How I Read Books as a Blind Person

The image shows a stack of books placed one atop another

In the past month I’ve written quite a bit about the books I’ve been reading. Which has resulted in a few questions about how I actually engage with books.
When I first lost my sight I had no idea of how I might be able to read books. Reading had been a fundamental part of my life since I learned to make sense of the written word and I was seldom to be found without a book, or several books, within reach. So I was terrified I might never be able to read again now that I was blind.

Over time I learned how needless that fear was.

As a blind person I have several different options of how to read. I can listen to a book on audio, just as you might listen to a book from Audible. In fact, many visually-impaired people are avid Audible fans and enjoy listening to books being read by human narrators.
I can also listen to a book on my phone or laptop, using the electronic voice of my screen reader, the application that reads whatever appears on the screen of the device. While this may sound like the most foreign of my reading options to someone who is sighted, it is actually my first choice.

The digital screen reader voice is mostly neutral in tone. It adheres to some spoken norms– dropping the tone at the end of a sentence, or raising it to indicate a question.
To me, this gives the closest experience to reading by sight. All too often I find human narrators interpret the words they’re reading. Which means I am somewhat restricted by their interpretation. Reading with a digital voice gives me the freedom to interpret the text and the story using my own imagination, just as I used to do before I became blind.

I admit that I’m part of a very tiny minority of blind bookworms who choose to read this way. Most seem to prefer human narration. Or using braille.
Braille is also useful as a way to read books. Either a visually-impaired person can read a physical braille book, or they can read a book on a digital device using a braille display. While I’m not really a braille user, which means it would take me months to finish a book that would take me only a few hours on my phone or laptop, I’ll be the first to admit that braille is a great way to read a book without requiring the use of one’s ears. For many people, that can be an advantage. Or in some cases, especially for those who are deaf-blind, a necessity.

So there are several ways I could choose to read as a blind person. I want to stress that none of these choices are better or worse than the others. It is entirely a matter of personal preference.
Regardless of how I engage with books, the important thing is that I have several options as a reader who is blind. So I need never be without books, as I thought I would be when I first lost my sight, the memory of which still makes me shudder. And then reach for the comfort of my book reader to reassure myself that all is well with my book world.

Paws for Thought: My Brand New Book Cover!

The image shows the cover of the book Paws for Thought, with a close-up of a yellow Labrador’s head on a teal background.

I’m wagging so hard right now! I finally have a book cover for my forthcoming book, Paws for Thought: Seeing the world through the eyes of a guide dog.

And it’s really pretty. At least I think it is. Because it’s got me on it!

I know you’re probably frustrated that it’s taking so long to get the book out. I know I’m frustrated and we dogs are usually more patient than you humans. Unless we’re waiting to go for a walk or to be fed.

I wish I could get stuck in and help on this part of the process but, as a dog, I realize that sometimes I have to leave things in the paws of Mom and Dad. No matter how long they seem to take.

Dad is busy getting the book ready to go onto Amazon, and is sorting out the ISBN – whatever that is – so we can do a print run here at home for anyone who wants to read a book with actual pages.

Mom is busy writing down what I tell her I want on the book description, and is researching things called keywords and categories. Whatever they are, they seem important to humans. All I know is that occasionally she looks down to where I’m lying and asks me if I think a term will work. And I either sneeze, shake my head or wag my tail at her, depending on how I’m feeling at the time. I don’t know how she interprets my responses but she usually laughs and pats me, so everything must be good.

Anyway, although I know we’ve all been waiting a very long time for this book, I wanted to ask you to be a little bit more patient while we work through the complicated human stuff, and for you to know that we’re working as fast as we can. At least now we have the cover!

A True Spirit of Adventure

Normie Eckard on his handcycle on a road with a Namibian flag

Every time I interview someone for my accessible travel podcast, A Different Way of Travelling, I learn new ways in which people with disabilities engage with the travel and hospitality industries. This was especially true for the most recent episode we published.

Normie Eckard has been a wheelchair user since a motor accident when he was 18 years old. But that hasn’t stopped him from participating in a number of adventures that he uses to fundraise to assist children with disabilities. In the podcast we broke down a few of the adventures he’s done and explored how these were adapted to accommodate his own disability.

If you’re interested to know how Normie was able to skydive, paraglide, go scuba diving and shark cage diving, and ride a quadbike, amongst other things, and about his adventure cycling from Luderitz to Cape Agulhas on a handcycle, you can find out by listening to the episode at the following link:

http://iono.fm/e/1020502

While you’re there, it would be great if you could subscribe to the podcast to join me as I continue to learn from each new guest I have the honour to interview.

