The Great Golf Cart Caper

I live in a unique community that has golf cart paths all throughout the city. We moved here specifically for this reason. After I lost my driver’s license due to my vision impairment, my husband and I discovered Peachtree City, Georgia where there are over 100 miles of scenic cart/biking paths connecting the city. I was able to drive our golf cart to get around town and run family errands for the next ten years. Eventually, our three children learned to drive the golf cart and they became my chauffeurs. It was a perfect solution to our situation and a very enjoyable lifestyle. I no longer have enough vision to drive the golf cart, but it was a blast while it lasted!

Most families own a golf cart to get around town easily and as a fun way to travel. On a recent Saturday, my friend invited me to go to a concert at the local amphitheater. “Let’s take my golf cart, ” I said.

 That night, we packed a small cooler of refreshments and headed down the path. My friend, of course was driving and we were quickly engrossed in deep conversation because we had not seen each other in quite a while. We stopped off and had a quick bite to eat at a sandwich shop. Then back on the golf cart once again, we headed to the concert.

 As we were riding along, I noticed a blanket and a jacket on the cart that didn’t seem familiar. “What’s this?” I asked Suzanne. “Oh, your husband must have put them on the golf cart for us,” she remarked.

 When we arrived at the outdoor concert, Suzanne noticed there were also stadium chairs on the back of the golf cart. “Oh, look,” she said, “your husband thought of everything!” Suddenly, I was very confused…”Suzanne-we don’t have chairs like that! Where did they come from?”  Then, she was off the cart saying “Oh, my gosh! Our cooler isn’t here! It must have fallen off along the way!”

Suzanne and me with my golf cart

Suzanne and me with my golf cart

She lifted another bag from the cart and opened it up. It contained wine coolers on ice…not the refreshment we packed…and then it hit me…we stole someone else’s golf cart!! I began to laugh hysterically and sputtered out my realization. “Suz, we took the wrong golf cart! We have to go back!” And then she also realized what was unfolding and exclaimed “Oh my gosh-we are golf cart thieves! We are going to get arrested!”

Within moments of our discovery, a golf cart full of people who looked vaguely familiar from the sandwich shop, pulled up behind us and said “Ah ha! We found you!” Indeed, they were driving MY golf cart which was very similar to theirs-same make but a slightly darker blue color. Someone at the sandwich shop told them they saw “a blind lady and a blond lady get on their cart and they were talking about going to the concert.” So they all piled on my golf cart and came looking for us. They too were attending the concert. As it turned out, we knew these folks; their kids went to school with our kids and one of them works with my husband. Oh we all had such a great laugh together! Then we took photos and texted our children to tell them what happened. It was a unique set of circumstances which made such an adventure possible. We made jokes about “the blond lady leading the blind lady” and how this could only happen in Peachtree City. We swapped carts and grabbed our coolers, still laughing as we entered the concert. By the way, golf cart keys work interchangeably in carts of the same model! Who knew?

A Spring Chorus of Twitters and Tweets

Ahhh, I welcome the crisp spring air and bright morning sun on a March day. I wander the yard with my guide dog Sophie and we are both feeling the freshness in the breeze and have a renewed spring in our step. Sophie pauses, closes her eyes and lifts her twitching nose high in the air to inhale the kaleidoscope of scents. There is a definite smell to the color green. And rain has a distinct and lingering fragrance. Just as humans see the world in varying shades of color, dogs experience it in layers of exquisite smells.

Image result for daffodils

 

I walk my little plantation to find other signs which tell me winter is over. I know the vegetation in my garden and I take inventory. My daffodils and paper whites are smiling and the forsythia bush is aflame. I can detect these vibrant splashes of color as they dance against the still brown lawn. The azaleas are budding and the camellias are in full bloom. No sign of the hosta yet and I cannot find the lilies of the valley either. A few herbs are pushing through-I ruffle the leaves and smell parsley and lemon balm. I gather my clues through touch and smell. Then I am suddenly aware of another sign of spring that demands my attention.

 

I close my eyes and stand still, like Sophie does. I hear layers of birdsong in the trees: playful twitters and tweets, insistent squawks and squeaks, delicate coos and peeps. My yard is a veritable bird sanctuary! I notice the melodic and frantic sounds like never before and wonder what the birds are saying to each other. “I’m over here!” and “Oh-oh, pick me!”  I imagine, as male and female flirt. The birds call out back and forth, replicating and responding in the ritual of finding a mate. What enthusiasm and energy they have as they play “Marco –Polo” in the tree tops. This adds yet another awareness of beauty this morning for me. Though I cannot see the frisky feathered creatures, I am enthralled with their noisy love songs and playful antics overhead. I suddenly want to learn more about them and their signature voices. I want to not only take time to smell the roses, but stop and listen to the beautiful spring chorus offered by nature.Image result for birds in the spring

