It’s Been a Wild Ride!

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This post is dedicated to you, my wonderful readers; without you and your reads, comments and shares, this blog would just be like spitting into the wind. I’d be nowhere without you – your support, encouragement, constructive criticism,and your discussion.

Two years ago, I started this blog with the unlikely first post entitled “Welcome to Blogville.” I had no idea of the readership this blog has received – more than friends and family, or friends and family OF friends and family… but from all over the world. People who can see, people who can’t, and everything in between. People with disabilities, people without, people whose kids have disabilities… You have read and shared posts like this or this or that over and over. I’ve written posts like these ones that had you either cheering in agreement or vehemently disagreeing with me – but you’ve always been generally respectful, even if you think I’m wrong, too harsh, or otherwise out to lunch.

My readers have joined me on a trip to New York city, been along for the bumpy ride of unemployment, and even had a little bit of fun with me. You’ve been interviewed for my Empowered series, discussed books I’ve written about, and encouraged me, my writing and my blog in a million other ways.

A thank you is not nearly enough for all this, but it’s what I can give, so a huge, heartfelt THANK YOU! It’s been a wild ride. Whether you’ve been with me since the beginning (like Meagan who encouraged me to do this in the first place) or are reading this as one of your introductory posts, please keep joining me on this journey called life. It’s constantly changing, almost never boring. It’s painful and wonderful and exciting, and while this life – my circumstance, decisions, viewpoint – is my own, it’s all the richer for having you in it.

A Burger with a Side of Discrimination, Please

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Not long ago, I was visiting British Columbia, a province with a very well-publicized and shiny new Service Dogs Act. My trip was generally a positive one, until I attempted to enter one particular bar/restaurant that I had previously frequented. I’m not unfamiliar with being asked for ID to verify my age in such places, and even my (thankfully relatively) few access challenges with my guide dog have primarily been handled discretely and/or quickly. What I did not expect was to be demanded, loudly and publicly, for my guide dog’s paperwork… from across the bar. My dog was doing nothing inappropriate, was guiding me into the restaurant, her nails slightly struggling to gain purchase on the slippery floor. So… I was demanded – loudly and publicly – for paperwork that no one else in the restaurant was required to produce. Long story short, I realized that I didn’t have current ID with me (I had mistakenly packed an expired school-issued ID card), and I was asked to leave. When I told the employee she should consider discretion if she had to request paperwork from paying patrons, she acted so surprised that such a thing would be requested of her.
Without getting into the nitty-gritties, I contacted the BC government on this issue. They ended up responding to my complaint with an inaccessible PDF (one that was scanned as a picture, so no readable text for a screen reader), which said – basically – that since I didn’t have a piece of plastic (whether issued by the government or a guide/service dog program), a business was within their rights to refuse service. They did not address the humiliating and embarrassing experience of being demanded publicly for such information and then publicly being told to leave.
Where is the outrage outside of the service dog and/or blind community? Would anyone else be expected to accept this treatment?
Last week, a news story made the rounds about a teenager with a disability who was purposefully excluded from a relative’s wedding because of her disability. The support on sites like Reddit came in fast and furious, which is awesome… but it got me to thinking: Where is the support from the public when people with disabilities are turned down for jobs (whether stated or implied) because of their disability, forced to alter their academic pursuits or undergo additional testing, find it easier to obtain resources to assist in their death than aids to live life, are killed for simply being disabled?

There is open discrimination in the world – being told you won’t get a job because of your disability (yes, this happens). There is invisible discrimination where it’s implied by the subtext of a conversation or interaction that your presence, request, or concern is not wanted or valid (yes, this happens, too). There is violence against the disabled as can be evidenced by interactions with police, the murder in Japan last week, or by cultures who view disability as a curse on a family. While disability can have its own limitations (at this point, I won’t be driving a car anytime soon); but I believe that it’s not disability that holds us back as much as perceptions and demands of others. To some, not eating at that particular restaurant may be a “little thing”, and I suppose it’s true because we had other options. But what if we didn’t? Maybe that young girl loved her aunt and really wanted to be at her wedding for that special day, and she got slapped in the face because of a perception of what she could and couldn’t do. Judging by the amount of tense family gatherings I’ve witnessed and heard of, discrimination – even by a family member – is a pretty big deal. And how big a deal is open or invisible discrimination in the job hunt when it directly impacts one’s ability to make a living and contribute to a local, national or even global economy? And if we can’t access facilities like everyone else, attend family functions, obtain employment if we have the desired qualifications and skills, do we reach a tragic end because we just don’t belong? To quote a friend of mine, I’ve been gifted a double portion of stubborn. Maybe this will help me, maybe it will help others. It’s never “just about a restaurant” when you’re made to feel scrutinized for simply walking or rolling through the door. It’s never “just one day” when you get told that you, specifically, are not welcome at a celebration, but your whole family can come along now. It’s never “just one job” when you get told there’s no way you can do job tasks you’ve honed over years of practice and hard-won experience.

