Inspiration on the catwalk: more than 100 participants in the fashion show with visually impaired models

More than 100 people attended a fashion show featuring all blind models on Saturday, an event hosted by a model from Hempstead who is blind and hopes to crush the stigma surrounding disability.

Annalee Smith, 41, hosted her first fashion show in Valley Stream featuring 16 visually impaired models. She also organized the event.

“The fact that I can help [by] having this platform and I can help others and inspire others is good for me. … I feel like I have to pinch myself sometimes, ”she told Newsday.

Smith, who started modeling five years ago and won The Face of Kurvacious Model Competition last year, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of 12. The rare genetic condition impaired her peripheral vision.

He explained that growing up, there were few blind role models in the public sphere. And while New York’s first fashion show featuring visually impaired models took the stage in 2016, visually impaired models still don’t have a big presence in fashion.

So Smith started planning his show over a year ago. She initially had only a handful of models planned, but after announcing the event, she expanded the number of attendees after reaching more women with low vision than she expected.

“I’m also inspired by myself,” she said.

The sold out event at VFW Post 1790 benefited Foundation Fighting Blindness, a national nonprofit that works to raise awareness and lead research into retinal diseases. Smith plans to hold a second show in October during Blind Awareness Month.

The women, on a makeshift runway, modeled clothes from different designers, such as casual clothing store Legendary LLC, Kurvacious Boutique and plus size clothing company Ashley Stewart.

The event was Rafia Lawal’s first show. Lawal, 37, of Brooklyn, was diagnosed with cataracts as a young man while she lived in Ghana. Her family moved to the United States when she was 10 to gain better access to medical care to slow the progression of glaucoma.

Lawal auditioned for a spot on “America’s Next Top Model” during the show’s early seasons, but was not selected. He blames her previous lack of confidence and insecurity due to his impairment.

Jenning Ballesteros, 23, walks the catwalk of the VFW Post 1790 in ...

Jenning Ballesteros, 23, walks the VFW Post 1790 runway at Valley Stream on Saturday.
Credit: Brittainy Newman

“Instead of looking at the camera, I was closing my eyes,” he said. “I was trying to prevent them from seeing that I actually had a disability.”

Now full of confidence, she said she saw the event as an opportunity to break the belief that blind or visually impaired women don’t care about fashion.

The show was also the first modeling event for many of the women, including Colette Stroude, 33, of Brooklyn.

Stroude, born blind due to a hereditary eye disease, modeled together with her 15-year-old daughter Heaven Stroude, who is also blind.

“This is so personal to me and my family,” Stroude said.

She said she was attracted to the model on the show because blindness and visual impairment are often overlooked when people think about disabilities.

“I was very looking forward to being a part of this platform. … Being around other people who have the same problem as you has a bigger impact, ”Stroude said.

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