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The Social Context

 

Why might Blind How: The Basics interest you?

 

  • You can’t see and are looking for some tips and suggestions for how to do what you want to do.

 

  • You spend time with someone who can’t see and want some tips and suggestions for how to be more helpful.

 

  • You are curious about how people who can’t see are able to do what they do.

 

  • You want to know more about what people who can’t see can do to succeed in a world where most everyone else can see.

 

  • You want to start with the basics, tips for folks who don’t know much of anything about how to live a full life without being able to see.

 

  • You want to expand your understanding gradually to include more opportunities and options for doing whatever you hope to do, when you can’t see.

 

If I tell you that I am blind, what comes to mind? Now if I simply tell you that I can’t see, how does the picture in your mind’s eye change? Likely the change is significant.

 

The point is that telling someone that I’m blind seems to bring to mind a mixed bag of ideas and emotions about what that means in general and about me specifically. For the most part, people think about what I can’t do, causing them to feel sorry for me. Of course, not everyone is so limited in their understanding, but most are.

 

If instead I tell them that I can’t see, people are frequently not sure what to do or what to say. This is good news for me. They are then focused on what they should say or do next and not on ideas and notions they have about blind people that may be true, but often aren’t true for me – or for most blind people for that matter.

 

In Blind How: The Basics, I share tips about things I have done and can do. If you or someone you know can’t see, the tips may be helpful. If you can see, they may help you get a better handle when hanging out with people who can’t see. I hope the tips and discussion also help you be slower to pre-judge what people can and cannot do just because they can’t see.

 

If that has us in sync with the purpose of Blind How: The Basics and how it works, let’s get on with it.

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Communication Matters

 

Look Up

 

When I was young, my mother told me and then told me again to look at her when she was talking to me. One time I responded by saying, “I’m blind so what makes the difference?” Her response? “Yes, you are blind, but that’s never an excuse for being rood or lazy.”

 

I suspect that you get my point. For my mom, not being able to see was never an excuse for not doing what I was able to do. Even if I couldn’t see her, I definitely could turn my head in her direction when she was talking and at least act like I was paying attention.

 

I could look up and in her direction. That was at least the place to start. Success required feedback though. The problem was learning not to look too high or too low, too far left or right. I needed to focus on her voice and where it was coming from. The technique I developed is to focus a little below where I think the voice is located. It helps to shift my head and shoulders, so my shoulders are squared with the person talking.

 

The best way to get this right is to ask someone who you are around a lot and you are comfortable with to coach you when you are seeming not to be paying attention or are just getting lazy. Let them know that too much coaching gets irritating and not to coach when others can observe what’s happening. With practice, all of us who can’t see can get better at looking at people when they are talking to us.

 

As the skill improves, we can learn to look at anyone who is talking whether he or she is talking to us or to someone else. (Although I don’t know how it works for others who can’t see, I tend to look too far up and slightly to the right when someone is talking to me.)

 

  • Even though I can’t see, I’ll look at you when you’re talking to me.

 

Speak Up

 

Let me just assume that you are looking at me when I’m talking. You are looking, aren’t you? If you aren’t managing that skill, speaking up will still help, but not so much.

 

Although this may not be a problem for you, it is for me. If I get a little lazy and don’t pay attention, I tend to look down and mumble or at least talk too quietly for others to hear without needing to make a special effort to hear. I’ll bet you see where my problem starts. Sure, it’s tending to look down.

 

Speaking up definitely hooks up with looking at people when they are talking. It’s important to also look at people when you are talking. It’s pretty easy for me to slip into not looking up, not looking at the person to whom I’m talking.

 

People who can see are much more comfortable when they and those with whom they are talking can look at each other. Face-to-Face is most always the preferred mode. If they are having a Zoom call, they want the cameras on. In-person is preferable to telephone calls. But here’s the clincher. Those of us who can’t see can usually hear when people who are talking to us aren’t looking at us.

 

  • Even though I can’t see, here’s what I’ll do, I’ll look your way, when I’m talking to you.

 

When having a conversation, look at the other person, whether you or the other person is talking. When you are talking, speak up, clearly and loudly enough for the other person to hear without any special effort. Look up and speak up.

 

That’s definitely good advice for anyone, whether or not he or she can see. But for those of us who can’t see, it’s particularly important, since we may tend not to look at people when in a conversation and may not talk loudly enough or clearly enough to be easily understood. If you can’t see but don’t have any issues with always looking up and speaking up, way to go. I’m just mentioning it since I sometimes forget and thought reminding you can’t hurt.

 

Straighten Up

 

Now for the third element to remember when talking with other people. Who knew that a simple conversation could be so complicated?

 

Don’t slouch. Stand up or sit up straight. Okay, if it’s a casual conversation with a friend, not slouching is less important, but still makes a difference. For all other conversations or social situations, standing or sitting up straight and keeping your shoulders back matters a lot. It lets others know that you are interested, are engaged and are someone to be taken seriously. It also lets other people know that you are taking them seriously.

 

There is an additional element that I’ll get to shortly, but for now, focus on the 3 ups: Stand or sit up straight, look up at others when you or they are talking and speak up so others can hear you without needing to make any special effort.

 

You know to focus on the 3 ups: Stand or sit up straight, look up at others when you or they are talking and speak up so others can hear you without needing to make any special effort. This is useful advice for anyone, but it’s particularly important for those of us who can’t see. Why? Because some of us who can’t see, if not most of us, tend not to look at people with whom we are talking, are apt to not talk loudly enough and clearly enough to be heard easily and may get a little lazy and not sit or stand up straight.

 

Why does it matter? We want to be taken seriously and may not be if we neglect the 3 Ups. It’s no more complicated than that.

 

Respect and Connect

 

There is a fourth element for effective communication that I’d like to tuck in as the fourth up, but I can’t figure out any way to make it an up. Even so, it’s pretty important, important enough to label it as the key to effective communication. Without it, the 3 ups still matter, but even if you look up, sit up and speak up, it is still hard to be taken seriously or to let others know that you are taking them seriously.

 

It goes back to that blind thing. Certainly not everyone who can see, but many who can, make assumptions about blind people that are generally not true. Ask someone who can see to finish the sentence, “Blind people….” The likelihood is that they will finish the sentence with things that they assume blind people cannot do.

 

The additional issue is that they likely don’t personally know anyone who is blind. They probably know of a blind celebrity but still think of him or her in terms of what he or she can’t do, seeing the celebrity’s musical or other special talent as separate from his or her blindness. Blindness is typically not seen as a simple fact but rather as a complex handicap.

 

Of course, the same types of assumptions are made about people with other physical limitations such as not being able to hear or not being able to walk. This is the issue. People who can see, can hear, can walk, reflexively think of what they would not be able to do if they suddenly couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t walk. They then project their perceived inabilities onto those of us who can’t see, can’t hear or can’t walk.

 

It’s worth noting that many people who see fine but then can’t see later in life, are apt to do the same thing, but they project their false assumptions onto themselves. They think of themselves as blind and unable to do much of anything. Since they haven’t yet learned how to manage without being able to see, it feels like not being able to do much of anything may be permanent.

 

I’ll get back to that on https://BlindHow.net, but here I want to share the key to effective communication, when you can’t see.

