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A New Chapter… Welcoming an addition to my family

Close up photo of a golden retrievers head with light brown nose almost booping the camera

Nobody knew that when Fizz retired in November 2021 that I would be without a guide dog for so long. However, at the end of April I got to meet a very handsome young man.

He is a full golden retriever and all being well, he will be my third guide dog.

His name ins Ben and he was not even born when Fizz retired. He is a very clever pup and as such is only just 18 months old.

We are off on class in early June.

watch this space for many ‘snap shot blogs’ of our training and new chapter together.

Splashing in puddles

There are very few instances where I would say my long cane is better than my living, breathing, thinking guide dog; however puddles would most certainly be on the list.

Why you may be asking? Well, it comes down to feedback.

Despite being a Labrador-Retriever Cross, my guide dog Fizz DID NOT like walking in puddles when she is in harness. Which you may think is brilliant for me, however that isn’t the case; as she has no issue with walking me through the puddle as long as she can keep her own paws dry.

So generally the first I know there is a puddle is when I find myself walking in it. The only time I get a heads up that it may be there is because Fizz will walk be either to the left or right of the path so she doesn’t have to walk in it.

This is where a cane is very different. And it can actually give me additional information too on how deep the puddle may be, or how much of the path it covers.

How? I hear you ask….

As a long cane works by sweeping the ground before you, roughly by one and a half steps ahead of me based on the sweeping motion, it can give not just feedback on the objects that may be in the in my path, but the texture and changes of the ground itself.

And when that comes to water, the sound and feel of the sweep is altered.

A shallow covering of water gives very little resistances; yet a deep puddle is like moving a spoon through thick custard.

And as I sweep wirh my cane around a puddle the sound also helps to give feedback on the depth; so that I can try and walk through the shallower parts or even avoid the puddle all together.

Candy gets an upgrade

When Fizz retired in November 2021, I didn’t expect to facing the summer still being reliant on a cane.

But here we are heading into July and the bruises on my stomach and side from multiple cane jabs are beginning to take its toll.

I had previously increased my cane tip from a marshmallow (size and shape not texture!) to a ball. Which as the name suggests is like having a white tennis ball on the end of my cane. The larger tip meant that the jabs were fewer; but the larger the tip the less sensation and feedback.

To give an example of this, beside my house is an older crossing where the tactile paving is under a tree, so throughout the winter the leaves would cover the tactile paving and as such make it difficult to feel that I was approaching the crossing as the larger ball tip didn’t pick up the bumps beneath the leaves.

So, as I am about to head away for a break in Cornwall; I undecided an upgrade was on the cards. Through Facebook connections and groups I had seen a few friends using the ‘no jab cane’. It looked amazing.

So, what is a no jab cane? I hear you ask.

Its actually quite clever: it is where the handle and first section of the cane is hollow, with a spring inside, so that when the cane tip gets caught or jars on an object or cracked paving stone the cane has a shock absorber, that by going into the handle softens the blow and saves my stomach or sides from a blunt force jab.

Because I need as much feedback as possible from my cane I also ordered it with reverting back to the marshmallow tip.

It’s been amazing! The feedback from the smaller tip is much preferred and although there is the occasional jab; I certainly feel the shock absorber taking the force more often instead of me.

The handle on the cane is also much more comfortable; instead of being a black sponge like coating, it is a padded red leather with both a rounded edge and a flat edge to be more comfortable in my hand. As usual the cane also comes with a black elastic strap to secure around my wrist and to secure the cane when folded.

My cane still has the red and white reflectors, so is still my ‘candy cane’ … But a much appreciated upgrade.

When you realise you know a little too much geek about crossings

Recently Open Sight hosted an afternoon tea in my town. This saw many people visiting from outside the area. I was asked to help give directions for those coming in on both the train and the bus; because they are at opposite ends of town in relation to the venue.

Fareham has a funny one-way system that was put in place to elongate the traffic entering the town.

It was when explaining this to the visitors that I realise I know a little too much about light controlled crossings, which I just assumed was ‘common knowledge’ to all.

So, thought it was time I shared some of my geeky knowledge with the rest of you

Firstly, many people assume that the button controls for pedestrian lights are always on the right hand side; that’s not actually the case. The button control is always on the side of the oncoming traffic; it is just that on an ordinary road this places it on the right hand side. However, when you are on a one-way street the button control may well be on the left to indicate the direction of traffic.

