Disability Awareness

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Blind New World

A while back I was listening to a podcast (yes, another one!). This was the Assistive Technology Update, a podcast that focusses on technology for those with special needs.

This particular issue included an interview with Jerry Berrier of the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts. Perkins School have launched a new website initiative called blind New World which seeks to change the way people view blindness – encouraging inclusion and demystifying blindness for those who may be uncomfortable around a blind person or unaware of the capabilities of those who are blind.

And if you think that sounds vaguely familiar, it’s pretty much the purpose behind my new book, A Different Way of Seeing. So it’s no wonder that I reached out to Jerry Barrier and started a conversation to see what synergy we could create between their initiative and the work I’m doing as a speaker and author.

As a consequence of our conversations I will be contributing an article to the Blind New World blog later this month and I’m hoping that Jerry or one of the other Blind New World team will endorse my book.

Why not take a look at www.blindnewworld.org to find out more… and who knows, you may even see my article there!

Yay! International Media Exposure!

IMG 20160611 WA0001Whoever would have thought that they would get international media for simply doing what they love? Well, maybe some people might, but I certainly wouldn’t number myself amongst them! And yet, that is what happened…

And what wonderful exposure it was – an article about me in the toastmasters International magazine, that goes to 325000 Toastmasters in 135 countries around the globe.

This story starts many months ago. Back in January I was asked if I could be interviewed for the Southern African toastmasters website. I was honoured and excited to be asked –especially since the article was being written by Zoya Mabuto, the southern African speech champion for 2015/16

I had the opportunity of meeting Zoya just before she was announced as the Southern African champion and was immediately struck by her energy and passion.

Through the article I enjoyed getting to know Zoya a little better. She is passionate about our beautiful country and our diversity of people, and her message is often one of hope, which strongly resonates with me. I guess it’s no wonder that our half hour Skype interview lasted far longer than we had anticipated– we had sooo much to talk about! The article Zoya crafted captured exactly what I would have wished.

Both Zoya and I were excited when one of the Southern African PR Editorial Team suggested submitting the article to the toastmasters International magazine – and it was accepted. The article was published in the June 2016 issue of the Toastmasters magazine.

Here’s a link to the article. Member Achievements.pdf

And a link to Zoya’s “Zoya Speaks” Facebook page

The Worst Thing about the Common Cold

Most of us are laid flat by the common cold every now and then. In Cape Town it seems like everyone has either just got over it, or is currently suffering. And we are no exception –Craig and I are thankfully now over the worst.

Most of us experience a degree of impairment of our other senses when we have a cold – our ears are blocked so we can’t hear so well, our nose is clogged so our sense of smell and taste are also hit. And that is mildly irritating, right?

Imagine how much worse that sensory impairment is for a blind person…

In the past few weeks, when my cold was at its worst, I could not differentiate one tea from another, so if the ginger tea (which I do not drink) and the cranberry/apple tea (which I do) are accidentally put in the wrong place I cannot tell which tea I’m landing up with until I have tasted it… and sometimes not even then… … which is annoying, but not a train smash.

Even now, almost 3 weeks since I contracted the cold, I find it difficult to hear traffic, which is more serious because it puts me and Fiji in danger when crossing roads. More specifically, while louder noise still dominate my sense of hearing, there is a greater risk that a passing train might obscure the sound of a car… or a noisy bus on Main Rd (are there such things as quiet busses?) may hide the sound of a car idling on a side street waiting to pull into traffic. Those drivers will probably be focussing on seizing any gap to turn into Main Rd, not on the woman and guide dog waiting to cross the side road. While normally I would simply wait for the side road to clear before crossing, if I can’t hear that idling car, I don’t know it’s there.

So, for me the worst thing about the common cold is not the sniffing, the sneezing, the coughing, the body ache… it is the reality of the heightened risk Fiji and I are in when we take to the roads.

Sometimes the universe Insists

A few days ago I was chatting to Christopher Venter, a fellow blind Capetonian and blogger, about the technology he uses and his reasons for selecting the equipment he does. Chris believes that dedicated screen reader applications like JAS are being made redundant by products like the iPad and iPhone with their in-built voiceover functionality.

My instinctive response was to question this. After all, I’ve been using JAWS on a Windows-based computer for almost 20 years.

And then I started thinking about the ever increasing amount of time I find myself spending on my iPhone (and not on my laptop): listening to podcasts, communicating with people on Facebook, FB messenger, WhatsApp, and even (finally) accessing websites on my iPhone… so maybe it’s not such an unbelievable idea.

