Let’s Go For Dinner….. Dinning out as a person who is blind.

Hello Everyone,

I have always had a love hate relationship with going out to eat, even from a young age. As someone who is totally blind today the experience can be good and bad especially because of being a guide dog handler.

Since I was born legally blind and have always had really bad vision, and no not like how you have bad vision when you take your glasses off. I had always had some anxiety when eating out. If we were going somewhere like a fast food place that had the menu behind the counter, there was no way that I could ever read those. They are horribly back lit, the print had horrible contrast it was just not happening. So I would order the same thing at the restaurant every single time no matter if I wanted something else or not. Or my favourite, you order whatever the person in front of you does. Because there was a time when I didn’t have the confidence to ask and that was because when I would ask sometimes what they had for say chicken. The answer I would get without fail cane or not would be “the menu is right there”. And at that time I was too proud or nervous to say well I actually can’t read that because I can’t see it.

Going to a sit down restaurant one would think that would be a better option but nope, the restaurants always have horrible lighting and the menu print is seriously microscopic, and the menus usually are covered in plastic that creates glare from the crappy lights. So again I would try to read the menu with it so close that I got all the germs from the menu right up my nose and even then I could not see it. But you know what every restaurant usually has? Chicken Cesar Salad. So you guessed it, that was my fail safe. I never wanted my friends to read the menu for me because that meant that I had to admit that I was blind. Looking back now I can see that the only person who suffered in any of this was me.

Now as I have no vision left and much more confidence than I ever had. I don’t have the same anxiety that I did before, but there is still anxiety it is just different. What would I be anxious about you may be thinking. Well now that I am a guide dog user I always think, is today going to be another day where I have to argue my way into a restaurant, is today going to be the day that every points and stares and they put me in the back corner like an outcast.

Even my children and my husband will try to avoid going to a sit down restaurant or a new restaurant because they worry if we will have any issues. I am not someone who will not go because I am worried about what will happen when I show up with a dog. But the worry is always still there.

Sometimes you get really lucky and you are reminded that this is how it should be. Last night my family went to a mew Boston Pizza near our home for my sons 13th birthday. On the way to the restaurant the kids and my husband were saying hopefully we have no issues. I was hopeful that we wouldn’t. We walked in and there was no question or comment about Danson (huge win). Then we sat down and I asked for a braille menu, and she came back with one! That seriously never happens. There are very few places that have a braille menu.

Cover of a braille / large print menu at Boston Pizza

I was able to read the menu myself and pick something new. We had a great dinner and when I left it got me thinking. This is how it is for people every single time they want to go out to eat. And yet here I am as a blind woman and I almost celebrate because I was able to enter a restaurant with no questions, order my own food off a menu I can read, and sit and laugh and make memories with my children as my guide dog lays at my feet. This should not be the case, in todays age we should all have the freedom and ability to go out and enjoy a small thing like having dinner without any barriers.

Closet up of braille on a white sheet

Until Next Time,

Ashley and Danson

Parenting……… !

Hello Everyone,

I am blessed with three amazing children they are all very different individuals and I am very proud of the people that they are becoming.

Now I want to be real here for a minute. I have been asked recently if my kids have taken advantage of the fact that I cannot see what is going on. The answer is yes. I would love to sit here and say that, that is just not true my children, my angels would never do that. But that would be a huge lie and would only look good on social media, it would serve no other purpose.

You bet my kids have taken advantage of the fact that I cannot see what is going on. I know that I am not alone in this one. Kids will always try to see what they can get away with. I know as a kid I definitely took advantage of my parents working all the time. And did many things that I would not have done if my parents were around.

Like I said we have three children and one of them has pretty significant ADHD and they are all teens or pre-teens. There have been some really rough days trying to make sure that they are doing the things that they need to do and managing a child with ADHD. There have been nights when I really need a break and am not sure I am doing anything right. There are days when I take a well timed shower for some peace and quiet. I love my children, but I would be ok with skipping the teen years some days. Now not everything about raising children is bad, there are so many amazing things. There are days when I think, “how was I so lucky to get these kids”. They can be the most empathetic, kind, amazing kids. Raising kids is hard, no matter if you have a disability or not.

The reality is that people think my disability is the reason parenting is hard and that is just not the case. Parenting is hard for everyone. I have no idea what I am doing, I am sure I have made many mistakes along the way. The important thing is that I am doing the best that I know how. And hopefully after all my mistakes and figuring it out along the way we will have three well rounded adults.

