White Cane vs Guide Dog

So I realize that it has been quite a while since I have written a post. Life has gotten away from me, I suppose.

The other day I took my old yellow lab, Minnie, on a short walk around the block. That is about all she can tolerate these days, she is slowing down so much. Because she walks much slower than Nabisco, I had chosen to leave Nabisco home and go out with my white cane. This was the first time I had used my cane since getting Nabisco almost 6 months ago (has it been that long already??). WOW! What a difference he has made in my mobility. With my white cane, I was forced to walk slower, with my cane getting stuck in every small crack in the sidewalk. It was much more frustrating. When I walk with Nabisco, we fly! We can go so much faster and it is truly a much more relaxing way of going. I am so happy to have Nabisco and he has made such an amazing difference in my life.

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One thing I never considered when switching from my cane to a guide dog was the impact it would have on my relationship with my husband. Although it has not been significant, there has been a small change that we both have noticed. Prior to getting Nabisco, I used to hold my husband’s hand whenever we went out, now with Nabisco since he walks so fast and my focus is on him, I am not able to hold his hand as easily. This may seem inconsequential and seem like a good thing as I am not as dependent on my husband, but it has taken away one avenue of physical closeness that we shared together.

Our solution: we will work to incorporate time when we are able to go places or go for walks without Nabisco so I can hold his hand and my attention doesn’t have to be split.

Practice What I Preach

Recently I have been reflecting back on my own use of assistive devices. As an occupational therapist, we are often recommending assistive technology or adaptations and modifications. The trick is getting our clients to use them. I have a whole host of devices for low vision that I am spotty at using. I know I need to use them and they would help me a lot (decrease fatigue), but sometimes I just don’t. The trick is getting me to use them. I am not much different than any of the students I work with.

I think one of the main reasons why I choose to take off my glasses and look close to the paper or computer screen (my MO) instead of getting out a magnifier, is that I have not been properly trained to be proficient and efficient in the use of my adaptive devices. This is ESSENTIAL when teaching clients the use of adaptive devices. You can’t just hand them the technology (low or high tech) and expect it to work for them, as it was done for me. It is very important that the individual has buy in and that they are trained so that they feel comfortable and confident in using the device and it feels easier to use the device than not.

With my work, traveling to and from 7 different schools on the bus, I am not able to carry around a device for every little thing.  I need to simplify. Instead of carrying magnifiers, my CCTV, monoculars, and my iPad; I have simplified it to one monocular, a magnifier app on my iPhone, my work iPad and laptop.

I need to dedicate time to practicing and becoming proficient at the use of my tools. This is hard to do when I am barely keeping up as it is and to take the extra time to go slow and learn these tools. It would have been much easier if I was taught these skills at a young age or even better when I was given these tools only a few years back.

I need to keep this all in mind as I work with my OT students and as I work harder to learn to use my tools more efficiently. I need to be patient with myself.

 

The Gift of Freedom and Independence!

This Christmas I am celebrating many lovely things in my life, a good job, a wonderful marriage, a loving family, and a place to call home. I am also celebrating something else very special this Christmas. The gift of freedom and independence. Something that I strive to give to all my OT clients, I have found for myself. This is through the partnership with a Guide Dog.

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On December 5, 2015, I graduated from Guide Dogs for the Blind with my enthusiastic, 68b, black Labrador Guide Dog named Nabisco. He is one of the best things that has come into my life. I always thought I could walk fast before my white cane, and even faster and safer with my white cane, but the speed, freedom and relaxation of traveling with Nabisco as my mobility partner is unsurpassable. I feel so much safer navigating the streets of Portland and through my daily life as an occupational therapist and independent woman. As with any new mobility tool or way of life, there is always a learning curve and we are learning to work together as a team, but I am so impressed with his eagerness to work and please and his intelligence. He is such a smart dog and he takes his job of keeping me safe very seriously. I love him more than words can explain and he gives me so much.

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As a former puppy raiser for Guide Dogs for the Blind, I know the dedication that it takes to raise these puppies and pass them off for formal training. I know the power and emotion that comes with presenting them to their blind partner on stage at graduation, but it was an absolutely amazing experience of being on the other end of the leash receiving a Guide Dog on stage at graduation. Everything has come full circle and it was a beautiful thing. I am so thankful to Nabisco’s puppy raisers! It is so amazing to me that Nabisco was raised on a farm with livestock and has been exposed to people with disabilities. What a perfect match for my lifestyle? He fits me so well in so many ways.

