An Open Letter to Potential Employers: I have a Disability, and I Expect YOUR Professionalism


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It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance. We’re in a unique situation where we can both benefit each other. You are offering something I need – a job that will, hopefully enable me to serve your company/school/agency well while financially providing for myself and my family – and I have the qualifications that you are seeking. I also happen to be disabled (or have a disability, depending on my choice in language).

Why am I writing to you today?

Last week I discovered an anonymous rant from one of your contemporaries, bemoaning the lack of quality applicants to a job posting. Resumes that had been slapped together, unprofessional interview attire, or (my personal favourite) an applicant’s Mommy walking into the interview with them would leave anyone frustrated and lamenting the quality of prospective employees. Support was fast and furious from other frustrated people – those looking for work in an overcrowded job market, and those charged with making hiring decisions. I understand that you want qualified, professional, competent people working for your company/school/nonprofit, and you receive dozens – if not hundreds – of resumes. But I have one question before I continue: will you read this letter all the way to the end, or will you dismiss me (as many employers have before you and will again) because I don’t fit the perception of your dream candidate?

October is national Disability Employment Awareness Month. Did you know that almost 90% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed? How about more than 60% of those who are blind or visually impaired? Those are simply two groups of people with disabilities, and there are many more (even those who would never disclose them to you). It’s not because we’re not able or willing to work… it’s because perception (not disability itself) stands in our way.

Did you know that people with disabilities have markedly higher job retention rates, better attendance, and stronger safety practices than their non-disabled coworkers? Did you know that workplace accommodations are generally affordable (if not at minimal cost), and state and provincial governments may cover the costs of those that are more costly? Large corporations (Apple, Tim Hortons) have already started to include people with disabilities as part of their hiring process, both because we are qualified applicants and because we represent the communities in which they do business.

Back to the professionalism bit. I send in my nicely written and formatted resume with the education and/or work experience and/or skills that you are looking for. I pass the phone/email screening stage and get invited for an interview. I’m dressed up neatly and professionally, arrive on time, shake your hand firmly, answer all of your questions. Maybe I walk in with a cane, or roll in using a wheelchair. Maybe a service dog sits by my side, maybe I hear best with a hearing aid. Perhaps I stim, or struggle with multiple sensory input. Maybe none of these things mark me as being disabled. But that’s all you notice and fixate on. It’s like my resume – with all of that education or experience – doesn’t exist. All you can see is the eyes or legs or ears or brain that don’t work “normally.” Little matter that my resume includes years of relevant qualifications, I get asked how (if I’m lucky) or am told I can’t (if I’m not) use a computer, serve customers, carry things, sort items, dial a telephone, navigate the workplace independently. Someone I know even had a prospective employer ask her how she got dressed for the interview.

And you have a professionalism problem?

But it’s never too late to implement changes to hiring practices, to change the conversation regarding disability in the workplace. We can all benefit each other – you get a qualified employee who represents the community you serve, I have the opportunity to use my education and/or professional skills to economically benefit both your company and myself. You deserve the best, the most qualified applicants. Sometimes, that person is me. You want a professional job applicant? I’m right here! Maybe with a wheelchair, cane, or service dog, maybe without. I’d like to meet a professional interviewer and employer, who will see my documented skills and my hard-won experience for the positive traits that they are. Such employers are out there; you can be one of them. Some disabilities are obvious, others are hidden, but we all want the same things: professionalism, respect, and a fair shot. Are you up to that challenge?



Disabled Job Applicants Everywhere

The Empowered Series: BlindAlive

It’s no secret that health and fitness are important to me (in case you don’t know, I present my history of playing goalball and running). One of the challenges of working out and being visually impaired is that it’s often a challenge to find someone to effectively describe techniques so that exercises can be performed safely. I’ve been fortunate in many ways, but not everyone receives helpful instruction in posture or physical education, and many blind people aren’t given the tools to exercise effectively and safely.

Enter Mel Scott of BlindAlive!