 

Perhaps I will take The Hadley School for the Blind course entitled “Enjoying Birdsongs.” Here is the course description:

 

{Enjoying birdsongs helps people reduce stress, improve cognition and memory, interact with nature, and even have spiritual experiences. This course guides students through the many birdsongs presented in John Neville’s audio CD set Beginner’s Guide to Bird Songs of North America. This course helps students become able to appreciate nature and birdsongs, as well as reflect on their experiences with birdsongs}

 

The Hadley School for the Blind offers many distance-learning courses for high-school students and adults. There is a variety of academic, enrichment, technology and recreational courses that are FREE to the blind and visually impaired. Learn more at:

http://www.hadley.edu

 

Using the Be My Eyes App

I downloaded the Be My Eyes app and tried it out recently. It was incredibly easy to use and very helpful. All you do is go to the app store and install the app. Then you select whether you are a sighted or blind user. When you need assistance, you open the app,  which can be done with Siri and touch the middle of the screen to “connect to first available helper.” The app will then say “creating request” and “connecting to servers.” Then you get a musical tone and a message stating “waiting for other part.” The tone continues until someone answers the call and greets you. This can take a minute or two. On my first call, someone in Stockholm Sweden answered. It was morning for me and evening for him. The volunteer helped me choose between a regular coffee and a decaf coffee pod for my Keurig. All I had to do was point my phone at what I wanted to see and it showed up on the camera. The call lasted a minute or so. I thanked him kindly and said good-bye.  Then I tapped at the bottom of the screen to disconnect the call.

I used Be My eyes again this morning. This time I chatted with the volunteer a moment. He was a firefighter in Ohio and commented on the extreme cold weather they were experiencing. I asked him what prompted him to sign up for Be My Eyes. He said he thought it was a way he could help out. The core philosophy of this app is the idea that we all need help at times and people are willing to help. It connects us to each other in a special way and I am certain there are benefits for both parties. Aren’t we living in amazing times?

 

Ski for Light Focuses on Abilities Not Disabilities

I just returned from the 2015 International Ski for Light event in Granby Colorado. It was an amazing week of cross-country skiing under big, blue skies in the Rocky Mountains. We enjoyed well-groomed trails, sunny days, beautiful snow, and crisp mountain air.  The  best part though was connecting with a group of inspiring people.

My first day on skis-note the tracks in the snow

My first day on skis-note the tracks in the snow

A First Time Skier

Ski for Light is a non-profit organization run by all volunteers, which enables visually impaired and mobility impaired individuals to enjoy a week of skiing with a personal guide. There were 100 dis-Abled skiers, 100 sighted guides and a host of other volunteers who make the week go smoothly.  I am so thrilled to have had this opportunity to learn to ski for the first time in my life. I had no idea whether I would be able to do it but as it turns out, I can…even at my age and with the little bit of vision I have left! It was a memorable week which taught me I can do more than I think I can.

A Full-Inclusion Program

I learned about the program from a friend who is also keen on new adventures. She has been attending Ski for Light for many years. In my retirement, I am determined to try new things, learn new skills and get fit. So this opportunity was exciting and I did not hesitate to sign up. It spurred me on to join the gym and exercise regularly so I would not embarrass myself. I arrived in fairly good shape, though there is always room for improvement. I worked hard at learning the basics of cross-country skiing with my experienced guide/instructor Lynn Cox. She has been coming to SFL for many years, volunteering her time and at her own expense, to guide and teach visually impaired skiers. The guides are trained to work with the visually impaired and most are accomplished skiers who can share their expertise. We are treated with respect, dignity, and full inclusion and it is easy to forget you are visually impaired while at SFL. And that is a wonderful thing!

Pushing Past Personal Limits

Well, as it turns out, I have a special talent for falling safely and popping up quickly which I demonstrated over and over. This is an important skill, but it was not the one at which I wanted to excel. All week, I tried to fall less and ski more smoothly. I set goals for myself and worked to do my personal best each day. In the end, I improved every day; skiing farther, faster, and with fewer falls with the support and encouragement from Lynn at my side. That is what it is all about; learning your limits and then pushing past them! I have a lot more to learn and hope to master that darn “snow plow” next year.

Lynn and I after completing the 5k Rally-note the beautiful medals!

Lynn and I after completing the 5k Rally-note the beautiful medals!

A Well-Rounded Program

Ski for Light does a fantastic job of not only accommodating all levels of disabilities, but also all levels of skiing ability from the first timer to the serious race competitor. The guides are carefully matched with a skier in order to achieve the skier’s goals for the week. The program offers special interest workshops, evening entertainment and lots of opportunities to make new friends. The cost is subsidized by generous donor funds and scholarships are available for first-timers.

