I am excited to let you know that more of my books are becoming available on Bookshare.
So far, my memoir “A Different Way of Seeing: A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an ‘Ordinary’ Life in an Extraordinary Way“ and the first of my illustrated children’s books, “Missy Mouse Goes to the Park” are already in the Bookshare library and the remaining books in the Missy Mouse series will be there soon.
I have been so impressed by the team at Bookshare India/Africa, who have been converting the Missy Mouse books and making them accessible to those who cannot read in the usual manner. I had always thought it wouldn’t be possible to add them to Bookshare because of the need to describe the illustrations, but the team at Bookshare have done a remarkable job of adding the descriptions to the text so that blind and visually impaired readers can learn what is happening in the images.
So, if you or anyone you know is a registered member of Bookshare, you can access some of my books – with more to follow soon.
And it won’t be long before Fiji’s book “Paws for Thought: Seeing the World Through the Eyes of a Guide Dog” will be there too!
If you would like to learn more about the Bookshare library, you can hop onto Bookshare.org or listen to the interview I participated in with members of the team from Bookshare India/Africa for the Global Rainbow Foundation, at https://fb.watch/bBQZIcmWar/
In many ways I feel as though my year has only just started. For some reason I seem to have lost the last two months. My brain feels as if 2021 ended with November and 2022 only really got going this month.
There are reasons for this. My plans for December were derailed when I came down with COVID-19. So my plans had to be put on hold for a week or two while I recovered. Having said that, I’m immensely grateful that I wasn’t seriously ill as a result of the pandemic, just immeasurably tired most of the time. So my productivity plummeted.
The strange thing is that January wasn’t a whole lot better for me. And I have absolutely no excuse for my general apathy and lack of progress on the projects I’ve been working on. Somehow they just didn’t seem to happen.
In contrast, the first half of this month has been wonderfully and crazily busy as my year has finally got going. I published my speaking show reel after having it waiting in the wings for almost a year. I also published a book promo video for Fiji’s book “Paws for Thought: Seeing the World Through the Eyes of a Guide Dog”, which was a fun mini-project that Charlie Dyasi created for Fiji and me.
I’ve started making a few changes in my business, thanks to incredibly valuable coaching from Heather Cresswell, from Business Brilliance. At least part of my flurry of action is the result of the shifts Heather’s coaching is creating in my life and business.
Now that my year is well and truly underway, you may be wondering what I have planned for 2022.
I’ve realized how much work I’m doing within the disability sector, speaking, training, coaching and mentoring. And it’s work I love doing! Being able to support others with disabilities, especially those who like me have a sight-related condition, is probably the most rewarding work I can envision doing. I am grateful to have so many opportunities to interact with people around the globe and encourage them to reach for their dreams. So I plan to build this aspect of my business this year.
In terms of my writing, the honeymoon period following the publication of Fiji’s book is over and it’s time I sat down to consider my next writing adventure. I’ve been chatting on and off with a friend, Meiki Motshabi, about a possible collaborative book project but we haven’t yet settled on the details of what that might look like and who might be involved. So, you’ll have to wait to find out more as our plans develop. Needless to say, writing will definitely remain one of my major activities in 2022.
There are also big changes happening in the podcasting work I’m doing. But more on that next time…
All told, I think it’s clear that I have managed to shrug off whatever lassitude affected me over the past two months and I am finally diving into 2022 with a wildly wagging tail… much to Fiji’s confusion since wagging tails are usually her responsibility.
And if you’d like to watch Fiji’s book promo video, you’ll find it at at https://youtu.be/y3rqzxUFbV0.
A few days ago I found myself wondering how many podcast interviews I had done relating to adaptive sports and activities. When I looked back through the podcast feed I was excited to see how many there were. Today I’m going to share a few past episodes with you in the hope they might inspire you to discover how various activities can be adaptive to become more inclusive for persons with special needs.
Our first foray into accessible activities was in episode 5 (December 2018), when I spoke to Angelique le Roux of Ceres Zip slide Adventures. I found it fascinating to hear how they make ziplining available to persons with a wide range of different disabilities. And, even with my atrocious head for heights, I found myself wondering what the experience might be like. Find out for yourself by listening to the interview at http://iono.fm/e/638621
On episode 14 I interviewed Roxy Davis of Surf Emporium about the adaptive surfing clinics she runs. That was all the way back in June 2019. You can listen to the episode at http://iono.fm/e/696018
In other episodes I’ve spoken to people about accessible safaris (Episode 32 – http://iono.fm/e/828914) and ocean cruising, (Episode 34 – http://iono.fm/e/845329
Then, in my most recent episode I chatted to a team who run an adaptive scuba diving organisation. Again, I was excited to hear how they are able to accommodate people across a wide spectrum of abilities. So much so that I am hoping to give it a go myself in the next few weeks. You’ll find that interview at http://iono.fm/e/1110127
I have always maintained that I constantly learn things from the podcast interviews I do and certainly my eyes have been opened to so many different opportunities and activities that are available to those of us living with a disability. And I think that is wonderful.
