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Dancers: A Tribute to My Nine Guide Dogs

I wrote this poem while walking 16 blocks with my sixth guide dog to a dental appointment. I am sharing it to honor my nine guide dogs on April 26th, International Guide Dog Day!

Dancers: A Tribute to My Nine Guide Dogs

Yellow lab dog guide, winking at you.

We are cloud dancers,
You lead and I follow.
Our steps synchronized
Our bodies swaying to the same rhythm.

Swept along in the current of the jet stream.
Floating lightly on the swell of an updraft,
Swooping into a glide down the slope of a down draft.
Side slipping around a gaggle of migrating geese.
Pausing a few beats to let a thunderhead rumble past.

Through fog and mist through falling snow we whirl,
Our movements in perfect unison.
Where your paws lead,
My feet follow.
What does it matter,
If only we two hear the music.
We move together as one being.
We are Cloud dancers, you and I.

This poem was first published in "Behind Our Eyes, Stories, Poems and Essays, Written by People with Disabilities," in 2007.

Additional Information

Dog Guides for People with Vision Loss

Guide Dog or White Cane

Getting Around

Getting Around
Low Vision
Personal Reflections

Four Things I Learned from the 1Touch Self-Defense Project

In March, I attended the AFB Leadership Conference in Alexandria, Virginia. One of the numerous workshop sessions on the agenda that I found interesting was on the 1Touch Self-Defense Project. I had taken a self-defense class for people with visual impairments, but it was many years ago, and I have to admit I was pretty rusty on the topic and even more on the physical techniques. So, I decided to attend the class to get a refresher and update my skills and knowledge. The session was only for about an hour, but I learned a wealth of information that I want to share with you in this post.

A picture of Empish doing a self-defense move with her hands near her shoulders

Four Things I Learned from the 1Touch Project™

#1: Reasons Why Visually Impaired People Don't Learn Self-Defense

At the beginning of the session, the instructor shared his martial arts background and how he started the 1Touch Project™. After, he posed a question to the group: "Why is it that people with visual impairments don't take self-defense classes?" Some participants said it was a lack of transportation; Others said a lack of interest or awareness, while others said that maybe newly blind people might be fearful about leaving their homes and don't feel safe venturing out in public. Many of us agreed that there is a perceived fear that carrying a white cane and/or being blind makes you more vulnerable and at higher risk to be a victim of a violent crime. This, of course, is not necessarily true, but it is an assumption people have that can make life challenging for those of us with vision loss. We learned that this is one of the primary reasons the instructor started the 1Touch Project™—he wanted to help people with disabilities, particularly those with visual impairments, be able to feel safe and defend themselves.

#2: Don't Assume an Initial Interaction Is an Attack

The next thing I learned was not to assume that an initial interaction from a stranger is an attack. In the conference room, we partnered up and practiced lightly touching each other on the arm, hand, and shoulder. Sometimes, when people touch you, they are just overly zealous to help a “blind person” or just overly friendly in nature. Just because a person approaches you and touches you in some kind of way, does not automatically mean that they are trying to harm you. I found this to be a totally different way of thinking about how people approach me.

#3: Physical Techniques to Defuse the Situation

A side view of Empish demonstrating a self-defense stance with her feet apart and her hands up near her shoulders

During the session, we learned physical techniques to help defuse the situation in order to reclaim our body and personal space. For example, if a person touches your arm or shoulder, you place your hand on their hand and gently, but firmly, remove it. This lets the person know that although you acknowledge the interaction, it is not appropriate for them to come into your personal space without your permission. Additionally, placing your hand over their hand lets you know the exact location of their body as it relates to yours and the position of their hand. For example, are they facing you or turned to the side of you? Are they touching you with their left or right hand (which can be determined by touching their thumb)? This information is very helpful because if the situation were to be threatening, you would have key information to act in order to defend yourself.

#4: How to Keep a Steady Stance

Another physical technique I learned was how to place my legs. Stepping back with my right leg while keeping my left leg steady helps me get ready to defend myself. I can then use my hands to further defend myself from my attacker. I realized that this technique is not a natural one and that practicing will improve my balance, formation, and reaction time.

Before we knew it, the session was over, and everyone was still geared up to learn more techniques and ask more questions. I think this goes to show that the topic of self-defense is an important one that needs continuous exploration and conversation. People with visual impairments have a right to feel safe in their neighborhoods and communities. If you want to learn more about the 1Touch Project™, visit their website.