An Inspiring Week

I heard many inspiring stories and witnessed something special at SFL this week.  Harald Vik is 72 years old, deaf-blind and from Norway. He has been coming to SFL for years. Last year he was hit by a car while riding in a tandem bike event and sustained many broken bones. He was determined to be at this year’s event even if he had to use a sit-ski (for the mobility impaired skier). I met him out on the trails making his way on his own two legs after months of rehab and therapy. I call him “Amazing Harald.” And one bright day on the trails, I was passed up by a 93 year old gentleman who is totally blind and has been coming to SFL for more than 20 years. Way to stay young and active, Charlie! Yes, the dis-Abled skiers were inspiring to me…but so were the dedicated guides and volunteers who come back year after year with such a heart of service and passion for this excellent program.

Harald Vik and his interpreters from Norway.

Harald Vik and his interpreters from Norway.

Is Ski for Light For YOU?

Are you looking for a new adventure? Do you like to be active and learn new skills? Ski for Light may just be the thing for you!  Learn more at www.sfl.org  I will be there next year, will you?

[SFL logo]

Have You Heard About NVDA and Computers For the Blind?

I have been surviving on the computer with Zoomtext for the last 12 years. It has been wonderful to have such access. I actually started with “Bigshot”, a precursor to Zoomtext, and it allowed me to continue my job for years. But alas, my vision continues to change and technology changes even faster! I now have cataracts that affect the last bit of vision I have to read. I am making plans to have them removed and hoping to clear up my central vision. But at the same time, I have been thinking about making the transition to using a screen reader rather than a screen magnifier program so I can continue to use a computer.

I understand that the JAWS screen reader is difficult to learn and quite expensive. I am intimidated by it and dread learning it! Then there is Windows Eyes which I hear has some issues and seems to have less tech support available. In some cases, the state Vocational Rehab agencies will purchase access software and provide training for users. But in my state, there is a 2-3 year wait for these services. Many blind and visually impaired people cannot afford these expensive products on their own and it is sad how companies seem to exploit the disabled. So many blind and visually impaired people do not have access to a computer, social media, on-line shopping and the wealth of internet information.

That is why I am so excited about NVDA-nonvisual desktop access! This is a free screen reader that is compatible with Windows and available for download. Here is an exerpt of the story of how it was developed and made available for all from the website http://www.nvaccess.org/ :

Michael Curran and James Teh met as children on a music camp for the blind, where they realised they shared a strong interest in computers. Several years later they decided to join forces to help improve the accessibility of computers for blind and vision impaired people.

For blind people to use a computer, they need a screen reader which reads the text on the screen in a synthetic voice or with a braille display. But in many cases screen reading software costs more than the computer itself. In the past this has left computers inaccessible to millions of blind people around the world. This is a critical problem, because without computers, access to education and employment is severely limited, not to mention everyday functions such as online banking, shopping and news.

In April 2006 Michael began to develop a free screen reader called NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access) for use with computers running on Windows. He invited James, who had recently completed his IT degree, to develop the software with him.

Together these two fully blind men founded the not-for-profit organisation NV Access to support the development of the NVDA screen reader. Before too long they were able to work full-time on the project thanks to a series of corporate grants and individual donations.

NVDA has been translated by volunteers into more than 43 languages, and been used by people in more than 120 countries. It has also won multiple awards.

NVDA is open source software, which means the code is accessible to anyone. This enables translators and developers around the world to continually contribute to its expansion and improvement.

Through this work, Michael and James have gained extensive expertise in software accessibility. They have also fostered relationships with companies such as Mozilla, Microsoft, IBM, Adobe and Yahoo! and have contributed to the accessibility of their respective products.

NV Access is based in South East Queensland, Australia.

Yay for these lads who have made computers more accessible with the NVDA screen reader! They have created tutorials to make NVDA user friendly. Check out these links:

http://nvda.wikispaces.com/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOQ7zELFmLE

And did you know about Computers for the Blind? It is a program that refurbishes desktop and laptop computers and then makes them available to people who are visually challenged for a nominal fee. The computers come preloaded with either magnification software or NVDA screen readers, monitors, keyboards and more. The mission of Computers for the Blind (CFTB) is to open the world of information technology to persons who are blind or visually impaired by providing computer equipment, software and training. Check out their site at: http://www.computersfortheblind.net/index-2.html or call 214.340.6328 to learn more.

I hope these resources are helpful to you or someone you know. Pass the information on…

 

A Hiking We All Went

 

“Not all those who wander are lost”

                               J.R.R. Tolkien

I recently returned from a wonderful hiking trip. I was invited to join nine other women on their annual hiking adventure which they have taken for the last 16 years together. When I received the invitation, I hardly stopped to think about it. Count me in any time there is hiking, a chance to travel, and an opportunity to make new friends. I had never met these women and this would be my first “Hen Hike.”