About Mel

Mel, 50-something, lives in Pennsylvania. She spent 30 years as a massage therapist and believes in the importance of fitness. She was diagnosed as a child with Retinitis Pigmentosa, and currently still has some vision (though she prefers to navigate the world with Jingles, her guide dog). Using that vision to read or watch videos, however, is no longer an option. Mel grew increasingly frustrated by many workout videos that show exercises but don’t describe them, leaving her to guess at her form. One day, while riding her exercise bike, she just thought “Stop whining and create it yourself!”


About BlindAlive

BlindAlive is “proud to have created a user-friendly, completely accessible solution to exercise and fitness” that can be done in the home. All of their exercise products have been tested by blind and low vision individuals to ensure that they are completely accessible.

Currently, there are twelve workouts available in audio (no video required!) in a variety of formats. Yoga, Pilates, bootcamp and other workouts can be digitally downloaded or shipped via CD, thumb drive or SD card.

But it’s more than just workouts. BlindAlive also boasts a blog, podcast and strong social media presence. Mel describes it as creating “more choices for more people.”


What’s next?

Mel hopes to continue to build on her basic workout library, to increase the intensity alongside the fitness of those who take advantage of the basic workouts. Her “basic” workouts can be made more challenging by increasing weights or intensity, so there’s plenty to keep the body challenged. In the immediate future, another yoga workout is in the works, and a whole-body stretch and a balance workout are coming soon. Mel says there are other surprises, but shhhhhh, she can’t tell!



We all have excuses for not working out. It’s too early, too cold, we’re too busy… but “because I’m blind” should not be one of them. Mel and her BlindAlive team have created a library of descriptive workouts that can be enjoyed by those with or without sight. So no more excuses! Hit the gym!

Book Review: WWW – Wake (guest review by Meagan Houle)


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From the first blog post I wrote about books with blind characters, I’ve been regularly encouraged to read and review Robert J. Sawyer’s WWW series, about a blind teenager who becomes friends with the World Wide Web. In my defense… I tried to read the first book, Wake. I tried more than once. But science fiction really isn’t my thing, and I found I couldn’t give the book an objective review because of it.

Thankfully, my dear friend Meagan stepped up and offered to read and review the book, and graciously allowed me to edit it and publish it here on my blog. Thanks, Meagan, for taking time out of your hectic schedule to help a friend!


About the Book

Caitlin Decter is young, pretty, feisty, a genius at math – and blind. Still, she can surf the net with the best of them, following its complex paths clearly in her mind.
But Caitlin’s brain long ago co-opted her primary visual cortex to help her navigate online. So when she receives an implant to restore her sight, instead of seeing reality, the landscape of the World Wide Web explodes into her consciousness, spreading out all around her in a riot of colors and shapes.
While exploring this amazing realm, she discovers something – some other – lurking in the background. And it’s getting more and more intelligent with each passing day.


General Observations

this book is like so many sci-fi books I’ve read: the premise is absolutely fascinating, and the research is impressive. Here, our author spares us no details, and it’s clear that he’s given this book an enormous amount of careful
thought. I like his imagination, his intelligence, and his clear
commitment to fleshing out a complicated idea in a way that’s accessible to everyone. Unfortunately, character development, stilted writing and narrative flow are sacrificed in the name of a good plot. The science, while being fascinating and necessary, often crowds the story itself, dismissing the characters to a shadowy corner while the author embarks upon complex trains of thought.


Emotional Complexity

Even with a unique protagonist, it seemed that Sawyer attempted to insert excess emotional depth while leaving some characters stilted and wooden.

This isn’t to say that the author did not sometimes strike gold. There
were moments of startling brilliance in this book, where I actually
found myself tearing up. Caitlin’s interactions with Webmind, for example, while awkwardly written, are fun and engaging and wonderfully quaint. It made me
wonder what it would really be like to converse with a whole new kind of consciousness–something I’d often pondered briefly but never been moved to really sink my teeth into.


How do the Blind… do… Anything? TMI!

