Tag Archives: disability

I don’t know what to say

What’s your response when someone tells you a member of their family has died?
Do you nod sympathetically and say:
“I’m so sorry.”
Or, do you grasp their hand and say earnestly:
“Oh goodness, I know how you feel, we lost *insert name here* last year.”
Or, do you admit, like a friend did when my Dad died that you:
“Don’t know what to say.”
The reason I haven’t written a blog post for ages is that, I didn’t know what to say.
In February, my dear, darling Chelsea *who was the inspiration for starting this blog* died.
I tried to write a blog post shortly after she died, but I kept crying – and just didn’t know what to write.
Many of you reading this didn’t even know her – but I know lots of you“ will understand the vast range of emotions I have – and am still experiencing.
Grief is a strange beast – it makes you do and think strange things.
I remember getting angry because someone else had told a friend Chelsea was ill – but they hadn’t bothered to text me and find out how she was.
Another person totally ignored a text I’d written to him saying Chelsea had died.
That’s how they deal with it – and I’ve learned – after the death of my Father and two guide dogs that I can’t be responsible for how other people feel about things.
Another thing losing Chelsea has made me think of is that we, as guide dog owners have to go through this process – twice – about 6 times in our lives.
Now, let me explain why I say twice.
When we retire our precious guide dogs – we grieve for the working relationship and bond we shared.
For many people, (including me) our dogs literally save our lives on numerous occasions.
Some guide dog owners – for many reasons retire their guide dogs outside the family. and it’s not for me or anybody else to tell them they’re wrong.
However, for those of us who keep the dogs in the family – we have to go through another form of grief, when the guide dog, who we might have lived and worked alongside for 8 years dies.
It’s awful!
But I have chosen to have a guide dog to help me – and although I know there will be many more tears in my life-time – I wouldn’t want to lose the immeasurable confidence, independence and love guide dogs give to me.
For that, I will always be grateful.

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The last word in silence

To end my selection of blogs on the theme of quiet and silence, I’m going to review two books I recently read.
They’re not to do with silence itself (I’m afraid my life isn’t short enough to laboriously read long tomes on how to achieve your inner quiet) but I found two books by searching for the word “silent” in my library of over 50 thousand titles.
Firstly, The Silent Child by Sarah A Denzil.
This was narrated by Joanne Froggatt of Downton Abbey, Coronation Street and Liar fame.
It’s about a six year old boy, Aidan who goes missing after a flood – but mysteriously turns up outside a hospital 10 years later. I’m not going to divulge anything else – but it has a lot of twists and turns before the true reason for his disappearance is explained.
The way the author draws out the “silent” part of Aden’s character was really interesting – and it is up to you to discover if – and when he’ll ever talk about what he’s been through.
The other book is The Silent Sister by shalini Boland.
I have to admit I liked this one more – it was fast-paced and had more twists and periods of me shouting: “OOOOOO, I didn’t see that!”
I was totally wrong about the outcome – I’m quite good at predicting *or guessing* what will happen, but the final twist was something I would have never have guessed.
The main character, Lizzie starts receiving strange letters – as well as having other things happen to her which she can’t explain.
The suspense is kept through what we don’t know – as opposed to what we do, which is always the best way I find.
Lizzie starts to mistrust everyone around her – including her estranged sister Emma – but could this lead to her downfall?
I’d recommend this to anyone who loves a good thriller.
You can find heaps of titles in the RNIB library- from animal stories to books about zoology.
You can also become a volunteer – and could even end up reading books for people to enjoy.
Please also take the time – if you can to visit my justgiving page – I’m trying to raise money for the talking books strand of RNIB
http://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/cantonelytalkingbook