Want to know what my next interview on an activity will be about? Well, I know that the first South African adaptive paraglide took place in Cape Town recently. And I’ve already reached out to the people concerned to see if they’re interested in being interviewed. So maybe that will be next!
I’ve been hosting a podcast on accessible travel for 2 ½ years and have recently been thinking about why someone with no connection to disability might gain value from listening to it.
I believe one of the biggest barriers to the inclusion of persons with disabilities into society and the workplace is a lack of understanding of how we (persons with disabilities) live our lives. Because people don’t understand how we do things, they usually default to imagining that those tasks are not possible for us.
I understand why that barrier exists. On a fundamental level, why should someone with no link to disability know how we operate? It’s rather like expecting everyone in the world to know how a nuclear power station operates, how an orthopedic surgeon does their work, or knowing the intricacies of a retail store stock management system. For the most part we do not need to know and, unless nuclear power stations, retail store stock management or orthopedic surgery impacts directly on our lives, we simply accept that it does what it needs to do. Without needing us to know anything more than that.
Sadly, since many people have no direct contact with a person with a disability, the same appears to hold true. Except that statistics tell us that around 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. Which means that for every eight people we encounter, one will have a disability, whether visible or not.
In the past few years we have seen a growing awareness of the need to understand the realities of those whose experiences have been different from our own, to be more open to diversity of race, culture, gender, age. Yet somehow the question of ability seldom gets mentioned when the question of diversity is raised. I believe it should be part of that conversation as well.
Which brings us back to why someone with no contact with disability might gain value from listening to my podcast about accessible travel.
- To learn a little about the barriers the world sets up for persons with disabilities,
- To learn about the tools and techniques we have at our disposal that allow us to overcome the obstacles we face,
- To see the strength, resilience, skills and talents that help us achieve what we are passionate about,
- To understand that we are just the same as persons without disabilities in terms of what we love to do,
- how we want to live our lives, and experience the world – it is just the way we may do it that may differ
I love having the opportunity of chatting to people about their travel experiences. I learn new things in every single episode. However, I believe the greatest take-away I have gained while interviewing people is the knowledge that, though we may do things in a different way, our experiences and our love for travel are exactly the same.
If you are someone who loves to travel to new places and experience different things, you may discover that the guests on my podcast have much in common with you as well.
Why not dip into the library of episodes of A Different Way of Travelling and see if I’m correct… You can find them at https://iono.fm/rss/chan/3715
Or on your usual podcast player.
Go on, give it a try!
I’ve been asked to share a list of the apps I use on my iPhone. So here it is, divided into blindness-specific apps and those that you probably also use as a sighted person. I haven’t listed all the apps that come standard on an iPhone, only those that I’ve added to my phone.
But, be warned – it’s quite a long list!
- Aipoly Vision – though it has other functionality, I use this mostly for colour identification.
- Be My Eyes – connects me to a sighted volunteer to interpret visual items.
- Clew – indoor navigation app.
- iMove – GPS navigation app. Lazarillo – GPS navigation app.
- Seeing AI – image/text to speech converter; barcode reader, other functionality but these are the ones I use most.
- Voice Dream Reader – book and document reader of multiple formats.
- Voice Dream Scanner – image/text to voice converter
- Voice Dream Writer – document editor. Voice OCR – text to voice converter.
- Clever Clues – a word game.
- Currency – a currency converter.
- Downcast – my podcast player of choice.
- Dropbox Facebook
- Facebook Messenger
- Internet Banking app.
- Google Maps
- Load Shed CT – app to track scheduled power outages in Cape Town.
- Otter AI – a voice to text transcriber.
- SayHi – real-time language translator.
- Seven Little Words – a word game.
- Shazam Skype Speedtest – wi-fi speech checker.
- Woven Words – a word game.
- Yr – my weather app of choice.
Of course, I also use many of the in-built apps that come with an iPhone. Just because I haven’t listed them doesn’t mean they are not accessible for me to use – they are. At least, for the most part.
You may see that I often have more than one app that does the same or similar things. Mostly that is so I can double-check the information that is being generated by an app using AI. Because I prefer for different apps to give me the same information as a process of double verification. Just to be sure.
If you’d like to know more about how I use the various apps and how I’m able to access them on my iPhone, please drop me a mail or leave a comment
I also talk a lot about the way in which apps help me accomplish tasks in my book A Different Way of Seeing, which is being published on Amazon on 28 October.