I began this book being quite dismayed, and mostly stayed that way throughout the book. The author, in typical scifi writer fashion, gave us far too much information about how Caitlin does every little thing. He goes so far as to explain the precise keystrokes she uses to operate her screen reader, which interrupts the flow of the text and was really distracting to me. We do not need to know that she has just hit a command to shift her computer’s focus or make her screen reader read an entire email aloud. I understand that the author is trying to help us understand blind people, but the execution is downright painful. Sadly, this pattern continued, broken only occasionally by relevant information (for instance, describing cane travel). Right through to the end, though, we’re bombarded with essentially useless trivia about how Caitlin navigates her world, even at times when it really disrupts everything else.


Nuggets of Gold

Now, the author did get a couple of things exactly right–so right it was almost uncomfortable. He pegged the social isolation, the transition from a dedicated school for the blind to a mainstream school, and the general anxiety a teenage girl  will feel when she’s getting to know a new boy. When the boy in question mistreats her because of her blindness, the devastation and humiliation she experiences are achingly familiar. I sucked in my breath and skimmed for a while, not wanting to linger in that place longer than I needed to. I imagine this will have an impact on sighted readers, who understand intellectually why this behaviour would be wrong but may not be able to tell exactly how it might feel until they are forced to imagine it directly.
The other thing I liked about this character was her frustration with the world at large. She’s fiercely independent, gifted and capable, but she still has to deal with people’s perceptions of her. Her struggle to preserve bodily autonomy and personal agency are, once again, very familiar to me. While she’s still getting used to her new school, her tray is physically taken from her hands, even after she has said she does not want to have it carried for her. Her own wishes are considered irrelevant, which so often happens to us when we don’t want help and are given it nonetheless. I can identify with her annoyance and sense of futility.

The author also portrayed well the assumptions and mistakes made by parents, even when they have parented a blind child for such a long time. Caitlin still has to remind her parents that she does not use a mouse, or that she can’t perceive this or that. The moments of awkwardness stand out sharply because her family is so used to her the rest of the time. I have experienced this with my own family: 22 years later and they still slip up sometimes. I see it as an encouraging sign: it means they’re not constantly thinking of me as “other.”


Regaining Sight: the Miracle Cure

Now, to address the part of the story I have little knowledge of: the process of gaining sight when you’ve never had any. I’ve been severely visually impaired my whole life, but I do have enough sight to understand concepts like colour and light. Caitlin didn’t have any of this, so when she was given it almost all at once, I expected her to be more than excited. I expected her to be overwhelmed, anxious, even scared. I thought that all the new stimuli going to her brain would, at the very least, throw her off for a bit. While she is definitely dazzled by her new vision, and it takes her a while to learn how to use it, the transition seems far too easy to be realistic. The author portrays the blindness cure as something that will somehow turn Caitlin’s life right around and fix her. She is so gloriously happy and comfortable with her new sense almost right away, which rings false to me. Again, I can’t say what it would be like, but judging by deaf people’s reactions when they hear for the first time, it would be far more impactful than this author is making it look. Again, we have a case of the plot moving relentlessly onward, giving Caitlin hardly any time to adjust.


General Conclusions

The author had the right idea, and was working with some very interesting plot points. He captured moments of raw emotional power, and tackled controversial issues with grace. That said, the prose was often stilted, the characters poorly-developed, and the blind character awkwardly-written. I would not recommend the book to a blind person, and would hesitate to recommend it at all, as a general reader. I have little patience with clumsy writing, so while I really did want to like this book, I could hardly even finish it.

2.5/5 stars.

Performing in Blindface

“I can hope for the future and live in the present.”
If you are unfamiliar with the #HowEyeSeeIt campaign by Foundation Fighting Blindness, this blog post is a good way to get yourself familiar both with the campaign itself and the emotional backlash that followed. I have very mixed feelings regarding the campaign, but do believe that it’s bad PR for an organization to block, ignore, or otherwise censor respectfully provided negative or neutral feedback.
That being said, this blog post not only laments the blindfold simulation itself, but offers an alternative solution.
Thanks for providing some much-needed clarity to what has proven to be an emotional topic for many over the past several weeks.

