Tag Archives: vision loss

Inside autumn

Last Sunday morning I stepped outside the front door into the crisp, cool air of early autumn. It’s freshness cleared my nose of cosy warmth and I got a whiff of the ripe hibiscus flowers in our neighbor’s garden. As I tapped my cane down the road I became aware of the bird cries high above me and the sound of wings swishing as little flocks fluttered in formation in preparation for flying north.

Floral dresses  hanging on a rail.
A ‘hanging garden’ of floral prints

I love walking to our church early. Most people are tucked up warm in their beds so it seems as if I have the sounds and aromas of the changing season, all to myself under the vast blue sky. After meeting with a few folk for prayer, I sauntered into the noisy school hall where groups of chattering people gathered and flowed like flotsam on a stream, some sticking with the clumps and others breaking off to connect with the next group. Last Sunday morning I stepped outside the front door into the crisp, cool air of early autumn. It’s freshness cleared my nose of cosy warmth and I got a whiff of the ripe hibiscus flowers in our neighbor’s garden. As I walked down the road I became aware of the bird cries high above me and the sound of wings swishing as little flocks fluttered in formation in preparation for flying north.

The summer fashions have been so flowery this year. To me it looked like swirls and waves of floating leaves, bobbing blooms, twirling flowers and colliding colours as ladies greeted and turned with fragrant perfumes wafting lightly on the air after them as they made their way to their usual seats. The trousers and shirts stood more solidly like tree trunks stepping determinedly in straight lines, stopping to nod at other pillars of clothes.

I smiled to myself, grateful that I get to see this inside garden of flowing lives in an unusual way. I think that Seeing must sometimes get in the way of experiencing.

After COVID 19, my theme tune is, ‘when will I see you (this) again?’

Wheelchair ramps to get …online?

Diagonal view of a text file on a tablet.

Showing text on a digital device

We all know that navigating public spaces in a wheelchair can be difficult, if not impossible, without ramps. As we move more into the online space, the ramp issues fall away, but the visually impaired now get access blocked by unconsidered design steps.

The online platform is largely visual and, thanks to innovative geeks and coders, there are fantastic software programmes and Apps to access this space on audio. …that is, if the developers comply to accessibility guidelines. Safari browser has a reader button that cuts out all images so only text is visible. This is useful for screen reading aids, but is often overwhelming for low vision or dyslexic readers. Text enlarging programmes are expensive, require training and need continuous upgrades. 

Many totally blind users access text online using open source or purchased text to speech software. If one is new to blindness, it takes time, opportunity and money to learn the necessary skills to access basic word processing technology. It is a mission, but not impossible. 

Whilst I am grateful for organisations that provide such services, my heart lies with low vision users, who make up over 90% of the visually impaired people in South Africa…many of whom are seniors. They can see too much to learn Braille and see too little to read large print. 

People with central vision loss, or macular degeneration, usually navigate the physical environment using landmarks and peripheral visual clues. E.g I walk 3 blocks and then turn left at the funny tree, then I use the entrance just after the dustbin and walk down the corridor to the person behind the counter where the red chair is. This way, a person who cannot see signs or faces appears to have no vision problem. The same goes for navigating online. We look for ‘clues’. A white stripe at the top right corner is probably a search bar. We can see where the edit boxes are, but the fancy greyed out description of what to write, is elusive. On familiar Apps we press the 2nd blob of blue, or the top left edge to go back. Who knows what is actually written there. 

With fancier designs on screens and moving images on websites, it is increasingly difficult to actually read a new or unfamiliar site. Often the writing is over an image and many times the colour of the font is the same as parts of the image. This causes visual clutter and is very confusing. 

One in ten South Africans struggle with dyslexia and, similar to low vision, have confusing sensory input that causes frustration, and sometimes even hopelessness. One does not want to take away all the fun from web and App designers, but keeping the space inclusive for those who are text handicapped, will increase the users experience and likelihood of returning to that application. 

Simple, logical and user friendly colour-coded areas would make navigation much less stressful for more people than you would think. 

Banks, public services and transport networks could really do with being more aware of the needs of people with sensory processing issues by considering sound-scaping, landmarking and simplifying, increasing contrast and colour coding to include the text handicapped. Who would not want 5 million more satisfied customers? 

 If reading is a right, then I trust that my writing this is a worthwhile read.  

Electric Books

Oh, my word!

Words create. Grouped together they form ideas, clarify concepts and uncover emotions. They can be breaking or healing, creating or destroying. Words, like single. little bristles on a hand crafted paintbrush, gather together in choreographed groups to curve, colour and create images that appear uniquely in every reader’s mind. Being able to see them, read them aloud, digest them and allow us to continuously form new thoughts, and so,‘in my book’ (excuse the pun) are a basic human right.

