Tag Archives: independent living

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.

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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

Silly Siri and other short-sighted sniggers

oopsSiri me
As many of you know, I can see very little detail and so I find Siri (the personal voice assistant on my iPhone) very useful….most of the time. A few weeks ago I was involved in helping organise an event management workshop.  As a colleague pointed out, the chairman of the organisation definitely needed the event management skills on offer as the biggest event of his life happened unexpectedly… three weeks early – the birth of his first child.
As a result, I had a bit more responsibility than expected and promised to take a photo of the delegates alongside the banner of Retina South Africa.  After lunch my helpful, fully sighted husband took the pic on my phone – which was also a fun event … Have you ever tried to get a handful of us blind people looking at the camera at the same time? Have you ever seen a photographer trying to clap his hands and hold a camera still?  Anyhow, the required task was finally completed.  As the session began I quickly wanted to forward the picture to ‘the boss’. I asked Siri to put in a caption saying, “The Essential Event Management Workshop”. I pushed Send and then peered through my magnifying glass to see that all was in order. In distress, I shrieked aloud, interrupting the speaker who was just getting underway, and I read, “the sensual event management workshop. The place erupted as I quickly sent a voice WhatsApp saying,” Essential, essential, e-s-s-e-n-t-i-a-l”.
Siri nearly got me into Siri-ous trouble.!

P.S. congratulations to Manny and Shamiela on the birth of their little girl Aarya

Mistaken identity
The coldest weekend this winter coincided with a burst geyser and an extra family member in the house. We were all using one bathroom and all our hygiene products had gathered in a line along the basin edge like spectators, to watch the high speed water sport. . I reached for my face scrub in the blue and white bottle and felt the luxury of a thick cream on my cheeks. The lotion smelled unusual. After the chilly commotion I took the tube to inspect the contents under my reading camera… it was heel balm!

Wakey, wakey
Half asleep I staggered to the kitchen to make the early morning coffee. I placed the mugs on the counter and spooned granules into the first one… except that it was upside down and the coffee sprinkled all over my slippers and the floor. Is that why they call it ‘in-stand coffee?’

A separate joke
Albeit weak, I need to share my home– made joke that birthed itself out of my home-made yoghurt gone wrong.

What did the cheese say to the curd?
“No Whey!”

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.

Bussed or Busted?

My worldview on transport was largely shaped by my cultural upbringing.
I grew up in a privileged, middle class area where it was the norm to go to school, get a matric, go to the army or qualify with a diploma or degree, get a low ranking job at the bottom of the career ladder, get a small salary and then buy your first ‘skadonky’ car (for non south Africans it means a beat up piece of metal with 4 generally round wheels with a generally working engine). Private transport was merely part of a step of growing up and learning responsibility. This is why most of the people I know drive private vehicles. And so, being a vision impaired non-driver, it is only with the help of my very kind friends and family, that I seldom have the need to use public transport. I try to arrange lifts that fit in with where my friends are likely to go.

A few weeks ago I had to give a talk in the middle of Cape Town… which is about 50kms out of the way of where any of my friends would be going. So, I decided to make this an adventure on public transport.

The only person I had to put out of his way was my beloved husband who I dragged out of bed to drop me off at the local bus station.  He is very brave and trusting to let his adrenalin-junkie, partially sighted wife go gadding about on buses and taxis.

Before I began the trip I had planned the route and tried to memorise the route numbers and directions. I always travel with my white cane  as it gives me permission to ask stupid  questions and  I also reminded myself that if God is always with me then I can never be lost on my own.

I want to give a ‘thumbs up’ to various strangers who helped me on the day:

I spent the first hour with other head-bobbers, who were busy with various activities to fake wakefulness, and others who quite blatantly slept.  We all perked up as the bus turned off the N1 into the business district.  I stood up to get off at the next stop, but the bus kept going and so I landed up getting off at the following bus stop.

Luckily I got off with other passengers as I was disorientated. I think it was quite scary for them seeing a woman with a white cane asking for directions.

First thumbs up-   A chap showed me which way to walk towards the connecting bus station and, thanks to Cape Town’s access friendly pedestrian crossings, with beepers on the traffic lights; I managed to get safely across 3 lanes of traffic. As I approached the entrance to the next bus station, where I usually follow the textured paving to the turnstiles, there was a temporary barrier which had been put up for the famous cycle race.

Once more I was disorientated and once more a passer by came to my rescue. My second thumbs up goes to a young girl who could see me acting confused and showed me the way in. (I think she may have thought, ’what is this silly blind person doing travelling on her own?’ I don’t think she would have expected the answer to be, ‘having a whole lot of fun’.)

As I headed on in, I asked a person (who happened to be a security guard) where my bus left from as I had never been on this particular route before. He took me along and put me on the wrong bus. I had studied the route before I left home and so realised that I was not exactly going in the right direction. I asked the passenger next to me and then laughed when I realised I was on the wrong bus. I knew that I was not lost, just temporarily misplaced!

The kind passenger, who gets my third thumbs up, spoke to the driver and then explained to me that I could catch a connecting bus from the next stop. She made sure that I connected with the marshal at the next stop and I happily, and eventually, got to where I needed to be.

Who says commuting into town is boring?

