Tag Archives: surviving blindness

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…

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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.

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.

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.

‘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.

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.