And it’s never “just one life” when you have to fight not only others’ perceptions, bureaucratic red tape, medical concerns, and discrimination… but yourself underneath it all. Sometimes being who we are is a radical act of defiance.

Book Review: The Branch of Hazel

Short stories are not normally my preferred reading material. Not long after my trip to New York, I discovered Grand Central, an anthology of unconnected stories taking place at New York’s Grand Central Station on one day in September 1945. I loved New York so much, and have a serious fascination with the post-War period, so of course I had to read it. Little did I know that I would find one story with a blind character that would leave me scrambling to discover the author.

“The Branch of Hazel” by Sarah McCoy was that story.

It is less about the blind man, but by how his brief interaction with a woman formerly part of the Lebensborn program changed her life.

A man and a woman meet on a train. It is not a love story; he is already married, and she’s been so used by men. But he enables her to see that where she’s been and where she’s going are both so similar and so different.

This story is hard to read, particularly as it puts to voice many of the ideas about disability that are faced by disabled people today. The woman on the train had two children in the Lebensborn program, one of whom had been taken away for being a “Mongoloid”. The businessman on the train is impeccably dressed, with perfect manners; he faces life with realism and optimism – and discrimination with firmness and grace – that is both fairly unique and yet sets him up to be the “angelic blind character” that sets my teeth on edge. He notices her perfume because his mother used to wear it, he knows what direction the wind is blowing based on other factors, and my city-slicker thinking makes me wonder if such observational skills really did exist in that time and place.

Ultimately, this man – with a mind for business, a wife and son at home, and the words of a priest – opened this woman’s eyes to a new way of life. Without spoiling other elements to this story, I’m glad it was his openness and patience that pushed her forward into a new way of thinking.

4/5 stars.

Relax! It’s Independence!

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All the way through high school, I traveled with a white cane. I would move the cane in an arc on the floor no wider than shoulder width (as I was taught), sometimes even narrower than that. You’d think I’d brought and aimed a weapon or set someone’s hair on fire, the reaction was so intense. Students would jump over the cane, slam themselves and their buddies into lockers to get out of my way. My friends thought it was hilarious, but it was probably the first time I seriously felt that people were afraid of me for something that, to me, meant independence and freedom. Since then, I’ve been made aware of huge crowds of people parting the waters because a blind woman with a cane has started walking through a mall during the holidays or a concert venue at intermission. Sure, it makes my life easier, having a clean path, but it’s always made me feel somewhat “other” when it’s announced or otherwise apparent that a path is being cleared for me so that I don’t hit anyone.

Fast forward several years, and Jenny, a wonderful, communicative guide dog wiggled her way into my life. Her presence means that I can travel more fluidly than I ever could with the cane, can even run independently (something I never thought possible). Not everyone likes dogs – some are afraid of being bitten or licked or approached by a dog – and I understand that. If my dog gets invasive, obnoxious, causes a direct disturbance not related to her being a dog doing her job and people being fascinated by her, that’s one thing (all service dog handlers have had moments where their dog’s behaviour has made them want to melt into the floor). But in the span of a week this past spring, I experienced two instances where the mere presence of my dog has caused people to publicly overreact in ways they probably hadn’t intended.
I was sitting on a bus, minding my own business, when the doors opened and a man got on. He turned to walk to an empty seat, saw my dog, then went back to the bus driver and said that he would get on at the back of the bus so he didn’t have to “go past that dog”. I was so shocked I couldn’t say anything. If he hadn’t seen my dog, he’d never have known she was there on the bus. And before anyone raises the “allergies” argument… I’ve worked with people who have allergies, have friends who have allergies, have had strangers discretely tell me they have allergies so that I know to make 110% sure that my dog’s nose is where it belongs, that she’s out of their way, that the risk of contact is as minimal as possible. I have never felt by any of those people as disrespected as I did that day on the bus…
Later that week, I went shopping with a couple of friends and had a lovely time trying on clothes, finding some bargains, and laughing uproariously at a couple of items that fit just slightly wrong enough to be hilarious. After paying for my purchases, Jenny and I were making our way to the exit when two young women more than twenty feet away started screaming that there was a DOG in the store! I chose to redirect Jenny to go a route that didn’t intersect their path, and she handled it with professionalism and grace, but I was so shaken up that two people felt the need to publicly vocalize their fear when my dog and I were doing absolutely nothing to them. At the time, I thought that no one would react similarly to the presence of a wheelchair, but I recently discovered this article that makes me think that such instances happen more frequently than I ever considered.

