Using A White Cane Gives Me Confidence And Safety | Mary Hilard

“When you are not totally blind, and you are not fully sighted, you live in a world where sometimes you can see, if the lighting is right, and sometimes, not so much.” – Mary Hilard

The Diagnosis

“You are legally blind,” the doctor said to me, after making the diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa, RP. “Your sight will never get better and probably will get worse.” I was 18 at the time. Being a blind person was not in my life plan, but over the next few years, huge changes in my life plan would take place.

What To Do Next

The Ohio Bureau of Services for the Visually Impaired, BSVI, sent a counselor to get me started in my new role as a legally blind person. He introduced me to the talking book program, which opened the world to me. He set up lessons in braille, which would prove to be an invaluable skill. He also arranged for me to have orientation and mobility training (O&M), with a white cane. But that’s where I dug in my heels. I went through the training, but I knew I was not going to use that thing. It was to me, the sign of defeat, the image of helplessness.

How Wrong I Was

As I look back with my 20/20 hind sight, I see how foolish I was in rejecting the white cane. Many times, I would have been saved from embarrassing stumbling and fumbling if I only had used the tool that would allow me to not only travel safely, but also identify myself as a person who doesn’t see well. You see, that’s exactly what I was trying to avoid, looking like someone who can’t see, while in truth, I would have given the impression of a self sufficient individual if I had used it.

Low Vision, High Confusion

When you are not totally blind, and you are not fully sighted, you live in a world where sometimes you can see, if the lighting is right, and sometimes, not so much. People in your world are just as confused as you are. They aren’t aware that you can’t see, and sometimes they make rude remarks like, “It’s right over there. What are you, blind?” The white cane makes a statement. It tells the people in your world that you don’t see as well as they do. Becoming comfortable with making that statement is the key to success in using a cane. For me, it took a very long time.

Choosing to Use a Dog

I understood the techniques of using a white cane, and eventually, I became more comfortable with it, especially when I was around a group of other people who were blind. As a life-long dog lover, however, I chose to train with my first dog guide at age 37. By this time, I had lost most of my vision. Four dog guides later, I’m still convinced that a dog is the best for me. I can walk faster and with much more confidence, and I love the companionship. However, there are times when I leave my dog at home and take the folding cane down from the closet. When I attend conventions or other functions where there are a lot of people and dogs, I prefer to give her the day off. When I go to a movie or concert, I know she’ll be much more comfortable at home than jammed under a seat on a slanted theater floor. Even when I use my dog on snow-filled streets, carrying the cane becomes a useful tool in probing the piles of snow on the corners, to determine how to get over them without falling on my head. When I go out for a special dinner with a friend, a folded white cane in my purse comes in handy when it’s time to use a public restroom. In other words, the dog is my preference most of the time, but not all of the time.

Choosing Your Cane

I prefer a thin white cane that I can keep folded up until I need it, but there are several varieties to choose from. You can buy one that telescopes or one that is a solid stick. Some people prefer this type, because they are sturdier. You can even buy them with extra support at the bottom. There are several organizations for the blind that sell a variety of white canes, but it is a must that you receive proper training in how to use a cane.

My Identity

I am a person who is blind, but my blindness is not always noticeable. Even when I am shopping with a sighted friend, and I don’t have my dog with me, I carry my white cane. That way, the sales associate will understand why I want to touch the product before I buy or why I ask what color it is.

Not Just a Sign

But I don’t use the white cane just to let people know I’m blind. When I don’t have my dog with me, or a sighted guide, it’s the only way I can get around independently. On a cruise ship, in a hotel, or in an unfamiliar setting, the cane is an extension of my hand. I can feel where my next step will take me. I have visited homes where a flight of steps going down is placed in the middle of the room, a dangerous situation for a visitor who is blind. Here’s where the white cane is a must for me. I never thought I’d say those words, “It’s a must for me,” considering that when I started my journey as a blind person, I wanted nothing to do with the white cane. Now, my appreciation for it is proof of my acceptance, finally, of my blindness.

This blog was originally posted on Vision Aware – October 15, 2014. 

