Category Archives: disability

What’s in your hands?

Handy help in the classroom

So often we look to others for answers to our problems, waiting for someone else to come up with a cure, find us a job, make us an offer or telll me exactly what I need to do to solve my problem. Notice the penultimate word of the last sentence…my problem.

Even in disability we have so many ‘rights’, ‘should’s’ and ‘why don’t’s’ that we can easily lose sight of the power we have to solve our own problems.

The famous Bible character Moses was also in a rather pressurised position as he stood at a dead end at the edge of a sea with 1 million followers (before instagram) and then a whole army charging towards them. He did what we all do only when certain death is inevitable …”Help!”

He heard or imagined a voice saying, “what is in your hands?” Moses looked at the simple peice of wood, acted in obedience and a miraculous way opened up for a nation to be saved.

Whilst trying not to exaggerate in a grandiose comparison, a simple stick and 1 million visually impaired People in south Africa are facing immense pressure to cope in a sighted world. I hope that this ‘stick’ (with a few bends, cuts and rearrangements) will at least open a way for some to find freedom to access words and their surroundings.

Seniors and students alike now have access to ordinary technology that can solve some extra- ordinary problems.

What is in your hands?

P.S. Go geeks! Artificial intelligence has really upped the game for VIP’s in the last 2 years.

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Pad Perch launch

After a year of designing, redesigning, economising, getting intellectual property design applications and trademark, sweating over numbers, predicting volumes, avoiding throwing up, throwing in, throwing out ….I finally have a product to help people, like me, with low vision to use their smart phones, and iPads as a desktop magnifier or OCR scanner-reader.

For a fraction of the price of a smart device, this hand made, low cost stand allows you hands free options for viewing, Skyping, reading whist holding books or documents in place and even drawing, colouring in and embroidering.

Because it is gravity dependent with no clamps you can use it on a desk, a counter, a workbench, in the kitchen, in the garden, on the floor and even in bed.

It is just a Perch, so don’t leave your device to it’s own devices… it may fly off … and then you will be the one in a flap!

Perfect for use with KNFB reader, ‘Envision Ai’ or ‘Seeing ai’ and other text or image recognition Apps.

You are welcome to buy one for yourself, or for someone else as a gift or donate one to a low vision sufferer. In the process you will be giving someone a job and opening the eyes of the blind.

Current price, excluding postage is R380 (South Africa).

To order, send an email entitled ORDER to cell2seeorders@gmail.com with your name and postal address. We’ll send you an invoice and banking details to get the Ball rolling.

Check out more on the ‘in progress’ cell2see Facebook page.

Cane and able

Cane and able … not the story of the original rival siblings, but one also involving pride and internal conflict.

I recently had an unexpected trip to Johannesburg. There was little time to prepare during a busy day and , it was only when my husband and I were standing still on the ‘skellylators’ (our family word for escalators) that I began to think about this trip – body still and mind begins to move.

I realised that I was traveling alone. No securing husband, just me and my faithful, rather battered white cane.

Usually, when I go on a solo adventure, I mentally visualise the places I am going to and the colors of shops, the landmarks and the likely course of action. This time I was just there unexpectedly and had to ‘go with the flow’. When I feel vulnerable I make an effort to embrace my weakness and know that I am never alone. God is with me always. That morning I read from an ancient letter, “Let your gentleness be evident to all, for the Lord is near you …and the peace that passes all understanding will guard your heart and mind” . Boy I needed that peace, so decided to just be gentle and ask whoever I met whenever I needed it.

I checked in online, but went to the counter anyway to find out which gate I needed to find for boarding. the lady asked if I needed assistance and I automatically said, “no”. The thought of sitting in a wheelchair when my legs are perfectly healthy seemed like a false pretense. (Will think more about this for the future). I also enjoy the adrenalin rush of finding my own way.

I would never travel without my mobility cane. Whilst it is a symbol of blindness and someone needing help (why din’t I get the assistance offered?) , it frees me to do stupid things and to ask stupid questions like, “ is this gate 7?” Whilst standing under a bright blue number I also get into unexpected conversations with interesting people I would otherwise never meet.

