Archive | August, 2012

Blindness

28 Aug

by Valerie Moreno

We are told to be strong
act “normal”
make the first move
prove we are
 just like everyone else
 
Then, people shout in our face
yank us across a street
ask the person with us
 what we’d like to eat
 
After all the assurances
suggestions
playing down assumptions and
 comparisions to other unseeing people
 
I walk away alone,
 knowing I am not the only person
 who cannot see

Valerie Moreno is 57 years old.  She had partial vision until 1999 when it disappeared literally overnight.  Valerie’s eye disease is ROP (Retinopathy of Prematurity).  She is recently widowed, has a blind cat who she adores and loves to write.  She doesn’t have a computer, so she uses a phone voice-internet service called Net-By-Phone, which sends and receives email and browses the web.  Text emails and webpages are read in robotic speech and all texting is done via phone keypad.

Valerie says that Vision Through Words feels like a safe place to go to.  Thank you, Valerie!

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Oral Hull Adventure Camp

23 Aug

by Stella De Genova

Last week, I was a guest at Oral Hull Adventure Camp in Portland, Oregon.  It is an adventure trip for visually impaired and blind people who want to step out of their safety zone in a safe environment.

I will admit that I was unsure of my decision to go to Oral Hull, even to the time I arrived and was shown to my room.  The boarding was not the Ritz but it was sufficient and clean.  “Will I be comfortable here?  How will the people be?”  I put on my bravest smile and headed to the lodge dining room where most of our meals would be served.  How lovely!  The chefs were a husband and wife team and every meal was delicious.  The good-hearted staff and volunteer guides were attentive to our needs as well as our independence.  There were a couple of people I already knew from my hometown there and that was comforting.  As the days passed, I met very interesting people and made some new friends.

We woke early every morning, had breakfast together and prepared for our adventure of the day.  There were activities as relaxing as walks through the beautiful sensory garden, a hike along Salmon River and a visit to the Seaside, a town along the Pacific Ocean.  For the braver at heart, there was whitewater rafting, hiking up to the top of a 600 ft. high waterfall, jet-boating, bunji jumping and skydiving!

In the evenings we all gathered again for dinner and socialized as long as we could keep our eyes open.

What Oral Hull really is is a confidence-building experience that gives the opportunity to challenge yourself, have fun and be proud of your accomplishments.  I recommend that any self-sufficient visually impaired person looking for a chance to do something new and exciting check out the camp.  You may be a one-time visitor or a new regular camper, whichever you choose, I guarantee that you will never forget your trip to Oral Hull Adventure Camp!

Touching Art

17 Aug

by Maribel Steel

Truly, Paris is a city of beautiful smells. From the moment we left Charles de Gaulle airport, I have noticed the fragrance of this enchanting city. Warm tones of Chanel drift in the air as we make our way to our friends’ house in the 15th Arrondissement. The scent of freshly percolated coffee also catches in the summer breeze like an intoxicating spell, enchanting us towards the nearest cafe where waiters in pristine white aprons wave their hands like wands to produce a ready-made table for three. Tempting – but we must stride on – three abreast, the middle one sweeping the ground as she trots to keep up.

We are nearing the flat on Boulevard Lefèvre. With peripheral vision from my ‘good’ eye, I use the contrast of bright blue sky to see the dark outline of buildings, trailing behind my guides as I gaze dreamily, pulled along like a child looking back at a toy shop. I want to reach out and touch the sturdy wrought iron gates or a Parisian tree or a crisp white café table cloth – hey guys, let me touch something?

On our first day, Niquette takes us to the Jardin de Rodin and we wander around the spacious shady garden, touching the solid bronze and marble sculptures scattered around the grounds. Intricate carvings of little children’s feet and tiny hands adorn a gate and we linger a while tracing with admiring fingers the precise curves and lines of these carved cherubs intertwined with leaves and branches, coiled snakes and tempting fruit from the Garden of Eden – our hands glide slowly like Tai Chi masters.

We hunt down a Cubist museum near the garden of Luxemburg to see the work of a Russian artist, Zadkine. Our quartet moves inside the compact gallery and I utter to waiting staff a new French phrase my friend has rehearsed with me along the way. I wave my long white wand and with foreign fluttering eyelashes, I announce,

“Bonjour Madame. Je suis mal voyante.”

She glances at the white cane.

“Oh! I understand,” she replies in English. “You may go in to the gallery for free, Madame.”

As we turn to enter the gallery she calls after us,

“Madame? You may touch the sculptures if you are very careful with them. But only you.

“Merci beaucoup, Madame.” Niquette and I smile broadly as we walk arm in arm through the narrow door. I am overwhelmed with gratitude – touch the artwork? And believe me, I truly saw Zadkine’s sculptures of ebony, bronze, stone and carved wood through dancing eyes at the edges of my fingertips.

