Cane or guide dog?

In honor of White Cane Safety Day, I offer this…

On another blog,, Jena asks her readers what they would choose and why, after telling her own story. Here’s my response.

I don’t see this as an either/or, but I’m weird. Always have been. Also contrary.

I’m a good cane user. I have no problem with the cane, nor with the fact that it very definitely marks me as blind. When I use a cane, I prefer a rigid one (one that doesn’t collapse or fold), because I haven’t found a collapsing one that gives nearly the tactile feedback a rigid cane does, and that’s much moreimportant to me than the ability to tuck the thing out of the way.

Back in 1995, I read a whole bunch of articles in a now infamous issue of *The braille Monitor*. Some had a definite anti-guide dog bias. Some of the ones that were pro rubbed me wrong. Remember contrary? Yeah, after reading that, I decided I’d like to do this guide dog thing. Four dogs later and, well, here I am, four dogs later, and that fourth was the first one I have trained myself. That should tell you where my preferences lie.

Why though? It’s really simple. I just plain like working a dog. Does it “enhance my independence”? Does it “give me freedom”? Not especially. I’ve traveled as much and as widely before I got my first dog as after. I’ve visited two more countries without a dog than I have with one. I just plain and simple like working a dog. I like seeing how they work a problem. I like the ease of crossing wide open spaces, like parking lots. I like the way they’re so proud when they’ve found the door that you asked them to find. Sharing my life with an intelligent being whose intelligence is far different from yours is pretty amazing. My dogs and I are very close and share real rapport. Are they “my best friends”? No, I have human friends, thanks. Do they ‘take care of me”? No, they’re always late with the mortgage payments. It’s a partnership, and like any good partnership, it isn’t, as Dr. Phil says a 50/50, it’s a 100/100. They give me their best, and they get my best in return.

Are dogs a lot of work? Oh,goodness yes. There are food and vet expenses, and you can’t just fold them up and stick them in a corner. Training my own was rewarding, too. But I tell you, my life is full and rich and lovely with my dogs. Oh sure, my life would be full and rich and wonderful if I didn’t have them, but it would be different somehow, different in a way that I can’t really describe.

So, yes…I think, as long as I am able, and can find enough meaningful work for one, I’ll have a guide dog.

Here are some additional thoughts that I didn’t post in response.

After my first and second guides retired, I did the same thing. I asked myself, “Do I really want to do this again?”

Ultimately, we all know what my answer was, but why would I have asked the question in the first place? If guide dog use is, as many guide dog users would have it, superior to cane use, why is this even a question?

Everything is a tradeoff. Canes are not wholely good or bad. Guide dogs, likewise, are not wholely good or bad. Each has very definite advantages and disadvantages. Most people know what the advantages are to a guide dog.

  • A guide dog is a constant, reliable companion.
  • A guide dog navigates open spaces with ease, even where sometimes a clearly defined path does not exist. Think of parking lots as the most obvious example.
  • Guide dogs remember and cue on familiar places, thus making familiar routes and destinations very easy.
  • Guide dogs offer an additional safety check for that car you didn’t see, and didn’t hear coming in time.
  • Getting through crowds and obstacles is often very efficient, since a guide dog will avoid obstacles as a matter of course.

All great, right? So what’s to put someone off? There are disadvantages, too.

  • Dogs require feeding and vet care.
  • Doggie doo. Need I say more?
  • You can’t just stick a dog in the corner when you’re not using it.
  • Dogs consider useful landmarks as obstacles to be avoided.
  • Learning a new route with a dog takes a while sometimes, and, until the dogis patterned to a new place, finding said new place is often time consuming and not as easy. Finding, for instance, the fourth sidewalk on the left, or second door on the right, takes a bit more effort and a different strategy. And sometimes a cane.
  • Dogs argue. If you go somewhere and intendon going somewhere different from where your dog thinks you’re going, well, the arguments can be pretty epic. Silent, but absolutely real.
  • Complaints about dog hair left in homes, in cars, on clothes.
  • Related, getting a cab or an Uber or Lyft can be a real problem. No matter what the law says, there are jerks who somehow think that it doesn’t apply to them.
  • I’ve even heard of people who lose friends, or whose interactions become severely limited, with friends who just don’t want your dog in their car or home or general vicinity. (I’ve been very fortunate in this regard, and the friends I have who don’t want my dogs around them have actual real life allergies and are very respectful about asking, so not really a consideration for me.)
  • And the big one, public interference. SOme call it “social icebreaker”, but I call it “damnedably annoying”. I really don’t want random people interrupting perfectly nice lunches with friends, or reading books on the bus, or crossing the street, to demand that I gie them my life story, or tell me about the dog they had just like mine, except it was a completely different size, color, and breed, and also refuse to talk about anything else. and distract/pet/talk to/make stupid noises at/otherwise distract my dog. The people who say that people don’t ignore them anymore the way they did when they used a cane, I have to disagree with. We’re ignored just as much whether we have a cane or dog…it’s just that with a dog, your dog gets all sorts of attention you (or at least I) don’t necessarily want.

