Seeing With His Heart: Meet Norman

Norman McDaniel changed jobs, joined a demanding company, was preparing to get married and was working to move his mother – all within 60 days. The pressure was too much for his eyes. Having been diagnosed with glaucoma three years earlier, Norman was on eye drops, but when his job changed so did his health insurance, and he no longer had access to the drops.

“I had a massive headache one night, and the next morning I woke up and couldn’t see,” Norman said. “Glaucoma was the culprit, but it was triggered by stress.”

At 59 years old, he was determined to keep going at full speed with no vision in his left eye and only a quarter of vision in his right eye. He got married, maintained his job and even went diving with sting rays in the Grand Cayman Islands.

In September 2020, Norman had surgery to maintain pressure in his right eye. While it was successful at maintaining the pressure, it caused his remaining vision to fog.

“My wife and I kept waiting for my vision to improve, and so were the doctors,” he said. “After 10 weeks, we were losing hope and my doctor recommended I visit Society for the Blind. That finally gave us some direction.”

Norman joined our Senior IMPACT Project, which he calls a beautiful experience.

“It was an opportunity to hear someone else going through what I was going through,” he said. “I heard from people who were blind from childbirth and others who lost their sight later in life. It was encouraging because I realized it could happen to anyone at any time, no matter their position in life.”

What he remembers most is the patience and kindness of the instructors as he went from feeling like a victim to becoming an encourager of others going through the same process.

“They helped me realize this is not a disadvantage, it’s an adaptation,” Norman said. “I’m adapting and overcoming, and in some ways I’m better.”

When his remaining vision fogged, Norman was forced to end his “9 to 5 hustle bustle,” as he calls it. Fortunately, that left more time for his music. An avid musician, Norman has been playing acoustic and electric guitar for 45 years and continues to play with the band Ear Candy.

“Music is my love, that’s who I am, and my goal is to continue to play,” Norman said. “I would like to play in a nice smooth jazz ensemble. I’ve had my time chasing gigs and recording in major venues. Now it’s about the quality of the music. I don’t need to be seen – I just want to be heard.”

Norman continues to take classes at Society for the Blind, including adaptive technology classes so he can keep up with the evolving music industry.

“In some ways, I’m a dinosaur, so I’m catching up to the 21st century,” Norman said. “There’s so much technology for music. If you’re going to go blind, this is the best time to do it because there are so many wonderful toys out there. It’s just a matter of getting over that learning curve and staying relevant so I can hang with the younger musicians.”

He also is taking yoga classes at Society for the Blind along with Braille and Orientation & Mobility. In fact, he took his white cane in public for the first time on a trip to Hawaii, a place he was hesitant to visit without vision. The trip turned out to be an inspiration. He did not go shark cage diving like he always thought he would do, laughing as he said, “I thought I probably should be able to see if a shark was coming.” But he did tour the island on a bus, visit lush gardens, take a romantic cruise and wade into the water on the beach.

“I couldn’t really see, but I got so much out of the trip through sounds and sense of touch,” Norman said. “I would open the windows because we had a nice deck and could hear the birds in the morning. I recorded the sound so I could take that back. We visited a beach with black sand, and I ran my hands through it. I also tried to eat everything in sight.”

He also said he learned humility. When they offered him a wheelchair while boarding, he at first refused. When he eventually acquiesced, he enjoyed joking and talking with the skycap.

“I had to admit that Superman had found some kryptonite, but when I realized I could board first, I said ‘wheel me in!’,” Norman said.

He also discovered a skillful way to navigate through the airport. He would rest his cane on his wife’s luggage and keep tapping it as he followed her to the gate.

Since losing his vision, Norman feels like the experience has given him the chance to see in a different way.

“In some ways I wish we all were blind because now I see the world in a bigger way, with my heart instead of my eyes,” he said.