Guide Dog or White Cane – and the Winner is…

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A few days ago, I had two meetings at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. For various reasons that aren’t relevant to this post, I wasn’t able to take my guide dog Fiji with me. Instead I used my white mobility cane.

I have many blind and visually impaired friends who prefer to use a white cane as their primary mobility aid and they’re superb at it. But me, well… Let’s just say that because I generally use a guide dog, my cane skills aren’t that great.

Both rely on effective O&M skills – orientation and mobility for those who don’t know our jargon. Orientation is the ability to know your location using your other senses, and mobility is the ability to get from one place to another.

Here’s what I mean. I’m not used to walking into obstacles. Fiji usually walks me round things that are in our way. When using a white cane, I feel that life is much like a full body contact sport. I only know obstacles are there when I hit them with my cane tip, bounce off them, or fall over them. Also, I think I missed out when they were handing out senses of balance since I don’t have one. It’s okay when I’m with Fiji because she helps to balance me, especially when walking down stairs, which is probably my least favourite part of getting out and about. This absence of a sense of balance is magnified wen I’m using a white mobility cane – I simply don’t feel steady on my feet. And finally, I seem to battle to find straight. Again, that isn’t a problem with Fiji since I can leave it up to her. But when using a white cane, it’s up to me and I seem to spend my entire journey tacking from one side to the other.

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I know my cane skills would improve significantly if I were to use them more often, especially when travelling on my own. Because traveling independently with a cane leaves me feeling anxious, incompetent and unable. Which I hate.

I recently decided I needed to do something about that.

I’ve already contacted the O&M Instructor from the Cape Town Society for the Blind to set up a lesson so I can brush up on my obviously rusty cane skills. I also want to get a new, longer white cane since I’ve started walking faster since working with Fiji and a longer cane will give me a slightly longer reaction time when I encounter obstacles. I’ve also set myself the goal of becoming braver about using my cane independently so I can practice the skills I need.

Does this mean I’m going to use Fiji less? Absolutely not. Fiji will always be my first choice as a mobility aid. But it will definitely be valuable for me to be more comfortable using a white cane for those times when I can’t have Fiji with me.

To go back to the start of the post and answer the question, I firmly believe the winner will be me…. Because any way I can improve my levels of independence will help me be more effective in what I do.

Paws for Thought – The Philosophy of an Acorn

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Considering what mom said in her last post it’s probably a good thing that it’s my turn to share an article with you – it gives mom just a little more time to re-gather her energy.

Today I want to tell you about an experiment I tried a few days ago.

A few days ago I took mom and dad to Peddlers on the Bend, a restaurant in Constantia that has an amazing beer garden. It was a beautiful, warm evening with little wind, so we sat outside under the majestic oak trees. A few other dogs were there and came across to chat and drink from the water bowl the friendly waitress brought me. Much to my joy the water bowl even had some ice blocks in it, which I crunched happily.

You know how they say you ought to walk a few miles in someone’s shoes before judging them? Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about squirrels and pondering the state of war that exists between me and them. I was quietly lying there in that beer garden, crunching away on my last ice block, when it suddenly occurred to me how I could try that whole walk in their shoes thing.

So I grabbed an acorn and started chewing it, just like a squirrel…

Then mom told me to stop. At least she seemed to understand the philosophical experiment because she asked me if I thought I was a squirrel and I tried to say yes. But I’m not sure she understood because she just laughed and patted me.

On the whole I’d say that I learned that acorns don’t taste very good. I also realized that squirrels and I are just different and that it’s unlikely I’ll ever understand the things they do and eat.

I have no idea whether that means my experiment was a success or not. Perhaps I’m just not cut out to be a philosopher.

I Know This Too Shall Pass…

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A few days ago I got a message from a friend who was concerned that she hadn’t seen any blog posts from me for a while. And it’s true – I haven’t blogged for the past two weeks. It’s not that there’s been nothing going on. Actually, I’ve been crazy busy with some exciting stuff. Rather I’ve been in a bit of a funk and haven’t been able to pull together the energy to write.

Sometimes life’s just like that.

Even now, as I write this, I can feel the difference – usually I can sit down and share a story or an experience with you and the words just flow from my fingers as they dance across the keyboard of my laptop. But not today. Today my fingers are sluggish and I find I’m having to contemplate every word, every sentence I write.

Some years ago, when I was going through a really tough time, a friend of mine reassured me by saying, “This too shall pass.”! and indeed it did. As I know it will this time.

I guess you could argue that by explaining this I’m already moving beyond the funk that’s stopped me writing. And maybe you’re right. I hope you are!
But if I’m a little quieter than normal, please know that everything’s okay and I’m just taking some time out to re-gather my energy.

