Blindness

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Musings on Another Life

The image shows a dark-haired woman looking at the camera
 
You’d be amazed how often people ask me what I think my life would have looked like if I hadn’t become blind. I usually shrug and tell them I have no idea. But for  some reason, I’ve been thinking about it recently. To be honest, when I do think about it, I tend to have more questions than answers. So, here are a few whimsical musings on my (possible) alternative life…
 
I was in my final year of my Bachelor of Arts degree when I lost my sight, studying English literature, ancient history and law. I had a vague idea that I might become an archeologist. Considering that I’m not  an overly outdoorsy person, I guess it is more likely that I would have landed up in academia, or perhaps working at a museum of some kind. But maybe not. Because who knows what might have happened…  
 
Would music have played such a major role in my life if I hadn’t become blind? Well, in some ways yes, because I almost certainly would still have loved listening to music. But it’s unlikely that I would have joined a band as a singer, keyboardist, and guitarist. Because it was only after I lost my sight that I had the courage to follow that particular  dream. I struggle to believe that would have happened if I  had remained sighted. But perhaps it would have. Who can tell…
 
The same is true about writing. The idea of becoming a writer had never even crossed my mind. I probably would have laughed if anyone had told me I would publish even a single book, let alone the six I have authored so far. Besides, since all my books relate to blindness and disability, I would have had nothing to write about. AT least, I don’t think I would have. But you never know…
 
And what about my professional speaking? Again, until I became blind I wasn’t interested in standing in front of an audience and sharing my story, or training, or facilitating workshops, or coaching, or any of the work that I do now. In fact, though I might have had other life stories to share as a speaker, depending on where my life had taken me, those stories would have been totally different. Somehow I think it’s unlikely that I would have become a speaker. Which means I probably wouldn’t have become part of Toastmasters, the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa, or the Global Woman Speaker Mastermind that have all been such fundamental parts  of my life. But, you never know…
 
And of course it’s unlikely that I would have got to meet the wonderful friends and colleagues I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years. I would almost certainly have had a totally different circle of people in my life. With the exception of my family, because I’m almost certain they would still have been part of my life regardless. Well, almost certainly. One never can tell.
 
One thing that’s for sure, I wouldn’t have been partnered with my three gorgeous, wonderful, beloved guide dogs, Leila, Eccles and Fiji. And my heart hurts just a little even thinking that I might not have had them in my life, walking beside me.
 
I would almost certainly still have been a voracious reader.  It’s one thing that has been constant in my life. Apart from the first two years after I became blind, when I didn’t know how to access books. I felt that loss,  until I learned how to find accessible audio and digital books. So I would certainly have still been a bookworm.
 
It’s also hard to know if I would have landed up living in Cape Town. Who knows where my life and my work would have taken me? It’s a question I have absolutely no way of answering.
 
I know I can’t answer any of these questions. But it’s been fun speculating. 
Which isn’t all that strange, since alternative history and speculative fiction are amongst  my favourite genres of book. 
 
But now it’s time for me to reel in my wandering imagination and come back to reality… because Fiji has just nudged me to remind me it’s time for her and her doggy siblings to have supper.

A Conversation on How Disability is Depicted in Literature

Book cover

Over the past few years I have noticed that more characters with disabilities have been appearing in works of fiction. In many ways this is wonderful to see, as we have been a largely under-represented group when it comes to fictional characters. But, as with so many other facets of life, there is also a shadow side – I seldom feel that the characters with disabilities are accurately drawn. Instead, they tend to be depicted as either inspirational or tragic figures. Which, like most other polarities, results in a highly simplistic view of what life with a disability is like.
 
On a recent episode of my A Different Way of Seeing podcast, I raised the topic with fellow author and advocate, Elizabeth Sammons. Together we explored the way blindness is represented in fiction and the often harmful consequences it has for us as persons living with a visual impairment. It was a fascinating conversation and I’d encourage you to take a listen and think about some of the points raised by Elizabeth.
 
Here’s where you can find the conversation: http://iono.fm/e/1173132
 
I also loved the advice that Elizabeth offers to authors wanting to create believable characters with disabilities. Her suggestions on how to research and test the accuracy of the depiction of the disability are great and can be used by writers with and without disabilities.
 
Here are the books mentioned by Elizabeth, as well as the speech she referenced during our conversation, in case you feel inclined to dig a little deeper into the subject.

