Disability Awareness

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Can You Think of Book Characters with a Disability?

Books

How many books can YOU think of with a disabled character? I’d love for you to drop me a message or a comment listing the characters and books you know of. I think it would be an interesting exercise for us all.

You see, if it’s true that art mirrors reality, then for every eight characters in the books we read, we should find one with a disability. Because that’s what the statistics from the World Health Organisation website tell us– 15% of the global population lives with a disability – https://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/report/en/#content

I understand some of the reason’s writers may not include us.

  1. They don’t see us out there in the world
  2. They don’t want to offend us
  3. They don’t want to misrepresent us.

Sure, I recognise that it doesn’t appear that every eighth person we pass in the street has a disability so writers may not be aware of how many of us there truly are. Also, many disabilities are invisible – psycho-social, cognitive, reading, some hearing impairments, to list but a few – so perhaps it appears we are a smaller group than we are. Then, because unemployment figures for persons with disabilities are so high, people don’t see us in the workplace. And sadly, sometimes when people do see us, they see the disability first and ignore the person as an individual. Finally, if you don’t have contact with a person with a specific disability, it may be hard to know what we can do.

I also understand the other concerns I listed. People have often told me they are nervous about approaching someone with a disability in case they cause offense by saying or doing the wrong thing. That’s due largely to a general lack of awareness of how we accomplish the tasks we do, the technology that enables us to live mostly “normal” lives, and the tools and techniques we have at our disposal. And yes, we are often scathing in our responses when we see a fictional character with a disability who is poorly represented. Or when disability is represented as being an unendurable catastrophe that cannot be overcome.

I want to challenge my fellow authors to be more inclusive when creating characters. Here are a few guidelines:

  1. Your lead protagonist doesn’t have to be the one with a disability; it could be a supporting character – but let us be included in the world you’re creating.
  2. Do your research – There is so much information out there about the way we live our lives as persons
    with disabilities, so research this as you would other aspects of your book. Or reach out to someone with the specific disability you’re trying to represent.
  3. Don’t be scared to ask for input – just as you have beta readers to give you feedback on your book, ask someone with a disability to do the same, preferably someone with the disability your character has; most of us are willing to help, I promise.

Books are by no means the only medium where we are under-represented. Movies and TV are much the same. I’m excited to notice an increase in the number of characters with disabilities over the past few years. But we’ve still a long way to go.

We’re by no means the only minority that face this situation – Recently I’ve seen articles from other minority groups and, in some cases, majority groups, who are not well represented in the publishing world and other media. It’s starting to shift, but I believe we need far greater diversity of voices amongst those writing books. Having said that, a note for other authors with a disability – don’t feel obliged to write only about disability issues – you should feel free to create whatever you want.

So, there it is: my challenge to authors writing fiction – help us feel more included and less invisible in the world you’re creating. Help us see the world we inhabit in the books we read. And help us feel that we’re part of society as we experience it in all ways.

Now, who’s going to start the list of books with characters with disabilities? I’d love to see how many I’ve already read and how many I still have to discover…

Are You Helping or Harming?

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Date: 24 March 2020
Category: Disability Awareness, Audio,
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**Craig, not sure if the podcast link will provide us with an image; please let me know
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You’re walking down a road and see a person with a guide dog or a white cane approaching you. Do you offer to assist them? And if so, how?

One day, an elderly woman grabbed my arm and propelled me across a busy road. Then she walked off, no doubt feeling good for assisting the poor blind lady. Here’s the thing – I didn’t need to cross that road. But she didn’t give me the chance to say so.

The topic of how to engage with a visually impaired person and offer help became a hot topic on social media recently, due primarily to Dr Amy Kavanagh’s #JustAskDontGrab campaign. The campaign aims to change the way sighted people offer assistance to those of us in the VVI (blind and visually impaired) community.

In many ways I agree with the aims of the campaign. If I’m standing at the top of a flight of stairs figuring out the safest way to navigate them, I might get startled if someone suddenly reaches out and grabs my arm. It puts me at risk of losing my balance and falling down those stairs. So, #JustAskDontGrab has its place.

But truthfully, it’s a bit more complicated than that. What if there isn’t time to connect verbally before I put myself into danger? What if it’s a noisy or busy environment where I might not realize you’re talking to me? You need to consider what’s happening there and then.

But here’s the thing, most blind and visually impaired people who are out in the world are very capable of navigating our way around it. Almost all of the time. Except for the very rare occasion when we’re not. And we’ll usually ask if we need help.

Am I saying you should never offer assistance to a member of the VBI community? By no means. Because maybe it’s the one time we actually do need assistance. Just please, , rather than reaching out and grabbing our arm, or our guide dog, rather verbally ask if we need help. And, if you think we might not hear you, lightly touch our arm and then ask.