Last week, I went into a store to return an item. Jenny and I walked up to the counter behind another customer, who very abruptly asked the clerk to ask me to move my dog. I took several steps back out of her way, waited my turn, then walked up to the counter while the other customer walked the looooong way around to exit the store. The clerk told me that the instant she saw my dog, her face just tensed right up. For some reason, it really hurt. It was yet again one more instance proving that I am still considered “other” because I use a dog to travel independently (and if I used a cane I’d get griped at for hitting someone in the ankles).

Why are we so feared? And why is it acceptable? Why did I feel so helpless, like I couldn’t just turn around and ask some of those people if they had something to say directly to me? If someone expressed discomfort with or fear of someone’s race or gender or place of origin or religion, they’d be called out for what they are – homophobic or zenophobic or racist. But because the presence of a disabled body in public is so rare and unexpected, manners go out the window? And that’s acceptable?

So the next time you see someone using a cane for identification or mobility, a guide or service dog, a scooter or a wheelchair, unless they are directly interfering with your ability to go about your day, keep your mouth shut and your fear to yourself. If you want to know how we go about our days so bravely, imagine frequently encountering the fear of others, publicly, and think how you would feel if you had to go through that. We want to go about our days just like you. And you wouldn’t like it if we told our friends that we didn’t want to sit next to a non-white, Hindu man minding his own business on the bus, or freaked out because a woman wearing a head scarf happened to be shopping in the same store as us. You’d tell us to relax… it’s only a bus seat, only a head scarf. Guess what, when reacting to our presence? Relax! It’s a cane, a wheelchair, a dog. Relax: it’s independence.

The Empowered Series: Alberta Service Dog Community

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Samantha Hjalmarson (Sam), my current feature for The Empowered Series is someone who hasn’t started a business or a nonprofit, but a community that empowers, encourages, and connects others. I had an opportunity to meet her a few months ago. Both of us have service dogs (though for different disabilities); at our meeting, her dog was much much better behaved than mine (due to Jenny’s cat-litter consumption). In response to her disability, Sam spearheaded and almost exclusively runs the Alberta Service Dog Community, but she’s reaching for different heights as well. And who would want to say no to cute puppies?

 

About Sam

 

Sam developed fairly severe PTSD after years of abuse by her stepfather, though she didn’t realize it for many years. After high school, she joined the military as a signals operator, and the PTSD along with Generalized Anxiety Disorder started causing problems with her ability to cope. After her three year basic engagement was up, Sam left the military primarily due to her mental health (though there were other reasons). Things were manageable until a car accident put her in the hospital for a few days, then left her bed-ridden for weeks after and then it all started going really downhill. PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) have manifested themselves in agoraphobia; Sam spends most of her energy on managing stress levels, and sometimes even leaving the house is a challenge, making work outside the home impossible. One employer after another fired her; even though Sam worked productively when she was present, she couldn’t consistently be at work every day. Eventually she went to a therapist and was diagnosed with PTSD. It eventually hit the point where she was unable to work at all, had to fight to get onto AISH (“another long story by itself!”) and wound up with a Service Dog to help her out.
Sam’s hobbies include making chain mail, finding meditative benefit from baking and cooking. She’s a massive geek, “like Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying level geek”, video games, fantasy books and TV. She enjoys amateur photography and is a cat person (“Honestly if we could have service cats instead of service dogs I would be all over that.”)

