When Tracy Boyd, a blind mother of four children, met Joy Ross, a blind mom of two, it felt like it was meant to be. The Portland, Oregon residents met at a meeting of Guide Dogs for the Blind alumni about five years ago. Tracy chose a seat next to Joy, and that was the beginning of an amazing friendship—and partnership.
Joy tells Parents.com that she initially noticed Tracy had a guide dog, so she thought she must be blind, but then she realized Tracy was carrying a baby, as well. Immediately she turned to Tracy to ask if she was a blind mother and expressed her excitement. After all, it wasn't every day that the two had an opportunity to meet other blind moms. Tracy was only the second blind mom Joy had met in Portland, and Joy was the first for Tracy.
Tracy explains that it was this initial meeting and quickly-formed bond that inspired them to create a community where more women like themselves could connect. They soon became co-founders of Mommies with Guides, a Facebook group created for blind mothers to share their challenges and joys, which now boasts more than 1,700 blind mothers as members.
Facebook currently offers innovative technology to support members who are blind. In a blog post, the social network notes, "We want to build technology that helps the blind community experience Facebook the same way others enjoy it." In 2016, they introduced automatic alternative text, which generates a description of a photo using advancements in object recognition technology. People using screen readers on iOS devices will hear a list of items a photo may contain as they swipe past photos.
"We'll post on the page regularly, but we also hold monthly conference calls where we can talk through different topics, give advice and vent," Joy explains. "We'll also have local play dates with other moms and are always trying to do that at least once a month."
On the page, they share tips and ask questions, some of which Tracy notes may seem a bit simplistic to parents who are not blind, but that "are hard things to figure out when you're newly blind or a new mother." For example, members have asked, "How do you go to the park with your kids?" or "How do you keep track of your children?" or "When feeding your child, how do you get the food to their mouth?"
In addition to serving as an advice platform, the Facebook page has allowed members to offer and receive emotional support. "There are times when you want to see your children and you can't," Joy shares. "When they put on their Halloween costumes, when they are in a play, or going to their first day of school. And it can feel like you are missing out. It's those times when we talk to each other, to express frustrations and cry, but also to remember that we're so lucky. We empathize in ways that others can't and also hold each other up when these moments happen."
Tracy says the community helped her get through an especially challenging moment. “I can remember when I was struggling with my youngest child—at the time he was about 16 months old," she recalls. "After my older children had left for school and my husband went to work, every day, I would experience a moment of truth when I could not locate my son Desmond. I would call out to him and receive no response, I would still myself and received no information from the sounds in the room. I would experience panic in those moments and begin to search frantically throughout the house. I would always locate him, and when I found him he would hug me, smile and giggle. This was clearly a game for him and one that I did not wish to play. I decided to be brave and share my struggle, in a post on Facebook on Mommy‘s with Guides, I shared the above story and asked for advice. I received so many comments from blind parents that had experienced the same game of hide and seek with their sighted child. There were so many amazing, clever, fabulous ideas of how to keep track of my son, quickly that the game was over and I was the winner! I realized through connection I was not alone and I was not the first blind parent who experienced terror in the thought of losing their child, I also realized I wouldn’t be the last."
MWG has also opened the door for both mothers to spread their wings and pursue related passions. Joy shares that while giving advice and sharing her stories, she realized her love of writing and has gone on to found her own Facebook page, Through the Eyes of Joy, and her own YouTube channel under the same name. She's also a public speaker for organizations such as the Arthritis Foundation, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Abbvie, and numerous women's groups.
"My passion is driven by so much, my own children, who also suffer from the disease that took my sight—Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and Uveitis—and others that find themselves outside of what society says is ‘normal,’" she tells Parents.com. "Nothing should hold you back from fulfilling your dreams."
For her part, Tracy is thrilled that the page has "created a foundation and has launched me into fulfilling my deepest desire to assist people in removing obstacles in their path so that they can enjoy a healthy, happy, life. I am currently pursuing my Masters in clinical mental health counseling at George Fox University. I also have become a strong advocate for blind individuals through the National Federation of the Blind. I am both the president of the local chapter of the NFB here in Portland—Portland central chapter, as well as the president of the Parents Division of Oregon."
Ultimately, Joy and Tracy say the success of this incredible community has surpassed their wildest dreams. And they're so proud to send blind parents all over the world the powerful message that "you can have babies and be a very active, present parent being blind." For that alone, this power duo deserves a standing ovation.