A Decade of Change

Hello Everyone,

It is hard to believe that it is 2020. I have some pretty good blind jokes about this 2020 business but I will save you from my horrible humour.

I have been reflecting on the last year and in turn the last decade. So much has happened in that time. As so many of us it has been an up and down journey to get to where we are today.

When I look bak on the last 10 years I am grateful for where I am now and I am also proud of where I am today. It was a rough 10 years. I lost my dad, and many other very important people to me. I also lost all of my vision. I lost friends and a lot of the life that I had. It is so easy to recall all of the tough times. But when I sit down and really think about what I have all accomplished this last 10 years I am really taken back, and so proud of myself.

I have  learned to live a life that I never thought possible. I am a stronger woman than I ever thought possible. I was nominated for the YWCA Women of Distinction awards, I ran in a provincial election, I was named one of CBC Saskatchewans 40 under 40. I had a piece I wrote published in a magazine. I have spoken to thousands of people educating them about blindness and sharing my story. I have had success professionally. I have three kids that have grown into teenagers and pretty amazing people over the last 10 years. I have been blessed with 2 amazing guide dogs who showed me so much and continue to teach me more than i could ever teach them.

I have also learned so much over the last decade. The lessons I learned shaped where I am at today and they taught me how to love more, embrace my emotions no matter what they are, to walk with confidence and not hide, to embrace fear and use it to take on the world. The lessons that we learn are so important, they come from failing , succeeding, saying yes and being scared.

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There were times in the last decade that really stand out as hard. When I say hard I mean in the moment and for some time after I thought there is no way I can do this; I am never going to come out on the other end. Some of those times for me were definitely the loss of my dad, the loss of my vision, the early retirement of my first guide dog. Looking back on these times, I am still surprised to be walking on the other side. But they also remind me that life is not going to be easy, it is going to be hard, it is going to be messy, it is going to suck; but coming out on the other side happens even when we can’t imagine how.

I have had the opportunity to speak to so many people that have reached out after reading my blog, and have said how I have helped them, or showed them what is possible, and that I have inspired them. This is something that I am so grateful for. When I was walking in those dark places and trying to come out on the other side of vision loss I wanted someone to tell me it would be ok. Someone who was walking the same journey and who could show me what was possible. So thank you to all of my readers, with the help of you we have given that space to so many.

Now for the first time in my life with 2020 clarity (ha ha I could not help myself) we can make the next 10 years even better! IMG_2296v2

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

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.

Independence Can Be Scary

Hello Everyone,

I am a pretty confident blind person when it comes to getting around and traveling. There are so many times that people say to me, you are just so brave and are not scared I just can’t seem to get there. And they feel like they are failing, that they will never be independent because of it. So today let’s be real for a minute.

I am scared, I am terrified, I am anxious as all heck, I doubt myself, I doubt my abilities. These are all very real things in my world. It can be scary to stand at an intersection with all of the noises around you and trust that you are going to get yourself to the other side safely. There are many times where I doubt myself and stand there for two cycles of the light so that I can work up the courage to go.

When I go somewhere new for the first time in the same city, or a whole new city. I feel anxious and my brain gets pretty creative with what may happen on that journey. I plan it out, I  talk my self through the process.

Fear is real and fear is ok. It is how we push ourselves to do the things that we feel like we can’t do. I feel like there is no one sighted or not who doesn’t have some sort of fear, anxiety, and self-doubt at some point or heck many points along the way.

Fear is what can drive us to work through it and prove to no one but ourselves that we can do it. You are not alone in fear and you are not alone in doubting that you will get to where you want to go, but you are supported to get there and you will get there. Believing that you will get there and telling your fear to “watch me” will get you to where you want to go. Whether that is crossing that busy intersection, riding the bus, moving out on your own, going for that new job or promotion, or just living the life you want to live; use all those feelings to propel you to where you want to be.

YouTube video of me crossing a street and having a little chat with you and my dog Rick .

Until Next Time

Ashley and Rick

Blindfold Challenge Not Reality

Hello Everyone,

There has been a campaign online that gets people to blindfold friends and family members and have them do something that they would do on a regular basis as a blind person. For example going to the gym, cooking a meal, walking down the street.