It sounds so simple, right? Yet, there’s so much happening in that moment that you reach out – metaphorically, of course – to offer assistance. And that’s the subject of a conversation Jeff Thompson, of the Blind Abilities Podcast Network, and I had a few weeks ago.

I’d love for you to listen to the podcast and let me know what you think. Whether you’re sighted or a member of the VBI community, I’m interested to know your thoughts.

Besides, you never know – it may help next time you’re walking down the road and see a person with a guide dog or white cane and try to figure out whether or not to offer assistance.

Here’s the link.

And Then the Lights Went Out!

The image shows a blonde Labrador Retriever grinning at the camera

Last week I told you about the Love Your Guide Dog event that Fiji and I attended in Fish Hoek, Cape Town. I promised to tell you a little more about the fun evening we had.

I knew it was going to be a great evening when we arrived to be met by several other guide dogs, service dogs and pups-in-training. I mean, how could it be anything but brilliant with so many four-paws around! Fiji and I had a chance to catch up with some old doggy friends and their owners, and also to meet some wonderful teams we hadn’t met in person… umm… in dog? And all the furry friends were very well behaved – I don’t think I heard any growling or snapping from anyone. Though one or two of the pups did decide to add their voices during the guest speaker’s presentation.

Talking about the guest speaker, we heard from Zelda Mycroft, mother of inimitable ability activist Chaeli Mycroft, from the Chaeli Campaign. Zelda spoke about what it’s like being a mother to a highly independent and enterprising child with a disability – a refreshingly different perspective.

And then the lights went out…As did the sound…

And no, it wasn’t load shedding. It was actually a fault in one of the sub-stations and it left the whole of the Fish Hoek area without power for the rest of the evening.

From our perspective, I don’t think it placed much of a dampener on the evening. The organisers were well prepared for any eventuality – they had gas heaters to keep the food warm, and there were candles on the tables. Of course, for those of us without sight, it was pretty much business as usual. But we did see some creative problem solving going on, with people using the flashlights on their mobile phones to enable the sign language interpreters to communicate with the hearing impaired attendees, the servers being quick on their feet navigating their way round the many dogs stretched out on the floor, and speakers who suddenly had to contend with no amplification in a venue that seats 150 people… quite a remarkable feat all round!

Nor did the lack of illumination stop us from having a fantastic evening. Even if it wasn’t quite as we’d expected it to be.

If you’d like to find out more about the Love Your Guide Dog movement, here’s a link to their Facebook group.

Of course, you’ll probably fall in love with the many photos of beautiful pups-in-training. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Women in Publishing: A Free Online Conference for Writers and Aspiring Writers

he image is a close-up of Lois’s face with a banner
I know I’m supposed to be sharing more of my writing with you today, but I’m hijacking my own post for an important announcement for any writers or aspiring writers – especially women writers and aspiring writers.

Tomorrow, the 2020 Women in Publishing Summit kicks off – and I’m excited to be one of the speakers on the first day.

The summit is an online conference where authors, editors, designers, and publishers share valuable information to help anyone who is already a writer or is dreaming of becoming so. I’ve listened to the last two summits and have learned so much from the speakers that had been immensely helpful for my writing.

Registration for the WIP Summit is free, but you’ll gain vast amounts of additional information and resources if you upgrade to the Full Conference Pass. The conference starts on 2 March and goes on for 5 days – the free registration gives you access to each day’s content for 24 hours – and the Full Conference Pass means you can access the videos, audio and transcriptions for each session whenever you like, not to mention the many additional resources presenters have made available to the Full Conference Pass holders. And a Facebook community with year-long workshops and supports for writers and aspiring writers. Totally worth the investment you’ll be making when you buy the Full Conference Pass!

Here’s the link to the free registration: https://loisstrachan–writepublishsell.thrivecart.com/2020-wip/

I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned over the past two years from the Women in Publishing Summit. And I look forward to learning even more from this year’s speakers. Why not join me and also benefit? Register today…

Speaking at The Adventure Kids Club

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It’s no secret that I’m nervous when speaking to groups of young children. For one thing, I know I’m going to have to work hard to get them to focus on what I’m saying when all they really want to do is meet my guide dog, Fiji. But it’s also hard to know how well the youngsters grasp the concept of blindness and what it means in my life.

This nervousness probably explains why I actively seek the opportunity to talk to learners. After all, don’t they say the best way to work through your fears is to confront them? In reality, getting to spend some time explaining what life is like for me as a blind person always gives rise to a fascinating conversation between myself and the youngsters concerned. And a recent visit to the Adventure Kids Club in Cape Town was no exception.