Free Tickets to the Women in Publishing Summit

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It was an extraordinary experience for me to be part of an international panel discussing empowering others through sharing your personal story for the Women in Publishing Online Summit taking place from 4 – 8 March. It was both a pleasure and a privilege to share with the other women authors I met on the panel and whose stories blew me away!

The Summit includes more than 70 women from all areas of the publishing industry – authors, editors, designers, publishers and marketers – sharing some of their best thoughts and ideas on creating and publishing a book. Whether you’re an aspiring author wanting to publish your first book or an experienced author wanting to learn more tricks of the trade, the WIP Summit is a great resource.

Here’s a link to get a free ticket to the event, which allows you to access the interviews for a few days from the start of the Summit: https://loisstrachan–writepublishsell.thrivecart.com/free–registration/

I registered for the WIP Summit last year and chose to upgrade to the All Access Pass (AAP) because I knew I wouldn’t be able to watch all the interviews and gain maximum value from what was being shared in the time the free ticket gave me access. It took me almost 9 months to work through them all. But that’s entirely up to you.

PS Yes, the link is an affiliate link – but I only get commission if you decide to upgrade to the AAP. Still I’d appreciate your using the link above if you want to attend so the organisers know I’m sharing the news of this great event.

Panic and Perseverance

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Sometimes the only way to get over our fear is to face it. And that’s what I had to do on Friday…

Here’s the back story: two weeks ago, I fell while walking with my guide dog, Fiji. In truth, I wasn’t badly hurt but it’s taken me time to heal from the various scratches and grazes on my hand, arms and knees. And I haven’t walked with Fiji while healing. The other thing you need to know is that they’ve been digging up sidewalks and roads to install fiberoptic cables in our neighbourhood, a fact that may or may not have contributed to my fall. But that’s not what this post is about.

Fiji’s been remarkably patient while my knees healed enough to climb steps without pain. Thankfully, during my time off most of the fiberoptic installation has been done. So I knew we wouldn’t be dodging teams of workmen when we ventured out for our first cautious foray on Friday.

What I hadn’t expected was how nervous I’d be about walking. Don’t get me wrong – I trust Fiji and her impeccable training. And it’s not like my fall was in any way her fault – I did it all on my own! but I still had to confront the disturbing question that kept nagging at me – what if I fall again?

I decided to take it one step at a time. And everything was fine. Until we stepped up onto one specific sidewalk.

I don’t know if other blind people experience this, but if something’s changed on a route I know well I have a momentary panic that maybe, just maybe I’m not where I think I should be. Which is scary. But then sanity reasserts itself and I know it’s only the spot where I’m standing that’s changed a little.

So, when I stepped onto that sidewalk and found soft, slippery sand instead of the grass surface I was expecting I had one of those moments. Then, as I moved past that panic and continued on my route, I found the drainage gutter I use as a navigational aid was MIA… well, it was covered by that same soft, slippery sand. So that was another of those moments. And by the time I reached the end of that seemingly interminable block I was a nervous wreck. In utter relief I stepped towards the down kerb to cross the road and leave that now-alien landscape… only to discover the entire sidewalk had crumbled.

Of course I made it safely to the end of my walk. And, of course, Fiji and I navigated that piece of sidewalk perfectly fine on our return journey – perhaps not with as much confidence as we usually do, but we made it just fine. And next time we walk it, it’ll be even easier. As will the time after that. Right up to the point that the company doing the fiberoptic installation come back and fix all the sidewalks and then we’ll have to go through the process of panic and perseverance all over again.

That’s just part of life!

When You Ask Me Why You Really Mean How

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You wouldn’t believe how often people ask me why I travel. The assumption seems to be that there’s no value in going to destinations because I can’t “sightsee” with my eyes.

If I were to ask a sighted person why they travel I’d probably get an answer along the lines of “I travel to see new places and different cultures,” or “To broaden my mind”. I travel for exactly the same reason, with the very subtle difference that I go to experience new places and cultures – in other words, all that’s different is that I use senses other than my sight to do so.

When people ask why I travel what they’re actually asking is *how* do I travel. Which is a totally different question and is about the techniques I use.

If you’d like to know the answer to that question, here’s a brief presentation I gave where I look at some of the preparation I do before a trip, and a little about how I create a sensory experience when I “site-experience” – hope you enjoy it!

Paws for Thought on a Part of My Job

Cds Lois somewhere As a guide dog I get to have lots of fun that my doggy sisters, Emily and Allie, don’t. Working with mom is one of them and visiting places along with the South African Guide-Dog Association is another.

I love going to visit community groups, companies and schools as part of the marketing initiative to help raise funds and awareness about my special work as a guide dog. I’ve done lots of these visits in the time I’ve been working with mom and each one is different. I’d probably say that my favourite places to visit are schools because the learners make such a fuss of me, but I’ve also met some wonderful adults who are keen to make friends.

