Disability Awareness

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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

What I’d Like You to Know about My Blindness 08 – Being Considered Inspirational

Alt text: the image shows Lois speaking in front of an audience

At a recent online presentation, I was asked to explain how I cook food. I explained a few of the techniques I use– how I chop vegetables, how I work with a hot saucepan without burning myself, how I know when food is cooked, and other simple techniques I use.

My explanation was greeted by various comments on how inspiring I am. Which bothered me.

I guess, as an inspirational speaker I should feel happy to be told I inspire people. And, if I’m talking about how I made the decision to move forward with my life after losing my sight, or strategies people can use to move past the challenges they encounter in their own lives, then I’m okay with being considered inspiring.

However, I don’t believe that talking about simple techniques I use to accomplish tasks in my life should be seen as inspirational. To me, it would be a bit like telling someone they are inspirational because they learned their six times table, or that they were able to tie their shoelaces.

We all learn new skills and techniques as we go through our lives. In my case, the techniques may differ from those a sighted person uses. But they are no more complicated… and no more inspirational.

Which is why I chose to write A Different Way of Seeing – to try and explain how simple many of the techniques I use to accomplish tasks are. And to explain why accomplishing those tasks should not be seen in any other light – they are simply techniques I’ve learned. ,

I know it may seem like I am being dismissive of the response I get from audiences when I speak. That definitely isn’t my intention – I appreciate that people may be moved by my story and the lessons I share to help them tackle their own challenges. I’d simply like people to understand that persons with disabilities do not feel comfortable being lauded for simply learning their six times table… or equivalent skills.

Shift Online Art Festival 2020

It was such an honour for me to be asked to participate in last month’s Shift Online art festival hosted by the Unmute Dance Co from Artscape Theatre. I’ve been impressed by the online performances shown on the YouTube channel throughout November. They have featured some talented artists from across Africa and the world and, of course, from here in South Africa. So it was really special for me to be asked to contribute to the festival.

There were two segments focusing on my work. The first was a mini-documentary that was premiered on Sunday, 29 November, which featured videos of me talking about my work as a singer/songwriter, author and motivational speaker.

Themba Mbuli, Creative Director of Unmute Dance Co, was responsible for putting the content together into a mini-documentary, and he did a really great job.

Here’s the link to the mini-documentary: https://youtu.be/l50KD6d8f5o

A second segment was released on the penultimate day of the festival, Wednesday, 2 December and featured me talking about how I wrote one of my songs – Here Be Dragons – and a little about how I play keyboard. Also featured in that segment was a solo performance from Lone Loh.

Here’s the link: https://youtu.be/f0CUpXmC0J0

I can’t even begin to think of how challenging it must have been to produce a month-long art festival online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Full respect to Themba Mbuli and his team at Unmute Dance Co for such an amazing show! And congratulations to all the artists for their creativity in adapting their art to an online space.
PS: Don’t think that the festival is aimed solely at persons with disabilities – we are artists first, sharing our art with you. Our disabilities are just a minor part of who we are.

PPS You can also hear the first paragraph of my audio book on the mini-documentary.

What I’d Like You to Know about My Blindness07 – Sight-related Words

The image shows Lois speaking in front of an audience

A few days after I was declared blind, I chatted on the phone with my grandmother. During the conversation she asked me if I’d seen an article in the newspaper. Then her voice tailed off into silence. I waited for her next words, wondering why she had suddenly gone quiet.

When she next spoke it was to apologise profusely for her thoughtlessness in using the word “seen”.

This has happened to me regularly since losing my sight. when talking to me, people try desperately to avoid any word that is related to sight. Because they feel it might be insensitive for them to use those terms considering my blindness.

In some ways it’s sweet of them to try so hard. But it often makes a conversation a lot more stilted than it would otherwise be.

And, in truth, I have absolutely no problem with words relating to sight. Few of the blind and visually-impaired people I know do. We use them all the time. And most of us are totally okay with others doing the same.

Most recently a few people who have read my book have mentioned they initially felt a little uncomfortable with how often I use terms relating to sight. And people occasionally also mention it when they hear me speaking at conferences and events. But gradually, as they become more familiar with my style, they come to understand that my view of sight is simply a little different from what they are used to.