Adventures in Low Vision

 Photo shows a pink fuzzy I'm ask on a white background A fundraising drive related to the blind community went viral. The organization finances great medical research, yet the campaign premise doesn’t sit well with me. I’m split, so I’m reflecting on #HowEyeSeeIt from the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB). Yep, I’m diving into the deep end.

FFB’s digital awareness campaign encourages people with vision loss to ask others to wear a blindfold and do a task together. They record it for social media and label it #HowEyeSeeIt. Amateur, professional, and nationally broadcasted stories were created. Some people pushed back and expressed opposition and rejection of the blindfold usage. The National Federation of the Blind released a letter written by President Riccobono admonishing it. People in the blind community reported censored comments or blocks on FFB’s social media accounts. FFB, a private organization, has the right to delete/block communications on their accounts, but has publicly stated it is not blocking or banning…

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Growing up and the “Good Book”: Reflections on a Year at Bible School


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Ten years ago – has it really been that long? – I found myself in a remarkably similar circumstance to the one I am currently facing. Out of work, in a place of personal, spiritual and professional transformation, I decided to take the plunge and spend a year at a small unaccredited Bible college. My choice was made because of a complicated combination of financial and theological crossroads, and it’s a decision that I have never regretted.


So why am I writing this now, a decade later? A combination of reasons. One of the benefits of being out of work is the ability to read books by a wide variety of people – those who have embraced the Christian faith wholeheartedly, those who have abandoned it due to pain or abuse, and those who struggle to believe. It’s beautiful and tragic and messy, seeing those who share my faith embrace some fellow earth-dwellers and reject others, those who no longer share my faith who cry and wrestle with those who do and whom they love, and those who never shared my faith – or those whose departure from it was particularly traumatic – who become furious at anyone who professes any form of belief in the divine. Such literacy and conversation has rounded out my worldview in ways I never anticipated, and it started at that small Bible college ten years ago. Another reason I decided to write about it is that a friend and classmate wrote of his experience in an articulate, moving reflection (though one that’s more theological than I’m going to get into here).


I remember the day I dropped off my application form. The journey to that place is too long to get into here, but I remember thinking that it was foolish for me to be out of work and wanting to spend money to study the Bible… but I had to do it for reasons that I still can’t quite explain. I remember calling the school, being so lost in a residential area, expecting more foot traffic than I got, and having one of the instructors come out and meet me. I was so embarrassed, but I put in my application (and, not 3 hours later, received a part-time job offer that would work around my class schedule). After being accepted, I wondered how my classmates and instructors would accept me as a blind student – I worried for nothing.


Our courses were a combination of Bible study, interpretation, and practical Christian living. We read the whole Bible during the course of that year – when I discovered all the passages about justice for the oppressed that I had never encountered in my previous church experiences. We discussed living on earth and a home in heaven and how to emphasize both and neglect neither. We volunteered in organizations that challenged us, that showed us poverty or illness or disability. Along with classes and short-term missions trips and volunteering and working, I found my faith changing from a loud, boisterous show of enthusiasm to something quieter, something stronger, something harder to describe. Along with that spiritual struggle – because that’s what it was – came the most complete exhaustion I have ever felt in my life. I was in many ways happier and busier than I ever had been, but my schedule was so hectic that I would go to my little basement apartment after a day of classes and/or volunteering and/or working, say hi to my roommate, and fall exhausted into bed… only to do it all over again the next day.


But it wasn’t all hard work; in many ways it was a ton of fun. My classmates took me in as one of their own – pushing me beyond my comfort zone, asking questions, all but stapling my pants to the piano bench during chapel because I was the only student who was even remotely willing to play the piano publicly. I fell in love with the piano again during that year, frequently taking time alone in the chapel to decompress and play that out-of-tune upright that belonged in a 1900s saloon. I found out later that the entire school could hear me, and more than once someone would slip quietly into the chapel and hear me sing hymns or write chord progressions or just make up little ditties where my fingers would dance across the keys.