the amusing side of being totally blind

Tis better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt. – Abraham Lincoln
I love that! It’s got nothing to do with my blog post – but I just thought I’d pop it in!
I’ve been blind since birth so I have a slight idea about what I’m talking about when I say sometimes blind people can experience silence.
It’s not sad at all – it’s the total opposite.
I remember one day going into my Mum’s room and regaling her with a hilarious incident which happened to me while I was walking home from college with my first guide dog.
I finished speaking, stood for a while then said:
“Mum?”
My five minute monologue had been unheard.
We also experience silence when I ask someone on a bus which stop is the next stop – or when I’m waiting to cross a road and turn hopefully to ask a person if it’s safe to cross, only to discover on closer inspection that the person is in fact, a tree!
But there’s another side to experiencing silence as a blind or partially sighted person.
We can feel ignored and rejected when trying to access or find things other people take for granted.
Whether it’s finding a job, trying to make friends or, in some cases finding a partner – it can be difficult.
OK, OK, stop whining love – it’s hard for me too – I hear you cry!
It is, I know, but you have something a lot of people without sight don’t have, the ability to raise your eyebrows, glare, nod, shake your head ETC. – you have the language of silence.
I remember wiling away ten minutes of my life which I’ll never get back when I asked a friend to try and teach me how to glare. I just ended up looking like a dog with a mouthful of bees!
I’m too smiley to glare – but I sometimes wish I could.
Even accessing healthcare can lead people who are blind or partially sighted people into a world of silence.
The lack of provision to access goods and services is thwart with dramas. How do you read the letter you get through the door? How do you find the hospital department in a huge, badly lit and not sign-posted properly building.
I totally appreciate it must be heaps worse if you can’t hear – but that’s not what this blog is about.
As I said, silence to me is often part of the hilarity of my life – as it is, as it has always been, and how it will always be.
I choose to try and educate people on how to break the silence – and I hope others will join me.
The RNIB does a heap of good work to try and break down barriers for blind and partially sighted people, as well as those who are in danger of, or are losing their sight.
Please try and become part of this brilliant organisation.
You can find out heaps of volunteering opportunities by visiting:
http://www.rnib.org.uk/volunteering

the best piece of tech ever invented

When I was younger, people used to ask me what products would help me the most.
I’d always reply with the same two things.
“I’d like a self-driving car and something which reads newspapers and magazines to me!”
The proverbial genie has granted one of these wishes – and half of the other.
We’ve almost got self-driving cars (I say this because, as yet, they haven’t met my exact idea of a self-driving car, with speech ETC)
But, I can read newspapers and magazines now.
We’ve had a service called Talking Newspapers for a few years. Lovely volunteers would select various items from the daily papers and read them onto a tape, which would plop through your letter-box days after the events had occurred.
But now I can read the papers, any paper, every day – by myself.
I use a phone device called In Your Pocket which allows me to loll around on a Saturday morning and read the supplements.
I say read (and I’m not prepared to get into a row about this, listening is reading – end of discussion) but I can listen to every daily newspaper, several local ones plus some magazines, including my favourite – Readers Digest.
Mum used to read snippets from Readers digest to me when I was little.
It was during these times that I learned about Mummies (Egyptian ones) and a myriad of other interesting facts which have come in very useful (particularly in quizzes).
Now I can get up each morning, make a big mug of coffee and read my papers!
I love it!
The same device has over 100,000 podcasts, 100,000 books and will also tell you the time, weather (in any country or city in the world) and allows you to make phone calls)
It costs £20 a month to access it all – but if you think about how much the Readers Digest, and other magazines/papers cost each month – you’ve more than covered the subscription.
I also love the pure simplicity of operating it.
You don’t have to faf around with swiping, tapping or waving the phone around!
You just use a voice command for anything you want it to do – for example: “Find podcasts about dogs.” Or: “Read the Times/Guardian/any other paper of your choice.”
You can skip sections, search for articles about any subject and slow down/speed the speech up.
There are about 8 different voices – including Australian and something I think is meant to be a Welsh accent but – but definitely isn’t!

At last, I can do something millions of people take for granted – and that, in my opinion is fantastic!
You can find out more about In Your Pocket at
http://www.inyourpocket.net