I know that at the end of the day, we are all doing our best and that is all that anyone can ask.

Until Next Time,

Ashley and Danson

Top 10 Perks Of Not Driving Because You Are Blind

Hello everyone,

I can not tell you how many times someone has said to me “oh I couldn’t be blind and not drive”. Not being able to drive is a little bit of a pain in the rear but it definitely has its perks.

1. You never have to try and find your ride, or your car because they park in the same spot every time !

2. If your in a bad mood or just want to be left alone you can put in headphones and not hear “what is wrong with you?”, “why are you so grouchy today”, “what’s wrong?” On repeat like a broken record.

3. When people call you, they never want to talk long because of the background noise and all the people. Plus it is rude, so you can easily get out of talking to anyone!

4. You do not have to have road rage and you will get to your destination without almost needing bail money. I don’t know how you people do it to be honest, I swear like a trucker and I am not in traffic with people who have no idea how they even got there, let alone how they are supposed to get to where they are going!

5. If your bus gets a flat tire they come and pick you up with a different bus and you walk away from the broken one!

6. People make you feel like you are the most amazing thing every day simply because you got your blind behind to a bus stop and are on that thing alone! I mean you my friend deserve a Nobel prize!! And if you are not the biggest inspiration to someone, you may have someone pray over you or even get a marriage proposal because your guide dog will attract all the people you want to talk to.

7. It is the only place you can walk on and make someone move out of a seat simply because you want it and you are disabled so you can have it!

8. When your friends have to pay to fix their cars or put gas in them; you can justify as many pairs of shoes as you want! I mean you walk everywhere!!

9. When someone says to you “ma’am I need to see your drivers license.” And you say “I am blind”. The story and shovel they start digging the biggest hole with is quite comical!

10. If you are ever late for anything, all you have to say is “I had to take the bus” and no one will say anymore because they feel bad for you. If you drive they would say something like: ” well you should have left sooner I guess”.

There are many more perks I am sure I am missing, but I am sure you can now see why taking the bus isn’t the worst thing that could happen!

Until Next Time !

Ashley and Danson

My Top Tool For Work As A Blind Employee

Hello Everyone,

I have many different things that I use to do my work, many of them are specific tools for people who are blind or partially sighted like a braille display for example. But there is one tool that I can not rave about enough. This tool has made a huge difference in how I am able to get my work done, keep on task, keep organized, be efficient and so much more.

The one thing I can not make it through a work day without is my iPad. My last iPad died a few months ago after 3 years because I used it to death literally. And in the short time that I was without my iPad for work I realized how much I rely on it for so many things during the day. It is my note pad, my post it notes, my calendar, my sanity when things get busy and there is too much to keep in my head.

Some of my favourite apps on my iPad that make it my favourite tool are many of the Office 365 Tools that we use at work; Outlook, One Note, Microsoft Teams, Word, Excel, One Drive and so on.

The one that I use the absolute most is by far One Note. I have always been someone who writes things down in some way as my vision has never been super the way I do that has changed. When I got my first iPad I was using Pages that came on the iPad and I still use it for some things but One Note has been a game changer for me.

I am able to make different NoteBooks for the different things that I am working on, and within those notes I am able to create different sections and different pages. So it is really like a binder but an accessible version. I have a To Do list that is great I create a new To Do list for each and every week and there I add in all of the things that I need to work on I also take notes for many of my meetings on that document to keep all my work for that week together. This has been really good with Voice Over because in Pages or Word you have to select the text to find out if it is highlighted or bolded or anything like that but with One Note I am able to highlight text with say pink and then when I arrow down through the bullets it will say “highlighted” . I can also create tick boxes but I really like to highlight what is done it just works best for me.

I use Voice Over on my iPad with a Logitech case that has a keyboard that is on it. This set up means that it is much more convenient to take it to meetings and when travelling for work and so much lighter than a laptop. Because so much of what we do now a days is cloud based that means that there is so much more that I can do on my iPad and not have to use a computer.

Beyond One Note and Office 365 on my iPad I use it for my calendar, email, reading books, keeping all my recipes for home, keeping track of my kids school things, editing videos, writing my blogs so many things. I am also able to hook my braille display up to it and read books via braille with I really love doing and it is much more convenient than a bulky braille book.