Recently my son drove me to the local library to pick up an audio book from the rather limited selection. AS we walked in I was overcome by the nostalgic smell of old books – a blend of dust, leather and tobacco…with a faint whiff of old style floor polish. It instantly raised the memory of my grandfathers study. I sniffed the air and reminisced aloud. He too, was yanked into memory lane by the smell of the pages, mindful of the joy of choosing childhood favourites that opened new worlds of adventures.

Tables of old library books filled the foyer and people of all ages, shapes and sizes were scanning through the treasures in search of those classic gems.

Acrid jealousy hung in my nostrils as I grieved the loss of being able to read a book. The fleeting emotion of self pity wafted over my heart with the loneliness of not being able to join this assortment of people enjoying the hunt.

Then I took my thoughts in hand shooed them towards thankfulness. It is a privilege to live in thees modern times where technology gives me access to electric books.

My cell phone does not quite have the same memory jolting scent (yet) but I do , with some double – tapping and poking around, get to listen some great books. Scan reader apps, and a little more effort, also allow me access to ordinary books and, for those with the privilege, there are some excellent audio libraries online.

My recent introduction to artificial intelligence, gives me much hope that the advance of technology will once again allow us blindies to put our noses back into old style books.

…and that’s not my last word on it.

Sunshine Surprise

It was a cold, crisp Friday morning as I pulled on my gloves and headed down our sunny driveway to start my day. I had a spring in my step as I headed into the sunrise with all the joys of a new day playing hopefully in my minds eye. Our complex was peaceful and I presumed all residents were out an about, so the “hello” from the shadow bumped me right off my rails. I let out a whoop, quickly followed by a laugh and I think my neighbour got a bigger fright than I did.

Oh, the joys of low vision and not being able to see anything in a shadow!

We both recovered with friendly apologies and explanations…and now he knows that my mobility cane is not just an optional accessory.

Low vision awareness, happena one awkward moment at a time.

Tongue in cheek and other mishaps

So one of the ways us ‘blindies’ get to manage tasks that require sight, is to use our tongues. As you and any damaged dental feature would know, tongues are independently intelligent, super curious seekers of adventure that can identify little ridges, gaps, holes and glitches. So, when my iPad is not at hand and my fingers are not managing to identify intricate detail, I give the task over to my tongue. It helps me find matching earrings, the eye of a needle, the type of screw or the hole in a bead.

So today I needed Andre to help me buy placing a blob of quick- drying Superglue on a little bracket to keep it in place. He put on his reading glasses (yes, we are that age) to do the job. The glue was not coming out, so I took the bottle out of his hand, put it in my mouth to feel the clogged spout and proceeded to bite off the plug of dried glue. As I pulled the bottle away I felt the glue on the tip of my tongue, the inside of my bottom lip and the back of my teeth. In terror of these all sticking together forever I bared my teeth and stuck out my tongue like a shrieking gargoyle until it all dried separately – not a pretty sight!

For future reference, the glue came off my tongue easily, it took about 5 minutes to wriggle the matting out of the inside of my lip (with a layer of skin), I eventually flossed some of the dried bits out of the gaps between my teeth and there is still glue on my fingers as I type.

I posted my mishap on a chat with other visually impaired friends thinking I was a bit weird. Well, one of the guys reads his credit card number with his tongue, others test batteries (shocking), read embossing on glass bottles, identify coins (after washing) and find reset buttons on watches and modems.

I know there is a Biblical reference about taming the tongue, but I am heading for training mine … to taste AND see!

How we see it

  • A person holding a picture frame through which they can see a hang glider in the sky.

  • My latest read (which for me means : my latest listen) is a new York Times bestseller by Rachel Hollis called Girl wash your face. I did not picked it our from an exclusive bookstore because of my intense need for ‘self -help’, but because it is free on Overdrive if you are a member of the South African Library for the Blind. I find nothing more relaxing than a well narrated story, whatever it is about.. I was merrily listening along to her insights whilst cooking supper when I heard her say something to this affect, “Whilst you are not in control of what life throws at you, you are in control of your fight. The traumatic stuff that happened to you in your life may not be your fault, but it is in your power to take responsibility for it.”

    I found this so empowering. Yay finally someone gave me permission to be in control…not of what happens, but of how I am going to let it affect me, grow me and shape me!I started to mill over how this statement could be helpful in forming my thoughts about inherited diseases and, my favourite blog topic, living with ongoing loss. We have all had things go wrong in our lives. Life is unfair. (I don’t know who made us think it shouldn’t be). You are not in control of what happens. It is being done to you and, surely someone is to blame? IT’s not fair!!

