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“I acknowledge the changes that make up my life”

Belo Miguel Cipriani is a freelance writer, speaker, and author of Blind: A Memoir.  Belo was the keynote speaker for the 2011 Americans with Disabilities Act celebration in San Francisco and was a guest lecturer at both Yale University and the University of San Francisco.  Amber Clovers, his first work of fiction, will be published in 2013.  Belo is a Lambda Literary Foundation fellow, a fellow with Yaddo (a premiere artist colony), and he loves his guide dog, Madge.  He welcomes anyone to reach out to him at belocipriani.com or on Twitter @Beloism

MS: Can you tell us more about your personal background and what has led you to this point in your life?

Belo: After a brutal beating in 2007, I became blind. Because of this I began to question things, and some of these questions were spiritual. The “why me” thoughts haunted me at night. I questioned the American healthcare and judicial system. Frequently, I found myself questioning change.

During mobility lessons, where I was trained to cross streets with a cane, I examined all of the possible outcomes of not learning to maneuver the white stick. Of course, I always had the option of depending on sighted people to cross a busy intersection, yet I knew relying on individuals had its pitfalls. It was not until I conquered my denial and grief and accepted my mobility changes that I started to exceed not only my instructor’s expectations but also my own.

I now look at problems — big or small — as changes that I ignore until I am ready to work through their turbulence. Once I am able to reach an agreement with myself, I feel authority is restored. Whether it is accepting that I will be late to work due to a late train, which could possibly upset others, or embracing challenging aspects of my blindness, I acknowledge the changes that make up my life. Now, I find myself teaching others different ways to negotiate change.

MS: You have written a book titled “Blind: A Memoir.” Can you tell us more about your book?

Belo: When I lost my sight, I sought comfort in literature and found some great memoirs about blind people. However, individuals who were born blind authored many of the books I read; this left me with many unanswered questions. For that reason, I focused my memoir on the assimilation period, which took place in the two years following the assault. I purposely wrote short chapters to walk sighted people through different aspects of learning to do things when a person loses their sight. I think that people with vision are most curious about how the blind deal with mundane tasks. Therefore, I focus on topics such as cooking, grooming, learning Braille, getting a guide dog, and dating.

MO: You have been featured in multiple large publications and you speak to audiences around the nation about your story.  What do people find about your story so inspiring? And what do you hope the audience takes away from your talks?

Belo: I think people find my story inspirational because they place themselves in my life and my battle with the trauma. I am the first to admit that I have been blessed with tons of emotional and physical support from family, friends, government agencies, and non-profits. I openly speak about times of fear and insecurities as well as about times of success and achievements. Because I am dependent on technology, people, and my guide dog to do things that require vision, I believe people walk away realizing that we all depend on each other to a certain degree. I hope the women and men who attend my talks leave my lectures feeling more comfortable about asking for help in their lives.

MO: Where does your strength and positivity come from everyday to continue to spread your message and educate others about various topics on disability?

Belo: My strength comes from many places but most often from my guide dog, Madge. She reminds me to laugh through tough times and to unplug from the stresses of modern life. Madge is my muse, friend, and guide. She revitalizes me daily.

MO: What are you most proud of accomplishing in your life?

Belo: I am most proud about the possibility of creating opportunities for other blind people. I believe what most people know about the blind is outdated due to technology, and I am hopeful that through my lectures and writing, people become open to employing or befriending a blind person.

MO: What advice can you give to other people going through challenges in their lives?

Belo: My advice to those enduring hardship is to let others care for them. People may not always say or do the right things, but the care is there. It is through allowing others to care for them that finding the right help happens.

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