It’s rare that I meet other people named Lois. So it was fun for me to discover a fellow Lois when we both attended an online meeting a year ago.
It turns out that Lois Wagner and I have quite a lot in common. Like me, she is a speaker, writer, coach, and activist. And we work in similar fields – helping people overcome challenges and move forward with their lives. Admittedly, we arrived at this destination through very different experiences – for me it was losing my sight as an adult, and for Lois it was surviving a horrific attack in her workplace. But it is uncanny how much we do that is similar.
Earlier this month Lois Wagner launched a podcast, called Walking without Skin. That’s also the title of her first book, which she released at the same time I published my memoir, I was excited when Lois invited me to be a guest on her podcast, and jumped at the chance!
What I love about the Walking without Skin Podcast is the diversity of Lois’s guests and the messages they share with the listeners. Some of the lessons are simple and are wonderful reminders of things we already know. But some are moving and profound.
If you’d like to get a taste of what Lois’s podcast is like, why not listen to the episode with my interview. You’ll find it at here.
And then you can always follow the podcast if you choose to.
As someone who’s been travelling for a number of years with a visual impairment, I’m familiar with the assistance and support that I need to put in place to assist me to travel. Whether I’m travelling with a sighted companion or travelling on my own, I know the help I require and how to ensure I arrange for it ahead of time. For me, this includes assistance at the airport, transport to and from the airport, and ensuring that my needs – and those of my guide dog, if Fiji is with me – can be accommodated at the place I’m staying.
But what about a person with a disability who hasn’t travelled before? How do they become aware of the assistance that they can tap into?
I had the opportunity to interview a gentleman named Saul Molobi on my accessible travel podcast, A Different Way of Travelling. Saul shared the story of his first overseas trip since becoming mobility impaired three years ago. I listened as he described accommodations at the airport and the hotel that should have been there, and weren’t. And the impact the lack of those services had on his journey. And I found myself thinking, “That’s not how it’s meant to happen!”
I guess, for those of us who have travelled regularly with a disability, it’s almost automatic that we spend time researching what facilities and services are available to assist us when we travel Yes, it takes time. Yes, it’s sometimes frustrating when we don’t find it easy to identify whether or not a service provider can accommodate our needs. And yes, sometimes we put everything in place and yet it’s not there when we arrive. But at least we know what we need to look for and request. Because we’ve learned by experience – most often from what’s gone wrong before.
I’d like to think my podcast can be a resource to help people to overcome some of the challenges of travelling with a disability, so they don’t need to face so many barriers to a positive travel experience. I’ve never thought of it before, but the information shared by the people I interview can be of immense value to other travellers who may not have travelled as much as some of us have. At least, I hope so.
Going back to the interview with Saul. You may be thinking that it landed up being a sad, depressing interview. On the contrary, I think it’s one of the most inspiring stories I’ve shared so far – Saul kept reinforcing how liberating it was for him to know he could overcome the barriers he faced, and how satisfying it was for him to be able to successfully travel on his own for the first time. Sure, he struggled with certain aspects of the trip, but he said he knows what he needs to do differently when he travels next time.
Even if you have no interest in accessible travel, I think you should listen to Saul’s story – it’s a story of courage, tenacity and triumph over adversity. And it was an honour for me to be able to share the story on the podcast.
You can find Saul’s story here: http://iono.fm/e/797930
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.
A few days ago I got a message from a friend who was concerned that she hadn’t seen any blog posts from me for a while. And it’s true – I haven’t blogged for the past two weeks. It’s not that there’s been nothing going on. Actually, I’ve been crazy busy with some exciting stuff. Rather I’ve been in a bit of a funk and haven’t been able to pull together the energy to write.
Sometimes life’s just like that.
Even now, as I write this, I can feel the difference – usually I can sit down and share a story or an experience with you and the words just flow from my fingers as they dance across the keyboard of my laptop. But not today. Today my fingers are sluggish and I find I’m having to contemplate every word, every sentence I write.