That got me thinking.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, the universe decided to reinforce the message.

That afternoon I listened to one of my regular podcasts, Accessibility technology Update, in which RJ cooper, one of the first people in the world to design computer solutions to enable those with special needs to accomplish tasks, repeated Chris’s message almost verbatim.

So, now I’m wondering about what this will mean for me and the way I accomplish tasks – maybe not tomorrow, but certainly sometime in the near future. My head is spinning with all the possible implications.

Only one thing is certain: the universe is insisting I get the message that change is going to happen.

To read Chris’s fascinating blog: https://blindscooterguy.wordpress.com
And
To listen to the Accessibility Technology Update podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/za/podcast/assistive-technology-update/id442159129?mt=2&i=369472010
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An unexpected Consequence

It’s just less than 3 months since I started working with my guide dog, Fiji, with all the incredible and liberating changes she has brought to my life. But there is one… shall we say unexpectedly negative consequence of working with Fiji, and that relates to the way I pour a mug of coffee.

Yes, I do know that sounds like I’m straining the boundaries of credibility – how on earth could my guide dog impact on the way I pour coffee???

Since I began my career as an inspirational speaker I have used a description of how I pour coffee to demonstrate how I use my other senses to accomplish everyday tasks. For those of you who have not yet heard me speak: When pouring the coffee I can either feel the weight of the mug to assess how full it is, or I can listen to the sound as the boiling water fills the mug (the higher the pitch of the sound, the fuller the mug is). And I used to stop pouring the water when I could no longer hear because the pitch was too high for my hearing range.

My hearing has definitely improved since I started working with Fiji – listening to traffic to make sure it is safe to cross a road requires acute hearing. With my hearing improving, I can hear the pitch of the water more than I used to… which means I no longer know when to stop pouring that all-important mug of coffee.

I know I will eventually find a way to do so… and in the meantime, I guess I’ll just have to get used to mopping up spilled coffee.

Podcasts: information at Your Fingertips – Even for the Blind!

I admit that I am not the most technologically aware blind person. I may not use all the technology that is available to me (I’ve still not found my way to Twitter), but I manage to do most of the things I need to using technology… with a bit of help from my husband, Craig.

When I was on training at the SA Guide Dog Association in cape Town earlier this year one of the other trainees, Johandre J Den Haan, introduced me to the wonderful world of podcasts… and boy, were my eyes opened to a whole new spectrum of what is available to me!

Since then, using the in-built podcast player on my iPhone, I have subscribed to a number of different podcasts… and below are just the first that I have started listening to on a regular basis:

Accessible Technology Update: a weekly podcast dealing with technology designed to help those with a range of special needs.

The Moth: a storytelling podcast with some incredible human interest stories about human beings and their real life experiences – the first one I listened to was the story of the first man to row across the English Channel in a bathtub… I kid you not!

No Such Thing as a Fish: a weekly podcast presented by 4 researchers from the BBC panel game, QI, sharing their favourite facts from the preceding week… usually with hilarious results.

There is so much information out there nowadays, and so many different ways to engage with that information, that keeping ourselves informed, entertained, and enriched is simply a matter of choice, even for those of us who cannot always access information through the written medium.

Yay, technology! And thanks, Johandre!

Lessons from My guide Dog 01: A Question of Trust

It is appropriate that I am starting this series of blogs today, as it is international guide Dog Day and this post is about my (almost) brand new guide dog, Fiji.

Here is a link to a video in which SA Guide Dog Trainer, Cheryl Robertson (who trained Fiji and I last month) takes a blindfolded TV presenter on a walk with a guide dog:

At one point in the segment Cheryl stresses the importance of trust between the guide dog and the human partner, and, as a blind person working with a guide dog, I cannot tell you how important this trust relationship is. Trust is a crucial part of any relationship: between colleagues, team members, spouses, partners and friends. Think of the consequences of not being able to trust those who are part of your business and personal lives. How will that affect the relationship, the team, the organisation, your productivity? Now think of those same relationships being founded on a strong sense of trust – how does that play out in your life?

When Fiji and I started working together I struggled for a few days to develop that all important sense of trust. I would imagine that most new guide dog owners experience at least a degree of the same struggle that I did. It is one of the reasons that the guide dog trainers work so closely with the newly paired teams, to ease them over those first tentative steps when trust is not yet formed. Over the 2 weeks of training, when you are with your dog almost permanently and when you walk and work on various routes and in various situations, that trust slowly begins to form.

