Category Archives: blindness

Spring Bouquet for Transit Driver

Yeah, yeah, yeah…it’s Saturday night and I’m going to take advantage of the fact that most people are out on the town, doing important stuff like smooching with their sweeties and I AM NOT! Sigh. Maybe it’s something in the spring air or the effects of drinking the HRM tap water, but I feel a burning desire to give one (I SAID ONE) Metro Transit bus driver a pat on the back, tip of my jaunty beret, nod of approval, and spring bouquet all rolled into one. Given the intense satisfaction I normally derive when I have the opportunity (and there are plenty of them) to blast Transit drivers (see earlier blogs), I feel oddly conflicted and confused about this new-found bus driver appreciation…but here goes; On Friday, I was riding the #14 bus, bound for the UU church on Inglis to rehearse a ‘green opera’ which I am writing and co-directing (don’t ask. I’ll tell you about it sometime). The driver was a little behind schedule, not unusual for a Metro Transit bus. It was past peak hours minutes (This IS Halifaxl) so the bus was not the packed sardine it can it can some times. I lulled into my typical bus stupour but remained minimally alert, which allowed my brain to count the turns that the bus was making (to figure out where to get off…driver had not asked me, and I thought he had sounded a tad frazzled and would probably forget to tell me anyway). It turns out that I need not have bothered. I also did not need a compass or GPS to realize that the collective, “Hey!” from passengers (Oh those eloquent St. Mary’s students!) meant that we had blown by Robie street without making the #14 route’s right hand turn off of South Street. The driver realized what had happened quickly enough (maybe it was the three panicky students who swarmed the guy within 2.749 seconds of realizing that the bus was off route). I listened to the following exchange between the driver and students ( they had quickly lurched forward to stand next to the driver, I-pods temporarily disconnected from their heads to allow their ears access to their cell phones;
Driver: “Sorry, I’m used to working the #41 route…it’s Friday….I’m so sorry.” (#41 goes right up South)
Student A: “Is this the #14 or not?”
Driver: “Sorry, I apologize…it’s Friday”.
Student B: “Are we going anywhere near St. Mary’s? I’m supposed to meet someone in…3 minutes” .
Driver: (sounding very tired) “I don’t know where to turn around”
Student C: “Are we going to go back to Robie Street or not?”
Old geek sitting across from me: “What the hell is going on?!!”
Driver: (to the driver of a passing bus he had waved over) “I have no idea what to do. Where can I turn around? What would you do? I’m ten minutes behind schedule as it is.”
Other Driver: “Just get back anywhere on the route. Happens to me all the time”.
Driver: “I don’t want to leave anyone behind on Robie or Inglis which is what’s going to happen if I blow off the route”.
Other Driver: “Do whatever you feel like” (he then left, helpful soul that he was)
Student A: “Is this the #14?”
Student B: “I’m getting off right now!” (at which point he leaped off the bus as though his pants were on fire)
Student C: “Is we still in Halifax? I’m not from here…”
Student A: “Is this the #14?”
Driver: “Everybody sit down please. I apologize…it’s Friday” (he then drove off as though his HIS pants were on fire).
We embarked on the most unusual of bus trips. We headed east, then maybe south and west…north even? I had no clue where I was, but I did not seem to mind (how unusual for me…hence my feeling of confusion). People cursed and grumbled and sighed and tisked all up and down the bus.
Me: “Can someone please tell me where we are?” (The driver was still busy driving like a man possessed).
Student C: “I don’t know where I am either”.
Old geek across from me: ” The son of a. b..ch is going back to Robie Street to pick up his route where he left off!”
Upon hearing this news, I felt an unexpected appreciation for this driver (who was still apologizing profusely as anyone got off his bus). When we finally reached my stop, (some 20 minutes off schedule by now and way too late for rehearsal),
I said to him: “Don’t worry, stuff like this happens all the time to me too….it’s Friday!”

Dear Louis

Dear Louis, happy birthday buddy. At your age (200), you probably take birthdays in stride. I am writing to pass along greetings and best wishes from a few kids here in Halifax. I gotta tell you, I was a little disappointed in the overall lack of interest at the Braille 200 Day booth at the mall today. I was feeling a tad depressed about the whole thing for a while there, having schlepped so much stuff over to the community booth, including my Perkins Brailler, a Braille alphabet chart the size of Manitoba, some items for the raffle, a ton of pamphlets and information sheets telling people all about you and the system you developed for blind people. I had made (lovingly and painstakingly), commemorative bookmarks. Preparation for your celebration have taken their toll on my wallet (Braille card stock, printer ink etc) and my time. I had day-glow yellow posters  made up to  advertise my offer to Braille anyone’s name for FREE!!! I had a neat display of Braille children’s books, metal tags (you know the kind I sew into  my clothes to identify their colour- PK=pink, GN=Green, RD= red etc), phone and bank statements, playing cards etc. I got so bored sitting alone at my booth, that I started to write nonsense on my Braille machine, just to pass the time…”If one more person comes to ask me for directions to Athlete’s World or the washroom, I will ask Opal to attack…”  I couldn’t believe that thousands of people could be so hell-bent on shopping and totally uninterested in you and your special day. Finally, some kids came to ask me for their name in Braille. I cheered up instantly. I sent them off with sticky labels and cue cards with the appropriate names on each. I told them about your birthday and they asked me to wish you all the best. Only ten people picked up my bookmarks and I have plenty left…looks like I may need to do another mall shift in the next week or so (groan). Maybe they’ll have shut down the Christmas music by then…Hey! Maybe I’ll bring some to church tomorrow and see if any UU’s want to feel you up! Take care, my friend. I hope you make it to 300 and beyond.

Hey Butthead!

Thanks a lot buddy. Yeah you, the nameless smoker who flicked your LIT cigarette butt into the air by the Walmart entrance today. Yeah, I realize it was cold out and you were caging that smoke as long as possible before entering the insanity that is Wally World two days before Christmas.  Plus you couldn’t be bothered disposing of the disgusting dregs of your addiction properly, like in a receptacle, oh no, you had to toss that flaming fag, without glancing where it might land, like ONTO MY GUIDE DOG, Opal! That explains why she became startled… I had no clue.  I thought it was the foot traffic making her nervous, until someone told me what happened, expressing their outrage about it to me, long after you had blown into the store while exhaling the smoke from your last drag (into somebody’s face, no doubt).  I bet you’ve started a forest fire or two in your day, huh? You’re the kinda dope that tosses butts (and beer cans) out the car window as you speed down the road. Sheesh! Here’s my Wise Advice for you. Give them up for New Year’s, you creep. Get the patch! Arm yourself with mints and toothpicks. Sign up for support groups, acupuncture, psychoanalysis…but give me a break and leave my dog out of your pathetic path of destruction. And hey! quit smoking and you’ll start to feel better, smell better and sound better. The extra bonus for the rest of us is that you will decrease your share of the smokers

burden on the health care system.

Back to Basic Blogging

Enough with the touchy-feely Christmas stuff! I just found out that my blogroll links disappeared when I activated the winter scene theme recently. So you sighted people can suck it up! Back to my preferred basic blogging theme. I’ll leave the falling snow flakes, but that’s as far as I’m going with this winter wonderland crap. They’ll mercifully disappear automatically in January (assuming I’m not rendered comatose from mock turkey tryptophan by then, or launched into a candy cane sugar high, making me incapable of hitting the keyboard in a sensible fashion).

Let Your Fingers Do the Walking

It doesn’t take much to excite me. My compadre , Troy (a blind guy) made the mother of all discoveries this week, after much finagling and phoning to the Yellow Pages folks in search of a free, searchable,  information phone service for the Yellow Pages. He found a wonderful, little known tool and shared it with me. Now, we are sharing it with EVERYONE.  This is free!!! What makes it particularly exciting, is that, now I can ‘browse’ the Yellow Pages, just like the sighted folk. It’s accessed through a toll free number here in Nova Scotia. You call the number, (you can opt for a short tutorial), and say, for example, “Halifax, Nova Scotia”. Then say, “pizza”, if you are hankering for a pie. The ‘automated attendant’ or voice menu will ask you if you want, “Pizza Restaurant, delivery, or any pizzeria”. I chose “delivery”. Then, the clever interactive voice offered me 10 choices.  I didn’t really want a pizza, but hey, if I had… Then, I tried “photographers”, “shoes”,  “plumbers”, “banks” and more.  When searching  for shoe store options, I was asked if I wanted to “search by neighbourhood, near a landmark, near an intersection or city wide “….and so on.  I listened to  a list, and could choose to “connect, get the address, or get the number”. 

This is a minor miracle for me and other blind people who spend many an hour fritzzing around with the regular 411 service in search of numbers for stores or businesses. The only business or store umbers we can get from 411, are ones WHICH WE KNOW THE NAME AND LOCATION OF!!! So, for Nova Scotians, the toll free number is: 1-877-310-9356. Blind people! Program it onto your speed dial!! Let your fingers do the walking.  For  most of the rest of Canada, the number is even simpler: 310-0411. This works for land lines or mobile phones. The web site, is there too, of course for the computer geeks (www.yellowpages.ca). My only caution is, to speak clearly, ’cause sometimes the ‘automated attendant’ says, “I don’t  understand you”…story of my life.

Do Guide Dogs Misbehave?

Short answer to this question? Yes, of course! They’re dogs, just dogs with special training. All dogs will misbehave, given the opportunity (and all you people with allegedly ‘perfect pooches’ need to rethink that plan to nominate your canine for sainthood!)

I must say that I get a lot of comments from people (bus and taxi drivers, store keepers, hospital staff etc.) who remark that Opal is a very well behaved dog. I would agree, given what I’ve heard about other guide dogs, much to my surprise and horror.  Sure, Opal has been known to lick women’s bare feet in public when I’m not paying attention.  Her passion for soft and fuzzy things has overwhelmed her more than once too; she stole a ladies gloves off a seat at the ferry terminal once, and she has tried to boost a stuffed animal or two from Walmart’s and other stores. Ok, so maybe she has also shredded a basket  (‘off the job’) and torn several pairs of my panties into confetti. At least I caught up with her when she tried to destroy my bra, in time to rescue it. See a pattern here? Oral fixation…jaws and tongue in action? Like many labs, she loves to carry stuff. The first thing she does when  her ‘saddle’ (harness) comes off at home, is to pick up the nearest object that will fit in her mouth and run like a dog possessed.

I have said this more than once: Dogs are a lot like kids. They are opportunistic.  They need good structure, routine  and enforced rules in order to behave like good dogs. I think that most of the stories I hear from cab and bus drivers about guide dogs jumping around, barking, annoying the driver or passengers (!!!!) in their vehicles, is not about a ‘guide dog being bad’.  Nope. It’s about a handler that does not ‘sort their dog out’. These are the handlers that give the rest of us a bad name by allowing the public to develop a negative impression of guide dogs. I have been at functions with other people who had guide dogs, in one instance, 35 blind people and handlers. All  were relatively very well behaved (even the people). I have also been at meetings, and parties where only one other guide dog and handler were present, where  I became irritated beyond belief (the handler irritated ME, the dog irritated Opal), ’cause the handler was asleep at the switch and not paying attention to, or doing anything about his wandering and misbehaving dog.

The off-duty guide dog will eat that chocolate birthday cake, those half dozen blueberry muffins (low fat), the marinating steaks etc. IF THEY HAVE OPPORTUNITY. They will bother your guests, demand attention, ‘act out’, just like small children, unless you enforce the rules which YOU  create, consistently. It makes them feel more secure to know who is leader of the pack (or parent). It is  really about ensuring that they do not have opportunity, and preempting the food theft, destruction of property, annoyance of guests etc, BEFORE IT CAN OCCUR. Put your stuff away! (like my panties which should not be lying on the floor next to the hamper). Put your foot down  firmly (but do not carry a big stick!–be kind and fair to your dog).

Halifax Explosion’s Blinded Victims Remembered

Yesterday, I received a blog comment from a fellow named, George. It came for moderation and was directed off the ‘about Helen McFadyen’ page. George asked why I had not mentioned the significance of the day, particularly in light of the many victims who were killed, disabled, blinded…and my oft-spun blogs on the subject of blindness , “but being a PFA (Person From Away) it might not be familiar” to me….To tell you the truth, I did not ‘twig’ right away. I thought he was referring to the tragic news item from Afghanistan,  (100th Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan) and that he was in some sort of reminiscing mode about Veterans. I’ve been woefully overworked, and writing ‘real’ articles and documents like a woman possessed (actually I’m a woman possessed by deadlines). so much so, that I had a restless night (that and my killer joint pain from this lovely, damp weather). But then, it struck me. I was mentally calculating dates (Christmas and all the billions of pot lucks and other events that require attendance) when I  decided to get up and check my Braille calendar. Thank you for the wake-up call, George. Of course, I am very familiar with this significant piece of Canadian/Nova Scotian/Haligonian history. I obviously missed the radio news reporting on local ceremonies.

Yesterday’s date was December 6th.  91 years ago (1917) on this date,  at approximately 9 am, the city of Halifax experienced the biggest man made explosion the world had ever seen. It came to be known as the Halifax Explosion. Before the sun went down that day, more than 1000 people would die, 1000 more would die later, and 9000 would be severely injured or maimed. Any person (including PFA’s) who lives in Halifax for a little while, will learn about this event. It is marked by solemn ceremony every year, and the local media always attempts to cover it in a big way. What happened? Canada was preparing for war (the Big One). The Halifax Harbour was busy. A Belgian relief ship (Imo) was preparing to clear the Bedford Basin, bound for Europe and the war. As it was going through the Narrows, the French munitions ship, Mont Blanc and the tug boat, Stella Maris which was towing two barges, all converged. A flurry of whistles followed, as the ships tried to figure which was passing to which side. The result, was a collision between the Mont Blanc and the Imo. The Mont Blanc was loaded with TNT,  benzol fuel and picric acid. The immediate result of the collision was smoke and fire. The Mont Blanc drifted towards the shoreline as it burned and smoked.  This scene drew curious people to their home and workplace windows to watch.  The CBC sums up best what followed; …”The steel hull burst sky high, falling in a blizzard of red-hot twisted projectiles on Dartmouth and Halifax.” The aftermath also included a tsunami-like wash of water (as high as 18 meters) over the survivors.