Best of all, mom and whoever we’re working with from the SA Guide-Dog Association get to do all the work. All I have to do is wag my tail and look pretty, which is easy for me. And yet, somehow, I land up being the star of the show – every single time!

This month mom and I are going with Teagan from the SA Guide-Dog Association to a number of different Probus Chapters. We start tomorrow in Milnerton and I can’t wait!

I swear, whoever came up with the saying that it’s a dog’s life, meaning something bad, was crazy. I’m a dog, it’s my life… and I absolutely love it!

If you’d like me and mom to come and visit your company, or your child’s school it’s probably best to contact mom and chat to her – I’d love to do so and am sure mom would too! XXXXX

Have Disability, Will Travel

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Sometimes we receive the gift of insight from the most unexpected places…

Before I started the Accessible South Africa Travel Podcast, I researched what other accessible travel podcasts were out there. My research led me to the Have Disability, Will Travel Podcast. Once I found it, I started chatting to the host, Josh. And he asked if he could interview me for his show.

Even though I’ve only been podcasting for a few months, it felt really weird having questions fired at me rather than doing the firing myself. But what was really interesting to me was how much I learned from the process. As Josh took me through my own travel experiences and my thoughts on the travel industry, he really got me thinking about the broader concept of accessible travel. And how much I still have to learn.

One thing that really stood out for me was when Josh pointed out how many of the online resources for accessible travel focus on physical access. Sure, I’d noticed it in my own research, but I thought it was just me. So it was kind of gratifying to realize I’m not the only one who’s noticed it.

I guess it’s only natural for us to approach accessible travel from the perspective of our own disability. And, admittedly, what I need when I’m traveling is very different from what someone in a wheelchair needs. Accessibility is a complex issue, which may make it challenging for those in the hospitality and tourism industries who are trying to meet our needs. Which makes it even more important for us to share our experiences and educate people on how to accommodate us.

Which is why platforms like Josh’s accessible Travel Forum and his podcast Have Disability, Will Travel and my own work here in the Beyond Sight Blog and the Accessible South Africa Travel podcast and our parent platform Accessible South Africa are necessary. But I’d love to see accessible travel getting more exposure in mainstream media as well.

I’m definitely going to write more on accessible travel in the future. But Fiji’s just reminded me that it’s her turn to publish an article so I guess mine will have to wait!

In the meantime, I’d love for you to listen to and share my interview with Josh: https://www.accessibletravelforum.com/atf-admin/lois-strachan-s01-e09/

The Women in Publishing Summit

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In March last year I signed up to listen to the inaugural Women in Publishing Summit. The summit was a week of interviews with women sharing their insights into different parts of the publishing world – authors of different genres, designers, marketers and publishers. It took me almost a year to listen to the full five-day summit, but it was worth every second
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When the call for speakers for the 2019 WIP Summit was published by the organizer, Alexa Bigwarfe, I thought of putting my name forward to share my experiences of using writing as a medium to raise awareness that disability does not mean inability. The more I thought about it, the more I felt drawn to the idea.

So I put a proposal to the organizing team and was over the moon with joy when I was selected to speak as a panelist on telling difficult stories and the importance of using your personal story to empower others.

The WIP Summit is an online summit that will be published in March 2019. If you’re involved in the publishing industry in any way, are thinking of writing a book to share your story with the world or would just like to learn from some inspiring women in the publishing industry, I’d recommend you sign up for the Summit.

In the meantime, you can find out more about what’s on offer on either the website or the Facebook page – here’s the links to both:

Website: https://womeninpublishingsummit.com/?ck_subscriber_id=185618006

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WomenInPublishing/

What Would You Like to Know about Blindness?

Here’s my first update on my plan to convert my book, “A Different Way of Seeing: A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an ‘Ordinary’ Life in an Extraordinary Way” into an audio book.

When I first reread the book, I got the feeling that there was quite a bit that I could update. That, of course, would be the deciding factor of whether or not to try and find a way to update the content given in the audio version. It didn’t make sense to me to figure out how to do it before working out if there was enough material to make an update worthwhile.

When I started listening to each chapter and jotting down ideas of what could be added, what had changed and what I can do now that I couldn’t when I wrote Different Way of Seeing I found I actually had a wealth of new information – from looking at how apps have solved some of the challenges in the kitchen, right the way through to sharing a little of the wonderous adventures I’ve had since meeting Fiji.

Yes, some chapters have more updates than others. Ultimately very little’s changed in how I select clothing and make-up, but I have lots of new stories to share with you so, even where little’s changed, there’s still lots to share that I hope will both entertain and inform you as you listen.

I’m still in the phase of figuring out what needs to go into the update. If you’d like to know how I accomplish any specific task… and I really do mean any task… I’d love to hear from you – I may not use your question in the update, and I may already have answered it in Different Way of Seeing, but I’ll still get back to you with a response of some form.

Looking forward to hearing your input…

Email updates

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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