Let’s Learn About Guide Dogs

Sophie and I often visit school classrooms. Today we were invited to Oak Grove Elementary to speak to the pre-k class about guide dogs. This class has several students who are visually impaired and the teacher just completed a unit on “pets.” I shared a storybook with the teacher about a guide dog and she read it to the children ahead of time. So they were well prepared and very excited to meet a real live guide dog.

Sophie visits Oak Grove Elementary Pre-K class

Sophie visits Oak Grove Elementary Pre-K class

We talked about Sophie’s very special job – to take care of me and keep me safe. They learned that working dogs usually have a harness or vest for their “work clothes.” I described how Sophie went to a special “dog college” to learn her job and that I had to go to the same school to learn how to work with Sophie as a team. We discussed how important it is to not pet or talk to working dogs while they are doing their job. The kids learned that they should ask permission before petting any dog, especially service dogs.

Not so sure about petting Sophie...

Not so sure about petting Sophie…

I asked the children to think about all the things a dog needs to be healthy and happy. They came up with food, water and treats. I brought Sophie’s brush and a toy to tell them that she needs grooming and time off to play like other dogs. They learned that Sophie also needs exercise and her teeth brushed, just like them. But most importantly, I told them she needs love, praise and affection so she knows that I appreciate the work she does for me. I gave them examples of the ways she takes care of me like helping me to cross a road safely, go down stairs, and find my way out the door. She takes care of me and I take care of her; we are a team.

All the while, the children sat on their squares, containing their wiggles and giggles. Then I took off Sophie’s harness and invited them to brush and pet her. Sophie weaved among them sniffing, giving wet kisses, and swooshing her beautiful, happy tail. The children squealed with delight. Some were eager to brush her and pet her, others not so much. Sophie brought some of her favorite treats to share with the kids so they could give their doggies a treat at home. It was a good day with some important lessons learned.

Happy dog...happy shildren...

Happy dog…happy shildren…

 

Yoga Anyone?

Making the Committment

In my retirement, I have been exploring new ways to be physically active. I have always walked for exercise with my guide dog. We mapped out several routes in my neighborhood and enjoy this special time together. But walking just didn’t seem like enough and I was experiencing changes in my balance, muscle strength, range of motion, and stamina. As a visually impaired person I had become less physically active and I didn’t like the way I was feeling. I have put on weight and have been suffering with low back pain. I needed to move all my muscles and joints and strengthen my whole body. As I age, I want to be able to rely on my body to allow me to do the things I want to do. If we give our amazing bodies what they need, they will perform what we ask of them. So now that I have time on my hands, I am investing in my health and well-being.

Getting Started 

I discovered the “sports and fitness” channel on TV and began to do Pilates, dance, and yoga programs in my living room. This proved to be a great place to start and helped me loosen up and get back into regular exercise. These programs are “on demand” selections and there are hundreds to choose from with a wide variety of workouts. Though I was sore at first, it felt so good to be moving again. After a few months of these home workouts, I wanted more. I considered joining a gym, though in the past that didn’t always work out since I do not drive and have to find rides. There happened to be a new gym opening up in our area and we checked it out.

Joining a Gym

Sophie and I working out at the gym

Sophie and I working out at the gym

 It turns out that this new gym offered a great deal; affordable pricing, no contract, and no sign up fees. In addition, the membership allows for a free guest with each visit. This was perfect — I could invite friends to drive me and stay to work out for free. And so for the last few months, I have been able to visit the gym consistently and explore all that it has to offer. The management and trainers were very helpful in orienting me to equipment and welcoming to my guide dog Sophie. I learned the weight machine circuit and how to set the different cardio machines, carefully navigating the maze of equipment with Sophie or my white cane. When I first joined, I mostly took advantage of the water aerobics classes which were easy on my lower back problems. My back improved as I strengthened my core muscles. Then it was time for a bit more challenge. I stepped up my game by adding 30-45 minute workouts on the elliptical, treadmill and stationary bicycle, alternating. And I began doing the weights twice a week as well. The gym recently added Pilates and yoga classes, which I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Trying New Activities

My yoga instructor-Namaste!