To read more blogs written by this author, visit Vision Aware – Mary Hilard

Age Is Just A Number | Learning After Vision Loss

After becoming legally blind at the feisty and fabulous age of 50, I thought there was no way in hell that I would be able to learn how to use my phone and computer in a different way – nor did I want to.

I was an old, I mean, mature dog, and I did not want to learn any new technology tricks! Nope, Nope, Nope. The terms voiceover, gestures, zoom, screen curtain, three finger triple tap, double tap, speaking rate, reader, invert color, smiling face with wide eyes and sweat drop, and many more, were confusing and overwhelming. Through a lot of turmoil and tears, and picking up my new iPad 1000 different times to give voiceover another try, I realized I had two choices.

One, I could just get comfortable with the fact that I can’t use my computer, iPhone, or new iPad and possibly become so pissed off at that “Siri” woman, that I would eventually track that bish down and strangle her. Or two, I could get uncomfortable and fight through the frustration and fear of learning – so I could stay connected to the world I knew. Obviously, I chose to get uncomfortable and fight.

I am now comfortable and proficient, well, proficient enough to do almost anything via the accessibility features and apps on my iPhone and iPad. I use the zoom and text to speech features on my desktop computer. Sure, I still get frustrated, but I am grateful for all that is available to learn and use, at any age, at any stage of vision loss.

The article below was originally published on Ophthalmic Edge and it really hit home for me as someone who lost her vision at a later age. If you are having a hard time adjusting and learning new technology tricks, you are not alone. Just know that life will be more enjoyable if you have the desire to pull up your big kid panties and commit to learning.

Because age is just a number. This I know.

LEARNING AT ANY AGE WITH VISION LOSS by Dorrie Rush

The path of least resistance is rarely the best route anywhere. There are untold rewards awaiting right outside the comfort zone. This is true for everyone, particularly as we age, and especially as we adjust to a visual impairment or legal blindness.

There is ample proof that physical fitness rewards us with multiple long-term benefits. Learning new skills is in fact, critical exercise for the brain. Just like weight training or cardio workouts, you will love how good it makes you feel.

Learning something new is a process we each have many personal references for. It is similar to our earliest learning experiences: learning to ride a bicycle, to swim, to skate or to play an instrument. At first, the prospect seems daunting.  You are inexperienced, wobbly and unsure. But the more you do it, the better you get. At some point, after a fair amount of practice, it becomes ingrained in your muscle memory. You can now do it without really even thinking about it too much. It has become second nature.

The way you approach learning can be applied to learning anything. For the purpose of adjusting to vision loss, let’s look at it as it pertains to technology. There is no good reason to give up the use of a computer, smartphone, or tablet because of a visual impairment. It means it’s time to learn a new way to use it, employing their built-in accessibility features.

Many people succeed in learning new things, and many don’t. There are 5 necessary elements to getting the job done and they do not require an inherent skill or aptitude. That means, saying you are not good with technology, for example, is not a valid excuse.

Here are the 5 key elements that converge in successful learners:

1. DESIRE

They possess a strong personal desire to learn something specific. They are not doing it because someone else wants them to. Learning to use an iPad is very broad and feels overwhelming. Learning to use an iPad for email, to read a book or a newspaper, is specific and manageable. It’s fine to want to learn more than one specific skill or application, but it is best to learn one thing at a time.

2. INSTRUCTION

They find tutorials or training. The options for instruction do not have to be structured or formal, they can be accessed by phone, online or in person.

3. COMMITMENT

They COMMIT to doing the work and get in for the longterm, determined to succeed.

4. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE

They are willing to PRACTICE every day for 1-hour, minimum. No excuses. Repetition is pivotal to the process.

5. RESULTS

They get RESULTS.  Successful results are the foundation for more of the same.That’s the simple but winning strategy. Do not forget you have an impressive portfolio of successful learning to draw from.

 

The article written by Dorrie Rush (and featured image) was originally published on April 12, 2018 on Ophthalmic Edge.

Tales From The Awkward Side | No. 1

Since losing my vision, I have said the phrase, “Well, THAT was awkward!” many, many times. Yep. There’s no escaping those cringy awkward moments. They’re a part of life – especially when you’re legally blind.

