Professional Speakers Association Recognises Speakers with Disabilities

Two professional speakers with disabilities were recognised at last month’s annual conference of the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa.
 
Motivational speaker Nicky Abdinor, who has spoken at events globally, was recognised with the  prestigious   Speaker Hall of Fame award for 2022. This award is presented to professional members of the association who have delivered excellence over a period of years speaking to diverse audiences as a keynote presenter. And Nicky certainly has done that in her many local, national and global speaking appearances.
 
As an aside, Nicky was the first person I knew of who presented internationally online, way back in the 2010’s.
 
Nicky Abdinor  Media Profile Photo

Disability advocate Nick Smit was awarded first place in the annual Speaker Factor contest, where he competed against the top associate level speakers from the PSASA chapters across South Africa. Nick’s speech, called D.A.N.C.E Your Destiny was well received by both judges and audience.
 
Nick, also known as the Rebel Ninja, is a passionate disability advocate and teacher and his company Smergos is active in promoting disability awareness and inclusion.
 
Another link between Nicky and Nick is that they have both been guests on my A Different Way of Seeing podcast, back  when I was focusing primarily on accessible travel.
 
N Smit PSASA SF win

I featured Nicky Abdinor back in January 2019, on episode 05 of the podcast, and Nick and his wife were my guests on episode 50.
 
You can find those episodes, as well as my full library of past shows, at https://iono.fm/rss/chan/3715
 
If you’re looking for a fantastic speaker for your next event, you can’t go wrong with either Nicky Abdinor or Nick Smit. Here’s where you can find out more.
Nicky Abdinor: https://nickyabdinor.com/
Nick Smit: www.therebelninja.com

A Conversation on How Disability is Depicted in Literature

Book cover

Over the past few years I have noticed that more characters with disabilities have been appearing in works of fiction. In many ways this is wonderful to see, as we have been a largely under-represented group when it comes to fictional characters. But, as with so many other facets of life, there is also a shadow side – I seldom feel that the characters with disabilities are accurately drawn. Instead, they tend to be depicted as either inspirational or tragic figures. Which, like most other polarities, results in a highly simplistic view of what life with a disability is like.
 
On a recent episode of my A Different Way of Seeing podcast, I raised the topic with fellow author and advocate, Elizabeth Sammons. Together we explored the way blindness is represented in fiction and the often harmful consequences it has for us as persons living with a visual impairment. It was a fascinating conversation and I’d encourage you to take a listen and think about some of the points raised by Elizabeth.
 
Here’s where you can find the conversation: http://iono.fm/e/1173132
 
I also loved the advice that Elizabeth offers to authors wanting to create believable characters with disabilities. Her suggestions on how to research and test the accuracy of the depiction of the disability are great and can be used by writers with and without disabilities.
 
Here are the books mentioned by Elizabeth, as well as the speech she referenced during our conversation, in case you feel inclined to dig a little deeper into the subject.

“Blindness: Is Literature Against Us?”
By Kenneth Jernigan, 
July 3, 1974
https://nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/convent/banque74.htm
 
“Being Seen:  One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism”
By Elsa Sjunneson  
“There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness”
By M. Leona Godin.
 
You can learn more about Elizabeth’s own writing at https://www.dldbooks.com/elizabethsammons/
 
And, if you haven’t already done so, please subscribe to receive these newsletters as soon as they come out – they will drop straight into your mailbox! It’s the best way to stay in touch with my news and events.

Paws for Thought  – When Guide Dog Billy Came to Stay

The image shows a black Labrador.
 
Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji.
 
The most amazing thing happened to me last weekend – I had a visit from one of my cousin guide dogs, whose Dad had human stuff to do and couldn’t take his guide dog with him.
 
Guide dog Billy is great. He is a black Labrador, and is lots bigger than me. In fact, he’s even bigger than my oldest doggy sister, Emily. Billy is only 3 years old and still loves to play. Billy, my sister Allie and I turned the garden into a high speed racetrack and spent much of the weekend chasing one another around.
 
Billy came with us when Mom and I went to try adaptive golf, which Mom will tell you about soon. In fact, I think Billy had most fun trying to catch the balls that the humans were playing with. It certainly kept him busy while I sat and whined encouragement at my mom.
 
Unfortunately, my doggy brother Onyx didn’t like Billy and Mom and Dad had to be creative in finding ways to keep them separated so Onyx wouldn’t snarl at Billy. All of us girl dogs thought Onyx was being silly because Billy is such fun.
 
Okay, I have to admit that I also barked at Billy when he first arrive. I wanted to make it clear that Mom is mine and I’m not sharing her with another guide dog. But as soon as Billy told me that he already has a fulltime job guiding his dad, I was okay with him coming to stay.
 
