Vision Moments – GAAD Celebration
Many years ago, a former employee was out shopping with his wife. While she was browsing the merchandise, he was standing out of the way of everyone. At one point, he noticed a man staring at him from a few feet away, but thought nothing of it. He then went to find his wife, and walked in the direction of the man he had seen. As he walked towards the man, he was surprised that this person was not moving out of his way. He would veer in one direction, the man would follow suit. As this continued, he was beginning to get a little frustrated with the situation.
Eventually, the former employee realized that he was playing a game of dodge with his own reflection in a mirror.
I’m not sure where I read this quote and couldn’t find the source online but I really like it:
“In a society of blind people, a sighted person would be considered insane.”
Before World War I, there was no formal study of techniques to help people who are blind or visually impaired get around. After the “Great War,” dog trainers in Germany started working with breeds like the German Shepherd to help blinded soldiers cross busy streets, find doors, and avoid obstacles. An American living in Switzerland, Dorothy Eustis, was interested in breeding German Shepherds as working dogs rather than as show animals, and after traveling to Germany to see what was going on, wrote about it in the Saturday Evening Post. A Nashville insurance agent, Morris Frank, wrote to Dorothy Eustis and begged her to train a dog for him. Frank had lost his vision in a series of accidents as a young man. To get to her estate outside Vevay, Switzerland, Frank was virtually shipped as a package via Federal Express, led from shore to ship to shore and locked inside his room by a series of express agents. No one knew what to do with a blind man traveling alone. When he returned from Europe with his dog Buddy, Frank was a new man. Met by reporters, he walked unaided down the gangplank and, to their astonishment, was able to negotiate crossings at even the busiest New York streets. Frank began laughing. “For the first time in four years, I’m free. That’s why I’m laughing. I’m free, by God, I’m free!”
An amazing number of times people have said to me “Then you must know sign language” when they learn that I work in the field of blindness. They obviously have not thought that through!
A couple of years back, a paratransit driver dropped me off at APH. Making conversation, he asked me “Do they take care of you here all day?”
Apparently, he thought APH was some kind of adult day care, and not only that, but that I needed supervision!
Momma, What was That?
Several years ago, we were just starting to write and test the Nearby Explorer app. It calls out details about your environment as you walk past them. I often had my guide dog on autopilot and let her do the navigating while I let the GPS app talk.
Early one morning when the traffic was light on the way to work, I was crossing Galt Ave. At the time, there was a day care center there, and a mom was delivering her two children.
As I crossed the street, the phone sang out, Galt Ave.
As one of the kids got out of the car, he asked, “Momma, what was that talking?”
As she exited the car, my phone then announced Crescent Hill Childcare, 20 yards ahead.”
She saw me and Nina crossing and without missing a beat, she said, Oh, it was that dog!”
I laughed all the way to work and thanked whoever I could think of that dogs don’t really talk!
I started at APH in the Quality Assurance Department in the Talking Book Division. I remember, I had not been working here very long when a proofreader for records was having problems with her record player. She was legally blind. I came to fix the player & she was on break. So, I worked with the player but quickly decided it was best to replace it. The NLS record & cassette players were very gaudy colors that changed with each year’s production. I had used a newer player for a replacement so it was a different color.
I waited for the proof reader to return so I could explain I had to replace the record player. The proofreader walked in & sat down. She looked toward her desk & said, “I see you replaced my record player. Thank you.” I stood there stunned until I realized there was another reason for the gaudy colors on the players besides an indicator of the year of production. The proofreader was legally blind but she could still discern indistinct shapes & colors. The brighter & more contrasting the colors, the better she could see some of them & distinguish between them. That was my first of many “Aha” moments on low vision & blindness. The proofreader laughed & we both had a good laugh for the day.
The proofreader was Tina Lou Wallace. The year was somewhere around 1982.
Sometimes, you must wonder how dumb some sighted folks think we are
Several years ago, I had a pet dog named Hoss, and one night around 11:00 it was time for bed, I noticed he wasn’t in the house. He wasn’t in the back yard either.
So, I put the harness on my guide dog and began walking the neighborhood calling out Hoss’s name.
As I walked down Grinstead Drive, I noticed a person across the street walking her dogs, so I called out, “Excuse me, Have you seen a dog running loose around here?”
Her response: “Sir, you have your dog with you.”
Each year, the elementary school gym was packed with students from several classrooms, all queued up to take their visual acuity tests from the parents and other volunteers at the head of each line. Must have been something like six lines of approximately 30 students each. In other words, the kids were packed in there pretty tightly. As my daughter, Sally, moved further up the line, she would peek around the students in front of her, watching and listening as they read off the letters on the Snellen chart.
Although the school vision exam didn’t indicate there were visual concerns, I decided to take her to the ophthalmologist so she could be checked by a professional. To my surprise, they told me Sally’s vision was 20/200 and, of course, she needed glasses. (Her vision was fully corrected with those glasses.) So I turned to Sally.
“Why didn’t you tell me about your vision test at school today? Did you read the correct letters when they pointed to them?”
“No. I listened to what the kids in front of me said.”
“Umm. Why would you do that? Do you not want to wear glasses?” I was a little peeved.
The guilty look on her face changed to that “duh” one you might see on your teenager. “I didn’t want to fail the test.”