They happen all the time. And yet, the inevitability of a bit of awkwardness here and there, does nothing to offset the embarrassing feelings they can induce. 

A New Blog Series Is Here.

I’ve collected cringe-worthy tales from friends in the Lebers Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON) FB community to kick off my new blog series, “Tales From The Awkward Side”.

We are not alone when it comes to awkward moments due to vision loss. A situation that may have seemed mortifyingly awkward at the time, often become a piece of comedy gold that you willingly share and laugh about. 

Join me in a collective “Oh no they didn’t!” as you read, relate, and recall your own awkward moments. Remember, if it didn’t kill you, it probably gave you a good tale to tell!!

Tales From The Awkward Side

“We went to a park at Christmas to see the lights with my family . There was a fountain and I thought my niece was next to me trying to look in, so I picked her up to look and the child said”mom“ in a somewhat scared voice. Realizing the child was not mine, I apologized to the mom and explained to her that I was blind and really was not trying to take her child! Thankfully the woman was laughing! My kids joke and say I probably gave the child nightmares. I felt so bad!” – Chrissy

My husband and father-in-law switched places and then I accidentally gave my father-in-law an affectionate side hug.” – Paige

I have had one of the best conversations of my life, with a really interesting person at a nightclub. It was a mirror.” – TJ Jack

One time, I was at Dollar General with my brother. He stayed in the car while I went in to buy something. I came outside, got in the car, and figured he had gone in because he wasn’t in the driver’s seat. Next thing I know, someone started honking, I look next to me, my brother was in his car screaming, “What are you doing?! Get out of that car!!!” I sat inside of some random person’s car, waiting on my little brother, who was in his own car. The cars looked alike (well, to me at least!).” – Alyssa

Once at church, I was walking around greeting people. I shook hands with a couple and began to introduce myself and have some small talk. They were laughing and saying their answers. I realized during the conversation that they were my neighbor’s from across the street whom I chat with constantly. They were just in a completely different situation so I didn’t even think about them. Luckily I played it off like I meant to introduce myself as a joke. I think they probably knew better!” – Derek

Ok you guys, those are just a few of the gems I’ve collected. There are plenty more tales of awesome awkwardness to share with you, so stay tuned! Meanwhile, I wrote about  a little awkward moment that happened to me – check out this blog from the archives, “Those Moments That Medicate Us”.

Do you have a Tale From The Awkward Side?

If you do, feel free to email your tale(s) to me at: GirlGoneBlind@gmail.com – and I’ll see if I can work it into the series!!

A few last words from GGB – because there is always that one person.

I am not publishing these tales to show that people who are blind live a life filled to the brim with embarrassment and bad luck. Because we don’t. Awkward moments happen to everyone, and if you can’t giggle and guffaw about some of them, well, you need to learn how to. When the awkward happens due to our blindness, I believe we need to hold on to our ability to laugh it off for our own sanity. xx

Introducing my cane | Dr. Amy Kavanagh

I love when other bloggers share their thoughts and feelings about using a white cane.

 

A white cane is not an easy thing to start using. It’s a process that many of us have gone through be it willingly or unwillingly! If you are reluctant to use a cane – reading blogs like this one by Amy, and other blogs in the GGB category “Life With A White Cane”, may help you take that next step towards walking with a white cane. Remember, you are not alone in your struggles. – GGB

Cane Adventures

I started using a long white cane in September 2017. Although I was born with sight loss, it took me 28 years to realise that a long white cane was the solution to so many problems.

I used to think that canes were only for totally blind people. I thought because I was registered partially sighted, I didn’t deserve one. I could manage just fine. I only fell over sometimes right? I only bumped or people into stuff occasionally? I tripped up steps or down curbs now and then. I only got really disorientated and totally panicked once in a while…

Like many visually impaired people I’ve spoken to, my decision to use a cane was a long difficult process of self acceptance. Using a cane means that you are really accepting that you can’t see and that you do find some things difficult. Initially it felt like sticking a…

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What Does It Mean To Be Enough? | Mel Scott

When looking back on five years worth of blogs, there are just a few that still feel important for me to read over and over for myself. I think this one especially is worth revisiting. I changed the name because it applies to everyone.
What does it mean to “be enough?” How does it feel to “be enough?” How will we know when we have reached that blissful state of “enoughness?”