Result of Halifax Explosion:

  • In the Richmond area,  the destruction was so total that people could not recognize where their homes had been.
  • In the North end, entire streets were in flames as wood stoves, lamps and furnaces tipped over.
  • Firefighters came within hours from Moncton, Springhill, Amherst and Kentville, but their equipment (hoses) would not fit with differently-sized Halifax hydrants.
  • By noon hour the  officials  had gathered at city Hall, and The Halifax Relief Committee was put together in 45 minutes to begin to deal with issues of shelter, transportation, finance, food. Later that day,  more committees formed; medical relief, mortuary, fuel and Dartmouth Relief committees.
  • Medical aid began to arrive to support local hospitals. Aid stations sprang up. Massachusetts was a significant contributor of assistance (Halifax continues to send a huge Christmas tree to Boston every year as a symbolic thank you). Emergency triage treatment included amputations,  lacerations, eye removal, and life-saving surgeries.
  • Eye injuries and blindness were experienced by many Halifax Explosion survivors. One reason for this, is the tons of glass shards that exploded out of windows where people watched as the Mont Blanc drifted. Doctor G. H. Cox, an ophthalmologist arrived from New Glasgow to perform 12 hours of non stop eye surgeries.  The explosion caused 600 people to suffer eye injuries and 38 were totally and permanently blinded.
  • Many of the 1500 who died that day, died as buildings collapsed and burned around them.
  • 12,000 buildings were severely damaged. 1630 were completely destroyed. 6000 people were homeless.

 

Thank you for reminding me, George.

Louis Turns 200

January 4th 2009 will mark the 200th anniversary of Louis Braille’s birth. Louis is the guy who poked himself in the eye with an awl at age three, then lost sight in the other eye, just to make things symmetrical (actually it was caused by sympathetic ophalmia). He went to the Royal Institution for the Blind Youth in Paris which turned out to be a major hell-hole kinda place with the usual bad food, tyranny and general beatings and abuse that gives residential schools a bad name. The kid had smarts, no doubt about it. He  fiddled with the cello and played organ all over gay Paris. In school, he got bummed out about the raised letters they taught him to use for reading, so he improvised a bit with Barbier’s (French soldier dude) 12 dot and dash code used for passing tippy-top military secrets in the field.  Louis came up with a  6- raised dot  cell system to represent letters of the alphabet. Voila! Braille was born and would later become  the revolutionary method of communication for the blind. Louis  later dreamed up Braille music notation (being a music buff and all) and years later, a guy named,  Nemeth would create a code for mathematics . The really sad thing about this great achievement, is that Louis died of Tuberculosis at age 43 BEFORE BRAILLE CAUGHT ON!

Look for Braille 200 events in your community. Regardless of whether you have vision or you are blind, if you use Braille or not, support Braille 200 Day activities! Buy that lame demo bookmark! Pretend you understand the explanations given by the volunteer at the mall display of Uncontracted (grade 1) and Contracted (grade 2) Braille and how they differ. Ooo and ahh when you are asked to ‘read’ sample Braille sentences and say, “This is so hard to do” in genuine amazement. Make like it matters! ‘Cause it does. It is critical to promote and maintain the teaching of Braille to blind children and adults all over the world. Why? It’s a neat method of communication.  Example; You can write obscene Braille messages all over your boss’s memo’s and he’ll never know what you said…PLUS you can read in bed without waking your sweetie (no audio, and no lights)…AND  maybe someday, it’ll come in handy when there’s  a global power shortage and all the talking book machines and computers will grind to a halt…like now!

‘Opal Winfrey’, ‘Bubba’,’ Ope’…

You’re not REALLY suppose to call dogs by names other than their real, given  name, but sometimes stuff just seems to roll off the tongue…’in the moment’. For example, I often call Opal, ‘Puppet’. This is my special  term of endearment for her. Admittedly, I have occasionally also saddled her with; ‘Little Girl’, “Ope’, ‘Little One’, ‘Opal Winfrey’, ‘Magoo’, ‘Bubba’, ‘Goofy Girl,  ‘Pooping Machine’,  ‘Destructo’, and ‘You Big Galloot’. I’m sure you can figure out how some of these handles developed. She is a petite, compact dog, albeit a bruiser. She can just about knock you off your pins with her powerful tail or swaggering butt. She plays hard, no doubt about it.  A  ‘waif-like’ woman (which I am NOT) would keel over handling this dog.  Good thing CGDB gave her to ME. ‘Opal Winfrey’ was her nickname at Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind where we trained (Maybe it had something to do with her being a black, powerful bitch…oops. Did I say that?!). As for ‘Bubba’, that came in a dream… weeks before Opal entered my life.

Several weeks before I left for Manotick , Ontario to train with the dog that would eventually be my guide dog, Opal, I had this dream. Realize that one does not learn any details about the dog which the guide dog training school is planning to match you up with,  until after you arrive on scene.  I  had no idea what breed or sex of canine I was getting, nor did I  know the  name of this dog…until the day we met (that’s for another blog or book chapter). I had been reading the CGDB pre-training material . I listened to  a CD and learned about the expense of training a dog/handler team ($35,000.00+). I worried about the difficulties the school might have in finding a dog for me.  When I lapsed into dreamland that night,  I saw myself at the CGDB training Centre. There I was… sitting in a room,  about to learn the details of my dog’s pedigree. The chief instructor came in and sat on my cot ( apparently they could no longer afford beds for their clients). She  said, “Your dog is an  8 and 1/2 year old miniature collie mix”. I asked her, in horror, why my  dog was so old and so small. She replied, “Money, there’s little of it. We can’t afford pure bred dogs any more. We collect strays and train them”.  She added, “Don’t worry, he’ll take up so little space in your  home”.  Then, I asked  about the dog’s name. “Bubba”, she replied.  Mercifully, I awoke at that point in my dream.   I later mentioned this nutty dream to the real chief instructor when I spoke to her on the telephone, a day or so before leaving for Ontario.

I recall sitting in the lounge at CGDB several weeks later, having just arrived there the day before.  This was the big moment when we (me and  people I was training with) were  being told the details about our dogs. My turn finally came.  I held my breath. The instructor had an impish smile in her voice when she said, “Helen, you’re NOT getting a dog named Bubba…you’re dog is a black lab bitch, named Opal IV.” The rest…is history.

One Seat, One Fare…Many Victorious

The Supreme Court of Canada has rejected an application by Air Canada, Air Canada Jazz, and Westjet for permission to appeal the new policy imposed by the Canadian Transportation Agency in January of this year.  The CTA  had issued an order to the airlines to adopt a policy of ‘one person, one fare’. In the past, passengers with disabilities and those that are deemed disabled because of obesity, could sometimes be charged two  fares if they required extra space to accommodate their wheelchair, stretcher, or if they required two seats because of their size or if someone required an attendant.  The airlines argued that the CTA order would cause “undue hardship” (implementing this directive would be too costly…the CTA did not buy it and suggested that costs would be recouped by charging an additional 79 cents per ticket).  The airlines will no longer be allowed to charge a second fare to accommodate anyone who requires two seats because of a disability or obesity. This only applies to flights within Canada.

Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians president, Robin East, won a  victory complimentary to the “one seat, one fare” decision in a CTA ruling against Air Canada and Air Canada Jazz in June of 2008.  I know this man. He stands over 6 feet 2 inches tall. He travels a great deal…with his guide dog. He explained to me that sometimes, the airlines (Specifically Air Canada and Air Canada Jazz) would not provide him with adequate space for his guide dog when he traveled. (Airlines would  provide an extra seat (or bulkhead seating on Westjet) as a courtesy, only when the flight was not sold out. (I have flown at least once on all three airlines with Opal. Twice I got the extra seat, once I did not. The time I did not? Not too comfy for us…and I’m 5’2″)  Often, Robin would end up scrunched into a center section seat with his dog wedged between his legs, sometimes for hours. This is a horrendous hardship on the dog, the handler and the adjacent passengers don’t care for it much either).  As a result of the ruling, these airlines must now provide sufficient  floor space for registered service dogs who fly with their handlers (within Canada) on all aircraft that have over 30 seats.

I’m ‘Irked’

Actually, I’m a little busy, hence the inactivity on this blog.  Some things take priority over blogging…like REAL writing (a book-like thing in development) and elderobics classes (don’t ask) and baking apple custard tarts. However, some readers obviously continue to cruise through current and past entries. They have differing ideas on what types of blogs they enjoy most. ‘Joefun’is a devoted fan of the rant. He would have me bitchin’ every day of the week. Others? Not so much. One guy who has been attentive recently is the editor of Irked Magazine, an Internet publication that merits a look-see.  He wrote to ask if I would allow Irked to republish a couple of  my past blogs. You’d  think, given the name, ‘Irked’, that it would have been a request for a ‘big blow’, the likes I am occasionally known to produce. Not so. The ones Irked is interested in,  have to do with guide dogs and the handler’s experience. Irked, can be found at http://www.irkedmagazine.com . Check it out if you are interested in the “culture of disability”, as wikipedia puts it.  Link from blogroll (which is getting a bit long, eh?)

And Then, Some Days…

As a follow up on my last blog entry…

Some days, it is NOT all about the dog, but the dog AND handler instead. Such was the case yesterday in Montreal, as Guide Dog Users of Canada held their Annual General Meeting and conference. As a member of this organization, I would have loved to have attended the conference,  but financial circumstance dictated otherwise. Instead, I joined the group from the comfort of my home, via my computer and the ‘live stream’ on the Internet. Remarkably, I listened to the familiar voices of some of my friends as business was conducted and presentations were made (dog first aid and dealing with dog attacks).  I guess I can let the dog out of the bag and announce that I was elected to the Guide dog Users of Canada board as a member at large…all from the comfort of my home! I missed out on the supper at ‘Guido’s and Angelina’s’, an Italian restaurant on Atwater, but it sure was nice to get a feel for the event from this great distance. Great job you guys!

It’s All About The Dog

Yesterday, I was trying to get into my cab at the local Sobey’s grocery store when a man called out, “Excuse me..” I thought I was blocking his path (it’s a narrow squeeze on the sidewalk by the store entrance). I hustled my heavy bag of groceries into the back seat Opal and myself into the front. Again, I hear, “Uhm, excuse me”. Now I am wondering if I dropped something. Or, maybe I’m supposed to recognize this guy’s voice and the body attached to it? No, none of these. He continued speaking to me through the open taxi window. “Is your dog from Ontario or the USA?” It suddenly became clear to me. This was a ‘Dog Stop’.

At the training centre of Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind in Manotick, Ontario, one of the topics we covered in the ‘theory’ part of the training, was our responsibility as Guide dog handlers to maintain a positive attitude with the public who observe and question us as a guide dog team. I understood the rationale of educating people on guide dog etiquette and of being an exemplary representative of CGDB’s program. I did not have any idea how significant a part of my life this would become. People with pet dogs often comment that their dogs are a vehicle for social interaction, even a means of getting a date. But guide dog handlers? We are a curiosity that gives rise to an open invitation for interrogation, conversation and  commentary. Mostly, it’s all about the dog. The top questions? “How old is your dog?”, “What’s your dog’s name?”,”How long have you had your dog?”, ” Is it a female or male”, “Is that a Seeing Eye (NO!)/ Guide dog?”, “Is that a black lab?”  Top comments? “What a beautiful dog!”, “What a smart dog”, “I bet she’s your best friend”, “that’s a well-behaved dog” and so on. I am often approached by people who want to tell me about their dog, sometimes one that is ill or that just died. It seems people think I would ‘understand’ about the loss of their special friend, even though we have never met and are in a public place when they bare their souls.  I have had strangers (on buses, in malls etc) ask me if they can take our photo, though I suspect that I am often cropped out of these images. People who meet us, and do not see us for a year or more will often not remember my name. that’s understandable.  They might not remember MY name, but Opal’s? you bet!

The man standing outside my taxi went on, ” My wife raised puppies for Canine Vision….” I listen politely as the driver waits (meter running) for me to give him a destination.

There’s the (Blind) Rub

My favourite wake up ritual (other than Opal’s hello kiss), is reading my BBC daily e-mail. This morning it did not disappoint. File this under; ‘Interesting stories about the blind’.

The South Korean Constitutional Court has ruled to uphold  a law which states; All licensed masseurs in the country must be registered blind persons.  The 7,100 members of  the Korean Association of Masseurs led noisy protests leading to this victory, even jumping off bridges into the Han River which runs through Seoul. There are 200,000 unregistered masseurs who claimed that the law discriminates against them. The law to restrict masseurs to people who are blind, goes back to 1912 when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule. The US military government abolished the practice in 1946, but it was reinstated in 1963. Non-registered (blind) masseurs can face heavy fines or imprisonment.

The most interesting part of the article was the  statement released by the Korean Constitutional Court:  “Massage is in effect the only occupation available for the visually handicapped and there is little alternative to guarantee earnings for those persons”.  Welfare experts in the country say the law helps blind people make a living in Korea, but it makes employers in other fields less likely to hire the visually impaired, thus adding to workplace discrimination.

In the wake of the 100 jobs lost in Atlantic Canada which resulted from the CNIB axing its Caterplan (allegedly only 14 blind people are no longer being ‘Catered’ to), I thought this might inspire someone to organize a new industry or make work program for the blind. It  sounds like reasonable employment for people who are  blind to me…beats washing dishes at a cafeteria, assembling cardboard meals, or checking coats for drunks at the local Casino, eh?

