31 Mar 2016

I Need To Learn Braille Better

Dear Gateway readers, it gives me great pleasure to share the following account by my writer friend and RP colleague, Jeff Floddin who is based in Chicargo. 

Even though we have only met across Cyberspace, one lovely gift that RP has brought into my life at least,  is the sharing of our stories: the good, the bad and the sometimes outrageously funny incidents that can catch us off guard with having such an eye condition.

Jeff’s reflections of how he adapts to losing his eyesight are like little gems of wisdom: his stories often move me and catch me off guard too. As we approach April 1st, I couldn’t think of a more fitting (and true) story that is bound to tickle your funny bone!.

We get on the elevator, Sherlock and me.  Sherlock is my guide dog.
We’re at the third floor of five.  We want to go down to the first floor.
The door slides shut.  Nothing happens.

I press the bottom button.  The door slides open.
“I need to learn Braille better,” I tell Sherlock.

I run my fingertips along the wall.  I think I find the Braille for number 1.
I press the button next to it.  The elevator goes up.
“I need to learn Braille better,” I tell Sherlock.

I stand tall and the buttons sit low.  It’s hard to read Braille with my finger upside down, so I drop to all fours.  Sherlock thinks it’s playtime.

He puts his elbows on my back and stands on his hind legs.
Then, God bless him, he begins to hump me.  He has assumed the Southwestern Sidewinder position. 

While I’m thinking how I need to learn Braille better, I say to Sherlock, “Get off my back.”
The elevator stops and the door opens.
A woman gasps.  I crawl forward.  She steps backward.

I ask, “Can you help me?”
But I hear her heels run away from me, down the hallway.
The door closes.  Sherlock dismounts

I press another button.  The alarm sounds.  I press the button above that one.
The elevator goes down.  “This is security,” booms a big voice from a small speaker.    “What is your problem?”

I scramble to my feet, stand tall, remain mute and pat Sherlock’s head.
The door opens.  We’re at the first floor.

I command, “Sherlock, forward!”
The crowd parts.  We stride across the marble floor.  We project nonchalance. 
I can tell what the people are thinking.
They’re thinking, “Look at that self-assured blind man and his well-trained guide dog.”

“This is security.” That voice again.
We keep walking.  The voice gets far away.  “What is your problem?”

“Problem?” I ask Sherlock.
“What problem?  I just need to learn Braille better, that’s all.” 
NOTE:  Sherlock was Jeff’s Seeing Eye dog from 2003 to 2010.  A version of this story was published in Kaleidoscope magazine in 2012. 
It also appeared on JalapeƱos in the Oatmeal: Digesting Vision Loss by Jeff Flodin (March 16 2016).

About Jeff Floddin:
Jeff was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa at age 35.  His vision loss did not prevent him from moving around the country as he has lived in Rockford, Tempe, Philadelphia and Chicago. 

 Jeff received his Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Lake Forest College.  He then earned a Master’s degree in social work from Arizona State University.  He worked in the social work field for 25 years.

Jeff wrote his first story in first grade and writing has been his primary vocation for ten years.  He is currently working on a short story collection about vision loss.  Jeff has completed two books, as of yet unpublished. His stories have appeared in “The Rockford Review” and his letters in “ChicagoTribune.” 

Read more of Jeff’s stories at:https://jalapenosintheoatmeal.wordpress.com/

25 Nov 2015

What You Can Do with Time & Under Pressure

using time and pressure. He’s working on you, too!”
Rick Warren

Over the past few months, I have seen what I am capable of achieving with time and under pressure, some would call this working to a strict deadline.

My dear Gateway blog has taken a back seat as I have been furiously pumping out another  20 articles for the blindness.about.com site!

So…for those who might like an update, here are the 7 most popular posts to date.

And…there is one more bonus I just have to share with you.
A community event I designed that took place on November 8th 2015 called
Click on the link above to see all the magic of this awesome day.
Who knows, we could be coming to a city near you too!

Would be great to know what you have been doing with time and under pressure too…please leave your comments!

My deep thanks to my partner and tech wizard Harry Williamson, for film footage and for his tireless energy to produce our Youtube clip.

Copyright © Maribel Steel 2015

13 Sep 2015

Something Happened on the Way to My Future

“The best dreams happen when you’re awake.”
Cherie Gilderbloom

There has been a little less activity here at the Gateway over the past couple of months – and would you like to know why?
Something happened on the way to my future!

Over the past fifteen months or so, I’ve been writing posts as a peer advisor for VisionAware, a branch of the American Foundation for the Blind, and loving it. With a wonderful group of peers, we contribute helpful articles on many topics relating to living with being blind or visually-impaired.

So there I was, typing away on one of my posts when, I received an amazing invitation in an email from New York!

A recruitment scout from About.com – a Top ranking online network website was in the first phase of their redesign effort and this person was asking me to come aboard to write for them on the topic of vision loss.

At first, I had to reread the email three times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and the offer was legitimate and not a spam letter. Then when I realised it was a genuine offer and a brilliant opportunity to expand my skills as a writer – I got straight down to writing up a list of articles I could offer (after doing a merry-dance all around the house with joy!).

Many More Posts per Month

Having begun in August, I am writing 6 posts per month on the NEW network, blindness.about.com, so I’ll be sharing the links here to recent articles as well as some of my pieces for VisionAware.

