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.

Looking Forward To College, Start Now

It’s summer vacation for students of all levels. But, are all students vacationing in the summer? Of course, not. Colleges of all stripes offer summer term courses, which many of us have taken so our course loads might be lighter during the fall and spring. For us who are totally blind or who have low-vision, summer provides an excellent time to explore plans for the future.

Over the past few years, virtual college tours have made campus visitations much less expensive. Athletes narrowing their choice of schools who’ve been offered scholarships use them before making onsite appointments with coaches and future teammates. For us who are blind, the virtual tour can allow for parents, teachers of the visually impaired (TVI’s), and mobility specialists to team up for the upcoming transition. It’s a far cry from the map-making my mom and I did by using pipe cleaners or yarn for sidewalks, strips of construction paper for streets and fuzzy felt patches for parking lots. Now, thanks to screen reading software and virtual reality programs, a perspective student can begin getting the lay of the land before even stepping onto campus.

Your local mobility specialist can certainly construct a map with the relief features like I mentioned a moment ago while reminding his or her student of the basic cane techniques for crossing a street or parking lot. He can make notes of where stairs appear seemingly out of nowhere in a hallway or along a sidewalk. Together, students and those who work with them can anticipate how to manage an upcoming schedule depending on how much walking or taking on-campus transportation during an average day.

A virtual tour can help you form a to-do list of steps to cover from before your first college visit all the way through to matriculating into school. This article gives you a way to set priorities and identify those areas that a to-do list can cover.

It goes without saying that we who are blind or visually impaired have a lot to consider when going off to college. Yes, we’re excited or nervous about making new friends. We anticipate joining groups like a chess club or martial arts academy or student government like we did in high school. Colleges of every size will abound with these opportunities. But navigating the contours between making adaptations to dorm life, seeking test-taking accommodations, and showing our ability to manage even the most mundane tasks with little or no sight takes getting used to. That’s why it was so important for me to attend a summer program at the University of Evansville between my high school graduation and the first semester at Concordia College-Seward, Nebraska. Let’s say living in the dorms took a lot of getting used to and I had those few weeks to learn from a lot of mistakes while taking a study skills class, brushing up on mobility training, and enrolling in a couple courses with sighted peers. Now over thirty years later, several schools around the country offer similar college transition programs for high school juniors and seniors. To see how World Services for the Blind collaborates with nearby University of Arkansas-Little Rock, go here.

Perhaps, one of the most important considerations you will need to make when weighing college options is how the disabled services on campus communicate and coordinate with online portals and professors’ course expectations. While the Rehabilitation Act (1973) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) offer guidelines for colleges to follow, the shortage or abundance of student support services will augment your academic experience. On a smaller campus where everyone knows and sees each other on a regular basis, adjusting deadlines or reader schedules for tests goes much quicker than at a larger school. At the same time, directors of a campus’s disabled students office may not have much hands-on experience with adaptive technology. Maybe, he or she knows the laws for granting additional time to take a test but isn’t as comfortable relaying such needs to a newer professor or grad assistant. Add to that, let’s face the fact that some online portals are woefully more outdated than others when it comes to jiving with JAWS or NVDA software. No matter how the techie gurus tinker and tweak things, they don’t always interface well with our software. So our college choice may be contoured by these considerations. After all, not everyone comes to school with the same ability to use the adaptations we have. So getting in touch with other blind students will help you compare notes on how to approach difficult situations. Here and here are two groups that will prove beneficial in connecting you with other students facing many of the same challenges as yourself or your kids.

Finally, get acquainted with the local Commission for the Blind and any other organizations near your chosen school. You may even switch your coordination with Vocational Rehabilitation or your State’s Department of the Blind so as to better handle services like orientation and mobility, opportunities for personal adjustment and counseling, or acquiring the technology you need for school. For instance, not every State offers a specific technology distributor that works in a timely fashion with your needs minus the caveats and red tape. But, Missouri, for example, does have such a middleman that seeks to get computers, notetakers, and other devices into the hands of students and professionals alike. In the same way as a State agency does, this group takes the bids from three providers before authorizing the a purchase. If your school is in a mid to larger city, you may be able to get individualized training on JAWS or Zoom Text at your local center for independent learning.