    The controller

    For many years, my way of dealing with sight loss was to do something to be in control. I thought that by controlling the world around me, that I would feel in control … through leading, achieving, competing, inspiring, … all of which can be good things, but the motive was to cover my pain, to dress up my fears in a brave armour of capability. Praise for the armour straightened the divide between my shriveled, terrified inside ‘me’ and the brave, fearless exterior ‘me’. Eventually the pack of cards has to come down and it is usually the family that get the cards flung into their worlds… so they will then makeup their own little lies about themselves to be able to cope – ‘oh, my pain can’t be as bad as mommy’s’, ‘at least I am not losing my sight’ and, ‘I should be so grateful I didn’t get breast cancer’. What a wonderful way to fiddle with the pain-meter so that you underplay your real feelings and put a little misbelief in there – what pain? Be careful , this thing could explode!

    What I actually needed to control was my response to loss – to change the way I see it.

    So often we compare our ‘wounds’ and either think, “well it’s not as bad as what happened to Jill” or, “what I went through is much worse than Jack so no one would understand me”.

    My wise (give a little space for humanity) and patient husband is involved in helping people break shame off their lives. He has an annoyingly accurate phrase, ‘it is not fair to compare’. He has observed that one person may have experienced extremely violent abuse and another may have remembered a scary boy at school look at them weirdly, but both will pick up pain and make an ‘untruth’ in their brains to help them make this ok. Well, who is in charge of the pain-meter? Who do we blame for it’s existence? Who exaggerates or underplays the calibration?

    Only I can change me

    Another brain smacker form Rachels book – went something like this,”What if you changed your thinking about what happened to you, to the idea that this has happed for you?”

    Buzz, hmm, huh, clink, wha?

    If Stargardts disease happened for me, then maybe my purpose in life can only be fulfilled if I have low vision. Maybe this degenerative disease is the exact catalyst I have needed to press me into a way of seeing that can open up other ways to perceive life and relationships and culture? It has inspired me to search for understanding how a Loving Creator and a genetic mutation can live in harmony. (Article coming soon). This disability enables me to taste wine and identify the butter creaminess, it equips me to hear the level of the liquid being poured into my cup or be aware of the atmosphere in a room.

    I find it so refreshing to have my thinking challenged. The problem is, I cannot do this alone. It is only by allowing other people’s ideas into my current thoughts, letting these ideas make me a little uncomfortable, that I can bounce them around in my head looking for existing points of reference, experience and beliefs and then choosing whether to allow the change or spurn it outright. When these thoughts have existed for years as plasters over a childhood pain, it is particularly unnerving. It is so interesting how we play games with ourselves without even knowing it. I so want to catch myself out! An old saying, ‘the heart is deceitful above all things’ is a wise word. If you think it is-not, you may have fallen prey to its tactics. Anyway, I have a suspicious feeling that my so called ‘heart’ is actually hiding between my ears.

    So today I decided to pull the rip-chord on free falling anxious thoughts and adjust my own pain-meter by just being grateful, present and mindful of my immediate surroundings – to enjoy the blurry view from where I am today! I opened myself to all the things I can be grateful for …the high pitched zing of my desktop magnifier, the smell of washing liquid on my clothes, the purr of traffic far away, the feeling of the carpet under my bare feet. I am in control of my response to my thoughts right now.

    What choice is fully in your court today? Who are you allowing to adjust your pain-meter today?

    P.S. Thanks to Rachel Hollis for her honest and inspiring book and thanks to SALB for adding this to the latest catalogue.

    Eye deal iPhone

    Looking is not really my strong point (understatement), but looking for simple solutions is.

    Problem: Really bad eyesight

    Solution: iPhone

    Yes, the solution for-needing an electronic magnifier, was literally under my nose…almost on my nose!! Such is the posture that shortsightedness dictates. My iPhone had been merrily freeloading in my handbag like a lazy stowaway, until I discovered how brilliantly it can work … for a living.

    Now It works 15 hours a day, on minimum wage, and it is everything from a personal assistant, a talking watch, cab caller, story reader and an electronic magnifier. It is very polite and never complains. Paired with a bluetooth keyboard, it is also a word processor with built in, free screen reading software.

    It requires patience to learn how to handle this versatile creature, but the rewards of a mutually beneficial relationship outweighs the inevitable frustrations of a green apple ….user.

    Just one byte 😉 and you will be hooked.

    ….and live ‘appily’ ever after.

    Check out my first video and share with friends and family with really bad eyesight

    https://youtu.be/FFHbBpOcdvg