Gateway readers, it is my delight to share with you the first batch of posts…

How to See Blindness as a Word and Not a Sentence

Taking Charge as CEO of Your Life

5 Ways to Avoid Daily Chaos

How to Create a Successful Double Act with a Sighted Assistant

How Do You Cook for Your Family when You Can’t See

Cooking is a Sensory Affair

And for those who would like to celebrate our loyal guide dogs, head over to VisionAware to read my tribute to Run Melbourne: a Walk in the Park with our Guide Dogs

Thanks all – do write a comment here if you have a topic you would like to see covered in upcoming posts…go well, flow well…may something wonderful happen on the way to your future too…

“When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life.” Eckhart Tolle

My heartfelt thanks to my partner who has taken on the complexities of being the web-master behind the scenes to deal patiently with tasks required to make all this possible

– Harry Williamson, please stand up and take a bow, you’re a legend!

21 May 2015

Treasure the Art of Being Blind

Do you sometimes get lost or frustrated hunting down articles of interest when visiting a blog? I sure do. I am aware my blog is not the easiest one to navigate around due to my lack of vision in setting it up with tabs and categories, social shares and friendly comment boxes.
So, to avoid any frustration you may experience at the Gateway, I have dug up some of the little treasures hidden within 200 pages on this blog and have placed links to each one in today’s post.
If you are new to the Gateway, or if you are a subscriber, here are my 15 most popular posts as a quick reference map to read more on ‘the ART of being blind’.

1: 8-threads to weave into the garment of change

When I began to lose my eyesight, it was natural to fear losing so many other aspects of my life that I treasured. The hardest hurdle to overcome was knowing how to weave positive threads into the garment with the label of disabled firmly secured to the fabric of my life.

2: Many Different Hats

My mother hat is swiftly replaced with a survival hat to help me cross the six-lane highway with its heavy traffic using my white cane as my trusted guide. I listen intently with complete focus and concentration – not one other thought crosses my mind except “Stay safe”.

3: 5 key ways blind people do it better

It’s true! Anything sighted people can do, visually-impaired or blind people can do it better. Be warned, we know our limitations and we’ve adapted to this blind-challenge. Being blind brings a new spin on life. When you accept the ride, you actually find many ways in which to excel.

4:  What colour is that?

For as long as there are some shades in the colour spectrum to discern, my brain will offer logical deductions to help make sense of the blurry world all around. But when the object is too far away or impossible to see because of faulty light- sensitive cells at the back of my scarred retinas, my brain asks: ‘Eyes, please be more specific, I have no idea what that is!’

5: Benefit #1 being blind: you are the rose among the thorns

There IS a better way to take hold of this thing they call blindness. When we choose to look for the symbolic rose among the thorns, life takes on a new perspective.

6: Insight through sound

Imagine a spider in her well spun web who becomes acutely aware with her sensitive receptors when an accidental intruder bounces onto the invisible threads guarding her territory. I too receive information from the ‘vibes’ bouncing towards me, partly through hearing and partly by trust and intuition.

7: It’s touching to see the world

As I stand at the gateway facing the ever-diminishing sense of sight, my view of the world would be dim indeed, if my hands were bound together, and never allowed to reach out and touch what my eyes fail to see. 

8: Tools of the blind-tradie

Among my collection of tools are four qualities that I recommend to any person embarking on the profession of blind artisan. No matter what the obstacle ahead, I can guarantee from personal experience four attributes that will help you meet any challenge – and come out smiling.

9: A license to laugh

Humour is a tool that has the capacity to open the heart and unlock the gift of laughter to any soul seeking the truth. Seeing the ‘funny’ side of life when it could also be seen as ‘tragic’ is a tool worth its weight in gold.

10: To braille or not to braille: that was my question

Sometimes, my mother sat by my side and coloured in parts of my school work that I was struggling to see. She added her artistic flair to brighten up the pages of my books as well as lighten our hearts. But then came the Question I had been dreading, to braille or not to braille.

11: Blind Sherlock and Dr Memory

As sight fades, I am aware of how much I am gathering clues from listening, touching, smelling, tasting, feeling and observing as best my eyes can but above all, there is one undeniable device working over time in helping me to adapt to change.

12: The scent lingers on International Women’s Day

True friendship grows out of a genuine desire to sweeten the life of your friend when they have a bitter pill to swallow. When sight began to fade during my teen years, I found such a true friend at school. Like two peas in a paranoid-pod, we soon became inseparable confidantes for one another.

13: Why be fashionable if you can’t see?

Choosing one’s clothing is a matter of FEELING first, then seeing how it all fits together. When you feel good in what you wear, you will look great. Feeling textures of clothing is not always because I want to buy it but is a curious desire on my part to see the choices at my fingertips.

14: Writing Blind: how blind people manage to write

As a visually-impaired writer I compose stories, store documents to folders, read and send emails, create posts for blogs and surf the internet – all without being able to see the screen on my laptop. Come and meet my verbose parot, and see how we work together…

15: Mastering Blindness: Radio Australia Interview

if you want a front row seat, sit back and listen to the conversation where I speak with the charming Phil Kafcaloudes, presenter of a popular morning breakfast show on Radio Australia. We talk candidly on ‘ Mastering the daily challenges of living with blindness and journey back in time to explain how it all began with the diagnosis in my teen years.

Got any of your favourite stories to share? Please leave your comment here…

You may also like to read travel stories from a blind perspective. 

Copyright © 2015 Maribel Steel
Photographs Copyright © 2015 Harry Williamson