Lois Strachan – Inspirational Speaker
Last month I was honoured to be a speaker at the HerStory Women’s Global Empowerment Conference. The conference and the HerStory platform are the brainchild of Zimbabwean-born Getrude Matshe, who has been building the concept for the past few years, first as in-person conferences and currently as online summits.
My 15-minute presentation was on the topic of independence and it’s meaning for me as a blind person, touching on the need for greater inclusion of persons with disabilities into society and the workplace.
You can watch the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqLQvX5vnMs
I am regularly startled by the mails that arrive in my in-box. Thankfully I’m not referring to adverts for things that I neither want nor need, though I do receive a few of those as well – but remarkably few thanks to my anti-spam software.
Rather I’m referring to a number of incredible opportunities that have come my way over the past few months – like an invitation to appear on national TV… but more about that as the details emerge. And opportunities like guesting on some wonderful podcasts. Like the Phemale Phoenix Podcast with Lauren Deal.
The Phemale Phoenix is a podcast about women who have overcome challenges and, to quote the podcast show notes, “turned their mess into a message”. It turns out that Lauren read one of my Beyond Sight blog posts and decided I would be a good fit for her audience.
It was wonderful to chat to Lauren earlier this month. Her podcasts are usually 15 minutes since she wants her audience to be able to slot the episodes into their busy lives without too much difficulty. And the topics she covers address a number of issues faced by women across the world.
Here’s the interview we did: https://thephemalephoenix.podbean.com/e/episode-20-lois-strachan-unseen-ambition-in-a-sighted-world/
If you have a story to share with Lauren’s audience, why not reach out to her and see what is possible.
2020 is now almost over and I’ve been reflecting on the year that has been.
My year got off to a great start. I had planned three main projects to move me forward in my business. Those intentions were to release my audio book, complete a marketing show reel for my speaking business, and to totally revamp my website.
Then COVID-19 happened and, like everyone else in the world, my plans changed.
At a first glance, it would appear I achieved little this year. While I’m about 75% through the show reel project, I’m only 33% of the way through the recording of my audio book, and my website revamp hasn’t even started. To be honest, I was feeling pretty dismal about my progress.
Then I attended a seminar facilitated by Lesley Callow and she got me looking at my year completely differently. By challenging the way I was thinking, Lesly got me to focus on what I had achieved. More than that, Lesley also got me to acknowledge that I hadn’t been celebrating my successes because I was so busy beating myself up for not having completed the tasks I had set myself. And suddenly my year looked very different.
Sure, I may not have made the progress I had hoped on the three projects that had been my focus when the year started. But I had achieved a large number of other wins instead – I’d published the second edition of my book, A Different Way of Seeing: A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an Ordinary Life in an Extraordinary Way, which I hadn’t even known was a requirement for me to release the audio book. More than that, wit the work I and my ARC Team (Advance Review Copy) did prior to the launch, my book became a No1 bestseller in two Amazon categories for at least 5 days (it might have been more as I had stopped tracking the ratings).
Like most speakers I’d been forced to shift my business online and, while I had perhaps not done as much speaking as I might have wished, I’d grown my online speaking skills significantly.
And I’d been busier with my music than I’d been in many years – doing 4 lockdown gigs on Facebook Live, and performing for several conferences, and fundraising events. And I’d been a feature artist for an arts festival run by Artscape Theatre. Shifting my music online had been remarkably easy!
There were many other smaller successes that happened during 2020 but those were the ones that I’m most proud of. So even in small ways I’ve continued learning and growing through the crazy year that has been 2020.
We can’t know what 2021 will bring, but it’s almost time for me to start setting my intentions for the coming year. And, whatever those intentions are and no matter what the year throws at me, I’m confident that I will continue moving forward.
Huge thanks to Lesley Callow for transforming my perspective of the last year. If you’d like to find out more about the work that Lesley does, you can contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org
At a recent online presentation, I was asked to explain how I cook food. I explained a few of the techniques I use– how I chop vegetables, how I work with a hot saucepan without burning myself, how I know when food is cooked, and other simple techniques I use.
My explanation was greeted by various comments on how inspiring I am. Which bothered me.