The Hens-lunch at the waterfall

The Hens-lunch at the waterfall

 The Hens are made up of five visually impaired women and five sighted guides who have been friends for years. They are the kind of women who are “shakers and movers,” impressive in their vivacious spirits and thirst for adventure. Most of them have been involved with Ski For Light, Inc. (which I will write about in another post), where the sighted guides have developed their skill to guide the visually impaired and their selfless sense of service as volunteers. It is a group of physically fit and “aging gracefully” women who know how to have fun! They are world travelers, survivors of some of life’s most difficult challenges, professionals, wise, well-read, kind and gracious ladies. And it was such a privilege to be among them!

 We stayed at the Starlight Inn in northeast Pennsylvania. It is nestled in the country, overlooking a lake and surrounded by scenic trails. Sari the innkeeper, runs the quaint establishment with other family members. Wholesome and homemade meals are served in the cozy dining room where you feel as though you are part of the family. Every day, we were sent off on our hike with made-to-order sack lunches; meaty sandwiches on freshly baked bread, crisp apples and homemade cookies.

Fall colors on the trail-Betty and Susan

Fall colors on the trail-Betty and Susan

 

Each morning we hit the trails paired up with our guide for the day. The trees were spectacular in their fall “coats of many colors.” We walked the woodsy paths, side by side, at an easy pace and lost ourselves in companionable conversations. Breathing in the cool fresh air, we merrily trudged along in our broken-in boots,LLBean flannels and brandishing our walking canes. The sun was bright on our faces as we wandered the forest, leaving behind the worries of the world. The hikes were pleasant and we covered quite a bit of ground. We discovered several waterfalls and open meadows which were perfect lunch spots. It was refreshing and relaxing to enjoy the beautiful scenery with new friends who also appreciated nature.

 The hiking was only half the fun. Every day, we gathered in the “parlor” for Happy Hour, sipping wine and nibbling cheese and crackers. We shared stories of our lives and talked about the day’s highlights. Each day, I learned more about the Hens and grew to appreciate their colorful personalities, their vitality, and their fun-loving, adventurous spirits. After our lovely evening meals, we retired to the sun porch to play games. Some of the Hens pulled out their knitting as we played. We cackled and laughed until we cried and our sides hurt! And after much mirth and merriment, we trotted off to bed, full and satisfied with the day’s activities.

Hen Hike 2014

Hen Hike 2014

 This trip was such a joy. Everything went smoothly and the group meshed so well. I am grateful to these special women for welcoming me warmly and sharing their lives with me. I appreciated what the guides did for us VIPs (visually impaired person) and I was inspired by the VIPs. It is always reassuring to me to be with others who are visually impaired and managing life so well…it empowers me to keep on and encourages me to “see the possibilities” for new adventures. Happy Trails!

 

Happy Birthday Ms. Sophie!

My guide dog turned 5 years old yesterday. All day I pondered the ways she enriches my life and facilitates my independence. I celebrated her with extra hugs and special attentions and she ate it up. I even fixed her a “birthday” treat which my sister shared with me. (Take several doggie treats and place them in a small bowl. Cover with water or chicken broth and freeze. Pop it out of the bowl and give to your dog) Sophie loved her popsicle and worked on it out in the yard. She also got a juicy bone to chew today!

Sophie enjoying her birthday popsicle

Sophie enjoying her birthday popsicle

     ” Be the person your dog thinks you are.”

It just so happened that Leader Dogs for the Blind asked me to write a list of “Top Ten Ways My Leader Dog Assists Me” for a media campaign the day before Sophie’s birthday. I enjoyed thinking about that list and it marked her birthday in a special way. So here is what I came up with:

Top Ten Ways My Leader Dog Assists Me…

    10. My Leader Dog helps me to live a healthy walking lifestyle.

     9.  With my Leader Dog, I am more engaged in my community with    organizations like Lions Clubs and local school groups.

     8. My Leader Dog helps break the ice and start conversations socially.

     7. I feel confident and eager to go places with my Leader Dog.

     6. My Leader Dog gets me from here to there with style, grace, and efficiency.

     5. My Leader Dog keeps me on a schedule and encourages me to play.

     4. My Leader dog helps me walk in a straight line, maintaining my balance, pace, and route.

     3.My Leader Dog assists me to stay safe while walking, avoiding obstacles like curbs, signs, and people.

     2.With my Leader Dog, I am able to walk with my head up and enjoy my surroundings.

…and the #1 way my guide dog assists me is she provides unlimited love, adoration and devotion which lifts my spirit and enriches my life…what is not great about being adored?! 

Happy Birthday Sophie…I love you to the moon and back!