These questions have been churning in my brain consciously for years, and probably subconsciously all my life. Well, I have been pondering on it long enough. I have some ideas that might help sort it out.

To say, “I am enough” is a very different statement than, “I have enough.” We can quantify “having enough:” there is enough food, shelter, or whatever it is that is required. “Being enough” is a bit more allusive. It is a state of mind. To be willing to say, “I am enough” and truly believe it, even for an instant, allows for a feeling of inner spaciousness; a peaceful expansion of consciousness.

I could easily tell you at this point to do twenty affirmations everyday saying, “I am enough,” and eventually you will feel better. This absolutely can be an effective practice. I use it myself but I want to introduce another idea.

A few weeks ago, I had a conversation and the person said to me, “I am sad because I am not enough.” Usually I might have said something like, “Of course you are enough. Look at all the people you have helped and influenced over your lifetime.” There are a lot of dismissive remarks I could have made. This time however, what shot out of my mouth was, “You are right! You are not enough and you never will be, so get over it!” I felt kind of shocked when it spilled out of me, but I realized the truth of the statement immediately. How can any of us ever be “enough” when the To Do List is infinite? How can we be enough when we feel “less than” due to blindness, deafness, or a thousand other physical conditions, or when the size of our pants aren’t the size we have decided is the perfect one? How can we ever be enough when we measure ourselves bya super hero we have conjured up in our own minds? How can we be enough when the mark moves up as soon as we reach it?

We can’t! There is no way! Therefore, to be sad about not being enough means you will be sad about it the rest of your life. That does not work for me.

The way I see it is I can either drop the thought, “I am not enough” and even drop the thought “I am enough.” They really are not useful because a measurement is inherent in both statements. I propose we drop them both. Can you imagine that? You never have to be enough again and you never will feel sad again because you are not enough. “Being enough” is no longer a measurement that applies to us.

How does that feel?

For me, a whole world of guilt-free possibilities just opened up. So much inner space can be created if we get over “being enough.” Let it go and observe how you feel. Take it in and you might breathe easier.

*This blog was orugunally published on BlindAlive | by Mel Scott

19 Blind Blessings I’ll Be Bringing Into 2019

As the years go by, some of the blind blunders and battles that made me anxious, angry, or annoyed in the past have slowly converted into what I’m going to call “blind blessings”.

Personally, going blind in a matter of months was the farthest thing from a blessing. I can’t change my eyesight, but I’ve been able to change my mindset (for the most part) about this unexpected life. For example – I can’t drive which totally sucks and always will, but the blessing is that I get to spend more one on one time with friends and family when they drive me places. Such a better way to think about things. Right?

So, I got to thinking. There must be at least 19 of these blind blessing conversions I’ll be bringing, or dragging kicking and screaming, into 2019. Here is what I came up with – not in any particular order.

My 19 BLIND BLESSINGS

1. My remaining vision. I have most of my peripheral vision remaining – it’s not great, but I use every bit of it.

2. I am able to “see” people for who they are on the inside – their mind, heart, and soul tell me more about them than the color of their skin, choice of clothing or hairstyle ever will. Trust me, this can be good or bad for some peeps.

3. I have met some fantastic people inside and outside of the LHON and blind community. Many of them have become close friends and confidants.

4. Being recognized and given opportunities to speak about ways to support the blind, use and promote local assistive tech, and/or tell my story to large and small audiences — is amazing. Always an honor and a rapidly growing passion for me.

5. I can’t see the extra 20-ish-or so pounds I’ve packed on post vision loss in the mirror. A blessing and a curse.

6. I don’t see the nasty color of my fruit and veggie smoothie. I just drink the sh*t.

7. My friends can see when my wine glass is almost empty. Needless to say, my glass is rarely empty, and I don’t have to think about getting behind the wheel after one too many. 

