Thought Wheel

From the mind of Ann Chiappetta

Hold It Up Proudly

| Filed under blindness Guide dogs Relationships Uncategorized Writing Life

Bailey stood, signaling our para transit bus was pulling to the curb. I praised him with a “good boy!” and he guided me to the door. We stepped up, and as I asked the driver which seat was open, a familiar voice greeted us. Bailey, being the most curious dog ever in the world, decided to try to sniff the passenger’s bag and I corrected him and direct him to back up into the space where he would be safe and away from temptation.

The passenger, whom I will call Sonya, announced she was going to my guide dog school to observe a graduation. She has been thinking about a guide dog for the past year since her vision has deteriorated. Whenever we meet on the bus, she spends the time asking me questions. I answer them. This time she asked the most familiar questions, the ones I asked all those years ago, when I first began the exploration of applying for a guide dog.
Questions like, was she blind enough for a dog? What if, on some days she walked a few miles and other days she just cleaned the house? Would a dog be able to be part of her life? She was also trying to describe a new harness my school used for running guides that resembles a Y with an adjustable handle. All these questions and she was finally going to a graduation to see for herself just how much a dog can enhance someone’s life and get a person back to being more independent. I was so happy she was taking a chance and evaluating her choices. Part of her reluctance was, how would a dog fit into her life and her family? How would she be able to show the dog what she wanted? Would the dog be able to be part of her extended family and be good with her grandchildren? Our conversation took on a very serious connotation, as if she was ready to make the commitment and apply or stick with the cane.

After she got off the bus, I thought about how, like Sonya, I got to a point of extreme frustration with a white cane, being exhausted from the mental vigilance and finding it a laborious tool, that, while helpful, also had its limits and had let me down. I think folks like us, who have lived with vision and then gradually lost it, are just unequipped to make a complete and successful transition to exclusively using a cane because our brains have aged and aren’t as flexible. I also hit my learning ceiling with braille in a similar fashion. I studied braille for six months with an instructor; After a 20-minute session of reading braille, I was mentally exhausted and could not move past the phenomenon. My fingers would get numb and my head felt like it was going to explode from concentrating so hard. For me, and many other folks who lose vision later in life, the adjustment to progressing from simple tactile reading to reading a novel is just too much for the brain to handle. Moreover, folks like me have already learned how to read and write visually; later on, as we lost more vision, thanks to computers and assistive technology we were able to transition to listening the way we had been taught to with sight. Folks like me just want to be able to manage vision loss and not be overwhelmed by it. But I digress.

Back to the dog or the cane discussion. Why is, one might ask, using a dog less stressful? A dog takes the adjustment to a different level, allows a person to share the mobility experience and be less vigilant. The handler relies less on constant tapping, stopping and realigning a path; with another sentient being, walking down a street goes from a singular effort a team effort. The partnership takes the stress off the person, and the experience of being out and about in public becomes more pleasurable and less isolating. The dog is the teams’ eyes, does the shore-lining, the obstacle avoidance, the targeting. The handler follows, directs, and keeps track of the team’s location.
I smile and think — how many times have I found myself talking to my dog? How many times have I thanked the Powers that I was a guide dog user after being redirected from a dangerous situation? How many times has my dog kept us from being hurt or worse? How many times did my dog find our way from a situation where I got lost? How many times has my dog comforted me, my clients, and provided unconditional regard to whomever needed it?
The answer is simple: I trust my dog and we are a team and no matter what we face, we will work through it together.

As for Sonya, whatever she chooses to do to manage living her life with vision loss, I hope that she stays active and engaged. Adjusting to losing sight takes time and I think Sonya is a brave and focused person for exploring all her options.

The Authenticity Gnome

| Filed under Relationships Uncategorized

I picked out another fossilized pine needle from my sock; it was so dry I thought it was a tooth pick. How did it get in my shoe, then poke through my sock and the my tender tootsie? I believe it is the curse of the authenticity gnome. Yes, the bug-eyed eccentric mini-man is related to the elusive cousin, the elf on the shelf and looks similar to its country cousin, the garden gnome. It takes the needles from the old Christmas trees and sprinkles them into the radiator, the closet, and the bowl of water left for the dogs. This nefarious little creature also infuses the needles with a special energy that pushes them out from under the vacuum and broom.

You see, it does these things to keep us from deciding to opt for a fake tree, what is now called a fiber optic tree. It works like this: when a human is picking the old pine needles from the clogged vacuum, the human thinks, I should really buy a fake tree so I don’t have to do this anymore. Then the human looks off into the distance, recalling the many holidays, the smell of fresh balsam and gifts given that brought smiles and thanks and as the human sets down the unclogged vacuum, the thought of the facsimile tree is wiped from the human’s frontal lobe by a magical flick of a stubby authenticity gnome finger. Classic reverse psychology and it works. I wonder if they get kick backs from the tree farms.

where my mind goes

| Filed under Uncategorized

This comes under the tag line of “I write to find out what I think” a la Stephen King.

Being a  curious person I find it interesting that , as I lose my vision, the ability to interact with others adapts and changes as well. For instance, I am less tolerant of crowds, loud noises, and my startle reflex is much more pronounced.  I have become the type of blind person who loves tactile information but also gets irritated if it’s not on my terms. Not sure what that’s about, but a recent incident with a sighted person has stirred this up.

 

Long story short, I was being spoken to by someone who was angered by a series of events in which I was involved. These events were in a public place and I was one of the presenters. What I said wasn’t good or bad, but this person didn’t like  how I answered his questions and approached me once  the meeting ended and I left the podium

 

When he began to say things that were fueled by anger I tried to end the conversation. I heard his voice, recognized the stuttering as a sign of his being so anger that he couldn’t speak clearly. This scared me and I tried to leave. Then, this person grabbed my arm and when I turned to leave, he squeezed it, hurting me.

 

What did I do? I  told him he was hurting me and for him to let go. When he didn’t,  I removed his hand and left the room. I was so focused on getting away from him, I panicked and didn’t call security or the police. It wasn’t until the next day that I discovered how upset I was by it. Yet, I still didn’t report it. Now, I’m paying the consequences of my inaction. I was the victim but because I didn’t report it right away, I can only hope to resolve this internally and there is no hope of an apology or consequence by the person who hurt me.

I find this wrong on so many levels  and  am reminded of the basic humanistic  conduct code of “treat others as you wish to be treated”. This   comes to mind first. Then there is the intimidation of a man hurting a woman. And, lastly, I was at a disadvantage because he was sighted and I wasn’t.

 

The last item seems to get mixed responses from people who are blind. Some say that the offender sunk lower than an ant’s knee because I was blind. Others said that it is an offence on another person and being disabled isn’t part of the equation. Then the gender piece comes into play and I’m sure each and every person who reads this can identify and sympathize with at least one of these three points.

 

I’m blogging this because I need to validate it happened and not be afraid to talk about it. One thing I do know since this happened, however, if I am harassed like this again, I will fight the urge to flee and call the authorities. I won’t be ashamed that I panicked and fled or that I fell right into this person’s trap because I didn’t actually see it coming. I honestly didn’t expect to be treated so rudely by an acquaintance. Creepy.