Insight of a Blind MT

Roderick Parker

By Mary Kathleen Rose

Roderick Parker, 51, is a blind massage therapist practicing in Atlanta, Georgia. He was 29 years old and living in Brooklyn, New York, when he first experienced troubling symptoms in one of his eyes.

“At first, it seemed like microdots were sprayed on one eye. It didn’t blur, but there was a noticeable change in my vision. The sun seemed so much brighter,” he says. Upon examination, an ophthalmologist told Parker that the blood vessels in his eye were growing abnormally. Eventually, bleeding in his eye caused scarring, and the retina detached. Various attempts at treatment failed, and the same symptoms began in the other eye. 

Parker moved to Atlanta in search of treatment and to pursue vocational training under the mandates of the federal Rehabilitation Act.1 He was concerned about the psychological stress of losing his independence and of his desire to get back to work. He was interested in martial arts, and trained for a couple of years. Because of his aptitude, it was suggested that he train blind people in self-defense. Since this was not supported by the state as a viable profession, he went into personal training as a contract employee of a gym and found that he had a natural ability to connect with others regarding physical and athletic training. 

During this time, Parker went to an open house at the Atlanta School of Massage. He immediately felt welcome. He enrolled in the program in 1997 with the attitude, “I’m going to use my blindness as an asset.” He says that people can lower their defenses with a blind massage therapist. “Not having the distractions of seeing allows me to ‘see’ them as who they are.

“I enjoyed learning about the human body. I like people and think I have natural people skills.” Parker credits Laurie Craig, the dean of students and an anatomy teacher at the time, with adapting her class to make it accessible for him. She demonstrated techniques on him, gave him oral tests, and articulated very precise language to describe the anatomy and hands-on skills for him. He turned his disability into an asset and developed really solid palpation skills. He graduated in 1999, and now specializes in clinical and sports massage.

After graduation, Parker first worked in spa settings. “I was the deep-tissue guy, the fitness buff—too rough for the ladies wanting ‘fluff massage,’” he says. “Being new and green, I was treatment-oriented.” He acknowledges that he has since learned the power of subtlety and a more relaxing, sensitive touch. 

Parker now owns his own business, Inner Vision Neuromuscular Center, and works out of an office suite in College Park, Georgia. A total of four massage therapists work in the two treatment rooms, and Parker and one of the other therapists do regular massage with seniors in the community on an outcall basis. Having made a name for himself, he is now working toward training other aspiring massage therapists, particularly those with visual impairments. 

When asked about the value of massage for blind and visually impaired people, Parker says, “Newly blind people have an extreme amount of stress and psychological trauma. The visually impaired may have much more muscular tension than those who are totally blind, because they struggle to use their remaining vision, or strain to see. Massage is great to help them cope with the stress and support them as they make healthy adaptations to change. A sensitive massage therapist can help calm the person and be present with them in their grieving process.” He adds that the fear of blindness is a close second to the fear of death, but that “there is a lot of life after blindness.”

communication is key

Parker offers this simple advice for interacting with blind clients. “Be direct. I can walk into a place independent and alone, but if I am with another person, people don’t deal with me directly.” Indirectness feels condescending. He also says that in social settings, people have a tendency to avoid talking to those who are blind. He says it falls on him to break the ice. With his characteristic good-natured sense of humor he says, “Hello! Is anyone home?”

Just as with sighted clients, Parker says communication is critical. “Do not make assumptions—ask!” He uses the acronym “ASK” to mean awareness, sensitivity, and knowledge. He reminds us that blind and visually impaired people are individuals with different needs and preferences. Don’t be afraid to ask, “How can I be of assistance?”

Visiting with Parker, it is abundantly clear that he is someone who loves people and loves to help them with his special skills and insights. He says sighted people tend to make judgments based on visual impressions, but that it is different for him. “I see the spirit of the people.” 


1. The Rehabilitation Act, accessed July 2012,

  The developer of Comfort Touch nurturing acupressure, Mary Kathleen Rose, BA, CMT, is dedicated to holistic health education. She can be reached through or 303-651-9375.