Disability Awareness

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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!

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…

Now You See It… Well, Not Actually

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As I do on occasion, I was scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook and happened on a post about a magic show. I don’t recall the exact words of one of the comments, but the sense behind it was very clearly based on an assumption that magic shows aren’t for those without sight.

I know there are many things in the world that are highly visual – after all, we live in a world that’s dominated by the sense of sight. And sure, there are lots of things that are hard for those of us who don’t have the option of seeing.
But that doesn’t mean that an activity is totally meaningless to us.

I replied to the comment saying that I’d enjoyed the magic shows I’d been to despite the fact I’m totally blind.

And that was how I came to write an article for Marcel Oudejans, of Magic.Africa, sharing how I experience magic shows without sight.

Hopefully that’s teased your curiosity enough to make you want to find out more. So, here’s the link to the article so all can be revealed: https://www.magic.africa/stories/now-you-see-it-now-you-dont-my-experience-of-magic-as-a-blind-person/

Just to be clear, Marcel wasn’t the one who posted the comment I responded to – he happened to read it and was curious to learn more.

I love having the opportunity of sharing a little of my experiences with others to help them understand how I do things without sight and hope I’ll be able to write more for other websites and publications in the future. Now, that would be magic!

Can You Help Me Take Accessible Travel into the Mainstream?

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As some of you know, I’m getting more and more involved in accessible travel, both through my writing and the Accessible South Africa Travel Podcast.

I’ve now written seven articles on travel as a blind tourist for the Blind Perspective e-newsletter. These articles are written for a visually impaired audience to inspire them to go out and see the beautiful and diverse world we live in. I also try to answer some of the questions and concerns that blind and visually impaired travelers may have. But, my point is, I’m writing for a visually impaired audience.

A few months ago I spoke to a sighted audience and shared a little about how I use my other senses to experience travel and places I’ve never been before. I was completely amazed at how many people came up and spoke to me afterwards saying how fascinated they were to hear what I had to tell them.

Which makes me wonder if other sighted people might also be interested.

So I’m asking for your help – I’d like to find out the names of magazines, newspapers, websites, blogs, podcasts, and any other publications that have articles about travel. Obviously, if you can give me contact details of who at the publication I should approach, that’d be great, but it’s not a necessity – I can do that myself.

Can you help me take accessible travel into the mainstream? I really hope you can!

So, this is 2019!

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So, this is 2019. Can you believe it?

Like I’ve done over the past few years, one of my final acts of 2018 was to read my first post for last year and reflect on whether or not I’d met the intentions I’d set. I was thrilled to realize I’d done fairly well – with one very notable exception.

Rather than summarizing what happened last year and comparing it to the intentions I’d set, let’s just say I felt I managed to build my profile within the disability sector through my speaking, writing and through the Accessible South Africa Travel podcast I host twice a month. It’s been a real pleasure to work with organisations like the SA Guide-Dog Association, Cape Town Society for the Blind, The Unmute Dance Theatre Company and with Accessible South Africa. And, as I play with new technologies, I find it easier and easier to improve all I do. All of which reflected what I’d hoped would happen in 2018.

To my chagrin, one of the primary intentions I set for 2018 was to start my new book. And, what with one thing and another, it just didn’t happen…

As I do each year, here’s where I set my intentions for the coming year:

  • Write another book – okay, I know I said that a year ago and did nothing about it, but I already have 2 writing projects lined up for 2019 so hopefully I’ll get it right this time.
  • Accessible travel– broadening the markets for the podcast and my travel writing into the mainstream market.
  • Employability – building strategic relationships to help me shift the mainstream thinking on employment of persons with disabilities. 
  • • Speaking – much of the work I’ve done this year has been in the disability sector; over the coming year I’d like to branch out as a speaker to inspire a more diverse audience with my story.
  • Music – I’d like to steal a bit more time out of my schedule in the coming year to focus on music and perform live at least once in 2019.

Finally, I’d like to challenge myself a little more to try new things – be it accessible ziplining, adaptive surfing, horse-riding, exploring more of the tourist experiences that Cape Town and South Africa have to offer. Basically, I want to challenge myself to get out and play more in our beautiful city and beyond! And, of course, to travel!

Whatever your intentions for the coming year, I wish you a wonder-filled 2019. I look forward to sharing my adventures with you during the year!

The Inclusive Arts Festival 2018 – Reaching Another of My Goals

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At the beginning of 2018 I set myself a very private, very unpublished goal to play a live gig before the end of March… or the end of June at the very latest. But you know how life is and when it got to the end of September I realized I probably wasn’t going to make my goal of the end of March… or the end of June… or possibly even the end of 2018. So I just shrugged my shoulders and got on with the things I needed to do, allowing that particular goal to gently slide into obscurity.

Then the most amazing thing happened.

Out of the blue I got a phone call. A lady by the name of Nadine Mckenzie, of the Unmute Dance Theatre based at Artscape, asked if I’d be willing to play a few songs at Artscape’s Inclusive Arts festival in December. and suddenly my goal of playing live during 2018 became a possibility once more.

Unmute Dance Theatre is a mixed ability group that showcases both disabled and able performers in the arts. The Inclusive Arts Festival is an annual event that takes place at Artscape in the week leading up to 3 December, which is International Day of the Disabled. The festival has a number of performances and shows giving profile to some of our great disabled performers and artists from South Africa and abroad.

