The other day, I found a safety pin I had carelessly left stuck in the arm of the couch. I had been using it for a knitting project and had been too lazy to get up and put it away. I still didn’t feel like walking all the way upstairs and putting it in the little dish I keep for safety pins, so I pinned it to the pocket of my housecoat. In an instant, I was 4 years old and sitting on my grandmother’s lap, fingering the safety pins she had pinned to the front of her dress. “Grandma, why do you have all these safety pins on your hummy dum?” The hummy dum was the built in pillow, otherwise known as enormous breasts. It was a wonderful place to take a nap with your thumb in your mouth when you’re 4 years old. The safety pins had no pattern, no decorative purpose, but Grandma told me that “You never know when you’re going to need a safety pin.” No doubt that was true. I considered taking that safety pin off my pocket, but I like it there. Each time I touch it, I think of Grandma. I’m much older now than she was then. Hard to imagine. Her hair was coal black and wound around the top of her head like a crown, except at night, when she unpinned it and let her braid fall over her shoulders. She wore roomy dresses every day of the week, usually with an apron, except on Sundays, when the dresses required a corset. During the week, her feet were either bare or covered in casual moccasin type shoes, but for church and funerals, she wore old lady shoes that tied on top with a chunky heel. She was about as wide as she was tall, which was probably shorter than I am now, but I thought she was beautiful. Sometimes she wore a broach on her dress when she was dressing up, but it was the safety pins that made her ensemble complete.
On my recent flight to my daughter’s in Syracuse, make that flights, since it takes 2 flights to get there and 2 to get back, I discovered a new problem with traveling with a guide dog. It’s not that dogs are not allowed in airports or on planes. It’s not that there are no relief areas for service dogs, although most are placed outside the secure area, making it highly inconvenient to have to take a dog out and make your connection, and it’s not that they aren’t allowed in the various restaurants and food courts. It’s simply that there isn’t room for them at your feet. Oh sure, you can try to tuck their back ends under the seat in front of you, or you can sit in the bulkhead row, but there is room only for the dog, not your feet. I used to joke that I had to take my legs off and stow them in the overhead, but it’s not such a joke anymore.
On my 2 flights over there, I had the bulkhead row to myself, so all I had to worry about was Dora’s scooting up toward the aisle and getting her big paws out where they could be tramped on. But on the way back, both flights were full. During the first one, the lady seated next to me was concerned that my dog’s head was touching her foot. There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t make my dog smaller, and the lady was lucky that she had claimed her foot room first, or Dora would have laid her head on top of the lady’s feet. The flight attendant and I convinced her that Dora was a very sweet dog and that she would try very hard not to bother her. By the end of that flight, the lady was cooing to Dora and seemed quite happy to be her seatmate. On the last flight,, however, as I was seated in the window seat and Dora was stretched out across the other seat’s foot space, a man came to claim his seat next to me and declared to the flight attendant that this was his seat, but he couldn’t sit there. There was no room for his feet, and he was right. The flight attendant asked me if I would be willing to move to another seat, so I could tuck Dora under the seat in front of me. Great plan if she didn’t have these long legs and long body. I said I would try, but it was obvious to everyone in thee vicinity that that was not the solution. At last, a kind woman sitting in the row behind me volunteered to sit next to me and just drape her legs over the top of Dora. My legs weren’t long enough to drape over her, so I either had to put my feet on top of her or prop them on the bulkhead itself, which I did. I don’t know. Maybe the other lady did that too.
If there are any large dog-handlers who read this blog, I would love to know how you solve this problem. You hear about men who have been scrunched up so their knees are under their chins, because the seats have been moved closer together, and you hear about people getting upset because the inconsiderate person in front of them can’t stand to sit upright for an hour, but what do you do about traveling with a service dog that absolutely cannot be squeezed under the seat in front of you? Am I going to have to buy a separate ticket for her? Am I going to have to buy a first class seat? I can make her sit up for the entire trip, another suggestion from a different flight attendant with a previous guide. And I’m certainly not going to put her in a crate in the belly of the plane. Maybe I should just hire someone to drive us.
On Wednesday, July 15, Dora turned 3. It’s hard to believe that she’s 3 years old already. She was just a baby for so long, and now she’s all grown up. She still loves to play, is very athletic, takes her work very seriously, and is strong as an ox, but I have noticed a slight mellowing of personality. She is content to lie still for longer periods of time. She is not pestering me constantly to play with her toy. She has a set routine for certain parts of the day that I could set my watch by. In other words, we are quite comfortable together.
