2 Year Guide Dog Anniversary

Hello Everyone, I hope you are all well.

September is International Guide Dog month, there is so many ways that Guide Dogs impact the lives of blind and partially sighted people all over the world.

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2 years ago today I was so grateful to be walking across the stage to graduate with my first guide dog. It was an emotional day I was so happy to have received him and what he was going to do for my life. But I was also sad, I was sad for Rick’s puppy raisers they loved him just as much as I did and they had to say good bye. I was very happy that they had made the trip to Portland, OR to meet me and be a part of Rick’s graduation. Rick’s puppy raiser gave me the best gift besides my children I will ever receive. Being able to raise a dog for a year and pour so much of your heart and soul into training and socializing the dogs and then have to say good bye. This has to be a very hard thing to do and I am beyond grateful for their huge hearts and incredible gift.

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Now that Rick and I have been a team for 2 years now we are a pretty well oiled machine. We have an amazing relationship and I could not ask for a better guide. He knows me very well and can usually predict where I am wanting to go, also his coffee finding skills are out of the park. He is happy to traipse all over the country side going to events and shopping and sitting through many hours of meetings and he is happy to cuddle and keep me company when I work from home.

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There are so many ways that Rick has changed my life he has helped me to embrace my disability and live my life my way. He has helped me to find my confidence that I have always wanted to have. Rick has also made the work of advocating and educating the public a little easier because people want to talk to you when you have an adorable yellow lab wagging his tail sitting next to you. It is like he makes people more comfortable to approach us and talk.

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So many of the things I have mentioned are not even guiding tasks, and that is what I want people to know, a Guide Dog does more than just show us the curbs and take us around obstacles. They enhance our lives so much.

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Thank you to everyone who makes it possible for people who are blind or partially sighted to have Guide Dogs in their lives you are amazing !

Until Next Time !

Ashley and Rick

Blind Yoga

Hello Everyone,

I hope you are all well. I have really been trying to work on me and take care of myself and making that a priority. I also love to try new things so today I am going to tell you about my experience trying yoga for the first time and how it is going.

I am someone who always likes to try new things, I have been wanting to try yoga for a while but I was unsure how it would work with me not being able to see what the instructor was doing. After thinking about it for way to long, I took the plunge and booked 5 private sessions. This gave me the opportunity to learn the moves and have one on one instruction before I went into a class. This was probably the best thing I could have done.

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Rick trying to join me for yoga this morning. Picture of my feet on the green yoga mat and Rick laying with his front paws right in front of my feet. 

I was not sure if yoga would be for me, I mean I am a pretty high strung person. I need to be busy all the time and my mind is going a million miles an hour always. So to say I was nervous for my first session was an understatement.

I made it to my first session and was really surprised at how comfortable the instructor made me feel. We went through what I wanted to get out of my yoga practice and also why I wanted to try yoga. We devised a plan from our discussion about what I wanted to get out of these 5 sessions.

We have been working on breathing and relaxing and some stretching. Then this week we went through a full practice and some basic poses. I have a long way to go but I am really enjoying the challenge and to be honest learning to turn off my mind and focus on only what I am doing has been really nice.

I am enjoying learning to relax and the poses have been fun to do. I think that we all need to take time for ourselves, no matter what you do or who you are. Sometimes we are so busy taking care of others that we forget that we can not give what we do not have.

Being blind has not been a factor in me being able to do yoga in the slightest which is great. The instructor is very descriptive and hands on to help me to get into the pose properly. I think that if you are someone who has a disability and wants to try something new go for it. You are your biggest obstacle when we get out of our own heads and just go for it, we can be pleasantly surprised.

I am looking forward to getting the basics down and going to a group class ! I will let you know how that goes !

Until Next Time !

Ashley and Rick

You are so lucky !!

Hello Everyone,

Today I want to talk about a misperception of people who are blind or partially sighted and dating or being married or in a relationship of any kind.

There is this misperception that people with disabilities are not bringing anything to the relationship and that the person who is in a relationship with them is doing them a huge favour by being in a relationship with that person. This is insane ! People with disabilities can bring just as much to a relationship as someone without a disability.

My husband and I have been together for 13 years and married for 11. When we started dating he knew that I had a vision impairment, that never was a factor in our relationship though because I have a personality. I am not just a blind person that is not all I have to offer. We did not start dating because he felt bad for me.

