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How do blind people surf online, prepare their meals, go for shopping? Can being blind be an advantage? Do blind people have different attitude to life? How can a blind person start a blog and an online business? An interview with Maxwell Ivey, a blind blogger, entrepreneur and life coach.
Max Ivey is blind.
Born with perfect vision, he was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease when he was 4 years old. He lost his vision completely by the age of 13.
He was never a skinny child, which earned him a lot of nasty names shouted by the other kids: “Max Factor”, “Maxwell house”, “Big Mac mac truck”.
Boy, how he hated those names! If it was not for the support by his big and carrying family, he wouldn’t be able to stand it.
Full Name: Maxwell Ivey
Occupation: Blind blogger, entrepreneur and coach
Hobbies: Reading, listening to radio, swimming, bowling, board games
Favorite Quote: “Don’t be afraid to ask because if you don’t ask they can’t say yes.”
By the age of 40, he weighed 500 pounds, which was a lot even for such a tall man as himself, and had a bouquet of other health issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol level, low energy, etc.
An early death of his father – his best friend a person Max was attached the most – from lung cancer cost the family their carnival business. Not to go completely bankrupt, they had to join the carnival show of Max’s uncle, their worst rival they have been competing with for years, which only added up to the family’s misery.
When he couldn’t ignore his health issues any longer, Max visited several doctors and was finally diagnosed with sleep apnea. It turns out, he wasn’t getting enough oxygen during sleep, and it was sleep deprivation that was causing a lot of his health issues.
After he got fitted with a breathing machine to treat his sleep disorder, things started to get better. He went for a gastric bypass surgery in 2012 getting a part of his stomach removed, which finally allowed him to make some progress in losing weight.
By changing his diet and introducing an exercise routine, Max, now 48, lost 250 pounds and is in great shape.
It was 2012 when he decided to leave his uncle’s carnival show and launch his own business – a website helping people selling their amusement equipment.
Max – a blind person – taught himself how to build and maintain a blog (code html, create email listings, write ad copy for a piece of equipment), record Youtube videos, engage on social networks, and many other things that “came with the job”.
Promoting his posts in the blogging communities, he met other bloggers and suddenly realized that they find a great inspiration in his story, that his advice, coming from a blind person, has a greater effect, that he had something special to offer.
He started a second blog, sharing his personal experience and offering coaching services. And he wrote a motivational ebook, not some random rambling of vague content, but a very well-structured book describing 11 steps to take and 5 practical assignments to complete in order to get closer to your goal – the first ever book of this kind I’ve ever read from A to Z, completed all of the exercises, and am planning to reread it a couple of times more to make notes.
Max Ivey is blind.
I’m telling you this as a reminder, because it’s really easy to forget. He has two blogs and one, or sorry, already two (!) online businesses. He doesn’t look like a blind person, he doesn’t sound like a blind person, and he certainly has an attitude to life that would make a lot of perfectly healthy people ashamed of themselves.
However, it hasn’t always been like this. I spoke to Max about his blindness, his journey and his remarkable achievements.
Gill: A lot of people in the situations similar to what you’ve been through give up: get depressed, gain even more weight, shut themselves away from the world. What do you think differs you from them?
Max: I guess my strength comes from the upbringing I got from my parents and grandparents. They taught me that one can always get back on track. They encouraged me to believe in education, not only an academic one, but also that you can learn things by doing. And I always had a large extended family to draw on, because we were all in the same carnival business.
Gill: What is your relationship with your parents and sibling?
Max: It’s been different with my mom than my dad. My dad was always conflicted between telling me to believe in my ability to do whatever I put my mind to and the idea of keeping me safe.
Just a few years ago we found out that he used to sabotage my brother’s moped because he was afraid someone would get hurt, but didn’t want to just forbid us to ride it.
My father was my best friend. We spent a lot of time together driving from one town to the next or setting up and taking down rides. We had similar ideas, liked the same music.
His death was the hardest thing I had to deal with ever.
My mom was always worried about the kids calling me fat, which they did a lot. And me and my nearest brother Michael had some trouble in the teen years, but now we are ok.
|Just because my future in the carnival business was over, it didn’t mean there were no other things I could do.|
Gill: What was the turning point in your life when you decided take action and change something? What exactly did you realize then?