Yesterday, Dora had her 2 doggy friends Baggins and Winifred over for a birthday party. Baggins and Winifred are golden/doodles, and they don’t have a fenced in yard, so it’s a treat for them to come and romp in Dora’s back yard. They were all so excited that the first thing they all did was squat and tinkle. Then it was run run run, bark, chase the ball, pant, slop some water, chase the ball again, greet the neighbor dogs who came out to see who was throwing a party, and then do it all again. After they had got that out of their systems, they each got a Frosty Paws, a frozen treat for dogs, and yes, we all sang Happy Birthday. Baggins and Winifred brought a birthday gift of 4 enormous biscuits, and when they left, they each got a toy, that thankfully arrived via UPS just in time for the party. Dave and Kathy, who live with Baggins and Winifred, took photos and videos of the party. Sorry it didn’t work out for me to put them up here. We were blessed with a rare day of sunshine, and we made the most of it.
“Blue moon, you saw me standing alone, without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own.” Did you know that tonight we have a blue moon? Maybe I should stand outside and sing to it. I didn’t know how the expression, “once in a blue moon” came about, until my friend Deirdre called me last night to invite me to go have a burger and a beer, a Blue Moon of course tonight with her and her husband Charlie. It’s when there is a full moon twice in a month. Why it’s called a blue moon, we don’t know, but I will share this thought.
I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that Deirdre called me to invite me for this particular night.
Deirdre was the housekeeping aid for my mother when she lived at Chestnut Hill. Deirdre was my favorite there. She would always fluff up my mother’s hair before she went to the dining room. She found things in my mother’s closet that Mom insisted had been stolen. She made sure that any of Mom’s laundry that was done there was never lost or sent back to someone else’s room. She always made up the bed with my mother’s precise instructions. She would heat up the rice pack in the microwave to make Mom’s back feel better. In other words, she treated my mother as if she were her own grandmother. For that reason, we became friends and would occasionally go shopping together or, as in the case of tonight, go out for a burger and a beer. But I hadn’t heard from Deirdre in a blue moon. It was because of my mother that Deirdre and I became friends. So, I wasn’t too surprised when Deirdre called me last night, because it happened to be exactly one year ago tonight that my mother passed away. Here’s to you Mom. Cheers.
See part 1 at the next heading down.
Not everything at Chautauqua, CHQ, was rosy. There were 2 disappointments. There are always disappointments when you anticipate perfection on a vacation that you’ve been planning for months. First, because there are no cars allowed, there were no sidewalks. Thus, I couldn’t go anywhere outside the house on my own. Sidewalks give me linear directions, much like tracks in the snow do for cross country skiing. With open pedestrian areas with no sidewalk boundaries, I couldn’t really tell Dora how to take me to the various venues. I had envisioned getting up early and walking around town, getting a coffee, and maybe taking it down to the lake to listen to the sea gulls and the waves. But for that to happen, I would have had to have a sighted friend who gets up early like me and could walk at Dora’s pace.
The other disappointment was in the lack of accessibility for people with vision impairments. There was not 1 thing printed in braille, and what’s worse, they had no plans to get it done. So much for the ADA. That was the down side of the ‘50’s ambiance. They had an interesting play scheduled for the Friday night, but they had never heard of audio description, and again, had no idea how to make that happen. They will, once I get to talk to the right people. They are very proud of their wheelchair accessible restrooms and their enhanced listening devices, but as I said to one of the volunteers who greeted us at the Visitors Center, “That doesn’t impress me. I want to know what they have for me.” I had been told when I had called earlier about audio description and braille that in their 142 years, they had never had that request. I can’t believe that I’m the only blind person to attend CHQ events. Maybe I’m the only blind person who hoped for reasonable accommodations. I guess I’ll have to be a 1-woman campaign for equal access too one of the best vacation spots in America.
It’s been on my bucket list for years to go to the Chautauqua Institution, CHQ, in New York. Last week, I not only checked it off my list, but I added another item. Go back to CHQ. I fell head-over-heels in love with this charming and unique community of active thinkers, music lovers, and brilliant speakers. Rather than quote the website, which will give you facts, but not the flavor, I’ll describe it as a combination of church camp for adults, a college course condensed, TED Talks, and a whole season of concerts squeezed into 1 week. Add a scenic lake, complete with beaches, a ferry and sailboats docked by gorgeous historic homes, and hundreds of people eager to learn and to share their knowledge. Nowhere have I found such a collection of knowledgeable, musically savvy, literate, educated, polite, kind, and happy people. One of the speakers noted that on most vacations, we try to separate ourselves from the real world. On this one, we try to get more in touch.