But even with all those disadvantages, I still believe that having a guide dog is nicer than not having one, and so I’ve had four so far. And that doubt? Yeah, it never lasted very long.

Oh, and the other thing. Trust. I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s the hardest part for me, putting my trust in a new dog. If the people who just automatically and immediately trust a new dog really exist, I’m not one of them. Learning to trust a new dog is a real effort for me. I want to be in control, and i have to learn to give up some of that. I have to learn it every time. Imagine this transition as Hilde goes from student to not student anymore, and I go from teacher to…whatever it is you are after.

Anyway, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Audio Demo: Samsung TV With Accessibility Features

Recently, several people have been talking about TV’s, set top boxes, and the like, that have accessibility features built in. So far, the only major cable company who has implemented anything like this is Comcast, and they aren’t everywhere. Supposedly, the rules for this stuff to be accessible to people with disabilities kick in at the end of the year, but it sure doesn’t seem like anyone’s exactly scrambling to make it happen.

Enter Samsung. A couple years ago, they came out with some accessibility features on some larger televisions. These were well outside what I was willing to pay for a TV, given how little TV I watch. This week, however, I got wind of a 32-inch TV from Samsung with these accessibility features built in: talking menus, talking program guide, the whole ball of wax, and for under $300.

A call to Samsung was disappointing. The guy on the phone tried to sell me a 49-inch TV, and couldn’t find one smaller. Samsung doesn’t exactly go out of their way to highlight these features, that’s for sure, but eventually, a couple folks came up with a model number. Online chat with Samsung confirmed the accessibility features, as did the manual. So, thanks to Jeff Bishop and Randy the big R for alerting and tracking down model numbers.

So on to the show. Here we go through the setup of the Samsung UN32J550AFXZA. It went fairly smoothly, and I reckon it could have been done completely independently, though that may have taken some time if I got totally stuck. Backspace doesn’t tell you what characters you delete on the on-screen keyboard. That’s probably the biggest gotcha. Another thing. If you get this TV, you may get some nice music during the setup. I did, once. The talking menus duck the music down pretty nicely though.

Anyway, there is, no doubt, more to explore, like the apps in the Hub, but this should get people started. And maybe excited, because we have an accessible TV that’s actually affordable.

Response to “16Benefits of Being Blind”

Well, it appears to be my lot in life, at least lately, to rain on parades.

Maybe I should quit reading Twitter, because that, again, is where this all started. I came across this article, and I was interested to see just what these advantages might be. Sure, I wouldn’t say blindness is horrible, and there are advantages to be had in everything.

Unfortunately, the advantages listed here aren’t, at least to my mind, advantages at all. Most of them are perceptions I see as actually harmful to our struggle for equal treatment and equal status.

I suppose it’s possible that I’ve had my sense of humor amputated. Read the article for yourself, and have a look at my thoughts below. You be the judge.

I hasten to add that I bear no ill will toward Max. I actually like Max and respect his achievements. He’s done a lot of interesting things. It isn’t everyone who brokers deals on amusement park rides, after all, among other things. I certainly hope Max doesn’t take my comments too personally.

OK, here we go.

16 Benefits of Being Blind

1. You don’t get asked to help people move.

You also don’t get asked to do much of anything else. Because apparently, there’s some disconnect between eyeballs and muscles involved in carrying and toting, at least as far as moving goes. The extension to not being asked to help move, or really much of anything else, is that it can make a fella feel kind of useless. When your job is to “Sit over there out of the way”, that’s hardly an advantage. You’re not asked to help because you’re not expected to be able to help. In fact, you’re probably incapable of being of much help at all. If you can’t help with something like that, how can you be expected to hold down a job or contribute in any other meaningful way? In short, you can’t. Not being asked to help move is more a symptom of a much larger problem of low, or no expectations.