Self-Defense for Individuals with Vision Loss

The 1Touch Project™: Personal Safety for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

"Sightless Self-Defense" Can Help You Stay Safe

Dealing with Crime or Domestic Violence As a Person with a Disability

Low Vision
Social Life and Recreation

How I Honor Earth Day Every Day As a Person Who Is Blind

Editor's note: April 22 is Earth Day. Each year, Earth Day marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. Growing out of the first Earth Day, the Earth Day Network is the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement working with more than 50,000 partners in nearly 195 countries to build environmental democracy; 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day. In honor of this milestone, Earth Day Network is launching a set of goals to shape the future of 21st century environmentalism.

"Waste Not, Want Not"

woman washing bottle in sink

From the time I was a little girl, I was aware of the importance of not being wasteful and recycling. My parents and grandparents would reuse old household items. Things like jelly jars would easily substitute as drinking glasses. Old brown paper grocery bags would be reused to cover my school paperback books to keep them from damage. My parents would also take bags of old clothes and furniture to donate them to nonprofits like Goodwill and the Salvation Army. So, as we get ready to celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd, I reflect on my childhood. I realized that I still practice many of these things and more. But instead of observing one day annually, I honor Earth Day every day. I feel it is important that I do what I can to protect the planet that I live on. I know that I can’t do everything, but I can do somethings. I don’t allow my visual disability to stop me from participating in this significant event. So, you might be thinking what can you do to help the planet? How can a visually impaired person fully participate in honoring Earth Day every day? You have asked the right questions to the right person. I encourage you to check out my list of things I do as part of my life routine.

My Checklist for Recycling

woman putting bottle in blue recycle bag
  1. I participate in my county recycling program. A couple of years ago, my county launched a recycling program that was free. I received a flyer in my water bill and signed up immediately. What I got was a box of blue recycle bags for plastic bottles, metal cans, and glass jars. I also got a blue storage container for paper, like junk mail, newspapers, cardboard, and other paper materials. I have labeled these for easy identification. From time-to-time, I even shred confidential documents like medical records, credit card, and bank statements and place them in the blue recycle bags. When my bag or storage container fills up, I take them to my driveway, and they are picked up by my county’s sanitation department.

  2. I use cloth earth bags for grocery shopping. These bags work better than the plastic ones that you get in the store. Plastic bags are filling our landfills and don’t decompose well. When I use my cloth earth bags, I have a lot more room for my purchases, and I can use them over and over again. I even have a couple with insulation for when I get refrigerated or frozen foods, and it keeps the food cold until I get it home. I keep them handy by hanging them on the door knob of my pantry door in my kitchen, so they are always ready to go when I leave for shopping. Using earth bags greatly reduces the amount of plastic that I consume thus helping the planet.

  3. I take old computers and electronics to a recycle center. I don’t place these items in the trash. Taking items like this to a recycle center is better because they will be properly disposed of. Just be sure with computers you clean off your hard drive first.

  4. For electronics related to vision loss, I do things a little differently. In the past, I have sold old assistive technology devices instead of throwing them away or letting them collect dust. Items like old talking dictionaries, Victor Readers, CCTVs (video magnifiers) and braille note takers sometimes can still be used again by persons who are blind or visually impaired. If they can’t be sold, depending on their condition, they can be donated to a vision rehabilitation center. I have also given my old white canes and cane parts to a local orientation and mobility instructor who takes my donations and uses them for people who can’t afford a white cane.

  5. When it comes to old clothes, I donate to a couple of nonprofits. Professional clothes such as blouses, skirts, slacks, and suits, I donate to "Dress for Success" because they help low income women get on their feet and return to work. They have even worked with blind and visually impaired women. I also donate clothes and household items to the American Kidney Fund because they will come to my home to pick up items. I donate furniture to the Salvation Army and Friends of Disabled Adults and Children. I like donating items to nonprofits that have been around for a long time and who also assist people with disabilities in my local community.

  6. I use rechargeable batteries. I use these kinds of batteries especially for my talking clocks and various TV and DVD remote controls. Rechargeable batteries not only help the environment but also save me money by not having to purchase numerous batteries over and over again.

My list is not exhaustive. There are probably a ton of more things that can be done to honor Earth Day. But I think my list is a great way to get started in helping our planet and others too. I am sure after reading it you might realize that you are already doing some of these things. Or you might realize that maybe you can add some of my suggestions to your life too. Regardless, it's time we honor Earth Day every day!

Resources for Earth Day for Individuals with Vision Loss

Earth Day Information

How Labeling and Marking Can Help You Recycle

Gardening and Yard Work Tips for Individuals Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Raised Bed Gardening, An Easy Alternative for Gardeners with Vision Loss

Arts and Leisure
Social Life and Recreation

Raising Awareness About Living with Low Vision Through Poetry

Editor's note: In today's post, Maribel interviews Dave Steele, a visually impaired poet and song writer. We first learned of Dave and his inspiring poetry during Valentine's Day when he shared a poem on retinitis pigmentosa. Learn more about Dave by reading his personal story.