A little while back I posted an article about Fiji and I becoming lost on one of our walks (see A True Story of Human Kindness, on 14 April). That small incident – getting lost – impaired my trust in Fiji – not by a huge amount, but nonetheless, that trust was affected.

Since then, Fiji and I have been working really hard to rebuild the trust that we need to work as an effective team – Fiji needs to trust that I am comfortable, relaxed and in control of what is happening around us… and I need to trust that Fiji is going to follow my instructions without taking shortcuts that could put us into danger… or get us lost. Trust is a two-way street – we can only build it together.

Each successful walk we take continues to build that trust, and will do so for months to come – we are already working better than we were when we got lost, and every walk just keeps on getting better and better!

If trust is impaired in any of your relationships, remember that you can only improve that trust by showing trust, working on creating an environment where trust can germinate, and by acting in a way that shows that you are reliable and trustworthy – hoping that the other person (or people) involved will value the trust you offer and do the same.

A True Story of Human Kindness

Once upon a time, many years ago when I was still working with my now retired guide dog, Eccles, we were walking home from the train station. I suddenly became aware that a car was crawling along behind me – matching my pace as I gradually approached home. Now, I am not one to leap to assumptions of evil intent, but it did start to worry me that some unidentified person was stalking me… if stalking is a word that can be applied to a car… and I stopped some distance away from my home and confronted the driver.

“I’m so sorry,” a male voice said, “It’s only just occurred to me that you might be worried. I’m with the local security company and just wanted to make sure you got home safely.”

I could have ranted at him for not considering the implications of his actions, but instead I smiled and thanked him for checking we were okay… though I admit I did wait for him to drive off before completing my walk home.

As some of you know, I started working with my new guide dog, Fiji, last month. Generally I am proud of how well she is working. However, last week we had a… shall we say less than great walk back from the station and I ended up becoming very lost, and very panicked.

Then a car stopped and the driver asked if I needed help.

With the driver’s help I worked out where we were and Fiji and I started to make our way home. I was aware that a car was crawling along behind me – matching my pace as I gradually approached home. Eventually, as I drew up alongside my home, I attracted the driver’s attention to thank him for his help, and he explained why he had stopped.

It turned out to be the same guy who had followed me and Eccles all those years ago

Imagine how he might have responded last week had I ranted at him all those years ago, rather than smiling and thanking him for his help? Would he have bothered to stop and offer assistance this time round?

Maybe yes, maybe no – but I’m really glad I smiled and thanked him all those years ago!

A Quick Catch-Up

Cds 2016 03 28 13 42 49I have been quiet over the past few weeks – not because I’ve had nothing to say, but rather because I have been busy starting a new phase of my life.

On 28 February I started working with my new guide dog, Fiji. And over the past month my life has been full of change – getting to know Fiji and learning how we can work together effectively. It has been a month filled with learning and fun!

This is not to say that I have been idle – I have several workshops and presentations planned for the coming months, am moving forward with my book “A Different Way of Seeing: Living life Without Sight”, and have started creating a keynote on the leadership lessons I have learned from my guide dogs.

You’ll be hearing more about all of these in the coming weeks, I promise…

I May Be Blind… but At Least My Legs Work!

Last week I was asked to facilitate a workshop on what it is like living without sight in a visual world at Tygerberg Hospital. When the event organiser and I arrived at the hospital we walked to the nearest bank of lifts, only to discover that they were not working.
No problem – we just went to the next bank of lifts… and they were also not working.
Finally, after walking around the hospital building for around 15 minutes checking each lift we passed without success, we eventually found what felt to us like the only working lift in the entire (huge) hospital.

I know many of you will be asking why we didn’t just take the stairs… Well, my workshop was on the 11th floor.

Enough of my story – why am I telling you this?

The fact is that as we were rushing from one lift to another I could not escape the thought of what this must mean for a hospital, where people often need to be moved by wheelchair or in hospital beds, where people may be on crutches, are aged, or simply do not have the same degree of mobility as I do. Not to mention the vast number of visitors, staff, doctors, nurses who need to navigate the 11floors of the building.

How on earth was that possible with so many lifts out of service? What implications resulted from those lifts being out? And how many unnecessary problems arose because people could not freely move around the hospital? That was when I came to realize that, though I may be blind, at least I have the gift of mobility and though I would not have enjoyed climbing the stairs to get to the 11th floor; at least I had the capacity to do so.

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