I’ve never enjoyed going to museums. Actually, I should rather say that I’ve never been a fan of old-style museums. You know, the type that hides the exhibits away behind glass. And I think you‘ll understand when you consider what that might be like for a visually impaired person for whom sight isn’t an option.
Far more fun for me are museums that try to draw visitors in with interactive and multi-sensory experiences. Amongst my favourites are museums I visited in Poland – the Schindler Museum in Krakow and the Warsaw Uprising Museum in Warsaw.
What does this have to do with my recent trip to Normandy in France?
I knew we would be visiting some WWII museums while we were in Normandy. I just wasn’t sure what type of museums they’d be. Sadly, I found that most of them weren’t of much interactive interest to me. Until we visited the Normandy Airborne Museum.
Admittedly, I wasn’t able to access many of the exhibits in the Airborne Museum. But those that I was able to engage with using my other senses more than made up for the rest.
The first was a replica of the gliders that carried Allied forces into Normandy to capture control of strategic roads and bridges to help gain a foothold in Normandy. I was able to walk around the outside of the full-scale glider and explore it using the sense of touch. I was also able to climb aboard the glider and feel what it must have been like for the soldiers as the gliders were towed across from England and then set free to glide down into Normandy.
But the real treat awaited me on the upper floor of the museum – a simulation of a troop plane that carried the paratroopers who formed the first wave of the attack. As we stepped into the shell of the large plane we could feel the thrum of the engines beneath our feet, hear the thunderous roar of the engines and the crackle of radio messages from the cockpit. It was eerily authentic to walked through the plane, as the paratroopers would have done so many years ago.
Leaving the plane, you stepped out into a visual representation of what the paratroopers might have seen – the vague shapes of a string of parachutes opening below you, the dim view of the ground far below, with farmhouses, towns, church steeples, fields and woods. Although I wasn’t able to experience this part of the exhibit, my sighted husband said it had a powerful impact on him.
The next part of the simulation was based on what the paratroopers may have experienced on the ground – the chaos, destruction and, above all, the constant stutter of machine guns and explosions. It was an over-stimulation of the senses that left me feeling anxious, unsettled and drained.
Of all the experiences I had in Normandy, this was the one that gave me the clearest idea of the reality of what happened on D Day – 6 June 1944. And the experience was sobering, to say the least. After the simulations, I cannot even begin to comprehend what the reality must have been like.
Spending more than a week in Paris, travelling round extensively on the Metro and train service, I got the feeling that a traveller using a wheelchair might encounter some problems using the Metro. Luckily, I was travelling with my sighted husband, so didn’t have to find my way around unfamiliar Metro stations on my own, especially as not all trains had audio announcements to let me know which station we were approaching.
Physical access is seldom a problem for a traveller with a visual impairment, but I was very aware there appeared to be few elevators, that many of the trains had steps up from the station platform into the carriage and that there was often a gap between the platform and the carriage. The only Metro line that seemed to have a good level of wheelchair accessibility was the 14th, which is a newer line – it even has a barrier to stop people falling onto the tracks, either by accident or design.
When I got back to Cape Town I wanted to discover if my observations were true. And, if they were, I wanted to learn how those using wheelchairs are able to navigate their way around Paris. So, as almost anyone would do, I turned to Google.
In my exploration, I found this fantastic article on the accessibility of Paris, and not just the rail services. I think it’s a great article for someone with a disability to read before heading off to Paris for a visit.
I know most of the Metro and rail infrastructure in Paris was built before the needs of persons with disabilities were really considered, but I was startled to find that so little accommodation has yet been done.
Still, it’s good to know that persons with disabilities who do visit Paris are able to get out and see this beautiful and historic city.
Those of you following this series of articles about tools to help a blind person be independently productive in the workplace may be asking how we engage with paper documents and physical objects we need to operate.
The answer is quite simple – there’s an app for that! It’s called Be My Eyes, is free to download onto a mobile phone and is available on both IOS and Android phones.
Here’s how it works: I open the app on my smart phone and hit the “Call Next Available Volunteer” button. My data call gets picked up by one of the volunteers, who are able to use the phone camera so I can borrow their eyesight to identify objects, read printed material or a computer screen (or even handwriting). The volunteers can also help me find dropped objects or help me navigate around places.
Can you see how this would help someone who is blind in the workplace?
It can help me do anything from reading print material to using the coffee machine in the workplace. As a blind person, one of my greatest challenges is access to printed information. With an app like Be My Eyes that’s no longer such a problem.
With more than 2 million volunteers around the world, speaking more than 190 languages, and less than 200 000 visually impaired users so far, I’m sure you’ll realize I won’t be waiting long for my call to be picked up. The calls are free, and you can call as often as you need to.
