Archive | May, 2011

A Blind Eye to Race

31 May

By Beth Finke  (Winner of an ASPCA/Henry Bergh Children’s Book Award)

Blindness doesn’t bring a whole lot of advantages. So I relish the ones I have. I walk arm in arm with people all the time. My dog goes with me everywhere. And when friends drive me somewhere? we park in handicapped parking!

Best of all, I can’t judge people by the way they look. Fat, skinny, beautiful, homely, young, old, White, Black– it’s all the same to me. I judge people “not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

From what I’m told, my friends these days have many different skin colors.  I don’t always realize this when I first meet them. And the longer I am blind – nearly half my life now, the less it matters to me. It’s getting where I don’t bother figuring out what new friends look like. I think of people more as impressionistic paintings, blurs and swatches of colors. And those colors are not always skin tones. Minerva, one of my favorite students in the writing class I teach for senior citizens, was violet. Dignified. Royalty. Billy, our bartender friend, is blue-green: thoughtful and funny, both at the same time.

Here’s the irony, though. While I am unconcerned with what people around me look like, I am paranoid about how I look to others. I was 26 years old when I lost my sight, and a Vietnam Vet who was blinded in a military training accident was assigned to teach me how to cook. A friend who visited me at Braille Jail (that’s what I called the facility I was sent to in order to learn new blind skills) told me what this teacher looked like. “Beth! You wouldn’t believe it! This guy has long sideburns and long hair. Bell bottoms! He looks like a rock and roller from the 70s!”

The year was 1985. I was horrified.

Right away I started fidgeting with the buttons on my denim jumper, wiggling my toes against the flat cotton shoes on my feet. These clothes I’d bought when I could see would wear out sometime. What would I replace them with? Would I forever DRESS as if it were 1985?

We didn’t have much money back then, but Mike saw to it from the start that I shop at the most expensive and exclusive clothing store in town. My first time there, I paraded out of the dressing room in a tight pair of leggings. The store owner gasped. “Oh, honey – you’ve got some big hips!” Now here was a woman I could trust.

I’ve never put on leggings again, but most of the clothing I’ve worn since has come from that store. I especially like buying dresses. No need to memorize which shirt matches which pants, or worry whether my top goes with my skirt.

I don’t want people to feel pity when they stare at Hanni and me. The staring doesn’t bother me that much anymore, I’ve gotten used to it. But as long as they’re watching, I want to look good. Apparently, I do. That’s what people tell me, at least. And Without being able to look in a mirror and judge for myself, I have the luxury of believing them.

Some sighted people work a lifetime to overcome visual prejudices. Blindness has given me an advantage. A handicap. I’m ahead of the race.

(This essay has been shared with us from Beth Finke’s blog: www.bethfinke.wordpress.com)

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Denial

28 May

By Stella De Genova

Denial.  What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that word?  The alcoholic, addict, over-eater?  Yeah, the person who can’t see the reality that is obvious to everyone around them.  I thought I knew all about denial.  I was in a relationship with someone who was in denial of an addiction and I denied my co-dependence.  It took a long time to see the truth, and it was hard to move forward.  But once I did move on with my life, I knew how to detect denial and its many disguises.  I was wiser – or so I thought.

I have had retinitis pigmentosa (RP) since childhood.  I’ve never been able to see in the dark.  I’d hang on to a family member or friend in dark, unfamiliar places and wore glasses for myopia, but besides that, I was self-sufficient.  Through time, I’ve lost my peripheral vision, colors are fading and there is no corrective lens strong enough to give me clear vision.  I was diagnosed as legally blind 16 years ago.  For me, it has been gradual adjustments.  I still ran a household.  I held a detail-oriented, high-responsibility job for 17 years – I was in control.  My family was getting concerned though.  I was having more trouble accomplishing visual tasks – picking out matching colors, reading, seeing who was coming up the walkway or seeing where I was stepping.  I needed assistance at work.  OK, more adjustment.

Then, one year ago, I fell into reality.  I was at work, carrying some glasses into the kitchen.  I tripped over the open dishwasher door.  I broke my arm and got stitches in my hand.  Upon discussion with my husband and employers, they, and I have to admit now, thought it was time to apply for disability.  Until then, I only used a cane occasionally.  After that, my family wouldn’t let me leave home without it even though I still didn’t think I needed it in daylight hours.  I wasn’t going out much alone, mostly to physical therapy for my healing arm.  I felt useless.  I needed to figure out what came next. 