For me sight includes insights I gain from my remaining senses. Which is the reason my book is titled Ä Different Way of Seeing”

Because in a way I do still see… just a little differently from how I used to.

To get hold of a copy of my book, hop onto Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Different-Way-Seeing-second-Extraordinary-ebook/dp/B08L1VFYS9
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Some International TV and Podcast Exposure

the image shows Lois speaking into a microphone

One of the best ways an author can introduce their books to new audiences is to talk on podcasts and media stations. I’ve had the opportunity to do so twice in the past few weeks.

The first interview was with one of my favourite podcasts, Blind Abilities. It was my third time being featured on the podcast – the first being back in 2017, and the second being a few months ago. This time the interview focused on the release of my book and a little of my background.

Jeff Thompson, from Blind Abilities, is a skillful interviewer and I have learned a lot about conducting interviews from listening to him. Which, in turn, makes me a better podcast interviewer… At least, I hope so!

You can listen to the interview at https://blindabilities.com/?p=6317

The second interview I did was with Accessible Media Inc – AMI for short – who are a cable station based in Canada. This one was a little more nerve-wracking as it was both a TV and radio interview. The team at AMI were fantastic in guiding me through what would be expected of me, even running a test call to check everything would work properly with the video and audio transmissions.

I am immensely grateful I’ve had the opportunity to become comfortable with platforms like Zoom and Skype in the last 3 years, so I was comfortable with the technology being used. It was just the concept of appearing on TV that made me anxious.

You can hear the podcast from the NOW with Dave Brown Show here.

I hope you enjoy listening to the interviews –they gave me the chance to answer questions about the book that don’t often come up when I talk about it.

Curious about the iPhone Apps I Use?

an image of someone holding a phone with two icons of an eye with a no-entry sign over and another eye open in a circle icon

I’ve been asked to share a list of the apps I use on my iPhone. So here it is, divided into blindness-specific apps and those that you probably also use as a sighted person. I haven’t listed all the apps that come standard on an iPhone, only those that I’ve added to my phone.

But, be warned – it’s quite a long list!

Blindness-Specific Apps:

  • Aipoly Vision – though it has other functionality, I use this mostly for colour identification.
  • Be My Eyes – connects me to a sighted volunteer to interpret visual items.
  • Clew – indoor navigation app. 
  • iMove – GPS navigation app. Lazarillo – GPS navigation app. 
  • Seeing AI – image/text to speech converter; barcode reader, other functionality but these are the ones I use most. 
  • Voice Dream Reader – book and document reader of multiple formats. 
  • Voice Dream Scanner – image/text to voice converter 
  • Voice Dream Writer – document editor. Voice OCR – text to voice converter.

Other Apps:

  • Clever Clues – a word game. 
  • Currency – a currency converter. 
  • Downcast – my podcast player of choice. 
  • Dropbox Facebook 
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Internet Banking app. 
  • GoodReads 
  • Google Maps 
  • LinkedIn 
  • Load Shed CT – app to track scheduled power outages in Cape Town. 
  • Otter AI – a voice to text transcriber. 
  • SayHi – real-time language translator. 
  • Seven Little Words – a word game. 
  • Shazam Skype Speedtest – wi-fi speech checker. 
  • Spotify 
  • TripAdvisor 
  • Twitter 
  • Uber 
  • WhatsApp 
  • Woven Words – a word game. 
  • YouTube 
  • Yr – my weather app of choice. 
  • Zoom

Of course, I also use many of the in-built apps that come with an iPhone. Just because I haven’t listed them doesn’t mean they are not accessible for me to use – they are. At least, for the most part.

You may see that I often have more than one app that does the same or similar things. Mostly that is so I can double-check the information that is being generated by an app using AI. Because I prefer for different apps to give me the same information as a process of double verification. Just to be sure.

If you’d like to know more about how I use the various apps and how I’m able to access them on my iPhone, please drop me a mail or leave a comment

I also talk a lot about the way in which apps help me accomplish tasks in my book A Different Way of Seeing, which is being published on Amazon on 28 October.

What I’d Like You to Know about My Blindness 06: #JustAskDontGrab

The image shows Lois walking with guide dog FijiI was walking to the shops on Main Road in Plumstead. Suddenly, an elderly lady grabbed my arm and pulled me to a stop. She very kindly told me that the traffic was heavy and that she would guide me across the road. Which she proceeded to do, despite my repeated protestations.