Max: It was when I was diagnosed with sleep apnea and found out about my sleep deprivation.
If you check into sleep deprivation you will find that the side effects include lack of interest, depression, high blood pressure, increased risk of stroke, etc. So no wonder I was feeling so bad.
Once the apnea was treated, – I sleep attached to a CPAP machine that provides me with enough oxygen – I had newfound energy and a clarity of mind that allowed me to see things better.
I suddenly realized that just because my future in the carnival business was over, it didn’t mean there were no other things I could do.
I helped people sell their amusement equipment before. So I thought, why not do it full-time.
Starting the coaching, however, was something I didn’t plan on. I would have never thought of my story as inspiring and motivating if not for so many online friends I made along the way who have been pointing it out to me.
Gill: How do you manage to surf online, as it’s not only about reading, but about navigating around a page, clicking buttons, etc.?
Max: With a screen reader, you move through a web page using Tab, Shift and the arrow keys letting the software detect the elements on the page.
Clicking buttons can be a problem if they aren’t labeled within the code. It’s critical that all buttons and images have meta tags, otherwise it’s as if they don’t exist. You can see them, but I have no way of knowing they are there.
Developers always come up with new things that sighted people love, like hover cards or pop-ups, but these are of no use to me. I love sites where the owner records an audio to tell you when you’ve signed up or left a comment. Those are cool.
Entering comments is pretty easy as long as the site owner doesn’t use some unusual comment system. I prefer sites that use CommentLuv or Disquss, but I can also comment using Facebook or Google comments.
Facebook is the most difficult of the social networks to deal with, because every time you take an action the screen refreshes, and you are moved back to the top of the screen and have to go through all the elements from the beginning to get to the place you were before.
That’s why I do most of my social media interaction on Facebook through email notifications and go to the site only when sharing a post.
If you want to get an idea of the world I live in and you own a Mac computer, press command+F5. I’m warning you it’s going to confuse you and may even give you a headache at first.
|If a blind guy can have an online business and a blog, what’s your excuse?|
Gill: How do you manage the technical side of your blog, when you need to insert an image or change its size, write html code, for example?
Max: Although to answer an email I could use a voice-to-text software or simply record my answer as audio, there is no other way to write html code as to type it myself.
There aren’t any accessible programs to create the code for me, because all of them depend on drag-and-drop. To drag is something a blind person could do, but that still leaves the problem of where to drop it.
So for writing my blog posts I use an app called MarsEdit where I can write the content in a simple text editor, but have keyboard commands for adding the links or embedding the photos.
The only thing I sometimes need help with is the size of the images that I cannot properly asses without seeing them. My online friends fix them for me.
Gill: What was the most difficult thing for you to deal with so far after you’ve started blogging?
Max: You probably expect me to tell you that it was making the first step towards the change or learning how to manage a blog, but it’s not that.
The hardest thing for me so far has been to accept the fact that I am really an inspiration to people.
To me, doing what I do isn’t all that impressive. It’s simply showing up every day and doing what I can. When I didn’t know how to build or maintain a website, I asked my brother Michael to do it for me. When he got a new job and couldn’t do it anymore, I taught myself how to do it.
But my online friends kept telling me that there are loads of perfectly healthy people who do nothing with their lives. They have so much more inside them, but they have no ability or desire to use it.
Finally, another friend told me how he has been encouraging someone to start a blog for some time. They saw a carnival ride going down the road, and my friend said, “I know a blind guy who has a business where he sells those things and he writes a blog about all of it.” His friend then replied, “Well, now I have no more excuses.”
At some point, I realized that sharing my story helps people eliminate their excuses – the main thing that is holding most of them back.
Gill: I recently read an article about studies showing that only 7% of communication is verbal. The rest, 93% of the message is conveyed through vocal elements (38%) and other non-verbal elements like facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc (55%). So in the best case scenario the 55% of the message remains hidden from you.
How do you usually access what kind of a person is in front of you?
Max: I think judging by the words and the tone I can eventually understand what kind of person is in front of me. It takes me longer though. If I get fooled it’s usually because I was raised with an attitude that most people are generally good.