I think the intentions were good with this campaign however it missed the mark for me. Here is why, it never gives a positive view of the disability. If you were to put on a blind fold and walk around you are not going to get a realistic view of my life, you are however going to pity me at the end. Since you do not have any of the skills to be a successful blind person you are going to think that it is horrible and you would never be able to do it all day every day. How is this helping to make people understand that our lives are full and amazing even with the lack of sight ? It doesn’t it is that simple !

The last thing that I want is pity, I live a full and amazing life. I am successful and independent and would not change a thing about my life. Please don’t put on a blind fold and think that you have any idea what my life is like because you do not have a clue.

Do not pity me but see me for a person who has many things to offer the world around me. I am a very capable person and that is what I want people to see, not think that everyday tasks are hard because they are not. I do them without vision which is simply different you are a visual person and are trying to things visually with a blind fold on, that will never end well !

If you are not convinced that I live an amazing life please subscribe and let me show you.

Until Next Time !

Ashley and Rick

She’s Not Completely Blind !

Hello Everyone,

I hope you are all well, I wanted to share an experience that I had today.

I went for lunch just myself and my Guide Dog Rick, I needed to get out of the house and it was a beautiful day. We had a fabulous lunch at a local cafe. In this cafe they also have a boutique for women’s clothing and things. It is a great little place for our community and I love to go every now and then.

After we had lunch I thought I would take a look around at the clothes. Yes I like to “look” around at clothes and things. I usually just feel the fabrics and the cut of the clothing and if it feels like something I like I will ask what the pattern or colour is and for more detail. As I was feeling around the store at some of the clothing a lady approached me and said how beautiful Rick was. I said thank you and we had a good conversation about Rick and how amazing service dogs are. As she was going to leave she told the other lady with her to watch her step. She then turned to me and said watch your step to dear. The other lady then says “oh she isn’t completely blind.” I said well actually I am, but thank you. She then began to tell me that she watched me while I had lunch and I ate just fine and used my phone.

These types of comments come often and they used to really make me mad. It is like they are saying that I am faking it. However, anger gets me no where. These kinds of comments now just fuel my fire and passion to make the world understand blindness more.

I am able to eat and not make a huge mess because I am an adult I am aware of how a fork and knife work and I am also aware of where my mouth is. Had she been watching carefully she would have seen me ask the waitress where things were on the table and also she would have seen me using my knife almost like a cane around my plate. She may have also noticed that after I tried to pick up my sandwich stuff fell out and I did not want to wear it so I cut it up with my fork and knife. Had she been listening closely she would have heard that my phone was talking to me.

These comments are so unnecessary, I wish people would realize that the way they perceive blind people they have learned through the media and they are not accurate depictions.

Even though these comments get under my skin, I know that the only way to change the way society sees me and other people who are blind is to live my life to it’s fullest. One day if I keep working at it people will understand blindness and the misperceptions will be gone. A pipe dream I am sure but I am also very stubborn and determined.

Have a great day !

Until Next Time !

Ashley and Rick

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

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

Blind Photography

Hello Everyone ! I hope you are having an amazing summer. We have been doing pretty good and enjoying the nice weather. The kids have finished swimming lessons and my husband is now on holidays for two weeks. So summer for us is now in full swing.

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At the end of May I got a new camera to take better blog pictures and to start my YouTube channel. This has now really peeked my interest in photography. I had to learn how to use it and memorize all the buttons and how many times to push them to get to where I wanted to go. It has been a lot of fun. I have really enjoyed taking pictures even though I can not see them, it has really been fun learning and just relaxing doing something new.

 

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It may seem weird that I have been enjoying photography since I can not see but I have never taken my blindness into consideration when I want to try something, so I figured that there was no need to consider it now. I am aware of my surroundings, so I will touch Rick or whatever I am taking a picture of and back up and then shoot away. I take a whole bunch of photos and then I get my husband to check them out and see which ones have turned out good.

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I have really enjoyed learning something new and finding a new hobby. Along with taking pictures I have enjoyed making videos and sharing a part of my life with people and breaking down the misperceptions of blindness with my videos.

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I think that no matter what you have going on, whether you have a disability or not, if you want to try something take that leap and give it a try you might just surprise your self and find something you love to do.

Until Next Time !
Ashley and Rick