 

About ASDC

 

Alberta Service Dog Community (ASDC) came out of Sam’s desire to be a productive member of society. Being on disability and taking money from the government left her feeling like she was being a drain so she really felt that urge to do something to help other people. While Sam’s search for a service dog went quite smoothly most people don’t have that same experience. She was lucky, extremely lucky, in that not only did Hope Heels give her a service dog but she also met a group of women who have turned out to be an incredible support network and some of the best friends she’s ever had. Hope Heels went on a hiatus (it’s currently up and running again) but those friendships remain.

Disabilities like Sam’s in particular, but others as well, can be isolating and lonely. Sam wanted to create a support network like she had, so she started ASDC to bring members of the community together. People who get service dogs from schools and programs often have that built in but owner trainers don’t. ASDC isn’t specifically FOR owner trainers, anyone is welcome, but Sam thinks they benefit the most from it, removing the isolation and creating a support system for each other. Much of the discussion and support is virtual (through facebook), but occasional training dates, coffee meetups and other activities are coordinated to get the group together.

 

More than a Support Group

 

The ASDC mandate is education and advocacy. People who want to get a service dog are educated on some of the ways they can go about that and about the laws that would protect their rights (there are two in Alberta, the SD Act and the Human Rights Act). The public is also educated about those laws, what service dogs are and the rights of Service Dog Teams.

Advocacy is another big piece of what ASDC does. Not everyone who faces an access challenge with their service dog has the ability to stand up for themselves and their rights so ASDC offers to do that for them. ASDC can provide advice on self-advocacy, or will contact a business or other entity on behalf of someone if they cannot advocate for themselves. “People with disabilities need less obstacles in their lives, not more.”

 

So what does Sam… Do?

 

Sam is currently the jill-of-all-trades at ASDC, receiving phone calls, answering any questions that come to the main page, posting the majority of articles, and stepping in to resolve an occasional conflict. Currently, her biggest role at the moment is representing ASDC on the technical committee to develop a National Standard for Service Dogs in Canada. The hope is that this will be adopted across the country and will make it so much easier for owner trainers to be legally recognized and protected, in addition to making service dog standards and access rights clear and consistent across Canada.

 

What’s Next?

 

In the future, Sam hopes to incorporate ASDC as a charitable foundation, but at this point “it’s a lot of work!” She also hopes to build a website to house resources, educational pieces, a list of trainers who can help people train their own service dogs, a list of schools that service the area. Eventually once the National Standards are completed and implemented, she hopes to do a series of videos explaining how to train for the points required to meet those standards. About the future Web site and access challenges: “Pretty much anything you can imagine someone wanting to know about Service Dogs or what to do with one I want up on that website, including a link for businesses telling them when they are allowed to ask a handler to remove the dog. I think that if a business feels secure in their ability to protect themselves then there will be far fewer access challenges.”

 

Conclusion

 

There is more than one way to contribute to society. For many of us, it’s holding down a job and contributing to the economy. If that’s not possible, it’s important to find another way. Sam has created a lively community of service dog handlers from across the province while simultaneously providing support to those who need a place to turn or a question answered. Thanks, Sam, for being “chatty” (you made this post SO easy to write!)

Special Snowflakes: Do you Want Equality or special Treatment?

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I’ve lived in a body whose eyes don’t function “normally” for over three decades now. My life is generally happy, productive, full of friends and hobbies and new trails to blaze, with unique fringe benefits of having eyes that don’t function quite the same way as anyone else’s. That being said, I will never ever say that being blind is easy: from the minor inconvenience of not being able to visually locate things when I drop them, to the more serious potentially life-altering perceptions of hiring managers, academic professionals, or complete strangers on what my abilities are supposed to be… Sometimes being blind can be really really hard. You can’t have one side of this equation without the other, and to be honest, I wouldn’t really want to.
But I also can’t deny that people with disabilities are treated differently than those without. Encounters on the street focus on how sorry someone is, we occasionally get asked if someone can pray for us, and we are presumed incompetent (if we say “no thank you” to an offer of assistance, it gets offered over and over again). That is a problem… but sometimes we perpetuate our own special treatment while demanding equality.

