At a recent online presentation, I was asked to explain how I cook food. I explained a few of the techniques I use– how I chop vegetables, how I work with a hot saucepan without burning myself, how I know when food is cooked, and other simple techniques I use.
My explanation was greeted by various comments on how inspiring I am. Which bothered me.
I guess, as an inspirational speaker I should feel happy to be told I inspire people. And, if I’m talking about how I made the decision to move forward with my life after losing my sight, or strategies people can use to move past the challenges they encounter in their own lives, then I’m okay with being considered inspiring.
However, I don’t believe that talking about simple techniques I use to accomplish tasks in my life should be seen as inspirational. To me, it would be a bit like telling someone they are inspirational because they learned their six times table, or that they were able to tie their shoelaces.
We all learn new skills and techniques as we go through our lives. In my case, the techniques may differ from those a sighted person uses. But they are no more complicated… and no more inspirational.
Which is why I chose to write A Different Way of Seeing – to try and explain how simple many of the techniques I use to accomplish tasks are. And to explain why accomplishing those tasks should not be seen in any other light – they are simply techniques I’ve learned. ,
I know it may seem like I am being dismissive of the response I get from audiences when I speak. That definitely isn’t my intention – I appreciate that people may be moved by my story and the lessons I share to help them tackle their own challenges. I’d simply like people to understand that persons with disabilities do not feel comfortable being lauded for simply learning their six times table… or equivalent skills.
It’s no secret that I’m nervous when speaking to groups of young children. For one thing, I know I’m going to have to work hard to get them to focus on what I’m saying when all they really want to do is meet my guide dog, Fiji. But it’s also hard to know how well the youngsters grasp the concept of blindness and what it means in my life.
This nervousness probably explains why I actively seek the opportunity to talk to learners. After all, don’t they say the best way to work through your fears is to confront them? In reality, getting to spend some time explaining what life is like for me as a blind person always gives rise to a fascinating conversation between myself and the youngsters concerned. And a recent visit to the Adventure Kids Club in Cape Town was no exception.
My audience was a group of fifty youngsters and a few adult coordinators, who sat patiently as I spoke about my life and then asked a flood of questions, ranging from how I eat, right the way through to what techniques I use to ensure I’m not excluded when it comes to social activities with sighted friends. The Adventure Kids Club is a community organisation set up by Maria Strachan in Ysterplaat in Cape Town. Maria started the group as a way of inspiring and encouraging youngsters from the community, many of them coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. And, in case you’re wondering about the coincidence that Maria and I have the same surname, yes, our respective husbands are cousins.
As often happens when Fiji comes with me to speak at a children’s event, the youngsters had most fun when they got to come and say hello to her, and she loved the attention. It’s always so cute to see Fiji surrounded by a group of youngsters who want nothing more than to give her love and play with her. Only, maybe this time I gave my dog a run for her money on how to hold the kid’s attention – Maria asked me to bring my guitar and play a few songs for the group. Which I did – to an enthusiastic reception. Here’s a short clip of one of the songs I played:
Ultimately, I think both Fiji and I were lucky that we’d finished talking to the youngsters before the ice-cream arrived – I’m not sure that even a guide dog can capture a child’s attention when facing competition like that!
I have absolutely the best friends and colleagues! This was proved yet again when not one, but two people forwarded me an interview request from Media Alerts. It seemed that a journalist from People Magazine was wanting to interview women who are leading a successful life despite a disability.
Of course I replied…
And here’s a link to the article that appeared on 2 August this year – hope you enjoy it!
Here is a link to an interview that was aired several times on RX Radio, the radio station of the Red Cross Children’s Hospital.
What makes this interview so special is that Qaqamba, the person who interviewed me, was just 13 years old. RX Radio, with the tag line “By the Children, For the Children” is a radio station hosted by long term patients of the Red Cross Hospital and their programming is aimed at their fellow patients. Sure, there is a certain amount of adult guidance and supervision, but the children are trained to host and run their own shows. I think it’s an amazing concept and was super impressed by how professional the young presenters are.
As you may recall, the reason I was in Ghana in the first place was to speak at the 5th annual AFRINEAD conference on disability.
Sitting in the conference centre at the KWAMA Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana, listening to a Star-studded group of dignitaries address the challenges inherent in developing policies, strategies and plans to increase the inclusion of persons with disabilities into society across Africa, I began to seriously rethink the focus of the keynote presentation I would give the following day.
Most of those speaking at the opening ceremony were politicians and academics and, since I’m neither of those, I began to consider what value I could add to the conversation – a message that was uniquely mine and could supplement the work the politicians and academics were doing. While, of course, bearing the theme of the conference – assistive technology- in mind.
And then it struck me – by sharing my own story, my own experiences of how assistive technology has increased what I can accomplish on my own, and also what I’ve learned from talking to HR departments and managers about employment of those with disabilities, I could provide a personal context to highlight the importance of the policies, strategies and plans that were being discussed.
And I’m really glad I did!
Every now and then as a speaker I receive feedback on a fundamental shift that my words and stories have made on a person who was listening to what I was saying; that my message held a particular significance for them as an individual. It’s probably the most powerful reminder of our purpose as speakers… at least, it is for me!
I was granted the gift of such a moment in Ghana. After I spoke one of the delegates approached me and told me my words had redefined his reason for doing the work he does in the field of assisting those with mobility impairments – that my words showed him that he was, in fact, changing people’s lives for the better with what he was doing.
So, apart from the amazing contacts I made at the conference, the wonderful people I met and with whom I shared the experience of travelling to this beautiful country, I’m grateful to the organisers of the AFRINEAD conference for giving me the opportunity of being in the right place, at the right time, to reconnect that delegate with his purpose.
I took an audio recording of my presentation but haven’t had a chance to edit it yet – if it turned out okay I’ll post a link in a future blog so you can listen to what I said.
Recently I had the opportunity of speaking at a holiday camp for school learners from one of the schools for visually impaired children. The camp is an annual event organized by the Rainbow Dreams Trust that focuses on building confidence and the awareness of possibilities for the learners. It was the second time I was invited to speak at the event.
I told the group a little about myself and my story, focusing on some of the things I’ve done and the way I use assistive technology to help me do the things I want to. Then I invited them to ask questions. As always, I was amazed at the range of topics they wanted to know about – ranging from my books, working with Fiji, and my process of managing uncertainty when doing something new. Craig also got drawn into the Q&A, with several of the questions being about what it was like for him meeting, and marrying a blind woman and the reactions of his family and friends to that decision. Craig isn’t usually able to attend when I’m speaking so this was an unexpected topic for us both!
I was inspired by the energy and curiosity of the learners and, in turn, hope I managed to inspire them to seize the opportunities that come their way as they transition from school into the next phase of their lives, be it the working world or tertiary education.
I came away from the time spent with the group with a profound understanding that at their best, inspiration and energy are two-way streams and are best when being both given and received in turn.
And let me tell you, seldom has a standing ovation meant so much to me!
I’m thrilled to announce the details of the launch for my new book,
“A Different Way of Seeing – A Blind Woman’s Journey of Living an ‘Ordinary’ Life in an Extraordinary Way”
The launch will take place at lunchtime on 20 April 2017 at Kelvin Grove.
More details about the event and how to book are in the below poster. Please feel free to share this event with whomever you feel would be interested – it would be wonderful to have a room filled with friends and family!