2. You don’t have to be the designated driver… ever.

Well, you know, I guess it’s all right, after all, blind people can really put it away. Just go to a blindness convention if you don’t believe me. Unfortunately, you can’t be the designated driver. No choice there.

3. You can read in the dark – if it’s in Braille.

I really can’t argue with this! Now if only we could get more braille, not to mention cheaper braille, and a higher literacy rate. 10% literacy would be deemed absolutely unacceptable were it any other population, but it’s OK for us for some reason.

4. You don’t have to buy light bulbs or have a night-light on your bedside table.

My sighted family members, and even my legally blind ones, would object most vociferously to this! I guess this would be an advantage if you also never had visitors. Sure, it’s probably true that we’re so scary that we don’t get lots of visitors (seems to be the case at my house, anyway), but it’s only polite to accommodate the light dependent.

5. You save money on your Hydro bill.

I don’t! If you mean because of the lights, well…that will be less a thing with LED lightbulbs. On the other hand, I’ve got a whole pile of gadgets that unfortunately require electricity.

6. You get special treatment or bonuses.

I’d really rather not have either. You get special treatment because society feels sorry for you. I’d much rather society not feel sorry for me and treat me as an equal. That means that I wish to accept all of the rights, and the responsibilities, that this entails. I’d really rather not be allowed to cut lines or employ handicapped parking, for example. My legs work fine. I’d trade all of these “perks” for a much lower unemployment rate.

7. You don’t have to be the map-reader when traveling with friends on a road trip.

Because your friends don’t expect you to be. They don’t actually expect you to do much of anything besides sit your ass in the car. The really great news is that you can be the navigator now, with talking GPS and iOS and Android-based GPS and all manner of GPS. Not to mention your own perhaps formidable knowledge of how-to get around wherever you live. If I’m familiar with a place, I must say I can give pretty good directions.

8. You can avoid looking at unpleasant things, like a gory accident, or something else that’s disgusting.

While it’s true you can’t unsee something that’s been seen, assuming you’re sighted, not being able to see it doesn’t make those things less real.

9. You’ll never get asked to paint or wallpaper a room during home renovations.

I have been. Of course, I won’t be picking out colors, and I’ve never done it before, but I still have been. Actually, the same person who asked me to help move some stuff around her house has also asked that I help with some other bits of home improvement. I’ve already warned her that whatever I help with had better be unskilled, because I don’t have any skills, but it’s sure nice to be asked all the same, because my friend actually believes that I can contribute something. Really, it’s pretty nice to not be told to sit over there out of the way for a change. Again, it’s all down to general expectations. I’d much rather someone have some expectations for me, rather than thinking I’m incapable of contributing.

10. You’ll never get asked for directions.

Oh, how not true! See the map reading question above.

11. When you ask for directions, most people will be friendlier.

Really? Are people really friendlier to blind people who ask for directions? I don’t know if this is true or not. If it is, it sucks for others. Whether it’s true or not, the downside is that most people can’t give directions. “Over there” or “That way” are definitely not advantages.

12. You don’t have to decorate.

Nice to accommodate the light dependents. Decorating is certainly not my forte, but I fortunately have friends who are better at that than I am!

13. You save money when buying a smaller TV or phone, because all you really need is the sound, not a big screen.

Well…there’s actually some truth to this, assuming again you’re living by yourself and don’t have other people who like television.

14. You can’t see that spider on the wall. You know, the one that’s inching closer to you right now.

OK, that’s pretty funny right there. Until the spider bites you.

15. You can use your blindness as an excuse to get out of doing certain chores (even though you are perfectly capable of doing them yourself).

OMG. For real? Really? I know you didn’t actually say this. Say it with me, ladies and gentlemen. Low expectations. Do you really think that having people think you’re pretty useless is an advantage? I sure don’t.

16. You don’t have to put up with dirty looks from others. How can you? You can’t see them!

So they don’t much matter. They sure don’t to me. It’s not an issue.

Benefits of Having a Blind Friend

You can roll your eyes as often as you want, and not be judged.

You can flip your friend the bird (give him/her the finger) when you get frustrated with him/her… and you can even laugh about it.