 

Over the past week, two news stories have blown up my social media accounts for completely different reasons:
1) A resolution from a blindness organization that basically lambastes Apple, a company who arguably has put accessibility at the forefront of their testing and release processes, telling them they haven’t done enough for blind consumers;
2) The fact that the CNE (an annual fair and exhibition in Toronto) is no longer offering free admission to people with disabilities. This decision has proved anecdotally unpopular among the disability community.

Both instances deal with the issues of equality and preferential treatment, and they are mutually exclusive; you can’t have one while demanding the other.

 

Accommodation is Not Special Treatment

 

Not long ago I had someone tell me that bringing my guide dog on a plane was a special privilege. In an unrelated note, I was once told that it would never be an employer’s job to provide assistive technology or other accommodations in the workplace because that would give the person with a disability “special treatment”.

Both of these examples are untrue. Guide and service dogs (provided they are well-behaved) enhance the independence of their handlers and can sometimes mean the difference between traveling independently and confidently… or not leaving the house. If a disabled person requires the assistance of an aid to guide or administer medication or otherwise assist them with daily living tasks, it’s far more preferable than being forced to stay in their homes. And assistive technology can be the difference between being employed and living on assistance… so is it still “preferential treatment” when it levels the playing field? Um… no…

If assistive technology, mobility aids, or other accommodations make it possible for a person with a disability to live, work, study, or access information just like the general public, on what planet is it special treatment? And if people with disabilities are viewed as equals (like the lip service I hear about everyone being equal), then no one should deny us the ability to work, study, or travel using the tools that provide us the autonomy that makes us “equal” to everyone else. If you do deny this, you prove that we are not as equal as everyone else, and should keep your mouth shut and think about your stance on “selective equality.

 

NFB Resolution: We Want our Cake and to Eat it Too

 

Disclaimer: I do not use Apple products, and it’s my choice to do so. I am not affiliated with the NFB or any other blindness organizations. This to say… I have no horse in this race.

If you get through all the big words, what you need to know is this:

  1. Apple has continuously made huge strides in the accessibility marketplace. It’s one of the first, if not the first, to make built-in accessibility options such as the Voiceover screen reader part of all devices straight out of the box. Traditionally, accessible options had to be purchased separately and loaded on to any device, resulting in extra costs and less independent setup options.
  2. Because of this, Apple has been praised by many in the disability community for making people with disabilities a priority, making products instantly usable right off the shelf.
  3. The NFB resolution appears to be saying that Apple simply hasn’t done enough, because they are not prioritizing accessibility bugs and blind beta testers above others. This is a double-edged sword, however, because Google and Microsoft have their own accessibility issues that were not addressed at all in this resolution…
  4. Many have pointed out that this resolution has basically betrayed Apple for releasing software with bugs, telling them that they haven’t done enough for (exclusively) their blind consumers. Others have stated that accessibility bugs are now prioritized on the same level as other bugs in the software… isn’t that what the NFB claim they wanted in the first place?

Ultimately, I agree with those who state that there’s a HUGE double standard here. I use other software that was not lambasted so publicly, and like it or not, it has bugs too. The blind are not the only disability community in the world, and sighted users had problems with some of Apple’s software rollouts; that’s the nature of having software. If Apple were willfully ignoring the community that praised their accessibility efforts in the first place, that’s one thing; but they are creating software that, like it or not, isn’t perfect… for some blind users, but not all; for some sighted users, not all.

A brief note to those who voted for this resolution and publicly stabbed Apple in the back… it’s not always about you!

 

The CNE: Take me to the Fair!

 

The CNE is a well-known exhibition in Toronto; most major, and even some smaller, cities have their own annual fairs. Many provide discounted rates to guides or aids accompanying people with disabilities (see “accommodations” above?). This year, the CNE has decided to stop providing free admission to people with disabilities, but will continue not to charge for people who are guiding or otherwise assisting them. In the above referenced article, it’s made clear that this new policy might not be popular…

I’m all for it. As a fellow disability activist stated: if I can’t afford to go, I don’t go. I read a comment that people with disabilities are statistically living with higher poverty rates and should be giving this “perk” because of it. But what about people without disabilities who don’t always have the money… who’s giving them a break? And what about the disabled person who’s fortunate enough to have disposable income… are they not taking advantage of resources designed to assist those who don’t?

If you can afford it, go to the fair; if you can’t, don’t. Nobody owes us extra perks; we face enough “other” treatment as it is.

