Mouth for Sale: More Than Meets the Eye

As a young bride, Joan Brock took a job at a boarding school for blind children in Vinton, IA, where her new husband worked. She loved working with the children and helping them to realize their full potential, and soon, she became a certified Braille instructor. "It was an exciting new life, new town, new job," Brock remembers. She became the school's liaison to the community, and often spoke to groups on the school's behalf. She and her husband had a baby girl. Life was good.

Then one morning, Brock was looking for her daughter's pink socks. As she rummaged through the drawer, Brock could see every color sock but pink. Finally, her daughter reached in and plucked out the right pair. "She handed them to me, and they looked white," Brock says. Soon after, Brock, seeking relief from a sinus cold, visited her doctor. "He checked the pressure in my sinuses, numbed my eyes, and sent me immediately 60 miles away to the University of Iowa," Brock says. "In three weeks' time, I was blind."

Unbeknownst to her, Brock suffered from a very rare autoimmune deficiency that had caused the irreversible deterioration of her vision. "At that moment, I had the immediate understanding that I would never see my daughter's face again," Brock says.

It is a moment that she shares with her audiences. "I speak about coping with change. We don't like being out of control of anything. But sometimes there's no alternative, and you have to change the negative into a positive. I lost my sight, and there was nothing I could do about it. Should I crawl into a corner and do nothing, after telling those children all those years that they could lead positive and productive lives?"

Just as Brock was pulling herself up by her bootstraps, though, she suffered another major loss. Less than four years after she went blind, her husband contracted a rare cancer of the sinuses, and at the age of 36, he died. "My first big realization at that point was that going blind was nothing," Brock says. "As a disabled, widowed, single parent—suddenly I had all these labels—I had to make some serious choices." Brock began writing a journal that she turned into a book, and soon, she was on the speaking circuit. Now, she shares her perspective with corporations and associations of all stripes.

"Being happy is within our own power, both personally and professionally," Brock says. "In organizations, changes cause confusion and uproar, and throw everyone into a tailspin. In the midst of that, people tend to say, 'I liked it better the way it was.' Well, I liked it the way it was too, when I could see, but I can't change that back. You've got to find a release, a way to get through it." And Brock encourages people to focus on what is there, rather than what is missing. "You know, we call people disabled or handicapped, and these are very negative words. But the people I've met are so much more capable than others realize. It illustrates the need to stop looking at what we can't do, and focus on what we are capable of."

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