my first ever tube journey with a guide dog

I’ve travelled – a lot. I’ve done a work placement in Australia at a radio station, walked with lions in Zimbabwe and scaled the dizzying heights of Auckland Harbour Bridge in New Zealand.
But, up until last week I hadn’t been on the London underground with my guide dog, by myself!
The mere idea of it made my underarms drip with absolute dread!
I’ve been on the tube, lots of times, but I was always with someone else, or just with my white cane.
Now to some people, especially people who use white canes that’ll sound strange.
How is it different being with a guide dog, to relying on a cane?
It’s complicated, and very simple at the same time.
A cane can be pulled out to its full length, in turn showing people that I am in need of some assistance.
It can, if needed trip people up (admittedly I’ve only done this once)!
Jimmey, as you may know is my third guide dog. He’s my first boy and incredibly outgoing and sociable (like I am) but he can also feel incredibly unconfident and needs reassurance (like I do at times)
It’s not just me I need to worry about with a dog, it’s both of us, which doubles the anxiety I sometimes feel.
So, I did what any normal person would do in this current climate – I took to twitter.
I asked how one would go about doing a tube journey with a guide dog.
Will I be helped? Would they abandon me half-way through my journey? Would I actually end up where I wished to go?
A wonderful lady *who I’ve never met, and probably never will, although I’d like to), called Amy assured me that it would be fine – and it was.
Amy doesn’t have a guide dog yet, but she regularly blogs about her adventures with a cane, including tube dramas and triumphs.
In fact, I actually enjoyed it – which really surprised me.
Not that I’m keen to repeat the experience any time soon, nor would I be happy to do a journey by tube on a daily basis) but some kind reassuring words from a stranger made me do something I’ve never done – and that, in my opinion is a very good thing indeed!

you can follow my adventures in twitterland at
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

why do we call New Zealanders Kiwi’s

Mark Twain wrote: ““Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”
This is really true.
over the last 20 years I’ve travelled to almost 20 countries.
I’ve immersed myself in the smells, sounds, touch and taste of each one, but there is still so much more I want to see.
I’ve missed out a vital sense I hear you shout!
The reason for that is I have been blind since birth, so I can’t offer any reliable knowledge about what a country “looks” like.
So, in the first of two blog posts, I’m going to write the A to Z of my sense of New Zealand.
It’s not a travellog – (come on, who really cares how long it took you to get to the airport, what the food was like on the plane or what the hotel receptionist said to you)!
This is a description of the people, places and parts of New Zealand you might not know about.

A is for:
Anzacs

My trip coincided with Anzac Day – the 25th of April.
Anzac stands for Australia and New Zealand army corps.
In 1914, when World War one broke out, the population of New Zealand was 1 million.
18,000 men died in the war, including over 2700 in the Gallipoli campaign.
Out of the 3000 who fought on the first day, 650 died.
One exhibition in Wellington was especially poignant. It showed a video with the words of nurse Lottie Le Gallais who was one of the women who went to treat wounded soldiers.
The exhibition features stories of ordinary people from New Zealand – and larger than life sculptures and objects from Gallipoli.
B is for:
Birds

Many of the birds in New Zealand are not natives, having been brought there by British settlers in the 1800s.
However there is one worth pointing out.
The Tui is a bird from the honeyeater family, feeding predominantly on nectar.
They are very good mimics, a bit like Starlings.
Their song sounds like someone whistling, while trying to push open a rusty old gate!
Random fact: The collective noun for Tui is an ecstasy.
C is for: climbing Auckland Harbour Bridge

I’ve climbed Sydney Harbour Bridge, which I thoroughly enjoyed – so I was interested to see how the bridges compared.
The summit of the Sydney bridge is 134 M high, whereas the Auckland one was a mere 64 M.
However, for hard work and effort to get to the top I think the Auckland bridge is by far the best.
There are 332 steps on the Sydney bridge climb but over 450 on the Auckland one, not including the hundreds of rivets which have to be navigated.
D is for: dogs

I left my guide dog James with friends while I went away.
In Queenstown we met a man with his dog and I started chatting to him.
I told him about my guide dog and jokingly asked if his dog did anything for a living. he said he sings!
OK, so it’s difficult for you to appreciate how funny and adorable Happy (the appropriate name for the dog) sounds, but he’s on YouTube so you can listen to him there.
His owner, William Ingle first discovered Happy liked singing when he was playing Ring of fire by Johnny Cash.
William has written several songs for the dog which he loves accompanying.
E is for: earthquake

On the 22 February 2011, Christchurch suffered one of the worst earthquakes in New Zealand’s history.
185 people died.
The iconic Christchurch cathedral was destroyed.
A temporary “Cardboard Cathedral” was constructed and we went inside to hear a talk from one of the volunteer guides.
The walls are made from shipping containers and 60 M long cardboard tubes as well as steel and timber.
Outside the cathedral are 185 chairs to commemorate each person who died, each one is different.
F is for: food

There were two things I wanted to eat while I was in New Zealand.
Lamb – and pavlova.
I wasn’t disappointed by either of them, in fact *and I’m prepared for a backlash on this* I think the lamb in New Zealand is better than the lamb from Wales*
Each breakfast we’d eat juicy plums, not prunes, but proper mouth-watering fruit!
I even tried Black Doris plum ice-cream which I highly recommend.
G is for: guides