 

Conclusion: Special does NOT Mean Equal

 

We have a long way to go before we are viewed as equals to those without disabilities. No one can deny that. We face access refusals because of our service dogs, are presumed incompetent for job duties unless we prove otherwise, and seem to be public sources of inspiration for getting out of bed in the morning. We need to decry true discriminatory practices for what they are, but also to live with the full responsibilities that go along with desiring equality. We should not be charged more to attend a fair because we require a guide or an aide, but we should not be charged less. If a company makes a valiant effort to make their system accessible, we need to praise them for their good work while kindly and gently encouraging them to improve things for everyone (not just us). When it comes right down to it, we’re not special snowflakes, and we will never reach true equality while taking advantage of special treatment.

Book Review: Crashing Through

It’s not uncommon for strangers, friends, and family to ask me the question: if you had the opportunity to see, would you? My friend Meagan has written a concise answer to the question (an opinion that I share). Science has not addressed curing the causes of my blindness, so at this moment, for me the question is moot. But I can’t deny my own sense of curiosity about the uncommon transition from blindness to sight; the reverse has been chronicled extensively, including a woman who allegedly blinded herself.

 

Crashing Through: A true Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man who Dared to See
By: Robert Kurson

 

Blinded at age three, Mike May defied expectations by breaking world records in downhill speed skiing, joining the CIA, and becoming a successful inventor, entrepreneur, and family man. He had never yearned for vision.
Then, in 1999, a chance encounter brought startling news: a revolutionary stem-cell transplant surgery could restore May’s vision. The procedure was filled with risks, some of them deadly, others beyond May’s wildest dreams. There were countless reasons for May to pass on vision. He could think of only a single reason to go forward. Whatever his decision, he knew it would change his life.
Beautifully written and thrillingly told, Crashing Through is a journey of suspense, daring, romance, and insight into the mysteries of vision and the brain. Robert Kurson gives us a fascinating account of one man’s choice to explore what it means to see – and to truly live.

 

Touching All the bases

 

This book is a combination of autobiography and scientific exploration of vision. Kurson’s look into Mike May’s life – both pre- and post-surgery – is effectively drawn. With a journalist’s precision, he details the chemical reaction that caused Mike’s blindness, the uphill battle his mother fought to admit him into a public school, and Mike’s struggles and successes in his personal and professional life. When Mike begins to become accustomed to his vision, it’s not all sunshine and roses; sometimes it’s incredibly frustrating to go along that journey with May and Kurson. Much of the latter third of the book details the scientific research that helped explain what he could see and why other visual input was so challenging.

 

Mike May: A Blind Man who can See

 

Kurson shies away from characterizing Mike as an angel or hero or otherwise “super blind man.” Sure, he did a lot of exciting and great stuff with his life, but it’s not framed as “despite his blindness, he…”. Mike May’s curiosity of the world in his childhood and early adulthood set the stage for him to embrace the challenge of vision, and the author draws this out with particularly nuanced emphasis. Mike May now has good vision, but it is clear that he cannot process what he is seeing the way a fully sighted person can; he is, effectively, a blind man who can see. It is clear that Mike May was intimately involved in the creation of this book, something that’s quite rare for blind subjects of biographies written by sighted authors.

 

Some Drawbacks

 

I personally found it incredibly disconcerting that during the entirety of the book, Mike May was referred to as “May”. The reason for this is unclear to me, but even in incredibly moving descriptions of discovering new things he could see, or describing some of the challenges he faced, having him referred to as “May” made it almost seem clinical and removed.
Some of the scientific data, while fascinating, could have been included in smaller portions throughout the book, rather than all in one chunk (though I do realize that much of the scientific data Mike May discovered at a particular time in his “vision journey”). I don’t know if there’s any way to make both biography and science lovers happy, but this review is my own.

 

Conclusion

 

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to receive vision after nearly a lifetime of blindness, this book chronicles one man’s journey well. It’s not always necessarily a happy story, but it’s an important one. After reading this book, I still hold the same opinion on restoring or improving my vision given the chance, but that opinion is still my own. If surgery is the answer for some, that’s terrific; if not, that’s OK, too. But Robert Kurson and Mike May have given me much food for thought.
4/5 stars.