 

  • Listen and learn.

 

The single best way to be taken seriously in any conversation is to make it clear that you are taking other people and what they say seriously. If you first attend to taking the other person seriously, he or she will be more apt to take you and what you say seriously. The more seriously they take you and what you say, the more your not seeing moves into the background. You know you are being taken seriously when someone tells you that they forget that you can’t see.

 

I know. You were expecting something a little more profound. Here’s the thing. Being seen as blind can lead to people projecting a lot of their own feelings about what they couldn’t do onto you. The result is that they may tend not to take you and what you say as seriously as you deserve. They don’t get past blind.

 

Listen and learn is not a magic solution to the blind prejudice of some people, nor is it a guaranteed path to always being taken seriously. It is rather the best way I know to improve your odds of being taken seriously, especially when you combine that with getting better and better at getting better and better at doing things in spite of not being able to see.

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BATS Is The Key

 

There is a critical difference between can’t and haven’t yet figured out how. This is true for most everyone, but especially true if we can’t see. Sure, there are some things that depend on seeing, with no way of getting around that. Picking a few of the obvious: driving, playing professional baseball, visually appreciating a spectacular sunset and looking around the room to see who came to the party are currently not in the cards for us if we can’t see. Even so, the list of things that require seeing is a lot shorter than most people think. And even for those things we can’t do, we still have options.

 

Driving is out for me, but I still can get to wherever I need to go. Playing baseball is out for me, but I still can be a baseball fan and enjoy the games. Watching a spectacular sunset is out for me, but I still can appreciate the joy others have when they describe what they are seeing. Visually scanning the room is out for me, but I still can listen and have conversations, gradually figuring out who all is there.

 

Let me suggest that you think about BATS whenever you are frustrated or annoyed by not being able to see, when you want to do something and think you can’t because you can’t see. “But what do BATS have to do with it,” you ask?

 

Thanks for asking. BATS stands for “Best Alternative To Seeing.”

 

When we put BATS first, “I can’t see” is never the end of it. Any time there is something we need to do or just want to do, the challenge is to figure out what our best alternative to seeing is, while still being able to do whatever it is we need or want.

 

Step one is to remind ourselves that we are only blind in so far as we can’t see. Others may at times relate to us as if our limitations are more extensive, but we know that is not the case. Can’t see is where it starts and ends.

 

I do understand that any of us might have more than one limitation, but even so, each limitation is what it is, no more, no less. Our challenge is to figure out how to do what we need or want to do, in spite of our specific limitation.

 

Of course, the alternatives to seeing depend on exactly what we want to do. The available alternatives when we want to go to school are not the same as when we want to go shopping, not the same when we want to go for a walk in the park as when we want to see what’s happening on Facebook. Our needs and wants range from little things to really big things, from the fairly easy to the complex and difficult.

 

Sure, we need to know what those alternatives are and how to access them. That’s the easier part of the success equation. The harder part is deciding just how much we really want whatever we have identified for ourselves. The issue is that it is always easier and simpler to just stay at home and do nothing. Let me share a very brief story from my past. I think you will get the point.

 

I was a Freshman at Ohio University and sitting in the office of my academic counsellor. I was frustrated and generally feeling sorry for myself. He said, “Here’s what you need to know. No one, with the possible exception of your mother, cares much one way or the other about whether you graduate or not. All the caring is up to you. This time next year, only you will really understand how much you did or did not care.”

 

The point indeed relates to big wants, but it applies to those little wants that come up every day; but I’ll bet you get the point, don’t you?

 

I’m thinking that we should dig into BATS a little more before just moving on to how to do this or that without seeing. There is a major issue that we need to think through very carefully.

 

There Are Alternatives

 

With few exceptions, one alternative to seeing is to get someone who can see to do whatever we want done. If inclination and resources permit, we could simply have someone drive us wherever we want to go, read whatever needs read, cook whatever needs cooked, clean whatever needs cleaned and on and on. As the saying goes, we could just have someone wait on us hand and foot.

 

You think this sounds silly? On the one hand, good for you. But on the other hand, many people who can’t see, quite easily and without much thought, get into the habit of being waited on. To a significant extent, much of the time and in most situations, having others do things for them becomes their preferred alternative to not being able to see.

 

Should we always do things for ourselves, without any help from someone who can see? Of course not, especially if there is someone nearby who can and wants to help. Note that I said, “wants to help,” and not simply “willing to help.” To always refuse help would be as silly as always expecting help.

 

This is quite a bit more complicated than it may seem at first. I’m not sure I fully understand its complexity, since I struggle some with the issue myself. Even so, there are a few points that pop out for me. Perhaps mentioning those here will help you think about the issues from your perspective. I suspect that the help versus do-it-yourself question is personal and doesn’t have the same answer or set of answers for all of us who can’t see.

 

Let’s start with something that I think is important or at least of interest to me. That could include a hot cup of coffee or clean clothes, reading my mail or a movie on TV, dinner or using my cell phone, a walk around the block or a visit to my doctor, brushing my guide dog or visiting with friends, doing my banking or ordering a pizza, going out for lunch or making a podcast. I could easily put a hundred items on my list without much thought. I’m sure you could put at least as many on your list, although they wouldn’t all be the same as those on my list. We all have things to do, places to go and people to see. Let’s call the things on our lists “activities.”

 

Here’s the thing. It’s far too easy for many of us to play our blind card. We either wait for someone who can see to help us with the activity or do the task for us, or we simply avoid the activity. Can’t or at least won’t wins. The outcome is cumulative: we gradually do less and less, avoiding more and more.

 

Please note that I’m not talking about situations where people live or work together, situations where work and other activities are divided up – I’ll do this and you do that. Rather, I’m focusing on situations where a person who can’t see comes to be dependent on others doing most things for him or her, or perhaps he or she just avoids whatever the activity is.

 

I am simply struggling to describe what can happen to many, if not most of us who can’t see, if we don’t actively resist. Sure, I’m talking about me, but may also be talking about you. Fortunately, knowing the best, and likely only way to prevent drifting down the slippery slope to dependence and non-participation turns out to be simple. But knowing and doing can be far apart at times.

 

Here it is in the proverbial nutshell. The best alternative to not seeing is to figure out how to do whatever you want done, by yourself, without depending on sighted assistance, unless necessary.

 

This is the good news. Most everything you want to do is being done somewhere and being done independently, by a person who can’t see. For those times when sighted assistance is necessary, anonymous help is usually there, on your phone. The bad news is that developing the needed skills and accessing the available resources takes time, effort and a big measure of determination.

 

  • Since I can’t see, it’s up to me, so BATS it shall be.

 

Consider The Options

 

For those of us who can’t see, getting what we need and most of what we want is at times quite challenging. Sure, it’s challenging for people who see fine too. But for us, there are a couple of additional factors requiring extra attention. Let’s give them some thought here.

 

First, I’m only talking about those things we need or want that we would simply do or get for ourselves, if we could see. As it turns out, this can be a long list. Suffice it to say that we each have a lot of items on our “would be easy if I could see” list.