My audience was a group of fifty youngsters and a few adult coordinators, who sat patiently as I spoke about my life and then asked a flood of questions, ranging from how I eat, right the way through to what techniques I use to ensure I’m not excluded when it comes to social activities with sighted friends. The Adventure Kids Club is a community organisation set up by Maria Strachan in Ysterplaat in Cape Town. Maria started the group as a way of inspiring and encouraging youngsters from the community, many of them coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. And, in case you’re wondering about the coincidence that Maria and I have the same surname, yes, our respective husbands are cousins.

As often happens when Fiji comes with me to speak at a children’s event, the youngsters had most fun when they got to come and say hello to her, and she loved the attention. It’s always so cute to see Fiji surrounded by a group of youngsters who want nothing more than to give her love and play with her. Only, maybe this time I gave my dog a run for her money on how to hold the kid’s attention – Maria asked me to bring my guitar and play a few songs for the group. Which I did – to an enthusiastic reception. Here’s a short clip of one of the songs I played:

https://www.facebook.com/cdstrachan/videos/10158090119251468/

Ultimately, I think both Fiji and I were lucky that we’d finished talking to the youngsters before the ice-cream arrived – I’m not sure that even a guide dog can capture a child’s attention when facing competition like that!

Where Did Last Year Go???

Lois sitting on a chair

Is it just me, or does it feel like the year 2019 went by very fast?

It feels like it was yesterday that I sat down to write my annual post setting my intentions for the year 2019. Yet, here we are, already more than a week into 2020 and it’s time for me to do the same for the coming year.

As I sit here, pondering what I’d like to achieve in 2020, I find myself reflecting on all that happened last year.

I managed to take my speaking beyond the disability sector and spoke at a number of events on the topic of overcoming challenges. Since much of my focus last year was on building strategic relationships to support the work I’m doing, it’s hard to say whether I achieved that – it’s an ongoing task, as any entrepreneur will know. I consolidated my social media profiles to better show the work I’m doing. And, though I haven’t completely finished the writing project I was busy with, I have only a few steps to go – but more on that in my intentions for 2020.

  • Talking about that, here they are: 
  • Writing: I plan to publish my first audio book this year. Most of the work on this was done in 2019. I just need to complete the final tasks. 
  • Podcasts: I plan to continue publishing 2 podcasts on accessible travel each month, and have a few exciting other possibilities in the pipeline for the coming year – watch this space for news! 
  • Speaking: I’d like to build on the speaking I did last year, and grow this aspect of my business. If you’d like to motivate your teams while giving them practical techniques to help them overcome their challenges, I’m the speaker for you!
  • Website: Last year I updated my Facebook page, and my Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. My website is next on the list, and I hope to get that done in the next few months. 
  • Music: I know, I know. This is on my list every year. Hopefully, sharing some of my lyrics and writing on my blog each month will help me make my music more of a priority in 2020. 
  • Travel: I’m not sure where my travels will take me this year, but I’d like to include a trip to Durban amongst my travels – I have family and friends I’d really like to visit.

What would you like to achieve in 2020? Have you thought about your own intentions for the year ahead?

You know, the strange thing is that I don’t really check back to what I’ve written in this annual blog post during the year. And yet, I seem to achieve them. I think creating this post each year is enough for me to understand the strategic areas I want to work on. So I don’t need to be constantly checking up on my progress.

I’d like to challenge you to think about your intentions for 2020. And write them down. Whether you check them on a regular basis to see how you’re doing, or simply use them as a guide for the coming year as I do, is not the point. I truly believe that the simple act of determining my strategic areas helps shape my actions and my plans for the coming year. And perhaps it’ll be the same for you.

May I wish you all a productive and impactful 2020 – I look forward to connecting with you in the year to come.

You Want Me to Talk about What?

several people sitting around a table, including Lois Strachan

It’s not often I feel nervous when going to facilitate a session on disability at an organisation. Yet that was definitely the way I was feeling as I climbed out of the Uber to run a recent day-long training at the Cape Town Society for the Blind (CTSB).

I wasn’t nervous about facilitating a daylong session, nor for presenting to students at CTSB – facilitation is one of the things I do on a regular basis and my relationship with CTSB over the past two years has meant I’ve spoken for them at a number of events, including presenting a keynote at their AGM, and another at a fundraising dinner, and I presented the commencement address at their graduation in 2018. So neither of those aspects made me anxious.

Rather, it was the topic that had my nerves working overtime – they’d asked me to speak about romantic relationships. And that topic is definitely out of my comfort zone.