I not only learned a lot from instructors, but many of my classmates taught me about openness and generosity. Within two weeks of starting classes, I moved from an apartment into a basement suite, and no fewer than half my classmates helped move my stuff (in the rain) and helped clean up my old apartment. Over the year, many cried with me, some sang with me, even more laughed with me, others encouraged me to jump off a roof into a snowbank (my other option was to climb down the ladder after 20 minutes of panicking). I hated to feel like I needed help with anything, ever, but both classmates and staff patiently helped me realize that everyone needs help sometimes, and that’s OK.


Instructors were accommodating in most ways. Even the one who seemed to never get me assignments or tests on time – due to his reluctance to use email – let me explore with my hands a model of the Old Testament Tabernacle. Another instructor shared of his faith journey with such vulnerability that I related to him so completely. Another listened to me obsess and worry when my feelings for this guy who was “just a friend” had morphed into something I didn’t even recognize or want to acknowledge as romantic intentions. Still another gave me a ride to class once a week, allowing me to sleep in an extra thirty minutes; that thirty minutes was so small in the grand scheme of space and time, but it was inestimable in its impact. Looking back on it, I learned more about self-care at Bible college than I ever learned anywhere else. It’s a term that doesn’t appear in the Bible, though the concept certainly does.


2006 – looking back on it – was truly a pivotal year in my life. I moved in with my first roommate (the first time I ever shared space with anyone as a contemporary), I met the man who would become my husband, I grew (as many people that age do) in maturity and life experience, and my faith morphed from the experiential into something more systematic and sustainable. It was the year I learned to carve out my own identity, discovered it was OK to not be OK all the time, and that sometimes quiet reflection makes you stronger than just faking it. Maybe I would’ve learned those lessons in other ways had I not attended that small Bible school, but I didn’t learn them elsewhere, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Empowered Series: Celebrate You


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I’ve gotten to know my next feature in my Empowered Series, Joshua White, on Twitter over the past several months. We’ve spoken primarily about disability, self-esteem, and ableism. When I saw that Joshua had his own business featuring neurodivergent themed T-shirts, I asked if he’d be willing to be featured on my blog. Thanks, Joshua, for your openness and candor, and answering all of my silly questions.


About Joshua


Joshua lives in North Carolina with his wife, two children, and four cats. He describes his family as “neurodivergent”, and they share many hobbies (among them watching Star Trek and playing Minecraft).
Fifteen years ago, at the age of 21, Joshua was diagnosed with autism. Prior to his diagnosis, he was not provided with supports in the public school system and completed his high school with the Commonwealth Challenge (a program led by Marine and Army drill sergeants). After several years struggling to find a way to make it on his own, Joshua moved to North Carolina with his wife and her children. He is now studying social work in college and running his T-shirt selling business, Celebrate You.


About Celebrate You


Celebrate You is an online shop that sells neurodiversity themed merchandise as a way to raise awareness about what neurodiversity is, as well as providing a visual reminder that neurodiversity doesn’t mean “bad”, just “different.” Using t-shirts is a public way for those with neurodiverse conditions to show that they are proud of who they are, and hopes to foster understanding with a neurotypical community that can sometimes view neurodiversity as something to be hidden or changed or downplayed. Joshua believes that his recent success at college is due to the fact that he learned to embrace his particular learning style (he’s a visual learner and tends to notice patterns that neurotypicals may miss); he believes that once other neurodivergent people embrace how they best learn and function, they can also reach a place of self-acceptance and success in school, the workplace, and everyday life. Joshua says he didn’t have any autistic role models growing up, and he wants to use his shop as a way to not only support his family, but to show his neurodivergent son that autism in and of itself doesn’t hold him back.


How it Works


The designs are brain-childs of Joshua White and his friend Chelsea Yarger. Joshua uses an open source imaging software called GIMP to design logos, and uploads them to the Celebrate You shop. The TeePublic web site hosts his online store and then prints and ships the purchased products to customers.


