Monday, January 31, 2011

Great things about being blind. adapting and thinking outside the box

I've been blind since birth and have lived in a world dominated by the sense of vision. For those who are sighted, think about it as you go about your day. Street signs, restaurant menus, traffic, print materials, etc. etc. Being blind is normal and natural to me. Moving around my world is natural. Experiencing it the way I do is natural and normal. And so, from an early age, I've had to learn to adapt to activities because there was no way I was letting my blindness stop me from participating fully in life. Adapting games. Putting rice in a beach ball so I could hear it to play an adapted game of volley ball. Finding ways to label jars, cans, print materials. Using all of my senses when out and about. If I get turned around in a big open space for example, what can I hear? Oh yes the traffic in a certain direction, the hum of a building air conditioner in the distance. What can I feel under my feet? What can I smill touch etc? If there is something I really want to do, I'll think of a way to do it. So, a few years ago, this adaptability was the thing that got me through a rough time with a secondary disability.
About five years ago now, I fell on an icy patch and hurt my knee quite badly. I could hardly walk and I had always walked far and fast.
I learned to use a support cane in my right hand and walk with my guide dog at my left side.
She adapted beautifully too. Slowing down her pace. Stopping at uneven terrain. Not minding the cane I held in my other hand. She would stand in front of me and let me lean my hands on her back to steady myself. She would find ramps instead of stairs. I marveled at her. People asked how I had taught her to do those things. I hadn't. She just adapted. Things did not get better with me. They got worse. I began to have pain in my ankles and feet. Pain in my hands and wrists. It turned out, I had and have rheumatoid arthritis. Once I knew what it was, I was very sad and outraged. What, I already have a disability? Well, yes but that doesn't mean we can't get and adapt to others. Once I got medical help and some tips and tricks, I started using my mind to adapt to this too. I haven't had a bad flare up since the initial one. Still, when I am very tired, stressed, or in certain weather conditions, my joints can bother me and I can't hike on very uneven terrain anymore. But, as I started to work my way back to more activity, I had to think about how to adapt things. One hand and wrist were sore. It was the hand I held my guide dog's harness in and it was hard to grip. I asked the occupational therapist if she could bulk up the handle for me. We put some thick foam around it so it was easier for me to hold. Gia still stopped at uneven surfaces and Tulia has picked this up too. I need to go down stairs slowly one step at a time. Both dogs adapted to this. I don't usually use a support cane anymore but know I could if I need to again. When I first started using it, one of my friends said, "Oh you don't want to use one of those canes do you? People will stare at you." And I said, "And you don't think they stare at me now?" Smile. When I went back to get Gia's successor (Tulia) I said I needed a calm dog that was easy to handle, adaptable, able to walk for ages or stay inside, not a hard puller. I got it all. I ride my stationary bike about an hour per day, walk a lot, am back to swimming (I was a competitive swimmer once) and do much of what I did before the arthritis. I do need to pace myself though. I'm grateful to my blindness for teaching me how to adapt when needed and not to give up.
I am currently the secretary of an alumni chapter at my guide dog school (guide dogs for the blind)
The chapter is called guide dog handlers all ways and is for graduates who have additional disabilities besides blindness.
If anyone wants to find out more about this, e-mail me at

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