Tag Archive for independence

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.

Dogs just wanna to have fun!

It is true to say that many people only think of guide dogs as well trained, hard working dogs. This is of-course true; however there is also the puppy that comes out to play when the harness is removed.

As part of fizz’s work she, like us humans needs to have her down time; her run around with other dogs and possibly much more importantly that time where she can stick her nose to the ground and have a good sniff and as my son calls it ‘check her Pee-Mail’s’ which she doesn’t do when in harness.

This weekend was proof that she has plenty of time to explore and have no responsibility.

This weekend we met up with her dog friend Dave, we walked in fields, beaches and along the canal. She got to sniff, roll, swim and run.

She certainly did not act like a 10 year old guide dog, she certainly covered double if not more than the 8 miles I walked.

She met other dogs, soaked in expecting passers-by and even enjoyed a sneaky empty ice-cream cone.

A new friend we were with commented “I thought guide dogs were always working and well behaved?”

Nope and Nope!

She wasn’t naughty, she was just ‘being a dog’

So, it’s not all work and actually when she has had a really good run it can actually improve her work.

It’s all about having a good work-life balance.

Sunglasses after sunset…

Spring is in full flow; with frosty mornings and the lighter evenings it is as if there are more hours in the day; or rather it is the illusion that more daylight creates. It is wonderful for lifting the mood after what felt like an even longer than usual winter considering much of it was spent in lockdown or local restrictions because of the continuing covid pandemic.

Spring and summer evenings extend the opportunity for me to get out for a walk. Recently I have deliberately headed out as the sun has begin to set to experience the lowering light levels; ensuring I am home before it actually gets dark as this is when my sight changes dramatically.

Part of my sight condition is ‘night blindness’ which for me means that any lights that are on are glaring and sometimes even painful to look at. While the light they cast is actually totally lost on me as I would be lucky to see my own hand in front of my face. It is a time when Fizz really has to work; which over the years together she has learnt to do. She will even pause on the step up a curb when its dark as apposed to daylight when she will just step straight up. (which has on more recent occasions seen me trip) yet in the dark, she does this without being asked.

Today, due to circumstance I found myself heading out for our evening walk AFTER the sun had gone down, it wasn’t really dark, but dark enough for the street lights to be on. Having been a beautifully sunny day I found myself with my sunglasses sat on the top of my head; so took the opportunity to test something out.

I have previously sat in a friends car (when we could do that sort of thing) and put my sunglasses on to help reduce the ‘dazzle’ I was getting from oncoming cars when it was dark, although I was sat still and didn’t need to actually concentrate on my surroundings. Tonight however was different, I was walking with Fizz, all be it on a route we both know well. It may sound silly, but I felt nervous, anxious even.

But it was just a pair of sunglasses, I could always take them off again, only (other than to capture this photo) I didn’t. The reduction in ‘dazzle’ from oncoming cars was AMAZING and it wasn’t just cars that I found it worked with; the reduction in glare from the street lights was also really good.

Photograph taken looking through sunglasses, to show the lighter sky and street light outside the sunglasses, with a darker tint and glare reduction though the sunglasses

The reduction in what I could see was affected, however only in the way that I had lost the shadow definition, however with Fizz guiding me I felt comfortable with it all. Fizz quickly picked up that I was being more vocal with my commands and as we walked further she adjusted to the change in light levels too.

So, from now on it will be sunglasses after sunset as well as before.

Nope, No tears even though we are in Tiers

With covid cases again on the increase and new strains popping up it is no real surprise that as a Country, most of England has entered into stronger restrictions as of December 26th.

For me, I wanted to ensure I didn’t repeat some of the ‘blind fails’ that I incurred during both the first Lockdown and Lockdown 2.0. While being able to increase my walking, for both fitness and stamina.

So, my Christmas present to myself was two new cane tips. Sadly one won’t actually arrive until January, however I am off to a great start with the first.

I introduce you to my Ambutech High Milage Rolling Ball Tip.

Ambutech High milage roller tip on the end of red and white cane, with my hand to the right for size comparison

Measuring 5.1cm it is significantly larger than my previous tip as well as feeling much heavier. My cane is a slimline graphite long cane which gives it more ‘bouncy’ and initially on adding the tip felt like it was ‘dragging’ but as I have got used to and learned to release my grip on my cane handle it has got easier.

As for tip itself ….. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G !!! A long 2mi walk and not a single ‘cane jab’ or it catching on anything. I deliberately walked a route where the paving slabs are cracked, the path has roots in it and where I have previously experienced many a ‘cane jab’ or catch.

So, as the title suggest. “Nope, no tears even though we are in tiers.”

