Category Archives: disability

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.

 

Advertisements

Love, disability` and a feline fur ball

kittyI never used to like cats… but then I never had the experience of growing up with one. Dogs were easier for me as I am somewhat of a control freak, love to do things my way and loved training our ridge-back to enjoy doing  what I thought was necessary. Dogs love to obey and they cannot hide their joy of being in your presence

Then I met Milly- a little stray kitty who was found on the streets of Langebaan where she had been terrorised by children… We think she was about 10 weeks old when my daughter got her and this little fur ball began to train me!

She loved to be loved and cuddled and fussed over, but unlike a dog, she did not ask for the attention, she just received it as if we were privileged to give it. Stroking her little head ignited a guttural rumble of satisfaction and she revelled in the affection so lavishly bestowed on her.  I never saw such a creature so confidently assured that she was alive to be loved.

One weekend after being out, we arrived home and she was not there to greet us. Eventually we found her on our blood covered bed. She had a huge gash on her hind leg and she hissed with pain when we tried to pick her up. Her back and hips were damaged and her tail was hanging limp. We think she may have been caught by a dog or in the motorised garage door…

To cut a long story short, she had layers of stitches in her leg and was put on medication for a sub located vertebra. We were not sure if the injury would ever heal. She spent the next two weeks hiding under the bed or in my hubby’s cupboard, too sore to come out and very reticent of people.  She still responded to gentle touch and as I lay on the floor talking soothingly to her, she purred like a massy Ferguson tractor.

As a person with a disability, I learned two things. Both of these lessons touched a deep nerve in me and tested what I thought about my life.

1             Our cat was loveable just because she was alive. If she had ended up being disabled, but still able to receive love then her life was still valuable. I am valuable just because I am alive and able to receive and respond to love.
2              It was not her owners fault; no loving pet owner would ever hurt their cat to teach them a lesson. My disability is not the fault of a loving creator – either he does not love or I have a warped belief system. (More about that journey later) Life is full of troubles, but we have been given the spirit to choose how we walk through them.

I was challenged about my thinking about myself and value and love. In short, I was edu-CAT-ed by an injured kitty!

 

 

 

Quirky Questions ’bout three blind mice

mouse question3 blind mice, 3 blind mice
See how they run, see how they run
They all run after the farmer’s wife
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife
Have you ever seen such a thing in your life
as 3 blind mice.

Was their blindness metaphorical? How can they run if they are blind? Were they just severely vision impaired?  If they had good mobility does it mean that they still had some peripheral sight? And for that matter, how can they run after the farmer’s wife if they cannot see where she is?  Does she smell? Why was she running with a knife? Does she not know how dangerous that is? What made her turn and attack the mice? Why is the farmer’s wife torturing the disable creatures? Did the SPCA and the disability rights associations get involved?  Where is the farmer?  What did she do with the tails? Are they still running blind? How are they doing after their unexpected amputations?  ‘ Have you ever seen’…why is our sight  being questioned?

This is a short sighted poem … not very mice!

(origin actually to do with Queen Mary’s assassination of three prominent protestants)

Remember the school nurse?

school-nurse

Every second year in Primary School the department of education had a health official who would come to do a health check on every child to see that we were meeting our developmental milestones. In the junior years the boys and girls were lined up in our underwear to have our turn being prodded and poked. Once it

was on the day that I did not wear a vest …. How embarrassing for me … and I felt so sorry for the boys having their check up in front of the girls.

Eyes and ears were tested regularly which, in itself, was a good thing (when we could keep our tunics on).  The problem for me came in when I learned that I had a retinal degenerative disease in both eyes. My parents got me, and my 2 siblings, the best help from eye specialists, but there was nothing more to be done for us medically.  We just did our best to cope as well as we could in mainstream schooling. The teache

rs were very helpful, my parents kept in communication with the school, but the school nurse was a differen

t lady every time. I got tired of explaining that, “yes” I did know that I was very short-sighted and, “Yes” it was a serious condition. By the time I was in grade 6, I didn’t have the energy to discuss the whole thing from scratch. I quite enjoyed and also pitied the shocked concern from a well-meaning professional. In order to save them the trauma of breaking terrible news to a child and to save a very intense conversation, I just learned the eye chart off by heart. I got the giggles when I had to pretend to read and when she pointed to another place on the chart my friends had to whisper the first letter so that I would know which line to recite.

