Disability Awareness

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Going, Going, Gone… for R200 000

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In September I was asked to be the keynote speaker at the Cape Society for the Blind’s AGM. As I listened to the CTSB’s CEO, Lizelle van Wyk, describe the programmes they offer their students I realized how much the organisation empowers people who may be marginalized due to their visual impairment.

I was thrilled when CTSB asked me to speak at two other events for them – their student graduation and a fund-raiser auction they were planning.

The Mad Hatter’s Auction Party took place on Saturday, 24 November. And what a fun event it was – with MC Kevin Abbott entertaining us while skillfully keeping the evening moving forward, the animated Joey Burke serving as a professional and highly efficient auctioneer, and friends and family of the team at CTSB all working together to raise much needed funds to ensure more students are able to benefit from the training the CTSB offers. And how wonderful it was for me to be able to play a small part in helping to raise R200000 to benefit CTSB and the 3 other beneficiaries.

Of course, it would have been even better if I’d been able to find my cherry red hat – after all, it was a Mad Hatter’s party. But I guess you can’t have everything!

The photo shows me up on stage during my speech, and here are links to a Facebook live video that Craig shot during my speech, and an article from the Cape Times on 27 November about the event.

Facebook live video: https://www.facebook.com/lois.strachan/videos/10156118292318391/
Cape Times article: https://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/news/r200-000-raised-to-help-the-blind-at-auction-18273600
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Demystifying Disability with the Cape Chamber of Commerce

LoisDon’t get me wrong – I love sharing my story and inspiring audiences to see their lives and their challenges in a different way as an inspirational speaker. It’s always a privilege to be given the opportunity to do so. But equally important to me is the opportunity of speaking to business audiences about the capabilities of people who are so often marginalised in the job market because of the misperceptions about disability.

Which is why I was so delighted to tackle the topics of the barriers faced by people living with disabilities at the Cape Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast event a fortnight ago. Being able to address a subject that is so close to my heart with my ideal audience was like receiving a gift!

Speaking to the members of the Cape Chamber of Commerce was a great experience –the group of over 50 people were clearly engaged with the information I was sharing and I received some great questions afterwards.

The most exciting aspect for me was how interested people seemed in making their products and services inclusive to those with disabilities, whether it be in making their websites more accessible to visually impaired customers, or in understanding how to make their workplaces accessible to those with a mobility impairment. And we touched on a related topic that’s very close to my heart – that of increasing employment of persons with disabilities.

My hope is that I’ll have the opportunity of engaging more with members of the Cape Chamber, either as a group or in their individual capacities, whether it’s to give them information on the accessibility of their websites, facilitate an assessment of the physical accessibility of their workspace, or to come and speak (formally or informally) to their teams about disability, diversity and inclusion.

My thanks to Bruce Wade and Linda Roopen for giving me the opportunity of speaking to members of the Cape Chamber of Commerce. I certainly hope it won’t be the last time I do so! XXXXX

The Day Fireworks went Off in My Head

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For almost two years I’ve wanted to start a podcast. I knew what my podcast would be about, who my target audience would be and some of the people I’d like to interview. But somehow I never got round to making my ideas a reality. And it seemed that my podcast would be added to the ever-growing list of things I’d do “when I got round to it”.

Then I met a lady named Deirdre Gower, who runs a website on travel for people with a disability. The Accessible South Africa platform has information on services, accommodation, activities and venues that accommodate the needs of disabled people. And I totally fell in love with what Deirdre’s trying to do!

In one of our conversations Deirdre said she’d like to start an Accessible South Africa podcast… and suddenly fireworks started going off in my head…

We now have three episodes of the Accessible South Africa Travel Podcast out and I’m having so much fun interviewing people who are out there seeing the world despite their disability, and service providers who are making their services available to disabled travelers.

If you’re interested in travel, love inspiring stories, or are curious to learn more about how people with disabilities travel the world, and some of the wonderful travel experiences that are making their services inclusive to all, this podcast is for you – we’re not just there for the disabled community.

Subscribe to the podcast here: https://iono.fm/c/3715, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. And browse through the resources and information on the Accessible South Africa website: www.accessiblesouthafrica.co.za

What Actually Happened to Me in October

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Those of you who’ve read Fiji’s article from 13 November may be a little confused, not to mention concerned, about what she said. So, as she suggested, here’s my summary for my “people friends”, as Fiji so eloquently put it.

On 4 October I was hospitalized due to an allergic reaction to some antibiotics. Then my body went into anaphylactic shock, which is a severe, sometimes life-threatening, allergic reaction. The medical team at the Emergency Room at Constantiaberg Mediclinic gave me a shot of adrenalin… and then a second shot when I didn’t respond to the first. And then they sent me to ICU (Intensive Care Unit) since my blood pressure levels dropped dangerously low as a result of the double-dose of adrenalin.

