Category Archives: independent living

Take it all the way to the Bank

Sometimes, it pays to persevere. For years, I and other individuals have requested, pleaded with, and even demanded that the Halifax Shopping Center branch of  RBC (formerly known as Royal Bank of Canada) install an audible  banking machine. This branch has gone through several managers over the years, and all were less than responsive to the suggestion that accessibility  in banking would be “a good thing” (to borrow a line from Martha Stewart). The branch  went through a major retrofit last year, (INCLUDING INSTALLATION OF A NEW BANKING MACHINE), and despite reminders to the deadheads in charge of the dough (AKA the last manager) to order and include an audible machine, the branch ended up putting in a new, regular INACCESSIBLE machine. People who can’t see the keypad and display, cannot use it for quick, everyday banking, like other bank patrons. Instead, our options included going to the stand-up tellers while trying to juggle papers, guide dogs and privacy, or the grim death march-like wait with the ‘seniors’ at the sit-down service. The latter is the default choice of most blind people who bank alone.  Many a time, I have sat…and sat, and waited for my turn to come. It  irritated me beyond belief to wait endlessly for the privilege of depositing money into the coffers of an already obscenely profitable bank. Tic-toc! My time is valuable too! And to boot, any blind person in need of cash or depositing funds to cover bills etc after banking hours? was screwed! So one day, as I sat vacantly at  the ‘sit down’ service,  eavesdropping on some old geek’s long winded  financial and personal history (in excruciating minutia) , the new branch manager came over to introduce herself. A big sigh went off  in my head, but a cordial greeting coming out my mouth…and within  two minutes, I redirected the conversation. I asked her if  we might open  the dialogue about accessibility problems with this RBC branch one more time.   Result?  Darlene, the new manager, just telephoned  to announce  (a mere three weeks or so after  I sent her a detailed e-mail  about  accessibility, Accommodation, rights and obligations blah, blah, blah), that the RBC Halifax Shopping Center branch will, by April, install AT LEAST THREE AUDIBLE BANKING MACHINES AT THE BRANCH ITSELF AND WITHIN THE MALL!

Now, I can  look forward to cruising  over to the mall at any time,  and being able to go the bank machine (the audible ones) , slip on my headphones, plug in, and listen to ‘bank guy’s’ voice croon his instructions to me, thereby allowing me to conduct transactions quickly….such as depositing my money…. into the coffers of an obscenely profitable bank. Nice going, though,  RBC. 

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Plenty of Jobs For Dogs

The earliest dogs who had ‘ jobs’  were pretty much limited  to doing things which involved  herding, sled-pulling, hunting or guarding. Eventually, more types of dog-jobs emerged; guiding, avalanche and disaster rescuing, arson detection, hearing assistance, explosive detection, seizure alerting, wheelchair-user assistance, and many other types of special skills or therapy dogs.  Dogs now help autistic kids, people with panic disorder, kids who have trouble reading (‘Reading with Rover’ and similar programs) and now, some dogs even provide assistance (practical and emotional) to recovering veterans.

How fitting that in yesterday’s New York Times (Veteran’s Day), there appeared an article describing successful connections made pairing dogs with veterans. The physical medicine and rehabilitation departments at Walter Reed Medical Center  are referring qualified veterans to organizations like Canine Companions for Independence Veterans Program (www.cci.org) , America’s Vet Dogs (www.guidedog.org/vetdogs ) and Neads Canines for Combat Veterans (www.neads.org). The link for the New York times is: www.newyorktimes.com. You’ll have to take it from there. My computer is coughing up another cyber-hairball and complaining about a monster lurking nearby…why is that anti-virus stuff so expensive?

Let the ‘Other’ Games Begin!

The hoopla is over in Beijing. Or is it? Sure,  thousands of athletes and visitors have streamed onto airplanes and returned to their home countries.  They tote medals and for some, sponsorship deals. The media assault on the world has abated. Disinterested people around the globe give a collective sigh of relief as their TV and radio programming returns to normal. However, on September 6th, the Para Olympics get underway. These are, in my opinion, the REAL games. You won’t find flaky sub “sports” such as BMX bike racing, syncro-swimming (plenty of gel and nose plugs here!) or trampoline in the Para Olympic lineup.  No, instead, count on things like equestrian, swimming and goalball.

The Para Olympics began in 1948, when British war veterans  with spinal cord injuries decided to participate in a sporting ‘olympics’. Since then, the Para Olympic Games has grown into a huge ‘after’ event with thousands of ‘disabled’ athletes (the lucky ones who are have the resources and facilities at home to participate in para sport). These Games come on the heels of the ‘real’ Olympics.  Frankly, I would love to see the day, when there is no separation of the games. It would be a logistical nightmare to facilitate all this ‘inclusion’  and access to venues etc, but how wonderful it would be for Olympic fans (able bodied and not) to be able to wander from ‘Olympic Girls Gymnastics’ in one part of a stadium, to the ‘Para Olympic Fencing’ competition in another part of the same stadium.

