Disability Awareness

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.

CTSB Graduation 2018 – It’s Just the Beginning!

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Over the years I’ve come to believe that the way you see the future is one of the factors that impacts on how easily you’re able to take on the obstacles you face. So, being asked to inspire blind and visually impaired graduates to continue to move forwards with their lives with hope and determination was a special honour for me.

When I speak, I often quote the ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus who said “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. I usually pair that with a quote from Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re probably right”. Like so many other things in life I believe we have a choice in how we see the future – and that’s the message I shared with the students who were graduating.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The date was 29 November 2018. The place was the Cape Town Society for the Blind (CTSB) and the event was the graduation ceremony for the 90 students who had completed skills courses with CTSB during 2018.

As I sat waiting to start speaking the pride, excitement and enthusiasm of the students, their proud families and friends, and the facilitators from CTSB was almost palpable. And I’ll bet you would have struggled to find anyone who wasn’t overcome with emotion as the students spoke of that pride, the joy and the hope they were feeling.

I fervently agreed with the address given by the CTSB CEO, Lizelle van Wyk, when she shared with the students that the graduation was only the beginning for them and that they needed to continue to grow their skills, their confidence and their courage as they went out to show the world that disability does not mean inability. Lizelle shared an impressively long list of jobs held by visually impaired and blind people around the world, and other speakers added yet more job opportunities to the list as the morning progressed.

As each student received their certificates, I was fascinated to hear the diverse list of programmes they were being recognized for. I think my journey as a blind person may have been very different if I’d been able to access the types of skills being taught now. Back when I lost my sight my options were more limited – O&M training (orientation and mobility, which included walking with a white mobility cane), Braille, some basic computer skills and some lifeskills training. Hopefully I’ll learn more about what the students are being taught in the coming year as I continue to partner with CTSB.

For a great summary of the event and a complete list of the courses offered by CTSB, take a look at the following article from the People’s Post, shared on News-24:
https://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/Local/Peoples-Post/blind-students-graduate-20181203

Thanks to CTSB’s amazing Fundraiser, Nicky Jacobs, for sending the photo of me presenting at the graduation.

On Independence 01: How Could He Have Missed It?

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I was chatting to a professional photographer while waiting to soundcheck for my set at the Inclusive Arts Festival at the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town last weekend. You can imagine my reaction when he said with utter conviction that he wouldn’t cope if he were disabled since he couldn’t bear being totally dependent on others.

Naturally this engaged the inner coach in me – I started asking questions about the assumptions he was making about disability, independence and dependence and ability. And it turned into a short but fascinating conversation about how many people view disability.

I’ve found that conversation spinning in my brain for the past few days and it’s given rise to several thoughts on the topic.
I suspect it’s going to take me a few articles to think through all the aspects of this question that have been percolating in my mind, so be warned… this is the first of a series that’ll look into what I believe independence means to someone with a disability, the concept of independence as a continuum rather than an absolute, some of the tools that give us greater independence, and why so often a disabled person feels that asking for help constitutes a failure on their part.

Finally, I find myself feeling intensely frustrated… saddened… surprised that someone who had spent a week immersed in the world of performers with disabilities could be so blind to the talent, skill and, above all, the independence they showed. How could he have missed it – it was right in front of his eyes…

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.

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

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