Seeing Past Glaucoma: Meet Kendra

Kendra Connelly had her first eye surgery when she was just three and a half months old after being diagnosed with congenital glaucoma. Now age 29, Kendra has lost count of the number of surgeries she has had over the years for additional corneal and retinal complications.

In 2010, Kendra entirely lost vision in her left eye. After yet another surgery in 2016, she lost almost all of her vision in her right eye.

“It was so difficult because I had no idea how to handle the blindness,” Kendra said. “Before that, even with my limited vision, I was driving, working full-time and going to school for occupational therapy. I didn’t think of myself as a blind or disabled person. So after I lost most of my vision in my right eye, I thought my life was basically over.”

In the beginning, Kendra experienced the shock of losing her independence. She was unable to work. She completed her occupational therapy program, but was unable to sit for the board certification test – a career goal she had been working toward for a long time. When she finally turned to the Department of Rehabilitation, they directed her to Society for the Blind.

On the day of her assessment, Kendra happened to sit in on one of the support groups offered by Society for the Blind. That day, clients were discussing how to process your emotions when dealing with blindness.

“I shared that I felt frustrated,” Kendra said. “I was angry and scared that my life was over. I’d just gotten engaged – how was I going to take care of myself and my fiancé if I couldn’t contribute financially?”

This was the moment when things began to change for Kendra. “Another woman in the group listened to what I had to say,” Kendra said. “She told me it was okay that I was angry and frustrated because, as someone dealing with vision loss, you have to grieve that loss. Not many people have experienced vision loss – especially someone young like me.”

Those words were a turning point for Kendra. Although the next few months were a challenging time for her, she allowed herself to fully mourn the loss of her vision and the radical changes to her life, her career and her goals. And after three months, Kendra began the hard work of rebuilding her life through Society for the Blind.

“I fell in love with the place right away,” Kendra said. “At Society for the Blind, I finally felt there were people who could relate to me and the struggles I was going through.” She started with the Independent Living Skills classes and then added Braille and Computers and Assistive Technology. And she recently began the Orientation and Mobility classes, which have helped Kendra begin to regain her independence as she navigates walking and using public transportation.

She connected strongly with her instructors, who inspired her every day and truly restored her confidence. “Being in an environment where the staff is blind and low-vision is amazing because you can see the staff accomplishing things and experiencing life,” she said. “You see them working, which gives you hope it’s still possible regardless of your vision.”

Building her career is the most important thing to Kendra right now, who appreciates that her instructors at Society for the Blind are equally as determined to help her achieve her goals. “I’ve learned through my time there that the path might be different, and the tools might be different, but at the end of the day I am capable of performing job tasks if they are accommodated,” she said. “I just need an employer to give me the opportunity.”

Kendra continues to take classes at Society for the Blind and has been interning with the California Commission on Disability Access for more than a year. Kendra also was recently approved to be a volunteer assistant at Society for the Blind’s Low Vision Clinic. Her time at Society for the Blind has helped her rediscover her passion for helping people, and her goal after completing classes is to reenter the working world, securing a job in a field that she loves – helping other people with disabilities.

“At Society for the Blind, we are truly a family that supports, encourages and empowers each other to be the best person we can be,” Kendra said. “Vision loss and blindness does not define us – we define it!”