Thank God I’m a PFA

I’ve been cross-blogged. Cross blogging is not unlike cross checking in hockey. A local blogger caught the doo dad I did on TV re. the service dog park story. She somehow ended up checking me out and has concluded that I am not adjusting well to blindness and feel beset upon by everyone,  and that I use my blog to rant about how the world is unfair to me yada, yada, yada. Hmm. Actually, dear (this IS Nova Scotia where we all get called ‘dear’ a lot) I think I’m OK with my ‘adjustment’ to blindness. I just can’t adjust to being a PFA. For those of you who are in the dark, a PFA is the short version of ‘Person From Away’…a term coined to refer to anyone who is not born and pedigreed Nova Scotian.  It is a term that even appears as a reference in internal government material. Hmm. As a PFA, the first thing I noticed 16 years ago when I got here, (once I got past the charming painted houses, regional accents and general ‘quaint, quietness’ of the East coast) was the perplexing, passive acceptance by the local population of inferior service; at the hands of bad waiters, shoddy contractors, shop keepers and so on. People here tend to also accept cheap or defective products, bad decisions by government bureaucrats etc. Once in a while, you see a spark of complaint or revolt (“Ooo we’re so upset that you want to take away Johny’s school lunch program”)  Being a PFA from Montreal, we tend not to suck it up, but to complain and ACT. Then we go home and sleep well, instead of whining to our spouses or neighbours  behind close doors about it. I choose to blog. My ‘rant’ is a literary device, not an indication of my state of competence and ‘adjustment’.  “GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM!”, I hear. Hmm. I like the sea air and sleepiness of this town, even though no one here (except transplanted PFA’s) speaks Yiddish or understands the true meaning of “vibrant” when referring to a city. You can’t buy a  decent bagel,  French books or interesting art or furniture here either. It is laughable when news of a local swarming generates comparisons to ‘urban life’. PFA s make the world interesting and keep people accountable with their complaints.

Regards the service dog park? Just to clarify, I have no problem with pet dogs.  It’s the  HRM legal department that does. I proposed an enclosed dog park for all dogs. They are the ones who won’t go for it because of “liability issues”.  It’s not that service dogs can’t ‘mingle’ with pet dogs. And yes, I do know that some are running around  off leash with their ‘well adjusted’ handlers in Point Pleasant park. It should be a matter of choice as to whether or not someone wants to let their dog off leash. But then, this IS Nova Scotia and choices are few and I AM a PFA….

Hey Bus Driver…Are You Serious?!!!

Com’ on! Give me a break! When I get on your bus next time, and say ” I want  Spring Garden and Summer street please” in a loud and clear voice, do not think for a minute that you can blow my stop again (like you did today) and YELL AT ME, “You didn’t ask!”, as I get off the bus. Sheesh! Even the guy in the back row heard me tell you where I wanted to get off. Next time, you will ANNOUNCE MY STOP, ’cause if you don’t… I (that is, WE, an entire organization of blind, and partially sighted advocates) will REALLY be inclined to use the incident as the basis for a Human Rights Complaint. I have had it. Metro Transit is spending another million + bucks on security cameras on their buses, because the dirivers’ union told them to?  My bus is held up twice this week for 25 and 45 minutes because the RCMP were asked to board the buses by a nervous driver, to remove some cursing kids from Halifax West Junior High?  Are you serious?  The new microphones pick up sound  on buses (how much did THAT cost?). Give the drivers Tazers and get on with it! You will save a bundle, and I bet the kids will behave a lot better. Not only that, but the buses may be remotely close to being on time!

Give Me a Break!

Hey ‘M’! Yeah, you, the clerk at the grocery store (that would be the Barrington Street Superstore, a subsidiary of Loblaw Canada). Thanks a whole heck of a lot, buddy. Maybe I’m being too harsh on you and should really be bitchin about the flaky and shoddy management of the store. Who knows?! Who cares?! YOU’RE in my line of fire. Do ya think I’ve got nothing better to do than wander aimlessly through your store for 40 minutes after I asked the manager (in expectation of a reasonable and truthful response),  “can someone  WHO KNOWS THE STORE help me find five or six items; produce and bread?” The manager’s mistake was 1- to hook me up with a cashier (you) who does not have a clue where 2- the produce is located (why is that?), 3- can’t find a  produce clerk who would know where their own department’s stuff is located, 4- doesn’t ‘get’ that leaving a blind person standing endlessly ( 5-10 minutes THREE times) in the middle of a store while you disappear who knows where, is not a a good thing, 5- does not ‘get’ (despite repetition) that guide dogs should not be petted, 6- does not ‘get’ (despite repetition) that there is no need for ALL THREE of us to walk endlessly, back and forth through the produce department, after I asked you to find bananas, peppers, apples, and tomatoes, you  could (or should) have managed that all by yourself quickly and easily while Opal and I stayed put and out of foot traffic,  7- you really need to learn what a loaf of multigrain bread is and where to find it (or the bakery department clerk)…’com on! bread?! How hard is that?! 8- should not have been shocked when I abandoned this little shopping nightmare (which should have taken 5-10 minutes tops) after 40 minutes ’cause I had a meeting to get to! What an incredible waste of your time. More importantly, it was a gigantic waste of MY TIME! and totally preventable. Someone (that would be the manager) should have simply told me from the ‘get-go’ that no one was available capable of actually locate anything in an efficient and timely manner. I’d rather be refused help, than go through a frustrating and pointless adventure that tired me, my dog and wasted my time AND left me without the food I wanted to BUY. Did I mention that I don’t like to waste my time? Did I mention (you bet I did!) to the manager that they really should have followed up on the suggestion and offer I made last month to provide free training sessions (touchy-feely, warm and cozy,  non-threatening, unlike my tone today) ) with the bean head  Superstore staff who tend to be totally clueless when assisting blind patrons who want to  SPEND MONEY IN YOUR STORE! This is not about being ‘nice’ or ‘charitable’, it’s about business practice and common sense!

Stuff They Don’t Teach At Guide Dog School

Guide dogs receive extensive training that includes many aspects and exposure to many situations. Ideally, these dogs are raised with people who consistently expose them to ‘stuff’ as pups: all types of walking surfaces such as gravel, pavement, grates, escalators, wood, grass…, all kinds of noises; example: traffic, bangs, shouting, music, clapping, machines…, all kinds of people (kids playing, people in wheel chairs, runners, people performing….), many different types of venues like restaurants, malls, churches, office buildings…., numerous modes of transportation such as cars, trains, subways, buses, airplanes, boats…, and other animals, including cats, dogs, cattle, birds…. and so on. Then they leave the puppy walker and go off to a guide dog training center to practice the skills they will need to help the  blind person with whom they will eventually be matched. Trainers and apprentices harness them up and spend months teaching  them to walk around obstacles, to stop at the top and bottom of staircases, to ignore other people and animals, to respond to verbal commands, arm signals, and foot positions. They learn to disobey or over ride a  command in any situation that would put the handler in danger (Intelligent Disobedience). They practice and practice and are exposed increasingly to more types of routes (busy downtown streets, country roads, suburban areas…) and situations to which they must respond appropriately (stopping when cars back out of driveways, walking through construction zones, ignoring food on the ground, ducking around shopping carts, remaining calm when fire alarms are sounded, ignoring off leash dogs that come up to them….). Trainers try everything they can think of to season these dogs. Umbrellas are popped open, stacks of books are dropped, fans blown and more, all to prepare them for the numerous situations they will face as guide dogs.  They train in hot and cold weather, in the pouring rain and driving snow. All training centers have a resident cat or two because it is likely that some of the dogs will go home with handlers who own a pussycat, or at the very least, will occasionally visit someone who has one.  Once the guide dog school has selected or “matched” their blind client with a dog, they train the dogs some more with the client’s specific size, gait, walking speed, home environment, activity level and lifestyle in mind. The residential (and usually final) part of formal training involves multiple daily training ‘walks’ with the handler, the school trainer and the dog. This month-long period of mind and body-numbing activity concludes (hopefully, but not always) with ‘qualification’ and the blind handler returning home with their guide dog.

But there is ALWAYS stuff that Guide dog schools don’t teach you or your dog. It’s impossible to cover everything. For example, Opal and I once encountered a woman walking a pet rabbit on a long leash. A sighted observer explained to me why Opal was so eager to pause; she was watching a bunny going for a stroll. Then there were the beaded curtains in the hallway of  a local restaurant (I thought  those went out in  the 70’s). It WAS an obstacle, albeit one that she could see through…we figured it out. There was a Halloween costume contest last year at the local supermarket that really grabbed her attention. In fact, she went nutty the first time I put on my balaclava (the woolly thing worn for heists, not the Greek pastry). Then, there was the time a kid vomited on the bus,  and the OTHER kid who dumped a chocolate milkshake over her when we were on the ferry to Dartmouth, a horse on the sidewalk (don’t ask), and the time we wandered into the annual pride parade by mistake and were pelted with silly string. We nearly got pepper sprayed as we innocently tried to get to the library…where a political demonstration was in progress nearby. Opal knew something was wrong when a fist fight broke out between two kids as we walked by them (I yelled at them to stop, or I would command my dog to attack—grin). I discovered that Opal also has a tap dancing  fascination (we saw ‘White Christmas’ on stage and I put on my own tap shoes now and then). One day, a couple of cars crashed as we walked by and left us showered in broken glass. I tore my quad muscle last year and had to walk at a snail’s pace WITH A SUPPORT CANE FOR THREE DAYS (and Opal), because I had no one to care for her. Fortunately, I managed to keep moving at least enough to get her outside to relieve. I’ve heard about one handler who was IN HOSPITAL WITH his guide dog for several days. Totally unfair to staff, the patients, and the dog. Other things?  You discover how to cope with them as they come up. Guide dog schools don’t tell you how to work out the strategy required for intimate times at home with that  new ‘significant other’ without one or the other (dog or partner) getting their nose put out of joint (physically, but more often, emotionally).  Opal put herself to bed at 6 PM the first time my sweetie and I… There might be any number of unusual or unique situations that a handler will face and need to figure out during their guide dog’s working life. Life with a guide dog is ever-changing and a relationship with a working dog is an endless ‘work in progress’.hen t

Voting Day Blues

I have been very hyped about this election. Why?  I have chomped at the bit in anticipation of dramatically and meaningfully casting my inaccessible ballot at the polling station. Let me remind you about the core elements of a democratic vote; secret, independent and verifiable. I have gone on and on, to EVERYONE who will listen and to some who won’t, about the importance of these elements, the sanctity of the electoral process, and how I am denied this right by virtue of inaction on the part of Elections Canada. I am blind, as are hundreds of thousands of other voters. We do not have electronic voting in Canada. We do not have telephone voting. We do not have voting machines at the polls. We do not have Braille ballots. I thought that today I would be pumped and ready to let loose my schpeel at the Presbyterian church where I would be voting. I ran through my dialogue, my diatribe, my kvetching complaint, like a Shakespearean actor preparing for Stratford.

Here’s what really happened. I made it to the church, and found myself outside with a woman in a wheelchair attempting to open a monstrously large door (no automatic opener). I opened it for her, but it was not wide enough. A worker from the poll came and helped to open another door. I commented wryly about Elections Canada and their accessible voting sites. She commiserated. By this point, I had, for some reason, already lost my oomph.  Maybe it’s the time of year, or ‘my time of the month’.  Some one came over as Opal and I walked into the large church basement. The usual useless pointing and “over there” was followed by an arm-grab which I yanked away.  Someone else gave sensible directions to the table I needed.  My ID was requested and checked.  I did NOT give a long-winded lecture on the difficulty blind people have in meeting ID requirements, given that we don’t have driver’s license and many of us have no passport. Some of us choose not to have or use a charitable ID (CNIB) for reasons which are too numerous and complicated for this blog.  I provided my stunning photo ID cards which have a photo of Opal and me posing together (CGDB and the Attorney General of Ontario), but my Guide dog ID cards do not have my address on them, so I added a phone bill. I had considered bringing a Braille bill, but I did not want to be turned away. At this point, the DRO asked if I wanted a Braille template. My interest peaked, as I thought I had discussed this ad nauseum with Silvestre from elections Canada and had confirmed there would be no Braille on the ballot, and to expect the usual flaky template. Now I had no idea what they were offering me.  I asked (just to confuse them) if it was contracted or uncontracted Braille. The had no clue, so I let them off the hook and told them that I knew both, so it did’nt matter.  The DRO put the ballot into the ‘Braille template’ and then came the offer to “come into the voting area with you”. I said I would pass, given that I had this allegedly accessible Braille template in my hand.  Opal and I parked ourselves behind the privacy screen at a little table. I started to read the template. Numbers. Just numbers! I called out, “um, there’s no names here, just numbers”.  The old lady who had grabbed me when I came in, offered to read the names to me. I said that would not do. The DRO guy came over and offered to read them “as they appear in sequence. then you pick the braille number”, he said with full expectation that somehow this would be acceptable to me. I had PLANNED to make a big ‘to-do’, maybe proclaim myself the Rosa Parks of the voting blind, given that I am repeatedly told that blind people ‘have found this acceptable for years’. Instead, I told him “no thanks”, and ” if I can’t read it for myself”…( in a country where government material must be provided in alternate formats by law),  “I’ll have to  spoil my ballot”. He apologised (as everyone always does). I scrawled multiple X’s in allthe holes in my template and ballot and handed it to the old lady. She wisely did not attempt to go into the  insufferably patronizing routine of allowing me to put it in the box, but quickly disposed of it, stuffing it into the ballot box herself.   I walked out, declining someone’s eager offer for me to use the elevator, saying, “my legs are fine, we’ll use the stairs”. I left deflated.   I did not call the media, or my party delegate, or the PM (who doesn’t give a flying f…k anyway), or the queen, or Silvestre at Elections Canada (who I’m guessing was pretty busy today). Instead, I went for my routine blood work and called it a day. I wish I was one of those clever musicians, ’cause I’d be writing a tune tonight…’Voting Day Blues’.

STOP PRESS!!! Megan Leslie, newbie NDP canditate and personal acquaiantance declared winner of Halifax riding! Go get em in Ottawa, kid…and remember your roots…and your blind friends…

Big Al To The Rescue!!!!