Paws for Thought on the Perplexity of Cooking

Fiji looking at a bag of dog foodHello everyone, it’s me – Fiji!

I know I say it often, but there are some things about humans that confuse me. Like why they feel the need to ruin perfectly yummy food by cooking it.

I mean, I’m ecstatically happy to be given a bowl of pellets at mealtimes. I’m so excited that I start to run straight to my food spot as soon as Mom picks up my bowl. but then I lose sight of my food. And get Scared that Mom might get distracted. So I spin back to check. And then I continue my spin so I don’t crash into the doorway. And then spin around again to check my food is still on its way. I think my greatest number of complete spins is eleven. I know it looks like I’m chasing my tail. But I’m not.

When we reach the spot, I sit down like I’m meant to, quivering with excitement. And Mom eventually puts my bowl on the ground. A fraction of a second after she tells me I can eat I dive in. And gobble my food as fast as I can. Because I have to finish before my doggy-sisters do, or they’ll try to steal mine. And they both feel the same.

But not mom and dad. No, they have to get all fancy and complicated with their food. In all sorts of peculiar ways. They either fry, roast, grill, boil, poach or steam it. And for what? It doesn’t make it last any longer before it’s all gobbled down.

Okay, I admit that when Dad cooks meat me and my sisters get intoxicated by the delicious scent of the meat cooking. And, joy of all joys, if he gives us a teeny bit of the meat to taste after it’s cooked, it certainly tastes wonderful. But it takes sooo long before it’s ready to eat.
If you ask me, even if it does taste delicious, I bet it would taste almost as good if we just ate it without all the fuss of cooking it first. And it wouldn’t take as long to prepare – just drop it in our bowls and it’ll be gone before you can say “Eat it”.

Somehow Mom and Dad just don’t see it that way and insist on spending unnecessary time cooking it. Apart from salad, which we dogs wouldn’t want to eat any way. Except perhaps for my sister Emily, who will eat almost anything. Except parsley, celery tops and brussels sprouts.
Drat! Talking about all this food has made me hungry. I wonder how long it is till supper.

Book Review: The Kindle Publishing Bible: How to Sell More Kindle Ebooks on Amazon, by Tom Corson-Knowles

the image shows the cover of The Kindle Publishing Bible: How to Sell More Kindle Ebooks on Amazon

Three posts in a row about books? That’s a little unusual for me. Yet, since books, reading and writing are such important parts of my life, it’s possibly more strange that I don’t write about books more often.

As a writer I’m always keen to learn how to write, publish and market books more effectively. Which is why The Kindle Publishing Bible: How to Sell More Kindle Ebooks on Amazon, by Tom Corson-Knowles, published by TCK Publishing, was of such interest to me
Even though this book was published a few years ago and certain Amazon features may have changed since then, it was a book full of useful information and great resources to assist an author considering self-publishing on the Amazon platform.

However, the book doesn’t stop there. There are also great tips to assist with the writing process included. I especially found the chapter about selecting a title for a book of interest, since this is something I’m currently battling with myself. The suggestions given will definitely stay with me.
While I have not yet had a chance to investigate the many promotional tools given in the book, there are bound to be at least a few that can assist with the marketing of a self-published book, which often proves a stumbling block for new authors.

In conclusion, I found this quick-reading book both practical and easy to follow. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to publish and market a book through Amazon.

Literary Tour of Africa

The image shows a map of the African continent

Okay, okay, so I’m not actually touring round Africa. But what else would you call it?

This year I set myself two reading goals: to read some of the classics I didn’t get to when I was at school, and to focus on reading outside the genres I tend to default to. The first book I read was Homegoing, by Ghanaian-born Yaa Gyasi. That was the book that shifted my reading into an unexpected direction, and focused me specifically on authors from the African continent.

One of the characters in Homegoing is a history teacher in Ghana. At one point he cautions his students that the texts they study often reflect only a single perspective. That they should try to find the voices that are silenced in the texts. And I became intensely aware of how few books I had read by authors from Africa. Even more, how few of those that I had read were by authors whose voices had traditionally been marginalized in the publishing industry.

Rather than spending time researching possible books, I posted a question on a Facebook book group. And received more than 75 recommendations of books written by authors based in Africa. From numerous countries. In fact, I have so many books and authors to try that I feel slightly overwhelmed. Which isn’t a bad thing when it comes to books!