 

For any of the items on our list, we have options. The easiest option is to skip the particular item, just get along without doing it or getting it. For me and most likely for you, the do-nothing option is sometimes tempting and occasionally the choice we make. What we need or want is just not worth the bother right now. And that’s okay occasionally. People who can see do the same thing now and then. Whatever they want or need is just not worth the time and energy it would take right now. Their motivation is not strong enough, although they could do whatever without much extra effort.

 

But for most of us who can’t see and most of the time, doing nothing is not an acceptable option. Even if we can’t see, we are determined to do what needs done, determined to get what we want.

 

But how do we do that, how do we do what we want to do, get what we want? There may be more than three options, but I know of three general approaches that usually cover the challenge for me. First, I can get someone who can see to do it for me or get it for me. Second, I can enlist the help of someone who can see to assist me with doing it myself or getting it myself. Third, I can develop the skills and strategies I need to do it myself or to get it by myself.

 

It’s important to emphasize that each of these three options is perfectly legitimate at times and in some situations or circumstances. At other times, insisting on one option over another may be inappropriate or counterproductive. Those of us who can’t see need all three options and the ability and determination to use them as needed and as appropriate.

 

Each of these three options requires good communication skills and especially good conversational skills. Why? For the first option, having someone who can see act on our behalf includes our being able to help them understand what we need or want and what we think would be the best way for them to proceed doing for us.

 

For the second option, having someone who can see assist us with whatever we need or want involves even more and continuing communication. As for the third option, think of observing someone who can see while he or she does what you want to do, actively participating while you work together to do what you want done and then working increasingly independently over days, months or years to perfect your ability to do it by yourself.

 

Here’s something to consider. Each of us, whether we can see or not, have needs, problems and vulnerabilities beyond our individual ability to cope. We all need other people with skills, talents and resources who are available and willing to help us compensate for our limitations. Our challenge is to learn about those people and resources and then access them for our benefit. Meeting this challenge for those of us who can’t see, among other things, rests firmly on our ability, and on the ability of those who advocate on our behalf, to effectively communicate our special and general needs and wants, and the best ways to satisfy those needs and wants. Parents do this for their children who can’t see, teachers do this for their students, and you and I will either do it for ourselves or it likely will just not happen.

 

Since I can’t see, it’s up to me, getting people who can see, to:

 

  • Do it for me,

 

  • Get it done by working with me, or

 

  • You know, don’t you? Sure, I’ll just have to figure out how to do it for me.

 

Getting Stuck at “How?”

 

When I think of things I want to do, it’s easy to get stuck at “how.” For example, the mail comes, and I want to read the mail. How do I do that?

 

I pop the last chip in the bag into my mouth and want more chips. How do I get more chips?

 

I want to call my friend but don’t remember his number. How can I find his number?

 

I want to wear my red shirt with my black pants. How do I know I selected the right ones?

 

I want to go for a walk in the park. How do I do that without getting hurt or lost?

 

I want to do some work on my computer. How is that possible?

 

I could keep adding to my list as you could to yours. But here’s the point. If I could see, the “How?” questions have easy answers.

 

I just open the mail and read it, run over to the corner store and pick up some more chips, scroll through my contacts on my phone and tap on my friend’s name, look in my closet and grab my black pants and red shirt, slip on my walking shoes and head out to the park, pick up my mouse and I’m good to go.

 

If I could see, the “How?” for most everything on my list is simple. But I can’t and the “How?” is not simple.

 

If you used to be able to see, the first step to get past the “How?” issue will likely be the hardest for you to take. Look and do is not an option anymore. You can’t look and read, look and shop, look and tap, look and choose, look and walk, look and click. You can’t look and do anything anymore.

 

That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can still do most things you want to do, just not by looking and doing. The challenge is to get unstuck, to get on past the notion that looking is the only way to facilitate doing. I can’t see; therefore, I can’t do, is seldom true.

 

The problem is getting stuck on “How?” But that’s not quite it. Close, but not quite. The problem is getting stuck on looking being the only how. It’s not. That’s some more good news.

 

Unfortunately, there is also some more bad news. Alternatives for doing, when looking isn’t an option, are usually neither obvious nor intuitive. I have had most of a lifetime to learn how to do without seeing, but there are still skills I haven’t mastered, strategies I still haven’t learned.

 

Let me share a simple fact. Not seeing is a nuisance, inconvenient, frustrating, but is what it is. Doing without looking requires a skill set and resources that are neither easy to acquire nor simple to maintain. If you want a quick and easy solution, sit back, relax and hope that someone takes pity and waits on you. Otherwise, here’s the deal:

 

  • If it is to be, it’s up to me, despite my not being able to see.

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Can’t Need Not Be Permanent

 

I was listening to a podcast, when a listener’s email told a sad story. The listener identified himself as blind and was bemoaning his situation. Mostly, he was complaining about all the things he can’t do and how inconvenient it is to need someone around to care for him and his needs.

 

That got me to thinking about how easy it is for those of us who can’t see to confuse can’t with don’t know how. The specific issue in the listener’s email that caused me to ponder the confusion came when he said that he had to get someone who can see to hang a picture for him. His point was that his blindness prevents him from using a drill and makes it impossible for him to get the picture level and at the right height.

 

That’s just silly talk. I can’t see and know how to use a drill. I can’t see and know how to make sure a picture is level. I can’t see and know how to hang a picture at a good height for most people when they are looking at it. Being blind is not the reason why the listener can’t hang a picture on his wall. The reason is simple. He just doesn’t know how to hang the picture without being able to see.

 

Is the listener having his own pity party? Probably, but that is not my point. It’s true that he can’t do by looking. But just because he can’t do by looking doesn’t mean he can’t do.

 

Let me suggest a strategy for doing if you can’t see. Think of something – anything – that you think you can’t do because you can’t see. Now, start with the outcome. As clearly as you can, define what you want to achieve. I want this picture hanging appropriately on that wall. I want to be wearing my red shirt with my black pants. I want to be eating lasagna for dinner. I want to be pleased with the selection of groceries in my pantry. I want to be sitting on my friend’s patio chatting and having a cold drink. I want to be at a bookstore, signing copies of my new book. I want to be relaxing in my newly finished basement or perhaps on my new deck. I want to be listening to the latest episode of my podcast. I want to be attending my graduation from college. I want to use all of the features on my cell phone. I want to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

 

I know. It’s another one of those lists. But what goes on your list? What outcomes interest you?

 

Now that you have an outcome in mind, you’re ready for the second part of this strategy for doing without seeing. There are people who can’t see who know how to do all of the things on the list I have included here. Even better, there are people who can’t see who know how to do most everything on your list as well. But how do they do that?

 

They use the three strategies I mentioned earlier. They get someone who can see to do it for them. They get someone who can see to help them do it. They learn to do it for themselves. Whichever strategy they choose, they don’t confuse can’t see with can’t do.

 

Here’s the secret sauce. The people who are most successful at doing without seeing intentionally use all three of these strategies, taking care not to confuse can’t see with can’t do. It works like this.

 

I’ll first be clear about what I want. Then I’ll identify someone to will do it for me, while I carefully observe. Then, I’ll get them to help me do it myself. Finally, I’ll use my new skills to do it by myself.

 

  • If it is to be, I’ll just need to learn how to do it for me.