What’s Next?


Joshua would love to be able to finish his Batchelor’s Degree at Appalachian State and move his family to Boone, North Carolina. He hopes to continue to raise awareness and pride among young neurodivergent people – something he never had – and help support his family. He is overwhelmed by the support and encouragement he has received and hopes the support will continue, not only for himself, but to spread the message that neurodiversity is nothing to be ashamed of and can even be something of which to be proud.

When Life just Doesn’t Seem Fair


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Sometimes, life just doesn’t seem equitable, reasonable, or – dare I say it? – fair. Think of discrimination, ableism, injustice for starters. For the most part, it seems clear that in those instances there is a right and a wrong, a hero and a villain. But what if – as in much of life – there is no hero or villain? What if life seems to go swimmingly for someone you know and love, someone you wish the best for… someone who gets the one thing you’ve fought for, prayed for, dreamed of for so long? And what if you are that friend, relative or loved one, who knows someone who has struggled so much with something that seems to have come to you so easily?
I’ve been there. I’ve been on both ends of this theoretical table, and I can’t say I have any easy answers. A year ago I got myself a shiny new job, with all of the hope that entails, and I felt intensely guilty about having success after a sudden layoff, while many others – with and without disabilities, with a wide variety of skills – were struggling just to get interviews. Now that I’ve been back on the employment journey for several months, I’ve seen many others find the success I’ve previously enjoyed, even while I am struggling and pushing against discrimination disguised as compliments on how inspirational I am. It is their time to shine – it truly is – but while I wish them nothing but happiness, their success makes me both thrilled and miserable simultaneously.

But it’s not only about employment. What about being the “token single” in a huge group full of couples? Or the only (involuntarily) childless couple in your church congregation? Attending or planning a wedding after a messy breakup or the death of a partner is both joyous and heartbreaking…

And those who are rejoicing are often struggling to reconcile their obvious (and reasonable) joy with the thought they can’t laugh as loudly or smile as broadly because they know and love someone who feels like that laughter and those smiles are shots to the heart.

So what do we do? We can’t walk around dressed in metaphorical black all the time – life is full of joy and sorrow, and we can’t deny the existance of either. We all love, hurt, succeed and fail – and those who truly care about us understand that our tears of joy at their celebration mingle with those of frustration or (occasionally) despair that we’re still hoping or fighting or praying for that same thing for ourselves. No true friend or loved one wants to take away the joy and success of another. And when we have that success, we feel guilty in a way – that we can’t sprinkle magic dust on those we love and grant them in equal portion the joy we’ve found through love, birth, employment, celebration.

But, please, I beg you, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances, don’t deny your joy, your pain, your frustration, your love. Those who are struggling, wish all the success and happiness in the world to those of whom you are envious; if they’ve done nothing hurtful or illegal or unethical, they deserve that happiness. And for those who are thrilled beyond words at your new job, expected baby, celebration of love… gently share that joy with us who are currently not as fortunate. In your sensitivity to those fragile feelings of hopelessness and despair, you both acknowledge your happiness (there’s no need to hide it) and the complex emotions of support and envy of those who currently can’t celebrate such success for themselves. And yet… don’t hide it! Please, don’t hide it! Your happiness, success, and joy tells those of us fighting in the trenches – in moments of weakness and darkness and pain – that one day, it will be us, and you’ll be right there cheering us on and lifting us up and holding our hands as we welcome our own joy and success into our lives.

Book Review: Touching the World

I rarely read books more than once. If I do, it’s because there’s so much material that I just know that I missed something the first time around, and I’m usually right. “Touching the World” by Cathy Birchall and Bernard Smith is one such rare occurrence.

