More Places For O.andM. Instructors To Learn Ou

We’ve all heard the expression: You need to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to understand what they are going through. Thanks to a partnership with Cal. State L.A., Braille Institute’s California campuses will give students training to be orientation and mobility instructors a great opportunity to do just that.

Most of the Braille Institute locations from San Diego, Los Angeles, and on up the coast service clients who are transitioning from high school to college, middle age adults, and those transitioning into retirement. Some of these campuses also have daily classes for building skills for homelife and employment like working with adaptive technology. Now, with the help of Cal. State-L.A., they will give future O.andM. instructors hands on exposure to people who are blind.

After all, the popular sayings flipside is true, too. We who are blind long to learn from people who truly get us. So after learning a lot about blindness through classroom books and theory along with a bit of practicum mixed in, Cal. State students will have yet another venue where they can immerse themselves in the world we know very well. After all, orientation and mobility isn’t just showing routes and sending the client on his or her way. It’s adapting those routes and needs to the young college student rushing from dorm to science lab, from lecture hall to the dining hall. It’s helping a partially sighted man in his sixties learn to use the color contrasts in his apartment so as to organize where to put the mail he’s retrieved from the box outside. For the guide dog user, O.andM. instruction involves learning the routes he’s taken for some years while staying clear of many benches or flower pots that his cane tip has tapped instead of using them as landmarks.

Of course, the benefit for both Braille Institute and Cal. State-L.A. will extend to the dollars and cents of any partnership along with each other’s public awareness. The more businesses and schools raising the awareness of our capabilities and dignity the better. Now as you read more about this excellent alliance here, think of how working together will benefit each Braille Institute client or O.andM. student intern.

In addition, it’s no secret that there’s a shortage of blindness professionals, whether we’re talking orientation and mobility or assistive tech. instructors, or vision rehabilitation therapists-all of whom we’ve featured in the past on Boldly Blind. Now let’s see how gaining new ground for internships and increased exposure to the blindness community helps Cal. State-L.A. train the next generation.

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Blind Sports Week

With the change of the leaves and summer into fall comes the new school year. And with the new school year comes the next cycle of amateur sports for all grade levels…and adults. We’re not just talking school sports but the resumption of blind sports like goalball, track and field, preseason workouts for wrestling, judo and swimming.

So what better way to get the blood pumping and enthused than blind sports week? You don’t have to live in Colorado Springs, CO where the USABA is based or in Fort Wayne, IN where the paraolympic goalball team trains to get involved. Blind sports week will feature activities all over the country related to the many adaptive sports we’ve featured on here over the past few months. Yes, blind and low-vision people can and do play sports like anyone else. We enjoy the feel of that track or treadmill beneath our feet. The smell of leather, lockers, and iron dumbbells at a gym gets me pumped for the fray.

So check out the week of activities from Oct. 3-8  both in person and via the web sponsored by the United States Association of Blind Athletes. Go here for more information whether you yourself are an athlete, fan, or parent of an athlete. And always, go, USA!

A Fitness Friday Extra: Jasmine Murrell, A USABA Endurance Ambassador

Since this week’s theme for Fitness Friday is running, here’s a Fitness Friday extra featuring an outstanding blind athlete who’s become an endurance ambassador for the United States Association of Blind Athletes. I saw the post I’m attaching first from the Blind Lifestyle newsletter and couldn’t help but highlight it here.

After all, we can take courage from those people who have stepped up to the plate when navigating life’s contours and made their passion into their full-time endeavor. Jasmine Murrell’s story follows in this link.

Here’s hoping and praying she is able to make the next paraolympics, which is one of her goals.

Fitness Friday: United In Stride

Running has always been one of my ways of keeping fit. One of the first questions I am sure to answer when moving is where I can find the nearest treadmill. And usually within a few days, I go, sign up, and get logging in those miles…running in place.

There’s nothing wrong with running in place, adjusting the little buttons for speed and incline. It helps shed the pounds, keeps our heartrate healthy and puts us in a great mood.

But I’ve always enjoyed those times when I can stretch my legs on a path, road, or actual track. I used to do this more often in college years ago. And, now, with the help of United In Stride, running outside, training for 5K’s and 10K’s may very well be possible again.

Maybe, you would be interested in this fantastic organization that matches blind runners and sighted guides.

For those of you who can see, a verbal and visual tutorial on the homepage can give you the basics of being a sighted guide. For us who are blind, resources show us the ways in which we can be guided along a course. Some people only need verbal directions on the spur of the moment. Others of us need tethered to our guide with a rope or cord wrapped around our waste or wrist.

Looking at the site, I’m impressed to see how casual fitness buffs to paraolympic sprinters use the services offered by United In Stride.

All you need for signing up is to enter your user name, email,  and password; your name; phone number; and location. That will give you a profile along with your best guess at how slow or fast you  run per mile. There are places to discuss your past athletic involvement and interests.

So perhaps, as you want to meet new friends, gain someone in your corner who knows the ropes (literally) of guiding and want to have fun keeping fit in the elements, here’s your opportunity.