Here’s the thing – I’m happy to tell the story of how Craig and I met (it was my guide dog, Leila’s fault). I’m equally willing to talk about how we accommodate my visual impairment with things like household chores. But going any deeper than that is just too personal for me. So, what made me nervous was how I’d reply if the conversation drifted into areas where I wasn’t comfortable.

In the end, the session proved to be both easier and harder than I’d anticipated. I described what I thought a good relationship might look like, and some signs that might indicate a relationship isn’t healthy. I shared stories from my life to illustrate what I meant in each case. Then the group spent a few hours asking questions and sharing their own experiences about relationships.

What made it easier than I’d initially feared was the fact that the group respected the boundaries that I wasn’t really comfortable talking about. What made it harder was to listen to some of the stories of what the students had experienced, and were still experiencing.

I left the CTSB with a profound sense of gratitude for all that I have in my life. Not to mention a sense of respect and awe for the strength, resilience and determination of the students I’d been privileged to spend the day with.

PS: Fiji also had loads of fun, since she got to meet two other guide dogs, which happens only rarely when I speak at organisations.
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A Video of a Working Guide Dog

Do you know how hard it is to video Fiji guiding me across a road? It should be easy, right? But maybe not so much when you have one hand on the guide dog harness and the other hand providing dog treats at each step of the process. Because that leaves no hands to hold the phone to record the whole thing.

So, when a friend asked if she could video Fiji working as part of a lesson for one of the schools she works with, I jumped at the chance. Even better, she asked if Fiji and I could speak to the learners as well, which I’m always happy to do. Okay, I got to speak to the learners. Fiji only had to look cute- which she does very well!

Shani gave me the video – so here it is!

Craig, please add link here.

Conquering the Revolting Door

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To some people stepping into a revolving door may not be much of an issue. But for me, standing there with my white cane, stepping into the revolving door was a matter of deep thought and planning.

Here’s why I find revolving doors scary:
1 Stepping in– as a blind person you have to figure out when it’s safe to step in without being hit by a door blade.
2 Walking through – it’s not easy to assess the appropriate walking speed to avoid connecting with the blade in front or being smacked on the back of the head by the one behind you.
3 Stepping out – sometimes it will sound different when it’s okay to step out of the door… but sometimes it’s not – I’d hate to spend the rest of my life walking round and round in circles captured by the revolving door.

Is it any wonder I call them revolting doors?

Let’s go back to where you left me – standing with my white cane on the outside of a building, with the revolting door in front of me. What happened next?

I found the right-hand side of the revolting door and gently extended my hand along the doorframe until my fingertips brushed against the edge of the blades as they passed. I let a few blades pass me so I could get an idea of how fast they were turning. That way I could gain a sense of when it was safe for me to step into the door and how fast to walk.

I knew the door would stop moving if I touched the blades so there was no risk of being knocked out by a mindless rampaging blade. Once or twice I accidentally tapped the tip of my white cane into the blade in front of me and the door froze. I’ll admit it was reassuring to discover how sensitive the door was.

And so I made my way through the door.
Stepping out was my biggest worry. In the shopping centre where I was putting my skills… and my courage… to the test I wasn’t able to use sound to judge when it was time to step out of the door. But a very kind gentleman, who I hadn’t realized was walking alongside me, told me I could step forward into the centre and all was okay.

Did I manage to travel through the revolting door totally independently? No, I didn’t. but here’s what I did achieve – I managed to push my way past the fear of using a revolting door on my own. Even if I did get help stepping out of the door, I’m sure I would have figured it out on my own eventually, and not spent the rest of my life walking in circles.

Next time I’ll do even better. Because I’ve proved to myself that there’s nothing to fear

So, maybe those doors aren’t so revolting, after all.
XXX

At Long Last!

There have been times that it’s felt like the never-ending story, but I’ve finally finished the first draft of the update to my book, A Different Way of Seeing. In fact, I’ve even spell checked it.

So, what’s the next step towards getting it released as an audio book, you may ask?

Finishing the first draft may sound like a huge milestone, but the truth is that I still have quite a way to travel with this project.

After all, I haven’t even read the entire manuscript myself and know I’ll make considerable changes before I’m even vaguely happy with it. Then I want to get input from a few people, both those who have already read A Different Way of Seeing, and those who have not. And update the manuscript according to the feedback I receive from them. And only then will I take it to a professional editor.

Only then can I start the process of getting it converted into an audio format. Like I said, there’s still lots of work to be done. But at least I’ve completed this step…

For those of you who’ve been waiting for me to share some of my experiences at the National Arts Festival in Makhanda, I’ll be getting there soon, I promise…

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