I didn’t go to New Zealand by myself, although I have been to many places on my own.
I went with a company called Traveleyes.
It was founded by Amar Latif, who is blind, and set it up so that blind and partially sighted people could enjoy travelling with sighted companions.
The prices for sighted people are subsidised which in turn makes prices for blind and partially sighted people a bit more expensive than the average holiday.
But, it is worth it knowing you’ll have someone to share the holiday with who will describe things, guide you – and in our case spend days just giggling and enjoying great company.
H is for: huntaway

One of my favourite trips was to Agridome, a working farm which puts on talks and displays to showcase the talent of the sheep, dogs and other animals.
We met the Huntaway, the New Zealand version of our sheepdogs.
They bark to get the sheep where they want them.
They come in different colours and can be either long or short haired.
I is for: interesting facts

Random fact time again!
The biggest export from New Zealand is milk powder.
Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu*85 letters* is a hill near Porangahau in Hawke’s Bay on the North Island.
*Llanfair¬pwllgwyngyll¬gogery¬chwyrn¬drobwll¬llan¬tysilio¬gogo¬goch only has a pathetic 58*
There are 9 sheep per person in New Zealand.
New Zealand was the first country to give women the right to vote in 1893.
J is for: James Cook

James cook, didn’t actually discover New Zealand.
It was founded by Polynesian people about 800 years earlier – but it was Dutchman Abel Tasman who was the first European to discover it in 1642.
He named it New Zealand after the Dutch province of Zealand.
James Cook came along in 1769 and European settlers started coming to the country.
K is for Kiwi

Kiwi is the term for anyone from New Zealand.
Now, do you think it refers to the fruit – or the bird?
The Kiwi fruit actually originated in China and was known as the Chinese gooseberry.
The birds are flightless, about the same size as a chicken and are the only birds which have whiskers on their beak.
But, the name Kiwi as a term for the people of New Zealand comes from a type of boot polish used in the first world war.
It had a picture of the Kiwi bird on it which is why we call people from New Zealand kiwis.
L is for:
Lakes

I’m only popping this in as one of the weirdest moments I had was when I heard a lake with waves.
I had no idea that lakes had waves – but my friend, who used to be a geography teacher explained that some do – for example Lake Galilee.
M is for: Maori people and culture

My favourite day was when we had a fantastic experience of the Maori culture, entertainment and food.
We visited the carving and weaving schools in Rotorua to see how Maori people make objects out of wood and weave things from flax.
We went into the third Kiwi house of the holiday but as they’re nocturnal birds, they were asleep.
However, this was the only time we were given the opportunity to feel the feathers from a Kiwi. They’re incredibly soft!!
We also touched the beak of a stuffed Kiwi.
Their beaks are surprisingly long for such a small bird.
Then we were treated to some Maori dancing and singing.
We learned about the Hongi, a traditional Maori greeting where forehead and nose are pressed together with twice another person.
The “Ha” or breath of life is exchanged through this greeting.
The lady showing us (choosing a rather bemused member of our group) said that he should be careful not to do it three times, or they’d end up being married!
Then we heard some brilliant singing and dancing, and a few ladies from our group got up on stage to join in with the dancing. Then they performed the Hakka.
You haven’t experienced the true terror and beauty of the Hakka until you’ve seen it performed live in New Zealand!
It’s a Maori war dance and strikes fear into every sports team who witnesses it.
Finally we sat down a “Hangi” traditional Maori meal.
The food is cooked in the ground over hot stones.
We enjoyed lamb, chicken, pork, vegetables and salads!
Then it was pudding time!
There was pavlova, trifle and mousse – I could go on, but I’m sure you’re dribbling with jealousy already!

Next time:
What does minus 18 degrees feel like – and does water squeak?

You can follow my adventures on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly

Love is blind?

I’ve given up trying to find Mr. Right – or even Mr. Goodenough.
I’ve accepted that the only man I’m going to have in my life has four legs and enjoys nothing more than running in and out of puddles and shedding copious amounts of fur!
I’ve been on a few dates, but most of them have been so disastrous I’ve decided I’m much better off being a feisty independent lady!
Here are just two stories of my dating adventures.