I guess, as an inspirational speaker I should feel happy to be told I inspire people. And, if I’m talking about how I made the decision to move forward with my life after losing my sight, or strategies people can use to move past the challenges they encounter in their own lives, then I’m okay with being considered inspiring.
However, I don’t believe that talking about simple techniques I use to accomplish tasks in my life should be seen as inspirational. To me, it would be a bit like telling someone they are inspirational because they learned their six times table, or that they were able to tie their shoelaces.
We all learn new skills and techniques as we go through our lives. In my case, the techniques may differ from those a sighted person uses. But they are no more complicated… and no more inspirational.
Which is why I chose to write A Different Way of Seeing – to try and explain how simple many of the techniques I use to accomplish tasks are. And to explain why accomplishing those tasks should not be seen in any other light – they are simply techniques I’ve learned. ,
I know it may seem like I am being dismissive of the response I get from audiences when I speak. That definitely isn’t my intention – I appreciate that people may be moved by my story and the lessons I share to help them tackle their own challenges. I’d simply like people to understand that persons with disabilities do not feel comfortable being lauded for simply learning their six times table… or equivalent skills.
A few days after I was declared blind, I chatted on the phone with my grandmother. During the conversation she asked me if I’d seen an article in the newspaper. Then her voice tailed off into silence. I waited for her next words, wondering why she had suddenly gone quiet.
When she next spoke it was to apologise profusely for her thoughtlessness in using the word “seen”.
This has happened to me regularly since losing my sight. when talking to me, people try desperately to avoid any word that is related to sight. Because they feel it might be insensitive for them to use those terms considering my blindness.
In some ways it’s sweet of them to try so hard. But it often makes a conversation a lot more stilted than it would otherwise be.
And, in truth, I have absolutely no problem with words relating to sight. Few of the blind and visually-impaired people I know do. We use them all the time. And most of us are totally okay with others doing the same.
Most recently a few people who have read my book have mentioned they initially felt a little uncomfortable with how often I use terms relating to sight. And people occasionally also mention it when they hear me speaking at conferences and events. But gradually, as they become more familiar with my style, they come to understand that my view of sight is simply a little different from what they are used to.
For me sight includes insights I gain from my remaining senses. Which is the reason my book is titled Ä Different Way of Seeing”
Because in a way I do still see… just a little differently from how I used to.
To get hold of a copy of my book, hop onto Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Different-Way-Seeing-second-Extraordinary-ebook/dp/B08L1VFYS9
Over the past month or so, it feels like every time I hop onto social media or download my e-mail, I’m overwhelmed by the most amazing offers, urging me to sign up for an online event (now discounted), a webinar (also discounted), or an online course (ditto).
And I’ll admit I’ve been sorely tempted to take advantage of more than one of these fantastic offers.
But here’s the thing. Even though, like much of the world, I’m working from home, I’m struggling to find all this free time that the mails and posts tell me I ought to have. Because I can’t seem to find it.
I’m spending as much time at my computer as I was before the lockdowns came into place. And regularly find myself standing up at the end of the day wondering where the time went.
Admittedly, I’ve been taking advantage of the time to finish things that have been languishing on my “to do list” forever – things I really want to get round to but never seem to have the time. I’ve also picked up playing music again and am having vast amounts of fun sharing songs with friends and family on Facebook Live every week or so. And I’m finally starting to catch up on all the podcasts that have slowly been accumulating on my feed. Apart from the French language tutorial podcasts, which seem to have fallen by the wayside a little since lockdown started.
And then, of course, there’s my usual work developing my writing and speaking businesses – radio interviews, my regular blog articles, the international magazine I write for every second month, the travel podcast I host, and the ongoing work to update my book and convert it into an audio format.
Not to mention housework. And being a captive slave to the whims of my dogs, who are overly full of vim and vigour because they aren’t able to go for walks and runs like they usually would. I know Fiji’s frustrated that we haven’t been out and about as usual, though she’s hiding it well.
So, I’m perplexed about where to find all this spare time I keep hearing about. Any idea where I should look? I’ve searched around the house, checked in case it’s hiding in the back of a little used closet, and even looked under the bed (much to the confusion of Fiji, who was sleeping there at the time, but to no avail.
But I’m going to keep hunting, because I’d really love to take up some of those (very discounted) offers that keep coming my way!
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.