I like to trust someone until given a reason not to. The best way to judge people is by their actions. And it helps to have met somebody online before you meet them in person, through a blog or a podcast, for example.
|As a blind person, when you depend so heavily on sounds it makes you appreciate the silence.|
Gill: Can blind people actually live on their own? How do you do groceries, prepare your meals, shop for clothes?
Max: I used to live on my own. I don’t believe I can cook, as cooking is an art and involves much more than just following a recipe. There are blind people who can though.
But I can make a couple of simple dishes if the ingredients are labeled or the containers are of a distinct shape.
There are Braille measuring cups and even some that talk now. There are also devices you can put in a cup if you need to pour hot liquid.
Also, there are apps for your phone that can read bar codes which you can use to read labels on packaged food.
As for the groceries, most stores will assist you if you ask in advance, tell them when you are coming, have the grocery list with you and show up roughly on time. The same goes for clothes shopping. There are also “shop at home” services now, so it’s really not a problem.
Gill: Can you think of a situation when a blind person has an advantage over a sighted person?
Max: It’s easier to ignore the clutter of your house or of your life, and concentrate on what you need to.
It’s easier to get to know someone without their looks interfering with your opinion. I think it can be easier to trust people.
If your socks don’t match you don’t really care. Also, nobody will ask you to help them move or paint the walls.
Not being able to see makes you notice the sounds and smells of the world. And when you depend so heavily on sounds it can even make you appreciate silence.
Gill: Have you ever encountered any myths about blind people, something that is common belief among sighted people but is actually not true?
Max: The Hollywood industry created the most wide-spread myth of all about blind people, namely that we touch faces of other people. I personally did it only once when I was in college, and even then it became one of those regret stories.
Otherwise, I think all of us have met someone who thought that blind people are also deaf, or less intelligent.
Some people tend to think that blind people also should look weak. I once had a man come up to me asking about my white cane. When he heard I was blind he said, “No way a man so big and strong can be blind!”
But I think the main misconception lies in the general expectations of how a blind person should behave, which differs from person to person. I, for example, was taught from an early age to look at people while talking to them. Since not every blind person does it, I have often been accused of not being blind.
|Sometimes the only way to move forward on your path is trial and error.|
Gill: What do you think is the main difference between blind and sighted people when it comes to attitude, both towards other people and life in general?
Max: There isn’t just one type of blind person, of course. Some of us had supportive families like mine, and others were abused or neglected, or sent off to institutions. Some grew up in rural places where services are scarce but neighbors are helpful. Others grew up in cities where services are everywhere but people aren’t as friendly.
However, I think there are some characteristics that are common to most of the blind due to their condition.
As a rule, blind people are better at listening. I think as a whole we are also more empathetic.
Patience is a key to being successful as a blind person in life, so it’s something we are taught from an early age. It’s probably why the newly blind have so much trouble with losing their vision rapidly. They don’t have a chance to develop their patience.
And I think generosity is another trait most of us have. Most have received help from so many during the years that they are quick to offer a kind word, a gentle hand and a friendly ear.
Gill: I read your ebook, which I found very impressive.
Max: Thank you.
Gill: My favorite part were the unexpectedly helpful exercises. How did you come up with them?
Max: I wrote the sections sharing what I had done and learned. I then simply tried to think of what I did or what someone else could do to achieve the same results.
Gill:In the first exercise of the ebook, you ask your readers to make a list of the steps they think they would need to take to achieve their goal. But what should I do if I don’t know for sure what steps these should be?
Max: The important part is to know what is it you want the most in life. Once you know what it is, you can find out what steps are necessary.
There are people out there who you can ask. There are resources online. Lots of people will tell you things you need to do.
< p>This is where getting comfortable asking for help is important. This is where finding someone to model yourself after and asking them to mentor you is key.
I hate to admit it, but sometimes the only way to move forward on a path is trial and error. This is the most expensive form of education available. But it can be the only way for someone wanting to walk a truly unique path.
|Good luck comes to people who work hard, prepare well, and strive to get better every day.|
Gill: In another exercise from your ebook, you ask the readers to divide the things they think they need to achieve their main goal in 4 categories: “have it”, “can learn it”, “need help with it”, and “can’t do this right now”.