When I lost the remainder of my vision 3 years ago I have had many people say to me and my husband, “you are so amazing for sticking around”. That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. I have also had people say “you are so lucky your husband stuck around”. Why is it people think that we could not have any sort of “normal” relationship because I have a disability. The comments like “oh, you are married, I never would have guessed” are sickening.

Ignorance fuels these types of comments and misperceptions, if they had taken the time to get to know me or anyone with a disability they would see that I have just as much to offer a relationship and the world as the next person.

I have asked my husband if he feels like I am a burden to him and like he wishes I wasn’t blind. His response is always “no, your blindness does not define our relationship and you are just as capable as anyone else. You are stubborn and drive me nuts sometimes but that is not because you are blind that is because you are Ashley.”

So the next time you think someone is lucky to have a partner just because they have a disability, try looking beyond the disability and to the fact that they are a person who has so much to offer.

Thanks for reading !
Until Next Time !
Ashley and Rick

Adaptive technology for the Blind

Hello Everyone,

This is part 2 of my last blog post on Apps for the blind and partially sighted. Today I am going to talk a little bit about the things that I use daily or almost daily. There are a lot of products out there that are designed for the blind or partially sighted. I have tried many things over the years and these are the ones that have lasted the test of time and I still use. There are times when the technology in theory is good but when the practical reality of life happens and it is not all that convenient to use it.

So the first thing that I use for more than most of my day is my iPhone. I told you about the apps I use in my last post so if you have not read that one check it out. There are more things that I use my phone for that I did not mention such as siri for the weather but I don’t find I am much different than most people now a days with their phones being attached to them.

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The next thing that I use quite a bit is my liquid level indicator, this is good for making tea or anything hot. When it is cold I just hook my finger over the top of the cup but when it is boiling water common sense kicks in and I use the liquid level indicator. If I do not have it with me I will use the echo from the liquid pouring into the cup the is usually successful but has it’s times when it is not.So how the liquid level indicator works is that it hangs over the side of the cup and it makes a high pitched very annoying sound so you stop pouring instantly and take it off your cup just to make the sound stop !

 

Braille is a big part of my life and I use it daily for reading, making lists, and also for labels around my house. I use braille for things like canisters of pasta or a bin of flour and sugar. I have a  braille labeller that makes strips of braille with whatever I need it to say. This is very handy as I don’t need to have anything else with me other than my hands to read what is in the container.

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My Pen Friend is something that I use every day. I have talked about it in my blog before but since this is about the technology that I use I am including it. The Pen Friend is a device that looks like a large pen, it will read and record on the microchipped stickers. I use this for medications, canned goods, makeup, recipes the list of uses is endless. It is very convenient to use and is really one of my top products after my phone.

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I also use bump on dots around my home, these are not really technology but they are very helpful. They come in all different shapes, sizes and colours. I have bright orange ones because I used to be able to see the orange colour. They are helpful on things like microwaves and stoves for marking temperatures or certain buttons.

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GPS this is something I have said that I like to always have with me especially when I am travelling alone. I do use my phone with the apps like Blind Square and Google Maps, but I also use a device called the Trekker Breeze. This is a hand held device that does not rely on a cellular signal and data to use it, which is why I use a combination of the two. The Trekker is handy for marking out bus stops and putting in many different routes and adding in voice memos about your route like construction on the next block or keep left because of sidewalk signs. It will also tell you what type of intersection you are coming up on so four lanes two way traffic. It gives you lots of information which is especially helpful when you are travelling a new route. You are also able to put in a new route by putting in your starting point and end point, you are then able to go in a listen to the route turn by turn so you have an idea of where you are going.

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The last thing that I live on and use more than once a day is my Macbook Air. I am a mac user because it is accessible out of the box and I do not need to purchase expensive screen reading software to use it. I also find the screen reader Voice Over to be very easy to use and navigate the computer from everything like emails to editing my YouTube videos and writing my blog.

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In order to be successful in life as a person living with blindness I have had to make my world accessible. A lot of the time this just means thinking out of the box and using some creative methods. However with the advances in technology I feel like there is nothing in my way for living my life my way. Technology has come so far even from when I was in school back in (well lets not discuss how long ago that was ha ha). In fact had I had the technology there is now I would have been much more successful and on the same playing field as my peers in school.

Thanks for taking the time to read my post today and if you have any questions about how I use any of these and would like a video on it please let me know and I would be happy to do that. If you are curious where to get any of these products I can also provide that information.

Until Next Time !