In Hampshire (thanks to Hampshire highways only using Siemens traffic lights) all button controlled lights also have a cone under the yellow box; this cone spins when the green man comes on to indicate it is safe for visually impaired and blind people to cross.

Not all button controlled traffic lights have a beep; this isn’t because the sound is broken rather it is another tactic to support those who are visually impaired or even hard of hearing. If there are multiple sets of button controlled lights close to each other then the sound will be removed from them all. Especially if different lights run on different sequences. This is to make it safer for pedestrians; to save someone stepping out in front of moving traffic because they mishear the beep from a near by button controlled crossing.

So, here it is just some of the more interesting parts of my ‘geek knowledge’ when it comes to traffic lights and pedestrian crossings.

And don’t even ask me to start to explain the different types and styles of tactile paving !!!

Waving Away!

I thought as it’s been a while; so I felt compelled to share my latest ‘blind fail’ with you all … It’s a good one!

Despite not having my guide dog I have pushed myself each day to enjoy at least one long walk. Some days this is in the countryside or along the beach, but more often than not it’s around my local area.

On this particular walk I was walking on a road I know very well. I was approaching the junction of a side road and preparing to cross.

As I approached the junction I heard a car engine to my left.

The sun was bright, but I could make out a bright blue car on the left directly opposite the junction, so assumed it was also the engine I could hear:

As a guide dog owner, old habits die hard and I waved the car on: this is partly because the sound of the engine could be masking the sound of other approaching traffic or even bicycles.

I waved the car on … Nothing.

I waved it on again … Still nothing.

At this point a man appeared to be speaking to me from the other side of the road.

“Wait there I am coming to you.”

He crossed over and stood beside me, he asked me what help I needed and I explained I was simply waiting for this car to move on and then I would cross:

It was at this point (with a smile on his voice) he explained that there was no car waiting to turn.

The blue car was actually parked and had nobody inside it.

The car engine I could hear was on a driveway, the car had its doors and bonnet open, so was not moving anytime soon.

So it was safe for me to cross.  And it had been for some time!

The kind man explained he was loading a van up the street and had seen me waving my arm; but he couldn’t get to me any sooner as his arms had been full.

I laughed when he explained it all, because it’s moments like this that if I didn’t laugh I could easily cry.

I made my apologies and rushed off as quickly as I could without breaking into an actual run!

When relaying this embarrassing story to a sighted friend they helpfully pointed out…

Rule 243 of the Highway Code states you must not park opposite or within 10 metres (32 feet) of a junction, except in an authorised parking space.”

This didn’t make me feel any less embarrassed,  however one bonus to tthis sight loss journey is that I would never recognise the kind man who came to my aid, if I saw him again. So that’s a small mercy, right?

Pain of a Cane

It’s been six months now since the whirlwind that was my second guide dog Fizz retired. She is living her best life, enjoying her retirement and even living with another black lab who is also retired; but much younger than her called Ashby. So you could even say she has found herself a toy boy!

I have been missing her terribly in all honesty.

Not just as my guide dog, but as my companion.

The house seems too quiet when the kids aren’t home.

However a friends suggestion of a weighted blanket on my bed has certainly helped. Especially because in the last few years I had allowed Fizz to slip into the habit of sleeping on my bed. The extra weight on the covers really does help.

I could have used the excuse of reverting back to ‘Candy’ (my cane has red stripes to symbolise that I am deaf blind, thus picking up the nick-name candy the cane) as a way to shut off the outside world and limit (or restrict) my independence. Especially over the winter months when the darkness was greater.

But I didn’t …

I set myself the challenge of walking each day, some days this has been the 4 mile round trip to grab a coffee from Nero. (Other coffee houses are available)

When I am on a route I know well and is fairly quiet; like the route to town. I can feel quite free, quite confident and faster in my walking pace.

However, as I approach the shops, the busier areas and the unpredictability of people I can feel quite weak. I liken it to feeling like a small child. And I get even smaller when I come across the unexpected; such as building works, market stalls or additional outside seating for cafes etc.

However, I am stubborn. I refuse to let this weaken me. I just wished that my cane had sort of robotic system in it that I could say “let’s go to the bank” and it would navigate me there avoiding all the obstacles?

