By Melissa Carney, Director of Outreach & Engagement (DOE)
Hello PCB Peers! I am sure many of you have been wondering about the mysterious person behind the title of Director of Outreach and Engagement, and I would like to formally introduce myself. My name is Melissa Carney. I lost all of my sight to Bilateral Retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer, when I was two years old. I grew up in a small town in Connecticut, without the conceptual knowledge of sidewalks, public transportation, or braille menus. As the only person with a physical disability in my school district, I was not familiar with terms such as “accessibility” and “The ADA.”
However, in middle school, I began to attend adaptive sports camps, where I first met others with vision loss and grasped the fact that I was not alone in my struggles. When finally able to interact with others from my community, I began to ask questions, embrace my disability, and step out of my comfort zone. Through the guidance of my peers, I learned the importance of self-advocacy, reasonable accommodations, and transformation of adversity into success. I gained mentors and mentees, colleagues and friends, who did not sugarcoat the challenges of vision loss. Instead, we problem-solved strategies to break down barriers and accomplish tasks that seemed impossible.
For that reason, community and mentorship have always been ideals that I hold close to my heart. My vision loss community gave me the courage to attend and graduate cum laude from Mount Holyoke College, volunteer my time as a peer mentor for high school and college students, intern with IBM’s Accessibility Team and the National Council on Independent Living, memorize the tunnels of Capitol Hill, and travel around the country advocating for disability rights and inclusion. In addition, I have gone on to participate in national choir competitions, horseback ride along country trails and over fallen trees, and ski down the slopes of Vermont. My voice grew stronger, my mind opened to greater education, and my efforts became more determined.
If you would have asked 10-year-old me, a small-town girl from Connecticut, what accessibility looked like, I would not have had an answer. Now, over a decade later, I am still gathering those answers, but I know for certain that the roots of accessibility lie in community growth, compassion, and perseverance. I am thrilled and honored to serve as the Director of Outreach and Engagement for PCB and represent my fellow peers. I look forward to meeting and getting to know you all.