Big Al  (AKA ‘Aluion’) is reportedly heading for Canada today. Upon learning about the plight of Blend (Blind) Canadians as they face an inaccessible voting non-machine on Tuesday, Big Al, a resident of Alabama,  boarded a Greyhound bus bound for Nova Scotia at 4 am this morning.  There was some confusion at the bus depot in Mobile, as Big Al dumped a 63- pound  sackful of Canadian coins onto the ticket agent’s counter to pay for his fare. Further disruption  occurred when bus terminal Security spotted him donning an outfit that included hockey equipment and pieces of a 17th century suit of armour.  He claimed that he needed to feel safe and to protect himself while riding the Greyhound, saying, “I can’t be losing my head on this trip”.

Wise Advice summoned Big Al to the Great White North, upon learning that his expertise might bolster the cause of the blind (blend) {See recent comments from Aluion} and lend support to her plan to ‘make a point’ when casting her ballot tomorrow. Big Al has been known to write clever comments and insults on doors in public spaces…in Braille. “He kinda scares me”, said Wise Advice of the southern guru, “Definitely a smart guy, but he must be crazy from listening to several synthesised speech voices on various computers simultaneously”. When asked about her plan to bring public  attention to the inaccessibility of the Canadian Election, WIse Advice said, “Look, I can’t do this alone. If Big Al can fake a Canadian accent, we’ll get him one of those spare ballots floating around to do whatever he chooses with”.

Opal Goes to CBC Radio Studio

When mum woke me up at 4:30 (!) this morning, I thought that we might be going to the airport again. That wasn’t it. Instead we got up and ate breakfast, got ready then got into a cab and drove around. We ended up downtown. Mum tried to get  us into the public gardens so that I could pee, but it was way too early and the gates were closed. We walked a bit and then went into to a building nearby. A guy in a uniform (Jeff, the commissionaire/security) put an ID  sticker on mum.  He unlocked the inside door (great security building) and took us to the lift.  Jeff is afraid of lifts, so he ran up the stairs instead and met us on the 3rd floor. (Poor guy got stuck in a lift once). We went through more locked doors (they must have some very expensive radios in here, ’cause mum said this is a radio station).  A nice lady came over and told mum that she could have coffee while we waited…and she asked if she could pat me.  Mum said no, but thanks for asking.   We sat and listened to the radio. I don’t get it. Why couldn’t we just listen at home? Why did  we have to go to a special place to listen to the radio? They play the same program on CBC radio 1 at home… you know, Information Morning with Don Connolly and Elizabeth Logan?  Don is the guy with a dog named, Oreo.  The lady came back and mum asked me to follow her. We went through more doors. Finally, we found a big room with a table. A lady and a man were sitting and talking to a microphone, like mum has at home for her computer, except these ones were bigger.   I noticed that the man smelled very nice….like a dog.  I’m positive he is Oreo’s dad…so that means he IS Don Connolly. Mum and Don talked and talked into the microphones..blah, blah, blah. I fell  asleep. Sheesh, can you blame me? Up so early, no nap and boring talk. Then mum was whispering very loud for me to wake up. Don and Elizabeth were talking to their microphones again, but not to mum. We snuck out with the lady who had helped us in earlier. When we got back down to the desk at the front, Jeff (who listened to the same radio…they’re everywhere in this place!) told mum that she had done a good job. I thought I was the one with a job! We left, walked a lot, got on a bus and then rode over to the grocery store.  Mum tried to explain that SHE was talking on the radio today. If her friends missed it ’cause it was on so early or they live outside of Nova Scotia, they will be able to hear the interview on the Net. Mum will put a link up when she figures it out. We are both going to rest now.

Like a ‘Price Is Right’ Cadillac Without an Engine

You know you’re not having a good day when you  go down to the laundry room to retrieve your clothes from the dryer and  you discover that someone (that old gaga fart from the 3rd floor) has opened your dryer at least a  half hour before time was due to elapse, and  she ‘forgets’ to shut it, thereby allowing the drying time to tick down to zip. She does this a lot.  I can never quite pin it on her, but I KNOW it’s her …What are you doing opening my dryer in the first place, you old ditz ?!!  It’s not like you can’t tell it’s in use. Laundry basket on top, warm rumbling coming from the machine… and seven other machines empty and idle. Old age is no excuse for downright rude, insane and disruptive behaviour! Not to mention the health risk you created by forcing me to  wear damp clothing  outside in October… because  gee, I hadn’t anticipated laundry sabotage today!  I want security cameras! And guards…with Tazers!… and some big mean dogs on patrol!  Then, just to add some nuts to my banana spit, I  discovered that the damp pile of clothes that I had just hauled up to my apartment, had an unusual smell coming from them. This continues to baffle me. They smell worse now than they did  before I washed them…much worse. Did the old biddie hurl a stinking potion onto them too?   It gets worse.   I had a few minutes to kill before leaving for the movie (‘Blindness’ day), so I thought I’d try out the HRM voting site on the Net.  Yes, it’s the first day of electronic voting in HRM.  I’ve been feeling all happy and victorious about accessible voting for weeks now,  ever since I heard that HRM was testing electronic voting for  the Halifax Municipal election.  Woa! Not too quick with the democratic process happy dance!  My joy fizzled out when I got onto the HRM voting web site start page and discovered that the security ‘descramble’ of letters and numbers DID NOT HAVE AN AUDIO OPTION!!! Good going guys. What are people with screen reading software supposed to do?  It’s like winning a big honking Cadillac on The Price Is Right and discovering that the car has no engine. Sheesh!  Being ever resourceful, I asked my neighbour to come look at my computer monitor and read the scramble for me.   She was ‘visiting’ anyway, at least, just long enough to complain about the ‘thunking’ noise against our adjoining wall.  “Oh that”, I said. “It’s just Opal getting settled in her recliner.”  I apologized and promised to move my dog’s favourite chair from against the wall,. I  gave my neighbour a cookie as she left, shaking her head and muttering all the way back to her lair.    Sigh. Yes, my dog has her own recliner. But it’s VERY old and I WAS going to toss it out back in July…except Opal wouldn’t let me.

In Preparation For ‘Blindness’

No, I’m not referring to preparation for loss of sight. I’m not referring to the skills-learning that someone “going blind”  might undertake…the hours of O&M (orientation & mobility) training with a qualified instructor where someone learns techniques in  the use of a white cane (example: streamline caning, tapping method, sweeping method) and use of sound reflection to determine position and location as well as learning to judge traffic flow etc., thereby allowing a blind person to travel independently. No, I don’t mean the time spent learning about, and purchasing adaptive devices which allow a blind person to read, cook, write, do math, tell time etc such as talking clocks, tape recorders, tactile measuring cups, talking book players, water level indicator, talking calculators etc… I’m not thinking of the exchange of information and tips with others who are blind which provide one with helpful ideas to make a home  safe (removing scatter rugs, and repositioning furniture …) and allows one to  perform the same tasks as they did before they couldn’t see, only differently (cleaning floors by using a grid system,  marking appliances with bump dots to facilitate cooking and cleaning, using elastic bands and large print labels to distinguish containers….) I don’t mean the hours some people (15%) spend learning Braille, first uncontracted or Grade 1 Braille, then contracted or Grade 2 Braille, so that books, documents bank statements, telephone bills become accessible when available, as well as providing a means of ‘writing’ on the go with a slate and stylus,  or reading storybooks to their children..No, I’m not referring to the assistive technology (Jaws, Guide, Window Eyes and other  screenreading software, Kurswell scanning software and other scan- to-speech programs)  that are available which enable blind people (who can afford or otherwise obtain them)  access to the Internet,  e-mail, document writing and reading etc as well as potentially  obtaining education and employment in a more equatable manner so that they earn a living, raise families…essentially the usual happy story, except maybe there’s no station wagon in their driveway.  Nor am I talking about joining blind sports and recreational organization for the usual reasons one joins them, like  getting  exercise and playing  cribbage. I’m not referring to any of the stuff that a blind person learns over time that provides the skills so that they can lead independent, full, happy normal lives.

What am I’m talking about? I’m talking about preparation to attend a screening of the Canadian co-production of the movie, ‘Blindness’, based on the book of the same name by Jose Saramago. This involves researching the plot summary (very disturbing, depicting a world gripped by a blindness epidemic….trouble is, all the blind people are portrayed as helpless, altered and desperate…), linking to articles on the Net, listening to the BBC production available ’till October 8th on Sendspace, following the protest in the USA by the NFB, sending out a media release to local media and responding to those who have requested interviews following the screening tomorrow, and preparing a statement in anticipation that this movie’s buzz (as one which portrays blind people in a vile and unacceptable manner) is accurate.  The  statement would likely ask the people of Halifax and beyond to give it a MISS altogether, NOT support the  filmmaker and theatre by paying for admission to see it, to look beyond Mr. Saramago’s comment that this is a  “allegorical” film and his dismissal of the blind community (who are widely protesting it) as “ridiculous”, and send a message that this film is NOT OK with the blind community…I’m just preparing for ‘Blindness’, ’cause this movie is sending the wrong message about real blindness, and frankly I don’t care if  Mr. Saramago’s literary soul is crushed in the process. Metaphor shmetaphor!

A Blog is a Blog is a Blog…

This is the 173 rd blog I have written. The bean (stats) counter on this page reveals that 13,479 + hits have occurred…and still counting  like Micky D’s keeps track ….”139,000,000,000,001 (bad burgers) served”. Traffic has been low for some blogs and through the roof for others. I am grateful for the interesting assortment of loyal readers and occasional visitors.  I know that some readers occasionally find my opinions harsh, my tone insolent, my satiric wit inappropriate….but I would say this in all seriousness…actually, I think it was Voltaire who said, ” I may not believe in what you say, but I will fight to my death for your right to say it”….

What I do NOT appreciate are misguided comments regarding the content of this blog.  Allow me to explain. It seems an individual is on the receiving end of reading (er, listening to someone read  TO them) SELECT blogs and  select ‘comments’ which I have written in response to  reader comments. That person is ‘disturbed’ by my words. My first thoughts are, (now get this straight ‘reader’/paraphrasing guy!!) you are not reading this yourself. Neither of us knows if you are getting an accurate rendition (verbatim and complete) of what I have written.  Reading is very subjective and interpretive.  Tone, inflection, reading speed, response to punctuation etc are all factors in the process that impact our perception of the text.  You, sadly have no control over that because someone else is reading to you and we don’t know how well they are doing that.  You have apparently not listened to someone read those numerous  blogs I wrote which I know you would find astoundingly interesting, informative, and sympathetic to the human condition.  Assuming that you are getting  an accurate reading of the controversial ones,   my second thought is, GET A GRIP!   Yes, I do have strong opinions about many things…the CNIB for example. That is my right. I have not slandered them. They do a fine job of screwing themselves up.  As for the mayor and my comment about “short guy with a whiny voice”? I talked to him last night. We kibutzed and laughed. He’s OK with me and my blog. He also is grateful that I work so hard for his city without payment…and he IS short and does have a whiny voice. it seems you are the one with a problem. The problem? You are in that horrible, dependant situation of passively receiving bits of my blog via a  third party  because you can not access it independently. Frankly, I think THAT  is more of an issue than the contents of this blog. That aside, I would say that the essence of any communication and voicing of opinion,  lends itself to a contrary or different opinion on the topic by anyone and everyone who hears or reads it.  The minute we open our mouths in the morning and begin saying stuff … ” I don’t like big cities, or Republicans, or Liberals, or the taste of chicken, or the movie last night”, someone else is going to have another opinion. That’s life. You would have enjoyed the blogs I wrote that support your like-minded position….on gay rights, homophobia (see ‘God loves Everyone’)  tips on independent living, fairness to animals and more. Trouble is, nobody’s reading those to you. Hmm. Maybe you should get over to that charitable organization you feel I trash too much and see if they will find you some computer gear so that you can check my blog yourself. If you do not wish to do so, (or they won’t/can’t give you what you need–a more likely scenario), then realize that I usually voice my opinion and temper it by adding something to the effect that others may not share it.  While I may talk ABOUT  the organizations or groups that I am involved with, I do not speak FOR them.  It seems that your ‘reader’ is doing you a selective disservice. I can not write something that will interest or please every reader all of the time, or even half of them. What I do know is, that many people including: guide dog handlers and  puppy-raisers, animal lovers, a jeweler in Australia, an urban planner in the UK, guide dog trainers, a blind guy who applauded my blog on who is suited to having a guide dog,  several authors,  Unitarians, environmentalists, a micro publisher in California, a gay guy somewhere in the world,  a woman in Italy who has a blind friend, a budding film maker, a vacuum cleaner rep, many people who want their bus stops announced, friends, a centre for the blind in the Eastern USA, a small initiative to publish audio books in Africa….all of these people and many more have found something useful in my writing. Others? Some are not happy, but they tend not to comment directly on the blog or to me very much….they just bitch behind my back. The wonderful thing about freedom of speech and the information age, is how the inter-connectedness of the world becomes so evident. This is the end of this discussion my friend…unless your selective ‘reader’ does not pass THIS blog on too.

Opal Goes to a Luncheon at City Hall

Mum says we’re going to a boring luncheon at city hall today. I don’t get it. I LOVE luncheons, especially at city hall where there is always lots of food, even though mum says the food is overpriced plastic crap payed for at the taxpayers expense.  She says we have to go so we can bug the mayor and some city councillors while the going is good…something about a municipal election coming up and they’re falling all over themselves trying to get some votes.  They don’t usually hold this event until springtime, but the mayor (you know, the little guy with a whiny voice?) wants to score political points NOW.  She says we must shmooze with them…work the room before they know what’s hit them.  I don’t get it. Why would HRM council not want to do the right thing in the first place?   She says they could  build me a service dog run (yeah!!!) and improve transit (maybe pay for a voice enunciator on buses to announce stops), and hire some bylaw enforcement officers, and FIRE some dead-weight HRM staff whose salaries suck up the city’s budget which could be better applied elsewhere, and get some funding to provide recreational programs for kids with disabilities, and spend more money on removing physical barriers instead of making ridiculous expenditures like the Chebucto road widening project which destroyed property and trees to allow a few more gas-guzzling SUV’s to squeeze into town, and make the public library services more equitable for the blind who don’t care to use the ‘charitable’ library, and find some balls ( not the kind I like) so they stop caving to the interests of developers who are destroying the city with condo and commercial development in all the wrong places, and….why don’t they just listen to mum in the first place? I think SHE should run for council in the next election. I’d love to run around my new service dog run.