My yoga instructor-Namaste!

Yoga has been such a surprisingly delightful way to move and work my body. It involves posing in ways that stretch and engage your muscles, heating them up and fatiguing them. Breathing technique is also important when practicing yoga, I am learning. My instructor AJ has a wonderful way of leading us “baby yogis” through the poses, giving verbal cues and tips on how to get the most out of the movements. As she talks about “creating space” within our bodies, I am aware of new sensations and movements of which my body is capable. When my muscles shake in the “hovering cat” position or burn as I hold a balancing pose, I know I am doing something healthy for my body. As AJ says, “It feels so yummy!” It is a delicious experience being anchored to the earth and unifying your mind and body as you go through the routine, interspersed with moments of relaxation in “child’s pose.” My favorite part of class is doing our “oms,” which AJ calls a massage of our central nervous system and a chance to project our voice. This is followed by the “corpse pose” when we are challenged to rest, empty our minds, and breathe deeply for two minutes…heavenly! What a wonderful feeling I have when I leave the class, ready to take on the day!

Enjoying the Benefits of Exercise

I have already seen many changes and benefits to my body as a result of these new activities. My balance has improved, I am losing weight, my clothes fit better, my moods are stable, and I am sleeping soundly. My lower back and joint pains are improving too. Another benefit of going to the gym has been making new friends and being inspired by the environment. Our bodies are incredible machines and require motion and maintenance. Give your body what it needs and it will give you what you want – quality of life.

If you are doing nothing in the way of exercise, do something! If you are doing something, do more! Enjoy your body in motion!

I Don’t Want to Be Blind Today

Some days are better than others…

Jalapeños in the Oatmeal

I don’t want to be blind when it means being conspicuous.  I don’t want attention for what’s different about me.  I don’t want passers-by holding their breath as I cross the street.  Today, I want to blend in with the crowd, to be one of the guys.

I don’t want to be blind when it means being tended to.  If you insist on telling me I don’t look blind or act blind, then stop treating me like I’m helpless.  I don’t want Sunday dinner becoming a hot mess of what I can eat gracefully or who will read me the menu.  I don’t want the guilt of you taking on my anxiety and then not knowing how to handle it.

I don’t want to be blind when it means being patronized.  I don’t want to hear how tough it must be or how intelligent my dog must be.  I don’t…

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A Saturday Stroll Through the Cemetery

Yesterday was “get out of the house day.” My husband and I laid aside our Saturday chores and opted for a trip to Atlanta. We had a full day of activities planned. We wanted to do some walking, check out a new restaurant, and shop at a store I have never been to before. I packed for the adventure, including food and water for my Sophie girl. She was just as excited as I was to “get out of Dodge” and get some exercise.

First stop was historic Oakland Cemetery. I love walking around old cemeteries and reading the gravestones. This garden sanctuary dates back to 1850 and is full of Atlanta stories and history. There are beautiful old live oaks and magnolias that cool off the brick paths. The ornate monuments and wrought iron gates are stately and showy. There is unique sculpture and architecture marking the final resting places of Atlanta’s dignitaries. We strolled peacefully among the headstones and my husband read them to me. There were soldiers’ graves from the Civil War and tiny crooked markers of infants who died prematurely. One of my favorites today was a husband’s stone which read, “All I ask of you is forever remember me as loving you.” Such a touching testament to eternal love…the words stayed with me all day.

We moseyed on and came upon the gravesite of Margaret Mitchell Marsh, the author of the Pulitzer Prize novel Gone with the Wind. It was published in 1936 and is said to be the second most read book in the world, after the Bible.  Yet she lies next to her husband with a simple headstone without powerfully penned words. Just an observation… 

Despite the shade and coolness among the trees, the day was heating up. Sophie was panting but being a trooper. She did a great job guiding me around broken concrete paths and low hanging tree branches. We made our way back to the entrance gate. Sophie appreciated a long swig of cool water at the car and a relief break. Then just across the street, we walked to a pub called “Six Feet Under” which had great reviews and the promise of cold beer. We refreshed ourselves with some suds and seafood gazpacho…de-lish! Then we shared a lovely baked basa on a bed of spinach and some scallops and asparagus. The day was shaping up to be a real treat!