 

You may have noticed that, so far, I haven’t suggested anything that only applies to those of us who can’t see. The tips all work quite well for people who can see, although for them, the tips may not be quite so essential.

 

The Secret Sauce

 

Well, I’m about to do it again. One of those tips that is essential for those of us who can’t see, but work almost as well for everyone else, is headed your way.

 

The harsh reality is this. If you can’t see, many, but definitely not all, people who can see make judgments about you based on little more than their personal generalizations about blindness and blind people. Unfortunately, those generalizations tend to be negative. Not negative in the sense of your being a bad person or somehow unacceptable, but negative in terms of being limited, less competent, more needy and ignorable.

 

A major contributor to these negative generalizations is that most people who can see have never known a successful, competent blind person. If they do know someone who can’t see, the likelihood is that the blind person they know is quite old, not involved in the mainstream of things, or both. Sure, it’s just another version of prejudice; but knowing that doesn’t help much when it is you who is the person being judged.

 

I agree. It’s not fair, not right and people who judge us without knowing us should be ashamed of themselves. There is another side to that particular coin though.

 

Many, but definitely not all people who can’t see, buy into the negative judgment habit. They sometimes behave as if other people should adjust to their issues and limitations. Since they can’t see, people should expect less, accommodate more and be more considerate of how difficult it is to get along when you can’t see. And the fact of it is that most people will expect less and accommodate more, at least until they get tired of it or start to suspect that you are taking advantage of their helpful nature.

 

Earlier, I suggested a few ways you can get past the tendency of people to put you in the blind box, depending on whatever they assume about people who can’t see. I can assure you that life is easier in the blind box, if you don’t mind staying on the fringe and mostly being ignored. If instead you do mind, do believe that you can swim in the mainstream, are committed to giving it your best effort, first be sure you are implementing the tips I have shared. Along with those tips, here’s another tip to incorporate into your skill set.

 

  • There is never a good excuse for bad manners.

 

I know. Your manners are impeccable. You don’t need to be reminded to use your good manners every day, everywhere, with everyone. This little tip is just not needed. But just in case, pick someone you know who has especially good manners. Now, ask yourself if you are keeping up with the standard they are setting. If so, good for you. If not, you may want to work on that. It’s one way you can let other people know that you don’t belong in their blind box.

 

Good manners are a lot more than please and thank you. Observe thoughtfully, take mental notes and remember the thoughts and feelings you have about people who really do have impeccable manners. You’ll soon get the point.

 

  • If it is to be, I’ll always take my good manners with me, putting them right out there for all to see.

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Let’s Consolidate

 

Here’s a tiny anecdote that I think captures the essence of helping children who can’t see, understanding how to succeed when we can’t see, and most everything we’ll ever need to know about how to do when we can’t see.

 

I was six years old and in the first grade. My mother had come to pick me up after school and was talking to my teacher, Miss Icenogle. I was playing near by and dropped the pencil I was using. My mother immediately started to pick it up and hand it to me. Miss Icenogle said, “No, let him look for it. He needs to learn to listen to those types of things. If he looks and still can’t find it, then you can hand it too him, making sure to mention where you found it.” And thus, a long journey of learning to do it for myself was underway.

 

With “I’ll learn to do it myself,” as our mantra, here’s the message, in short.

 

  • Good communication skills matter a lot. Start by looking at whoever is talking, whether he or she is talking to you or to someone else.

 

  • Stand or sit up straight, look up at others when you or they are talking and speak up so others can hear you without needing to make any special effort.

 

  • The single best way to be taken seriously in any conversation is to make it clear that you are taking other people and what they say seriously. If you first attend to taking the other person seriously, he or she will be more apt to take you and what you say seriously. The more seriously they take you and what you say, the more your not seeing moves into the background, the less likely they are to put you into their blind box.

 

  • There is a critical difference between can’t and haven’t yet figured out how. When we put BATS (Best Alternative To Seeing) first, “I can’t see” is never the end of it. Any time there is something we need to do or just want to do, the challenge is to figure out what our best alternative to seeing is, while still being able to do whatever it is we need or want.

 

Here’s the thing. It’s far too easy for many of us to play our blind card. We either wait for someone who can see to help us with the activity or do the task for us, or we simply avoid the activity. Can’t or at least won’t wins. The outcome is cumulative: we gradually do less and less, avoiding more and more.

 

Here it is in the proverbial nutshell. The best alternative to not seeing is to figure out how to do whatever you want done, by yourself, without depending on sighted assistance, unless necessary.

 

But how do we who can’t see do that, how do we do what we want to do, get what we want? I know of three general approaches that usually cover the challenge for me. First, I can get someone who can see to do it for me or get it for me. Second, I can enlist the help of someone who can see to assist me with doing it myself or getting it myself. Third, I can develop the skills and strategies I need to do it myself or to get it by myself.

 

Not seeing is a nuisance, inconvenient, frustrating, but is what it is. Doing without looking requires a skill set and resources that are neither easy to acquire nor simple to maintain. If you want a quick and easy solution, sit back, relax and hope that someone takes pity and waits on you. Otherwise, here’s the deal:

 

  • If it is to be, it’s up to me, despite my not being able to see.

 

Were you expecting some secret tricks or magic techniques? There aren’t any, or at least, I don’t know them and haven’t found anyone who has.

 

Work on your social and communication skills and then set off on the long and difficult journey to doing things you want and need for yourself. I think the key is staying out of other people’s blind boxes, while developing and expanding your skill set for doing without seeing.

 

Doing without seeing is like becoming a good ball player. It requires motivation and determination, good coaches and playing opportunities, concentrated study, and from there, it’s all practice, practice, practice.

 

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Minimum Skills

 

What do you think the outcome will be if every child who thinks that playing baseball is fun, is told that his or her goal should be becoming a professional baseball player; or perhaps, any child who is interested in science is told that he or she will only be a success when awarded the Nobel Prize? “But no one would ever do that,” you protest. Unfortunately, it happens; and any of us may be one of the guilty parties.

 

Putting the issue into the “can’t see” context, all of us who can’t see have been challenged in exactly this way. If you reflect back, you will find a few examples of me doing it to you. How? I suggest a skill you might want to add to your personal skill set, and then I do it to you. I tell you that there are people who can’t see who have mastered that particular skill. Either implicitly or sometimes explicitly, I suggest that you can and probably should develop the skill, getting as good at it as those who have mastered it.

 

Why would I do such a silly and maybe even cruel thing to you? Why would I imply that you will only be successful when you have mastered a particular skill? I don’t have any excuse. I realized that quite recently.

 

My sudden insight came a few minutes after I ran into the corner of a door, banging my forehead. Yes, it was my bedroom door. Yes, I knew the door was there, just where it always is. Yes, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was and where I was going. And yes, I’m pretty good at getting up and around; but I’m not quite the master of that skill as I may have led you to believe. Nonetheless, I’ll still be walking around, trying not to bump into things, even though I’m not yet a master at it.

 

This is what I think the take-away is. For the most part, those of us who can’t see should consider developing those skills we need to do what we want to do, at the level sufficient to get the job done for us. There are a lot of skills we need, to do what we want to do, but we may not need to master any of them. “Good enough” is usually sufficient for our purposes.