Sing a Blind Song

Sometimes I get a little bored, so I ‘Google’ stuff. Today, I checked out songs about blindness sung by blind people. It seems there aren’t that many…Phew!!! Thank god we’re not ALL maudlin. I found a few though, mostly from old black Southern men (Sonny Terry, Sleepy John Estes, Blind Gary Davis and Blind Roger Hayes). Frankly, I’d be mortified if I had  to live with a handle like Blind Helen. It’s bad enough that people refer to me as “Helen With the Dog”. Turns out that blind musicians have better stuff to sing about than their angst about being blind…. love,  bad relationships, the world (Mr. Ray Charles does a great job of ‘What a Wonderful World’)  and the city (Little Stevie Wonder’s ‘Living for the City’). As for all the SONGS with LYRICS which include the word ‘blind’ or blindness’….sheesh! That’s a whole different kettle of fish. Just as our everyday expressions use the words blind to mean that one is unaware, purposefully oblivious, uncaring etc. (“blind as a bat”, “turn a blind eye”, “love is blind”, “blind rage”, “blind leading the blind”…) song lyrics use them similarly and just as regularly.  I’m not claiming that it’s not PC and we should immediately run around tweaking and rewriting  all these songs. It might be an idea to think about language and how we use words. As a word nerd, I love to learn about the origin and history of words. I wonder how it came to be that a physical condition morphed into use as a negative adjective and verb.

Opal Goes to High School (again)

Yesterday, Opal and I went back to Citadel High school in Halifax. Our purpose this time was to introduce the 2008  Writing contest which AEBC Halifax (Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians) is hosting with 100 grade 10 students. The last time we visited Citadel, it was final exam time in June. There wasn’t much of anything going on then, except that a handful of kids,  bleary-eyed from all-night studying were getting bummed out about their exams.   A few others were in a tizzy because Security had  hacked off their locks and cleaned out their lockers.  Yesterday was a totally different scenario. In a word, CHAOS!  We handily found our way to the familiar ‘office’. The staff were helpful and made photocopies of some handouts for me. We sat next to a funked-out kid in trouble waiting to see one of the vice-principals.  Opal and I listened to the bedlam in the halls.  Announcements (both for students and teachers) are constantly being cranked out.  Each one is preceded by an alarming ‘alert’ tone, which is reminisant of something you would hear on a submarine …or in a prison. Maybe it was the added destinations in the announcements…”…meeting in ‘D’  block”  that made me think of this.  I ate my tuna sandwich and took in the conversations students were having with the staff…”I DID bring a note signed by a parent, so why am I marked missing?”  “My class is supposed to be in room 208 in ‘D’ block, but they’re not there!”   Today, we were back to meet Marjorie, an English teacher who asked me to introduce the Writing Contest and speak to her class about blindness. She seemed her usual harried self when she arrived.  As we gathered my photocopies, I noticed someone had stopped to pat and talk to Opal. “Don’t touch my dog please, she’s working”, I said automatically. They continued,  oblivious to my words.  I said, “Hey, don’t touch my dog”.  This is when Marjorie introduced me to the offender, Kam the principal of Citadel High. I grinned but  offered no appology. Instead I gave her one of the handouts on Guide dogs. Marjorie and I found our way to the staff lunch room on the 2nd floor where I was to wait for “the kids to settle down from lunch”.  A teacher walked in and screamed, apparently terrified at the sight of Opal. This happens occasionally.  Five  minutes later, we bumped into the same teacher as we entered  a doorway into a lunchroom alcove. He screamed again. This time, I grinned. Opal shrugged off his scream, disregarded him and guided me, as she is supposed to. Our visit with the kids was great. The contest will have them writing about what they think their world would be like without sight.  We talked about blindness too. Questions?  Sure. “How do audible traffic signals work?” When I mentioned blind sports, the restless, surly  kid in the front (I’m guessing Marjorie parks him there to keep an eye on him) blurted out his question, “Is there blind basketball?”.   I told him I didn’t know, but that Goal ball is a huge blind sport,  even a Para Olympic sport. We talked about accessible technology and devices.  I asked them to take out their cell phones. Most of these 36 kids have one and were eager to break the ‘no cell phone in class’ rule.  I urged them to resist actually dialing, but to imagine trying to use it to text message or call, if they could not see. “I can’t feel the keypad or see the display”, some girl complained. “That’s my point”,  I said. Most of the hundreds of models of cell phones,  MP3 players etc are totally impossible to use if you are blind.  As always, the majority of questions were about guide dogs.  Time flew by and soon Marjorie was giving me the hook. We got a round of applause and then Opal and I were escorted out before the buzzer and the ensuing stampede of kids by a pair of girls (teenage girls always travel in pairs, even in 2008). Opal and I managed to get home without causing anyone else to scream.

Hey! Taxi Drivers

Listen up cabbies! I’m going to say this once. Here is the not-so-definitive list of things you need to know when you pick up a customer who is blind or partially-sighted.

  • If you drive a radio cab, or if you get your calls through a computerized dispatch system, chances are that the customer will have specified that they are blind (they should ’cause they can’t expect you to guess). So, when you get to the pick-up location, do not sit in your car and expect the blind person to know that you have arrived.  We are not physic.  It is impossible to know if the nearby idling vehicle I hear is ‘my cab’ or just some other vehicle at this busy location (like a pimpmobile or a  Fed Ex courier or a cab from the wrong company). You must get out of the car and identify yourself as the driver from XYZ cab company. If there is something wrong with your legs, attempt to crank open the window and announce yourself from the comfort of your car.
  • Notice the guide dog with the person? They will have specified this too upon telephoning. Unless you have a medical certificate which exempts you from having a dog in your car (you would croak from the allergic reaction), then  YOU MUST, BY LAW, ACCEPT THE DOG IN YOUR VEHICLE!!! THERE ARE REPERCUSSIONS FOR PEOPLE WHO REFUSE ACCESS TO GUIDE DOGS…AND FINES.
  • Do not charge an ‘extra passenger’ or ‘baggage’ fee for transporting a guide dog (I have experience d this before). If you do so in Halifax, you could lose your taxi permit.
  • If the person with the guide dog wants to sit in the front with their dog, do not freak out. It is my practice to do so, as recommended by the school where I received my dog. I know that other schools have differing philosophies, but this is what I choose. Notice (as you always do) when we get in, that there is actually much more room for the dog in the front between my legs…yes, even (especially) in those monster luxury cars… than in the back behind the seat.  The big hump in the middle of the floor in the back is very constricting. Back seat? No way. If we crash, she will not go flying off a back seat, or be hurled to one side of the cab. It is more comfortable and safer for us both to sit in the front. this works for all cars, even the smallest. She is always well-behaved and will not touch you. (she may sneeze, though, ’cause your car is dusty)
  • Do not think that because your passenger is blind, that you can travel the most indirect route to get to the destination (boosting the fare), ’cause most of us will notice that you have taken a side trip to Ecum Secum on the way to the corner of Barrington and Duke.
  • I miss the old days. Taxi meters ticked back in the day. Now, there is no possible way to determine if the requested fare is what actually appears on the meter…however, do not get the idea that charging $17.50  for a one mile ride is something you can get away with.
  • If your client has a charge slip, or you have a charge slip for them, and you want a signature, then think about how tricky that might be to sign. Me? I won’t sign one. “You sign it”, I say… (you  could be asking me to sign up for donating a kidney for all I know)
  • When you  get to wherever the passenger wants to go, ask if they need assistance to get to the entrance of the building, or at the very least, give precise directions…”the is 5 meters straight ahead”. As I suggest to everyone, saying “over there”  while pointing is useless (and a bit brainless and thoughtless)
  • Alert your passenger if you are dropping them off in a puddle or ice patch. (I once stepped out of a cab, slipped on an icy patch, did a pirouette, landing on my knees, resulting in a bruise and torn jeans)

CNIB AGM and ‘Community Meetings’…be there and be heard

The CNIB is having their Annual General Meeting in Toronto on September 27 th, at least that’s what I was told. I could not confirm this on their website…guess they don’t want anyone to know.  The local Nova Scotia/PEI Division is having its ACM (“Annual Community Meeting”) on Wednesday, September 24th. A community meeting is the spin that the local deadheads have put on an AGM which does not present an annual financial report. I can’t seem to get any accurate accounting for what this organization does with its money…er, that would be the money they suck out of innocent people who donate to their financial campaigns…like the horribly tasteless and demeaning e-mail campaign which caused such an uproar recently. No matter.  I have resigned myself to the fact that accountability, consultation  and transparency are not words in the CNIB vocabulary or philosophy. Imagine my delight when the local whiz kid who just won the NDP nomination in Halifax (Megan Leslie) invited me to attend this community meeting with her. I guess she needs an entourage in the guise of a friendly blind friend who can create a potentially good reason to leave (“Opal has a play date in Chicago! Let’s go, Megan!”).  It will be fun, I’m sure to go to this thing and have a sensible ally. The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians was calling for a cross-Canada series of protests at the CNIB offices on the day that CNIB has their AGM (September 27th, I think). Why? Let me count the ways CNIB merits a slap on the wrists;

1- They must be publicly accountable for the tasteless and demeaning e-mail campaign which was the icing on the nutty CNIB cupcake for many blind people this year.

2- The CNIB plans to change their constitution to allow for a sighted CEO/president. I guess little Jim Sanders is going to be going quietly into that good night. I think there must be a stipulation about employing a percentage of staff within CNIB who are blind.

3- The CNIB services across the country have taken a gigantic nosedive.

4- The current philosophy  of this merry band is a little skewed for many of us (not client centered, not service centered, not democratic), and

5- The monopolistic status of this organization that purports to speak on behalf of the blind.

So, if you are remotely interested in the rights of the blind, the nasty decline of services that the CNIB has taken, or the REALLY BAD IDEA of having a non-client as president of the CNIB (or at least a quota that ensures blind staff, and if you are tired about the dismal road that CNIB is travelling,  then get to a CNIB near you and voice your thoughts on it. Call the media! Call you friends and family and ask for their support in protesting on September 27th in Toronto, or at the numerous protests across Canada at CNIB offices planned that day…or you might go to a fake AGM, like the one here in Halifax which they are calling an Annual Community Meeting.

What’s In a (Guide Dog’s) Name?

One of the pleasures in acquiring a new puppy or kitten is spending hours with your family deciding on a name for the critter. The kids want to go with ‘Bandit’ or ‘Princess’, but you’re leaning towards a loftier, more meaningful handle, like… ‘Mandela’ or ‘Climate Change’. If you live alone, you find yourself scouring the ‘Names For Baby’ book at the library.  When people ask me what my Guide dog’s name is (and they do so incessantly)  I sometimes give my standard fake answer, ‘Lucy’, particularly if we are captive on a bus when the likelihood of loud, repetitive calling out of ‘Opal’ is great.  On occasion, I fess up and say, ‘Opal’,  and some people comment on her “lovely name”.  When I have a moment, I explain that I had no say in choosing it.

Guide dog training centres all have breeding programs. The larger schools, like ‘The Seeing Eye’ in Morristown have hundreds of their own dog ‘stock’ at any given time. Opal originally came from Guiding Eyes for the Blind’s program. She was raised in North Carolina before being sent to Canadian Guide Dogs For the Blind in Manotick, Ontario  (a little like being traded to another ball team in the major leagues).  Her pedigree information (like player stats) proceeded her, revealing that her mum (Dam) is named, ‘Regina’, and her dad (Sire) is ‘Buzz’.  (Buzz has fathered hundreds, if not thousands of dogs and his sperm is shipped around the world, or so I am told) . Opal  is in fact, Opal IV.  The litter into which she was born at GEB, as in all cases, was assigned a letter of the alphabet.  It was time for an ‘O’ litter.  All the dogs in Opal’s litter were given names that started with the letter ‘O’ (She has a brother named, ‘Othello’). The naming process for guide dogs is not whimsical. Care is given to check records of active and retired dogs’ names before naming them. Sometimes a name is re-issued.  I imagine it’s a bit of a challenge to name the ‘X’ litters… ‘Xena’, ‘Xaviar’ … then what?  The sponsors and financial contributors of the schools and training centres sometimes influence the choices too. After all, if a generous company or individual donates a large amount of money to provide guide dogs to the blind, then why not?  Not that I would want a dog, named…um, ‘Acme’.

I recall a conversation at the CGDB training centre in Manotick. A fellow trainee (whose own dog was a step-sister and kennel mate of Opal’s), said something about black opals (referring to the gem stone). I had never heard of such a thing but it stuck in my mind.  In my Internet research, I discovered that New Zealand and Australia are lousy with them. In fact, I received a comment on this blog from an Australian jeweler bound for Canada who happened to Google a bunch of search terms that included, ‘opal, Halifax’ and ended up on my blog reading about Opal.  I’m not rushing out to order a black opal-studded collar for Opal, but someday I may just buy myself a nice ring with a black opal set into it.

