Blindness

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When You Ask Me Why You Really Mean How

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You wouldn’t believe how often people ask me why I travel. The assumption seems to be that there’s no value in going to destinations because I can’t “sightsee” with my eyes.

If I were to ask a sighted person why they travel I’d probably get an answer along the lines of “I travel to see new places and different cultures,” or “To broaden my mind”. I travel for exactly the same reason, with the very subtle difference that I go to experience new places and cultures – in other words, all that’s different is that I use senses other than my sight to do so.

When people ask why I travel what they’re actually asking is *how* do I travel. Which is a totally different question and is about the techniques I use.

If you’d like to know the answer to that question, here’s a brief presentation I gave where I look at some of the preparation I do before a trip, and a little about how I create a sensory experience when I “site-experience” – hope you enjoy it!

Paws for Thought on a Part of My Job

Cds Lois somewhere As a guide dog I get to have lots of fun that my doggy sisters, Emily and Allie, don’t. Working with mom is one of them and visiting places along with the South African Guide-Dog Association is another.

I love going to visit community groups, companies and schools as part of the marketing initiative to help raise funds and awareness about my special work as a guide dog. I’ve done lots of these visits in the time I’ve been working with mom and each one is different. I’d probably say that my favourite places to visit are schools because the learners make such a fuss of me, but I’ve also met some wonderful adults who are keen to make friends.

Best of all, mom and whoever we’re working with from the SA Guide-Dog Association get to do all the work. All I have to do is wag my tail and look pretty, which is easy for me. And yet, somehow, I land up being the star of the show – every single time!

This month mom and I are going with Teagan from the SA Guide-Dog Association to a number of different Probus Chapters. We start tomorrow in Milnerton and I can’t wait!

I swear, whoever came up with the saying that it’s a dog’s life, meaning something bad, was crazy. I’m a dog, it’s my life… and I absolutely love it!

If you’d like me and mom to come and visit your company, or your child’s school it’s probably best to contact mom and chat to her – I’d love to do so and am sure mom would too! XXXXX

What Would You Like to Know about Blindness?

Here’s my first update on my plan to convert my book, “A Different Way of Seeing: A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an ‘Ordinary’ Life in an Extraordinary Way” into an audio book.

When I first reread the book, I got the feeling that there was quite a bit that I could update. That, of course, would be the deciding factor of whether or not to try and find a way to update the content given in the audio version. It didn’t make sense to me to figure out how to do it before working out if there was enough material to make an update worthwhile.

When I started listening to each chapter and jotting down ideas of what could be added, what had changed and what I can do now that I couldn’t when I wrote Different Way of Seeing I found I actually had a wealth of new information – from looking at how apps have solved some of the challenges in the kitchen, right the way through to sharing a little of the wonderous adventures I’ve had since meeting Fiji.

Yes, some chapters have more updates than others. Ultimately very little’s changed in how I select clothing and make-up, but I have lots of new stories to share with you so, even where little’s changed, there’s still lots to share that I hope will both entertain and inform you as you listen.

I’m still in the phase of figuring out what needs to go into the update. If you’d like to know how I accomplish any specific task… and I really do mean any task… I’d love to hear from you – I may not use your question in the update, and I may already have answered it in Different Way of Seeing, but I’ll still get back to you with a response of some form.

Looking forward to hearing your input…

Now You See It… Well, Not Actually

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As I do on occasion, I was scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook and happened on a post about a magic show. I don’t recall the exact words of one of the comments, but the sense behind it was very clearly based on an assumption that magic shows aren’t for those without sight.

I know there are many things in the world that are highly visual – after all, we live in a world that’s dominated by the sense of sight. And sure, there are lots of things that are hard for those of us who don’t have the option of seeing.
But that doesn’t mean that an activity is totally meaningless to us.

I replied to the comment saying that I’d enjoyed the magic shows I’d been to despite the fact I’m totally blind.

And that was how I came to write an article for Marcel Oudejans, of Magic.Africa, sharing how I experience magic shows without sight.

Hopefully that’s teased your curiosity enough to make you want to find out more. So, here’s the link to the article so all can be revealed: https://www.magic.africa/stories/now-you-see-it-now-you-dont-my-experience-of-magic-as-a-blind-person/

Just to be clear, Marcel wasn’t the one who posted the comment I responded to – he happened to read it and was curious to learn more.

I love having the opportunity of sharing a little of my experiences with others to help them understand how I do things without sight and hope I’ll be able to write more for other websites and publications in the future. Now, that would be magic!