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Keep It Low and Slow

 

$Let me say up-front that I realize that you may not be able to see, but despite that, you never bump things, knock things over nor spill stuff. Well, good for you. Your skill set is definitely advanced relative to mine. I mentioned earlier that many people who can’t see have skills far better than mine and skills I just don’t have.

 

I sometimes bump things, knock things over and occasionally spill stuff. Here is the first and most important point. So does everyone else, whether they can see or not. And whether you can see or not, the reason is most always the same … carelessness.

 

That’s unfair? You can’t see, so everyone should cut you a little slack?

 

You’re right, and most people will cut you some slack, although it’s still annoying and inconvenient for them, especially if they have to clean up your mess. Better to ramp up your skill set some and get better at not bumping, knocking and spilling.

 

Here’s a technique that will help. It won’t prevent all of those little accidents but will reduce their frequency. Before reaching for anything, even if you just put it there yourself, hesitate just a second to consider where you think it is. Now reach low and slow. Slide your hand on the table or along the path toward whatever you are reaching for. This serves two purposes. First, when you touch the glass or other object, you won’t be moving your hand fast enough to knock it over or to spill whatever is in the container. At least, let’s hope your hand was moving slow enough.

 

That’s the slow part. The low part is so, when you do touch the glass or other object, you touch it near its bottom. It’s that center of gravity thing. Things are just less likely to tumble over or spill from a little bump near their bottom.

 

There is an extra benefit to low and slow. If when you touch whatever you are looking for, it scoots or rolls away, it probably won’t go as far. That usually makes it easier to find, if you need to feel around for it. Even then, keep it low and slow while trying to find it.

 

But, if you can’t see, slow matters most, right after taking a second to think about what you are reaching for, where you are headed or what you want to do. If you can see, you just look and do. If you can’t see, you need to first make a calculation and then act on your calculation, thoughtfully and intentionally.

 

Three Elements

 

Three important elements in your calculation are distance, position and risk. There are other elements, but these are the three most used. How far away is it? Where is it in relation to things I already know about? What is the risk to me or to other things if I get the calculation wrong?

 

I could go into more detail, but I suspect that you get the point. Stop a second to calculate distance, position and risk, and then reach low and slow.

 

  • If it is to be, I’ll think first and then reach low and slow to get what I want for me.

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Playing Lost and Found

 

Do you like to play lost and found? Most people don’t like it much, especially if it’s their stuff that is lost. Even so, the found part of lost and found works okay for most everyone. And therein lies the problem.

 

For those of us who can’t see, losing our stuff is frequently followed by not finding our stuff. Instead of lost and found, we are left with lost and still searching, or too often, lost and quit looking. Nothing to do but get along without our stuff or wait until someone who can see happens by to find it for us.

 

So what’s the deal? Why can’t we find our stuff? Like everyone else, those of us who can’t see don’t put things away when we are finished using them, lay thing down but forget where, toss things on a table or chair without thinking about it, or move things to a new location but don’t remember where that is.

 

Of course, the issue when we can’t see is that looking around for stuff is not an option. That brings us back to BATS, discussed in an earlier episode of Blind How. “What do BATS have to do with it?” you ask. BATS is our Best Alternative To Seeing, and since we can’t look around, we definitely need an alternative.

 

I sure hope you aren’t expecting a quick and easy solution to the lost but not found problem. I won’t like it much, if I have to disappoint you.

 

Put Things Away

 

First comes the obvious. Put things away after you use them. Don’t just lay things down or toss them on a table or chair without giving it a moment’s thought. Only move things if necessary. Don’t forget where you put things. If you live with other people, ask them to try to put things back where they got them. And most important, ask them not to move your stuff or other things like furniture or equipment.

 

That’s it: your Best Alternative To Seeing, when it comes to lost and found. Just work at getting better and better at not losing or misplacing things. I think the most helpful element here for your skill set is remembering that “I’ll put it away later,” isn’t going to cut it for those of us who can’t see.

 

A Suggestion

 

I do have one suggestion for finding your stuff though. When something is not where you expect it to be, expand the search area a little. It may have just gotten bumped or pushed away some. But before you just keep expanding the search area, stop for a minute to think about exactly where it was the last time you had it or used it. It’s probably still there.

 

Will you still lose or misplace things? Indeed, you will. The good news is that, with practice and attention, lost and not found will frustrate you less often.

 

If you think this is unrealistic and too much work, you can hope someone who can see always comes along to find your stuff for you. But even if they do, if you don’t remember where you put it, they may not be able to find it either.

 

No, I’m not going to just leave it at that. Despite our best effort, we still have times when we can’t find our stuff. Fortunately, there are a few more tips that will add to your finding my stuff skill set.  I’ll be sharing them. But just know that not losing or misplacing your stuff in the first place is definitely your Best Alternative To Seeing.

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Give and Take

 

For those of us who can’t see, there are quite a few potentially awkward situations that come up now and then. We usually make it through them with a minimum of embarrassment, although it would be better to figure out how to avoid them in the first place.

 

As trivial as it may seem to people who can see, simply handing something to someone else or having him or her hand something to us is often one of those awkward situations. If both people in the exchange can see, passing something to someone else seldom results in an issue. But before pursuing this, I do want to point out that, even people who can see occasionally fumble the exchange. Drinks get spilled and things are dropped. Please keep this in mind the next time there is an accident. It may have very well been the person who can see who fumbled.

 

To keep accidents at a minimum though, I have a few suggestions for handing things to people who can see, and for taking things being handed to us.

 

The first tip is probably obvious but is also frequently skipped as the first and often the best option. Don’t try to hand something to someone else, especially if it is easily seen by him or her or might spill or break. Simply say, “Sure, you are welcome to it;” or perhaps, “Help yourself.”

 

If you do need to pick it up and hand it to them, pick it up and hold it toward them. Don’t reach it out or move it around. Let them do the reaching.

 

If someone is handing something to you, tip one is to not reach for it at all. Ask them to please lay it on the table or some other surface, where you can easily find it. This frequently comes up in restaurants. Just wait with your hands in your lap until the meal is served.

 

Especially if you are being handed a glass or cup of something that can spill, hold your hand open as if you were going to pick up the glass, bottle or cup. Turn your hand so your fingertips are pointing down. Now put your hand on the table or other surface where you want the glass to be placed. Notice how your thumb and index finger form a circle where the glass or cup should go. Most often, the person who can see will automatically set the glass conveniently inside the circle you have made with your hand. You only need to very gently move your hand until you locate the glass, and then carefully pick it up and have a refreshing drink.

 

Having something handed to us can be more awkward than handing something to someone else. Why, you ask? The person doing the handing frequently expects us to reach for it and take it from their hand. There may be an uncomfortable silence, while the other person wonders why you aren’t reaching to take what is being handed to you. Even worse, they may lay it down or set it down, expecting you to reach and pick it up.

 

Tip two is easy. If you are being handed something by someone who may not know you can’t see, just say, “I can’t see and will appreciate your handing it to me.” When they do hand it to you, remember to say, “Thank you.”

 

One final little tip. For most things, hold your hand, or both hands if appropriate, in front of you at about chest level, as if you already were holding the object being handed to you. People will usually deposit the object in your hand, ready for you to grasp it. However you deal with it, hold still and don’t move your hands around. When people hand stuff to us, our hands should not be a moving target.