‘Blindness’ the Movie…Bunch of Blind People Will “Watch”

The movie, ‘Blindness’ opened at the Atlantic film Festival last week.  It opens in wide-release on October 3rd in Halifax. Ya gotta know that a bunch ‘o blind folk are going to have something to say about it.  At least, that’s my hope, idea, delusion, nightmare-to-be… When I heard about this movie, based on the book by Jose Saramago, I thought that it would be a great opportunity to get the Halifax chapter of Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians together for a little outing to view this thing. My plan? Send out a media release to local feature hounds and hope that they might be interested in interviewing the blind ‘Blindness’ viewers for on-the-spot reaction to this movie’s spin on blindness.  I listened to the trailers on the Internet that are pimping promoting this movie. It’s difficult to get a handle on what’s going on in this city where everyone suddenly goes blind. You know it can’t be good…a little chaos, panic, tortured emotional claptrap and the mandatory heroes who shine when their ‘lights’ go out.   I wanted to consult the book in preparation. It’s only fair to compare before you go to the flic, right? Well, bad news. It’s not available in audio within the Halifax public libraries. I doubt it exists in commercial audio format. The ‘charitable’ library (CNIB) might have found some bored Scarbourough housewife volunteer to read/record it on THEIR discs ( the ones they destroy when you return them..but that’s another story and a past blog—-go look), however, I quit my ‘membership’ with that service in protest. No matter. Who needs a book? Full steam ahead, I say! I rang up my AEBC buds to invite them to the ‘event’. Now,  I’m wondering…”What was I thinking!!!???”  It’s bound to be, umm…interesting. I predict the following; A. (with poor O & M –orientation and mobility)  will get lost on his way to the washroom, or worse, fall down the escalator. B will be shocked (devout Catholic) when she hears (despite her hearing loss because the sound will be maxed out for this monster movie on a Saturday) the sex scenes, foul language and violence which ‘Blindness’ promos and  ratings promise (I forgot to mention this to her).  A. (who has a brain injury) will show up at the wrong theatre on the wrong day, or not show up at all.  C.  (a smoker) will get wedged in the washroom stall with her walker as she tries to sneak a smoke that will set off a fire alarm. There will be lots of chatter amongst our group during the film…”What’s going on? What does that mean?..” which will cause other patrons to hiss. Opal will need a pee in the middle of the show, so I will step out (requires 15 minutes meandering through a mall) during which time, A.  will have had a loud fight with J.  (they don’t get along). The reporter (only one will show up from an obscure media outlet) will be awaiting our profound comments and reactions…after all, we are the pros, right? His recording device will fail. That may turn out to be the only blessing, as my motley crew will have no profound observations to make, other than that the sound was too loud and nobody ‘got it’. Oh, yeah…D’s guide dog, the ‘German boy’, that Opal loves so much, will bark incessantly  as we depart the cineplex.

ADDENDUM: It has become evident that the movie, ‘Blindness’ seriously impacts the blind community. It is a graphic and some times horrifying film that portrays blindness as a terrible condition that robs its victims of their humanity. It will compound and perpetuate the existing irrational prejudices of blind people which are based on stereotype. It falsely depicts blind people as incapable of almost everything and even suggests that blindness alters the human personality. The complex decision for blind people everywhere is if they will spend money to see  it (thereby supporting  the film maker) or boycott…or protest…or go, sit and watch until they are disgusted (somewhere long before it ends), disrupt the show as they leave, and demand their money back and then discourage the general public from viewing it…choices to be made.

Dog Like This?

I hear it all the time. Strangers on buses, people in shops, taxi drivers, folks on the street say to me … “I’ve got a dog just like that”. My thoughts? Not likely. You may have a black Labrador retriever, but you do not have a dog like mine. You may have a clever dog who can do silly tricks, but you do not have a dog like mine. You may have a dog with a pair of sad brown eyes, but you do not have a dog like mine. You may have a black dog who is friendly and peppy, but you do not have a dog like mine. You may have a dog that is attentive to you, but you do not have a dog like mine. You may have a black dog of some kind, but you do not have a dog who will stand at a curb with traffic whizzing by her head. You do not have a dog who will ignore other yappy canines, people and smelly bushes as you walk down the road. You do not have a dog who can “find a seat”, “the lift”, “the escalator”, “the counter”, “the bus”, “the post office”, “the washroom”…”the way”.  You do not have a dog with whom you entrust your life. You do not have a dog who saves you from disaster on a regular basis. You do not have a dog who is with you 24/7. You do not have a dog like my registered Guide dog,  Opal IV…so just say to me instead, “I have a dog, but it’s nothing like your wonderful, smart and beautiful canine companion”.

Hey! Wise Advice For My Goofy ‘Neighbours’

Now I’ve had it with you boorish bunch of anal retentive rejects.  What’s wrong with you people?!!!  The next time one of you ‘neighbours’ in this multi-unit building cannot be decent enough to emit a sound when you are ‘in my space’ as I greet you, I will not be held responsible for what may come out of my mouth. Sheesh! How rude can  you be?  Please tell me if you have some good reason (besides being assholes) for standing by the elevator, or at the laundry machines, or in the hallway, or at the mailboxes and totally ignoring my greeting?  I didn’t think so. You’re as stunned as a sac of hammers! You seem to find your voice when other residents are around and they greet you. You there, big guy with work boot footsteps and smelly clothes…yeah you…do you know how creepy and scary it was to feel the presence of a huge man nearby, and not know that you were NOT an ax murderer or something because you couldn’t even seem to muster a grunt or fart to acknowledge my cautious  “hi” when we met in the hall at 5am as I was going to relieve my dog?  You know I’m blind, you ditz!   And the fat lady with chunky heels who smells like a floral arrangement at a funeral home?  What’s up with you?   I was coming up the stairs to the lobby to get my mail when you were parked/docked/berthed by the elevator door and blocking my path. Do ya think you could move your sweet smelling butt over a bit or say something when you see a lady with a white cane (Opal was on a break) coming straight at you? Nah. You didn’t even say “hey, don’t whack me with that cane” when I ran into you. You stood there like a lummox after I muttered, “excuse me and hello”.  I had just stepped  out of the shower, so I know it wasn’t  my body odour. Then there are the old biddies (yeah, the ones who “don’t like the disgusting sight of that dog on the lawn”) who seem to think that I have no ability to HEAR anything. Hey! It’s really not polite to dish someone WHEN THEY’RE STANDING  FIVE FEET AWAY! …”She’s got a lot of laundry again. Bet there’s dog hair in it” .  Sheesh! You geeks really need to get yourselves a crash course in social interaction 101, or read a Helen Keller bio or something! Anything would help your ability to interact  with blind people at this point.

Opal Goes to the Audio Book Club

When I say to Opal, “come on, let’s read a book”. She knows that it means that sound will start coming out of our Daisy player…some guy or gal will talk and talk… it’s all blah, blah, blah to Opal, but she loves it. Why?  It’s our quiet time together. She gnaws her bone contentedly as we lay on the bed and snuggle (oops! dog on bed again…check!).  She takes my running commentary on the book in stride, looking at me (quizzically, I think) when I say things like; “that doesn’t make any sense!”, or “what kind of a moron wrote this thing? they can’t even string a sentence together!” or “Ooo, Opal. this is a really good book, eh?”  To further cement Opal’s audio appreciation, the Audio Book Club which I started with the Halifax Public Library, has its meeting at the Alderney branch.  Opal knows that when I say, or rather sing with a commercial jingle lilt, “Audio Book Club today!”,  we are bound for Dartmouth on the ferry. That in itself is exciting. We sit on the upper deck and suck up the sea breeze as Opal watches the gulls fly overhead and the boats sail by. The BEST part, is AFTER we go to the audio book club…after the meeting filled with conversation and laughter, after I load up with more of the library’s audio books and sign them out, after the tea and more conversation with my friends at ‘Biscuit Lips’ (a nearby cafe)… after all of that, my girl KNOWS we will FINALLY go to the park by the shore. She also knows that mum has brought the ‘flexi’ (retractable leash) and her necklace (collar) and her rubber boomerang….and that she will get a chance to sniff and run and ‘blow the stink off’. We will soak up the rays and more sea breezes, and stagger back onto the ferry quite shattered, but definitely content.

Our audio book club meeting was yesterday. My task is to research the author and other details about the current book selection and bring in some information to share with the group. Our most recent title was “Kabul Beauty School” by Deborah Rodriguez and Kristen Ohlsen. I was as eager to share my ‘find’ with the book club as Opal was to get to the park. I managed to interview Ohlsen by e-mail. She was very forthcoming and answered my probing questions. I listened to an old NPR interview with the Afghan women who are the subject and spine of the book. (they’re quite cranky and claim that Rodriguez left Afghanistan and did not receive money from the book profits). I asked Ohlsen (who is often overshadowed in reviews and interviews despite her role as primary author) to comment on this, and more. She came through, and in doing so, gave the Halifax Public Library’s first ever Audio book club something juicy to talk about.  Our next pick is “Treasure Island”. Somehow, I doubt that I will raise much in the way of interviews with Robert Louis Stevenson.

Little Jim Sanders Apologises (again)

CNIB President and CEO, Jim Sanders cranked out another e-mail message to me today. Damage Control Central seems to have found  the following words to put into his mouth: ” Dear Helen….the message was not appropriate (What would you sell to save your sight?) …fund-raising campaign discontinued… as signatory of the letter, I take full responsibility and extend my personal apology for any discomfort or offense that this message may have caused you”… signed Jim Sanders

This e-mail had no lovely GUIDE DOGS in the images ( CNIB does NOT train or financially support Guide dog training in any way) ….it had instead, the boring and newish CNIB logo and bush (maybe it’s the tree of Vision Hope? ) …a ‘brand’ they spent an obscene amount of money developing. It seems the braniacs at CNIB  didn’t like the sound of “Canadian National Institute for the Blind” any more. Nah, that’s too, um…’blind’ sounding. So they changed it to CNIB (like RBC or BMO banks) and now they never use the word blind in their name.  Some marketing geeks decided to go with “Vision Hope, Vision Health” as the buzzwords du jour. That was some big  pile of letterhead, pamphlets and building signs to change, guys!  What’d that cost you?…or rather how much of the money that you solicited  from unsuspecting donors (the ones who still  think that you actually “help the blind” in every way and at every turn) did you waste? That dough could have actually gone to client services…gee, why didn’t you just just ask your clients what they thought about the new brand….oops, I forgot.   the CNIB is not into consultation, transparency or accountability.

Opal Votes

Mum says we are going to the NDP nomination meeting to vote (for Megan Leslie). She didn’t seem too happy about it…says someone else is going to read the ballot, point where to sign, watch her do it and check it for her…so why bother?   She seemed to brighten up a moment later  when she got one of her ‘ideas’.  Now she says I AM GOING TO VOTE FOR HER!!! cause I’m so smart, and she trusts me and we’re going to make a statement about accessible voting for the blind. I don’t usually say much but now I get to make a statement….wow!

Yikes! It’s Hurricane Season

Opal and I live in Nova Scotia.  If there’s one thing Easterners really get into, it’s talking about , preparing for , and experiencing hurricane season. It must be that inbred Canadian love of imminent danger and disaster arising from weather conditions.  We are now in the midst of Hurricane season. Most hurricanes do not reach us, but we have had some over the years that did make landfall (Hurricane Juan, for example) and many tropical and sub tropical storms which can pack a mean punch. For people with disabilities, there are significant challenges involved in preparing for bad weather.  Just like the boy scouts, my motto is, ‘Be Prepared’. The Nova Scotia Disabled Persons Commission wrote a guide for PWD called “Are You Ready?”.  Voiceprint released a CD version of the guide.  It is full of helpful hints for PWD and seniors.   Other organizations in all jurisdictions have similar resources available. Consult the web sites or call the Red Cross, the Independent Living Resource Centre, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, National Organization on Disability,  Emergency Management Nova Scotia, VON (Vial of Life Program) or any EMO in your area.

Opal is a hurricane veteran. She was raised in North Carolina and was evacuated more than once, including during Katrina. Service animals, by the way ARE allowed into shelters (pets are not). I had no Guide dog at the time Hurricane Juan blew through Halifax some years ago.  I do recall my cat being terrified, especially when one of our windows blew in.  The power was out for five days. The streets were dangerous and impassible because of fallen trees and power lines. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to experience Juan with a guide dog.  In the last 12 months, Opal and I have dealt with bad weather, including tropical storms packing 120km hour winds and 150 ml of rain.   It’s important to listen to weather forecasts. It is helpful when planning your dog’s opportunities to relieve, because you can’t expect your 60 pound animal to be willing and able to squat in a gale (there’s always the bathtub…grin).

Plan your strategy for an upcoming storm. Obviously, you must have enough food and water on hand, for yourself and your animals. You should have a pre-determined   disaster plan for home, work or school. Create a communications and evacuation plan. and develop a support network of people. Your service animal’s kit must include food, dish, labeled medication, identification, papers, toy, bone, play collar, small blanket.  Fill your bathtub with water. Make sure you have the following on hand: non perishable food, water, batteries, portable or crank radio, medication supply, important papers including a list or audio tape of phone numbers and insurance information, first aid kit, warm clothing, sleeping bags, and items specific to your disability. Remember that phones and  power may go out (have mechanical can opener). There is often a lot of noise and confusion during building evacuation which makes it difficult for people who are blind who can no longer rely on familiar audio cues. Be familiar with your plan and practice regularly.

It’s not a good idea to use a land line when there is lightening ( My friend was knocked over while talking on the phone during a thunder storm as lightening hit the wires).  Unplug stuff, particularly computers.  Modems, monitors and so on, which can also become toast during a bad storm. On that cheery note, I am shutting down, unplugging and hunkering down as the weather begins to rage and we await the remnants of Hurricane Hannah.

Shoot The Dog!