About the book

Touching the World is the extraordinary story of Cathy Birchall, a blind woman, who set off with her companion Bernard Smith, to become the first blind person ever to circle the world on a motorbike, an 18 year old BMW R100. What transpired has become an inspirational worldwide story that challenges people to question their own self-imposed boundaries. From desolate and dangerous mountain roads, difficult border crossings and numerous mechanical breakdowns, to climbing Wayna Picchu (first ever blind woman to do so) and riding an elephant mounted from the front (via its trunk!) – not to mention a poignant visit to the Centre for Blind Women in Delhi where they talked to women abandoned by their husbands, and an (inadvertent) overnight stay in a Kosovan brothel – this book has it all, travel, adventure, triumph over adversity, and through it comes a real sense of just what it means to be blind. Their heart-warming writing reflects a vivid account of the world, often hilarious and always positive.

Blindness: both Ever-Present and Absent

This book is a traveler’s journey. It is in some ways about blindness but in others it’s about learning more about yourself and others than you ever thought possible. In many ways Cathy’s blindness elicits sympathy, while in others it opens the minds of those she encounters. I wonder if she would be treated differently had she been a local, or had her blindness been immediately obvious (as it’s indicated clearly that it’s not) or had she visited certain places alone. Her own views on blindness – about being as independent as possible – really resonated with me, though her partner guides her through public women’s washrooms, which I found incongruous and strange. A couple of passages where her hands are guided to chairs or wineglasses are viewed by her as “kindness” (possibly due to language barriers?), but may be considered as invasive to others. That being said, Cathy has an articulate way of responding to her blindness, describing how many blind people get things done, as well as her own viewpoints regarding education, employment and marriage for a blind person.

But it’s not just about that. One reviewer indicates that not enough was made of Cathy’s blindness in this book, that it didn’t encompass the journey as a whole… I tend to disagree. It was neither the focal point of this book, nor was it discounted. The journey was more about a lifelong dream of Bernard’s in which Cathy enthusiastically participated.

Traveling, Digging Deep, Swerving Into the Curves

I’ve got a thing for motorcycles. Riding around the world would probably never be my dream, but it’s fantastic that it has been done. Cathy and Bernard’s year around the world showed them – and, by extension, me – that people are really not so different after all. Maybe circumstances are different – one country’s residents struggle for employment while another can’t get enough food – but they found people (even in areas they were told not to attempt to ride) were warm-hearted, generous, and open to learn. From the security detail that trailed them most of the way through Pakistan, to the (sometimes helpful, sometimes not) border or Visa agents they encountered on their journey, to the hospitable Nepalese who gave them respite from the Indian roads that nearly destroyed them emotionally if not physically, they were looked after many steps of the way.

While they were overwhelmingly positive during many portions of their journey – even through mechanical breakdowns, government bureaucracy, and inadvertently spending nights in brothels – I would not agree that it’s “always`positive.” In fact, there were certain points – India comes to mind, but there are others – where both Cathy and Bernard were at their breaking point. The last two weeks saw them simply wanting to be going home – after zipping through small central American countries, then the heat of Mexico, and then having to book it eastward to make it home on time (thanks to American bureaucracy). You see them and their relationship, warts and all, and in this reader’s opinion made it a more well-rounded book.


If you’ve ever wondered about foreign countries – culture, food, living conditions – in some ways this book only scratches the surface. Blindness organizations were explored in many countries – guide dog training centers, schools, vocational training centres – but, again, it wasn’t necessarily the focal point of their journey. I enjoyed every minute of this book, but it left me hungry for more. Thankfully, the World Tour Web site has many bits of information about the trip and what happens next. My understanding is that Bernard has another – in many ways more difficult – book ahead of him, and while it will be without Cathy’s wry sense of humour, I think I’ll see traces of her in it.

Overall, “Touching the World” was both moving and poignant, with moments that delighted, frightened, and inspired me.

4.5/5 stars.

Schoolbooks and Slingshots: Education, Legislation, and the Mess In Between


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What does discrimination look like? Is it being told, flat out, that you can’t do this task or have this job or enter that building or raise a family? Is it using insulting words, raised voices, thrown objects? Or is it subtler? Is it the pervasive idea that our presence in and of itself – with minds or bodies that don’t function “correctly” – is unwanted?
More important than that, how can we combat it? Is education the best way to eliminate misconceptions? Or is confrontation more productive? Over the years I have believed that one or the other is appropriate, but I’ve done a lot of thinking recently… why is it assumed that the two are mutually exclusive?

