Tag 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!”

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?

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!

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…

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!

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.