Opal visited Dr. C. today at the Veterinary clinic.  It was time for her checkup, one of two exams which I am contractually obligated to provide for her every year. Verdict? She’s a healthy girl and a real charmer (kissed the vet into a giggling heap as she tried to listen to Opal’s heart).  Opal did not flinch when the doc gave her the mandatory shots, and squirmed around playfully on her back while Doc. C. felt her ‘girl bits’. The trip through the clinic to the weigh scale is always fun for her. She loves to sniff the mountain of cat and dog food bags as she passes by.  It’s a challenge to keep her still on the walk-on scale bed long enough to get an accurate weight reading. She tends to lean against the wall which skews the number.  Sometimes there’s a dog being bathed in the same room, so that sort of activity peaks her interest . I suspect  she’s thinking, “better you than me!”  The doc kindly filled out our Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind health book and faxed them the new entry. We payed our bill (less 40% Guide dog discount).  The discount for vet services to guide or service dog is offered by many practices. It’s worth calling around to the local vets to enquire. The most important thing is to find a vet that you have good confidence in. It’s a given that they love animals. I look for someone who is down to earth and not an excessive pill or procedure pusher. Our doc was an emergency veterinary hospital vet for many years.  I also had no qualms about ‘googling’ her to check out her credentials and history.  There seems to be a generally better-than average accommodation for clients who have service dogs among vets.  My experience has included getting appointments quickly, a longer than usual amount of time spent examining or treating an injury, patience in answering all of my questions,  willingness to fill out and fax forms as required, granting of credit when I could not afford to pay immediately, easy availability for phone conversation/questions and providing alternative or ‘jigged-up’ methods by which I can accurately dispense medication like ear drops.  A vet is more than someone who shoots your dog.

CNIB Eats Crow

An interesting e-mail arrived in my box today: Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians President, Robin East wrote a searing letter to Jim Sanders (big CNIB cheese) regarding the same distasteful fund raising e-mail that CNIB sent to Canadians, some of them CNIB clients.  It was a paltry plea resplendent with Guide dogs (GUIDE DOG TRAINING IS NOT PART OF THE CNIB “SERVICES”), and an offensive query ,asking people like me and Robin East, what we would sell to save our sight. (see earlier blog I wrote entitled: Why CNIB Leaves Me Flat).  In Robin East’s letter to Jim Sanders, he asked for an apology and that CNIB withdraw this campaign immediately.  Robin forwarded the whole thing to me, therefore, I am delighted to post it here.  Here is Jim Sander’s response to Robin East:

“Dear Robin, I wish to acknowledge receipt of your letter and confirm that the e-mail campaign has been discontinued. I can assure you that the content do not reflect the philosophy and service practice of CNIB. I have released the following statement and would welcome any additional comments which you or your members may have.

I do sincerely apologize for the content and also for any negative impact that this letter has had on individuals. Your letter will be brought to the attention of the Board.

Here is the statement:    On behalf of CNIB, I wish to let you know that the fundraising campaign to which you refer has been discontinued. The message it portrayed was inappropriate.

We are reviewing CNIB’s marketing operations and associated creative materials to ensure that future marketing and fundraising efforts better reflect the CNIB philosophy, service, model and the views and experiences of people who are blind and living with vision loss.

Since I am the signatory to the letter, I do take full responsibility and extend my personal apology.

sincerely,

Jim Sanders”

Hmm. Sounds to me that Jim’s eating crow. Did someone say Damage Control? Do I see Jim’s litttle blind butt roasting at the CNIB Board Bar B Q? Do ya think they’ll drop some people (like Robin and me) from the mailing list in the future?

THIS JUST IN!!! Jim Sanders appologizes to angry chief executives of Canadian Guide Dog schools…

Finders Keepers…most if the time

My Guide dog, Opal has found an amazing array of ‘stuff’ in the time we’ve been together. Some of it was lying on the sidewalks we travel (like a five dollar bill!), and other stuff she discovered in the places she relieves along the way and in our apartment building’s hallways. Here is a partial list of her (our) ‘finds': Articles of clothing include; 3 winter scarves, 2 pairs of gloves, 3 mismatched mittens, 2 wool hats,  3 pairs of men’s briefs (one of them in a bush) 1 pair of trousers,  1 pair of women’s panties, 1 children’s sweater, and 2 sunhats.  Ya gotta wonder about the clothes, eh?   She has found 2 tennis balls, dinky cars, a colouring book, a doll and 2  stuffed toys (these do not include the ones she tries to steal when I’m shopping). There have been coins on the street and in restaurants, a pair of brand new ear rings, nail clippers, pens, magazines, a booklet of postage stamps,  a back pack, and several pieces of ID.

There are many less memorable items which I would rather she NOT find; pop, beer and liquor bottles (some broken), cigarette butts and packaging, bubble and chewing gum,  medication bottles,  condoms (used), TONS (literally) of  fast food containers and wrappers (some with dregs of ‘food’ in them), and an astounding assortment of garbage which has found its way into OUR neighbourhoods. Sheesh, there are  a lot of pigs in the world!

NOW HEAR THIS!!! Keep your crap in your cars and in your backpacks and pockets and dispose of it appropriately instead of hurling it into OUR SPACE. If you insist on indulging in disgusting habits like smoking and  public drinking and sex, be resposnsible and haul the evidence of your little party away. Smokers are particularly irritating to us. Opal finally gave up a habit of eating butts. (Her nickname, given to her by some Brits,  was ‘Fag Ash Lil’ ). Frankly, I think YOU  smokers should eat your own butts.  Maybe you gum chewers should stick your gum wads into YOUR own hair. See how much fun it is to pick out, just as  I pick it out of my dog’s paws, and fur.  As for the nuts who smash bottles on sidewalks?  YOU try walking barefoot over your expression of youthful nuttiness and/or drunkiness.

Why CNIB Leaves Me Flat

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from Jim Sanders, national CNIB president. I doubt that Jim actually hit ‘send’ himself. This e-mail was soliciting money. It was probably spun out by the CNIB fund raising elite PR machine to everyone within the CNIB data bases, including clients. I don’t fault any organization for being creative with fund raising initiatives. This thing? It offended me to the point where I wrote Jim an e-mail letter this morning. Let me explain the nature of ‘Jim’s’ request.

The e-plea was colourful and filled with lovely photos of guide dogs and blind people with guide dogs. the header stated, “Harnessing Independence begins with your generous support”. It went from bad to worse by asking the question, “How much is your Independence worth to you? Dear Helen, close your eyes for a moment and imagine that you’ve lost your sight”  Hmm, Jim. You’re too late, done deal, been there, done that, got the t-shirt. I AM blind! Then, to really annoy me, it went on to claim that “37 % of Canadians would sell everything they owned to keep their sight.”  I don’t know or care if this is statistically valid. What I DO know, is that these kinds of claims propagate the erroneous assumption that blind people are miserable with their lot. Hey Jim, I’m OK being blind, my life is not horrible, so don’t yammer this defeatist nonsense which only entrenches public misconception about Persons With Disabilities. As for the clever references to guide dogs… “and when we’re ready, some of us may even get a guide dog” …blah, blah, blah, resplendent with pics of the dogs with CNIB clients who are in the CNIB  photo op pocket,  I could vomit. You and I both know (though apparently you’re still milking the sensibilities of a confused public who do NOT KNOW)  that CNIB does NOT train guide dogs nor do they financially support guide dog training. Why go down that murky road, Jim? Why not spend some of your PR money  on CNIB client services (ya gotta know that expensive glossy hard copy of this pitch for donations will be sent out to thousands of Canucks).  I walked into my local CNIB office a couple of weeks ago looking to BORROW a tape recorder. My two recorders are broken, and my Hadley School for Blind Spanish assignment is due. Did I get some of that CNIB ‘support’? No, Jim. I left with bubkis and went home to e-mail Senora Good-Krochuk that I am tostada with my Spanish until further notice. When someone stopped me on the street later that day and asked, “Is that a CNIB dog?”, I promptly took 15 minutes of my time to explain to the deluded individual that ” THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A CNIB DOG!!! CNIB HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH GUIDE DOG TRAINING!!! THEY DON’T PROVIDE A SCINTILLA OF THE STUFF TO THE BLIND THAT THE PUBLIC ERRONEOUSLY THINK THEY DO!!!!” Sigh. Jim, I am so dissapointed with this sordid pathetic e-mail. You can bet that I am going to encourage people to respond to it’s lack of respect for people like me…happy, hard-working, tax-paying citizens who happen to be blind. And how, you ask Jim? I’m going to suggest to them that they make their charitable contributions elsewhere...like any guide dog training school, and my pick would be, Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind in Manotick Ontario (613-692-7777 link on blogroll).  maybe they should e-mail you about their displeasure too…. jim.sanders@cnib.ca oops, I think I just did. Have a nice day.

Puppy Walker’s Tea

Guide dogs begin to train when they are approximately 14 months old. So, where have they been knocking around all through puppyhood? Answer: With their ‘puppy walker’ or ‘puppy raiser’ (depending on which Guide dog school they are bred for). These are the families or individuals who take a little 8 week-old ball of canine energy for a year or more, love it, feed it, groom it, play with it, expose it to all types of things, people and places…and then say goodbye to it.  That must be a sad and and very difficult time for the puppy walkers.  But look what these dogs become! They are part of that awesome, elite corp of ‘dog guides’ for people who are blind. When Opal and I ‘qualified’ in our final days of training at Canadian Guide dogs for the Blind in Manotick, Ontario, there was a minor fanfare that included a ‘graduation’ party, and a ‘Puppy Walker’s Tea’.  The Puppy Walker’s Tea is a get-together  where the newly-qualified CGDB Guide  dog and handler has an opportunity to meet the person or family that raised the dog. Other guide dog schools have a different policy whereby the handler and puppy raiser do not ever meet or access each others contact information.   I was ‘on course’ with three other individuals. None of our puppy walkers (the people who had raised our dogs) could attend because of the distance involved in traveling to Manotick (some from BC, Opal’s from North Carolina).  We did, however have an opportunity to speak on the telephone with the puppy walkers at a pre-scheduled time.

I wonder what it would have been like for all involved if all the puppy walkers COULD have attended. I think a Puppy Walkers Tea  could be a valuable and enjoyable opportunity for some people, but potentially awkward for others. I have yet to meet A.A. ( a then-15 year old) who raised Opal, though I have spoken to her many times, exchanged letters and gifts, and e-mailed her mum (a writer) hundreds of times.  I now have an arsenal of Opal stories that could curl your hair…well, that’s for another blog… Sure, WE would have gotten along swimmingly at a Puppy Walkers Tea, but I have heard stories (maybe that’s all they are) about such encounters that did not turn out quite so well. It is a tense time…gotta be. The new handler is stressed after a rigorous month of training and wants to get home and settled, the dog is transitioning from trainer to the new handler so it is probably  a little stressed too, and the puppy walker walks into the midst of it all?  I think that it would all go well, provided that everyone understands their roles; the puppy walker is no longer ‘top dog’ in the relationship. That dog is now in a special relationship with its blind handler. The handler must remain cool and know that their dog will recognize the puppy walker and want to express its emotion.  The trainers and staff have an obligation to keep everyone clear on the ground rules for the meeting. For example, it is no longer the puppy walker’s role to give any type of command to the dog…not even ‘sit’.

I am so pleased and grateful to hear from all the puppy walkers and puppy raisers who have written to me through this blog. Please realise that those pups are treasured after you ‘let them go’.  Do not think for a moment that your role is not as important as that of the professional trainers who actually train the dog to do all the fancy stuff, like stop at curbs and go around obstacles.  These formative months in a dog’s life (before it trains), are critical. If you take that dog everywhere and expose it to social situations, surfaces, noises and so on, then you will have done the grunt work from which will emerge a potentially fearless Guide dog.

Buy That Guide Dog A Nose…or a toe…or a tail…

This is for all Canadians out there who amble into the local Walmart store or other retail location where perhaps, you once noticed a large, plastic Golden Retriever Guide Dog sitting by the entrance or near the checkout counter.  The boy (or girl) dog has a  money slot on the top of his/her  head. On the base of this acrylic canine is a little sign that says, “Canadian Guide Dogs For The Blind”. This is the school where Opal comes from and where we trained together.  This is the Guide Dog Training Centre that ‘gives’ Guide dogs to  blind people at a cost of $1.00.  It actually cost $35,000.00 to put one dog into the hands of a blind handler.

So, I do my bit to show my appreciation to CGDB.  I  convinced the local Walmart manager to allow CGDB to place two plastic Guider collector dogs in his store. It’s no skin off the manager’s nose. These puppies take up only one square foot of floor space each.  They attract kids and people generally love them. I go each month to empty  the coins out of Buzz and Regina (named after Opal’s mum and dad).  I clean them because kids often ‘pat’ them with grubby hands.  They will go to the car wash next summer for pressure hosing. Today, the haul seemed lighter than usual.  Maybe $150 or $160. I said to Opal, “looks like CGDB  can buy a Guide dog’s toe today”. You do the math.  One entire guide dog=$35,000.00 so $150. would likely buy a  toe. Next time you see the collector dogs? Put some money in them. If you’re one of our regular contributors?  How about digging a little deeper into your pockets or billfold?

Blind Art Day: a minor success!

Several months ago, I dreamed up a plan to hold a ‘Blind Art Day’. My idea was to bring some blind and partially sighted individuals together to create tactile art as part of the Canadian Mental Health Association Halifax/Dartmouth’s annual ‘Mosaic For Mental Helath’ fund raising project. I begged, borrowed and solicited materials to use, including wallpaper samples, glue, fabric and an avalanche of craft supplies (thanks to Marg, Betty, Lee Anne, Gerrard, Acadia and Quigley’s Decorating Centre for donations and to  Michael’s Crafts who gave us a discount).  A suitable location was found without cost (thanks to Keith, the CMHA ‘social club’ coordinator who allowed us to use the space and Sylvia who made coffee). A knowledgeable volunteer was recruited (thanks to Gerrard  M. of ‘ Visual Connections’). Of course, the whole thing would have been a bust without some people creating art. The participants included Alfredo, Amy, Alice and Helen (two Helens CAN be in one room together, despite my misgivings).  Bloomfield Centre staff were efficient at guiding and disposing of dog poop bags. The Guide dogs (Jager and Opal) were well behaved and making goo-goo eyes at one another all morning.  As for the art?  Alfredo had some ‘glue issues’,  Alice had ‘centering’ problems with stuff on her tile and the other Helen was her usual chatty self, but no serious disasters occurred  warranting  a trip to the Emergency room (mercifully). My evaluation? a minor success! and next time…we’re having Blind Potters Day!

NUMBERS, NUMBERS, AND MORE NUMBERS

I checked some of the search words that people are using to get to my blogs.  My conclusion is that many people are interested in numbers…’number of blind people in Canada’ for example.  Here is some statistical information. I do not guarantee that it is the most current information, but it will provide a sense of proportion about the population.