Not long ago I found a couple of friends posting on Facebook a status that went something like this: “Maybe I’m the only blind person you know, and maybe you’re afraid to ask me questions. THIS is a safe place to ask any questions you have – big or small – about my life as a blind person.” It’s an interesting thought – something that I would consider doing on social media, for people who have already built up some form of a relationship with me. But I question the appropriateness of educating the general public… just because they are curious and don’t know how I live my life. It’s one thing for a prospective employer or university professor to ask questions about how the job gets done – but my life is my own, and I shouldn’t have to educate the passenger beside me on the bus how I cook, clean, live my life, just because they’re curious and are dying to know. If someone has the time and inclination to share this information, that’s absolutely acceptable. But not everyone wishes to do so, and should not feel judged by the disability community at large or by the general public for politely declining to answer what can be considered nosy, invasive questions when directed at a non-disabled person.
But what if someone says or does or asks something truly offensive? Is education appropriate? The answer is… yes and no. It does definitely depend on the situation – what was said, how it was said, and how willing the other party is to understand that what they said, did or asked was inappropriate or invasive. I recently had a really rough day, where someone I asked for directions talked over me as though I couldn’t talk for myself, an interviewer told me that my resume was just what she was looking for but she “just didn’t know if I could do the job”, and then a woman on the bus told me that I “looked so young and attractive” that she “never would’ve guessed I had any challenges.” With person number 1, I was admittedly abrupt and short, thanking him sincerely for his help but that I could take it from here and speak for myself (His response: “Really? You can?”) The job interviewer was much trickier, because I felt like I had to not only convince her that I COULD do that job, but also be polite in the face of that dreaded C word (“can’t“). When I was later advised the position had been given to another candidate, I requested more information about my interview itself and was able to explain why her comments and questions were unreasonable and inappropriate, and how it’s always best to presume competence; she thanked me for my feedback and promised to implement changes to her interview practices. The lady on the bus… I was so taken aback by her comment – that attractiveness, youth and disability couldn’t co-exist – that I thanked her for her compliment but told her that it was offensive, because disability is not just for the old and the unattractive. She thanked me for telling her and said she would choose her words more wisely in the future.
But not everyone is as willing to hear our answers, having their own ideas about our capabilities and the realities of our lives. More than once someone has made a statement of how sad my life must be, but when I try and explain, I effectively get told that I’m wrong – that I miss out on so many beautiful things. It’s frustrating on an emotional level, but when it comes to employment it becomes economically frustrating as well. So what do we do when others’ perceptions and ideas and design affects our ability to work, to study, to access facilities? We sometimes fight through legislation. Maybe it won’t change someone’s mind until they realize how serious it is that we’re denied job opportunities, academic pursuits, and the ability to move freely through cities, streets and businesses. I’ve never seen the picture of the “Capitol Crawl” – a public visual demand for passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act – but it’s an important image to keep in mind: access to some is not access for all, and until all citizens have access to the same products, services and facilities, a society is not truly free and equal. And even though not everything is a fight, it is important to band together as a stronger disability community – to support each other and the non-disabled who stand with us as we try and make a difference.
Sometimes it’s best to catch flies with honey rather than vinegar. But if you can’t catch them with honey because they just don’t care, vinegar is absolutely a valid option. It’s important to choose our battles wisely, to conduct ourselves with a strong will tempered by grace, wisdom and logic. Emotion, if channeled appropriately, can be powerful, but it can’t be the only way we respond to circumstance. And logic without personal experience is dry and boring and, frankly, no one wants to hear that either. Sometimes change is best accomplished through well-timed, well-tempered words; other times it means pushing back against ideas and thoughts and practices through personal or government advocacy. No one way is right or wrong for everyone, but it is important that whatever we do, however we combat discrimination and prejudice, that it improves life for everyone, not just one segment of our community.

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.