Category Archives: tips

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.

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

“Over There”!

Just one more time…if I hear the words, “Over There” when I ask someone for directions to a street, a building, a washroom or  an item in a store…I promise to do something totaly irrational. Perhaps I will break out into a lively song and dance routine with Opal. The song? “Over There” of course! Yes, the toe-tapping, Johny-go-get-them WW I song written in 1917 by George Cohan. Mr. Cohan wrote the song  shortly after the USA  declared war on Germany. Many versions were recorded, including those by Billy Murray, Nora Bayes and Enrico Caruso….”And We Won’t come Back ’till it’s over, Over There!”. Perhaps it should become the international theme song for the blind.

A Sobering Reminder

Yesterday, my sweetie’s apartment building went up in flames. Luckily, no one was injured. However, 70 residents (mostly elderly) are without a home until further notice.  My Significant Other heard the fire alarm go off and went outdoors to investigate. This building is prone to false alarms.  In the minutes that L stepped out of the building people started to stream out. The fire department arrived simultaneously, The story is that  the apartment nearest the fire triggered the smoke detector. It was unoccupied at the time. However, a tenant heard the endless buzzing and summoned the super.  He entered the apartment and faced a blaze, and yelled for the tenant to pull the fire alarm and call the fire department. My sweetie called (from a stranger’s cell phone) to give me the news. Standing in shock, without a jacket, ID, keys, or Meerah the cat, L was not allowed to return into the building.  Most residents were housed by the Red Cross at a local arena.  Meerah? L was told that all cats would be collected by the SPCA’s staff, once the fire fighters declared it safe, with the most vulnerable (nearest the danger)  being rescued first.  Dazed and without a worldly possession,  L learned this morning  that little Meerah had been rescued last night,  then taken to the SPCA  Emergency shelter until morning, then transferred to a vet across town for examination. The cat was treated for dehydration and returned to the SPCA shelter where she remains with the other rescued cats until further notice.  A friend of ours who lives in the same building and who was also forced to leave her cat behind, learned, to her horror this morning that somehow her cat was not in the apartment when the SPCA rescue team went in to find her.

Last week, L checked my smoke detector when I complained that it should have gone off after I dropped food on the stove’s burner and did not.  L urged me to report it. I did so quickly (I am the ultra-prepared person when it comes to potential disaster). My big mistake, was not insisting that it be checked immediately by an electrician. So, today, after my seven thousand phone calls on L’s behalf (to the Insurance, the Red Cross, the SPCA, the EMO…) I picked up the receiver to make one more call; “come fix this thing today or I will call the fire Marshall”, I advised my landlord very forcefully. My defective smoke detector was taken away and a new one installed by an electrician within 1 hour.

There are some things too precious to conceive loosing,  including my animals’ lives and my own.  I urge you all to check your smoke alarms immediately. If you do not have a kit ready to take out your door when a fire alarm goes off, get one together. Include ID, medication, important numbers and papers…anything you would need to evacuate.  Have a plan to evacuate WITH your animals and be ready to do so any time the alarm goes. Know where the carrier is for your cat. Be ready to get it out quickly, loading it with the cat, gathering the bag and dog and getting  OUT.  Practice doing so until you can do it in your sleep.

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.