Ashley and Rick

Guest Post – DoubleVisionBlog

“I don’t understand why I didn’t get the job,”

I said to my supervising teacher, “You gave me such stellar reviews from e and goals really well in my interview. I have a 4.0 GPA, and the students loved me! Did the principal say anything to you about why he didn’t hire me?”

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Photo Credit: Morry Angell, Guide Dogs for the Blind
My supervising teacher hesitated.

“Well, um, he did mention that you didn’t maintain strong eye contact throughout the entire interview. He said your eyes didn’t always follow where he was pointing when he was explaining the school set up. He said your eyes kind of trailed off, and it made him skeptical about you.”

Her words came as a swift, unexpected punch in the gut.

That was 13 years ago, and I cringe thinking about the conversation, but not because I am embarrassed about my eyes, like I was then. I cringe now because I remember how much time and energy I wasted trying to hide my vision loss.

The principal had no idea that I literally couldn’t see his finger when he moved it even a half inch to either side, much less follow the sweeping motion of his hands. My supervising teacher knew about my loss of peripheral vision and even that I was legally blind, but I had asked her not to say anything because I didn’t want it to keep me from getting hired. I didn’t use a cane in my interviews, or really much at all at that point in my life because I didn’t want to look “blind”.

Fortunately, my supervising teacher did not listen to me when I went to my next interview, choosing instead to mention my vision loss as one of my strengths, stating how hard I worked and how well I communicated with the students to compensate for my vision loss.

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Photo Credit: Morry Angell, Guide Dogs for the Blind
That principal hired me.

I held my own as a middle school English teacher for several years, but I continued to struggle much more than I needed to because I still spent a great deal of time and energy trying to do everything the “sighted” way. I still felt very ashamed of my vision loss, and I think that came across to my students and colleagues. I always felt that I was just one incident away from disaster. I had several incidents where parents thought I had purposely ignored them in passing, and one even complained to the school dean about it. These incidents unnerved me and made me feel like people were getting closer and closer to finding out the truth about me. The truth that, because of my eyesight, I was incompetent.

When a 7th grader with special needs fell asleep while I was reading a book to the class, and I failed to notice him sleeping outside of my line of vision, the special education teacher’s aide reported this to her, and she stormed into my classroom and demanded an explanation. I spoke with her privately about my vision, and she was irate and said that she couldn’t trust her students with special needs in my classroom. I became terrified that she would “tell on” me to administration, and since the principal who hired me was no longer there, I wasn’t quite sure if the new principal even knew that I was visually impaired and how he would feel about it. Since I was still one year away from earning tenure, I knew that the school could legally lay met off at any time, without giving any reason, so I would never even have a case if anyone discriminated.

So, despite my outstanding observation reviews and the fact that I was a creative, organized teacher and had spent 2 years and a small fortune getting my master’s degree, I chose to resign from my job. My reasons for leaving were numerous, and as a new mom who wanted to spend more time with my baby girl, my reasons made sense to all those around me. It’s just that no one, aside from my husband a couple close friends, knew that fear and shame were among the top reasons I chose to resign. I figured that if I were the one who quit, there would be no chance of me ever being fired.

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Photo Credit: Morry Angell, Guide Dogs for the Blind

I was consumed with blending in and not appearing weak, which took away all of my strength.

Thankfully, I’ve come a long way over the past 9 years since I left my teaching job. I now get around very well with the help of a guide dog. I have also gone through training in technology and other life skills to make everyday living more accessible.

Ironically, now when I use my guide dog, people continue to make comments about my eye contact, except the exact opposite opinion from that first principal. “But you don’t LOOK blind. You’re looking right at me and making eye contact!”

That’s the tricky thing about degenerative eye conditions like Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). Whether you’re using a mobility tool or not, people are constantly asserting that you have “not enough” or “too much” vision. It’s akin to visual purgatory.

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When you linger between the worlds of sight and complete darkness long enough, a few things become apparent.

There are certain tools available, such as canes and dogs and magnifiers and smartphones, that can be helpful and do not have to define you.
The general public has a very black and white view of blindness, and when we’re out in the world, living our lives with whatever tools help us, we are often educating people about the wide spectrum of sight loss.
Sharing stories of vision loss helps connect us and changes stigmas about blindness
I’d like to say that shame over vision loss is something that I just woke up having conquered one day, but the truth is that it has been a lengthy process. And on certain days, it still takes a lot of awareness, reflection and self-compassion.