In hindsight I don’t think this was helpful for accurate statistics for the health or education department

….in fact, a bit short sighted …but fun!  I am however grateful for the schools that accommodated me in what is now called inclusive education.

In Matric many of us went to apply for teaching or nursing because it was a good way to get a study bursary and you were granted a job for 4 years afterwards. We went as a group  to the department of health and li

ned up fully clad with our jars of ‘apple juice’ , said ,”Aaah” and did the ear and eye test with  the same school nurse that had visited us.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten the eye chart, so although I was fit and bright, I was denied access because I was disabled. I wasn’t’ put out about it then and so, with some scrimping and scraping from my parents, a financial windfall and a scholarship, I went on to do my BA Hons. It was only after working part time in a private school for a couple of years  that my headmaster fought, on principle (or should I say principal),  to get the Department to recognise me as a qualified teacher. I was grateful for the justice of his action.

E  F  P  T  O  Z  L  P  E  D  P  E  C  F  D

iSight or iSee

iSight or iSee

 

isightI recently attended a mobility training course to learn how to get around more independently as a visually impaired person. It required that I learned how to use a mobility cane – an extra-long cane with a rotating golf ball at the tip (so you get extra notice when you are about to fall into a cover-stolen manhole) as opposed to a symbol cane, a shorter stick which merely reminds others that you are a person who has full permission to act slightly strangely at times (like using a magnifier to see a till slip or walking past a friend without greeting them).

Shortly after this, a close friend of mine found an iPad that had been dropped in the street.  In her good citizen quest to find the owner she had to make a trip to the iStore in Canal walk. That day I was feeling down about a health issue, and was pondering on how precious life is.  So when the opportunity arose I grabbed the chance to get out, enjoy time with a friend, changed my plans and offered to go along for the drive.

I took along my new cane and was excited to try out my fresh skills in an unfamiliar environment.   I felt really free just walking from the car into the building without putting strain on my always confusing vision.  We found the relevant shop and, bolstered by my new found confidence, I asked her if she was up to a bit of fun. She giggled and said , “Go for it”, so I held onto her elbow, kept my shades on and she led the way to the counter at the back of the store where two attendants were waiting . I asked, “Is this the iStore? “when the chap said yes, I announced politely, “I would like to buy some eyes”.
There was a serious and awkward silence and then we burst out laughing.  The guys then joined in – I think very relieved at not having to make an appropriate response. We eventually got onto our real errand.

I was reminded that life with a disability is not as tragic as a life where you cannot see hope. There is no option to buy ‘iSight’, but there is always an option to choose how ‘iSee’.

P.S.I admire all things Apple and, in my opinion, an iPhone is a brilliantly helpful assistive device for any blind or blindish person… even without using the accessibility functions.

P.P.S. Apologies for any emotional trauma caused to the iStore staff.

 

Change rooms

 

Two Blue Male Figures Lifting And Carrying Away A Tan Couch Whil

Yes, this can mean two things, the action or the place.
This story, kind of includes both meanings – the gym has change rooms and also they decided to change rooms.

I arrived as usual on the top floor of the gym and immediately realised that something was different. It sounded empty and echoed more than usual and the light from the north window, which is my normal landmark, was somehow brighter. I stood still for a while to just calm myself and was slightly annoyed that a change had caught me so off guard. . There were 2 young girls standing close by so I asked them if they could spot a gym instructor. Eventually a guy came to help me and I asked him to please introduce me to the changes.

Seeing my symbol cane, he reached for my wrist to lead me around. I enthusiastically thanked him for his assistance but realised that if I didn’t act quickly, I would be joyfully dragged about by the arm.  I said, “It would be more helpful for me to hold onto your arm and follow you. (Plus he was a gym instructor so the biceps gave a gorgeous grip :))

He was very helpful and I took note of the new position of the equipment stands and memorised the potential hazards. He was very apologetic about their being no mirrors in the stretch area. I insisted that it made no difference to me at all – I just glance at the papered wall and imagine a beautiful, slim young lady looking back at my nearly fifty, well built frame.  Perception can be a whole lot friendlier than actual vision!