OK, so essentially, what you’re saying is that you can be a rude asshole, and your friend won’t know any better. That isn’t very friendly, and I’d be very, very disappointed in any friend who treated me with so little respect or regard, because I never would do that to someone else.

You can lie to his/her face about the new outfit he/she loves, even if you think it’s hideous.

Again, you can be a rude asshole. And disrespectful. And, in the long run, hurt your friend’s feelings by lying to him, rather than tactfully saying that the outfit s/he loves is probably not appropriate or is ugly or whatever. You really think that’s OK? You’re a shitty friend, and eventually, your blind friend will hear the truth and be really hurt by the fact that you’re a shitty friend.

Benefits of Dating a Blind Man

You never have to worry about a bad hair day, or wearing make-up.

Hell, you don’t have to worry about those things anyway. It’s a choice. While it’s true that the blind person will love you anyway, it’s equally true that unless you’re going on a date to a cave because you’re embarrassed to be seen with a blind person, you’ll be seen by lots of other people. Do you care what they think? Again, your choice, but do you really think so little of yourself, or your partner?

Your socks don’t have to match.

My friend Andrea tells me that this is actually a thing these days. Do as you like.

You can walk around naked without being self-conscious.

What’s stopping you anyway? And why should my presence make any difference?

You can pretend to be taller by wearing heels.

Really? Shallow much?

You can say you’re a blonde, even if you’re not. How’s he going to know?

And who cares? Again, you think he’s not going to talk to other people ever? Damn…I’m sure glad you’re not my girlfriend! Grow the hell up…this is high school shit.

Benefits of Dating a Blind Woman

They are pretty much the same as the benefits of dating a blind man, but when you date a blind woman, you don’t have to wait forever for her to fix her make-up or her hair, or try on 50 different outfits before she decides upon one that is simply “perfect.”

I ask you. How many blind women have you dated? I’m here to tell you, blind women are as obsessed with their appearance as sighted women are, maybe more so because they’re expected to not be put together very well.

You also don’t have to wait for her to apply polish to her fingernails. She’ll have already had someone do it for her. (Of course, that person might be you!)

Umm…really? So blind women don’t do their own makeup? Many do, and without your rotten help, thank you very much. Again, low or no expectations. Definitely not an advantage.

If you have a lot of pimples on your chest, you can play a game (or trick) on her. Just tell her you created a special love message in Braille for her, and see if she can decipher it!

This seriously doesn’t even merit comment, it just doesn’t. It isn’t even funny.

You will never awaken to screams for you to kill a spider. (Unless she feels one crawling on her!)

What’s with the spiders anyway?

Anyway, lest you think I have no sense of humor, could be you’re right. I sure get a chuckle out of boneheaded things I do, or things that happen to me. I think my friend Holly said it best:

I also think that the distinction is between being able to laugh at things that are actually funny, and things that are always, no matter how you look at it, damaging. If I walk into something I might laugh with my friends, it was a mistake and I was being careless. But a lot of these things, like, people never asking you to help, they actually prevent blind people from having employment opportunities. If someone doesn’t think I’m capable of helping them, am I also not capable of working? Of getting an education? The fact that people don’t ask us to help them move, or to do chores is a direct result of them believing we are less able, which, as we know has very real implications.

Couldn’t have said it better.

By the way, my friend BlindBeader wrote this blog post sort of indirectly addressing this same topic. She’s a lot less ranty and has a lot more class than I have.

Update #2: In the interest of full disclosure and “fair and balanced”, Max has responded to my post, which I sent a link to on his blog. He rightly points out that just sending a link with little commentary (I just said my reaction was different than others on his site) would probably be labeled as spam and not read by most bloggers and would be marked as spam. He’s right of course, but I also didn’t think he’d like me putting my whole response in a comment. Anyway, his response is on the comments section of the blog, linked above. For your convenience however, here’s his response in its entirety:

Hi Buddy; I actually read your post objectively, and you will notice that I haven’t deleted the link to it. Most web masters would have seen this as spam as the point to comment luv is you enter your url and then your latest post is automatically displayed. However, my point is that you wrote a great post. You gave me credit for my own achievements and then spotlighted the flaws you see in it. I should mention two things. One the post was written in fun. It was never intended to be a serious look at advantages and disadvantages of being blind. And since posting it I’ve had many people tell me that they will no longer omit their blind or otherwise apparently disabled friends when needing to move, getting directions, choosing colors, etc. I should also mention that I used to help move a 45 by 75 ft. roller coster 40 weeks out of the year so everyone in my family knows I can help move. They actually look for me first when heavy lifting is needed. They leave me out when fragile delicate items are involved. 🙂 I chose the colors for my website. They were exceedingly bright but lead to conversations rather than getting in the way of sales. I get your point. I’ll try to be more serious, you try to be a little less so? What do you say my friend? And don’t get down on twitter. Blogs need comments and twitter is one of the best ways to get them. After all would you have seen this post without twitter? Many blessings to you, Max

I should note here that it’s highly unlikely that I would actually stop reading twitter. Sometimes doing so is a bit like watching a road accident, admittedly, but other times it’s not and generates interesting discussions.

Sorting Through My Feelings: Can’t I Just Be Happy?!

I have a couple of things I want to write, and that I’ve been intending to write, but this one maybe can’t wait.

Reading through twitter, I came across this article. Mind you, it’s not the first sort of article I’ve seen like it, but I had a reaction to it.

OK, I had a couple reactions to it. First, I hated the headline, because it just sounds icky and like inspiration porn may well be coming.

That really wasn’t all though. I read the article, and I thought, “I think that family’s going to be disappointed”.

Wow, I’m usually not so negative about things.

I’ve seen other articles about the next big thing that would offer some sort of sight for some kinds of blind people, and usually, I think, well now…that’s interesting. Usually, the people who benefit from these things are those who have had sight before and have lost it due to accident or to a genetic condition like RP. So what’s the deal with this one? Why the negative reaction?

Before I go on, I want to say that I hope I’m wrong. Being wrong would make me very happy, and being right would not. If these glasses are everything this family hopes they are, I will be the first (well, second maybe) to be happy for them.

There are probably several things going on here. First, I think it’s an expectations setting problem. If this kid’s sight is bad enough that he really can’t read print, I’m fairly sure that learning to do so will at least take a lot of time, at best. In any case, at least the way the story is framed, it seems they’re hoping these glasses will solve all of his blindness problems, and I’m thinking that it just isn’t so. Anyway, everything I’ve read suggests that, if you don’t learn to integrate sight when you’re very young, doing so later isn’t easy, and may even be fairly traumatic. Maybe my reaction would be less negative if this family had different expectations. I don’t know.

Anyway, I’m discussing this article with a friend who happens to be sighted, and she asks me something that I thought about just a little bit before she asked me. “Could you…perhaps….just a little bit….be jealous?”

This is indeed a possibility, and it’s a possibility I kind of hate. You see, I’m just not the brooding, bitter, jealous type, not at all. I’ve got a full life, with friends and a family. I’ve traveled, not only to many of the states, but to other countries. I’ve shared my life with amazing people, not to mention amazing animals. I’ve had fulfilling jobs. (I’ve had the soul sucking kind too. And, really, there are aspects of sight that I find, frankly, kind of frightening and overwhelming.

OK, so yes, there are things I wish I could do but can’t. I wish I could enjoy the sunsets and pictures and the silent bits in movies where everyone’s laughing uproariously and I have no clue why. I wish I could drive. I wish I could read printed things without either asking someone or relying on sometimes unreliable technology, even just to pick up any book I wanted whenever I wanted. I wish I didn’t have to work twice as hard for half the credit. But you know, these are the cards I’ve been dealt, and I’m fine with that. Usually. Most of the time.

So…Is there some jealousy there? Because this kid may have something that I likely never will? Even though it’s not necessarily something I’ve really spent a lot of time missing?

Maybe. And I hate that.

But what I hate more is that I can’t be happy for this family’s joy and hope for this new thing. And I really wish I could.

Update: oh dear. Thanks to Holly, or maybe no thanks…anyway…I read their fundraising page, and I think maybe I don’t feel so bad about feeling so bad. Actually, now I’m a little bit disgusted. Mom is saying that her son can’t, can’t can’t, can’t, can’t, unless he gets eSight glasses. Can’t use a computer, which he’ll need to do for high school. (My question is, why has he not been getting access to a computer by now? Somebody ha failed this kid.) He can’t go to college unless he gets eSight glasses. (Really? Blind people were doing that before the advent of lots of really useful technology.) And lots of other can’ts that just aren’t so. Yeah. Somebody really short changed this kid and his mother, and they apparently either don’t really know what’s possible or they’re really pulling at the heartstrings of other people who don’t know what’s possible. Sadly typical.