Oh wait … That’s a guide dog!

What I really REALLY really need is for “That Call” to say a possible match has been found.

I am (one of) the highest priories on the Guide Dog waiting list. However, as I have explained before. They look to match the personality and lifestyle of the person to the personality and workability of the dog. Along with looking at other things such as walking speed, the persons height and workload for the dog. Which all means that there may still be some time to wait for a dog that matches my needs.

So, for now it’s back ti my love-hate relationship with Candy and asking friends for a little more support.

And trying not to cause any more bruises from the regular stomach jabs or arm jars in the process.

Apologies for the silence … Its taken some time

Photograph of Tee on the patio with a cream garden wall behind, with Guide dog fizz sat on the left in her harness . Both looking at the camera.

Facebook memories are a blessing and a curse.

Take today as an example, today it popped up in my memories that it was seven years ago today that my first guide dog Vicky did her last school run. And my GDMI (Guide Dog Mobility Instructor) took her harness and sash, signifying the start of her retirement.

And this day seven years ago is the very same day I started my training with my second guide dog Fizz.

So, why today is this (usually joyous) memory upsetting?

Because yesterday is 2 months since I did my last working walk with Fizz. Before she retired and was rehomed via Guide Dogs.

Landscape photograph of guide dog fizz laid on the carpet looking up at the camera with her tail wagging and a little blurred

Sadly, Fizz retired before a third dog has been found for me; what with a global pandemic, delays have been incurred and I continue to wait for ‘The Call’.

I have returned to using my cane, who has aptly gained the nickname ‘Candy’ because of her red and white stripes. (which are the universal symbol of a person with both sight and hearing loss)

And it is bit of a love – hate relationship at times, being totally honest. I am grateful it is a skill that I have maintained as I am able to keep my independence. However the regular cane jabs and bumps are something I would happily live without.

Fizz retired at the grand age of ten and half, she had worked with me for just under 7 years and it was time for her to be able to put her paws up, not have to concentrate on keeping me safe and sniff all those smells she usually has to ignore while in harness.

The Guide Dogs charity have been an amazing support to us both during her working life and this has continued in her retirement. They supported me and found Fizz her retirement home.

Fizz has also stayed within the Guide Dog Family, so her new owner has been keeping me updated on how she has settled, on her new canine companions and I have even been fortunate to receive regular photographs with the updates.

It was the right time for Fizz to hang up her harness. This however doesn’t stop me being upset that she has gone. Knowing she is working those puppy eyes and wrapping her new owner around her paws is a great comfort though. She is a very emotionally sensitive dog and it will still be taking her time to adjust to.

Although I am sure not having to guide in wind and rain is surely helping with that.

There are lots of changes happening here for me too, but that’s another post or three! Lets just say, I haven’t been sitting still.

Remembering the day everything changed; yet stayed the same

Thirteen years is a long time:  It’s also an incredible measure.  

On this day 13 years ago I left my Consultants office feeling that my life was over; all because in that 45 minute appointment where I entered expecting to discuss a double cataract operation to DRAMATICALLY IMPROVE my sight I actually found myself leaving with my CVI (Certificate of Visual Impairment) and being told that my sight was already bad enough for me to be registered Severely Sight Impaired. (previously classed as BLIND)

And in the grand scheme of things, the risks of cataract surgery because of my eye movement (Nystagmus) would not offer me any significant benefit.

This day 13 years ago, nothing significantly or physically had changed with my sight.  The deterioration had been there all of my life, but it had been so gradual and undetectable by my optician that even though Doctors predicted that I would go blind as a child; because this hadn’t come to fruition at the age of 10/11 I had been discharged from the hospital.

And only after a chance conversation with my optician about how long it took my eyes to adjust from outside to inside has found me back seeing the consultant at the local eye hospital for the first time since I was about 12!

This day 13 years ago was actually the beginning of so many good things.  

However that wasn’t before I went through some incredibly dark times (mentally) and still do to this day.

I am so very grateful to those who have walked beside me in the last 13 years.  

As well as those who have walked away.  

Because for someone who now no longer makes out even that GIANT single letter on the eye chart or anything that is not within the 3% of my remaining central vision; the way my life has changed in those 13 years has enabled me to see many situation incredibly clearly. (Pun intended)

So with a smile, a positive outlook and an AMAZING group of cheerleaders behind me.  I am the girl I am today because of the pain I faced ON THIS DAY 13 years ago.

