told that her condition had progressed to the point where there was no guarantee that her sight would improve, even with continued medical intervention. "I battled with depression briefly, but immediately knew that this would be yet another journey in my life, so I began preparing for ways I could still accomplish what I wanted to do, but with less vision."
As a Chicago native, Zenobia remembered hearing about Hadley, which was founded as a correspondence school providing braille lessons by mail. Today, Hadley, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is the nation's leader in online help for adults with visual impairments from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. With hundreds of workshops on a wide variety of practical topics, Hadley's online portal, Hadley.edu, has already registered more than 100,000 workshop engagements since launching in July of 2020. The platform was built on months of research into the needs, wants, and desires of visually impaired adults, and everything is offered at no cost.
With the onset of COVID-19, Zenobia's event coordinator job was put on hold, she opted to work in the retirement community's general store serving residents by packing and delivering groceries and other items. Zenobia used her time in quarantine researching resources to help with her low vision challenges when she came across Hadley's website. "I am amazed how much Hadley offers for people like me, those who aren't completely blind but trying to navigate life with limited vision," she continued. "There were discussion groups all about writing, workshops, and tips on adjusting fonts, colors, and contrast on my computer, and so much more. I was able to start reading and writing again."
Zenobia knew she couldn't keep Hadley to herself and began telling other residents struggling with low vision about Hadley's learning resources whenever should could, including when delivering their grocery orders. "I moved to Minnesota to start a new life, I received a lot of help from others during my transition, I was even homeless for a while and lived in community shelters, once I got back on my feet, I made a promise to myself that I would do everything I could to give back to others," said Zenobia, "I guess you can say my real passion is showing compassion."
In recognition of her commitment to learning and being an ambassador for Hadley's resources for others with visual impairments, Zenobia was awarded Hadley's HEROES award, given to those who help further Hadley's mission to create personalized learning opportunities that empower those with vision loss or blindness to thrive at home, at work, and in their communities.
"I have always been a writer, and a writer has to write, Hadley gave that gift back to me." Zenobia's advice to others who are new to vision loss: "Don't panic, there are many others going through what you are, there are wonderful community programs and people in those programs who are there to help. Reach out to Hadley, it's a great place to start, and never give up on life."