How Not To Respond To a Recruiting Email

I just received an email from somewhere I once applied for a job. Sure, it was, admittedly, a crappy job, but it would have been a job anyway, and those aren’t very plentiful, certainly not in a depressed city like the one in which I live.

When last I talked to this company, they asked me to come in to fill out an application…or interview…or check out the operation…I forget exactly, but something caused me to mention that I would need an accommodation. This led to mentioning that I could happily provide my own, negating the need for the “you’re too expensive” argument. I got put on hold. When the agent came back, I think her name was Jessica, she unsurprisingly told me that, due to the sensitive nature of their data, any software such as that which i would require would pose a “security risk”, and so, unfortunately, she was sorry, but they couldn’t help me.

This stance didn’t stop them from sending me this email:

Dear Clyde,

I have good news! DialAmerica is growing, especially in our Erie office, and we’d like to invite you to apply again.

We have both full and part time positions available and offer:

A variety of daytime, evening and weekend schedules to help balance your work/life needs
Rapid advancement opportunities – we promote from within
Guaranteed salary plus incentives
Paid on-the-job training and weekly pay checks with direct deposit
A great family atmosphere, committed to your success

If you are conversational, articulate, engaging and have a positive attitude, please give us a call. And students, now is the perfect time to lock in your summer job.

Please click on the link below to apply online or call our recruiting team for more information.
Apply Here: http://dial.am/ROM5

Regards,

DialAmerica Recruiting Team
DialCareersErie@dialamerica.com
814-835-8194

DialAmerica – Where YOU Make the Difference!

Click here to unsubscribe from future emails.

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTE:

This e-mail message may contain confidential information that is intended only for the named recipient(s) above. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution or copying of this e-mail or its attachments is strictly prohibited. If you received this e-mail in error, please immediately notify the sender by replying to this e-mail and deleting the message and any attachments from your system.

I didn’t unsubscribe from their email list, and maybe I should. I only just now noticed the confidentiality notice at the bottom, which, as we all know, is a ludicrous thing to put on any email anyway.

I’m pretty sure that the following will end up in a black hole and no one will actually see it, but what I replied back to them, below, is a classic example of how not to handle this kind of situation. I knew this when I sent it. In my defense, I somehow can’t manage to care about what this company thinks of me, and it seems likely there’s no actual bridge for me to burn. And anyway, I’m pretty sure that you wish you could, or would, or had, written something like this yourself. Right?

Huh. I’m not even sure why you’re emailing me, considering last time I called to enquire, your recruiting person actually told me that you couldn’t accommodate my disability. Specifically, and in my opinion incorrectly, that any screen reading software I would need to perform my job functions would pose “a security risk”. Considering that places like the Social Security Administration, Verizon, Internet service providers, the VA, and others who handle lots of sensitive data, use such software daily and widely, this sounds like a discriminatory and illegal stance to me. Kind of a shame I didn’t ask for this verdict in writing. Care to reconsider?

I’m sure you know exactly why this is the worst way to respond.

I still kinda feel better.

“But…You Don’t Look Blind”

Inspired by this post, I decided to take her challenge, even though she’s said it about as well as anyone I’ve seen.

Sure, we’ve all heard it, or anyway, all of us who are blind have heard it. We know its intent, too. Of course it’s intended as a compliment. Is it a compliment?

As I’m so fond of saying, words mean things. Be careful which ones you use. “But…you don’t look blind”, “You don’t act blind”, “Wow, I forget you’re blind” have subtexts that you may not have considered, or even thought of, and probably didn’t intend, although if you think about them for a second, you might see them next time.

My first reaction when someone says that I don’t “look/act blind” is, naturally, “Really? What’s blind supposed to look/act like?” Usually, if I ask, it comes down to a lack of sureness or confidence, a slow and halting step, a bumbling and stumbling one’s way through life, things I don’t generally do (though, admittedly, sometimes doesn’t everybody?) So, the statement really points up a preconception that I, somehow, don’t fit into. I must, therefore, be special or better, or something. I assure you, I’m neither special nor better.