I became very aware of the surroundings for future reference. For example, in the SA airports the bathroom signs are round and bright yellow. I still can’t see which one is for who (although our law allows you to choose your gender anyway) and could not distinguish the disability one. My cane gave me permission to ask for directions to the disabled loo. Some folk falter before answering, thinking that this is only for wheelchairs (I had this conversation in the queue with the girl who had directed me earlier) , but can you imagine being in a large noisy bathroom with sounds of hand dryers, flushing loos and intercom announcements and trying to hear which door has opened and which cubicle is free. The disabled loo – which is probably very able (unless it is blocked) – is either free or not . A much simpler option for the vision impaired.

When joining a queue for boarding I looked for the brightest bag or shirt and tucked myself in behind that person. As long as they kept moving in the direction I needed to go, I was fine. At one stage the blue bag that I was following had to veer left to board through the front door of the plane and I had to veer right to board from the rear door. I walked slowly until I spotted another colourful blob to follow. (I think he was quite amused when I asked him if I could follow his bright shirt.)

There might come a day when it becomes too stressful to follow moving blobs and blurs of landmarks, but until then… my cane makes me able.

Design de-sign

I love entering an environment that is so cleverly designed that you feel safe and clearly directed, as if an usher were guiding you. Colours, light and acoustics all play a role in how a foyer or room makes you feel. I am not sure if sighted folk are aware of the subtle influence or whether I have just become more cognisant of these elements as my sight has deteriorated.

Recently I went to an exhibition of the final interior design students at the BHC building in Cape Town. Entering an unfamiliar building is always a bit stressful for me, especially on a bright, sunny day, as my eyes take a while to adjust to the new lighting leaving me totally blind for a few minutes – hence the white cane.

On this day, the well lit entrance eased me into the foyer where I was greeted, not by a butler, but by a wide yellow walkway that immediately surprised me and filled me with joy…. maybe a yellow brick road association. The pathway (if that’s what you call it in an indoor setting) began wide and seemed to gather us up and then, it’s flowing lines swayed us towards the front desk. The colour even continued up the desk creating a sense that it was awaiting our greeting. In theme, it was in fact attended by a very sunny lady welcoming us to enjoy the exhibition. At first I couldn’t work out why I felt so safe in a new space . I love the folk I was with and was celebrating their daughter’s talent (who was named top student the following day….brag, brag), but I don’t think I have ever found an unknown space so low vision friendly. The design of the flooring actually guided us along unconsciously … clever, social engineering. I love it.

This kind of design would be so useful for something like a customer service desk in large retail stores. Many people don’t read actual signs, but look for simple pictorial or visual cues to direct them. I love buildings where the tiles, doors and walls are an indication of where to go. Having only peripheral vision, I am very aware of this, especially in places where there are a lot of people moving in different directions … like auditoriums and bus stations. I feel less stressed when the way to a specific place is marked by the change in tiling or denoted by planter boxes or benches. Airports are my favourite (when they are designed well). Large groups of people form all languages and cultures use non-verbal clues as they find out where to go. I love it when there is a tastefully demarcated corridor from the disembarking shute to the conveyer belts where your luggage gets belched out and then the tiles lead you towards the exit.

There is a particular part of a shopping centre in Cape Town that exhausts me, even on quiet days. The floor is so intricately patterned and the lights so busy, that I detour to avoid it completely. If I was a kid in that space I would play up and have a tantrum from sensory overload. My tolerance for shopping has short-circuited there twice. My family know about it so when we walk past there I just pull down my dark glasses from their almost-permanent perching place on my head, whip out my white cane and hold onto the nearest volunteer tricep until we get to a place where they can see the serenity of the clear line between the floor and the wall.

I know that music and temperature subconsciously affect a person’s behavior, but until recently I had not noticed the impact of the visual cues.

