Sometimes the only way to get over our fear is to face it. And that’s what I had to do on Friday…
Here’s the back story: two weeks ago, I fell while walking with my guide dog, Fiji. In truth, I wasn’t badly hurt but it’s taken me time to heal from the various scratches and grazes on my hand, arms and knees. And I haven’t walked with Fiji while healing. The other thing you need to know is that they’ve been digging up sidewalks and roads to install fiberoptic cables in our neighbourhood, a fact that may or may not have contributed to my fall. But that’s not what this post is about.
Fiji’s been remarkably patient while my knees healed enough to climb steps without pain. Thankfully, during my time off most of the fiberoptic installation has been done. So I knew we wouldn’t be dodging teams of workmen when we ventured out for our first cautious foray on Friday.
What I hadn’t expected was how nervous I’d be about walking. Don’t get me wrong – I trust Fiji and her impeccable training. And it’s not like my fall was in any way her fault – I did it all on my own! but I still had to confront the disturbing question that kept nagging at me – what if I fall again?
I decided to take it one step at a time. And everything was fine. Until we stepped up onto one specific sidewalk.
I don’t know if other blind people experience this, but if something’s changed on a route I know well I have a momentary panic that maybe, just maybe I’m not where I think I should be. Which is scary. But then sanity reasserts itself and I know it’s only the spot where I’m standing that’s changed a little.
So, when I stepped onto that sidewalk and found soft, slippery sand instead of the grass surface I was expecting I had one of those moments. Then, as I moved past that panic and continued on my route, I found the drainage gutter I use as a navigational aid was MIA… well, it was covered by that same soft, slippery sand. So that was another of those moments. And by the time I reached the end of that seemingly interminable block I was a nervous wreck. In utter relief I stepped towards the down kerb to cross the road and leave that now-alien landscape… only to discover the entire sidewalk had crumbled.
Of course I made it safely to the end of my walk. And, of course, Fiji and I navigated that piece of sidewalk perfectly fine on our return journey – perhaps not with as much confidence as we usually do, but we made it just fine. And next time we walk it, it’ll be even easier. As will the time after that. Right up to the point that the company doing the fiberoptic installation come back and fix all the sidewalks and then we’ll have to go through the process of panic and perseverance all over again.
That’s just part of life!
In March last year I signed up to listen to the inaugural Women in Publishing Summit. The summit was a week of interviews with women sharing their insights into different parts of the publishing world – authors of different genres, designers, marketers and publishers. It took me almost a year to listen to the full five-day summit, but it was worth every second
When the call for speakers for the 2019 WIP Summit was published by the organizer, Alexa Bigwarfe, I thought of putting my name forward to share my experiences of using writing as a medium to raise awareness that disability does not mean inability. The more I thought about it, the more I felt drawn to the idea.
So I put a proposal to the organizing team and was over the moon with joy when I was selected to speak as a panelist on telling difficult stories and the importance of using your personal story to empower others.
The WIP Summit is an online summit that will be published in March 2019. If you’re involved in the publishing industry in any way, are thinking of writing a book to share your story with the world or would just like to learn from some inspiring women in the publishing industry, I’d recommend you sign up for the Summit.
In the meantime, you can find out more about what’s on offer on either the website or the Facebook page – here’s the links to both:
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WomenInPublishing/
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.
When 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.
Over the years I’ve come to believe that the way you see the future is one of the factors that impacts on how easily you’re able to take on the obstacles you face. So, being asked to inspire blind and visually impaired graduates to continue to move forwards with their lives with hope and determination was a special honour for me.
When I speak, I often quote the ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus who said “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. I usually pair that with a quote from Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re probably right”. Like so many other things in life I believe we have a choice in how we see the future – and that’s the message I shared with the students who were graduating.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The date was 29 November 2018. The place was the Cape Town Society for the Blind (CTSB) and the event was the graduation ceremony for the 90 students who had completed skills courses with CTSB during 2018.
As I sat waiting to start speaking the pride, excitement and enthusiasm of the students, their proud families and friends, and the facilitators from CTSB was almost palpable. And I’ll bet you would have struggled to find anyone who wasn’t overcome with emotion as the students spoke of that pride, the joy and the hope they were feeling.
I fervently agreed with the address given by the CTSB CEO, Lizelle van Wyk, when she shared with the students that the graduation was only the beginning for them and that they needed to continue to grow their skills, their confidence and their courage as they went out to show the world that disability does not mean inability. Lizelle shared an impressively long list of jobs held by visually impaired and blind people around the world, and other speakers added yet more job opportunities to the list as the morning progressed.
As each student received their certificates, I was fascinated to hear the diverse list of programmes they were being recognized for. I think my journey as a blind person may have been very different if I’d been able to access the types of skills being taught now. Back when I lost my sight my options were more limited – O&M training (orientation and mobility, which included walking with a white mobility cane), Braille, some basic computer skills and some lifeskills training. Hopefully I’ll learn more about what the students are being taught in the coming year as I continue to partner with CTSB.
For a great summary of the event and a complete list of the courses offered by CTSB, take a look at the following article from the People’s Post, shared on News-24:
Thanks to CTSB’s amazing Fundraiser, Nicky Jacobs, for sending the photo of me presenting at the graduation.