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I had the most amazing experience in training at Guide Dogs for the Blind. I lived in the dorms of their Oregon Campus for 2 weeks where I was able to spend dedicated time learning to work with Nabisco. I shared this experience with 3 other wonderful classmates who came from all walks of life and lifestyles and it was so great to get to share in this experience with them and we all did so well and supported each other so much. I have even stayed in touch with them since we have gotten home and it is wonderful to continue that support. The trainers and staff at Guide Dogs for the Blind are truly amazing and they would do anything to see us succeed. I am so thankful to all of them.

As Nabisco and I are building our relationship, I am amazed at his intelligence. Just the other day we were leaving Timberline Lodge and headed back to our car through the snowy parking lot. Nabisco took us directly to our car! I can’t believe he remembered exactly where it was and was able to navigate that environment in the cold and snow when his sound, smell, and sight cues were dampened. Truly amazing!

I have gotten to have Nabisco in the schools with me working as an OT. It has been really fun! All of my fellow co-workers and students enjoy having him there and we are providing a good learning opportunity for all the students. I enjoy telling them what Nabisco does for me and answering all of their questions. Kids are so insightful! One of my fellow OT’s and I wrote a social story about Nabisco to share with my students when we return from break. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Nabisco and I as an occupational therapy team and as a guide dog team!

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Occupational Therapist with Low Vision – Assistive Technology

I work as an occupational therapist for a large urban school district. I serve 7 schools and ~80+ students from K-12th grade. This is a big job for any therapist, but because I have low vision, I have extra hurdles to overcome in my daily work.

This job requires me to do a lot of different things, but to name a few, I have to:

  • Travel from school to school via city bus
  • Complete documentation/respond to email on the computer
  • Review/Read client files
  • Administer and score standardized tests
  • Make observations of students in the classroom or other school environments such as cafeteria or playground
  • Work with students on fine motor/handwriting activities
  • and much, much, more.

These are all very visual tasks. If I do not use my own adaptive equipment then I find myself getting extremely fatigued by the end of the day. In addition, many of these tasks are straining on my eyes and are very difficult for me.

In order to combat the fatigue and make these tasks easier for me, I use a variety of assistive technologies throughout my work day.

First, I use my white cane to travel to and from my schools as well as throughout my schools. I have written about my cane use before. I find that it really helps others know that I cannot see well and it helps me with navigating and detecting objects in my path. I love hearing the student’s comments and questions about my cane!

Second, to complete computer work, I use screen magnification software to magnify the screen and make things easier to read. I either use ZoomText or the built in Accessibility features on the Mac. The accessibility features on the Mac are awesome! I am really impressed with the built in capabilities that allow me to use magnification to make the computer easier to see without really expensive software.

Third, to read normal print when looking at printed reports, client files, or standardized assessments, I use a wide variety of magnifiers to assist me with these tasks that make the print larger. I have a Ruby Video Magnifier that I really like as I can make the font different sizes and I can invert the colors to find the one that is best for me. My one biggest complaint with my Ruby magnifier is the battery life. Often times, I go to use it and the batteries are dead. I also have a variety of other lighted magnifiers, but they are at a set magnification of 4x or 5x. I find that this is sometimes not enough magnification for me.

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Fourth, to view students at a distance in a variety of school environments (classroom, cafeteria, playground, etc) I use my 4x monocular. This allows me to sit near the back of the classroom and see the details about what a student is doing (seated posture, pencil grasp, movement, sometimes handwriting). I find this really helpful in the classroom, but it is difficult to track a student while they are running around the playground or in a crowded cafeteria.

Fifth, when working with students one on one or in small groups, I sometimes find it challenging to redirect them while they are working on handwriting because it is hard to see the details of what they are doing. I am able to correct big things like if they are starting at the bottom vs. the top, but sometimes I have to let them just form the letter and then I will discuss it with them after once I get a chance to look at the writing closer.

For me, the hardest part is that since I do have residual vision, I am able to read normal sized print if I squint, look really close to the paper, and work really hard. After hours of doing this throughout the work day for all visual tasks, I am worn out! This is not a sustainable practice throughout my life. I am working really hard to use my adaptive devices more to make things easier and help make not only my job, but my life less fatiguing. One thing I am trying to do is use VoiceOver when using my iPhone to limit the amount of small print I am visually reading. As with learning anything new, it is often slower and less efficient at first, but once you learn, it will hopefully speed things up and make it better. This is really important for me as an occupational therapist to remember because I am often teaching students to use assistive technology and I need to remind them that until they learn it and after practice it will get better.

