Lois Strachan – Inspirational Speaker
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!
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:
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!
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.
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.
It’s about time I shared some of my experiences from when I went to Makhanda to perform in the National Arts Festival in June.
And where better to start than with a clip of an interview I gave for Algoa FM shortly before heading out of Cape Town.
The clip explains a little about what I was going to be doing at the National Arts Festival, and the show in which I was playing some of my music – hopefully it’ll give you an introduction to my next few articles.
One of the other performers, pianist Michelle Nel, and I were also interviewed on SAFM and I’ll try to share that interview with you as soon as I get a copy from the radio station.
I still find it difficult to find words to explain exactly what the experience of being selected to perform in a show at the National Arts Festival meant to me. But I’ll try to do so over the coming weeks.
I hope you’ll join me for the remainder of my amazing adventure!
For years I’ve believed that people with a disability have strong problem-solving skills. This was proven yet again when I was visiting India recently.
One of the maintenance staff on our floor of the hotel was hearing impaired and non-verbal. Which wasn’t a challenge until he arrived to service our room and I was on my own. In case you haven’t realized where the challenge lay, he could only communicate in writing or using gestures. Which I couldn’t see. In turn, I could only communicate with gestures, since my usual default – the spoken word – wasn’t going to be of help.
I suppose it must have looked funny to an observer, but our initial interaction was intensely frustrating to us both, standing in the doorway trying to figure out how we could communicate what we needed to say. Eventually, in sheer frustration, he turned and left, returning ten minutes later with his supervisor.
Over the next 24 hours I tried to figure out a better way for us to communicate. And, when he knocked on the door the next day, I was ready. I smiled and waved him inside.
But it looked like I wasn’t the only one who’d been giving the matter some thought. He entered the room, tapped his fingers on the bathroom door, the bed and the counter where the tea and coffee were, and then tapped his equipment trolley.
I nodded and smiled, indicating his communication had been received loud and clear. Then I picked up my white mobility cane and my room keycard, and left him to do his job. And returned 30 minutes later to a spotless room.
As a person who is visually impaired, I tend to rely on the spoken word to express my needs. As a professional speaker that’s my trade. This experience taught me the importance of including different types of communications in my presentations so my message can reach more people in my audience.
It also reinforced my belief that we, as persons who are differently abled, are great at solving problems since we have to do it on an almost daily basis. And that’s a skill that is highly sought after in the business world today.
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!
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:
Thanks to CTSB’s amazing Fundraiser, Nicky Jacobs, for sending the photo of me presenting at the graduation.
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.
Don’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