So, if Onyx wanted to sulk and not get to play with Billy, well, that was his problem.
 
Now that Billy has gone home, life at our house has gone back to normal. Which is why I’m writing this post rather than chasing other dogs round the garden. But maybe I will go out and play now that I’m done here.

Paws for Thought on Life Not Turning Out the Way You Expect

 the image shows a woman with shoulder-length dark brown hair standing with a pale yellow Labrador sitting at her feet, wearing a guide dog harness, and a black Labrador lying next to her. Beside the woman is a table with merchandise arranged on it.

Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji!
 
You know, sometimes life just doesn’t turn out the way you expect.
 
I don’t think my expectations were totally  crazy, do you? After all, I went with Dad to collect his race number on Friday afternoon. I was with Mom and Dad when they drove to Steenberg Estate on Saturday morning. And I stood with the runners as they gathered at the starting line. Of course I expected that I was going to run with them.
 
Which was why I started barking as the announcements began. After all, I always translate the human instructions for the other dogs at the parkrun. And there were several guide-dogs-in-training at the trail run, so I had to do my job. Even if Mom tried to get me to stop.
 
I listened carefully as they counted down to the start. And then I sprang forward as fast as I could. Except that Mom was holding my leash and harness. So I couldn’t go anywhere.
 
And the runners left me behind. I couldn’t believe it!  
 
I did get to hang out with Aunty Jackie and my doggy friend Sid at the SA Guide-Dog Association stand. Which was a lot of fun. Just not what I had expected to do.
 
Then, as the runners began to cross the finish line for the race I realized what a fantastic spot we were in – everyone could see us and loads of runners came over to say hello. As did their families and supporters. I was constantly surrounded by friendly people all wanting to pat me and remind Mom how amazing I am.
 
There was even a young human puppy who bought herself a guide dog toy and came and showed it to me – I politely sniffed it and assured her she had made an excellent choice in her new puppy toy.
 
I also spent time chatting to the other learner guide dogs to tell them what a special job they are training for. Scout, Zakele, Luca and Goldie, the youngest and fluffiest Golden Retriever puppy who has just joined the team in Cape Town had lots to tell me as well, and it was great to spend some time catching up on all the news of what is going on at the training centre. And I also got to say hello  to Aunty Cheryl, who taught me all about how to look after Mom as her guide dog. So it was a wonderful morning.
 
But still, I would much rather have gone with the runners. Oh well, sometimes life just doesn’t turn out exactly how you expect it to, does it?

My Books on Bookshare!

he image shows the covers of the four Missy Mouse books written by Lois Strachan
 
I am excited to let you know that more of my books are becoming available on Bookshare.
 
So far, my memoir “A Different Way of Seeing: A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an ‘Ordinary’ Life in an Extraordinary Way“ and the first of my illustrated children’s books, “Missy Mouse Goes to the Park” are already in the Bookshare library and the remaining books in the Missy Mouse series will be there soon.
 
I have been so impressed by the team at Bookshare India/Africa, who have been converting the Missy Mouse books and making them accessible to those who cannot read in the usual manner. I had always thought it wouldn’t be possible to add them to Bookshare because of the need to describe the illustrations, but the team at Bookshare have done a remarkable job of adding the descriptions to the text so that blind and visually impaired readers can learn what is happening in the images.

So, if you or anyone you know is a registered member of Bookshare, you can access some of my books – with more to follow soon.

And it won’t be long before Fiji’s book “Paws for Thought: Seeing the World Through the Eyes of a Guide Dog” will be there too!
 
If you would like to learn more about the Bookshare library, you can hop onto Bookshare.org or listen to the interview I participated in with members of the team from Bookshare India/Africa for the Global Rainbow Foundation, at https://fb.watch/bBQZIcmWar/

Introducing My New Podcast

The image shows a woman with shoulder length dark brown hair
 
Creating a new podcast is exciting. There are so many fun decisions that have to be made – what topic to cover, the format of the episodes, who to interview and on what subjects, the look and feel of the podcast, the description, the title. And, of course, the all-important first episode.
 
As I’ve been working on the new format of my podcast I’ve been lucky that so many people from my Facebook community have been willing to help me answer these questions. It has been great to hear people’s thoughts and opinions on the various questions I’ve asked them. And, if you were one of those who chose to be part of the conversation, please know you have my sincere thanks.
 