‘They’ (and I mean the government funders and planners and other  do-gooders who spout ‘inclusion’ and ‘accessibility’ in all things) often do not really walk the para-walk, so to speak.   It’s one thing to provide an automatic door opener and modified washroom in a sports arena or community centre and announce with great fanfare that the complex is “ACCESSIBLE”, but it’s another thing to provide accessible PROGRAMS for the kids with disabilities who want to use them.  These facilities are erected at great cost and are intended for EVERYONE’S use. However, they often have physical barriers to PWD (persons with disabilities)  or, there simply is no provission for PWD (kids and adults) to access programs. What is the point if someone in a wheelchair can get INTO the building, onto the pool deck and maybe, even into the pool,  but there are no programs for them?  The big bucks and support go to mainstream (able-bodied) sports.  I think there is really little genuine interest on the part of government and society in true ‘accessibility’, ‘inclusion’, ‘full participation’, ‘diversity’…yada, yada, yada.  For many ‘Planners’ (the able-bodied guys and gals in suits) who tweak design and convince the tax payers that they have done an admirable job with their ‘accessible’ design, it’s ‘all about the money’ and creating a building that minimizes  spending on the project and provides what is mandatory by law in the way of accessibility features. There is much time and effort (ergo money) spent (ie. wasted) on legal consultation by city planners to avoid the risk of not meeting the minimum accessibility requirements and, god forbid, a Human Rights or other legal (ie costly and embarrassing) challenge by some ‘minority’ group (persons with disabilities or cultural, ethnic or other). Sigh. Do you need to live the experience of seeing YOUR kid in a wheel chair before you start thinking, “Hey! there are hardly any programs for my little Johny!” ?  Sadly, that’s the way it seems to work. A physiotherapist and advocate for kids with disabilities recently told me that she has spent 3 years trying to hammer home the need for programs, not just physical accessibility to a proposed Halifax sports venue  to some of our city ‘suits’. She described ‘vacant stares’ by some of these dudes and dudettes. Her frustration was evident but her conviction?…unwavering.

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.

The Gift of Giving

I am as poor as a church mouse. At least, that’s what my bank account would have you believe. Do I have hidden riches? You bet. No, it’s not Opal, my ‘precious jewel’… though that would be a good answer. My latest ‘riches’ arrived through the Advisory Committee For Persons with Disabilities which I chair. Recently, the city Mayor and Council felt generous (and maybe wanted to make points for the upcoming municipal election?). They approved $200,000 for fixing or adapting or creating stuff in HRM buildings to make them more accessible for persons with disabilities. Nice. The committee’s job is to decide how this money gets spent. We have a wish list that is growing by the minute. My suggestion was to maximize the spending of this money. 200K is squat when you consider that this is the price tag for major accessibility surgery like putting in one new elevator in a community center. I wanted to do the most with this, and effect change in many buildings. Yesterday, after much discussion following the ‘pitch’ from a representative from the Sledge Hockey Task Force, we passed a motion to funnel 35 thousand towards retrofitting the Bowles arena in Dartmouth (auto door opener and washroom) so that the new sledge hockey team can get off the ground here in HRM. Sledge Hockey, by the way, is a form of hockey that uses ‘sledges’ to move disabled players around the ice. This is CANADA! Hockey is our game and part of our identity. All kids should have the opportunity to participate in the game. What a wonderful gift for me to be able to say the words, “motion passed”. I had bumped into Mayor Kelly before my meeting started (He was coming into city hall as I was stepping out to relieve Opal). He knew who I was though I don’t know why. We’ve only met at big, crowded functions. My paranoia led me to believe that he has been following this blog…remember the ‘can relocator’ and my confession by proxy? I think I mentioned that I should be dumping Opal’s poop bags on his desk because my requested garbage can had not arrived after two months… my photo is on one page of this blog…you can see how my mind got to this conclusion. But no, he was setting up for the Pride flag raising ceremony (could it be that Mayor Kelly is courting the gay vote?) and the reception in Halifax Hall which followed. I told him that I was going to my meeting and that I was not pleased that he had booted us out of our regular meeting room (about to be used for the Pride Week shindig). He suggested that I drop by after my meeting. I did. It was a little crowded and noisy. You know what people are like when food is available on the city’s dime. I stayed long enough to say hello to Mayor Kelly again. He told me that he is feeling better after his recent hospitalization. He insisted that I take one of the sweets from the tray he was wielding around like a social butterfly. Perhaps I’ll send him a note to announce the spending of some money for the sledge hockey team and their arena. Could it be that we can double the 200K amount that is set aside for disability-related retrofitting next year?