To read the full story as part of a series “Touching the sights of France” go to Maribel’s blog: www.gatewaytoblindness.blogspot.com

Maribel Steel is a writer, blogger, mother and singer who lives in Melbroune, Australia.  As a person with Retinitis Pigmentosa, she believes her life is about learning to trust her other senses; to hear, to touch, to smell, to intuit, to love and to laugh.  To learn more about Maribel Steel, visit her website: www.maribelsteel.com

First Diagnosis

10 Aug

by Andrea Kelton

When I received the original diagnosis of uveitus (an inflammatory condition of the inner eye), my first husband’s older brother, the powerful attorney, insisted I get a second opinion from his fraternity friend.  So we went.  I told him my story and he examined my eyes.  Then he sat us both down.  With a sympathetic tone he said, “You are very brave for a young woman who is going blind”.  GOING BLIND?!!!  I didn’t know I was going blind!  But I waited to cry until I got out to the car.  Where I sat with my emotionally unavailable husband, saying nothing.  He drove me to my equally emotionally unavailable father’s house, where the three of us sat at the kitchen table.  Me crying.  Them watching me cry.  Saying nothing.

 This all left a variety of feelings…on the surface…shame…and hidden deep down…a roaring anger.  Which was called to my attention at a Recovery meeting where I used an incident involving my eyes as an example.  (Recovery, Inc. is a self-help organization started in 1935 to teach nervous persons and patients techniques for good mental health.) 

 After the meeting, during coffee, a wise man came up to me and told me that my goal was to be able to say to someone, “I can’t see that.”  And to do it without angry or fearful temper.  Sounds easy enough.  I figured once that it only took me 30 years to get to that point.

 I have thought about blindness a lot.  I was expecting the general public to have information and understanding about it.  Most people only know Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder.  Most people are scared to death of the idea of blindness.  Most people are egocentric, and if they can’t figure out how you function, then they just figure YOU CAN’T!

 A friend once told me I should educate the world.  I am not so sure the world wants to be educated, and besides, that sounds exhausting.  No, I have always maintained that the person I need to change is ME. 

 My experience has taught me that there are degrees of impairment, visual or otherwise.  I have grown to the awareness that everybody I meet has a life challenge.  I have come to the conclusion that I am not defined by my visual acuity.  I am still here and pretty darn remarkable, if I do say so myself!   

 Andrea Kelton was diagnosed with uveitis in 1974.  Today she lives in Chicago and teaches Adult Basic Education at Literacy Chicago.  She attends a weekly memoir writing class, “Me, Myself and I” taught by author Beth Finke.

For a Hero

5 Aug

by Stella De Genova

Do different foods or their aromas spark a memory or remind you of something or someone?  This writing all came about from food.  I came home from an evening out with my shopping assistants (a/k/a girlfriends) and described to my husband a very delicious stuffed pablano pepper we had at our last stop after shopping.  I have a similar recipe and he asked why I haven’t made it lately.  Well, the last time I made those stuffed peppers was the last meal I cooked for my stepdad before he died.  He always liked my cooking and I had wanted to make him something special before he couldn’t enjoy it anymore.  Those peppers, just like so many other things, started me thinking about Wally.

My stepdad, Wally, was like a second dad to me for 32 years and a grandpa/dad/babysitter to my kids.  He had a brain tumor when my son was 4, which was removed and benign.  After surgery, he had to learn to speak again (except for curse words – his brain never forgot those!).  He had been an alcoholic and never drank again after that surgery.  He was also a heavy smoker but quit cold-turkey because my baby nephew had bronchial problems and Wally didn’t want to hurt his little lungs when he was around.  He was a blue-collar man, a simple guy who loved his family more than anything and was a role model for all of us.

As in so many families, cancer hit our family and we lost Wally to lung cancer 2 years ago.  He would have been 71 this past July.  Wally was braver than we were.  He was stubborn and tried to smile until he couldn’t anymore.

He was a hero to all of us.  And you know what the strange thing is?  He used to tell me that I was his hero.  What?!  Are you kidding me?  He watched (and helped) me raise my 3 kids as a divorced parent.  I worked full-time as a legal secretary and bought a home for my family.  And because I’ve been legally blind since my late 20’s, I think he respected me for doing whatever I could to care for my family.  He and my mom helped me through so many trials and tribulations and sometimes he would laugh and ask how I dealt with all that I did.  I’d tell him that’s why I drank a glass of wine in the evening and he’d laugh some more.

Doing what I’ve done for my family and just getting through the day with retinitis pigmentosa isn’t unusual or special to me – it’s just life and what I do every morning when I get out of bed.  Even though I’ve had night blindness since early childhood, there were never limitations set – except for driving a car!  Little by little, I have made the necessary adjustments as my vision has worsened.  I’ve never dwelled on what I couldn’t do because of my low vision.  I was too busy doing everything else that needed to be done to think about that.

As much as I love and respect Wally, I have to say he was wrong about me being a hero.  HE was the hero to battle a disease that he knew he’d lose in the end.  So now, when people ask me how I stay so optimistic, knowing I will probably lose what little vision I have left, I think of Wally’s fight and remind them that no matter how bad we think we have it, it could always be worse.