Beyond that, look for recreational opportunities and sports teams designed with the blind in mind. Of course, on this blog, we feature a lot that the USABA provides throughout the country with regard to goalball, beep baseball, judo, and other sports. But, cities like Kalamazoo, MI; Fort Wayne, IN; Philadelphia, PA, and Los Angeles, CA have fitness locations where you can gain membership and support because of your visual impairment. Along with keeping yourself physically fit, you’ll be part of friendships that by their very nature cut through the have-to’s of explaining your capabilities.

In short, summer is a great time to plan for college whether you or your kids will be attending. Yes, the adjustment curb may appear different at first for you than for someone who’s fully sighted. With that said, each of us making the big transition will answer a lot of questions while being boldly blind on campus.

Encouragement for Blind Fathers

It’s Father’s Day weekend, a time to recognize the efforts the man we call Dad has put into forming us for a prosperous and encouraging livelihood. While the next post will focus on our thanks to the fathers in our lives, this one seeks to encourage you who are blind fathers that parenting, let alone a stable livelihood as adults should remain one of your goals.

Of course, many will wonder how can someone who is blind support a family financially, emotionally, and yes spiritually. After all, it’s very tempting for people who are fully sighted to transfer that question to a default parental posture toward us who are blind. It’s easy for men, in particular, who do not have firsthand experience with adaptations to wonder how we can play sports, fix dinner on a grill, handle a family’s bank account, etc. Even in our egalitarian society, men are seen as the ones who do these activities.

Well, the good news is that we who are blind men and head of our households don’t need to tiptoe through our responsibilities or defer them to someone else supposedly more capable than us to handle them. Even if we live on a fixed income, we can still balance checkbooks and monitor the amount of cash in the bank. If we have family-wife and kids-we will lead them in many different ways-sometimes requesting help with signing forms or accessing screens that our software doesn’t always read for us.

Yet, like our sighted friends and neighbors, we who bear the responsibility of planning family outings such as to the ballgame or a movie or help prepare our children for college can do these tasks with as much confidence as anyone else. In other words, we don’t need to succumb to two very important tendencies that stunt the maturation of many fathers. First, we may have run into family members or even friends whose coddling or ignoring us has emasculated our ambitions. We may be told at a get-together to let others fix and serve the meal. Some may wonder how we can let go and enjoy a card game or watching sports. That misperception leads some to pass over us when getting a Euchre tournament underway or even talking about current events.

Sometimes, it simply takes asserting ourselves enough to show interest. Perhaps, bringing our own set of cards that have both braille and print on them might make others think twice. Don’t be shy either when speaking of the gismos we use when fixing dinner like talking meat thermometers, locklid spatulas, and bump dots on the stove. Asking our nephews or nieces about how their classes or sports are going will help deflect attention from the perceived impossibility of our enjoying others’ company to the joy we have in it.

Secondly, we need not feel ashamed of our economic status or the adaptations we do make. After all, adaptations are meant to help us join in the same work and leisure that everyone else enjoys. Yet, many perceive them as being accommodations to make life doable for us among ourselves. This perception hits us hard because we live in the world of work, school, political and sporting events. We are just as capable as the next person over to socialize. Perhaps, you’re still learning to grill; go out and hover around the conversation while the steaks are cooking and find places to interject what you can add to the conversation. Don’t take “no” for an answer when folks at your family gathering say they are organizing a group to hit the links or watch your local baseball team on the spur of the moment. If you’re present, the invitation is open to you as well and it can be an opportunity for you to share how you participate with others. Be a caddy for golf. Take your headphones and tune into the baseball or football game so you also can cheer or talk smack with others about the action.

And when parenting sighted children, assert your role as that person who does know best and can model it for your family. Yes, that may mean work behind the scenes to navigate an online bank account for you and your wife, let alone your children’s finances. You can show your persistence in seeking work if you are jobless or diligence with your job if employed. These traits show others and yourself that, yes, blind people can and do parent with as much confidence as anyone else and navigating the same considerations which are common to any family.