 

There is one hidden tip in there that might be missed. Even if you have a white Cane, dark glasses and your friendly guide dog, some people won’t get it that you can’t see. I usually say early on, “I can’t see. I just thought it might help for you to know that.” No, not to everyone, every time. But whenever the contact is more than passing, mentioning it can’t hurt and often helps.

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Lost and Not Yet Found

 

Set it and forget it?

 

If you, like me, can’t see, set it and forget it has a whole other significance. I know, you don’t lose track of your stuff. You resent my suggesting that, just because you can’t see, you might not remember where you set something down or where you put it.

 

I apologize, so let me start this over. I sometimes set things down or put them somewhere and can’t remember where. Even worse, I look for whatever it was and end up knocking it over, spilling it or maybe just bumping it, with the result that it goes flying and I have an even harder time finding it.

 

If I could see, I would just look around and would usually find whatever was temporarily lost. I can’t. I don’t.

 

Okay, you’ve got the idea. I occasionally set it and forget it.

 

If that ever happens to you, here are a couple of tips. First, work on putting things away, where they belong. Yes, I’m actually serious. Even if you plan to use it again fairly soon, take the extra minute to put it away, back where it’s easy to find. It’s nearly as easy to get into the habit of putting things away as it is to habitually set things down willy-nilly. “I’ll put it away later” is mostly a sign of laziness. That isn’t much of an issue, unless you can’t see. But if you don’t mind not being able to find your stuff, don’t bother with getting into the habit of putting them away.

 

Here is my second tip. If you need to set something down while completing a task or activity, put it beside something else that doesn’t move, and that you always know where it is. This comes up when working in the kitchen, at your desk, in your workshop, etc. You need to lay down a tool or supply while you do something else. It needs to be handy when you need it.

 

The main point here is not to just randomly lay it down in an open area on a counter or other surface. Put it next to the wall, against an appliance or other object that you seldom move, or beside another fixed object. The idea is that you can first locate the spot that doesn’t move and then locate whatever you sat down.

 

This technique is much harder to explain than to do. It’s like having a mental map showing where things are. When setting something down, put it next to a familiar landmark on your mental map. Then, even if you forget where you put it, it’s easier to check near the usual landmarks than to have to randomly search around for it. It will make finding your stuff even easier if you get into the habit of trying to always use the same reference landmarks as much as you can. If you set things down beside the regular landmarks, they will be easier to find, when you set it but forget where.

 

A quick reminder and a tiny extra tip

 

Remember to move your hand low and slow when reaching for whatever you have temporarily set aside or laid down. The tiny tip is to always lay knives down with the cutting edge away from you and on the other side of where you may be feeling for it. The same edge that can cut a cucumber can and will cut your finger, if you aren’t careful.

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Might As Well Get Up

 

So far, everything I have discussed, and the tips to go along, can be done sitting down. If getting up and walking around are not in your wheelhouse, there are many more things you can do, but for now, I want to shift to walking around.

 

Let me just skip right over how easy walking around is if you can see. I can’t see and walking around is for me, a daily challenge. Let’s also get past the notion that, even though you can’t see, it’s possible for you to learn to walk around, never tripping, bumping into things, knocking things over and not even occasionally banging your head or other sensitive area into a wall or stray chair. Maybe someone who can’t see, somewhere, but not me and most likely, not you either. Bumps, bruises and similar annoyances are inevitable, if walking around is in your daily routine.

 

I have a robot vacuum cleaner that has learned to vacuum the floors in my house, without any additional directions or intervention. Okay, it only usually vacuums my house without any intervention by me, except when it gets stuck or can’t find its way back to its dock. I call it Jake. If it successfully vacuums and returns to its dock, I can say, “That’s just Jake.” If it gets stuck or can’t find its way home, that’s just a Jake mistake.

 

Here’s the point. Jake made itself a map of my house which it now uses to vacuum. With a little human help, it knows where each room is, how to get from room to room and its way back to its dock, most of the time. Making its map took a while, but it is pretty independent now. Just Jake, don’t you think?

 

Here’s the deal. I’m smarter than Jake, and so are you. I can make a mental map  of my house and can use it when walking around. Making my mental map took a while, but now that I have it, walking around my house is just Jake, most of the time.

 

Step one is to make the mental map of my space. I have one for my house and others for places I regularly go. When I go to a new location, I immediately start making a mental map of that place. The longer I am at a specific location and the more often I return there, the better my mental map for that location gets.

 

“How do I make a mental map,” you ask? If possible, I get someone to show me around, I ask about the location where I am, I listen to the sounds and noises around me and to what people around say about where things are and what they look like. Over time, I collect more and more data about the place. The more data I collect and the more familiar I become with the location, the more useful my mental map becomes.

 

Is that the end of it? Is having a really good mental map of a place all there is to it? Would that that were true. I could just focus on my mental map and walk around with no mistakes, errors or issues. But instead of being the end of it, having a working mental map is what gamblers call table stakes. You need that mental map just to get into the walking around game. Without it, you are lost and would be well-advised to stay seated. At least, in your chair, you aren’t likely to bump into a wall or trip over the dog toys on the floor. – But if that’s not Jake for you, make a mental map everywhere you are and everywhere you go.

 

Up and Moving

 

Okay, it’s time to get up and moving. But not so quick. I do have a couple of thoughts to share first.

 

If you’ve not been able to see for a long time, this is probably nothing new or particularly interesting for you. I’m sure tempted to skip on past the basics to the good stuff, including phone apps and cool gadgets. I might even suggest a few podcasts specifically for those of us who can’t see. But all in good time. First, I need to share a few tips with those of you who recently joined the can’t see club, and also with those of you who just want to understand how those of us who can’t se do what we do.

 

First, a white cane or handy stick of some sort would likely be helpful as you get up and about. I did tell you that I don’t know everything about not seeing, or how other people are able to do what they do without seeing, didn’t I? Well, this is one of those times. I have never used a white cane and don’t actually know how to use one. People who are proficient with a white cane have a skill set that I simply don’t have. Nonetheless, if you can’t see and get a chance to learn how to use a white cane, go for it, without any hesitation. It would be a good addition to your skill set.

 

Second, if someone is going to help you get around, they are likely to hold your arm or hand, trying to guide or lead you. This usually doesn’t work out very well. Better is for you to hold their arm or touch them. What makes the difference, you ask?

 

That is a great question. It’s the difference between being lead and following. Following is much easier. With the best of intentions, people holding you will tend to push and pull. When they do, it’s hard to know exactly what they want you to do or which direction they want you to go. Much easier is to hold their arm and follow them. I don’t think I fully understand the difference well enough to completely explain it, but for me, following is always better. Try it both ways to see which works best for you.

 

Just as an aside, when it comes to getting up and walking around, I have a tip and a caution, but I’m starting with the caution. More often than not, if you bump into something or bang your head, the reason is simple. You started moving before you gave any thought to where you are and how to get to where you want to be.

 

The next most likely reason for those bumps and bangs is not thinking about where you want to go and how you are doing as you move toward where you want to be. You just start out without any further thought. The point is that you stop paying attention at your own risk. It usually turns out fine, but now and then, you will wish that you had been more attentive.