Here’s where it starts to get a little complicated. One of the readings they were monitoring in ICU gave the medical team cause for concern, since it can indicate the onset of a heart attack. So they kept me in ICU for two nights, High Care for 3 nights and then put me in a General Ward for an additional 2 nights to make absolutely sure I was okay.

And gradually I was allowed to move around more – from being stuck in bed for the first day, to being allowed only to sit on a chair for the following 3 days and then, eventually, being allowed to walk around the ward.

What made it frustrating for me was that I felt absolutely fine throughout the experience. If I’d been feeling bad I would probably have welcomed being kept still. But that wasn’t the way it turned out to be.

Anyway, the worrying blood readings eventually dropped back to more acceptable levels and I was eventually allowed home. But my doctor gave me strict instructions to clear my diary – by which he meant do absolutely nothing – for two weeks until I’d been checked over by a cardiologist. Which explains why I haven’t been blogging, why I didn’t do the CTSB Walk with a Vision event, why Fiji and I didn’t attend the SA Guide Dogs Association World Sight Day Dinner. And it also explains why I didn’t get to speak at the Professional Speakers Association Midterm Conference.

I guess by now you’ve realized that the cardiologist gave me a clean bill of health, or I wouldn’t be writing this. In fact, the 3 doctors I’ve consulted since being discharged from Constantiaberg have told me there has been no long-term consequences – apart from the fact I need to avoid penicillin from now on. And I’m confident the final doctor I need to see in the coming week will tell me exactly the same thing.

Admittedly, I wasn’t sorry to see the end of October – it wasn’t my best month ever. Having said that, I want to acknowledge the amazing care I received from the medical team at Constantiaberg Mediclinic, who were superb. Even the food was good which, considering I’m a fussy vegetarian, is saying a lot. And, of course, I also want to send out my heartfelt thanks to my family and friends who kept me sane (or at least no more insane than usual) with their visits, their messages and the wishes sent on Facebook and WhatsApp. They really helped! And finally, I am eternally grateful for the love and support shown by my husband, Craig – I know my absence created chaos at home with the dogs and the general running of the house, but Craig kept everything under control and gave me day by day updates of how the dogs the closest I have to children and at least I knew they were well looked after while I was in hospital.

All that’s left to say is that I hope I can now get back to sharing the final posts from my trip to Germany and Poland, and some of the exciting things that have been happening in my life recently.

How Quickly We Grow Used to Things

NewImageIsn’t it funny that my first article on my last three overseas trips have been about in-flight entertainment and, more particularly, audio described movies on that in-flight entertainment – or the lack thereof.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, audio description is a way that blind and visually impaired people can follow the action taking place onscreen. As the name suggests, the action is described in words along with the usual soundtrack of the movie. Sure, there are movies where the plot is driven by dialogue and we can follow more of what’s going on. But many movies – thrillers, action, horror, and cartoons, for example –are far more visual and it’s hard to follow what’s happening without help.

Admittedly I’m a fairly new convert to audio described movies but it’s amazing how quickly I’ve come to expect them to be part of the in-flight entertainment on a long distance flight. So I was distressed when I found no audio described movies on the 11 hour KLM flight from Cape Town to Amsterdam.

Maybe I’d misled myself into thinking all airlines had audio described movies on international flights simply because Emirates Airlines does. Granted, we haven’t used other airlines in a while for overseas travel. I’d love to know what other airlines also include movies that take the needs of their disabled passengers into consideration – please let me know if you’ve experienced any that do.

At least I had my trusty iPhone and book reader with me on my flight so I had plenty to keep me entertained. Still, I’d have liked to have the ability to choose whether or not to watch an accessible movie…

Falling Back into the Habit

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I know, I know, it’s been ages since I published an article. It’s certainly not for lack of anything to write about. After all, I recently got back from an amazing trip to Germany and Poland about which I have lots to share. I also need to gather my courage and write a final post honouring my retired guide dog, Eccles, who passed away after a short illness. Then I want to tell you about some of the exciting blind travel work I’m starting on, and a media interview I did recently.

So yes, I have plenty to share with you.

But somehow I’ve just fallen out of the habit of settling down to write…

Today I took the decision that it was time to fall back into that habit. so here’s just a short note to let you know that I’m back – back home, back writing, and back willing and eager to share more of my experiences living my ordinary life without sight.