One day, I was web surfing and saw a support group starting for people with RP.  I wasn’t sure how Id like it, but what the hell, I wasn’t busy with anything else.  At my first meeting, I mostly listened and saw people that were already completely blind and definitely worse off than me.  I felt like this might not be the right place for me.  Yes, I had lost my job due to my vision and I was apprehensive walking into this new building for the meeting, hoping I wouldn’t fall and kill myself but I could see much better than a lot of these people.  I listened to the others in the group and started recognizing what they were talking about.  Life wasn’t always easy but they knew who they were and they had accepted their disability.  Sitting in that meeting, it suddenly hit me, I was like the addict.  I was in such denial.  I went home and cried and thought about who I really was and the deck of cards I was dealt.  And I thought about the people I met and how moving they were.  They had experienced things that I experienced.

I started feeling better and I stopped trying to hide that I can’t see.  I use my cane regularly now and noticed that people can be pretty helpful.  I’m not working but my days are full.  I’m doing all kinds of new things – this blog is just one of them. 

I used to have two disabilities.  Now, I am still visually impaired but I’m cured of the disability called denial.

On the Radio!

26 May

Keep an ear out for Vision Through Words’ interview with Bill Jurek on the Beacon Radio Show.  The Beacon airs on Sundays at 4:00 p.m. (CST) on WCPT, 820 AM in the Chicagoland area.  Our segment will be aired either this Sunday or the next.

The Beacon provides information for people with disabilities, seniors and veterans.  The program is produced by The Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind.  For more information about the Beacon, go to: http://chicagolighthouse.org/programs-and-services/independent-living-services/chicagoland-radio-information-service-cris

Dying Eyes

24 May

By Anonymous

I fall into the long, dark winter
Bottomless hole.
Cold blanket of darkness
wraps around me.
Night seeps into my skin.
 
Thick iron prison bars
multiply
One between the other
My view narrows
slowly
 
Positive becomes negative.
 
Lights float
Suspended against black canvas.
I edge through silhouettes
Heads and shoulders without feet
Voices talking to no one.
 
Shadows crowd me

Crashing Oprah’s Book Club

20 May

By Jeff Flodin

I like to think I turn chaos into order.  So when Oprah disrupted half the Chicago Loop by taking her show onto Michigan Avenue, I devised a strategy to navigate the mean streets.  I am adaptable. 

I like to think I turn resentment into opportunity.  So when Oprah raised my ire by hogging the sidewalks, I devised a plan to turn disarray in my favor.  I am opportunistic.

I like to think I’m a good writer.  Literary agents and publishers may disagree, but I think the title alone piques interest.  It’s called “Cats Don’t Like Fish (People Just Think They Do.”  I think my book deserves a life outside my computer hard drive.  I am optimistic.

Oprah has a book club.  If she chooses your book, you’re in Fat City.  It’s like she hands you a five dollar bill and sets you loose in the penny candy store.  It’s that sweet.  A promising writer like me wants to get his book onto Oprah’s book club, and first I’ve got to get my book into Oprah’s hands.

Now, to seize the day.  My book weighs a ton.  But I carry my burden with hope as I approach Oprah’s perimeter.  With my seeing eye dog as guide and accomplice, I cruise up the alley only I know about.  This alley leads me to the heart of Oprahland.  To tell you the location of this alley would be to forfeit my strategic advantage.

I stumble, literally, into the midst of Oprah’s set.  “Where am I?” I ask, all innocent and guileless.

Oprah becomes the gracious host.  Like me, she creates order from chaos and opportunity from resentment.  Plus, she loves dogs.  Oprah invites me to the place of honor.  When I’m comfy in her guest chair, I tell Oprah, “I just happen to have a copy of my manuscript with me.  Carrying it around keeps me fit.  It’s called ‘Cats Don’t Like Fish (People Just Think They Do) and it’s a memoir and I think it’s good.  It might need a little editing, but you know lots of editors, I’m sure.  It took me years to write and, when it’s published, I’ll write another memoir about writing this one.  Here, I’d like you to read it.  The title’s pretty funny, don’t you think?”

You see how I’ve got it all planned out.  Some writers get their break by accident.  Look at Marilyn Monroe — OK, she’s not exactly a writer, but you get the picture.  Anyway, I don’t rely on accidents.  I’ve got my big break all planned out already.  I like to think I’ve got all the angles covered.  I am confident.