United In Stride is sponsored by the Massachusetts Association of Blind Athletes and has members all over the country. I hope this will give you the impetus to get in stride and keep in shape along with me as we navigate life’s contours together.

Thankk-You Thursday: Shopping assistants

Call me weird, but one of the things I look forward to when moving is getting to know the people at my local supermarket. From the bagger at the checkout line to the deli worker slicing up a pound of honey ham, all these people have such varied backstories. Some are high school aged helpers while others are married and in their fifties. Some work the store as a full-time gig while others put in a few hours here and there to make some extra bucks.

Whether we shop at the store in person or order our food through InstaCart, we rely on these folks to get our food off the shelves. Sometimes, they are the baggers in Walmart who have a moment while the customer flow has ebbed a bit or they may be the hands-on-deck stocking shelves most of the day. After all, unless your local supermarket has designated a person or two as being handicap assistants, most folks who shop for or with us are doing those things a job description calls “duties otherwise assigned by the manager.”

In our here-today gone-tomorrow world, turn-over at entry level jobs is very high in the food service industry. So, it’s rare that we get to know the same helper for years on end unless yours is the main store in town and does a great job retaining its staff through good pay raises, substantive benefits, and job security in the event of a prolonged sickness or pregnancy leave. Add to that, the pace at which many of these entry level workers go has quickened over the years and that has reduced their work to checking off boxes within a given amount of time before moving onto their next responsibility. It always amuses me, though, how some will volunteer to wait with me for paratransit to arrive so that they can take a break from the otherwise frantic pace they’ve been running all day. Sometimes, for the sake of conversation, I’ll accept the offer though I am certainly independent enough not to need their company at that point.

So, as we say “thank you” to those who help us shop, we also keep a strategy in mind for helping them work with us and our needs. Here are a few tips:

  1. Be patient. Most of the time, it will take several minutes for people at the customer service desk to locate someone who can help us shop.
  2. If you are totally blind, be ready to explain sighted guide. While many supermarkets require to include handicap assistance as part of training new employees, many of them forget how to do it unless they have a relative or several new customers at the same time who are blind.
  3. If you’re working from a list you’ve brailled or printed up, remember to specify which brands of food you want. By default, many workers will pick out the store brand or, if that’s not available, say they don’t have what we want. If you’re comparing           prices, make sure that your assistant knows you want them to read off several selections of what the store offers.
  4. Let small talk be small talk. Making light conversation with someone will helpak the ice a bit so that you and your helper aren’t feeling like you have to walk on egg shells while walking around the store together. It’s perfectly okay for whoever’s helping you to ask even the simplest questions about being blind. When you cordially clear up their misconceptions, they will be more ready to accommodate the next person who is blind that they meet.      

Of course, you can add to this list of tips for yourself with whatever helps you ways you can bridge the awareness gap. The more people serving in the public square see us assertively showing our capabilities, the more they will see us who are blind for who we are and appreciate the adaptations we make in everyday life.

Talking Blindness, Coping Stories

One of my favorite lines from the movie, Top Gun (1986) was when Maverick was told in the final battle, “You can’t last out there alone.” It was true for the phenom Naval aviator played by Tom Cruz and its also true for us who navigate life’s contours blind. We need others to cover our six or, at times, hold our hand as we go through new and challenging experiences. That’s why so many independent living centers around the country and agencies like the Light House for the Blind offer organized times when people who are blind can talk….blindness.

No matter how capable you consider yourself, you face those opportunities or barriers where you need to adapt or cope. Maybe, you’re a first time guide handler, so you join a email list or Facebook group to talk dog care. Or you may have friends in your town who also have guide dogs, so you hang out at the local coffee shop or bar to swap adventure stories of crossing streets, meeting up for a date, or those embarrassing moments when your dog turns teenager on you and does something ornery.

In Fort Wayne and several other cities, various Christian congregations host outreach centers for the blind. During after their monthly meals, attendees often shoot the breeze and talk how our blindness affects how much we travel by bus, what choices we make in medical insurance plans, or excursions into the job market.

San Francisco’s Lighthouse for the Blind has a neat opportunity every couple weeks for sharing these coping stories called The Business Of Blindness. After all, being blind is a full-time gig in itself. So, as the coordinator says here, pour your coffee or other favorite beverage and join in the discussion. You can also sign up at this link to get further online and in-person updates from The LIghthouse. There are other cities with other affiliates that offer similar experiences.

A Neat Networking Niche

Hadley School for the Blind has been a long-standing correspondence/distance education leader for people who have visual impairments. But, it’s more than teaching and classes. You can check their many opportunities out here:

One of the opportunities caught my eye today since I’m a writer and blogger. That’s the monthly opportunity to network with others who share a love for the craft of putting words on paper (or the computer screen). Do you find yourself in this niche, too? Check this out. It’s going to be fun and enlightening to share insights with other blind authors and writers.

Braille And The Blindness Community’s Literacy

“You’re braille reading days are over,” said the professor who taught me a study skills class over thirty years ago. Maybe, she was convinced that we who were transitioning into college needed to grasp the lifestyle of depending on readers and the blossoming technology head-on. Maybe, her comments were meant for emotive effect. But to my incoming freshman’s ears, they made the diminishing use of braille to sound ominous and unavoidable.