Some years ago, when I was going through a really tough time, a friend of mine reassured me by saying, “This too shall pass.”! and indeed it did. As I know it will this time.
I guess you could argue that by explaining this I’m already moving beyond the funk that’s stopped me writing. And maybe you’re right. I hope you are!
But if I’m a little quieter than normal, please know that everything’s okay and I’m just taking some time out to re-gather my energy.
Sometimes the only way to get over our fear is to face it. And that’s what I had to do on Friday…
Here’s the back story: two weeks ago, I fell while walking with my guide dog, Fiji. In truth, I wasn’t badly hurt but it’s taken me time to heal from the various scratches and grazes on my hand, arms and knees. And I haven’t walked with Fiji while healing. The other thing you need to know is that they’ve been digging up sidewalks and roads to install fiberoptic cables in our neighbourhood, a fact that may or may not have contributed to my fall. But that’s not what this post is about.
Fiji’s been remarkably patient while my knees healed enough to climb steps without pain. Thankfully, during my time off most of the fiberoptic installation has been done. So I knew we wouldn’t be dodging teams of workmen when we ventured out for our first cautious foray on Friday.
What I hadn’t expected was how nervous I’d be about walking. Don’t get me wrong – I trust Fiji and her impeccable training. And it’s not like my fall was in any way her fault – I did it all on my own! but I still had to confront the disturbing question that kept nagging at me – what if I fall again?
I decided to take it one step at a time. And everything was fine. Until we stepped up onto one specific sidewalk.
I don’t know if other blind people experience this, but if something’s changed on a route I know well I have a momentary panic that maybe, just maybe I’m not where I think I should be. Which is scary. But then sanity reasserts itself and I know it’s only the spot where I’m standing that’s changed a little.
So, when I stepped onto that sidewalk and found soft, slippery sand instead of the grass surface I was expecting I had one of those moments. Then, as I moved past that panic and continued on my route, I found the drainage gutter I use as a navigational aid was MIA… well, it was covered by that same soft, slippery sand. So that was another of those moments. And by the time I reached the end of that seemingly interminable block I was a nervous wreck. In utter relief I stepped towards the down kerb to cross the road and leave that now-alien landscape… only to discover the entire sidewalk had crumbled.
Of course I made it safely to the end of my walk. And, of course, Fiji and I navigated that piece of sidewalk perfectly fine on our return journey – perhaps not with as much confidence as we usually do, but we made it just fine. And next time we walk it, it’ll be even easier. As will the time after that. Right up to the point that the company doing the fiberoptic installation come back and fix all the sidewalks and then we’ll have to go through the process of panic and perseverance all over again.
That’s just part of life!
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.
When 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.
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.
Those of you who’ve read Fiji’s article from 13 November may be a little confused, not to mention concerned, about what she said. So, as she suggested, here’s my summary for my “people friends”, as Fiji so eloquently put it.
On 4 October I was hospitalized due to an allergic reaction to some antibiotics. Then my body went into anaphylactic shock, which is a severe, sometimes life-threatening, allergic reaction. The medical team at the Emergency Room at Constantiaberg Mediclinic gave me a shot of adrenalin… and then a second shot when I didn’t respond to the first. And then they sent me to ICU (Intensive Care Unit) since my blood pressure levels dropped dangerously low as a result of the double-dose of adrenalin.
Here’s where it starts to get a little complicated. One of the readings they were monitoring in ICU gave the medical team cause for concern, since it can indicate the onset of a heart attack. So they kept me in ICU for two nights, High Care for 3 nights and then put me in a General Ward for an additional 2 nights to make absolutely sure I was okay.
And gradually I was allowed to move around more – from being stuck in bed for the first day, to being allowed only to sit on a chair for the following 3 days and then, eventually, being allowed to walk around the ward.
What made it frustrating for me was that I felt absolutely fine throughout the experience. If I’d been feeling bad I would probably have welcomed being kept still. But that wasn’t the way it turned out to be.