If I were Fiji I’d be wagging my tail and jumping up and down right now as I share with you that the first episode is finally here. You can listen at http://iono.fm/e/1164792
 
My plan for the A Different Way of Seeing podcast is to interview guests on a range of topics related to disability. But I wanted to do something different for the first episode, so asked friend and fellow podcaster Jeff Thompson, of the Blind Abilities podcast to interview me about my plans for the new podcast. It was fun being in the hot seat and facing the questions on my own podcast.
 
If you’re interested in a podcast that discusses all things disability, you’ll find the A Different Way of Seeing podcast wherever you usually listen to your podcasts, or you can find us at https://iono.fm/rss/chan/3715
 
I hope you’ll join me and my guests as we talk all things disability. Whether you have a disability yourself, know someone living with a disability, or are simply curious to know more about the tools and techniques we use to live our lives, then you’ll want to give A Different Way of Seeing a listen. Because there is lots of great content coming up!

Seeing with Your Ears – Echo Location with Brian Bushway

Brian in  Iceland holding a huge block of ice
I’m sure I’m not the only one who grabs for her phone whenever I hear a notification. Or who hunts around to find it when the phone alerts me that I have an incoming call. Or dash into the kitchen to check on supper when I hear the oven buzzer. In all of these cases we are making use of our hearing to gain useful information.

I rely on sound to help me navigate the world because I can’t use my eyes to tell me what is happening around me. It’s the only way I know what’s beyond the range of my hands or white cane. When I’m travelling around with my guide dog I use sound to help me orientate myself. I know the houses where dogs usually bark at us. I listen to the direction of traffic, to the sound of trains passing – anything that can help me pinpoint my location.

Have you ever consciously paid attention to the information you’re gathering with your hearing?

How often are you aware of the sound of the traffic that surrounds you? Have you ever realized it sounds different when you drive into a tunnel? Have you ever wondered whether your reactions are informed by sounds like these, even if you’re not consciously aware of them?

I’ve been thinking about the ways I use sound as a blind person. And how much being more aware of sound could add to a sighted person’s perceptions if they could tap into it more often. And that’s what I spoke to Brian Bushway, of Acoustic Athletics about in my latest podcast.

Brian, who is himself blind, travels the world training people, both with and without sight, about ways that using input from the sounds around them can add to their lives. It’s a skill called echo location.

Brian and I discussed what echo location is, how it can be used, and the neuroscience of how the brain interprets both sight and sound. I found it a fascinating conversation.

We even chatted about how Brian uses echo location to ride a mountain bike independently, rather than with a sighted pilot on a tandem as most blind and partially sighted mountain-bikers do.

If you’d like to learn a little more about ways you could be using sound to add a different dimension to your world, give my conversation with Brian a listen at http://iono.fm/e/1160293

Or search for A Different Way of Seeing on your usual podcast player to listen to the conversation. Oh, and while you’re there, why not follow the podcast. That way you’ll have our episodes drop into your feed automatically.

Waggy Anniversary, Me and Mom!

The image shows a dark-haired woman hugging a pale yellow Labrador

Hello everyone, it’s me – Fiji.

Can you believe that Mom and I have been partnered for six years? I can’t. In some ways it feels like she has always been my mom. And in some ways it feels like it was only a short time ago that I walked into that room at the South African Guide-Dog training centre and met her.

We’ve had so much fun over the last six years, and have been to lots of interesting places. And met lots of wonderful humans. And, of course, we’ve written a book together, based on my life and thoughts as a guide dog.

I must be honest and say that I still don’t always understand the things that humans do and why. So I’ll keep being curious and let you know when things don’t make sense to me. And thank you to those who have replied to my questions in previous blogs – your answers have really helped me.

Of course, along with all the fun and exploring there have also been a few not so good bits – like vet visits, Mom going places and leaving me at home, and yucky anti-flea medicine that all us dogs have to take every now and then. But, on the whole, my life with Mom has been wonderful so far. And I’m sure I will have more new and exciting adventures as we continue working together.

Like the other day when Mom accidentally dropped a peach on the floor. I quickly grabbed it and watched as Mom scanned the floor looking for it. With me holding it gently in my mouth the whole time. Eventually Mom gave up and I ran back to my bed to gobble down my prize. I’d never tasted a peach before and it was yummy. Of course, it would have been even better if it had been meat, but Mom is a vegetarian so that wouldn’t have been possible.

Last week I took Mom to get her booster COVID vaccination, and everyone said I was lovely. I wagged my tail the whole time we were there. But I have to admit that Mom was much braver than I am when I have injections – I usually cry. I was very proud of my mom.

I want to say huge wags and celebrations to me and Mom for our sixth anniversary. Overall I think Mom has been well behaved and has maintained the high standards of training that she got when we first met on 28 February, 2016. Here’s to many more years of fun and adventures together!