Can You Help Me Take Accessible Travel into the Mainstream?

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As some of you know, I’m getting more and more involved in accessible travel, both through my writing and the Accessible South Africa Travel Podcast.

I’ve now written seven articles on travel as a blind tourist for the Blind Perspective e-newsletter. These articles are written for a visually impaired audience to inspire them to go out and see the beautiful and diverse world we live in. I also try to answer some of the questions and concerns that blind and visually impaired travelers may have. But, my point is, I’m writing for a visually impaired audience.

A few months ago I spoke to a sighted audience and shared a little about how I use my other senses to experience travel and places I’ve never been before. I was completely amazed at how many people came up and spoke to me afterwards saying how fascinated they were to hear what I had to tell them.

Which makes me wonder if other sighted people might also be interested.

So I’m asking for your help – I’d like to find out the names of magazines, newspapers, websites, blogs, podcasts, and any other publications that have articles about travel. Obviously, if you can give me contact details of who at the publication I should approach, that’d be great, but it’s not a necessity – I can do that myself.

Can you help me take accessible travel into the mainstream? I really hope you can!

From Seeing to Hearing – the Start of a New Journey

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!

On Independence 03 – It’s a Poor Workman Who Blames His Tools

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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.

On Independence 02 – The Eternal Fight Between Pride and Productivity

LoisWhen 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.

On Independence 01: How Could He Have Missed It?

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I was chatting to a professional photographer while waiting to soundcheck for my set at the Inclusive Arts Festival at the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town last weekend. You can imagine my reaction when he said with utter conviction that he wouldn’t cope if he were disabled since he couldn’t bear being totally dependent on others.

Naturally this engaged the inner coach in me – I started asking questions about the assumptions he was making about disability, independence and dependence and ability. And it turned into a short but fascinating conversation about how many people view disability.

I’ve found that conversation spinning in my brain for the past few days and it’s given rise to several thoughts on the topic.
I suspect it’s going to take me a few articles to think through all the aspects of this question that have been percolating in my mind, so be warned… this is the first of a series that’ll look into what I believe independence means to someone with a disability, the concept of independence as a continuum rather than an absolute, some of the tools that give us greater independence, and why so often a disabled person feels that asking for help constitutes a failure on their part.

Finally, I find myself feeling intensely frustrated… saddened… surprised that someone who had spent a week immersed in the world of performers with disabilities could be so blind to the talent, skill and, above all, the independence they showed. How could he have missed it – it was right in front of his eyes…

Berlin: A Disconcerting Experience

Cds IMG 1076One of the most unexpected sites we visited in Berlin was the headquarters of the GDR Ministry for State Security, a building of which has been converted into the Stasi Museum. The museum has exhibitions showing how the Stasi, the secret police, controlled almost all aspects of life in the DDR, the German Democratic Republic.

It wasn’t the museum itself that was unexpected. It was my response to the exhibits in the museum. I’ve been reflecting on why I reacted so strongly against what was on display.

As we moved around from one room to another, one floor to another, we were surrounded by examples of the repressive nature of the Stasi – with extreme propaganda, devices that were used to spy on people, mechanical and electronic bugging devices, and room after room of notes and files on people who had been under this extreme “supervision”. In reality, almost everyone was spied on by the Stasi in every aspect of their lives. You never knew when you were being watched – even your own neighbours might turn out to be Stasi informers, as we read time and time again in the files.

I found my discomfort and resistance growing as we walked from one room to the next with Craig explaining each item and reading me the information boards in each room. My discomfort got so bad that I eventually asked Craig to stop reading the boards and refused to touch any of the interactive displays – I simply couldn’t do it!

I found myself coming back to the same thought time and time again, “This could have happened in South Africa during apartheid.

And that’s where my discomfort came from – it was just a little too close to home in reminding me of the terrible environment that so dominated our country when I was growing up in South Africa.

And yet, perhaps my extreme response to the Stasi Museum is also important as a reminder of how much South Africa has changed since the overthrow of apartheid. Granted, we still have a long and hard road ahead before we truly move beyond apartheid, but we have achieved a significant amount as we move towards inclusion, diversity and equality in our beautiful land.

So, despite the discomfort I experienced, I should be grateful to the Stasi Museum. In fact, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that, because of the discomfort I felt, I should be grateful to the museum. Because we should never forget the tyranny of living in a society that believes it has the right to tell its citizenry how to feel, how to act and, most importantly, seek to divide one group and set them up to spy on others.

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