So far I’ve read three books, each from a different country.

1 Homegoing – by Yaa Gyasi (Ghana)
2 If We Are to Become: A Conversation Taking Us to the Next Level – by Ruramai Sithole (Zimbabwe)
3 The Shadow King – by Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia)

I wish I could find a way to track the books I’ve read on a map of Africa, but can’t think of one. It’s one of the few times that my blindness has posed me a challenge I can’t solve without sighted help. That’s just the way it is sometimes.

I know I already have a long list of authors and titles to read. But I’m always keen to learn about great books. So why not let me know a few of your favourite books by African authors. I’d love to hear them!

Update on Fiji’s Book

The image shows Lois and Fiji It’s been a while since I updated you on Fiji’s book. And things are starting to move fast now!

Fiji and I have finished creating the content and the book has been proofread. Our next step is to add the photographs and to create a cover for the book… with Fiji on it, of course. Then we need to start shifting into the publishing and marketing phase. Which is going to be exciting for us both!

To my surprise, the book has turned out to be 27 000 words. Considering I anticipated it would be around 20 000 at a stretch, I was amazed to find it just continued to grow. Fiji and I kept adding stories. It’s been so much fun creating a book about Fiji’s perspective of the world. And those who have read it so far, including her puppy walkers, said they enjoyed it.

We can’t wait to share it with you! It will still be a while before it’s available. In the meantime, here is another short extract from the book. This time drawn from what happened when Fiji and I arrived home after being on guide dog training.

Here’s how Fiji remembers that experience:

“Mom and the man had a serious conversation on the trip to wherever we were going. I heard my name a few times but couldn’t figure out what it was about. I rather enjoyed snoozing contentedly at mom’s feet, curled up and occasionally resting my head and my front left paw on mom’s seat. Whatever they were talking about I knew I’d be fine.

The car eventually stopped and I lifted my head to stare curiously around me. The man got out of the car and closed the door, lowering his window to let in some cool air since mom and I were staying in the car. Then he opened the front door and three dogs bounded out and ran onto the grass.

I immediately wanted to go and join them and tried to climb through the open car window. Mom grabbed my collar and held me back and I started to whine and wriggle to get to the dogs. So mom opened her car door and I took a flying leap out of the car and went to introduce myself to my new siblings.

Introductions were quickly made, amidst much tail wagging and tentative play. Emily and I became friends right away – she was seven years old but was still happy to play with me. At fifteen years old, Calvin was already ancient by then and was a little grumpy, and mostly ignored me. But that was okay, because I had lots to explore and mom and Emily to play with. The third dog, Eccles, was mom’s retired guide dog and she seemed to be friendly as well, though she didn’t really want to play much either. She also tried lecturing me on how to look after mom best – as if I needed to be told! Still, I thought it would be disrespectful to ignore her so listened to what she had to say… before rushing off to explore some more.

Eccles and I had a polite conversation about who would get to sleep beside mom on the floor next to the bed. She felt she ought to retain that right. But I told her it was my spot now, since I was mom’s proper guide dog. The conversation went on for quite some time. And eventually we agreed to take it in turns – with whomever got there first winning the coveted spot. Which, of course, meant that I got to sleep nearest to mom most nights. Because I was so much younger and quicker than Eccles, and would race to the bed as soon as we’d had our night-time biscuits.”
We’ll let you know how to get hold of the book soon, I promise…

Paws for Thought on Itchy Ears

The image shows a close-up of Fiji’s face.

Early last week my ear started to irritate me. I was forced to shake my head repeatedly to try and clear the itchiness but it didn’t help. No matter how much I shook my head.

When mom noticed she sent me to the doggy doctor. Usually I enjoy going to the doctor because I get treats and get lots of attention. Every now and then I also get an injection which makes me cry. But most often not so the doggy doctor is my friend.

This time she checked my ear and it was sore. So I cried. And she patted me and said she was sorry.

Since then I’ve noticed dad slipping something into my dinner so I think he’s feeding me pills. But I never find them in my food since I eat it so fast. So that’s okay with me.

But I’ve also been having yucky liquid put in one of my ears. Twice a day. I absolutely hate it. It makes a horrible slushy type of sound and feels very horrid when it gets into my ear. So I have to shake my head and try and get it all out.

Is it any wonder that I run away and hide under the bed when dad reaches for the bottle of liquid for my ears? Dad’s taken to cheating and bringing my amazing squeaky toy and then I can’t help myself – I squeeze out from under the bed and jump for it. And dad grabs my collar. And then I get yucky liquid in my ear again.