I am always on the search for new, better, and more efficient low vision aids. As a OT who travels to many different schools, I can’t carry a lot of things with me so I need to fine one or two things that do it all and do it efficiently. Some days I feel like I have yet to find this.

If anyone has any suggestions on tools, apps, strategies, or different ways of doing things, I would love to hear them. Please share!

Trust?

This morning I had an experience that left me feeling fearful, vulnerable, and anxious.

I was out running errands and as I was walking out of the store, through the parking lot with my cane, a lady stopped her car as I was about to enter the intersection and said ” Ma’am, be careful, there has been a man following you”. My heart began to race and as I walked to my bus stop all I could think about are the ways that I could handle someone if they really did come up and try to attack me: spill my hot tea all over him, hit him with my cane, ect. Was she telling me the truth?

I was really scared.

Having this experience made me think about the fact that I am a visually impaired woman. I have never looked at myself from the perspective of being weak or someone who could be taken advantage of. I am a strong, capable, woman, and no one can take that away from me. But, this experience made me stop and think. With all of violence, crime, and horrible things that happen in this world, maybe this is something I should prepare for. Maybe I should take a self defense class or carry a bottle of mace.

I can’t let one little incident make me fearful just to go out, but it was a bit of a reality check.

I was curious so I looked up some statistics. According to the Department of Justice, 13 out of 1,000 woman with visual disabilities are victims of violence which is a decrease since 2009 where the rate was 22 out of 1,000 woman.

For those with visual impairments or those without, what are your thoughts on these types of situations? What do you do?

White Cane Travel

Now that I have started back to work for the school district, I am using my white cane very regularly. With this comes the benefits and drawbacks. I started using my cane about 2 years ago. When it was offered to me by my teacher of the visually impaired through Washington State Services for the Blind, I wasn’t so sure about it. Me? A white cane user? No one has ever offered this to me in the past. I was willing however to give it a shot, if nothing else as an identifier to others that I don’t see as well. I started my O and M lessons and quickly realized the benefits of traveling with my cane. First of all, it allows me to look up where I am going instead of staring at the ground as I walk. This allows me to use my remaining vision as well as more efficiently and effectively interact with my environment. It gives me a sense of confidence. I no long mistep on curbs and stairs. Changes in lighting are not as much of an issue and it tells others I don’t see well which is helpful for street crossings and interacting with and getting a bus driver’s attention.

Working for the schools I interact with many people and I love hearing students questions and ideas of what my cane is all about. My favorite was when I was walking down the hall of an elementary school and a student exclaims “she has a bomb detector”. Not quite sure how to respond to that. I was in the store the other night and a man standing next to me in line asked me if it was a special kind of hiking pole. I had to explain what it is for. It was a good reminder to me that even at this day in age, not everyone knows the purpose of a white cane. That makes me a little sad.

I use my cane almost 100% of the time when I am out and about. It has really become a part of me and I don’t feel comfortable without it now. It is amazing how much I think it has helped me. People around me have commented that I walk more confidently and faster.

With all these amazing benefits I have experienced, there are some major drawbacks to using the cane. First of all, it is supposed to detect changes in the environment around me, but it frequently gets stuck in the smallest sidewalk crack or tree root. This causes me to impale myself in the gut or hip, bruising myself. Although my travel is better with my cane, it is frustrating and stressful and not relaxing. Another aspect that annoys me is that when I am sitting on the sideways seats on the bus, minding my own business, people don’t pay attention and grab my cane as if it was a hand hold on the bus.this is an invasion of my personal space! Please be respectful. This happens more than it should.

Although there are so many benefits to the white cane, I’m not sure if it is the ideal mobility option for me…

Horsing Around

This past weekend, I did what I love to do. I rode my horse. I showed my horse. I had fun!

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All the pretty ribbons!

Over the years, I have had to work hard to learn that it’s not all about the ribbons and what color you get or what the judge thinks. It is truly about your rides with your horse and the journey to get there. I am proud to say that I finally can enjoy a horse show, have fun, and come out feeling very proud, even though I didn’t walk away with the champion ribbon or the high point award.