The Liebster Award

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I’ve seen the Liebster Award on several blogs over the past few months, and I actually got nominated this go-round! Thanks, Glen, for giving me the push and encouraging me to have a little fun on the blog. Below, here are my answers to a few questions, and I’ll ask those I nominate a few questions as well.

 

1If you were to win the lottery, what would you buy first?

Confession: I’d pay off my house, and then spend a year traveling the world.🙂 The order is significant to me because I hate the idea of debt hanging over my head… so a lottery win would immediately go to getting rid of the stress of a mortgage, THEN I could truly relax and have a blast exploring new and interesting places.

 

2What is your favourite dessert?

I have to pick just one? I love anything that puts fruit and chocolate together; if I can’t have that, I’ll take ’em separately. No custards or whipped cream, though…

 

3If you could have 3 celebrities over for a dinner party, who would you invite and why?

I’d want a cool celebrity jam session with Elton John, Garth Brooks and Adele (don’t ask, it would work!) Elton and Adele would probably call my upright piano “charming”, right? This is hypothetical, right?

 

4Who are your favourite bands/artists?

Pink Martini, Over the Rhine, Sara Groves and Flyleaf… for a wide variety of different reasons. It depends on the headspace I’m in at the moment.

5What are your favourite TV shows?

The original Law and Order (the spinoffs never did it for me), Corner Gas, and Air Farce. A piece of me feels like I’m 50 years old, lamenting the “good old days” of TV…

 

6If you could go back in time and give your teenage self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Nothing is permanent unless you make it so. What you decide today CAN effect your future, but you can always make other choices… so use your head and your heart, jointly, to forge your own path.

7Which is your favourite social media site?

I use Facebook and Twitter for different reasons entirely. I’d have to say I think I prefer Twitter, if I had to choose…

 

8Do you have any favourite jokes?

Not really. People who know me well will tell you… I cannot tell a joke, at all… My humor tends to be rather dry, occasionally witty or punny…

 

9Do you enjoy playing or watching any sports?

I used to play goalball, and this year I’ve seriously taken up running. As for watching sports, I enjoy hockey, though I’m not as into the game as many I know.

 

10Who would play you in a film of your life?

My life is waaaaay too boring to be made into a movie! And you’d think, being married to a movie buff, that I’d have tons of actresses to list off in response to this question. Nope! Sorry!🙂

 

11What would be your dream job?

I’ve had a couple of jobs that might fit as  my “dream job” over the years. But while I’m on the job hunt, I think of this often. Where do I go from here?

I’d want a job where my role is important, that it makes a difference in workplace culture and dynamics. I’d like to build on my pre-existing skills and learn new ones along the way. It would be great if it had a combination of people-time and alone-time, as I find the balance works well for me. The actual job title and duties are still up for debate, but so long as they’re legal and ethical and don’t bore me to death, any job can be a dream job…

 

I Nominate…

I’ve got a few questions for some awesome bloggers. I have linked to some before, and some have linked to me… Let’s get to know them better as well!

I am asking Meagan at “Where’s your Dog?“, Beth at “Safe and Sound Blog” and Steph of “Bold Blind Beauty”:

  1. If you could go anywhere in the world for a month, where would you go?
  2. What’s the most unusual food you’ve ever eaten? Did you like it?
  3. Did you have any childhood heroes? If so, who were they?
  4. Do you still have a favoured childhood item such as a toy or blanket? Where do you keep it? Any stories about it?
  5. Do you have a favourite time of year or holiday? What is it and why?
  6. What is a quirk of yours that some have found endearing?
  7. What’s your “guilty pleasure”?
  8. What do you do on a gloomy, rainy day?
  9. What relaxes you when you’re stressed?
  10. What would a party at your house look like?

Looking forward to seeing some fun answers!🙂

The Empowered Series: Electric Marshmallow Productions

Over the past few months, I have followed Dominick Evans on Twitter. He’s created some thought-provoking conversations on the role of disabled people in media, representation of disabled actors in film and on TV, and the idea that Hollywood produces films that perpetuate the idea that it’s better to be dead than disabled.

