Tag Archives: independent living

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!”

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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.

 

Mindsets and jelly moulds

jelly mouldI was thinking about this word ‘mindset’ and how wonderfully it describes the foundational thoughts in our lives that bed themselves down and set, like concrete. They determine how we see life and are created and re-enforced by the values, the culture, and the experiences in our environment in which we grow up. I think that education is meant to challenge our mindsets and prod at the possibility that the world could be different to how we perceive it.

Changing our mindsets is much more difficult than changing our minds.

It is very comfortable and securing to do the same thing the same way everyday as it takes away the necessity to make a deliberate choice. Doing routine tasks in a new way can be very taxing and stressful. Some people even get upset or put out when someone sits in their usual seat at their favourite coffee shop or in church. Silly things that don’t have any real importance become a stabilising comfort to us. No wonder it is called ‘set in my ways’.

Changing our minds is like putting different flavours of jelly in a mould, but changing our mindset means we need to identify the mould and choose a more beneficial one.

Related to low vision     

It is for this reason that when a person starts losing their vision progressively, it takes a lot of emotional energy to carry on doing what they have always done, but in a new way. It is especially challenging for older folk as they have done the same things in the same way for so long. It is stressful and sometimes frustrating, but if you change your mindset by breaking up that foundation of understanding how life ought to be, the limitations are removed and each difficulty can be seen as a puzzle waiting to be solved. We need to be flexible in our expectations and open to creative solutions for seemingly insignificant tasks. One example is, trying to put toothpaste on a toothbrush….because that’s what we do twice a day (hopefully). For those who don’t know, you have to hold the brush so close to your face and it is difficult to aim the white paste onto the white bristles without flicking some into your eye. Why not just put the toothpaste straight into your mouth.

I was finding social interactions more and more stressful because my ability to see faces had deteriorated quite substantially over the previous four years and I had been bumping into things and ‘losing ‘ things a little more often than in the past. All my life I had tried to not stand out as being abnormal in any way. In hindsight, I was not doing myself or others any favours. I identified my mindset as: ‘fitting in is a way to look competent’, then I chose to change it to ‘who needs impressing? ‘I needed to address my own needs above what I thought others might think. This meant picking up my white symbol cane. It was difficult at first because I knew that people would respond to me according to their mindset towards a disabled person – avoidance because of lack of experience or fear of me being a beggar, pity and condescension or glorifying me as some sort of saint. I decided to go ahead anyway and if people see me out and about with my cane, identifying me as having vision problems, then maybe that can challenge their mindset as to what a vision impaired person is supposed to do…. and I just call it an on-the-go public awareness campaign. I appreciate my family supporting me in this community education.

I challenge other low vision sufferers to embrace their needs and set yourself free.

Happy setting

Look alike

Prunes Not being able to see clearly can be very funny at times.

I often stew prunes to add to our breakfast assortments. I like to throw a rooibos teabag into the little saucepan because it gives a nice flavour. The other day I was eating breakfast and the prune had a weird texture …. Like a teabag! (Felt Stew-pid)

Another funny mix up happened when I had emptied some of the contents of my handbag (dangerous exploit) onto the kitchen table. My phone, which has a white cover, rang Tissue phoneand I ran to pick it up. I picked up the pack of travel tissues instead and had a good laugh … same colour same shape … very different acoustics!

After finding two small stud earrings in the pocket of my jeans, I put them on the kitchen table as it is half way between the washing machine and my dressing table drawer. As usual, I was doing about 5 things at the same time and kind of forgot they were there. About 20 minutes later I put a baking pan of warm crunchies on the table to cut them into squares and lift them onto the cooling rack. Of course there were stray crumbs that needed to be disposed of. So once again my tongue slammed the brakes on my brain as I recognised the shape of an earing in my mouth.

Oh crumbs! This lack of sight can be dangerous to ones health!