Here’s another audio recording – this time of a presentation I gave at the Helen Keller Society residential home in March this year. In some ways March doesn’t’ seem that long ago, but in other ways well, let’s just say that it’s almost a lifetime!
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of talking to the residents and answering the diverse questions I was asked afterwards. I was even asked to sing and, of course, my mind went blank and I couldn’t think of a single song! At least I learned from that experience and now always have a song prepared… just in case.
What really startled me when I was editing the recording was that, despite the full recording being over an hour, my actual presentation was just over 16 minutes. It felt a lot longer when I was talking!
It’s also quite an early presentation on this topic, and perhaps a little more introspective than my current speeches about what helped me move forwards with my life following my blindness. It feels more like a conversation with friends than a formal presentation – but that may just be my impression. You’ll have to judge for yourself.
After this speech, the Helen Keller Society invited me to be the guest speaker at their AGM, which I did a few months later… but that’s an entirely different story…
Many of you have asked to hear the speech I gave at PechaKucha on 5 July… so here it is!
I’d love to hear how you top up your positivity tank, so why not take a moment to comment and let me know…
With thanks to Francois Rossouw for shooting the video, and Craig Strachan for adding the slide presentation for the total experience.
Wow! What an experience it was talking at PechaKucha Cape Town on Tuesday this week! While I admit I felt nervous before speaking, the high after all the applause was pretty amazing!
For those of you who aren’t familiar with PechaKucha, here’s a brief introduction: PechaKucha is a speaking format where you have a 20 slide presentation, and are given only 20 seconds per slide. PechaKucha is an international movement that began in Tokyo in 2003, and now takes place in over 800 cities around the world. In South Africa You can find PechaKucha in both Cape Town and Johannesburg.
We had a diverse group of speakers on Tuesday – including a rock musician, a furniture maker, a coach talking about prejudice, an environmentalist, a dominatrix (I kid you not!), and of course me – 9 speakers in total, so the evening was crammed full of great ideas!
I decided to test drive a new concept – topping up your positivity tank (i.e. your positive attitude) to help you manage stress and overcome challenges. My presentation was well received, with Andrew, the MC of the evening stating that it was one of the best PechaKucha speeches he’d heard. Please don’t get the impression that PechaKucha is only for pro speakers – at least 2 of the people who spoke on Tuesday had never given a presentation before.
Creating, practising and performing a PechaKucha speech is a little different from a normal speech. Getting your message across in 6 minutes 40 seconds is not too difficult, but adhering to the 20 second per slide rule makes for some interesting challenges.
I was somewhat startled when I was on stage and Craig indicated I was speaking much slower than I had been when I was practising. That may not be a problem with a 45 minute presentation – or even a 20 minute presentation – but when you are limited to only 20 seconds per slide it has a significant impact… I had to cut several words from each slide on the fly… which was definitely an interesting experience!
It was wonderful to see so many friends and colleagues braving the cold and rainy weather to enjoy an evening of PechaKucha – thanks especially to Francois rossouw for videoing my speech for me, Craig for the awesome photos, and the ladies from our speaker mastermind group, Women Who Speak for change, for coming along to support. You are all amazing!
If you can get to a PechaKucha evening I’d really suggest you go – there are great ideas being discussed! And if you’re a speaker… or have an idea worth sharing… why not give PechaKucha a go yourself?
To find out more about PechaKucha in South Africa… or to apply to speak:
PechaKucha Cape Town: www.pechakucha-capetown.com
PechaKucha Johannesburg: www.pechakuchajoburg.co.za
A few days ago I woke up feeling dispirited, exhausted, and disinclined to get out of bed and face the world. Now, as an inspirational speaker who works in the field of helping others to overcome their challenges, I started beating myself up about my own inertia… telling myself this was hardly a great testament to my skills, and wasn’t I being a bit of a hypocrite??? (Don’t you hate those voices???)
So, there I was, with all these negative thoughts spinning around in my head – along with all the other stuff about feeling tired and unable to face the day. The negativity fed on itself and for a while it was all I could see.
Then suddenly everything shifted. I realized that some days are just like that – no-one can be expected to be strong and positive every second of every day. It’s okay to have the odd bad day.
As long as it doesn’t last too long.
Sometimes that “downtime” is simply our minds and bodies telling us to take it easy and gather our breath. It’s another way of topping up our positivity tanks. If we can accept that it’s okay to have the occasional bad day, and use the time to regather our strength and positivity. Tomorrow should be a better day!
Like mine was…
So, there I was, sitting in the hospital room, having just been dealt the blow that my eye operation had failed – that I was now completely blind, and likely to remain so for the rest of my life. Often people have asked me how I was feeling, what was going through my mind, as I tried to come to terms with this new position in which I now found myself.
As I said in the very first article in this thread, it didn’t take me long to realize that I had a choice – to go home and give up, and be angry, bitter, dependent and depressed for the rest of my life… Or to go out there and see what life still had to offer me.
By choosing to see what life still had to offer me I took back control of my life – and also acknowledged that the only person accountable for whether or not I would move forward with my life in a positive way was me.
In effect I refused to grant my blindness the right to dictate my decisions.
And taking back that control was a very powerful step that enabled me to start moving forwards towards the rest of my life and my future.
So often we become overwhelmed by our challenges and the obstacles we face in life. Maybe, like me, taking back control of your life and your destiny will help to give you the power and the energy you require to start tackling those obstacles.