On the positive side, my ear isn’t feeling itchy any more. And I haven’t needed to shake my head for several days now. Except to clear the medicine from my ear. Or if I’m playing with my squeaky toy and need to give it a good shake.

But yucky ear liquid is definitely going on my list of things I hate – along with being Top spotted and being left at home when mom goes out.

Next month I want to tell you all about another of my favouritest things in the world – food… Mmm, I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!
XXX

Five Wonderful Years with Guide Dog Fiji

The image shows Guide Dog Fiji licking Lois on the nose

Who would have thought it? Fiji and I celebrate our fifth anniversary today! And what an amazing five years they’ve turned out to be – full of fun, adventure, learning, independence, sharing our story, and lots of wonderful companionship. Sure, there have been a few less than perfect moments, too. But so few and far between that they fade into insignificance.

Last year I shared a conversation between Fiji and myself in which we reflected on the four years we’d worked. And this past year has hardly been anything for either of us to brag about since we’ve not been able to add much to our adventures due to COVID-19. But, even with the little we are able to do right now, I am reminded of how much independence Fiji gives me and how much joy she provides.

Admittedly, there are a few things that have changed in the last year. For one thing, Fiji has turned into a vampire runner. By which I mean that she no longer joins Craig and Allie on their runs if they do so in the morning. Rather she waits for the sun to be well and truly down before being willing to head out and hit the road.

The guide dog trainer said she thinks Fiji is self-managing her running and that maybe she’s feeling the heat of a morning run more than she used to. So, rather than leaping up and demanding a run whenever she can, she is regulating both how often and how far she gets to run. I guess I have to acknowledge that Fiji is getting older – she is now 6.5 years old. But it’s still sad for me to see it in her behaviour… even if it’s only apparent in small ways like when she chooses to run.

Having said that, the vet told us last week that Fiji is in remarkable shape for a dog her age, and someone who encountered Fiji when she was walking with Craig the other day asked if they could buy one of her puppies. And she is still as playful and as loveable as ever – still leaps into the air to catch her crunchwater, chases her tennis ball, and plays rowdily with her doggy sisters.

More than that, Fiji’s discovered a new toy. A few months ago we found Eccles’s old squeaky toy. And when we squeaked it, Fiji came hurtling up from the other side of the house and leapt for it. And proceeded to squeak it and shake it with glorious abandon. Which is strange because she’s never shown any interest in it before

Every now and then we find her staring up at the dressing table where we keep the squeaky toy with a wistful look on her face. Until we pick it up and toss it to her. And then we have a leaping, shaking, tail-wagging gleeful Fiji once again.

Most importantly, Fiji comes running whenever I pick up her guide dog harness, twisting in circles and wagging as fast as she can. Her love of guiding is always a joy for me to experience. And I’m sure she and I will continue working together for many years yet.

A very happy and waggy anniversary to my precious guide dog companion – and many more adventures for us… And a successful book launch when we finish her book later this year. But we’ll update you on that soon, we promise…

What do you mean we’ve had 200 K views???

https://youtube.com/shorts/exDSDDDrKWM

I’ve had a YouTube channel for years. But I’ve never really done much with it. Okay, I’ve used it to post videos of my speaking, of Fiji and I working, and a few fun videos of my beloved dogs. But very little beyond that.

In 2017 I uploaded a video of Fiji and I riding on an escalator. I thought the cutest part of the video was that Fiji is wagging her tail all the way down the escalator, clearly loving the work she’s doing.

And for years that video limped along, being viewed every now and then by a curious YouTuber. Until the last few months.

Suddenly I began getting a stream of notifications from YouTube telling me that people were watching the clip. These were interspersed with notifications that people were following my channel. And I began paying a lot more attention to what was happening on YouTube.

Over the space of two months my subscribers leapt from just over 100 to 615. And the number of views of that specific video clip rocketed from a few hundred to over 204 000.

It s made me realize the power that YouTube can have. And that I need to be more strategic about sharing videos, especially if they include my beautiful Guide Dog Fiji!

So, watch out – we’ve got lots more videos in our plans!

PS: Here’s the link to that particular video. Why not take a few seconds to watch it after all, more than 200K people must be on to something! https://youtube.com/shorts/exDSDDDrKWM

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Lois shares updates on her book, speaking and the reality of living with blindness. Find out what Lois is up to – subscribe here.

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