Raising Awareness About Living with Low Vision Through Poetry

Dave Steele holding his book, Stand with Me RP

Did you know that the month of April each year is set aside to celebrate National Poetry Month? It’s a time when poets get to shine a light on their craft through a variety of events with the support of the Academy of American Poets and other poetry organizations. Teachers in schools are also encouraged to explore poetry in its many forms with their students and to appoint a “poet of the day” during the month.

At VisionAware, we welcome a visually impaired poet, Dave Steele, who is creating quite a following with his book, “Stand By Me RP”, as he raises awareness to what it is like to live with vision loss after being sighted. The message in Dave’s poems can help those going through similar issues to feel that they are not alone in what can be an isolating stage of vision loss.

Read Dave Steele's poem, "This Thing They Call RP," to learn about his experience living and coping with vision loss.

"This Thing They Call RP"

A Poem by Dave Steele

I know you've never heard before
of this thing they call RP
So let me help you understand
how it affects people like me
It's always lived inside me from ancestors faulty gene
To untrained eye unnoticed lie
remained for years unseen
Whilst in my early twenties
it began to show first trace
I noticed eyes would struggle
moving from dark to light place
But felt I wasn't ready
so this RP I'd deny
No helping hand stick head in sand
as seeing days pass by
For years I hid it from myself
as wrong as that might be
Till one day it was obvious
that it was hard to see
So off I went to specialist
to take the blindness test
I knew that I would fail them
but that's probably for the best
When doctors diagnosis came
delivered hard and cold
I may be seeing nothing
by the time that I grow old
It hit me like a hammer
when confirmed what we both knew
Chance my children were affected
would be simple 1 in 2
The guilt I felt another tear
as I began to grieve
Yet to the outside world
it's difficult to just believe
My blindness creeping inwards
like a speckled hazy tunnel
My grip on independence vanished
down this darkened funnel.

Began to feel so anxious
every time that I went out
No longer do the simplest things
be filled with fear and doubt
My world was caving in on me
I needed to adjust
I lost some friends and family
I learned just who to trust
I never needed sympathy
Just someone to understand
No need for full time carer
just sometimes a helping hand
I battled for my confidence
I learned to use my cane
I learned to see the best in things
go dancing in the rain
With time my wounds were healing
even though my eyes got worse
Began to write it down for you
through poem song and verse
To fight to raise awareness
for those going blind alone
So through my words our voice be heard
Not isolate at home.

Copyright (c) 2017 Dave Steele

More About Dave Steele, Poet and Songwriter

Visually Impaired Poet and Songwriter, Dave Steele, Is Raising Awareness About Living with Retinitis Pigmentosa

A Poem on Retinitis Pigmentosa to Shine on Valentine's Day

DVD Blind-Sighted: Featuring Dave Steele and his wife discussing how sight loss challenged their family life

Book: Stand By Me RP

Stand By Me RP Facebook Awareness Page

Low Vision
Personal Reflections
Retinitis Pigmentosa

Eyes Wide Open: Isaac Lidsky’s Philosophy and Learning How to "See" More Clearly

Editor's Note: During Vision Rehabilitation Awareness week, we continue to bring you stories about the importance of the array of vision rehabilitation services that are available to help people new to vision loss.

Isaac Lidsky's Story

Isaac Lidsky left to get an espresso a few blocks away from his house in residential Washington, DC. He wanted to practice his newly established independence as a blind individual, so with his cane and mobility skills, he went alone and made it to the cafe just fine. On his way home, however, he made one wrong turn in a complicated intersection and could immediately sense that he was lost.

“I was on a quiet empty street, and I realized I had left my phone at home and in an instant, I was just overwhelmed with all of these awful thoughts and fears and anxieties… man, I was a fool to think I would ever be independent again, I’m never going to get home and just all the awful things we tell ourselves,” Lidsky shared about an experience that caused him crippling fear.

In that moment, Lidsky was not thinking through an “Eyes Wide Open” perspective. He was letting his fears get the best of him. Sitting down and taking a few deep breaths, he let the panic run it’s course and then tuned it out. This let him recognize that his fear was something his mind constructed on it’s own; it wasn’t real. In that new mindset, he was able to retrace his steps and direction with clarity and make his way back to that tricky intersection. Once he knocked down all of those self-built barriers of fear, he was able to move forward, and he found his home. “Wow, I’ll tell you, I felt like Indiana Jones. Next stop, Everest.”

Eyes Wide Open Book Cover

This is just one example of finding strength to overcome paralyzing, self-created fears that Isaac Lidsky shares in his recently released New York Times Bestseller, Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can't See Clearly.