If I think I need luck to achieve my main goal, in which category should I put it? Or is thinking that you would need luck wrong in general?
Max: I can’t tell you whether thinking you need luck is right or wrong. For example, the legendary Yankee’s catcher Yogi Berra once said there are days it’s better to be lucky than good. Being a professional at his craft, he still saw the value of luck.
I personally find that good luck comes to people who work hard, prepare well, and strive to get better every day, while bad luck usually comes from lack of preparation or passion. Most of my bad luck has come from not doing something I should have done or haven’t done it better than I did.
If you think luck is necessary, then I would advise carrying your lucky charm. I don’t have a lucky charm, but I pray for help from God. What I see as an answer to my prayers, others might see as luck.
|Sometimes you don’t get something you want, but something you need.|
Max: I have down moments, too, of course. Sometimes it takes a while to completely recover, but I have found there is always something out there that will help you.
Sometimes it’s throwing yourself into the next job that needs to be done.
Sometimes it’s talking to a friend or family member. I am blessed with many friends, especially online, and a lot of them are also bloggers, so we share many of the same heartbreaks.
I was taught by my dad how comedy can help. He said he never understood why someone who is sad would want to watch sad TV shows. In our house, a bad day would mean finding a funny show or a movie, or perhaps watching the animal channel.
I love to read, and sometimes a good read is where I find encouragement and inspiration.
I exercise daily, and it’s a scientific fact that regular exercise keeps you out of depression.
Also, sometimes you don’t get something you want, but something you need.
For example, the other day my brother moved his treadmill into my room. At first I was upset, because I’ve been trying to find someone to teach me yoga and wanted some open space. But then I thought my problem is I want something new and different in my exercise routine. The treadmill isn’t what I wanted, but it might be what I need.
Gill: Do you think people would be as helpful and as nice to you if you were not blind?
Max: I think most would still be helpful. Would they be as quick to offer their help? Probably not. I would still have a curiosity factor, because my primary business of selling amusement equipment is unique. But they wouldn’t be as tolerant of my mistakes, and my websites and blog posts wouldn’t get the acceptance they get now.
Gill: Who have helped you down the road and to which extend?
Max: Ashley Faulkes helped me move the website from hand-coded html to WordPress and migrated all my content over to the new site.
Lorraine Reguly has edited some of my blog posts and was the editor of my ebook, which she has been paid for gladly I might add. She also interviewed me on her site, which gave some boost to my visibility online.
Harleena Singh promotes my posts. One of the first times I really told my story was in a guest post on her blog. Robin Hallett helped me with my first business cards and keeps encouraging me. Chelsea Stark, a visually impaired photographer has started editing and water-marking my photos for me.
My brother Michael built my first website. Patrick, my youngest brother reviews photos and videos on my blogs. Adrienne Smith taught me about blog commenting and helped me out with a lot of little things down the road. Kelly Corbin created the logo for the Midway Marketplace.
Angela McCall came up with the cover image for the ebook. And while we have since parted ways, going on the Brian “the Hammer” Jackson’s show on Blog Talk radio was great practice for me.
I’m very grateful to all these people, as they made many things possible that would have be much harder to achieve on my own.
Gill: Sharing your experiences on The Blind Blogger and writing the ebook made you realize that you have it in you: to make other people look at their life from the unique perspective, and, as you put it yourself, “to lead them out of the darkness”. What do you think qualifies you to be a motivational speaker and coach?
Max: If you mean a college degree or a training certificate, I don’t have any. What I have is my life experience of dealing with depression and loss of a business, knowing the hard work of getting physically healthy and the ways to achieve things I put my mind to.
As a coach, I can offer you my positive attitude, a good ear and an open heart, encouragement and accountability. Also for some reason, same things coming from a blind man seem to have greater effect.
With this being said, I did finish a six week online course on healing with Robin Hallett and plan to invest in other courses to become a better coach and mentor in the future.
Gill: Max, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview! I only can repeat what others have been telling you: your story is indeed unique, as is your experience, knowledge and perspective on life. I wish you all the best with your ebook and the coaching business.
Max: Thank you very much, Gill! It has been a pleasure.
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