You see, I hadn’t needed to cross the road at all.
But there was no way for me to disentangle myself from her grip without possibly hurting her.

When we reached the other side of Main Road, I smiled and thanked her. Then I waited for her to go on her way and crossed back to where I’d originally been. And continued on my way.

Why is it that people feel it’s perfectly okay to reach out and grab me? Even worse, why do they feel it is a good idea to grab my guide dog’s harness and pull her – and me – in whatever direction they think we need to go?

For one thing, grabbing us and pulling us around is dangerous – it disrupts our balance since we are unable to control what is happening. For another thing, few people are trained in how to safely guide a blind person and guide dog. And those who are trained would know better than to grab us and pull us. And let’s not even get into the topic of how on earth you know where we do and do not need to go without actually asking us.

An effective guideline when engaging with a blind or visually impaired person is #JustAskDontGrab.
This is a phrase that was first used in social media by UK blindness activist Dr Amy Kavanagh and quickly spread around the globe.

What this means is that if you see Fiji and I walking around and feel we may need help, #JustAskDontGrab. If we’re navigating our way round a room and you think we might need help finding the doorway or anything else, #JustAskDontGrab. And if you think we may be wanting to cross a road and may like assistance – please, please #JustAskDontGrab!

Because the reality is that we probably don’t need any help at all. But, if we do, then we’ll really appreciate your asking if we’re okay.

What I’d Like You to Know about My Blindness 05: I’m Not Okay with Being Viewed as a Burden

the image shows Lois and Craig at a restaurant table

Many years ago, shortly after I lost my sight, my friend Johan invited me to lunch. He hoped that buying me lunch might soften the blow that he had lost a guitar I had lent him.

While Johan was ordering drinks at the bar counter a man approached him and started telling him how remarkable he was “for taking the blind girl to lunch”. He insisted on buying Johan a beer, presumably as a reward for the service he was doing by spending time with me.

On a number of occasions the same thing has happened when I’m out with my husband, Craig. Total strangers have walked up and told him that he is an amazing man because he is married to me.

It’s almost as if people think that being married to a blind woman must be a huge burden, or that I should consider myself unbelievably lucky to have a husband who is willing to put up with the onerous work that being married to a blind woman must bring.

Here’s the thing: I don’t believe that anyone is doing me a favour by spending time with me.

My blindness is merely one aspect of who I am. It doesn’t mean I am any less competent, less fun, less independent.

I’d like to think I am able to hold my own in most conversations, that I am independent enough not to have to impose on those who are with me, that I have a good sense of humour, and am interested in what is happening in the world around me.

Sure, I may need a little assistance every now and then. But I’d be mortified to think that I was a burden on those who choose to spend time with me.

If all this is true, spending time with me should be just like spending time with anyone else. Not a favour.

Thankfully, Craig is more than happy to take the time to put the matter straight and explain a little about the realities of living with a blind person. And the total stranger walks away a little more knowledgeable than they were.

But when Johan returned to the table and told me what had just happened, he was totally confused that I was upset. I mean, hey, he’d just scored a free beer!

Here’s what it comes down to for me – if you think you’re doing me a favour by hanging out with me, I’d really rather you don’t bother. I’d far rather spend my time with someone who values me for my own sake and for what I have to offer as a person.

If you’d like to understand a little more about the reality of living as a blind person, keep an eye out for my forthcoming book, which will be released in October – I’ll tell you all about it as we get closer to the launch date!

What I’d Like You to Know about My Blindness 04: I Don’t Have Super-Abilities

The image shows Lois using her sense of touch to explore the Athens Museum

You wouldn’t believe how often people ask me if my blindness has given me extra sensory abilities – whether I can hear, scent, and taste better than a sighted person, and have a more sensitive sense of touch.

My honest answer? I don’t think so.

I don’t believe my other senses have improved since losing my sight. But I do believe that I pay them more attention than I did when I was able to rely on my sight. Which means they may appear to be better than they were.

When I was sighted I relied most on my sense of sight to give me input. I believe most sighted people do the same thing. Since losing my sight, I have used the input I gain from my other senses to fill in the gap caused by my visual impairment. My ability to interpret the world around me is dependent on what I can feel, hear, and smell. So I pay far more attention to the input I gain from my other senses than I used to.