We headed into Atlanta and found the REI store. I was eager to peruse this sports enthusiast’s super-store. I think like many customers, I fancy myself to be way more sporty than I am. Ha-I am more like a wanna-be! But I am planning a hiking trip in October so one of my objectives was to look for hiking pants. I never knew such an item existed before and I have done my fair share of hiking. But this trip is special and I want to dress for success! So I tried on several items and found just the right pair. I could have spent all day in this store fingering the yoga attire, the fashionable trail outfits and the soft and cozy long underwear. But alas, the budget and my husband couldn’t tolerate that! True to his gender, his shopping motto is always “seek-find-buy-then leave as soon as possible.”

It was a wonderful day trip and perfect antidote for cabin fever. It left me thinking about the age-old existential question: “What do you want to be known for when you die?” and “What do you want as an epitaph on your gravestone?”

The Transportation Problem

Finding Rides When You Can’t Drive

Audrey on the side of the road with her thumb out and a sign that reads "Going My Way?"

Hitch Hiking is Always an Option!

One of the most difficult challenges for people with vision loss is finding reliable and affordable transportation. Whether you have had to give up your driver’s license or never had the chance to drive, it is an adjustment fraught with emotion and a sense of loss of independence. In this mobile, fast paced, car-loving society, who among us has not longed to get into a car and drive? Oh the joy of running errands on your own schedule or simply being able to spontaneously meet a friend for lunch. Those days are long gone for me; I lost my driver’s license 24 years ago due to vision loss. It was a real game-changer to be sure. However, life can be lived even after this happens. Life without a license to drive calls for innovation, networking, and advocating for yourself especially if you live in a community that does not offer public transportation.

Relocation For Greater Independence

At the time I lost my license, we lived in the cornfields of rural Indiana. My husband and I quickly realized this location was not going to work for us; we had three young children to raise and I had a career I wanted to pursue. So, we relocated to Georgia. We discovered Peachtree City which is in a rural county south of Atlanta. While it does not offer any forms of public transportation, it has 100 miles of golf cart paths and walking trails that connect the whole city. For years, I drove a golf cart to work, school, shopping, piano lessons, ball games and anywhere my busy life required. As my vision declined, my children were old enough to drive me and we survived a few more years on the golf cart paths. Then my kids got their drivers’ licenses and we bought a second car. They each took turns being my chauffer. Before long, they all left for college and I found myself looking for new transportation options. I got my first guide dog and began to walk to work and to the closest stores. But there are many places I cannot get to on foot and there are still no buses in town. So I had to get creative and assertive about finding rides.

Meeting The Challenge

I rode to work for a while with a neighbor who worked at the same place I did. Then her job changed and she moved. I then recruited college students from a local campus and several individuals as drivers for pay. We would discuss the price up front, which I based on mileage reimbursement plus an hourly wage. To find drivers or rides, I advertised my need for transportation in the neighborhood newsletter. Also, I contacted the local Lion’s Club to explore options with their volunteers. Often, I can get errands done with friends who do not accept payment and I buy their lunch in return. When my children were young, I arranged carpools and rides for them in exchange for my babysitting services. It is important to plan your rides in advance, communicate clearly with your drivers, and organize your outings to make the most of the trip.

Tips on Getting Around

Here are a few more tips to address the transportation dilemma:

  1. Some people keep their vehicle and hire a personal driver. You may want to advertise locally, interview candidates carefully, do a background check, ask about their driving record, negotiate fees, and secure appropriate insurance coverage. This option involves other expenses such as car maintenance, registration and tags, insurance, and gas.
  2. If relocation is an option, consider areas where there is public transportation; fixed route buses, paratransit, and public transit. Look up the Walk Score (www.walkscore.com) of areas that may interest you to find the “walkability” of the community. Consult a realtor about the rising number of “live- work-play” communities (http://plannersweb.com/2013/09/a-place-to-live-work-and-play/)   that offer the conveniences of city life with less stress, decreased need for driving, and a healthier walking lifestyle.
  3. Some communities offer a “voucher transportation program” through the senior services or community services center. These programs are subsidized by federal and local agencies to provide transportation for seniors and disabled adults. The rider buys a book of vouchers at a low cost and exchanges them with a certified driver at the time of service. The driver then cashes in the vouchers for a subsidized amount.
  4. Some local churches or community groups may have “volunteer” transportation programs that provide rides free of charge to qualified people.
  5. Local taxi companies may be willing to negotiate discounts for disabled passengers who frequently use their services.
  6. There are new “rideshare” services cropping up such as Uber (www.uber.com) and Lyft (www.lyft.com) in most major cities nationally. These services offer rides on demand within minutes in private vehicles, as taxi alternatives. They have mobile apps used to request the ride and handle fees electronically.
  7. Expect to pay for rides and budget accordingly. If you owned a car and drove, you would have a myriad of expenses to maintain your own transportation.

Accessible and affordable transportation is in short supply in many communities. Federal and local governments struggle to maintain programs and find resources to meet the needs of low income, senior, and disabled citizens. Shortfalls in funding have resulted in cutbacks in services and routes, and even the folding of paratransit programs in some communities. People need rides to maintain employment, good health and quality of life, and engagement in the community. It is imperative for the visually impaired community to be pro-active in managing their transportation needs. Lack of transportation can lead to isolation, unemployment, loss of independence and even depression. We must take charge, self-advocate and be creative when it comes to addressing this area of our life.

Walking With Sophie

I no longer take this for granted…the ability to walk out my door, unafraid and confident, into the bright and blinding sun to go for a walk in my neighborhood. It is still summer and temperatures will be in the 90’s today, so I try to go early. I don my sunglasses and hat and call to Sophie.

“Let’s go for our walk girl,” I coo. She stretches and eagerly comes forward.

“Get dressed,” I say with the harness out and she slips her head in gracefully.

With one fluid motion, clipping the leash and harness, we are off. We have been a bit off schedule with a recent vacation and extra hot days of late. We both need this walk today to maintain our girlish figures. We have several routes to choose from and will walk two-three miles in all. As we leave the driveway, Sophie demonstrates a strong preference for the route that will take us directly to the ball field where she likes to romp. Not today girl, we need to get in a couple of miles. I coax her in the opposite direction and she obediently but ploddingly complies. I think she is feeling a bit lazy today and I can certainly relate.

“Hup up girl!” I sing to her.

And then I feel it…the spring in her step. Her head is up and she is moving jauntily now. That’s my girl! I have pocketed a couple of treats in case she needs additional motivation today. Sophie knows our routes and she anticipates my commands. We are doing country travel at first. She takes me around several parked cars and trash cans, gliding along. The sun is so painful that I close my eyes as she expertly guides me. She slows when our first turn comes up and angles her body slightly toward the turn.

“Good girl, Sophie! Right!” I praise her as I sweep my arm sideways.

We cross the road and enter the wooded path. Immediately, we both appreciate the shade of the leafy trees and take note of the bird sounds. Sophie’s ears and nose twitch and she is alert. We are walking at a good exercise pace now, stretching out our stride. Suddenly, she stops abruptly and I wonder why. There is debris on the path; fallen tree branches after a storm which I discover with my feet. Ahhh, that’s my girl.

“Good girl, Sophie-that’s it! Good job!” I exclaim and rub her ears.

She saved me from tripping and kissing the asphalt, which I have done many times in the past before I had Sophie. And she earns herself a piece of kibble just because I appreciate her skills. Off we go again. Along the way, we encounter the neighbor’s squawking tropical bird, a barking dog or two, and people on bicycles who whiz past me before I even realize they are there. Sophie takes it all in but remains focused, only needing an occasional reminder to “leave it.” We move as one.

The walking path leaves the woods and we are at a crosswalk, in full sun again. It feels good but the day is definitely heating up. Sophie stands at the crossing, waiting my command. I survey the street; look, listen, and look again.

“Sophie, forward,” I say and we step out into the road and then “find the curb” when we are midway.