Philosophy for Living with Vision Loss

Lidsky’s first moment of clarity, that which inspired his life philosophy, came after many years of living with the pending doom of his degenerative disease, retinitis pigmentosa. He was diagnosed at 12 years old and watched his sight disappear before him gradually. His mind watched his worst nightmare unfold, and he knew how this story ended: the day would come when his world would be dark and that would be it.

“Blindness meant I wasn’t going to be independent; I would cease to achieve. I figured that no woman would truly love or respect me because I wasn’t going to love or respect myself, and I was going to refuse to take love in the form of charity,” Lidsky shared. “I figured I’d be alone and wouldn’t have kids and on and on and on. This was a baseless reality, it was just lies, but it felt like truth, and I didn’t even think about it.”

There's Life After Vision Loss

When he showed up to a meeting with his Low Vision Rehabilitation Specialist in Boston, however, expecting to talk doom and gloom about that proverbial death sentence on his horizon, he found a welcoming, enthusiastic individual. She started discussing independent mobility training, learning screen reading software for work and school, and how sighted guide would play out in situations of need. She was preparing Isaac Lidsky to be ready to confront his day, and his tomorrow, one step at a time in small, measurable doses. By considering the present moment, she was preparing him for a much different picture of the future than he had created in his own mind.

“And then it hit me—there is no tomorrow, there is no tragic fate, there’s literally just right now and this moment. And I realized at that moment that everything I thought I knew about going blind and being blind was just pure fiction. I was choosing to believe that fiction, and it doesn’t always feel like a choice, but it’s a choice. So in that office that day, I decided to make a different choice.”

Just like we choose to be fearful and assume something is going to be detrimental, we can train our minds to view the world differently, view ourselves differently, view the way others perceive us differently, and that’s what living with “eyes wide open” is all about. It’s an approach that forces us to negate the power of past experiences or predetermined frameworks in society which define love, success, failure, the impossible, and create new ones, in that moment, with our eyes wide open to the possibility. That’s how we can become a world that “sees” better.

“We don’t realize that we are constraining ourselves by the imagination of our own minds—the way we misperceive notions of strength and weakness, confidence and vulnerability, the sort of self-limiting assumptions we make about ourselves and others; the way we misconstrue the force of luck in our lives. We really are in power to be the masters of our own realities.”

Eyes Wide Open

While Lidsky’s story grows out of his experience with his own blindness, his message applies to all men and women, young and old. We each have that thing that keeps us from seeing our potential clearly. Maybe it’s ego; maybe it’s fear; maybe it’s a physical disability, a mental disability, jealousy, insecurity, self-judgement, anything. In his book, he shows us how living with eyes wide open to your own reality will set you free from those handicaps. It’s a learned discipline and a continuous, evolving lifestyle choice.

“For me, living eyes wide open is an ongoing effort, it takes work, it takes practice, it takes discipline, and frankly, some days I’m better at it than others. I’m human. I still have fears; I still have anxieties. But eyes wide open for me is a commitment to awareness and accountability in life.”

When moments of fear or doubt start to creep in, like the time in DC when he took a wrong turn, Lidsky goes to the two questions he knows he can rely on to get himself to safety and clear thinking: he asks, what is the immediate problem here, in it’s most simplified, consolidated form? Second, he asks, what can he, himself, as a human being (not a superhero) do in that immediate moment to solve the problem. This approach limits the brain from creating alternate realities and forces it to focus on the control we have of our immediate situation. This is just one example that he shares in his book about how to learn and practice the discipline, so it may become a lifestyle.

Eyes Wide Open shares the many ways this philosophy applies to aspects in our own lives with an open mind and most importantly, a sense of humor.

As Lidsky says, “If you are not able to laugh at yourself early and often, you are not living eyes wide open. Life is funny; even our challenges, our struggles, our worst moments, there’s humor in everything. For me, humor is pure oxygen; it’s joy, it’s awesome. So I have always tried to find humor in everything.”

Learn More About Isaac

A family portrait of Isaac Lidsky with his wife and four children

Currently, Isaac Lidsky lives in Windermere, Florida with his wife, Dorothy, and four children; the triplets—Phineas, Thaddeus, Lily Louise—and youngest daughter, Clementine. The book was written with these treasured individuals running around the house inspiring him and holding him accountable to apply his philosophy to everyday life.

You can visit his website to order the new release or buy it on Amazon, IndieBound, or Books-A-Million. It’s available on Audible, e-Book, and paperback. To listen to Isaac tell his story with his own voice, watch his TedTalk.

Resources for Adjusting to Visual Impairment

Coping with Vision Loss

Reading to Enhance Mental Health and Well-Being

Roadmap to Living with Vision Loss

Personal Reflections

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