“Blindness: Is Literature Against Us?”
By Kenneth Jernigan, 
July 3, 1974
https://nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/convent/banque74.htm
 
“Being Seen:  One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism”
By Elsa Sjunneson  
“There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness”
By M. Leona Godin.
 
You can learn more about Elizabeth’s own writing at https://www.dldbooks.com/elizabethsammons/
 
And, if you haven’t already done so, please subscribe to receive these newsletters as soon as they come out – they will drop straight into your mailbox! It’s the best way to stay in touch with my news and events.

Seeing with Your Ears – Echo Location with Brian Bushway

Brian in  Iceland holding a huge block of ice
I’m sure I’m not the only one who grabs for her phone whenever I hear a notification. Or who hunts around to find it when the phone alerts me that I have an incoming call. Or dash into the kitchen to check on supper when I hear the oven buzzer. In all of these cases we are making use of our hearing to gain useful information.

I rely on sound to help me navigate the world because I can’t use my eyes to tell me what is happening around me. It’s the only way I know what’s beyond the range of my hands or white cane. When I’m travelling around with my guide dog I use sound to help me orientate myself. I know the houses where dogs usually bark at us. I listen to the direction of traffic, to the sound of trains passing – anything that can help me pinpoint my location.

Have you ever consciously paid attention to the information you’re gathering with your hearing?

How often are you aware of the sound of the traffic that surrounds you? Have you ever realized it sounds different when you drive into a tunnel? Have you ever wondered whether your reactions are informed by sounds like these, even if you’re not consciously aware of them?

I’ve been thinking about the ways I use sound as a blind person. And how much being more aware of sound could add to a sighted person’s perceptions if they could tap into it more often. And that’s what I spoke to Brian Bushway, of Acoustic Athletics about in my latest podcast.

Brian, who is himself blind, travels the world training people, both with and without sight, about ways that using input from the sounds around them can add to their lives. It’s a skill called echo location.

Brian and I discussed what echo location is, how it can be used, and the neuroscience of how the brain interprets both sight and sound. I found it a fascinating conversation.

We even chatted about how Brian uses echo location to ride a mountain bike independently, rather than with a sighted pilot on a tandem as most blind and partially sighted mountain-bikers do.

If you’d like to learn a little more about ways you could be using sound to add a different dimension to your world, give my conversation with Brian a listen at http://iono.fm/e/1160293

Or search for A Different Way of Seeing on your usual podcast player to listen to the conversation. Oh, and while you’re there, why not follow the podcast. That way you’ll have our episodes drop into your feed automatically.

Where Did the Last Two Months Go?

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.

Until February.

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.

 

 

Am I the Right Speaker for Your Next Event?

It’s taken me a long time to hit the publish button on this video, but I am excited to finally share it with you.

If you are looking for a speaker for an event – online or in person – then please take a look at my latest YouTube video, where I share a little about the work that I do. You will also have the chance to hear what a few of my previous clients and presentation attendees have to say about my talks.

Even if you are simply curious to learn more about who I am and what I do, this video will hopefully answer those questions. And it’s only 5 minutes long!

So, here it is:

Reach out if you’d like more information – you can contact me on whatever platform you are reading this and I’ll respond with more details.

And watch this space for more announcements in the near future – there are lots of changes happening in my business!

Interview on Eyes on Success Podcast

the image shows the covers of four children’s books, all with an illustrated mouse with a white cane

Here is another podcast interview I did recently, this time with the Eyes on Success podcast.
It’s not often that the interviews I give are based primarily on my illustrated children’s series, “The Adventures of Missy Mouse”. This was a refreshing topic for me to focus on, made even more fun by having the opportunity to answer a few questions put to me by two charming young boys, the grandsons of the podcast presenters.

You can hear the questions they asked, and my attempts to answer them in a way that would make sense to them, in the interview. You can also hear my thoughts on why it is important for persons with disabilities to be represented in literature of all kinds.

Listen to the interview: www.EyesOnSuccess.net/eos_2127_podcast.mp3

You can also find out more about The Missy Mouse books on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/author/loisstrachan

Paws for Thought about Brothers

The image shows a dark brown dog smiling at the camera

Two months ago my doggy sisters and I got a new brother. Like my sister Allie, he is a rescue dog and his name is Onyx.

Naturally it took him time to settle in and get used to all us girls. It’s really only in the last few weeks that he’s started playing with us. Even now he plays mostly with Allie, while Emily and I bark encouragement from the sidelines.