Eek …. 40 is fast approaching

As my youngest has recently celebrated turning 10, it makes me aware that the next birthday is our family is mine.

My birthday has often been a Love-Hate subject for me, being at the beginning of January it’s always been pretty rubbish timing. (Better than it could have been, I believe my due date was December 21st)

As a child I often got money for my birthday, which mixed with what were True-January sales I got so much more for my money. However since adulthood as much as I would love to celebrate and socialise with friends I am acutely aware that January is a VERY long month.

Many often joke that January is actually much longer than its 31 days, which in reference to paydays is certainly true; as it can be as much as Seven weeks rather than Five.

However, a real plus for me is that restaurants and pubs are generally much quieter for these exact same reasons! Meaning that I can enjoy myself without the worry of additional difficulties because of noise, crowds and party-type lighting. (Hence the Love-Hate)

Having my youngest 10 years ago meant that I was a very tired newish mum for my thirtieth as it was a very different experience to when I had my eldest because of the changes in my sight.

Lots of people have started asking what I want to do the celebrate.

And honestly, with the world still in the middle of these ‘unprecedented times’ and with so many restrictions in place, there is a distinct possibly that even if I started RIGHT NOW….. I would not achieve what I want to by the end my thirties with a ‘Forty things before I am Forty Bucket list’

So, the question is; do I make it ‘Forty things to do as I turn Forty’?

Or as one friend suggested….. “Celebrating beginning my Naughty Forties in Style”

And if that is the case, What do I do?

I do have a pretty big ‘challenge’ planned for 2021, which is currently being tweaked and trained for. Which, linking to my previous challenges (Gherkin 2014, Cheesegrater 2017 and my Tube Challenge 2019) will be following the London theme.

This Challenge will most certainly help me to achieve my fundraising target to name a guide dog pup and future life-changer. Which would be an AMAZING way to celebrate starting my “Naughty-Forties.”

With the exception of this year (thanks lockdown!) I have in recent years taken to a solo travel adventure, so it is only fitting that that would be included. But I would also like to do something with my children, with friends and with those I now come to call family.

I do also like the idea of celebrating in several different ways. I’m not thinking of a big party; actually I can’t think of anything worse! Rather many smaller and different experiences that will be much easier to adapt to include my different circles of friends and family.

It goes without saying there will be Climbing, Hiking, Tandem Riding, London, Trains, Beaches, Cocktails and Cake …. Plenty of Cake!

But as for particulars….. This is where you my reader comes in. What would you do if you were me?

Please comment below and help me make this an amazing and incredible year to look forward to.

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What is this all leading to ?

Yellow medal staring 50 miles walked

Lockdown has not been easy for me from a mental health point of view. As someone who holds multiply volunteer roles I work better when my schedule is full.

They say

If you want something done, ask a busy person.

And for me that is most definitely the case. When I have all the time in the world to do something it never gets done. To the point that my diary schedule now also includes specific days and times for mundane housework.

I also need to find something to get me working out, gaining strength and becoming fitter; rather than just sitting in front of Netflix’s.

Along came a Facebook advert for a virtual challenge called ‘Race At Your Pace.’ Ever skeptical about just adverts I asked a few friends and they confirmed it was a genuine company and that actually many of them were doing a running challenge with them.

Social distancing for me with a visual impairment means that I am unable to run or cycle; given that I need either a guide runner to run with me or a pilot to ride my tandem.

Which left me with walking.

Not a problem, as I needed to exercise my guide dog Fizz, and this was a mix between ‘working walks’ for her in harness and ‘sniffy walks’ where she was on a longer lead and able to just be a dog, sniffing at each post to catch up on all the ‘Pee-Mails’

So, April’s challenge was set, I set myself the target of 50 miles of walking workouts. Which I new was a MASSIVE challenge for me, however with both indoor walks and outdoor walks counting I felt it was achievable.

Oh how wrong was I?

In April I did walk 50 miles, however it saw me going right up to the last minute with a 4 mile walk on the 30th April. Having always measured my distance in Kilometres, it was a bit of a shock to the system to measure in Miles.

However when this beauty arrived in the post I felt proud that I had achieved it.

And having gone right to the wire for April I knew I needed to work harder. So not only did I re-enter for May, but upped the distance…. This time 65miles.

A target that I not only reached on the 29th May with 2 days to spare but I discovered that I had smashed through it as only looking a ‘walking workouts’ on my Apple Watch did not include the 6+miles I had recorded as ‘Hikes’.

So yes, you have probably guessed by now, I am going again in June, I am again increasing my distance…. increasing to 75 miles.

But why?

I hear you ask, we’ll Lockdown has been a time of planning, and for now let’s just say when the world reopens I will be walking much much further than 50, or 65 , or even 75 miles……

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