There is no fear and no hesitation any more on my part…I am enjoying our morning walk, able to attend to my surroundings and walk with my head up. Because I am not anxious and I can depend on Sophie to do her job, it is a pleasant daily excursion. We cross another road expertly and pick up the path again. Sophie picks up her pace as she knows we are nearing the ball field at the end of our route. A golf cart appears out of nowhere and Sophie angles me to the side of the path, just out of the way of this passing vehicle. She always sees them and hears them coming before I do and is ready to make way. We top the hill and the recreation complex appears. Sophie is excited. Yes girl, we will go play for a while.

“Sophie, right,” I motion and say. She quickly turns on a dime.

We enter the ball field, close all the gates and I release Sophie from her harness. It is like a giant playpen for her and her favorite place. She takes off in a fit of zig-zags, circles and figure eights which I call her “zoomies.” When she tuckers out, she leisurely wanders the field, taking in its intoxicating scents. She could sniff all day-one of her greatest pleasures as a golden retriever. I walk the fence line, listen for the jingle of her collar and keep in touch with her.

“Sophie, touch!” I call to her.

She runs to me and puts her wet nose in the palm of my hand, never very far away. Sometimes, we lie in the sun on the grass together, enjoying the freedom, the exercise, the ease of our relationship and the beauty of the day. It is no small thing to be able to enjoy a walk by yourself with your guide dog. I am blessed and I am grateful for Sophie.

 

A Farm Family Reunion

The dairy herd on Demmitt Dairy Farm

The dairy herd on Demmitt Dairy Farm

Our family is flung far and wide. From Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Texas, and Virginia we came. Thirty two of us from four generations, gathered for a wedding recently on the family farm in Ohio. It was a breezy, sunny Midwest weekend as we congregated at Grandma’s house, filling the rooms, beds and every available chair. She had been in the kitchen for days before our arrival baking homemade cinnamon rolls, brownies and cookies, canning pickles and beets, picking all manner of produce in the garden, and chopping veggies for casseroles and salads. Every meal was a veritable feast of organic, fresh, wholesome farm fare. Sweet corn was in season and came freshly picked from the neighbor’s farm market. Grandma’s zucchini was featured in a casserole and zucchini bread. We had lettuce, tomatoes, onions and cucumbers fresh from the garden and hamburgers from locally raised beef. The cheese came from a near-by Amish farm and the milk came from our own family dairy. Down on the farm, it is all about faith, family, food and fun!

This family farm has been tilled for three generations. Originally a cattle and beef operation, it is now an organic dairy farm owned by one of five brothers who grew up on this land. He in turn, has five children who help with daily chores and the business of farming. They grow hay, wheat, corn, soy, and spelt right now, though the crops rotate. Twice a day, they milk 80 dairy cows which produce about 450 gallons of organic milk per day. The herd consists of Holstein, Jersey and Brown Swiss cattle. The rich milk makes delicious ice cream, which we always hand crank in White Mountain Ice Cream makers for every family event. Grandma has perfected the recipe and everyone else takes turns cranking it into the heavenly frozen treat. We use a favorite chocolate-walnut recipe that has been handed down for generations called Mopeka. The eggs and walnuts often came from the farm along with the milk. Great Grandpa used to peddle Mike-sell’s potato chips as a young man and so these chips are always served with the Mopeka. It is one of many family traditions observed by this tribe.

We have made this pilgrimage every summer since our children were little. The now grown grandkids love to tell “remember when” stories from all the memories they have made with their cousins on Grandma’s farm. Some years Grandma had the grandkids by themselves. They learned to cook, sew, garden, milk cows, feed calves, gather eggs, bale hay, make hay forts, and round up the cows for milking on four-wheelers. Grandma always took them to Vacation Bible School and the county fair where she was a food judge and their daddy had entered livestock as a child in 4-H club. With grubby, happy faces they ran in the fields, climbed trees, and played in the barns all day long, working up voracious appetites. We ate heartily at Grandma’s table; always dressed in colorful, home-made tablecloths and laden with the season’s harvest. This year, a wedding brought us together to catch up, reminisce, and celebrate the blessings of family. On the farm, my children have learned about love, faithfulness, respect for the land and hard-work.