When Onyx first came to live with us I noticed something a little strange. He would walk into things a lot more often than anyone else in the family, except for mom, who also has a tendency to walk into things. But not even mom walks into things as often as Onyx.

I also noticed that Onyx had an odd way of walking, almost as if he was feeling what was before him with his front paws, rather than just putting them down.

Eventually I asked mom if she knew why he did that. Mom told me that Onyx is partially sighted and sometimes he’s not able to see things. And suddenly it made sense to me.

Mom also told me that the visual impairment was the reason it had taken Onyx five years to find a forever home. The nice lady from DARG (Domestic Animal Rescue Group) told her that several people had considered adopting him. But as soon as they heard he was partially sighted they decided to adopt a different dog instead. Which was why Onyx was there waiting for Dad and us to bring him home.

I’ve been giving my new brother’s sight impairment a lot of thought. I don’t know if he’d be able to get a guide dog to help him in the same way that I help mom. I’ve even wondered if he might find a white cane useful. Except I don’t know how Onyx would be able to hold it and swing it in front of him like mom does on the very rare occasions I let her use her white cane.

On reflection, I think I’m not giving Onyx enough credit. He’s learned to adapt incredibly well and is managing just fine without any assistance. He runs around the garden with us and almost never bumps into things at home. it’s really only when we go for a walk that he sometimes bumps things. And he certainly has no problems leaping onto the couch. Or knowing when one of us girls is sneaking up to try and steal his food – and he is quick to snap at us if we do.

So I don’t think mom needs to apply for him to get a guide dog of his own. Besides, that’s my job and I wouldn’t want any competition from another guide dog, even if it wasn’t there to help mom.
Anyway, all I really wanted to do was to introduce my new brother and welcome him to the family. I’m sure he is going to be very happy living here!

Seeing a Slice of Southern Africa My Way, by Tony Giles

Book Cover

I’ve recently discovered a love of reading travel memoirs. While it in no way replaces the experience of exploring different countries and cultures, it does at least give me a taste of the travel I used to be able to do, and will hopefully be able to return to in time to come.
A travel memoir I read recently was Seeing a Slice of Southern Africa My Way, by Tony Giles – aka Tony the Traveller. It is the story of a trip Tony took to several countries in Southern Africa in 2004 and 2005. During that time he visited South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
As a blind and hearing impaired traveller, Tony describes his travels through his other senses, much as I do when I travel. Having said that, Tony is far more adventurous than I am and is always ready to bungee jump, go white river rafting or seek out other adventure activities, which he also describes with his customary sense of humour

There were a couple of things I found fascinating about reading about Tony’s time in Southern Africa. First, unlike me, Tony is happy to head out and explore the world totally on his own, trusting he will be able to find assistance should he need it. And, from what I read in his book, mostly he manages to do so.
Secondly, I found it fascinating seeing cities and countries that I’ve visited through the eyes of a stranger, and a tourist. I often find that tourists see a different side to a city than we do as residents. I found this especially true while reading Tony’s book. I felt a similar thing when my brother and sister-in-law visited Cape Town a few years ago and Craig and I got to see Cape Town through their eyes.

So, if you’re interested in discovering how a blind and hearing impaired man travels through several Southern African countries on his own, and experience the wonderous world of travel through senses other than sight, or if you simply want to get a taste of travel while we are still not really free to explore new destinations due to the global pandemic, I’d highly recommend reading Seeing a Slice of Southern Africa My Way by Tony Giles. And, if you enjoy it, you can try the other two books in the series so far: Seeing the World My Way and Seeing the Americas My way. I know I’ll be reading them in the near future when I have the urge to travel again, at least by book.

Speaking at the HerStory Women’s Global Empowerment Conference

HerStory ONLINE SUMMIT Tag  Lois Strachan May 2021

Last month I was honoured to be a speaker at the HerStory Women’s Global Empowerment Conference. The conference and the HerStory platform are the brainchild of Zimbabwean-born Getrude Matshe, who has been building the concept for the past few years, first as in-person conferences and currently as online summits.

My 15-minute presentation was on the topic of independence and it’s meaning for me as a blind person, touching on the need for greater inclusion of persons with disabilities into society and the workplace.
You can watch the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqLQvX5vnMs

My Thoughts on Why You Might Want to Listen to My Accessible Travel Podcast

Alt text: The image shows a styalised image of the African continent that resembles a bare foot

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!

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