If you do attend church that involves training children such as through Sunday school lessons or Confirmation instruction, take the lead in helping them memorize Bible passages. Engage in discussions with them so they can also grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. The more you help them grow in faith and life the more you will keep yourself grounded in the Word.

Here, then, is a brief list of things that can help you maintain the leadership that you as head of the household can do.

  1. Keep aware of what your kids are learning in school and accumulate the same worksheets and books they have for class. Yes, it will take some time to scan them or download them in an accessible format. But, your children will be grateful when they can look to you for help with assignments or as a sounding board when studying for tests.
  2. Attend your children’s sporting events and other extracurricular activities with other parents. The more you can share in a common concern for your children’s maturation the more you can pave the way for their growth into adults themselves be it in their educational, entertainment, or religious livelihood. In our era when children are being taught to be little automatons, you can still show them that family informs school, choices in friends, and exploring future career paths.
  3. Maintain an active civic life. If your children see you voting, attending church regularly,  engaging in chess or martial arts clubs which have a family friendly environment, they will see your adaptations as the contours that you navigate rather than tedious necessities to help you get by.
  4. Show ongoing care for your wife. One of the myths we who are blind have to bust on a regular basis is that we can’t or don’t manage stable commitments well. Helping your spouse prepare meals, encouraging them to do the best at their work, and giving them abundant affection will go a long way toward keeping your marriage well-grounded.

So this Father’s Day, let’s keep standing firm as blind fathers and heads of our households. After all, children deserve to know and love both their biological Mom and Dad. Rejoice in the responsibilities that being a father gives you replete with the leisure, work, and overall care involved.

Know The Symptoms: Cataracts

June is cataract awareness month which means that we who are or are not blind have every reason to learn more about the condition and symptoms of cataracts. The Lighthouse for the Blind has a short synopsis here.

After all, the vast majority of those who reach eighty years old have experienced some form of cataracts. With that said, people as young as four to five years old can develop them, especially in tandem with another eye disease.

Believe me, I know. I can distinctly remember the fading colors as my mom drove me to nursery school when I was four. Sometimes, those colors would darken like when I mistook my friend’s blue-sided house for another nearby because it looked a shade of gray. The shimmering light and shrinking of farther away objects gave me the idea that my parents had realized all along. So at age four, we traveled down to Florida to visit one of the leading specialists in retinal detachments (my other major condition). It was then or soon thereafter, I was diagnosed as having cataracts along glaucoma.

Surgeries followed that early-in-life experience. But, because of the scarring on my retina and other deterioration, my cataracts were never removed.

That’s why awareness of cataracts is vitally important for both blind and sighted alike. If caught early, cataracts need not mean much loss of sight. However, as in the case of retinal detachment, if untreated, cataracts can lead to blindness that cannot be reversed.

So if you are blind or have low-vision, get your eyes checked regularly so as to discover any presence of cataracts. Or if you are a sighted friend or relative, encourage your blind friend or relative to keep on top of his/her eye care.

Yes, the fear of potential vision loss can numb you into complaisance, but that need not happen. Eye clinics are in every mid-sized to large city as are resources for coping with the damage caused by cataracts and many other eye conditions. As you learn to navigate life’s contours boldly blind, you have every reason to afford yourself of the many resources available to you.

Sunday To Sunday for May 22, 2022

The readings for the sixth Sunday of Easter are Acts 16:19-15, Rev. 21:9-14, 21-27; and John 16:23-33.

God promises to gather all who hear and trust His Word into His one Church. That’s why He foretold the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles, which we celebrate at Pentecost. By His grace, the Spirit brings us to faith in Jesus Christ so that we may call on His Name and freely receive eternal life. Surely, we face hardships of many kinds in our daily lives, yet our Lord who has overcome all sin and grief on the cross sustains us through these troubles, through death, and into His heavenly bliss forever.