I should have known Ben *not his real name* was trouble by Chelly’s reaction.
She’s always been a good judge of character, and normally I’m tuned into her emotions.
I’m early, as I am for most things.
I’m just about to go home, thinking I’ve been stood up for the first time when a voice says:
“You’re dog’s not going to bite me is he?”
“No! Luckily for you she’s just had her dinner!” I say, flashing a wide smile.
The voice doesn’t answer for about thirty seconds, then he says:
“Right, shall we go in then?”
So, I think, that must be Ben, my date!
I have no sight at all so tone of voice is more important to me than body language.
“Ah bless him!” I think.
It must be daunting for him to be on a date with a really attractive blind lady and her even more stunning guide dog!”
Ben and I met on a Christian dating website. We’ve skyped once, messaged heaps of times and he seemed a really lovely person.
That’s why I took the plunge and mentioned meeting up before I left Cardiff to go to Australia to see friends and travel for a bit.
Chelly by this time is making her feelings known very well, but as I mentioned before I didn’t pick up on it.
She’s sitting bolt upright by my chair and I’m sure she keeps glancing at the door!
If she’d have growled at Ben I may have been more aware.
We have a meal, then walk by the castle for a bit.
I’m feeling absolutely bored!
I think of the pile of ironing waiting for me, and long to be back home!
I’d done the right thing and told my friends I was going out, what time we were meeting and where we’d be.
I fervently regretted not asking them to ring me at an appointed time with a crisis!
But I didn’t think the date would be this dull!
I laugh at his attempts of humour and try and interact with him.
“You’re a trained journalist,” I tell myself.
“You should be good at asking questions!”
I really think he’ll burst into tears when he starts saying how bad his childhood was and how he wishes he’d treated his sister better than he did!
Eventually I hear the words I’ve been longing for all night.
“Well, it’s been a lovely evening, shall I walk you home?”
“Oh, yes please!” I say, resisting the overwhelming desire to clap and do a jig!
I tell him Chelsea and I will be fine if he leaves us at the corner before my flat.
He scurries off into the night and I rush inside to ring a friend and update her on the date.
So, I’m totally bemused the next day when I get a message from Ben saying:
“Last night was really good fun! I really enjoyed meeting you! I’d like to take you out again on Tuesday, but you can leave the dog at home and I’ll drop you back after!”
Needless to say he got an abrupt reply back and we never spoke again.
Fast forward five years and my sister comes running down the stairs, brandishes her IPhone at me and squeals:
“You never told me you’d been on a date?”
She was one of the 2 million people who saw the first dates for guide dogs video on Facebook last year.
I was part of a group of four visually impaired people picked from hundreds of applications to appear on a video to promote guide dogs.
I bought myself a new outfit and we had our hair and make-up done.
I went to London, a real adventure for someone who was brought up in a little seaside town.
The dates hadn’t been informed we had any form of “disability” and I was asked to walk into the restaurant and sit down with my dog James.
So, I did – and then followed half a minute of silence.
“Oh great,” I thought
“A stand-off! Let’s see who talks first.”
Then my date did.
All in all it was – as the video depicted a fantastic, lovely time.
We chatted and things were going well, we had quite a bit in common and he regaled me with tales of his travels.
He was totally amazed I’d been sky-diving, on the biggest zip wire, won 4 TV quizzes, worked at a radio station in Australia and completed two long distance walks.
We both said we’d like to go on a second date – but unfortunately we never did.
As soon as the cameras stopped and I asked him if he’d like to stay and chat for a bit with me and the rest of the people on the programme he said he had to get back to work.
This really upset me as two out of the four dates stayed and got on really well with their matches.
I’m totally OK with it, now.
Yes there were tears of rejection afterwards – and countless replays of Meghan Trainor’s song “close your eyes” on the journey home.
I think it can be quite daunting meeting a disabled person for the first time, but it’s equally stressful for me as a blind person trying to find someone.
My main problem is the eye contact thing. I can smile, ask heaps of questions, wear lovely clothes and everything you’re supposed to do.
But I often find that when men have fussed over James and found out everything there is to know about him, they forget there’s something attached to the other end of his lead.

I’m never going to let not having a partner define me – as I’ve achieved so much without one and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.
Maybe there’s a quiz loving, outdoorsy, able to cook, funny, loves reading and travelling man out there, but until he finds me I’ll keep celebrating the good things I have in my life.
You can follow me on twitter at:
http://www.twitter.com/nickiandchelly