I cannot pinpoint one breaking moment, or even one particular thing that helped me move forward. It was a series of breaking moments and a series of steps forward. Part of it was having my daughters and wanting them to grow up with a happy mommy; part of it was sharing stories with my twin on our blog; part of it was getting a guide dog.

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Photo Credit: Morry Angell, Guide Dogs for the Blind

It was only when I began to lean into that part of myself that I always thought of as flawed that it truly began to lose power over me.

I may not be teaching in a classroom right now, but I am now confident enough that I could go back at any point in the future, For now, I am homeschooling my 2 daughters, who are growing up with a mom who doesn’t let the stigma of blindness stand in her way.

And they don’t seem to care whether I make too much eye contact, or not enough. I hear them tell their friends their mom is “half blind”, and I suppose that is half true. I am not concerned with correcting them or having the most accurate label to describe me and my vision. My only concern now is living the most authentic life possible and spreading the message that we do not need to be ashamed of blindness.

Be sure to connect with Joy and her twin Jenelle on their social media accounts:

Double Vision Blog
Twitter
Facebook

Technology Not A Magic Fix for Everyone

Hello Everyone,

Lately there has been some media coverage on a form of technology for the blind, and it has been made out to be that magic pill that will give your sight back. Now I want to preface this post by saying I am not against technology, I believe you should use technology to enhance the vision you have and to help you make life easier if possible.

What I do not agree with is technology being portrayed in the media like it will fix the person and make them be able to enjoy their life again. There are a pair of glasses that magnify the world around you on small screens in front of your eyes, these can be a great tool for people with low vision when trying to read or see things around them but they do not give them their vision back. They will not make them sighted again, they are simply a tool that one can use if they have low vision. Also the group of people that these glasses work for is so small it is not a “fix” for many people. When they are advertised as “blind woman sees her children for the first time.” I have a real problem with that because it is misleading.

The reason I am bringing this up is because these glasses have been in the media lately and last night my grandma called me very excited. She began by saying “Oh Ashley, they have these new glasses that will help you to see again, there is a lady on the news that is totally blind and if she can get these glasses they make it so she can see her children again and have her sight back.” I knew what she was talking about and I had to then try to explain to my grandma the reality of what these glasses really were and how they worked and that the woman was not totally blind. My poor grandma was heartbroken and then asked me why on earth people put these stories on TV and in the paper and make them sound so much different than what the actual reality is. She said that they are giving people false hope. Even my grandma was given false hope, she just wants to find that cure for me and she really thought this was it.

I have now had the conversation with my grandma explaining that I am not looking for a cure or a magic fix, because I am not broken. I am really happy and comfortable in my life, I would not change a thing. These magic fixes do not give me that ability to work, to be happy to fully participate in my children and families lives. Because I am doing all those things successfully right now with no vision at all. Vision does not equal happiness, vision does not equal success. It is crazy to think that there are people out there that associate blindness with such negativity and inability. Life is what you make it, and I will not sit back and let blindness define my life. I will live life the way I want to.

This notion that I need to be able to see my children faces to be happy and to be able to fully participate in their lives is craziness. I am fully participating in their lives every single day. I am enjoying their laughter, the feeling of their arms around me when we hug, the conversations we have, their descriptions of their art work they hang on the fridge. I am loving the family vacations we take, the sightseeing we do, playing in the back yard with them, going for walks and spending time doing their homework. So explain to me what I am missing out on?

When people say with these glasses it will enable me to work that is not entirely true. You have the ability to work even without vision and your ability to work is not the issue. Despite all the technology that can aid employment of people who are blind and partially sighted, convincing employers that you have the ability to be a productive employee and an asset to their company is the problem. Just because you get a magic pair of glasses does not mean you will change society’s view of blindness. So if we have people who are partially sighted or blind saying that with these magic glasses they can finally be happy and live their life fully, how are we going to convince society that vision does not determine what you are capable of?

I know the difficulties some people have with accepting their blindness, there was a time in my life where I would hide my sight issues and did not like to admit to my blindness, it was like admitting defeat. However, at that time in my life, I was not truly happy either. You have to look deeper than your eye sight and truly love yourself and every fault and imperfection that you may feel you have. This does not happen overnight, but it will get you much farther in life than playing the poor blind girl card. Everyone in life has difficulties, even if you were sighted life would not be perfect because that is not reality having things you need to work on and overcome is reality. Having people look at you as the poor blind woman, is not healthy for you or anyone around you. I want people to see me as a strong independent woman, and have my disability not even part of the equation because it does not define me and what I am capable of!

Until Next Time !

Ashley and Rick