As we know now, a lot of changes in technology, rebranding and buyouts have happened in the blindness community since 1991. Still the word, the number, the computer codes written in braille remain in use all these years later.

To encourage the ongoing use of braille in school, at work and in public buildings, Braille Institute recently sponsored its annual braille reading challenge. Let’s consider it a spelling bee-like event that started with hundreds of competitors around the nation and ended with just a handful in five braille skill areas including reading speed and accuracy, comprehension, and writing. It’s no coincidence that these same areas form the basis of braille literacy classes during prevocational evaluation and training classes at our various vocational training schools such as World Services for the Blind and the NFB’s national center in Colorado. To pass such evaluative steps toward a vocational goal, a student must read at a given proficiency that is equivalent to the standard reading speed for someone using print on the job.

A major influence keeping braille in use over the decades is the refreshable display that enhances someone’s experience in a call center, working reception at a hotel, or in medical billing. Especially when dealing with numbers and equations, hearing the electronic voice will give only half the needed data. Without the braille, a string of numbers can mean a whole lot of things but makes navigating a chart or document nearly impossible until someone feels the plus, minus, or divided-by signs with his fingertips. Similarly, when editing a paper in school or preparing a novel for publication, gleaning information is doable by sound alone. But, having the braille at your fingertips will make correcting a misspelled word or replace one phrase with a better one a quicker task.

Of course, some will give us pushback about the need for emphasizing braille literacy. In a very well-balanced article, Melissa Helquist speaks to the need to go beyond just tactile acquaintanceship with braille to consider oneself literate. She points out that the ability to listen with the use of audio technology gives someone the tools and information they need to learn and work in society. Besides, she points out, only ten percent of people who are blind read braille and yet technological advance has given people of all ages the ability to use a laptop. Form words and sentences by voice, and become sound dependent as our world is becoming more image-driven.

Yet, the ongoing statistics which Ms. Helquist quotes show a greater unemployment rate among those blind or low-vision people who cannot read braille. That doesn’t bode well for the prospect of getting a larger percentage of people having disabilities out of poverty world- or nationwide. Furthermore, as the American Federation of the Blind points out-quoting the January-February, 2022 edition of the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness-no solid basis stands behind the oft quoted ten-percent statistic. No solid sources reference the dynamic change in people’s ability to read braille as is available and encouraged by the very technology that some claim could replace it.

In fact, as a 2016 article in the blog for Braille Works shows, literacy goes beyond the mere ability to read and write. Familiarity with a system of symbols and their use in general society connects a person to what’s tangible firsthand rather than otherwise imparted by others. So, when a traveler reads the tactical dots on his hotel room’s sign, he can tell he’s in, for example, room 225 without someone telling him. And while well-meaning passers-by may orient him to the men’s room instead of the women’s, he can verify that by feeling the braille on or next to the restroom’s door.

For as image-oriented as our society has become, we are just as or even more so dependent on the word to inform us what the image means. So it is with braille. It puts skin, bone, and sinew to the otherwise hearsay of secondhand discourse. And while we all enjoy our iPhones, audio books, and other modes of reading, braille gives a person who is totally blind or low-vision the needed terre firma on which to stand and interact each day.

In other words, our braille reading days are not over. Rather, with the implementation of the refreshable displays, available tactile signage in public, and encouragement of blindness professionals such as TVI’s and CVRT’s to know it, braille will remain with us and provide the needed path out of a potential literacy crisis.

Tuesday Tips: Cleaning Kitchen Counters

Today, we return to the kitchen for Tuesday Tips. It’s always easiest to clean countertops when we who are blind can remove as many errant obstacles from the path our hand and wash rag will take. This is especially true when cleaning up one whole area to the left or the right of the sink. Of course, if you are just wiping up a smaller spill in a contained area, you don’t have to shift everything for the moment.

The key point is orientation and knowing how best to thoroughly remove all sticky stuff, crumbs and trash from your counter. That’s why it’s best to work along a grid pattern.

So first, move your coffee maker, soap dispenser,, and so forth to a safe area elsewhere in your kitchen or temporarily onto the table. Then, either into the sink or into your open palm, sweep the loose crumbs, coffee grounds and trash so you can dump them in the trash can before the next step.

When that’s done, lightly soap your rag, making sure it’s not too sopping wet. My wife and I joke about it not being able to leak excess water. Then, in straight line strokes vertically and then horizontally, wipe down your counter space. Repeat this pattern two or three times when rinsing and then drying the surface.

Then you can replace the appliances and containers, making sure that they aren’t covered in dust, crumbs, or grounds themselves. If they are, lightly wash them and rinse particularly their bottom sides before setting them into place.

In this way, you will continue having a clean and safe area wherein you can cook and prepare food. Believe me, I know how much a pain it is to work in an area I haven’t kept up by these simple methods.

And without sounding pedantic, we who are blind do have the disadvantage of not seeing residue that our family members and guests can. Plus, keeping the kitchen clean in this way is bound to help your overall positive outlook as you will find ways and times to straighten up other areas of your house or apartment.