The wedding of our niece was lovely. She was married in a small country church attended by our family for generations. My husband’s grandparents were married there and are now buried in the cemetery on the grounds. The bride’s uncle, a pastor for 35 years, conducted the ceremony. Her grandparents, aunt and uncle sang in the wedding and cousins served as photographers. The happy couple left the quaint church in a sleek, white limousine sipping champagne; headed to the reception venue in the city; the 29th floor of the Racquet Club and a world away. It was a grand party with many friends and extended family members on the guest list. There were elegant hors d’oeuvres, another lovely meal, libations, music and dancing. The twenty-something cousins surprised us all with their lively dance moves while the older crowd marveled at their energy. Photos captured the moments as memories were made.

The weekend came to a close after attending church and eating one last meal together. It was a joint effort with many hands in the kitchen. The meal was tasty but the highlight was the dessert; Mopeka ice cream hand cranked that morning. Everyone excitedly awaited the creamy treat as it was reverently dipped out of the old wooden bucket. And the Mike-sell’s chips were passed at the same time. We were filled to the brim with fresh air, fresh food, Grandma’s love, and farm fun. After the cars were packed and the plates cleared away, we began our good-byes with hugs all around. We realize this is a special place; sacred ground. We are grateful for the legacy and heritage of farm life and for a family that lives ‘in unity” as Uncle Greg preached at church that day. We always leave the farm with some goodies from Grandma. This trip, it was canned pickles-a little bit of love and the farm in a jar.

Organic Dairy Sign

Organic Dairy Sign

Taking Turns Cranking Ice Cream

Taking Turns Cranking Ice Cream

 

 

 

The Summer Camp Experience for the Blind and Visually Impaired

When I was ten years old, I went to summer camp with my best friend. To this day, that week is memorialized as one of the best weeks of my life. The camp offered a variety of sports, games, talent shows, arts and crafts, swimming lessons and wilderness experiences. There was so much to try for the first time. I was beyond myself with excitement and enthusiasm. Besides the fun activities, every meal in the mess hall and bedtime in the bunks was a time of laughter, songs, pranks and socializing with new friends. Oh and let’s not forget the “cool” counselors who shepherded us through the week’s program; we watched them and wanted to be like them! The summer camp experience can be life-changing.

Some years ago, I was the camp nurse for Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind. I was struggling with my own vision loss at the time, but still working as a school nurse. I spent 7 weeks caring for campers of all ages from preschoolers to seniors. It was an inspiring and empowering experience not only for the campers, but for me. I learned so much from observing the campers and playing alongside of them. They had such exuberance and eagerness to try new things like climbing the rock wall and horseback riding. One six year old boy who was totally blind since birth conquered the climbing wall while his mother and camp staff looked on through misty eyes. When he reached the top and rang the bell, he was giddy with accomplishment and exclaimed “Look at me! I’m so high up!” For many campers, it is their first time to be away from home and the watchful eyes of parents. It is the first exposure to many new experiences like canoeing, camp-outs, adapted sports like beep ball and goalball, and tactile arts and crafts. They quickly become a part of “the group” and feel included and accepted, while learning from each other. It is a place where their disability does not make them different. The growth and learning that takes place in a camp setting is invaluable and cannot be replicated. There is often a sort of magical transformation that takes place in a camper. And they leave with powerful memories of being included, succeeding at new activities, tasting independence, and making new friends which can change them forever.

Camps that are designed for special needs can accommodate campers in unique ways. The Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind is a visually impaired friendly environment. They use rope lines to help guide the campers to different areas. In the buildings, the wood work is painted in high contrast for better visibility. The pathways are straight, flat and uncluttered. The staff receives training in vision rehabilitation techniques and many are interns or professionals in the field of vision rehabilitation therapy. The program integrates recreation, education, rehabilitation and social development, with a hefty component of play therapy. Have you ever played in a huge mountain of bubbles spewed from a bubble making machine? It was a highlight at camp. In other words, the environment is safe and the staff is trained and knowledgeable. It is an ideal opportunity and atmosphere for campers to explore interests, discover special talents, and stretch personal limits in a physically and emotionally safe environment.