I feel like many people when they are in a work environment don’t realize that people who are sighted many of them carry a note book to meetings and take notes, and keep themselves organized that way. As a person who is blind you need to find what that equivalent is for you. Going into a meeting with nothing to write anything down is not going to help you be successful, no one can remember every little thing. Even though many of us have to remember so many different things every single day we need a tool that will put us on the same playing field as out co-workers.

For me, my iPad has been my most important tool in getting my work done. I think it is so important to find what works for you, it may not be an iPad but I am sure we all have a tool that will work for us and make us more efficient and organized whether we are sighted or blind.

Until Next Time,

Ashley and Danson

Self Care …. For Where You Are In Your Journey.

Hello Everyone,

As we move through our own journey in life no matter what that is, we can so easily get stuck comparing where we are at with those around us. Social media makes us compare our lives to what we see online. When the reality is that what we see online is not the reality.

I have had people come and tell me that they wish they were as confident and independent as I am in their blindness. The reality is that I have walked this journey in the good and the bad. I have those bad days, I have doubt, I have anxiety, I have break downs and there are sometimes tears and the feeling like I can’t keep going. We are all on our own journey and that journey will look very different for everyone.

The reality of those bad days are so important to share, and to be real about. Because those bad days make us so much more relatable and real. I never want anyone to think that it is sunshine and rainbows in my life. Because that is the farthest from the truth.

What I can tell you is how I am able to get through those hard days, the days that I just want things to be easier. I have days when I wish I could see and things would be easier. But then i take some time for me and I am reminded that my blindness makes me who I am good and bad.

My favourite things to do to bring me back to being in the moment and take the time to relax and just be are:

A hot bubble bath, I love having a good bubble bath. It is the time that I can just sit and relax and it is just for me and no one else. I even lock the bathroom door and turn on the fan to the highest setting so that I can’t hear what is going on outside the door and the kids can not come in and ask me if it is their turn on the xbox or tell me that someone touched them or who knows what other crisis will happen in that 30 minutes.

A good book, I love to read, this is a way that I can escape and take myself somewhere else. I am able to really just clear my head and enjoy the story unfolding. Depending on how I am feeling will depend on what I am reading, if I am trying to unwind and relax and just remove myself from my thoughts I will read something like fantasy, or contemporary. I also love to read non fiction but when I want to escape and take some time for myself I don’t like to read non fiction. That is saved for when I am in the mood to learn something new to conquer my goals.

A walk, a good walk can help to clear my head. I like to take my cane and take Danson just on leash. He loves getting out to just enjoy a non working walk. I try to go and walk on a path so that I don’t have to worry about traffic and other things.

A candle, I will lots of times light a candle and sit and just be in the quiet (this one has to wait until the house is empty). It can be nice to just be in the quiet and take the time to just slow down and be in the moment.

Taking the time to do things that make you feel better and help you to recharge can help you get through the rough times. Just talking about what you are experiencing and talk through the fears and frustrations with someone who can understand can be very helpful as well. I have a couple of friends who are walking through the journey of vision loss as well so they truly get it and there is nothing more comforting then to know you are not alone.

Do Employers Today Really Understand Diversity and Inclusion?

Hello Everyone,

We hear so often that employers are focused on diversity and inclusion when it comes to their hiring practices. Yet hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities around the world are unemployed or underemployed. Why is that?

Many times when businesses say they are a equitable business they are simply saying that because it is what they have to say. No business person would advertise that they only hire able bodied people. Everyone would be outraged. So to get around that they say they support including and diversity. These terms are just that terms action is what shows if you are truly a employer that believes in diversity and inclusion. No business person is going to say we will give them an interview but never actually hire them. They would be a safety risk, they would take more sick days, it costs too much to have them work in our office. When that is the reality, so many like myself who have faced that employer who is giving you a interview because you checked the box, that you are a person which a disability.

Many times when you do get an interview as someone with a disability you spend the time discussing how you got there, how would you be able to get around the office, would you be a safety risk for them, do you need to take more sick days than other employees. All of these things end up making you feel like you are the size of an ant. Not to mention the feeling you get when you walk in a room and everyone is uncomfortable just by your presence. If you have never experienced this I encourage you to reach out to me and lets go to a professional networking event or dinner. You would be horrified by the way business people you look up to treat people with disabilities.

