I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’d like people to know about my life as a blind person – things that I wish were more commonly known that would foster greater inclusion of the visually impaired community into society and the workplace. Because they would help people to understand my world a little better.
I thought it might be useful to share some of the things I wish people knew about blindness in general, and my blindness in particular. This is the first of a series of articles in which I’m going to do just that.
The first thing I’d like you to know is that we are not all the same.
I understand how tempting it is to assume that all blind people are the same – that we all use the same techniques, can do the same things, and have the same preferences. But it is just not true. We are all different. While we may have blindness in common, we are individual people with individual strengths, skills, likes and dislikes. And we may use different techniques to accomplish a task. I have blind friends who can do things that I cannot. And visa versa.
Let me give you a few examples.
I am a guide dog user. I love having the ability of navigating the world around me with my beautiful Fiji walking beside me. Many of my visually impaired friends prefer to use a white cane. Both are effective ways of getting around. Neither is better than the other. They are simply different.
I am not a braille user. I know how to read braille, but prefer accessing information on my computer using a screen reader, which is an audio programme that reads what is on the screen. That’s just my preference. Yet I know of many blind and visually impaired people who prefer using braille to access information. They have a braille display for their computer, read books in braille, and use a braille keyboard on their smart phone. Others may use a combination of audio and braille. It depends on each person’s preference.
A few months ago, my husband and I went to our local Mugg & Bean. I was presented with a braille menu. Which would probably have taken me a month to read – while I know the alphabet, my braille reading skills are almost non-existent. At the same time, I think it is commendable that the Mugg & Bean chain have braille menus for those who need them. Because many visually impaired customers will appreciate them.
I feel I ought to repeat the point of this article – to show that each individual blind or visually impaired person is unique. Some of my visually impaired friends will probably disagree with some of the articles I write in this series. And some will agree. Because we are not all the same.
So, while I would love for you to join me for this whole series of articles, please don’t fall into the assumption that what is true for me is also true for any other blind person you encounter. Chances are that they will feel much as I do – but it’s always better to take a little time to ask them about their own experiences and preferences.
Any idea what I’m going to write about next? Why not join me next week and find out…
I’ve been rereading my book,” A Different Way of Seeing – A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an ‘Ordinary’ Life in an Extraordinary Way”, before starting the journey of turning it into an audio book. I can’t tell you how many people have asked if the book’s available on Audible. I’ve been meaning to get it into audio for some time – and that time is now!
It’s been really interesting comparing the person I am now to the me who wrote the book three years ago. In truth, it’s been quite a revelation!
Here’s some of the things that’ve struck me:
- How much my writing style’s evolved –I’m over the moon when people who’ve read my book tell me I write just like I speak. I wanted the book to have a conversational tone and people tell me that’s how they feel, too. I also feel my writing “voice” has developed from writing regular blogposts. But I frowned when I reread my book because my language was more formal than I remembered– “It is” instead of “It’s”, “I have not” instead of “I haven’t”, just for two simple examples. And I’m worried the audio version will sound unnaturally stilted because of the language unless I change it a little.
- How much has changed–the number of things I’m doing that I wasn’t doing then, like podcasting, playing the occasional game on my iPhone, using online meeting software to run interviews, and becoming more involved in the accessible travel community; how much the work I’m doing has been refined; how much more comfortable I’ve become in trying new technologies; how much Fiji and I have grown and developed as a team, to name but a few of the ways my life has changed since writing the book.
- How much I’ve learned– time and time again I found mention of tasks I couldn’t do without sighted assistance at the time of writing that I now do on my own using technology. Often I’d smile at my prior self, knowing how more independent I’d soon become. Not to mention shaking my head in wonder at a few things I considered improbable, if not impossible, back then that are now also completely routine to me.
It’s been a valuable experience for me and given me plenty time to reflect on my growth.
Some of you may be wondering why I’m going to the trouble of rereading my own book just to turn it into an audio book. The answer is that I plan to update the content for the audio version. Because, while most of what I included is still relevant, the things that have changed are so significant that they’ve altered how I do things which, after all, is what my book’s about.
I’ll keep you updated on how things are going as I carry on with this journey – most of the details are still vague, but I’m keeping my eyes firmly on the prize!
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!