So, what did I learn from my experience at the Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind? Well, I came away with a new “can do” attitude after watching campers conquer new tasks. I learned to try to do things in a new way. I enjoyed being part of the community of visually impaired, realizing I was one of them for the first time which helped me accept my disability. I came away empowered to learn new skills to live with my blindness. Somehow, the kids instilled in me a new-found courage to move forward by watching their fearless approach to activities. I learned to play again and have fun in bubbles, water and mud. I played beep ball (adapted baseball for the blind) and loved it. I learned at the talent show that we ALL have talents. We celebrated and shared our unique talents and “abilities,” while our disability faded into the background. I was truly inspired by campers’ attitudes and accomplishments as well as the staff’s dedication to serve this population. My time at the Lions camp rivals my summer camp experience as a child. It was most memorable and life-changing.

There are summer camp programs for the blind and visually impaired of all ages. Many schools of the blind have summer camps such as Perkins and Colorado School for the Blind. Leader Dogs for the Blind offers a summer camp program for teens which is free, including airfare. Lions Clubs International has special needs camps throughout the world. Everyone should experience summer camp at least once in their life. And you are never too old to go to camp. Who knows, you may come away with new confidence, courage, independence, playfulness, friendships and a spirit of adventure.

For more information go to:

http://www.blindcamp.com/   National Camps for the Blind

http://www.lionsclubs.org/EN/our-work/sight-programs/sight-services/camps-for-the-blind-and-visually-impaired.php    Lions Camps for the Blind/Visually Impaired

http://www.perkins.org/resources/scout/recreation/summer-camps.html  Perkins School Summer Camps

http://www.leaderdog.org/clients/programs/summer-experience-camp   Summer Experience Camp

 

smiling camp staff

Nurse Audrey with girls’ counselors

group of people dancing in a mountain of bubbles

Bubble Fun at Georgia Lions Camp for the Blind

The White Cane: A Useful Tool

There comes a time when it just makes sense to use a white cane when you are losing your vision. Most of us resist this rite of passage, fearing the stigmas, myths, and images associated with the “dreaded white cane.” In my case, something awful had to happen to wake me up to the reality that I was no longer a safe traveler. I had many falls and sprained ankles which I attributed to clumsiness. As my vision worsened, the falls became more frequent and I was forced to admit it was not just clumsiness. While at work, I took a series of falls which raised concerns with my employer. Then I fell at home and ended up having ankle reconstruction surgery. I knew it was time to consider using a cane.

I called various vision rehabilitation services to inquire how to get training. They pointed me to the state vocational rehabilitation agency where I applied for services, to include what is called Orientation and Mobility (O+M) training. Unfortunately, in my state there is a long waiting list and a shortage of funds to serve the disabled. After waiting a year with no word from the state agency, I tried to find private instructors to teach me O+M and was told there were none available and it would be cost prohibitive. So, I turned to the internet and found the Accelerated Orientation and Mobility (AOM) program offered by Leader Dogs for the Blind (LDB). This is a seven day, one-on-one, intensive course taught by certified O+M specialists at the training center in Rochester Hills, Michigan. The cost to the client: FREE.

I always thought I would eventually get a guide dog and when I researched this option I learned good O+M skills were a prerequisite to using a dog for mobility. However, the AOM program is for anyone who wants to learn to use a white cane, whether or not there is interest in using a guide dog in the future. With great anticipation and a bit of trepidation, I applied for the AOM program. LDB walked me through the process, made all the travel arrangements, and paid all the expenses. All I had to do was show up at the airport and be ready to learn. The flight to Michigan was easy with assistance from the airline escort service. When I arrived in Michigan, LDB staff was there to greet me.

My week at LDB was an incredible experience. The accommodations were very comfortable and visually impaired friendly. The staff was welcoming and professional. On the first morning, I was fitted with my new cane and the teaching began. It felt awkward in my hands, but I was eager to learn. The days’ lessons built on each other as my skills developed. There is so much more to Orientation and Mobility than I ever imagined. It is not just about thwacking a cane around. It involves cane techniques such as the grip, the swing, and two-point touch. There is shore-lining, stairs, and street crossings to master. I was struck with the difference the cane made immediately. I was able to walk with my head up and with a normal gait as I learned to use the information my cane gave me. No more staring at the ground and shuffling like a grandma! It felt wonderful to stand tall and take in the surrounding environment. I learned to plan a route, use environmental cues to orient myself, and get from point A to point B safely. It was so exhilarating to realize I could once again get myself to where I wanted to go. I will be forever grateful for the gift of this training from Leader Dogs for the Blind as it was the beginning of regaining my independence.