I am so grbus linegrateful for kind passengers and would publicly like to apologise for any emotional damage I may have caused to fellow commuters who may have perceived me as a desperate, friendless, disabled lady…. Meanwhile I was just a VIP (vision impaired person) on a thrilling, independence escapade. I was bussed, not busted!

Walk with me – A tribute to Tina

walk with meWalk with me – A tribute to Tina

I would like to thank God for our precious four legged friend who walked with me (literally) for 11 years.

In 2005 my eyesight deteriorated quite significantly and I decided to stop teaching to reduce the stress on my eyes … and my brain! I looked into (ha ha) getting a guide dog, but after and interview with the SA Guide dog Association, I realised that I was too sighted for a guide dog, but too blind to be safe out on my own. At that stage I was running a few kms per day (I can see better when I move fast as the central blind spots are covered). I longed to have a dog that I could train to assist me, but I had no experience. At that stage we had no pets in our household as it was an unnecessary expense and, after spending time in various countries where people were starving, we could not bring ourselves to spend money on a pet.

Anyway, I decided to pray about it. I was even specific in my prayers, I was praying for a black, short-haired female cross breed with some Labrador or sheepdog. I knew that a bigger miracle was needed for God to get this one past my caring, but not particularly dog-loving husband.

One day I was asked if I didn’t want a puppy. She was the last of the litter to find a home and she fitted my description exactly. We met the little black bundle without the children (too much pressure) and, as cute as she was, we decided against the ‘unnecessary’ expense. I was heart sore, but sensed that she was for us. The next morning my husband Andre called me and said, “I think we should get the dog”. I asked what changed his mind and he quoted from a scripture in Proverbs 10 v 3 some expanded version with commentary) “… a righteous man shall not go hungry, nor his children, nor his manservants…….nor his cattle, nor his domestic animals”. That was the miracle and so the timid, soft eyed, smiley puppy (she looked a bit like toothless in ‘How to train your dragon’) joined our family.

I started training her at 4 months old and the local dog trainer helped me to get her to walk next to me instead of at my heel. I needed her to bump into my leg if there was a hole or obstacle in the pathway. She learned the normal. ‘Sit’, ‘lie down’, ‘turn left’, ‘turn right’, ‘stand’ and, her most difficult command, ‘stay!’. She loved to learn and so perked up for words like ‘lead’, ‘brush’, ‘ball‘ and ‘dish’ and loved to hear the command ‘fetch’ before any of these. Her favourite word by far, was ‘walkies’. She carefully inspected what kind of footwear I was putting on and my trainers definitely led to expectancy in her body language – the ears pricked up, mouth smiling with an I-think-she-is-taking-me-for-a-walk-but-I-am-not-sure-if- I-can-be-that- excited” look. She even learned to spell: W-A-L-K!

The words ‘bath’, ‘ears’ ‘and the sound of us sniffing the air caused her to disappear to the furthest corner of the house. As she loved to swim, I think the negative connotation of water for bath was her association with our gasps of disgust when she had rolled in poop!!friends Yucky!

As a forced pedestrian I taught her to walk with me on my left side, stop and sit at intersections and wait for my command to walk. Initially she was terrified of the traffic. On her first pavement walk she sat down firmly on her tail every time a truck went past. It was more like taking her for a drag and scuttle….. with a lot of encouragement and coaxing to overcome her fear. Eventually she loved the outings wherever they were.

I tried to teach her to wait whilst I popped into the shop, but she used to whine for me like a tortured baby until I came back to her. Admittedly she was not perfectly obedient, especially when she was off the lead on the command, ‘go sniff’.

Somehow her ‘walkie’ clock was set to 4.45pm daily and I knew the time by the tick-tick of her claws on the tiles as she came looking for me each day. On our walks I learned to read her body language so that I could know if the moving blob was a person or another animal or an inanimate object like a tree. (Once I failed at this and I ended up greeting a recently placed rubbish bin!) I felt safe walking alone or running in the green belt areas. I let her off the lead to go at her own pace somewhere near me as I knew that the command ,’stand’ would cause her to stop in her tracks and wait for me to re-attach her lead. Her company was wholly reassuring and I loved our talks with God and the talks with many interesting people we met on the way. In her last year she was satisfied with a short walk around the block where the local doggy friends got to bark at her at the same time every day whilst she looked straight ahead in the ‘I am pretending not to see you’ game that would humour her and irritate them intensely !

Tina was the family’s very own emotion barometer. She could sense tension in the room and would go and sit in the corner and look away. When someone was crying she would come and put her head heavily on your leg, look up into your face and wag her tail with an “I’m so sorry” indicator. Sometimes I would look at her to know how I was feeling! When I had breast cancer she would not come to me when I called. I knew that there was something wrong, but never imagined that it was with me!

We had to put her down last week and I am so sad, but very grateful. She was like a member of the family and each of us learned something about love from her. Even her new feline sister is now looking for someone to tease.

It is the little routines and habits that catch me off guard and sting my eyes. Yesterday I accidentally dropped a little food on the floor. I pointed to it and called, ‘Tinks’….. The house was so quiet. In the mornings I miss her singing yawn that sounded like a whale ‘hello’ and I automatically wait for the dancing claws at quarter to five.

So long my Tinky Tinks.
Thanks for walking with me.