Imagine how an app like Be My Eyes can empower someone who’s blind, not only in the home, but in the workplace as well.
You can find out more about Be My Eyes on their website: www.bemyeyes.com or on social media.
Of course, Be My Eyes is only one of the tools we ca use in the workplace to access information – next time I’ll be looking at some of the multitude of apps using artificial intelligence to help us access the information we need to be productive in a job.
Back in the dim and distant past when I became blind, using a computer was a very different process from what it is now. Back then I had to use a special computer that barely resembled the computers my friends were using, and the amount I could do with it was limited.
Nowadays I, and many other blind people, use a standard laptop or desktop together with a software application called a screen reader. With a screen reader we’re able to accomplish almost anything that a sighted person can. Which means that we should be able to fulfil the requirements of most of the many jobs requiring the use of a computer.
Essentially, a screen reader is a programme that allows us to interact with a computer using audio. We have the option to either type or dictate to create documents, e-mails, spreadsheets or other text-based programmes. We can access menus, online content and documents created by others using the audio functionality. And there are ways we can access the content in images, graphs and diagrams.
So why then do so many people have difficulty in believing that a blind person could be successful in a job?
Maybe they believe that the software to allow a blind person to use a computer is expensive. And, certainly some of the screen readers do have a cost associated with them – as do many other software programmes used in business. But there are many different types of screen readers available nowadays, at a range of price points.
In fact, screen readers are in-built into several operating systems at no extra cost – IOS/Mac, Android, Microsoft are a few that spring to mind. That’s not to mention the many other applications that are out there – JAWS, Supernova, NVDA to name but a few.
And sure, each of these differ in what they offer and what they cost. But, for the purposes of this article, that’s detail and would depend on the preferences of the individual, the needs of the organisation, and the tasks required.
My point remains the same – with so many jobs being accessible to someone who is blind, why aren’t there more blind people being employed?
If you want to learn more about how I use a computer in my work life, please feel free to contact me through my website: www.loisstrachan.com and let’s chat about what I can and cannot do using a computer… I’m almost willing to bet you’d be amazed!
In my next article in this series I’m going to be talking about an app that helps the blind community to access print material and other physical objects more easily – or, maybe I should say one of the ways, since there are a few that I’ll be talking about in this series.
I’m always keen to discover how accessible a destination is, not only for me as The Blind Tourist, but for those with other disabilities.
As I’ve said before, each disability faces different challenges when traveling. As a simple example, a person in a wheelchair may have difficulty getting around a tourist site, if insufficient work has been done to create the correct accommodations like wider door access, ramps with the correct gradients, and accessible restroom facilities.
As a visually impaired tourist, I most often find the challenge is around access to information, which is why I do so much research about places I’m visiting before I even leave home. When it comes down to it, that research can only give me an overview. It doesn’t always help with the details and, as the famous saying goes, the devil is in the details.
So, what were my impressions of the accessibility of Kolkata,
For me, the hardest part of spending time in Kolkata was getting used to the sensory overload that is Kolkata – the vast numbers of vehicles on the roads, including their seemingly incessant hooting,; the amount of people on the sidewalks, especially at tourist sites and events like the IPL Cricket; and my lack of familiarity of the social norms in the country.
I’m sure I could have learned how to navigate around independently given time. But since I was trying to adjust to the dynamic, vibrant, and diverse new place in which I found myself, I didn’t really have the time to start developing techniques to get around on my own. Except within the hotel, which doesn’t really count.
Although I’m no expert when it comes to what may or may not constitute accessibility for someone in a wheelchair, or with other mobility challenges, my impression is that physical accessibility is great in some areas, less so in others. Certainly, I found myself wondering how someone in a wheelchair might navigate the amazing Alleys and Street Food Walking Tour we did while in the city. I’m doubtful the tour would have been accessible in its current form. But I’m sure our host would have been willing and able to adjust the tour to find more accessible options.
Which brings me to one of my favourite aspects of my trip to Kolkata – the people. No matter what barrier I encountered, I discovered that people were always willing to help find or implement a solution. And I’m sure a traveler with a mobility impairment would find the same.
Having said that, I believe there is value in communicating with others who have experienced the accessibility of the place you’re planning on traveling to – whether another traveler with a similar reality, or an accessible travel professional. They can give you invaluable advice on your options.
By chance, a few days after returning home I came across an article, written by such a professional, that deals, in part, with accessibility in India. I’ve included the link below as I feel the article is a great resource for anyone considering traveling to India, regardless of whether or not you have a disability.
I hope you’ve enjoyed joining me on parts of my journey to Kolkata. India is a country I hope to visit again – either for a return trip to Kolkata or to discover a different city or region.