The shows investigate how the arts can be enjoyed by persons with disabilities and how disabled performers can showcase their skill.

I was thrilled to be invited to collaborate with the Afro Jazz Trio and vocalist Ms Babalwa Makwetu as the closing act of the concert on Sunday, 2 December. It was an amazing experience standing behind a microphone with my guitar in my hands once more – I loved every single second of it!

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As an aside, Not only is Babalwa an accomplished singer and performer in her own right, but she seems to have poetry and melody running through her veins. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to create new songs as quickly and easily as she does – I keep hoping that some of her creativity will rub off on me as I start to consider what my next musical plans are.

Which is, of course, the question I need to answer. Here today, I’m publicly setting a goal for myself to play a live gig in 2019 – and this time I’m going to try not to let the goalposts shift into obscurity like they did in 2018!

Huge thanks to photographer Chris Adlam for the amazing shots of Babalwa and myself on stage – I have so few photos of me playing guitar that these are a real gift!

On Independence 03 – It’s a Poor Workman Who Blames His Tools

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Many years ago I met an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his sight. His family were trying to find ways to help him begin picking up some of the things he’d loved doing before. Yet, each time I offered him an idea of some of the tools he might be able to use, his response was
“I won’t be able to use it because I’m blind.”

There’s an old saying that it’s a poor workman who blames their tools. And with the remarkable range of tools that are available to help us access information and navigate the world in which we live, I don’t believe we, as visually impaired people, can in all honesty claim that a lack of usable tools stops us from living independent lives.

Whether I’m using my guide dog Fiji to help me navigate from one place to another, a screen reader to help me access applications on my laptop or iPhone, using image conversion apps to access written information, or using a simple coffee mug to help me measure out rice for a risotto meal, tools are an essential part of my daily life – and they’re pretty much everywhere I look.

But being able to access a tool isn’t enough on its own. Even having the knowledge of how to use the tool isn’t sufficient. Because a tool is only as good as the person who’s using it. And it’s only when we use a tool to help us accomplish a task that it increases our independence.

I know for myself that I’ll only start using a new tool if I can see the value in doing so. If a tool will help me accomplish a task faster, or more efficiently, or if it’ll help me achieve a goal. In other words if it’s adds to my life.

I currently have a few apps on my iPhone that I’ve never used. I downloaded them because they sounded interesting. But I’ve never needed to use them so I haven’t even opened them. Eventually I guess I’ll either find a use for them… or I’ll simply delete them and move on.

Tools can be an important factor in helping a blind or visually impaired person to achieve greater levels of independence, but only if we are empowered with the knowledge of how to use them effectively and if we can see the value they’ll add to our lives. I am truly grateful for all the tools I have at my disposal – with them I can do almost anything I want or need to do.

PS: Fiji asked me to assure you that she‘s far more than just a tool – she’s a companion, a source of hours of enjoyment and entertainment and a great exercise partner for me as well.

The photo shows me and my favourite tool walking down a road.

On Independence 02 – The Eternal Fight Between Pride and Productivity

LoisWhen is it okay to ask for help if you’re disabled, and when isn’t it? That’s today’s $60 million question.

A few weeks ago I needed to extract information from 50 business cards. Yes, it would have been quicker, and easier, and more effective for me to ask a sighted person to help me. Instead I chose to do it on my own. And I managed, with the help of a clever little app called Braigo, which converted the text into a form I could access. But here’s the thing: that task took me 3 full days; three full days when I had other tasks waiting for me.

Every day I face the same dilemma. Should I ask my husband/a friend/a family member/a random stranger walking down the road to help me do something. Or should I insist on proving to myself and others that I am able to do it despite being blind. Sadly, even though I know it’ll take me a lot longer to do it myself, that’s usually the choice I make.

So, today I’m asking myself why I do it?

Perhaps it’s a question of pride, of not wanting to feel like I’m always asking for help. Perhaps it’s my inherent stubbornness that refuses to acknowledge that my blindness means that some tasks are harder for me, or will take me longer. And yes, there is an immense sense of satisfaction of doing the things I can. But when faced with a mountain of items on my To Do List and a molehill of time in which to do them, even I have to admit that my insistence on doing things for myself isn’t always the most productive use of my time and energy.

Many of the blindness training centres around the world stress the need for independence in all aspects of life. And I understand why they do so –they want us to learn the crucial skill of figuring out how to do things on our own rather than taking the easy way out and asking our support system. Being forced to be independent teaches us that we can do far More than we believed possible. But I’ll admit that I sometimes wonder if the focus on doing things for ourselves might make us feel we’re failing if we reach out for assistance.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not going to stop doing things for myself. Nor am I going to stop learning new skills and techniques to make me more independent. Or constantly testing out new devices and apps to help me do so.

But maybe I should recognize that asking for help isn’t always taboo. That sometimes getting a sighted person to help me with a task will make me more productive and allow me to cross a few more items off my ever-growing To Do List. And that efficiency may be more important than pride and stubbornness.

Because, let’s face it, even sighted people have to ask for help sometimes, don’t they?

The photo show me working at my computer with a pile of business cards. Thanks to Craig Strachan for the photo.

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