My sight has deteriorated dramatically from that appointment 13 years ago, but my character, my inner strength and my stubbornness have got me this far. And I have no doubt they will get me through the next 13+ years.

Part of life just got A LOT simpler !!!

The role of the designer is that of a good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.

Charles Eames

I first read this while studying at university 21 years ago; in this previous life before my severely sight impaired diagnosis and even a half decent understand of how terrible my vision was, this quote spoke to me.

Along with a book called ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ by Don Norman that was yellow with a red coffee pot that had the handle and the spout on the same side have always stuck with me.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, just as I have previously written about how Steve Jobs had a vision for Apple that put accessibility at its very core, instead of an after thought. Being mindful at the design stage can change the experiences of the end user.

Apple isn’t the only company or product to do this. My Breville ‘One Cup‘ is another example as are the scales I received today.

As an independent Herbalife Distributor who allowed lockdown to take control, I gained far too much weight, teamed with not climbing or swimming and well you can imagine where I found myself at the beginning of the year?

I have for the past 5 years started my day with a Herbalife Nutrition shake along with a whizzy, fat burning tea. However throughout lockdown my healthy, good nutrition would start and end with breakfast!

The products are good, however they are not magical.

So, fast forward (or is it rewind?) to January this year; January when I turned 40! When a friend shared a photo of me sat at their dining-room table and I realised how much I had let myself go. Yes I could feel my clothes were tight, uncomfortable and I was certainly not happy, however as someone who can’t see the reflection in the mirror; I was in denial.

I looked at that photo over and over again. I felt embarrassed, mortified and realised that I needed to make some changes.

I had all the tools I needed, the products in my kitchen cupboards and a wealth of knowledge. I had to start treating myself like I was a client, a client in Herbalife was something I hadn’t had in a while; (after all who is going to take weight loss advice from a fat person?)

So I (Re-) started my journey, went back to basics, a simple 1, 2, 3 approach and along with a new model; I found my focus.

There was just one part of the process that was VERY difficult.

Each morning, after I woke and popped to the bathroom I would stand on my bathroom scales.

My scales are a little more detailed than your average scales, they were in-fact Tanita Scanners. In addition to my weight I would get a whole host of other information, most importantly my body hydration and body fat percentages.

These scanners are programmable, with memory. All I had to do was switch them on, wait for them to beep and stand on. They would record all the measurements and then beep several times to say I could step off.

All my measurements were saved so I could grab my phone and take a photo of each measurement to zoom in on and record in a little challenge group I am in.

These scanners were a game changer for me as long gone were the days when I could when see my feet when stood upright, let alone the neon green scales beneath them, all before even trying to make out that in the middle was a digital display.

However, in the last 3 or 4 weeks my sight has changed (there’s another blog coming about that) it was taking more concentration to read from the photos.

I needed another solution.

I didn’t even look at talking bathroom scales. I didn’t research ANY accessible, visually impaired products. Instead I focussed my research on scanners like those I had that I could use with an app.

My reasoning for this?

If the scanners relayed all the data into an app, I could use zoom on my phone to read that data.

Today my Kamtron scanners arrived. I chose these based on the ‘Fitdays’ app which looked the simplest on the App Store. They were also significantly cheaper than the Bluetooth enabled Tanitas that appeared (on paper) to do the same thing.

They connect via Bluetooth to the app. All I have to do is touch the button on the back of the scanners, wait for the beep and step on, a little sound emanates from my phone when the data is recorded and off I step.

Then by using the ‘read screen’ toggle on my iPhone all the details are read out to me, no taking photos, no screenshots to then have to zoom in on. And more importantly no masses of screenshot photos taking up space on my phone or iCloud!

So simple…

Good products designed well can easily help and support those who may have additional or altered needs.

It may just be a ‘happy coincidence’ that this product is so accessible? It may have been part of the design brief? Sadly I will never know which, I will simply refer back to my original quote.

The role of the designer is that of a good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.

Charles Eames

FOOTNOTE: In writing this post I am simply sharing a product I found that works for me, I am not in anyway endorsing Kamtron Scales or The Fitdays app. Just as I have previously spoken about other products and apps.

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