I recently met someone who uses the talking books we record. In chatting with him, I had to ask who his favorite narrator was. Diplomatically he assured me he loved listening to all of them but then related a story to me about getting to meet Jack and Jill Fox at a banquet. He spoke of how kind and friendly they were and was truly touched and amazed that “as famous as they are they took the time” to talk to him.
I have always said my vision loss is a blessing and a curse. I have travelled and lived many places and along the way, I have…
- Hugged strangers from behind
- Gotten into wrong vehicles
- Gotten lost
- Fallen down
- People have tried to hold my hand across the street
- On the bus people have been surprised that I’m out of the house let alone traveling to work
- Gotten strange looks
- Curious people
- People who say, “You can’t”
- People who think you are amazing for doing simple daily things
- People who forget that I can’t see
- People who freeze, run out of the way or become silent as I walk by
- People who have said, “You don’t need that cane you can see!”
- People who call my cane a stick or even once a wand, I guess like Harry Potter.
Children are the best though, now that I have a guide dog they point and shout “doggie!” Occasionally I have gotten support and encouragement from people. I have laughed and learned a lot and have educated many people about blindness.
But boy doesn’t it make life interesting!
Two Vision Moments with Fred
When Fred Gissoni, who was blind from birth, was the manager of the APH Customer Service Department we used to travel every year to work at the summer conferences. In the evenings the four of us would have dinner together, usually in the hotel restaurant, or a restaurant nearby. It never failed that when a server approached our table and could see that Fred was blind, they would raise their voice and speak loudly to Fred, as if he were deaf. And Fred, being Fred, would always smile really big, raise his head up at them and say “I can’t see but I can hear just fine”, which usually rendered them mute, for a few seconds. Fred delighted in that. Then they would apologize profusely. He was always gracious and kind, but always up for a good laugh.
One evening, after a long working day at the APH booth at a conference, we were having dinner when Fred picked up his glass to take a drink, and the straw went straight up his nostril. Normally, when seeing a blind person making a mistake we ignore it, as if we didn’t see it. This evening we were so tired that when the straw went up his nose, and we looked at each other, we just burst out laughing. “Oh you saw that did ya” Fred said with a great big grin on his face. We were still laughing when he said “for all you know I did that on purpose to see if you were awake. We blind folk have our ways ya know!”
There was never a dull moment around Fred.
There are no shortages of funny (blind moments) when you are blind yourself, and work among and for the blind.
While attending a conference in Minneapolis one Summer with my long-time co-worker and friend Dawn Eadens, we were headed bright and early one morning to our APH booth to begin the days work. It had been a late night the night before and admittedly we were both pretty groggy and grumpy, carrying our coffee and bagels in-hand having not quite woken up. Neither of us are really morning people…
Dawn is guiding me in her own way through the throngs of early morning conference attendees, as I acquiesce because lets face it, who has time to instruct every civilian on their human guide skills. By this point Dawn and I are long-time friends and are familiar enough with each other that it really didn’t matter at this point anyway.
She finds the escalator and puts me on it. First. No big deal… The problem was that I was apparently so tired and groggy that I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I was having so much trouble catching my footing. Everything was seemingly moving the wrong direction. I was holding things up by not moving fast enough. While I was struggling to make sense of things, Dawn, in her early morning inpatients and eagerness to get to work, sighed heavily, harrumphed a bit and said, “what are you doing?!” I don’t know what’s wrong, I respond. I can’t seem to…
Then suddenly realization dawned. Who started laughing first, I can’t quite remember. The escalator was the up, when we needed down. A myriad of snickers and giggles followed us the rest of the way through that convention corridor as we made our way to the (elevator).
On New Year’s Eve of 1990, I found myself on the road for APH. I was in Salt Lake City at a hotel that was practically empty, and as you might expect in Salt Lake City, not many revelers.
I decided to have dinner in the hotel restaurant, and yes, the dining room was empty; but soon a young couple showed up and seated themselves across the room from me. They were speaking in low tones at first, but soon they were quiet. I was paying little attention, lost in my own thoughts planning my travel to the next city.
Then, I heard someone slide into the seat across the table from me, and said in his lowest “big boy” voice, “why do you keep staring at my wife?”
Startled for a moment, I quickly grabbed my cane and stood up, saying, “I think you misinterpreted my look, I’m not staring at your wife.”
Well, what had been a tense situation, quickly became humorous and the 3 of us laughed until our stomachs hurt.
We wound up sitting together, sharing our life’s stories and laughing throughout our dinner; both grateful that we had made new friends.
Soon after that, I decided to get my second guide dog, Heathcliff.
Often, life can be filled with lots of unexpected surprises and often, they leave you laughing. When you’re blind, you prepare yourself for those little surprises that wind up in your mouth.
I picked up a lunch and was told the ice cream was separate from the other food, so as to keep the ice cream from melting. I put the bowl in the bag with the food. As I unpacked my lunch, I put the bowl aside in anticipation for dessert. Later, when I got ready for dessert, I picked up the bowl and noticed the the contents of the cup was a little shaky—I thought the ice cream had melted some. I wasn’t feeling well, so I thought I’d drink it, if I had to. Anticipating the taste of the ice cream, I took the lid off and stuck the spoon in and took a big bite. To my surprise, it was French salad dressing, which I had been looking for, but couldn’t find and thought the restaurant had forgotten. I later found the ice cream in abox.