In these modern times I know there are certain standards for buildings being ‘accessible’ for persons with disability. There is wheelchair access, being the most important (cos you have to at least be able to get into the building), but I do think there is a lot more that can be tastefully done for making spaces more friendly for low vision folk. This would also include seniors and those with mental challenges who also like to get around as independently as possible.

I really appreciate thoughtfully decorated public spaces that keep people moving in the right direction or waiting patiently with the least possible stress.

Well done to the designers who have achieved this. Like the interiors, they are not just pretty facades, but clever subliminal experts.

I am going …what?

I am going … what?

It’s hard to fill in the blank in that statement, ‘I’m going …’. The shock of hearing that you have a degenerative eye disease is enough to make you think you are dreaming.  Thoughts waft through your semi- conscious brain saying, “This is not happening to me“; “this only happens to people I don’t know “ or “I will wake up tomorrow and find out it was just a bad dream”. That word ‘Blind’ is terrifying to a sighted person.  And so begins the first stage of grieving – denial.  I love denial. It is like having permission to live in the cuckoo land of unreality. It works so well … at least for a while.

I was in denial for years as I pretended and found tricks and clever ways to disguise the fact that I couldn’t see well at all (understatement!), and I let the submerged fear out by running and running and running some more .  In our own time we all go through the grieving process as anger comes short on the heels of denial (thumbs up to all loved ones who stand by us through that!).This is generally followed by fits of bargaining with ourselves and God or both – a good time to take up a contact sport.

I found myself faced with questions about the value of my life that no ten-year-old should have to ask.  Now that I think of it, no one did ask for blindness – that treacherous ocean between sight and no sight that all VIP’s (visually impaired people) are forced to navigate. You have no choice about being there and as much as people are with you, they cannot extract you from the reality. It can be a lonely and also selfish time. The currents of depression, disappointment and self-pity threaten to suck you under and pull you along paths you don’t want to go, but eventually the acceptance spits you out and you can finally take a deep breath of relief and joy as you recognise that you are still you and will always be you!  You realise that you are okay, and when you wipe the salt out of your eyes you see, or rather, hear a whole community of thriving survivors cheering you on and suddenly you know you are not alone and it is not a shame to get help… it is actually fun.

Find something that makes you tick and get involved, whether it is using your talents for fundraising for cures, awareness for prevention of blindness, support groups, sports, writing or motivational speaking. Your life itself can be a motivation and an eye-opener to others. If you have a degenerative disease you will go through more grieving, but there are plenty of people and great organisations to help you thrive.

Let’s do this together.

 

Love, loss and Levi jeans

jeans

There is nothing more relaxing and calming than putting on your comfiest jeans. They are usually the oldest and softest, bearing rips, patches, paint and other scars that hold memories and reminders that life is an adventurous journey. They are best worn with slippers and accompanied by a good book and a warm drink. We seldom wear these in public, especially if we are meeting people   for the first time. First impressions are important, but are only a glimpse of a person’s whole life journey. They can be misleading at times. So, my spaghetti brain (every thought touches every other thought) related this to how relaxing it is to be with people who don’t appear perfect.  Perfection has its place in the beauty of music, fashion, sports and mathematics, but it is a bit unhelpful in relationships.  This got me thinking about the strength of being real with our weaknesses.

“My power is made perfect in your weakness”- God himself.

Just as love conquers strife and forgiveness is sweeter than revenge, so is vulnerability a key to strength.
I have learned that being open with my weaknesses allows an opportunity for others to feel strong and, asking for appropriate help empowers me. No matter how hard, I tried to be independent; it was only when I admitted my need for help and got the skills to cope with my vision struggles, than I found real independence. Thanks to the professionals, at Helen Keller Low vision services, I got the freedom to move around independently even on public transport.

Asking for help takes courage as it can seem that we have failed. I know that family members can feel frustrated when they see us struggling, as they know that if we just asked for help then everyone is happier. I get that we need to be determined and persevering, but, if we don’t acknowledge our weakness, the frustration can easily become anger (at ourselves) or even aggression. Asking for help is not a failure. Being honest with our pain is helpful for everyone.