I like how the cane identifies me as visually impaired so I do not have to explain this. At first, I thought it would make me appear “disabled”, but on the contrary, I think I appear more “able”, traveling on my own with confidence. And so, I embraced my cane. Before long, instead of feeling awkward with it, I felt awkward without it. If your cane is stashed away in a closet, aging like fine wine, I encourage you to get it out and use it. If you have been putting off learning to use a white cane, consider the AOM program at LDB as a great place to start. Don’t wait until a serious injury happens. In the end, I learned the white cane is simply a useful mobility tool that helps keep me safe and independent.

Wise Old Trees

A sign which reads "Cathedral Grove-enter quietly"

Muir Woods, a sacred place

As a cellular and developmental biology major, I was fascinated by the diversity of life on this planet Earth. My fascination began in childhood as I roamed the fields and played in the creeks on our farm in Michigan. I loved to collect leaves and bugs, climb trees, watch ants, catch frogs and study flowers. I spent hours outdoors, communing with nature and it was always a spiritual experience for me. I am in awe of the variety of shapes and colors; species and phyla found in the plant and animal kingdoms. And beyond that, the fierce determination to survive and the ability to adapt are impressive. Take the majestic sequoias in Yosemite and their cousins the coastal redwoods in Muir Woods National Monument, where these ancient trees are protected.

It was a privilege to visit these special places. Even with my diminished vision, I was able to sense the grandeur as I entered Mariposa Grove and Cathedral Grove. I walked among trees that were as old as 2000 years, as tall as 379 feet, and as wide as 40 feet. Talk about behemoths! I felt very small and inconsequential; my life but a momentary breath in comparison. The forest’s gauzy shafts of light, swirls of purple shadows, melodious songs of birds, earthy herbal fragrances, and gurgling sounds of streams all intermingled to create an ethereal effect. Indeed, this is a natural cathedral, serene and solemn, commanding a hushed respect. These redwoods have stood for eons of time, against the forces of natural disasters, man and change. Sadly, they are the lone survivors of their species, now protected from the chaos and clamor of the outside world. I gratefully received the gifts of peace and tranquility they offered. And I came away with a few lessons from these wise old trees.

Ranger Lucy in uniform standing with me and my guide dog

Ranger Lucy, Muir Woods

Ranger Lucy from the Muir Woods park service gave a tree talk to visitors. She had 5 lessons we can learn from the redwoods:

  1. Stand Tall and Proud– redwoods are the tallest living thing on earth. They have survived fires, droughts and other hardships. They bear scars and cracks which testify to their struggle to live. Wear your scars of survivorship proudly and stand with dignity.
  2. Live in a “Cool” Place-redwoods grow best in the cool temperatures of the fog belt in California. They flourish in this moist environment. Find your special place in the world where you can thrive.
  3. Support Your Community-redwoods have a disproportionately shallow root system for their size. Their roots extend widely to tangle with other near-by trees in order to anchor themselves securely. Reach out to your community to establish connections with others.
  4. Grow a Thick Skin-redwoods have very thick, spongy and fibrous bark, rich in tannic acid which makes it resistant to fire, insects, and fungi. Allow your skin to thicken so you can resist the assaults of life.
  5. Surround Yourself with Family-redwoods have the ability to reproduce by sprouting burls and forming tightly grouped “family circles,” giving them a survival advantage. Stay close to family so they can fortify and strengthen you.

I am always looking for what nature can teach me. We live in such an exquisitely designed and spectacularly intelligent world. When we stop to observe and listen, we learn great secrets and truths. These sacred experiences teach us to respect and appreciate the beauty and gifts of the Earth.

A group of trees forming a family circle

Cathedral Grove, a family circle of redwoods

            

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.

John Muir