8. Stemless wine glasses. Enough said. Perfect for #7.

9. Asking for help, or accepting help, isn’t as difficult as it used to be. It can feel a bit empowering.

10. I can tell the difference between peanut butter, plain, and peanut M&Ms by feel. Explains #5.

11. I can “blindly” cut a piece of cake that is a bit more than I should eat. Oops. Gimme a fork. Explains #5.

12. I’m an old dog who CAN learn new tricks. Assistive technology and Apps for the blind are better than ever – they all just take time to learn.

13. I can scroll through my emails and social media, text and make phone calls, plus lots of other stuff – on my iPhone/iPad even though I can’t see the screen.

14. I’m not obsessed with taking selfies. 

15. I rediscovered my creative side. I can create my own images and graphics on my computer with the use of magnification and  Canva.

 16. Spider? WHAT effing spider??

17. My white cane can get me a front row seat if I work it just right!

18. I can still see the color blue. Blue stemless wine glasses would be wonderful for #7.

and

19. My blog is, and continues to be successful. It gets shared all over the world by my awesome followers!!  They are the BEST!

So, there ya go. I know there are more than 19 “blind blessings” in my life – but I’m gonna stick to the – 19 into 2019 – theme here. I want to give a big thank you to all of you who follow and share my blog!! You guys are a huge blessing to me!! Wishing you good health, lotsa love, and heaps of happiness in 2019!! X ❤️ – Maria

What Is It Like To Be Blind At Christmas? | Tamara Gaudet

Christmas is my absolute, hands down favorite time of year.

Has been ever since I was a little girl. I would wait for Santa and hope he heard my Christmas wish. Then, growing up Christmas traditions continued and my love for this holiday deepened further. And now as a 44-year-old, I’m a proud, but pitiful knock-off for Mrs. Clause.

Usually, by December 1st, our home is all decked out. I put up the outdoor lights, although I don’t use a staple gun anymore. I decorate our tree, walls and windows. Hang pictures and hang stockings. But, with this year being such a tumultuous one for many of us, I’m a little behind.

In fact, my Christmas Spirit itself missed the first train…maybe even the second.

But then I realized we NEED the joy. We need the love. WE NEED CHRISTMAS! So, that means I was not going to miss the next train!

Christmas time is so beautiful. With all the sparkling lights, shiny bows, gift wrap and exquisite Christmas trees. It’s hard not to be in awe of it all.

So, when I was asked the question “How does a blind person enjoy Christmas?”, it made me think for a moment.

This Is How…

Do you hear what I hear?

Close your eyes and imagine for a moment nothing but the distant ring of winter bells. Maybe in a song or in the streets. I hear Angels.

Truly listen when you hear a Christmas choir or when children sing. I hear happiness.

Or how about when a gift is given? A gift of a smile, a hug, something desired from Santa or a hot plate of food. I hear gratitude.

Do you see what I see?

With just 1.5% vision, I am able to see the flickering of Christmas lights up close. The darker the room and brighter the lights, the happier I feel.

I also see my friends, family and community coming together to celebrate the holidays and each other. To share memories and make new ones. To give and to love and to “be.”

But most of all, what I see and hear at Christmas is the most beautiful thing of all. Love. It’s kind, generous and all forgiving. It’s honest and compassionate. It knows no limits and knows no fears.

So, how does a blind person enjoy Christmas? I actually hear, see and feel a lot during this magical time of year.

And, I didn’t even mention the delicious and festive food that makes it’s way out and on to my hips 😉

I hope you will allow the love and the joy to carry you through your holidays this year and every year to come. If you do, I promise it will be a beautiful gift for you and the people that surround you this Christmas.

Feel the magic. See the miracles. Bring the joy.

About The Author

Tamara Gaudet is a thought-provoking, motivational diversity speaker. Known for her authenticity, humor, moving storytelling, she delivers a unique perspective and a powerful message based on her own real-life experiences. Tamara’s mission is to create a space where all individuals feel accepted, respected, and valued.

What Is It Like To Be Blind At Christmas? was originally published on Besomebody.com on  December 4, 2017.