Imagine stepping out of your house in the morning, and instead of seeing your neighbor climb into his car, you see dozens of people walking on a red brick path that serves as the main highway to all the classes and events. They stop and chat with friends and call out greetings to acquaintances along the way. No cars are allowed on the grounds, so everybody is on foot.
My friend Janet and I stayed at the Baptist House, although we are Methodists, but the Baptist House was the budget way to go. We got our workouts by climbing the 3 flights of stairs to our rooms several times a day, and we learned to appreciate air conditioning, since we had none. We had to share bathrooms down the hall, and there were no locks on the doors. When we looked surprised at this news, our hosts said, “You don’t need a key. It’s Chautauqua!” We soon learned what he meant. CHQ has its own culture that is reminiscent of the ‘50’s. People ride their bikes to classes and leave them outside with no locks. You might find a book propped open on a bench, where someone had left it and would return eventually to resume reading. Someone actually said “good-day” to me one morning. Good day? When have you ever heard that outside of a movie?
We arrived last Saturday, and the first evening’s entertainment was selections from various operas. I had to pinch myself to believe that here I was, at CHQ, listening to beautifully performed music, among classical music-lovers. This was just the beginning of a week filled with new experiences and new friends.
Dora was a star of course. Everyone smiled when they saw us coming, and they loved watching her play ball on the plaza green. Each morning before it got crowded with kids and dogs, we’d take off her harness and throw the ball for her. It was a great way to relieve her stress and give her some exercise. Soon, one by one, people would stop and admire her grace as she tore after the ball. One man with fancy photography equipment took videos of her. Others would line up taking a turn at throwing the ball. She’s probably going to appear in next year’s brochure. Stay tuned for part 2.
Some of you already know that I shared the Essay Contest winners’ spotlight with Elizabeth Sammons. Our essays were featured at the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA last Wednesday in Columbus. I was out of town and could not attend the reception, so Vicky Prahin read my essay in my place. Here’s my essay.
Crosswalks to Civil Rights
In 1963, Crossing the street was a terrifying event. Unsure if the light had changed, as a blind student, I waited on the curb, drew a deep breath, and took my chances. Audible pedestrian signals had not been invented, and paratransit was unheard of. The concept of services for students with disabilities would evolve long after I had graduated. Life as a blind student was a constant challenge.
Now I ponder the impact that the Americans with Disabilities Act has had on my life as I wait for the light to change and cross the street into my present life.
I’m on my way to work. I use a computer with a screen-reader that allows me to perform my tasks as efficiently as my sighted co-workers. The elevators in my building are marked with braille. Our restrooms have accessible stalls. Parking spots near the front door of the building are designated for use by those whose disabilities prevent their walking any distance.
On my lunch hour, I use an ATM to get some cash. Now, because all ATM’s are fully accessible with audio output, nobody else has to know my business. When we get to the restaurant, I’m offered a braille menu. These days, I am never refused entrance to a restaurant with my guide dog. This was not always the case, before the passage of the ADA. Sadly, many cab drivers deny potential passengers with guide dogs. But the ADA puts teeth into the law that anywhere the public is allowed, so also are service animals.
Tonight, after paying some bills, using the brailed utility and credit card statements, I’m going to see a movie. Many theaters are now equipped with technology for bringing audio description to movie patrons who are blind, and closed caption for those who are deaf. The ADA has brought empowerment for the civil rights of Americans with disabilities, from being able to cross a street safely to being able to fully participate in social activities.
The ADA sets a standard for assuring civil rights that once were considered a dream. Making accessible everything from restrooms to text books to TV programs is now a reality. What once were considered special services are now our civil rights.
Today, crossing the street is no longer a terrifying event. I push a button on a pole which houses the audible pedestrian signal. Then my dog guide and I head to the edge of the street that no longer has a curb. Tactile warning bumps in the pavement tell me that I am lined up for the crosswalk. Thanks to the ADA, this corner can now be crossed easily by a person in a wheelchair. More importantly to me as a blind person, I am confident I’m standing in the right spot. Now a clear and loud voice announces, “Walk sign is on,” and I give my dog the command to go forward into an even brighter future.