As a YouTuber, motivational speaker and fashion lover who also happens to be blind, Molly Burke is an advocate for accessibility in the blind community. After being diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a young child and eventually losing all her sight at 14, Burke’s interest in style and beauty only grew. She often explains to people that not being able to see what she wears or the makeup she uses doesn’t change her love of style. Burke enjoys creating fun, colourful looks to match her playful personality.
While her fashion sense remains impeccable, what has changed since Burke lost her sight is how she puts her looks together. For Molly, being blind means working harder in a world that is built for abled bodies.
That work includes advocacy and using her platform to educate her sighted and non-sighted viewers. With nearly 2 million YouTube subscribers, Burke shares videos on how she uses technology, shops online, gets around with her guide dog and debunks common misconceptions of blindness.
Molly explains how she is discriminated against as a blind woman
Molly explains that “the social model of disability is basically the idea that I am not the problem as a disabled person—society is, by not being as accessible. The medical model of disability says that I, as a disabled person, am the problem, and I need to be cured.
The medical model is what most of society is raised on. We raise money for cures. We fundraise for cures, we use the money for research, we’re all excited about medical advances, everybody always wants to know: is there a cure for you? Is there a surgery? That’s everybody’s first question. ‘I’ll pray for you, I’ll pray for your healing.’
The only thing that tells me as a disabled person is that I’m broken. It tells me I’m not good enough. It tells me I’m never going to fit in. It tells me I’m different, and I don’t belong here. So if you are raising disabled people to believe that about themselves, you’re never going to cultivate a society where disabled people will be strong leaders, will be independent, confident, happy and self-accepting.”
Most of us are lucky to hold a vivid visual memory of our first encounter with makeup and fashion, from the overall look to the colours and patterns. In Burke’s case, she couldn’t see herself in the mirror. At the age of four, she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and as if the prognosis weren’t hard enough, Burke soon found herself an easy target for bullying by classmates, an experience that left her severely depressed and led her to turn to YouTube’s beauty vlogging community for happiness.
“I really gravitated toward girls who were around the same age as me. When I went blind, I lost any friends that I had; these girls online felt like my friends when I really had nobody,” says Burke, adding that the descriptive video tutorials opened her up to the plethora of iconic beauty brands.
How we can overcome the lack of accessibility for blind people
Burke recently released a memoir, It’s Not What It Looks Like, in which she narrates significant moments from her life and reflects on the lessons they have taught her. “I’m a full human,” Burke says in the opening of the audiobook. “And people need to see what that image of disability looks like.”
Burke sees her story as relatable to everyone, not just people living with blindness. In the book, she talks about bullying, suffering from mental health issues, dating and running a business. She hopes that anyone facing challenges can learn something from her experiences and overcome obstacles in their own life.