With visual impairment, much of your sight  relies on the presumption that everything is in the same place as it was the last time you ‘saw ‘it .  A lot of vision is actually visualisation. For example, a round object above the centre of a doorway is likely to be a clock.
So if you have a family member who is losing vision, it is important to realise the stress of going to a new place or making changes without explain it before hand. Surprises are not generally that fun for a visually impaired person (Understated).

This seemingly insignificant incident reminded me how emotionally securing it is to go to the same place, via the same route so that you can visualize yourself in that environment. I have spent years trying to pretend that I can see perfectly, but it is not helpful in a world where the most constant element is change.

Note to self: keep things as constant as possible and when unexpected changes occur, swallow your pride and ASK FOR HELP … in the way that I need it!

Note to beloved family: the wooden spoons belong on the right hand side of the second drawer!

Sitting pretty on MyCiTi

Anything done for the first time is an adventure, so three weeks ago I arranged for a few of us ‘low vision buddies’ to go to the Waterfront on the MyCiTi bus. Armed with white canes, magnifiers and sunglasses we set off. We all have different eye conditions and 2 of us use symbol canes.  All VIPs, or Visually Impaired Persons.

You will be pleased to know that we had a fully sighted driver to get us to the bus station in Tableview. We stepped up onto the walkway betMy Citi adventureween the car park and the road, so that we could get safely to the pedestrian crossing, but when the motorists saw the white canes and this bunch of ‘blindies’, they slammed on breaks and waited for us to cross the road right there and then.  All three lanes were stopped for this spectacle, so we gratefully scurried across to the bus station. You would think I was carrying a magic wand… not a white cane! (Thank you to the observant motorists – even though they forced us to break the traffic rules!).

At the MyCiTi bus station the security Gard showed us which way to walk to the kiosk. The lady there was also very friendly and helpful as we armed ourselves with bus cards with the right amount of money to get us safely there and back.  I showed my cane–wielding friend how to use the channelled paving by putting the end into the groove and just letting it slide along in front of one.  I am not sure if this is how it is meant to be used, but miraculously, everyone gets out of the way, thus magically removing all mobile obstacles.

We went to the gate where passengers were queueing for the bus to the Waterfront, and once again we were accosted with unheeded kindness, and were, under no circumstances, allowed to queue at the back of the line.  (In some ways we enjoyed, and were grateful for, this unmerited favour, but also wanted to just  be treated as normal ‘ous’).

The bus ride was great, and each member in our little party was excited to be on-the–way anywhere, independently.  We stopped off at the terminus to let everyone ‘look’ around and orientate themselves.  One couple was particularly excited about being able to get to the Artscape theatre without having to even cross a street.  The marshals at the station seemed a bit concerned for us at first, but slowly got up to speed with our intentions, showing us the different gates, and even enthusiastically helping us locate  ‘the facilities’ (as they are so politely known to be in England). Eventually we hopped onto the next bus and headed for coffee at the Waterfront.  When the bus stops an audio tells you, “Doors open” … quite useful for the totally blind or fully inebriated. The location of each stop appears in big letters on an electronic screen at the front of the bus, but none of us could read it so we just asked out fellow passengers.  (I’m sure they could add a voice description if enough visually impaired folk used the bus).  As we approached Granger Bay I looked out the window and asked my friend, “Oh, is that the sea?” we all burst out laughing … I am obviously not used to traveling with other VIP’s.  I think some people thought we were crazy, but it was such fun adventuring together.

It was wonderful to see how many folk are using the bus, reducing traffic, and avoiding parking headaches. There is even a double cycle path along that route….. maybe not for the blind?

I would like to thank the MyCiTi bus service for their access, friendly world class service, and thank the public for their kindness and enthusiastic support. I also want to encourage all people with disabilities, or loss of ability, to get out and about. It is less scary than you think and we need to help the public to be less afraid of disability.