Anyway, the worrying blood readings eventually dropped back to more acceptable levels and I was eventually allowed home. But my doctor gave me strict instructions to clear my diary – by which he meant do absolutely nothing – for two weeks until I’d been checked over by a cardiologist. Which explains why I haven’t been blogging, why I didn’t do the CTSB Walk with a Vision event, why Fiji and I didn’t attend the SA Guide Dogs Association World Sight Day Dinner. And it also explains why I didn’t get to speak at the Professional Speakers Association Midterm Conference.
I guess by now you’ve realized that the cardiologist gave me a clean bill of health, or I wouldn’t be writing this. In fact, the 3 doctors I’ve consulted since being discharged from Constantiaberg have told me there has been no long-term consequences – apart from the fact I need to avoid penicillin from now on. And I’m confident the final doctor I need to see in the coming week will tell me exactly the same thing.
Admittedly, I wasn’t sorry to see the end of October – it wasn’t my best month ever. Having said that, I want to acknowledge the amazing care I received from the medical team at Constantiaberg Mediclinic, who were superb. Even the food was good which, considering I’m a fussy vegetarian, is saying a lot. And, of course, I also want to send out my heartfelt thanks to my family and friends who kept me sane (or at least no more insane than usual) with their visits, their messages and the wishes sent on Facebook and WhatsApp. They really helped! And finally, I am eternally grateful for the love and support shown by my husband, Craig – I know my absence created chaos at home with the dogs and the general running of the house, but Craig kept everything under control and gave me day by day updates of how the dogs the closest I have to children and at least I knew they were well looked after while I was in hospital.
All that’s left to say is that I hope I can now get back to sharing the final posts from my trip to Germany and Poland, and some of the exciting things that have been happening in my life recently.
Some people are completely comfortable in front of a camera. I’ve always believed that I‘m just not one of them – especially not when it’s a video camera!
So, when I agreed to record a short video for the Toastmasters club leader training for the training sessions that’ll take place across Southern Africa over the next two months I was slightly…. Umm… shall we say anxious?
Here’s the thing: I knew my topic and was happy with the specific information I’d chosen to share. So that’s not what was making me nervous. And one would have thought that I couldn’t be camera shy since I couldn’t see the camera. So, to all intents and purposes, speaking in front of a camera should have been no more nerve-wracking than my usual presentations. And yet it was.
Of course there was the pressure of trying to ensure I kept looking at the video – remember I don’t have a physical point of reference to look at so “straying” was a real possibility. And that certainly added to my stress. Ultimately though, I think my anxiety was due to the uncertainty of it all – how was it all going to work out, was I going to remember everything I wanted to say, and would it be “good enough” to satisfy everyone involved… well, realistically I know that we’re all usually out own worst critics, so I guess that should be ‘would it be ‘good enough’to satisfy me?
Thankfully, Bruce Wade, of EMS, where we were recording the video was great at helping me think through many of my concerns – we chatted before shooting the video so we were both clear on what was going to happen and what our preferred outcome was. Then we went into the studio and Bruce oriented me to the position of the camera so I knew where I should be looking.
And then we did a take…
And then a second take…
And then we were done. In just two takes. And I was happy with it… well, sort of, mostly, kind of happy (dratted self-critic!)
Admittedly the fact that my guide dog Fiji was perfectly content to snooze in the corner also helped ease my anxiety- can you imagine if she had felt compelled to make her on-screen debut – or if she had started snoring – but by far the factor that most helped me relax and just concentrate on the message I wanted to get across was the level of professionalism shown by Bruce in talking through the process and resolving the concerns I had.
So, next time I need to get a video done, guess who I’ll be calling on?
Here are Bruce’s contacts, in case you have need of his video production services:
Chief Entrepreneur Officer
Northern Block, Upper Eastside
31 Brickfield Road, Woodstock, Cape Town
Tel: 021 839 2281 | www.em-solutions.co.za