When I’m walking to our local train station I use my other senses to help me identify where on my route I am – whether it be the scent of a particular plant, or the sound of a specific dog who always barks at Fiji and myself as we pass. Whether it’s a patch of gravel that helps me realize I am approaching the station itself, or a dip in the road that identifies the spot where we need to turn and cross the road we’ve been travelling for the past 10 minutes. My other senses compensate for my lack of sight and help me navigate the world.

My lack of sight means I experience travel very differently. Of course I miss out on the sightseeing that a sighted tourist would be able to do. But I regularly pick up things that a sighted person, who relies primarily on their sense of sight, might miss. For me, travel is a multi-sensory experience that incorporates every sense I have at my disposal. Which gives me a vastly different, but no less rich, experience of a destination.

When was the last time you focused on the input you could gain from your other senses? Why not take a moment to notice what you hear? Smell? Touch? And see what an extra dimension your world gains. Now, imagine doing the same when you are next in a new city or country.

There is so much that I wasn’t aware of because I was able to use my eyes to interpret the world around me. I’m not saying that my other senses completely fill in what I used to be able to see, but they certainly give me an alternate way to explore the world.

What I’d Like You to Know about My Blindness 03: Don’t Assume I Need Help

Lois using a phone

One day a courier delivered a package to my home. This was back before the pandemic changed the way we live our lives. Back in the day when couriers expected you to actually sign for a delivery.

On this particular day, the courier handed me the parcel and started to walk away.
“Excuse me,” I said, “Don’t I have to sign for the parcel?”
“Don’t worry,” he said in all seriousness, Ï know you can’t write so I signed it for you”
And then he left. While I stood there, stupefied with shock.
It’s not the first time that’s happened. And usually I make a point of calling the courier back and showing him that I am quite capable of holding a pen and signing my name on the delivery papers. But this time it simply happened too fast.

In truth, I can almost certainly do more than people believe I can. I think it’s because they don’t understand the techniques I use to accomplish tasks, and automatically assume it’s not possible. Which is why so much of my work is about explaining the tools and techniques I have at my disposal as a blind person.

Even people who know me well sometimes struggle to understand what I can and cannot manage, and occasionally default to assuming that a task is not possible for me. A colleague who has known me for several years once offered to make tea when she visited me. Because she thought I couldn’t do it myself.

I understand that people are often just trying to help. My husband sometimes gets frustrated when he offers help because he sees me struggling with a task. And it’s true he could probably do it quicker and easier than me. That’s part of the reality of being blind – things just take longer.

So, why do I insist on struggling? Mostly it’s to prove that I can live an independent life, not only to the world, but also to myself. But it’s also because I have a nagging fear that if I fall into the trap of letting others do things for me, that it will undermine my confidence in my own abilities.

While that fear might sound groundless, it’s happened to me before.

After my previous guide dog, Eccles, retired, I spent two years without a guide. During that time I depended heavily on my family and friends to help me get around. And I became exceptionally good at obeying their verbal instructions – when they told me to step up, I would do so; when they tole me to turn right, I would do so. I became a perfect little robot!

What I didn’t realize was that I was slowly losing the ability of interpreting the world around me using my own senses. Until I was on training with Fiji, my new guide dog, and it became horribly clear how out of practise that skill had become. Happily, with a lot of support from the guide dog trainers and my beautiful young Fiji, I managed to rediscover those skills and everything worked out fine.

But that fear is still with me. And it’s one of the reasons I feel uncomfortable letting people help me.

SoObviously, there are some things that I can’t do because of my blindness. And, of course, it’s not always imperative for me to refuse help all the time. But it’s also unnecessary for me to spend every minute of every day proving that I can do things independently. But it’s difficult to find a balance.

What message do I want you to take from this article? There are two – first, to understand why I am sometimes stubborn about struggling to accomplish tasks on my own. And secondly, that I can almost certainly do more than you think I can, even despite my blindness.

Next time you feel compelled to reach out and do something for me, please rather just ask if I need help. Then it’s up to me whether I accept your help, or if I want to do it myself. Even if it looks like I’m struggling, respect my right to make the choice. Even better, ask me what tools and techniques I’m using, so you can understand my world a little better.

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