Some people may get this comment because their eyes look “normal”. I’m pretty sure mine don’t, if only because I don’t open them very wide, so that really can’t be why I get it sometimes. Most of the time, it’s pretty obvious I’m blind, and I’m OK with that. Sure makes some people edgy though!

Oh, but I didn’t mean it that way, I meant that, you know, you just function so normally. I mean, you do everything. You shop and travel and play games and use the computer and have a daughter and animals. That’s kind of amazing.

Stop.

Or put another way, when you’ve found yourself in a hole, stop digging.

I get it. I know you meant to say something nice, express admiration, even express that, “were our roles reversed, I’d curl up and die”, or something. Your intentions were good and kind, and I appreciate your intentions. But this is what I hear:

“Blind people don’t do normal things like have kids, pets, or hobbies, they don’t go anywhere, they need someone to mind them, they certainly don’t travel alone. Can’t expect much out of them really, what with their affliction and all.”

So you’re amazed today. What about tomorrow when you’ve decided that I’ve run up against some thing you just don’t think I can cope with?

Am I a one off? Am I really that special? Or is it just a fluke, and at midnight my carriage turns back into a pumpkin?

I have a friend who says that the greatest compliment you can pay a person who is blind is to forget that s/he has a disability. Really, I couldn’t disagree more. No, I am not my disability, but my disability is part of who I am…kind of like my odd sense of humor, penchant for random useless trivia, geek tendencies, love of animals, and sensitive nature. No, I’d say the greatest compliment you could pay would be to understand that I have a disability, then Move on and for god’s sake treat me like a human being anyway. Not an object of pity, not an object of misplaced awe and admiration, not Superman, not an incompetent, not a child. Just a human being, same as you. Maybe I’ll need your help with something different, but that’s about it. If you want to compliment me, that would be the highest compliment you could pay me. Ever.

Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word

I think Elton John, or perhaps Bernie Taupin, had the right of it.

Two of the things human beings seem to have the most trouble with for some reason are two very short phrases, sometimes related:

  • I’m sorry.
  • I was wrong.

Recently, I was put in mind of this, as I sometimes am. Sometimes it’s something that comes to mind because I seem to be saying both a lot. Sometimes it’s just random, because I’m strange.

Anyway, these are very simple things. Yet, simple does not always mean easy. No, these are not easy things at all, not for most of us, but they’re quite simple. My basic philosophy on both “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong” is this: offer them without reservation, without conditions, with no strings attached, sincerely, and from the heart. It’s a tall order. It’s something most of us are very reluctant to do. Well suck it up, buttercup, because that’s the only way that those things actually work. They have to be offered with no strings, with no reservations, with no conditions, sincerely, and from the heart.

A long time ago, I got a really great lesson in how not to offer an apology. It made such a strong impression on me that I refer to it still, and i bring it up in my mind when it’s my turn to say I’m sorry, so I know both how to do it and how not to.

One day, I came home late. It wasn’t really late, but it was later than I was expected. But I was going to university, and sometimes things happen that keep you out a little. So I walked in the door and I got an earful about how I should have called, why was I late, I was selfish and only thought of myself, and a whole host of things. This speech left me angry, resentful, and pretty miserable. In this state of mind, I went back to my room. In a short time, my mom came back and said, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but you pissed me off.” Rather than its probably intended effect, the apology had rather the opposite effect. It isolated me further, made me even more resentful and angry, and was the one thing that sparked my intention to move out as quickly as possible. Probably not its intended effect, but that’s what happened. Looking back on it, I think, in just a few words, it broke every one of the rules I’ve made for myself when offering up an apology. So in that respect, it was valuable; it taught me how to do it and, as importantly, how not to.

The rules are simple, but, as I said, not easy. Here they are.

  • Say the words. I’m sorry. Or, I was wrong. Then, shut up.
  • If you need to explain what you’re sorry for, do that. But “I’m sorry” has to be the last thing. Because, shut up (See above). Something like, “When such and such happened, this is how I reacted to it. I was wrong to have reacted that way, and I’m sorry.” Then, shut up.
  • Mean it. If you say it and don’t mean it, the person to whom you are apologizing will know. Whether you mean it or not always tells. Always. So you’d better mean it, or else don’t even bother.
  • Don’t justify. Remember “Shut up”? Yeah. Don’t justify. Don’t qualify. DOn’t…do….anything else. You can explain if you need to, but explain, don’t justify. “My intention was [insert good intentions], and I’m sorry that that isn’t what happened.”