 

Now that I have gotten us past the preliminaries, let’s get to the first tip. Yes, there are quite a few tips and techniques for moving around without seeing, but let’s start with what I think is likely principle number 1.

 

  • It’s all about the angles.

 

I’m going to assume that you want to walk around where you live. We can start inside and save outside for later.

 

You have made a mental map of where you live, haven’t you? You need it now. The more detailed your mental map is, the easier moving around will be.

 

The key to walking around without running into things or getting somewhere you didn’t want to be is moving from point to point on your mental map, and not trying to go from where you are straight to where you want to be. It actually is as easy as that.

 

As you walk, you know you are at the next waypoint when you touch it with your hand, or perhaps your leg. Keep your hand up so you find the wall or other waypoint before banging into it. It’s not necessary to reach out. It’s usually enough to just hold your arm up some, with your hand bent forward. You only need to walk slowly enough to give yourself a chance to stop once your hand touches the wall, or corner, or perhaps the refrigerator.

 

Here’s the deal with those angles. As you walk toward the next waypoint, you can easily miss it, if you don’t get the angle right. Take the second it takes to face where you think the waypoint is before starting to walk. If you are facing the waypoint, you need only walk straight to it, which is sometimes harder than it sounds.

 

You face the waypoint before you start toward it. Based on your mental map, you know about how far it is away. Your skill with getting it right will improve in time. Even so, you won’t always end up where you wanted to go. Yes, you can and will become disoriented in your own house or living area. It happens to all of us who can’t see. When you do become disoriented, stop. Don’t just wander around. Move slowly in one direction until you find something familiar. Reorient yourself, and away you go.

 

If there are people who can see in the area when you get disoriented, they will try to verbally guide you. That usually doesn’t work out very smoothly. Better if they quietly tell you where you are. Sure, if they see a hazard, they should stop you from hurting yourself or damaging something. Even so, the best help is for them to just tell you where you are, or usually even better, just wait until you get yourself reoriented.

 

Pro tip: put a rug by the door or perhaps under the coffee table. That gives you a foot guide when you step onto the rug. Also notice where the floor surface changes and add that to your mental map.

 

That’s all too much. You’re not going to all that bother. It’s just a big nuisance. No problem, if you’re okay with not getting up and around, or perhaps you don’t mind knocking things over, breaking things, and of course, there are all of those bumps and bruises you could have avoided. Even so, it’s your call.

 

There is a small fact of life that is frequently overlooked. Here it is. Just because doing something isn’t complicated, doesn’t mean that doing it is easy or simple. This important point definitely applies to doing without seeing.

 

The tips and strategies for doing without seeing that I have discussed so far haven’t been particularly complicated. Nonetheless, adding each tip or strategy to our personal skill set is far from easy or simple. They require a degree of attention, concentration and practice that can seem to be unreasonable and hardly worth the effort. On any given occasion, they are hardly worth the bother – and they are a lot of bother at times.

 

Here is the issue. Those of us who can’t see have limited options. Either we go to the bother of incorporating the tips and strategies into our skill set, or we are permanently disabled, unable to do what we want to do, when we want to do it. The things we want to do are either off the table or left to the discretion and good will of people who can see.

 

We each get to choose; and I’m assuming that you are choosing to do for yourself, whenever you can, as much as you can.

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Noise Is usually Good

 

I’ve focused on walking around our homes or living areas. The strategy is to start with our mental map of our area. It’s not a one and done kind of thing. We continue to improve our mental map by adding and correcting the details. The more time we spend in the area, the more detailed and the more accurate our mental map gets.

 

I’ve also pointed out that a good strategy for moving around is to get into the habit of walking from known point to known point. I call those points “landmarks.” The idea is to take a moment to make sure you are facing the next landmark before starting to walk. Now walk directly toward that landmark. In your home, this strategy is important, but once you go outside, it becomes critical. Practicing at home is your best bet for safely mastering the technique.

 

If options were limited to following our mental maps, walking around would be difficult but doable. The good news is that we can do better than simply relying on our mental maps. I mentioned paying attention to the floor. Notice when you step on a rug or when the floor changes from carpet to wood. The idea is that changes in the floor surface become additional landmarks on our mental maps. The same notion will apply outside when the surface where we are walking changes.

 

I also mentioned touching things. Keeping our hands up helps us touch things before banging into them, but also helps us identify landmarks in our environments such as chairs, walls and appliances.

 

The added tip here is listening. Along with touching and feeling, your home or living area makes sounds. Where I live, the furnace just turned on. I also hear the ice maker in the refrigerator. Different areas make different sounds, letting me know a little more about where I am at any particular time. The traffic sounds are outside in front of the house, the birds are chirping outside the back door, and on and on. My living environment is not loud but is noisy, and yours likely is too. Again, listening becomes even more important when we leave our familiar environments and venture into unfamiliar outside and inside spaces.

 

Here’s what I think is an especially useful tip. Leave a radio or TV playing whenever you are at home and awake. Along with being auditory company, the sound is a consistent and continuous landmark that you can use from most anywhere in your living area. I’ve done this for a long time and am still surprised at times by how helpful the sound is, particularly when I become momentarily disoriented now and then. If you don’t already do this, give it a try.

 

A Head’s Up

 

I mention walking outside and in unfamiliar inside places. The tips I include are minor and only intended to suggest a few things to keep in mind.

 

Walking from place to place outside and in new places without a helper who can see, requires a skill set that all of us who can’t see need, but should only develop with the assistance of a qualified mobility professional. Additionally, I don’t know any way to develop those skills without learning how to use a white cane or guide dog.

 

Where you live and spend most of your time likely is doable, whether you live in an apartment or on a farm. The key is that you have a good mental map of the area and are aware of any risky areas or hazards. Also, when you become disoriented – and you will – there is minimal risk of getting hurt.

 

I mentioned earlier that I don’t know how to use a white cane. I’m a guide dog user. My current guide dog is my seventh, so I have been trusting my mobility to a dog for a long time. Like most other strategies for doing what we want to do without seeing, getting out and about by ourselves requires high motivation, determination and practice and then more practice. On any given day, it’s easier to just stay home. The important thing to know is that going wherever you want to go is possible but requires skills only acquired with the assistance of qualified mobility trainers.

 

Talk and Tell

 

That’s it for the heads-up. Let’s get back to moving around in our personal living space. I earlier suggested leaving a radio or TV playing as an orientation device. The sound is a known landmark on our mental map. But it gets even better. Here’s where the fun starts. Those of us who can’t see have what sometimes seems like unlimited technology out there to help us do what we want to do.

 

Does thinking about all that technology get you excited, or does it cause you to shrug and turn away? If technology is something that interests you, you are ready to ramp up your skill set for doing what you want to do. If instead, you aren’t interested and don’t think technology is for you, you have made a life altering decision, although you may not know you are making it. You have decided to be satisfied with the status quo. You already have all the help you need or want, to do what you do, and just leaving things as they are is sufficient for you. – No problem. It really is your choice.

 

Sure, I’ll be getting to cell phones and computers; but for starters, I’m very impressed with the Amazon Echo and the Google wireless speaker. You need the little speaker for either. I suspect you already have one or the other. The cool part isn’t so much the gadget, but rather the assistant that talks to us. For Amazon’s Echo, she is Alexa, and for the Google gadget, I call him the Google Guy.

