Lois Strachan – Inspirational Speaker
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
I’ve lost count of the organisations, schools, community groups, and events that Fiji and I have spoken at on behalf of the South African Guide-Dogs Association since we started working together. Each event is special in its own way – from the pre-schoolers who will make a semblance of listening politely while desperately curbing their excitement till they can play with Fiji, to the recent 60th birthday party where the guests were asked to make a contribution to Guide-Dogs in lieu of birthday gifts. But I think the most memorable Guide-Dogs Association event I’ve been asked to speak at has to be the annual World Sight Day fundraising dinner in October last year. It was a glittering event and Fiji and I were proud that we were able to play a small role in helping to raise R800 000 for this amazing cause.
I suspect the Women’s Day lunch on 18 August will be another such glittering event. And, since Fiji and I will be sharing the stage with a woman whose work I really admire – Abigail K, The Confidence Crusader – I can only imagine what a fun and inspiring day it’s going to be. Avril, who’s organizing the event tells me there will be some exciting raffle and spot prizes and, from the few she’s mentioned, I agree they’re pretty awesome!
Details for the event are in the attached flyer.
I really hope you’ll be able to take a break from your busy schedules and join us for a relaxed and uplifting ladies luncheon for an amazing cause.
And, if that’s not reason enough, I’m sure there will be plenty guide dogs and guide dogs in training in attendance to make the whole experience just that little bit more special – I know for sure that Fiji will be there!
I believe one of the characteristics of a great leader is the ability to make people feel seen, heard and acknowledged. This was a skill that the late Nelson Mandela demonstrated regularly, as can be seen from the numerous stories of the way he engaged with people from all walks of life.
Tomorrow marks the centenary of the birth of the great Madiba and I’d like to mark the occasion by sharing the stories of the times I was privileged to meet the great man himself.
My first chance encounter with Mr. Mandela took place in the Student Union at the University of KwaZulu-Natal shortly before I lost my sight. At the time I was still able to walk around without a mobility aid, as long as I was careful where I put my feet – I could still see everything but everything was blurred, as if I was looking at the world through a thick pane of frosted glass. As I navigated my way down a short flight of stairs I realized that I had very nearly placed my boot-clad foot down on someone’s shoe.
I looked up with an apology poised on my lips – and found myself staring into the face of the great man himself. Those of you who know me well will know that I’m seldom speechless but the words of the glib apology I’d been about to utter simply vanished from my mind.
Mr. Mandela smiled and softly murmured “Bless you, my child,” and then entered the hall where throngs of students had gathered to hear him speak. ,
Two years later Mr. Mandela capped me when I graduated. By then I was totally blind and needed sighted assistance as I crossed the vast stage, was capped by Madiba and then moved to collect my degree to thunderous applause. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, friends told me later that there had been two standing ovations at that graduation ceremony – one when we were addressed by Madiba and one when I was capped. And yes, I did manage to avoid standing on his toes that time!
What I remember best about those two chance meetings was the sense of calm and serenity that surrounded Madiba, and the way he made me feel like I had his complete attention with just the power of his presence, his focus, and a few simple yet genuine words. On both occasions I was merely one person amongst hundreds of others, yet he made me feel seen and acknowledged – a lesson that each of us in a position of leadership can learn and strive to emulate.
I still find it amazing what a strong impression those two brief encounters had on me – a lesson in the power of true and genuine leadership and the importance of truly being able to see, hear and acknowledge the people with whom we come into contact, no matter in how trivial a way.
Next time I’ll start sharing some experiences from my recent travels to Germany and Poland – it’s been a month since I returned so it’s high time I let you into some of my adventures!
Monday was the first meeting of the new Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa year, and my first as President of the Cape Chapter.
After years of volunteer leadership through Toastmasters International you’d think I’d be immune to the anxiety of leading a new team through our first event, but somehow that anxiety never goes away. I think it’s something to do with me wanting to ensure that all the attendees gain value from the event.
Of course, I should have known there was no need for me to feel nervous. On the one hand I couldn’t have asked for a more motivated, efficient and willing team, and on the other hand, the interactions I’d had with the main keynote presenter left me in no doubt that he would offer immense value.
And so it was – everyone on the team went over and above the call of duty to ensure the event ran smoothly and I firmly believe every attendee left with real techniques of how to focus their marketing to grow their brand.
Sincere thanks to Lt. Col. Rob “Waldo” Waldman for demonstrating some simple yet effective techniques to use on our websites and marketing materials, to our MC Bradley Day, and to our 5-minute speaker Chris Adlam for the value they offered our members and attendees. And to the PSASA Cape Chapter team – Hani du Toit, Ian Hatton, Sisanda Dlakavu and Chris Adlam – for all their hard work in preparation for the meeting.
And, of course, Fiji was more than happy to walk me up to the speaking area and back to my seat like the great guide dog she is… though I suspect the treats I promised her also helped. I was amused when she flatly refused to find the door out of the room so we could go to the main entrance to let in a latecomer, But after an attendee graciously helped me through the doorway, Fiji’s fine training clicked back into place and she assisted me perfectly I guess she was just reluctant to miss any of what Waldo was sharing with us!
Do I think Monday will mean I won’t be anxious for future meetings? Probably not entirely. But I will have the confidence of having had a successful inaugural event, and the certainty that I have an amazing team working with me.
Oh, and many thanks to Charlotte Kemp for presenting me with a bottle of wine on behalf of the Past Chapter Presidents to wish me a successful year at the helm of the Cape Chapter – the gesture was very much appreciated!