  • According to Statistics Canada, the last PALS study (Participation Activity Limitation Survey) a total of 4.4 million Canadians (1 in 7) reported having a disability in 2006.
  • In 2001, 12.4% reported having a disability, and in 2006, it had risen to 14.3% of the population.
  • The Eastern provinces reported higher rates of disabled residents. Nova Scotia checked in at 20% compared to Ontario with 15.5%
  • Problems relating to pain, mobility and agility affects almost 3 million adults.
  • 5% of the population reports a hearing disability (1,265,000)
  • 3.2% report a seeing disability (815,000)
  • 1.9% report a speech disability (480,000)
  • In Canada, the average number of days lost per worker due to a disability or illness is 7.6
  • According to the AFB (American Federation for the Blind), 1.3 million Americans are legally blind.
  • AFB reports 5.5 million elderly Americans have vision loss.
  • 109,000 Americans use a white long cane to get around. There are over 7000 people who have dog guides.
  • There are 93,600 visually impaired students in special education programs.  in the United States (AFB) with 10,800 being deaf-blind.
  • There are 55, 200 legally blind children in the USA.
  • Only 32 % of working age blind Americans are employed.
  • 1.5 million Americans with vision loss use computers.
  • CNIB reported 104,184 registered clients in 2002. The important thing to note is that CNIB registration is VOLUNTARY, and reflects only 50% of the actual number of people who live with vision loss.
  • In 2001 it was estimated that the number of people in the world affected by  AMD (all age related macular degeneration)  between the ages of 65 and 75 was 2.2 million.
  • It is projected that the number of people in the world affected by AMD will increase to 4 million by 2021.

Hey Operator!

That’s right, I mean you, the  Bell Aliant operator on duty yesterday afternoon. Watch out lady, ’cause you’re in store for some deep doo dah. Did ya think I’d just ‘let it go’? Not a chance, babe. Sure, it took 30 minutes to go through the complaint process with the customer service department, but at least I have the reassurance that you will be ‘spoken to’. Maybe you will think twice before you say something stupid when a PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER dials and asks you how to go about making a conference call. Maybe you won’t say, “the number for the conference operator is in the phone book” in reply to a PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER who has told you that the Aliant web site is INACCESSIBLE and won’t cough up the information she needs. Maybe when that PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER says, “I can’t read the phone book” , your smart ass sarcastic reply will not be, “You can’t read?”  Maybe you won’t mutter to the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER, who tells you in frustration (even though it is none of your bloody business) that she is blind, “ok, wait a sec”  and follow that up by shouting, “What did you say?” when the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER says “thanks for that”.  Maybe you won’t proceed to grumble and send the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER into her own voicemail system instead of linking her to the conference call operator.  Yep, maybe you will just do your job in the first place and provide the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER with information instead of going down that murky road by asking, “can’t you read?”. Maybe the reprimand will include reading a fact sheet with statistical information about the 6,000,000  or more Canadians who can not read print because of a visual, perceptual or intellectual disability. Maybe your boss will tell you that it doesn’t matter why the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER can’t READ a phone book, or why they don’t HAVE a phone book, or why they don’t WANT to use their phone book…you just do what the PAYING ALIANT CUSTOMER requests.

STOP PRESS!!! This just in: Aliant Customer Service Management tippy-toeing very carefully all over an apology to Wise advice. It seems that the Aliant operator in question is going to have that informative talk with her supervisor this afternoon….

Opal Goes On a Photo Shoot

Opal and I took over a local hospital today. We had an entourage that included; two AEBC (Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians) Halifax chapter members, three Halifax Infirmary staff people, and my friend, Anita a photographer who was armed with camera equipment. We were on a photo shoot for a pamphlet which AEBC Halifax has created in collaboration with the Diversity team at CDHA (Capital District Health Authority).  This pamphlet is being developed for some of the front-line staff of CDHA.  CDHA is made up of several hospitals and clinics in Halifax (10,000 employees in total).  The information in the pamphlet is designed to inform them on how to assist patients or clients who are blind or partially sighted. It includes information on the types of things to say to a blind person in the hospital/clinic setting (identify yourself…offer assistance…explain a procedure…) what NOT to say (“Over there”, “you don’t look blind”…), what to do (elementary guiding,  provide audible cues ie tapping a counter), what NOT to do (grab a blind person, touch a guide dog….), some general information (blind people have different types and levels of vision…some blind people use aids such as long white cane, or white support cane, ID cane, walker,  or guide dog…) information about the AEBC (see link on blogroll) and the Diversity Initiative at CDHA.  This is a phenomenal achievement for AEBC Halifax, a new chapter that no one knows much about yet.  CDHA wanted ‘realistic’ photos for the pamphlet instead of my cheesy Clip Art.   I convinced them to hire my favourite photographer. I also asked Randy (who has a standard long cane) and Joann (who uses a walker, but also brought along her white support cane) to meet us for some ‘action shots’.    The hospital provided three volunteer staff people to ‘ease the pain’ and chaos arising from our little  photo shoot with the ‘hospitalish’ looking staff and employees I needed in the pictures. I wanted Anita to take shots of us in various settings. We posed at the information counter, though we stalled there until confirmation with ‘Security’ about ‘permission’.  We also shot pics in the blood collection services area,  the Infirmary’s hallways, and in the Occupational Therapy department.   Fortunately, I am familiar with the blood lab staff and managed to sweet talk Glenda and Cathy (Cathy stopped long enough to put on her lipstick) to allow us into their department. They took time to pose with us, pretending to draw blood samples. Ya gotta love a phlebotomist! It also doesn’t hurt that I have the ability to steamroll a situation before anyone knows what is happening. A  lovely young woman from New Zealand who works in OT seemed a little camera shy at first, but when she realized that it was her chance at Canadian immortality (she is going back to the land of kiwis soon) she acquiesced and posed too.   We had some technical glitches.  Not the photography equipment…Randy’s cane fell apart and we had to stop and get it taped  up before he could continue. Opal led the parade all over the 4th floor of the Halifax Infirmary, and appeared in a number of shots. You can’t have a pamphlet without a guide dog on the front of it, can you?!

Don’t Sit On the Cat! and Other Advice For Blind People

People ask me all sorts of questions about how I manage to do this,  that and the other thing. Here’s a sample: “How do you cook without burning yourself?”   “How do you know when your period has started?”   “How do you know if the lights are on or off?”  “Do you ever step/sit on the cat?”  “How do you know if the food in your ‘fridge is still good?”   “How do you know what bus to get on?” Sigh.  Frankly, I worry about the people that ask these questions. For their benefit, and that of those people with vision loss out there who haven’t quite ‘got it together’ yet, here are a few more tips.  Cooking is fun for me. Sure, it is a bit of a different process. I do not attempt to multi-task when cooking for safety reasons. It is one thing for a sighted person to roam away from a stove-top full of pots to make a phone call or balance their check book, but I like to stick with the task at hand. It is safer to be by the stove and avoid potential a disaster…like setting the kitchen ablaze and ruining dinner in the process. I use larger pots and pans than sighted people might.  This helps avoid overflow when things boil. I use fewer pots, preferring to make many recipes that can be made with one or two pots instead. I prepare ingredients beforehand so that they are ready to add when I need them. My experience as a chef comes in handy some days. I cook effortlessly for the most part. I seem to have an internal guidance system which helps me time things right; set water to boil in huge pot, chop garlic and vegies while waiting, cook pasta (keep lid off and metal spoon to stick in pot  handy to prevent ‘pasta eruptus’ on the stove), drain pasta (into large colander IN sink), put pot back on burner (no need to wash it), add olive oil and garlic (inhale deeply), add vegies in order of ‘cookability’.  OK, I just invented a word, so sue me. I refer to the vegies that take longer to cook, like carrots, celery, turnip… then  stir the cast iron pot (prevents any sticking and cooks evenly), add other vegies (like green beans, zucchini and tomatoes), add spices and minimal vegetable stock.  I  let it simmer for a while. When that’s cooked, I put the multigrain pasta into the mix and stir it up. Voila! I have a big honking pot of tasty, healthy pasta and vegies without need for fuss and 5 hours at the stove. I listen to my talking book or radio while I cook and clean up as I go. If I drop food on the floor,  two things happen; I immediately say “Leave It!” for Opal’s benefit, and then pick it up and toss. Some people find that long oven mitts helpful to avoid burns. I don’t bother, but then I have years of experience. You can buy them through assistive aids sites (like Maxi Aids.com). If I am chopping and need to set down my knife, I slip the blade under the cutting board, so when I come to look for it, there will be no gashed fingers to deal with. I also NEVER put knives or glass items in the sink. These are set aside or washed and put away immediately (Hey! I take blood thinners  and don’t want to spend my day at the ER).  About the funky food in the fridge (FFF). I keep a close ‘eye’ on the contents of my fridge, checking and using items regularly. Like with all my ‘stuff’, I keep items in assigned places in the fridge. I label containers of leftovers with a date, though normally, they are eaten within a couple of days or frozen for future use. When in doubt, I enlist someone with sight to scope out the quality of food (usually around the same time they look at my clothing for stains). 

Our cat, little Lucy is a chatty cat most of the time. That’s very helpful for us both. She learned very quickly when she came to live with me, that I can’t see her, and she needs to STAY OUT OF MY WAY!!  Once in a while, she goes incognito and silent (sheesh). You can put a bell on your pet’s collar. I always check the seat which my big butt is about to occupy. This is a good habit for blind people to get into. That way, you avoid sitting on your cat, dog, hairbrush, basket, aunt Mim etc. 

Independent living for a blind person is good and admirable. However, my wise advice? Don’t be an idiot! If you NEED help, ASK for it. Don’t waste your time and elevate your frustration level by worrying about stuff. If you are lost, listen for footsteps and ask the person attached to the legs where you are, or if they can get you  to a point you are familiar with. If you don’ know which bus has pulled up or when to get off it,  ask. If you need to find a washroom anywhere or want a clerk to find something in a store for you…ASK.   Ask with a strong voice, not like a timid mouse. Ask politely but with conviction. It’s OK. 

Lights on or off? check the switches routinely. Or, if you’re feeling wealthy, you can buy a talking light detector. And knowing if your period has arrived? Mercifully, I’m menopausal, but I do remember a time when I used my nose efficiently to detect the distinct odour of blood.

QUICK!!!! HIDE THE MILK BONES!!!!!

Good Gravy!!!! Hide the MilkBones!!! Jane is coming!!!! Who is Jane, you ask? Why am broaching hysteria? Jane M. is a trainer with Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind. She spent months using her expertise and years of experience as a trainer of dogs, to train my girl, Opal IV into a great Guide dog. Then, she trained ME (and what a sorry excuse for a trainee I was) WITH Opal and turned us into a TEAM. That was over two years ago, and now it’s time for our annual ‘after-care visit’. Here’s the thing… I’ve sort of tweaked some of the rules and introduced my own spin on my handling of Opal… and now, I have two and half weeks to get us sorted out!!! Hide the Milk Bones!!! (no treats, says Jane…hmm… I started giving the girl a cookie when we get home). Let’s see, what other ‘illegal activity’ am I guilty of? Dog on sofa? Check! Dog on bed? Check! (but not overnight). Commands to Opal all bunged up? Check! (I’ve invented some of my own). Forgotten to perform regular ‘near traffic’ exercises? Check! Sigh. Oh well, at least I have a happy, healthy dog who likes her job, does it well and saves my sorry ass on a regular basis, is kind to Lucy the cat, loves all mankind, is groomed everyday, is loved and cared for, and will always be…the girl of my dreams. Get over it Jane!

“Please Release Me…”

If you’re as old as I am, you will remember the song written by Eddie Miller in 1946 that was popularized by Englebert Humperdinck in the 60’s… “Release Me”. However, if you are older, you may be more familiar with songs bearing the same title performed by Wilson Phillips or the Swedish group, Oh Laura. No matter. For my purposes, the tortured lyrics of all of those tunes do not have much bearing on this blog. Here’s what happened this morning that had Opal singing her OWN version.

It was 5 am when Opal gave me my daily wake-up kiss. I stumbled out of bed as I do 365 days a year and proceeded to don my clothes like a robot. We then went outside to give her the opportunity to relieve. The routine drill when we return to our apartment is for me to plug in the coffeemaker and to begin the much-anticipated activity of feeding the girls. Perhaps my zombie-like stupor was more pronounced than usual this morning. I managed to pick up Opal’s dish, go to the cupboard where the rubber tote filled with dog food is located, scoop a mug full of her kibble into the dish, add the warm water, set the dish down on her place mat, and…. walk away in a daze to deal with Lucy’s dietary needs. I gave Lucy her kibble ration in one bowl, a spoon-full of soft cat food in her tiny saucer and fresh water in her dish (all lined up neatly on her Christmas-theme place mat that is identical to Opal’s). Then I thought to myself, ‘ something is wrong here’. Opal was thinking that too. In fact the thought bubble over her head was singing ” Please release me…” Yes, I had forgotten to ‘release’ Opal to her food. There she sat, undoubtedly salivating and praying for me to come to my senses! It might seem harsh to train dogs to wait for permission before approaching their food, however this type of discipline does have its positive results. Dogs, particularly Guide dogs must understand the hierarchy in their ‘pack’. I am the leader of my pack. Opal knows that above all, she can depend on me as her leader, to be in charge, to care for her and to take care of business. (oops, I just squeezed two more references to stale songs; ‘Leader of the Pack’ by The Shangri-Las and “Taking Care of Business” by BTO) The moment I came to my senses and realized that Opal was waiting for me to release her to her food ration, I spoke the words that are always music to her ears…”Good girl, eat your breakfast”. I occasionally use a feeding ‘whistle’ to do the job, but that’s a bit much for my neighbours so early in the morning. You can bet that it doesn’t matter to Opal what means I use to ‘release’ her, as long as I do so eventually.