 

We’ll come back to both devices from time to time, but for now, let’s get back to walking around our living areas. Alexa and the Google Guy are great orientation helpers. Since I know where they are located in my living space, I can just ask anything – It doesn’t matter what I ask. – I get a response and immediately am oriented to where I am in relation to the voice. It’s better for me than a radio or TV, especially when I don’t want them on all day.

 

You are undoubtedly getting the idea. Listening is, for those of us who can’t see, our most important orientation device. If you can’t see and also can’t hear, you have two serious issues; and I don’t know how to help with the can’t hear issue. But there are people who can help. The first step is to identify someone who can’t hear or knows how to help people who can’t hear. They likely can head you in the right direction to get some assistance.

 

There are a lot of sounds in our environments and ways to add sounds. Radios and TVs are good but adding Alexa or the Google Guy may be even better. Along with being great sources of information and entertainment, both are excellent orientation devices. Ask anything, and you get a response. Since you know where the device is in your environment, it’s easy to know where you are in relation to it. They are better than a radio or TV, since they only make noise when you want noise. The rest of the time, they are just waiting to give you a little orientation prompt.

 

Is all of this easy peasy, a piece of cake? Definitely not. Is it doable with time and effort? It is, to the extent you can develop the skills and so long as you are willing to manage the frustration and hard work. Developing the know-how and skills is tedious. Having the knowledge and skills is totally terrific.

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Touch and Tell

 

let’s continue our journey with rubber bands, paper clips and safety pins. In the kitchen, put one rubber band around the cans of beans, and two for corn. In your closet, put one small safety pin inside the black pants, and two for the brown. Put a paper clip on the mail you want to keep, and none for the junk mail. I’ll bet you get the idea. Use something to designate which type of thing is which. Doing for yourself starts with being able to tell this from that. If you could see, it would be easy. When you can’t see, you need a system.

 

There are better ways of labeling your stuff, and we will get to them in time. For now though, get a good supply of rubber bands, paper clips and safety pins. Pro tip: You can also use big ones and little ones to add to your labeling options. Just be consistent, and – the most important tip – remember your system.

 

A Little Braille Helps Too

 

I think most everyone has a notion about Braille and what it is. It’s raised bumps or dots in specific patterns that people who can’t see use to read. If you are a proficient Braille user, you have a skill set that most people who can’t see don’t have.

 

Does that surprise you? You’re not alone. The belief is common enough that I am often offered a Braille menu when I go to a restaurant, and even my bank and the gas company send me a Braille version of my current account monthly. I have never requested this service. They just assume that, since I can’t see, I know Braille well enough to read Braille documents. That is definitely not true for me.

 

I can use Braille well enough to do quite a lot though, and you can likely learn enough Braille to make some things in your day-to-day world easier and more convenient. If you are motivated to learn to be a proficient Braille user, please go for it. Your new skill set will serve you well. If you are responsible for a school-age youngster who can’t see or who is likely to lose his or her vision, make learning Braille a priority for the young person. But if you are older and simply not up to the journey to Braille proficiency, I do have a suggestion for you.

 

Take a few hours to learn a little Braille.

 

The Hadley School is an easy way to get started: https://hadley.edu or Call 800-323-4238. Just tell them that you want to learn a little Braille. They will take it from there, and sooner than you may think, you will be labeling things and making quick notes for this and that.

 

The helpful folks at Hadley will register you in their starter Braille class, help you get everything you need to succeed and then set up a few classes that you complete at home. And it’s free. Can it get any easier than that?

 

I can’t read a book or even a page of Braille, but I can read the Braille labels on my medication from the pharmacy, the card I carry with me that has the number and other info for my credit card, the labels I’ve made for stuff around the house and notes I make when talking to a group or when I want to remember a number or other little piece of information. Knowing more Braille might be useful; but even with the little I know, it definitely comes in handy most every day.

 

Here’s the deal. Just like a little exercise is better than no exercise, and a little patience is better than no patience, and a little independence is better than no independence, a little Braille is way better than no Braille. Start with Hadley or someone else who can teach you and then give it fifteen minutes a day for four weeks. If after that, you still think it’s a waste of your time, you’re probably right. Until then though, give learning a little Braille a chance.

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Opportunities Are Optional

 

Let me share an anecdote that speaks to opportunities that are indeed optional. Whether to Pursue them represents a choice that only you can make.

 

I was listening to a podcast called iBUG Buzz. It’s produced by the folks at http://www.iBugToday.org. iBUG is a Blind Users Group for people who use or want to use iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, Apple TVs and everything related. The website and the iBUG program has been around for more than ten years, but I just found out about it this week. I’m going to spend more time exploring its resources and options, and definitely recommend that you spend some time with it too.

 

Back to the anecdote. An individual (I’m calling her Sue, but I have no idea what her name actually is.) commented that she has been unable to see all of her life. As a child and on to being a young adult, Sue’s parents and others in her family were very supportive and also quite protective. With the best of intentions, they developed a pattern of doing most everything for her that children and adults who can see do without much thought. They obviously wanted to do everything they could do to make Sue’s life frustration and friction free. Their love was strong and heart-felt.

 

To her surprise and that of her family, Sue discovered that there are lots of people who can’t see who have learned to do most things they want to do without needing someone to help or to do them for them. Many people who can’t see have developed a skill set that neither she nor her family knew was possible.

 

Sure, Sue had developed her own skill set, but limited by others doing for her instead of her learning to do for herself. Her new awareness was that she could learn to use iPhones, computers and a range of other tech-toys that could open a world of experiences and opportunities that had been hidden from her. “Thanks, but I’ll do it for myself,” was a new and freeing experience. In addition to the tech-toys, she discovered a growing range of resources for people who can’t see that range from how to do most anything, to how others have adjusted to not being able to see, to techniques and strategies for managing more or less independently when she had things to do, places to go and people to see.

 

Why am I bringing this up at this point in our journey? Think cell phones in general, and smart phones in particular. Yes, you can make phone calls on smart phones, but if that’s the only reason for having one, an old-fashion land-line phone is easier and probably cheaper. But making phone calls is not the reason why you likely should have a smart phone, if you can’t see. It’s all the other things you can do with a smart phone that makes having one so useful.

 

Try this. Think of ten things you want to do that not being able to see prevents or makes especially difficult. I suspect that a smart phone can help with at least seven of those things. The key here is that you don’t need to master the smart phone or become what they call a power user. You only need to have enough skill to get the smart phone to help with those things you want to do.

 

Since I’m not a smart phone power user, I’m not going to try to teach you how to use a smart phone, but I am going to suggest resources you may want to consider for this and other things you want to learn. I already included the Internet address and phone number for Hadley. Here, I’ll give you a couple of additional numbers for good learning resources.

 

  • American Foundation for the Blind (AFB): 212-502-7600

 

  • National Federation of the Blind (NFB): 410-659-9314

 

Either of these organizations will be willing to point you toward the resources and services you need to learn to do what you want to do, including using a smart phone. For now though, be well, do well and keep in mind what I hope is your personal mantra:

 

  • If it is to be, it’s up to me.