It’s true that sometimes, “I’m sorry” won’t fix everything. Still, if done right, and sincerely, it sure can help. When asked “Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?”, I’d have to say that, while being right has a certain amount of satisfaction attached to it, being happy is much, much better. (This is coming from a guy who has both been wrong a lot, and also insisted on his rightness a lot.) But being happy is a lot better, and I believe learning the art of the apology, a thing I’m still learning every day, has made my life and my relation to other people much more fulfilling.

Inspiration is…cheap?

I have a friend who is a guide dog user in Canada, and she says this about as well as I’ve ever heard. Have a look at what she says in this post. Consider her words, and consider the questions she asks. For another perspective, watch this this Ted Talk by the late (and much missed) Stella young.

Before you get your inspiration and then move on, consider: what skills or talents might that inspirational person have to offer, beyond the fact that they got up to do what needed doing in their day? You never know what you might have missed.

Is It Possible To Be Too Polite And Accommodating?

Marlon will appreciate this.

Not long ago, I made a friend. Yes, I know, it happens to the best of us, and sometimes, to the rest of us. But I managed it somehow, and, after chatting online a while, we managed to meet in meatspace. Since then, we’ve managed to meet up a few times, and she’s helped me out with errand running and shopping and things like that. I’m the first blind person Andrea’s really ever met, or at least been friends with, the case probably more often than it isn’t, but we developed a natural rapport without lots of awkwardness. Even so, a bit of miscommunication in the name of polite accommodation (on both our parts, I hasten to add), now gives us one more thing we can laugh at.

Anyone who knows me knows that I walk at a pretty decent clip. Melanie claims that I don’t walk, that in fact what I do (especially with Leno or one of his predecessors) is run. I think that may be stretching a point, but that’s what she says. Anyway, I told Melanie, after one of my shopping trips with Andrea, that “She’s a pretty slow walker, but at least she’s good company, and she doesn’t complain at the length of my shopping list.” This in sharp contrast to the Walmart greeter who helped me a couple times, who, had he walked any slower we would be going backwards, commented at the length of my shopping list, and would say things like, “Oh, hey, we’re really getting through this list” every 5 minutes or so.

This past Monday, Andrea took me downtown in among both of our errands to renew dog licenses, and to get Hilda her lifetime one. She told me where we were parked, and off I went, then remembered that I maybe should wait for her to catch up. I thought nothing of this, as this isn’t too unusual. Dog licensing completed, we did her shopping and my shopping. It took us a while, time passed, and the day got away from me, but that’s another story.

We were chatting last night, and Andrea mentioned that I was “kind of reckless” crossing streets. I protested that I certainly was not, at least not most of the time, When crossing near the municipal building, I had the traffic light and everything. She says that she was amused, and surprised. I asked, “Why surprised?” She responded, “Because we snail crawl through stores.”

Oh yeah. The lightbulb went on.

She was trying to accommodate me by slowing down. She’s never had a blind friend before, so how did she know? I never said anything, assuming she was just a slow walker…some people are, and I didn’t want to rush her if she was a slow walker. How did I know? After all, when someone’s guiding you, you walk at her speed, right? So here we were, both trying to accommodate a need neither one of us actually had. “My mama taught me to be polite,” I said. “Lol well, at least we can’t be called rude. Slow. Turtle like. Passed by a snail. But not rude. ” It’d probably be a great scene for somebody’s sitcom. You’re welcome. Anyway, we are both relieved that we don’t need to be so polite anymore.

So, just remember. It really is possible to be too polite and accommodating. Y’all blind folks, don’t assume those sighted people really need special accommodations. Sometimes they do, and we have to take their affliction into account by, for example, remembering to turn lights on. Sometimes though, not so much.

Just For Fun: Introducing Milton

Just for fun, my favorite daughter and I introduce you to Milton, an electronic game produced by Milton Bradley around 1980. This may well have been the first talking electronic game not primarily designed as a teaching aid. (Yes, I know Speak And Spell predates it.) If it wasn’t, it was one of the first at any rate. Considering the technology of the day and what they did with it, it’s pretty phenomenal. Here’s the Wikipedia page all about Milton. Enjoy this blast from the past…I know I did!