PS: If you’d like to find out more about my book, it’s available from Mom’s website or on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09FGYPYP4?ref_=pe_3052080_397670860

Or you can get the first chapter for free at https://www.loisstrachan.com/paws-for-thought/

Adaptive Golf Comes to Cape Town

Lady with a crutch plays golf

I promised to update you on what is planned for A Different Way of Travelling, the podcast on accessible travel that I currently host for Accessible South Africa. Which I will do – but first, let me tell you about our most recent episode, where we chat about adaptive golf.

For some reason it feels like I’ve been coming across an increasing number of adaptive sports. It’s exciting to be constantly finding people who are making sports more inclusive for persons with disabilities in South Africa. And my latest podcast episode contains yet one more example of this – namely adaptive golf.

Admittedly, I don’t know if the Raising Hope SA Golf Academy is the first of it’s kind in South Africa, or whether adaptive golf is available all over the country. But it is new to me, and I wanted to tell my listeners about it, in case I wasn’t the only one for whom this is news.

You can hear the story of the Raising Hope SA Golf Academy, and about some of the other projects being run by Raising Hope SA, in my latest podcast episode, at http://iono.fm/e/1155543

The academy is open to anyone, regardless of their age, disability, and financial status. I really like the approach they are taking – to work with each individual person and figure out how best to accommodate their needs and abilities. Because, as we know, each person’s abilities are uniquely different.

On a broader scope, we are going to be making some exciting changes to the podcast in the coming weeks. Firstly, the name is going to change to A Different Way of Seeing, though that won’t have any impact on you if you subscribe to the podcast on any of the usual podcast players.

We’re also shifting the focus of the podcast to explore the lived experiences of persons with disabilities in all aspects of life – work, education, sport, the arts, and leisure, as well as travel. I’m excited about chatting to people and hearing more about the tools and techniques they use to make their lives easier in all these areas.

The changes will probably only come into play in episode 60, which will most likely be in March or April. But watch this space – we’ll be sure to keep you updated as things happen.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy learning about adaptive golf and the Raising Hope SA Golf Academy. And, if you know of other adaptive golf initiatives in South Africa, please let me know about it.

Where Did the Last Two Months Go?

In many ways I feel as though my year has only just started. For some reason I seem to have lost the last two months. My brain feels as if 2021 ended with November and 2022 only really got going this month.

There are reasons for this. My plans for December were derailed when I came down with COVID-19. So my plans had to be put on hold for a week or two while I recovered. Having said that, I’m immensely grateful that I wasn’t seriously ill as a result of the pandemic, just immeasurably tired most of the time. So my productivity plummeted.

The strange thing is that January wasn’t a whole lot better for me. And I have absolutely no excuse for my general apathy and lack of progress on the projects I’ve been working on. Somehow they just didn’t seem to happen.

Until February.

In contrast, the first half of this month has been wonderfully and crazily busy as my year has finally got going. I published my speaking show reel after having it waiting in the wings for almost a year. I also published a book promo video for Fiji’s book “Paws for Thought: Seeing the World Through the Eyes of a Guide Dog”, which was a fun mini-project that Charlie Dyasi created for Fiji and me.

I’ve started making a few changes in my business, thanks to incredibly valuable coaching from Heather Cresswell, from Business Brilliance. At least part of my flurry of action is the result of the shifts Heather’s coaching is creating in my life and business.

Now that my year is well and truly underway, you may be wondering what I have planned for 2022.

I’ve realized how much work I’m doing within the disability sector, speaking, training, coaching and mentoring. And it’s work I love doing! Being able to support others with disabilities, especially those who like me have a sight-related condition, is probably the most rewarding work I can envision doing. I am grateful to have so many opportunities to interact with people around the globe and encourage them to reach for their dreams. So I plan to build this aspect of my business this year.

In terms of my writing, the honeymoon period following the publication of Fiji’s book is over and it’s time I sat down to consider my next writing adventure. I’ve been chatting on and off with a friend, Meiki Motshabi, about a possible collaborative book project but we haven’t yet settled on the details of what that might look like and who might be involved. So, you’ll have to wait to find out more as our plans develop. Needless to say, writing will definitely remain one of my major activities in 2022.

There are also big changes happening in the podcasting work I’m doing. But more on that next time…

All told, I think it’s clear that I have managed to shrug off whatever lassitude affected me over the past two months and I am finally diving into 2022 with a wildly wagging tail… much to Fiji’s confusion since wagging tails are usually her responsibility.

And if you’d like to watch Fiji’s book promo video, you’ll find it at at https://youtu.be/y3rqzxUFbV0.

 

 

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