I was startled to see that Fiji also neglected to write an article while I was away – clearly she was just having too much fun on her holiday from guide dogging. Maybe I’ll wake her up just now and ask her if she actually plans on writing a post this month. But you know what they say about letting sleeping dogs lie?

All I’m saying is watch this space…

Louis on the Block – Another Great Place for Guide Dogs

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It’s really not hard to find an enticing restaurant in Cape Town, no matter what type of food you’re looking for. I’ve already written a number of reviews of places that welcome Fiji and this is another of those. But this restaurant, Louis on the Block, in Bergvliet, has an added bonus – they’ve made their venue accessible to people who are mobility impaired as well.

Craig, Fiji and I have eaten at Louis on the Block in Children’s Way, Bergvliet a number of times. Not only do we enjoy their delicious, reasonably priced food and good service, but I’m always impressed by how disability-aware they are.

My guide dog, Fiji, is always warmly welcomed into the restaurant. On one momentous previous visit Fiji was offered not just a bowl of water but a snack as well, which she was most put out when I declined. I know some of you may be thinking it was unfair of me to deprive her of her snack when Craig and I got to eat. Here’s the thing: if Fiji learns to look for food at restaurants she’s slipped over the line into begging – and a begging dog is downright unpleasant for everyone!

What really impresses me about Louis on the Block is that the restaurant is also accessible to those with physical disabilities. Though there are steps up to the main entrance, they have a second stepless entrance that’ll easily accommodate wheelchairs. The tables aren’t crammed together so the space is fairly easily navigable, and the restrooms are also spacious enough to allow access to a wheelchair.

Over the years I’ve been to a large number of restaurants that are happy to accommodate my visual impairment and my guide dog. Sadly I doubt the same is true for a person with a mobility impairment. So it’s really great to experience a restaurant that is so aware of the needs of all their customers, no matter what!

If you’ve never been to Louis on the Block in Bergvliet, Fiji and I would definitely recommend you give them a try –with apologies from Fiji for not being able to vouch for the food herself.

I Couldn’t Believe My Eyes… Umm, My Ears!

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Isn’t life unbelievable? Mere weeks after I posted a lament that I couldn’t find an accessible word search, I found one, and a whole lot more great word and trivia games – all in one place!

It happened like this: a blind friend of mine posted on Facebook that she was looking for a word game she could play on her iPhone using Voice Over (the in-build screen reader app on IOS products). Of course I replied with a suggestion to try Seven Little Words, a word builder game I’ve been enjoying for some time. Someone else mentioned something called Huboodle and I couldn’t resist downloading the app to take a look….

Huboodle is a game pack designed by AppA11y Inc. , which currently includes 8 different games, though more could be added in the future. It’s a free app with some in-app purchases but these are in no way necessary for you to play any of the games. It’s available in several languages: English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Malay, Simplified Chinese, and Spanish and is completely accessible using Voice Over. But don’t be misled into thinking the games are only for people who are visually impaired. There are many sighted people who also enjoy playing – the accessibility is just an added bonus.

Amongst those 8 games are two accessible word search games. I was so surprised when I saw that I almost fell off my chair. Then I almost jumped to my feet and danced with joy.

Strangely enough I’ve only played one word search so far. I’ve been enjoying some of the other games, Word Builder and Trivia Trail.

Word Builder is a game where you build as many words as you can from a selection of letters you’re given. Each level has different letter groups and a different target of words to find. You also gain extra points for finding words that aren’t on the list they give you, so it’s a great game for anyone with a fair vocabulary. I must admit I get particular pleasure every time I find those bonus words.

The other game I’m really enjoying is Trivia Trail. The goal is to work your way through 10 multichoice trivia questions within a limited amount of time. I’ve heard the time limit is 50 seconds but it feels a lot longer when I’m actually playing. The added trick is that you go back to the start of the level if you get a question wrong which takes extra time.

Sure, Huboodle also has some games of chance and I’ve dabbled with poker, blackjack and the wheel of fortune but none of them have really grabbed me. I guess I’m just not a gambler by nature. Other games I haven’t tried so far are a memory game, Simon Says, a multiplayer Ludo board game called Ludo Palooza and, of course, there are the two word search games which attracted me in the first place.

Okay, enough time writing… I’ve got some more words to build!

Getting to Grips with the Question of Employment… Or the Lack Thereof 03

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I’d love to know how many blind and visually impaired people have been unsuccessful in a job application because of barriers in the hiring process – both physical barriers and the more insidious barriers of unconscious bias. Want to know what on earth I’m talking about? Well, read on…

Sometimes the systems used in the application process disqualify us automatically – like when a driver’s license is a requirement for a job. Granted, there are some jobs that a driver’s license is needed, but for many it’s more about being able to get around independently. Here’s the thing, having an absolute requirement for a driver’s license automatically excludes a number of people, including anyone whose visual impairment is significant enough to prevent them from driving.