There was skills and education that got you the interview; yet many times you do not get to talk about those skills or what you can bring to the company. The focus is all on the fact that you are disabled. When in reality you are highly educated, skilled, and bring a unique skill set to the table, a new perspective even. The world of business would be a better place all around with people with disabilities in equal representation across the board

Someone with a disability may need to do things differently but they are also a highly educated skilled untapped talent pool. As someone with a disability I have had to fight my way through many things, we will persevere because we face unimaginable challenges every single day of our lives, we are resourceful and creative; when faced with a challenge, we will overcome it and find a way to make it work.

Those with a disability who are looking for work and are feeling like this is never going to happen and no one will give you the time of day. Hold your head high, stand up straight, and own it. Your disability gives you a skill set that can’t be taught in schools. That company is missing out on you, you are not missing out on them. Your disability does not stop you from doing what you love, peoples perception of what you can do does. So take that leap and show the world that you are not going anywhere and you will make it no matter what they say.

You will be the one to sit across the table from those who said no, and be the one to tell them no. It takes time and hard work but you are the one who will come out on top,

There are many people who may be uncomfortable with this, and that is ok with me. You should be, but the truth is this is the reality for so many people who have a disability and for so many companies who just don’t walk the walk.

Until Next Time..

Ashley and Danson

The Hard Days Make Us A Better Team

Hello Everyone,

It has been 6 months since my guide dog Danson and I were matched and started learning to work together as a team. This has not always been a walk in the park and life has made this transition more difficult than I would have ever thought. With Danson being my second guide dog I thought it would be easier this time around and I will tell you that could not have been farther from the truth.

Danson is an amazing guide, he makes life so much easier and gives me confidence and freedom that I have never felt with a white cane. When you are learning to work with a new guide dog it is a long process of learning each other’s quirks and what makes the both of you tick and what you need to be at your best.

I have been thrown some unanticipated health things and that has made this transition a little harder. I have lost the remaining light perception that I had when we were first matched and I have been on a little bit of a roller coaster with my health. Danson has taken this in stride and been there by my side through it all.

As all these changes have gone on, I am learning to trust Danson and work my routes around my home and work with zero vision. Danson is really sensitive and picks up on my fears and anxieties, and this is amazing but when I am having a rough day we as a team are having a rough day. I have found that I have more fears when I am moving about my environment and those fears can manifest more when I am having a bad day. These fears and anxiety can take a tole on Danson so it is something that I am working through and I am doing this with the support of Danson and some amazing people.

It takes a year to become a solid working team. And that year has its ups and downs. That is normal and it takes a long time to get used to each other and learn everything about them.

I am so happy to have been matched with Danson, after the early retirement of my last guide I have become hyper aware of what can happen if Danson is put in a situation similar. There are many things that can happen when you are a guide dog handler that a dog would have to retire early and the fear of that happening to Danson has made this transition along with the other things a little tricky. Danson is the right Guide Dog for me and we are working through life as a team and i am so grateful for his support and love through it all.

With the support from so many amazing people in my life we will be a great team. Having a guide dog isn’t always rainbows and sunshine but it is definitely worth every minute.

I get so many people asking me if a Guide Dog is for them or if I get a Guide Dog what are some of the things you wished you knew before you got a guide dog. I always want people to take as much information about guide dogs and make the choice for themselves. The one thing that I don’t think that I can prepare them for is the emotional rollercoaster that occurs as a guide dog handler.

There are days when it is hard, at the end of the day they are dogs and have good and bad days just like humans. You don’t meet the dog for the first time and trust them with your life. They don’t come in your room and love you right off the bat either. They are looking for who ever they loved before you to come back. When you get home it is not going to be sunshine and rainbows. There will be things you need to work through, issues that arise you never thought of, quirks that drive you nuts. The constant advocacy will get old. At the end of the day no matter how hard it is being a Guide Dog handler is the best thing I could have ever done for myself. And I hope so many others find what makes them as confident and independent as possible.

Danson and I are still learning to fully trust each other and that is hard for me this time with what happened to Rick. I have panic attacks because I am so worried when I am out that something is going to happen to Danson and he will have to retire and I will be left shattered again. I avoid the Starbucks where the incident happened to this day. But I am so happy and grateful to have Danson by my side I wouldn’t change anything. Soon we will be like an extension of each other, we are like a newly married couple right now, still figuring it out.

Until Next Time !

Ashley and Danson