It cannot be easy to live with a person who appears to have ‘no need for help –no weaknesses‘. Hats off to all friends and relations of super- strong, perfect people. If a person is so independent and self –sufficient, without a gap, then how do you love them?  Softness can triumph over perfection as it opens an opportunity to value others and transact with humility, kindness and appreciation.

In the process of embracing my blips and blemishes and it is no easy process (especially for an A type personality), I have become less stressed and, in a way, more able. I am more comfortable in the worn jeans of my inability which opens up opportunity to ask for help and make someone else feel trusted and valuable. It’s a bit like letting an acquaintance come into your house through the back door and asking them to turn the kettle on. It makes them feel like family.

chair 2

For me, old jeans are an allegory of a life of loss, laughter and love… far more satisfying than clean-cut lines of pristine perfection. I love them so much that I restored an old wing back chair with the family’s old jeans and it is my favourite place to sit with a cup of tea, snuggled by the life journeys of my loved ones …and the scratchings of our naughty kitty!

‘Let the weak say I am strong’

(Thanks to Botha and Budler editors)

Let’s face it

faceVision loss is a tough companion to learn to live with. It means that as your vision changes, your relationship with yourself and others needs to adapt too.

Recently my father-in-law relocated to eternity and so , we had a rare  opportunity to get together as an extended family and close friends to celebrate his  well-lived  life and to rejoice in the hope  of the next generation of Webster’s and co. It was a sad happy time reconnecting with loved ones from around the world.  Somehow, if you don’t see each other often the changes you see in each other seem quite dramatic.  The little chaps are now big bruisers and us ‘young marrieds’ are now the ‘old marrieds’. It was in meeting old family and mew additions that I realised how my eyesight has deteriorated since our last meeting.

The family also noticed the changes in me as I now use a mobility cane, can’t collect the glasses off the table after dinner and am no longer the scrabble champJ , but what hit me ‘in the face’ was not a low branch over a walk way, but was that I could not see expressions on faces at all. In a social environment this is a big deal.  I was disappointed that I could not easily understand or gauge who these new loved ones were. Not able to look across a room and smile or nod in greeting etc.  The up side is that I just tried to spend a little time with each one, so that I had a reference for relating.

On our return I went to the Low vision support group where we spoke about  the obstacles around communicating without the feedback of facial expression. And, something I had never thought of …what is my face doing when I talk? I can’t even see my own face in the mirror (which may be a relief for my middle aged wrinkles) .  Also, eye contact is an important portal for social intimacy, as we can communicate through just looking. Children can gain confidence and trust through meaningful glances and encouraging smiles. Reflecting on our family gathering   I really felt like I was missing a channel of communication especially with the kids.

Being two-faced is always a problem, but being no -faced is exceptionally tricky. I find it difficult to aim my nose at people’s faces because they disappear in my central vision and, because my eyes look normal, they think I am seeing them …or think I am maybe high on something!!! It must be a bit weird looking onto eyes that aren’t actually looking back at you.

On discussing this with a mentor she told me that 7% of our communication is relayed through the actual words, 38% of our communication is transmitted through the tone or how we say it and 55% is related through facial expression and body language. Visual impairment thus greatly affects communication and places added hurdles in the way of easy social interaction.

I am very aware of body language and it is easier to see people in winter because clothes usually provide a good colour contrast. I see clothes moving about  and  as long as folk keep their heads above their shoulders, I can aim my nose for the designated  spot. When I see sleeves swinging about, there is generally an animated conversation on the go.

When I am talking to someone and they become still, I can’t always gauge how they are responding. I love it when sounds come out …”sjoe”or,” wow”….or,” hee hee”….or,” aaagh”  ! It is an expressive clue to their facial expression.

I am so grateful for my family and friends who are available for encouragement and help in all social contexts. I don’t know if you realise it, but you ‘smile’ at me by a squeeze from a hand, a touch on the shoulder or a friendly bump on the elbow. My smile-voice is usually loud, slightly over expressive and accompanied by touch.

Let’s face it …vision loss is tough, but love is tougher.