Sometimes an applicant may need to complete a range of aptitude tests, which may be conducted on computer. While some of these systems are designed with the needs of visually impaired candidates in mind, many of them are not.

I’m not saying that employers deliberately try to exclude visually impaired candidates. I really don’t believe that’s the case. What I’m saying is that perhaps these systems need to be reviewed to ensure they are inclusive of those with special needs.

Another potential barrier to employment are the unconscious assumptions that may affect the way people see disability. I’m startled when friends I’ve known for some time ask questions that reveal they don’t know what I can and can’t do. If people who know me struggle to understand my abilities and skills, how much more difficult must it be for someone in a hiring position who doesn’t engage with a visually impaired person on a regular basis.

Sadly, though we may try to deny it, the usual assumption made by people is that disability means inability, and that’s simply not true. Our abilities are no different – all that differs is the way we access information and accomplish tasks.

How often in job interviews are disabled candidates confronted with questions about how they accomplish the most basic tasks – How do you dress yourself? How do you cook a meal?– which have absolutely nothing to do with the job. The frightening thing is that if those conducting an interview can’t imagine how a visually impaired candidate can accomplish the fundamentals of independent living, how on earth will they be able to conceive of the same person carrying out the requirements of a job?

My plea to companies is that they relook at the systems they use to invite and assess candidates to make sure they aren’t inadvertently excluding those with a disability. I know of at least one company who specialize in this field and would be happy to refer them. Likewise, if I can assist organisations in my capacity as a consultant raising awareness of how we accomplish tasks and challenge the assumptions people make about disability and inability, I’d be more than happy to chat to you.

PS Please share this article with anyone you know who might need to read it – let’s work together to increase the inclusion of those who are visually impaired into society and the workplace!

Getting to Grips with the Question of Employment… Or the Lack Thereof 02

In my last post I referred to a recent article from the Cape Argus newspaper. It’s relevant to this post as well – here’s a link to the article if you want to read it: https://www.pressreader.com/south-africa/cape-argus/20180502/281814284483805

The Cape Argus article says that companies should have budget specifically for reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. In the case of visual impairment this would tend to be technology to help us access information, like screen readers, and text or object recognition products. The perception is that these technologies are prohibitively expensive.

Here’s my thoughts on that perception…

I’m not going to argue that we don’t need these technologies – looking at how much time I spend on my laptop and smart phone with accessible software I find it hard to remember how we used to cope before. What I’m arguing is the perception – the assumption – that it’s expensive to provide these digital accommodations.

Sure, some commercial software solutions do carry a cost, but these are not the only solutions. And I think the decision of whether to pay for a commercial solution will depend on the perceived value. Certainly, in South Africa, the commercial solutions are out of reach of many individuals so, if the employer decides this is the way they want to go it would probably be at the employer’s expense.

Let’s look at some of the other options:

Over the past few years the assistive technology landscape has changed. Increasingly we’re seeing technology companies including in-built accessible software into their products – all Apple products now have in-build screen reader and magnifier software, Microsoft also has in-build accessible software, and the number of free or discretionary cost solutions are constantly growing. These options mean that more individuals are able to access assistive technology without breaking the bank.

What does that mean? Let’s say I was to consider applying for a position with a company, which I’m not right now, I could approach a job interview with all the assistive technology solutions already in place – hence no cost to the company unless they decided to use the more expensive commercial products. Using my existing software and various free apps on my iPhone I’m able to access almost any information I’m likely to need.

Are these free solutions as good? Certainly I find they enable me to do all I need to do, though at times I may need to hunt for the solution. I can’t say I’ve done an exhaustive comparison but certainly I Haven’t found anything I can’t do on my current screen reader that I could on the commercial equivalent.

And yet the perception persists that making reasonable accommodations will be expensive.

I suppose it’s logical – very few people with no lings to the disability world know what solutions are available, and you’re unlikely to be told about the free options if you ask a commercial vendor. So it’s up to us, as visually impaired people, to make other’s aware of what we can access.

I know the focus of my posts is on the issue of barriers to employment that exist for people with visual impairments, rather than all disabilities. This is the area I have direct personal experience in. However, I know the principles hold across the spectrum of other disabilities.

If you’d like more information on anything I’ve said in this post, please feel free to contact me – this is a subject very close to my heart… as is decreasing the barriers to employment so often faced by persons with disabilities.

PS Please share this article with anyone you know who might need to read it – let’s work together to increase the inclusion of those who are visually impaired into society and the workplace!

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