I have shown horses for as long as I have ridden, whether it was a 4H show, an open show, a Class A Arabian Show or a Dressage show. I have done it all. I have learned so much through my horse show experience and I love that I can look at it through a new lens and just enjoy my horse. After all, why show, if it isn’t fun. I can’t say I don’t get stressed sometimes, but it’s a work in progress.

One aspect of riding and showing that has always been an underlying part of me is my low vision. It impacts me more than I realize sometimes and it has forced me to develop a deeper level of trust with my horses. Due to my vision, I have a head tilt, which affects my body position. In riding, your body position makes a huge difference in the communication of horse and rider, especially when performing in disciplines such as dressage and jumping that require precision. I have learned to compensate for this over the years through the help of my current instructor who has accepted my low vision as part of who I am  and helped me to come up with ways to navigate around it. She was the first one to suggest that I patch my better seeing eye while I rode to help my body learn what it feels like to be straight. It is something that I return to now and again as I find that feeling fades after a while as my head tilt takes over.

My horse and I have recently taken up jumping and my lack of depth perception definitely rears it’s ugly head when I head for a line of jumps. I cannot judge my distance from the jumps so therefore I must rely on my horse to do that part for me. I find it challenging to know when she is going to take off and keep my body in the correct position so that I do not interfere with her. A majority of the time, she does her job, but it requires me to trust that she is going to do it right. It requires me to learn what it feels like as she moves towards a fence. Since we are both learning this new sport, it is going to take a lot of practice for us to master it.

Jumping!

As I reflect on the horse show this past weekend, I realize that my vision impacts me more than I realized. Managing a crowded show arena with 25-30 horses or a crazy warm up arena with horses and people going so many different directions is challenging enough for people who are fully sighted. For me, however, there is an even greater challenge added on with my decreased peripheral vision and no depth perception. I am unable to see horses and people coming up on the sides of me and when they suddenly cut in front of me or suddenly stop, I am not able to judge the space between us, making it difficult for me to make quick responses and get myself out of the situation. Probably a good think I don’t drive a car. I have had to learn exceptional arena management skills in order to compensate for this, but sometimes that is not enough. I am proud of how far I have gone with my horses given this limitation. I suppose I have never let it stop me and I never will. Though, as I grow older, I find myself thinking more about and realizing my vision’s impact on riding, instead of being embarrassed by it and ignoring it as I did when I first started riding at age 9.

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Under USEF/FEI  para-equestrian rules, riders who have a para-equestrian designation who are blind or visually impaired are required to wear a red arm band while mounted to designate that they are visually impaired. I have contemplated doing this but a few questions come to mind. I have “hidden” my visual impairment in my equestrian life for so long, how would my fellow competitors respond to this? Would they think I am “faking” it? Would my fellow riders know what this red arm band means and pay attention to it in those busy warm up and show arenas when they are focused on their own ride, especially at the smaller open shows like I went to this past weekend? I am not sure what the right answer is and if I will pursue this. I suppose it is just like my fairly recent transition to using a white cane. It would be my “coming out” in my equestrian life, just as I did by using my white cane and identifying myself to the whole world that I am visually impaired. Sometimes the benefits outweigh the negatives. I know it does with my cane, maybe it would with riding?

If You Set Your Mind To It!

I saw a story posted on Facebook and it was too good not to share. It is true that if you set your mind to it, you can succeed. This is something that I have done my whole life and it has proved to be a positive outlook for me. There should be more awareness about the successes of individuals with vision loss and other disabilities. I say this because the general public needs to know that we can be successful despite the challenges we face. It is sad however, that it seems as though these stories are shared out of amazement. Like, “look at that blind guy, look what he is doing, how amazing, he can work and he can’t see” kind of attitude. Something seems a little off with this portrayal.

None the less, it is a great story and it is worth sharing. Check it out here!

Welcome!

This is my first blog post! I want to welcome you all to my blog. Please check out the About Me page to learn a little more about me.

I had come across a blog called doublevisionblog.com the other day and it inspired me to start my own blog. As an individual with low vision, specifically Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP), working as an occupational therapist, I believe I have valuable information, stories, and experiences to share that will hopefully provide hope, encouragement, and inspiration to others.

To start off, I wanted to share this article that was written about me by Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota when I was there completing one of my occupational therapy internships last fall. Check it out here!