 

About Dominick

 

Dominick lives in the metro New York City area with his partner in life and business, Ashtyn. He has Spinal Muscular atrophy, a progressive neurological disability, and lives with OCD. To navigate the world, he uses a wheelchair which currently is in need of repair. OCD presents its own challenges with concentration, but that makes working from home an ideal setup. In 2014, he graduated from Wright State University with a BFA in Motion Picture Production, and has a strong desire to direct. Dominick is Polish-American, left-handed, and has “actor” and “singer” listed on his resume.

 

About Electric Marshmallow Productions

 

Electric Marshmallow Productions is a writing and editing business with a branch in film and video production. Dominick and Ashtyn both write and edit contact for large corporations and small businesses alike, with Ashtyn doing much of the writing and Dominick primarily editing content. Disability activism is both a personal and a professional interest, as is activism in the LGBT community.

 

What’s Going On and What’s Next?

 

As part of Dominick’s film work, he moderates a frequent Twitter chat called #FilmDis which addresses media portrayals, representation and hiring practices of people with disabilities. Most recently, he has helped to start a conversation about the recent movie based on the book “Me before You”, which he maintains portrays the idea that it’s better to be dead than disabled. In the future, he hopes Electric Marshmallow Productions will operate specifically as a film and television company that changes perception of people with disabilities in mass media and ultimately in the wider world.

An Open Letter to Hiring Managers: Want to make $$$? Hire Inclusively

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Earlier this week, I found a story about a home improvement retailer who hired a service dog user with a brain injury. This is terrific! This is corporate responsibility. This is true representation of the broader community which this retailer serves. This is hiring people with unique skills and talents to fill a role that a company sees as valuable. I took to Facebook and thanked whoever hired this man for giving him a position that he clearly desired, wishing more hiring managers and companies did the same.

 

I’m on the job hunt, too, and it got me to thinking. Did this company hire this man – will a company hire me? – only because it is the law to do so? Will they do so because it is the socially conscious “in thing” to do so? Or will they hire people with disabilities because they realize that we’re a huge untapped market for them? Disability not only touches those living with blindness, who are deaf, who use wheelchairs, and/or who have brain injuries (sometimes in combination)… but those with invisible disabilities as well. This doesn’t even address our friends, families, and others who care about us. A Canadian organization recently launched the We Belong App. The app allows consumers to search by location for companies and organizations that hire inclusively (primarily people with developmental disabilities), giving them the opportunity to show financially that it pays to do so.

 

Meaningful employment is something that’s very important to me. I want to be hired at a position with a company that views me as an asset, not a liability. Unfortunately, the latter appears to be the prevailing thinking among people who’ve met me for interviews. I don’t make constant eye contact, I imply that it’s important to use words to communicate… and yet I have years of experience behind me, so that should count for something. Do I want a job? You bet your last dollar. But I want a job with a company or organization that views me as the asset that I am, with unique insights, skills, and talents to bring to the table. Things may have to be done differently, but change is a part of life; many accommodations for people with disabilities end up benefiting entire workplaces, and it’s not often realized until after the disabled employee moves on to other opportunities (personal or professional).

 

So for those who hire people with any disability out of pity or patronism, thanks, but no thanks. It makes everybody miserable and you honestly shouldn’t bother. For those who don’t hire us because of your preconceived notions of our capabilities – not because you truly had more qualified applicants – please know that you’ve broken human rights legislation. The law is only one piece in a mosaic that fits together to include people with disabilities in society, in the classroom, in the workplace. It takes inclusive thinkers – who are unfortunately not frequently in HR – to understand that we’re more than the eyes or ears or hands or legs or brain that doesn’t work as expected. If the law is the only reason you begrudgingly hire me or anyone with a disability, congratulations, you’re a rule-follower, move along now. Ditto about everyone being miserable. But if you want to be progressive, inclusive, and innovative like you claim you are, hire people with unique skills, talents and insights who just happen to be disabled. Your business will benefit as much if not more than the employee you hire, because we do have friends and families and others who care about us… and they reward truly inclusive and empowering workplaces with their positive words to their friends and families and coworkers… and their consumer dollars. The bottom dollar is a motivator for many; I’d like to use some of mine to support employers who don’t discriminate. but that can only happen once pretty words on a page start becoming action, once HR managers, CEOs, and office managers view people with disabilities as unique resources and assets to business and commerce.

 

Oh, and if you are one of those progressive, inclusive, innovative HR managers, CEOs, or office managers, drop me a line; I’d be happy to meet you.

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