Open Doors Part 2

In my last post, I talked about dealing with doors when you have a dog guide. But what about if Im not using a dog. Theres a graceful way and an awkward way to deal with doors when youre using a human sighted guide. Heres the graceful way. Say Im holding on to your left elbow, and we approach a door that swings to the right, either way. You use your right hand to open the door. You walk through. Meanwhile, I switch hands, so now my left hand is on your left arm, and I reach out with my right hand to keep the door open for myself. Smooth. No twirling around is necessary. No backing through the door. That sounds silly, but its even sillier when it really does happen. And please dont send me through the door ahead of you, unless I have my cane or my dog.

One more comment about approaching closed doors. The absolute worst situation is when my dog and I walk up to a door that I dont know is an automatic one. Then some helpful person runs up and pushes the button to make the doors open for us. Woe. We have to jump back to avoid getting clobbered by the door. We take a few seconds to regroup, then tentatively move toward the open door. But wait. Is it still open, or is it going to clobber us from the back? Please, just let me open the door the old fashioned way, where I have control. Who knew that a door designed to aid people with disabilities could actually be dangerous for a person who cant see it coming? Who knew that going through doorways could be a topic for a blog?

Open Doors

Ive got the door open, she says to me as I approach the side of the car. Doors open, she says as I approach the entrance to the building. Nice gesture? Yes. Helpful? No. Just the opposite.

When the door is wide open, its usually not a big problem, although it is somewhat uncomfortable, not being able to tell exactly where the door is. My dog is trained to approach a door and point his nose to the handle. If the door is already open, its a little confusing to him. He doesnt know whether to go charging through and possibly get a correction or to hang back and wait for my command to go forward. If the door is almost open, but not quite, it can be a real face basher, if the dog makes a misjudgment and gets himself through, but not me. Then theres the way too common situation of a well-meaning companion or by-stander who opens a door and then stands in the way. This happens most often when the door swings out to the left, and the person stands to the right, with his arm extended over, forming a bridge Im supposed to duck under, and a narrow passage for the dog to figure out. This also happens when were on the inside of the building and trying to get out the door that someone is holding, from the inside. There just isnt enough room for a dog and a person to get by, with a body in the way. One of my most annoying situations is when someone holds open the left hand door, when there is a right hand door available. Its amazing to observe that when given a choice, most people choose the left door. Not true for dog guide handlers. We have the dogs harness in our left hand. In order to assist with the opening of the door, we have to drop the harness, hold the door with our left hand, then twirl around to hold the door with our right hand so we have our left hand free to pick up the harness handle again. Its just so much more efficient to go out the right hand door, holding the door with our right hand and keeping the harness in the left and continuing smoothly out the door. For some reason, people seem to think that blind people cant open their own door, especially with a dog, when in reality, letting us get the door open ourselves is so much handier. Why? When we let our dogs point out the door knob or handle, or if you put our hand on the knob, or tell us in words where the door is, we know exactly where the doorway is and how wide the space is to go through. It may seem mannerly to you to leap ahead and pull open the door, but for a person who can see nothing, it feels awkward and even embarrassing. But do you have to stand their with your hands in your pockets and do nothing? Try this. Use a few words to help your visually impaired friend. The door opens out to the right. This way, I know Im going to find the handle on the left side of the door, and I know I can go through without doing that twirly thing. If the door opens out to the left, then I can be prepared to do just that. Many times, Ive assumed the door is opening out to the right, and Im feeling around in space with my right hand to hold the door open for my friend behind me, only to find that the left door has been opened instead.

Opening the car door is one of the most potentially awkward of all scenarios. When were approaching a car in a parking lot, and I dont know which way the car is pointing, and the door has been opened for me, I have to figure out which way the seat is facing. Trying to sit on a seat that is facing the opposite direction of where I expected is not only disorienting, but also embarrassing. Once again, the use of a few words can be much more helpful than fumbling physical gestures.

To Help Or Not To Help

Have you ever offered help to a child, only to have your hands virtually slapped away? I can do it myself! Have you ever offered help to a person with a disability, only to have the same thing happen? Have you ever thought about offering help and then thought better of it, because you didnt want to get your head bitten off? Theres an art to offering help, just as there is an art to declining it.

Twice, in the last couple of weeks, Ive been in a situation where I would have been extremely grateful for some help, but it was as if I suddenly had become invisible. Working with a new Seeing Eye ® dog is certainly a rewarding endeavor, especially when he does a stellar job of guiding, stopping at all the right corners, ignoring barking dogs, staying inside the crosswalk lines, slowing down for uneven sidewalks, finding the door to the shop where you want to go, and all the other hundreds of tasks he has to do on a trip to town. But there are days when one frustration follows another, and I wonder if hes forgotten everything he learned. On both occasions, I was trying to find a particular location, and in both instances, I had to depend on my dog completely to find the entrance. Many times, we can assist the dog by paying attention to sounds or tactile cues, but sometimes, in the end, its up to the dog. So there I was, standing in what felt like an empty space, disoriented, frustrated, and upset with myself for expecting him to perform this complicated task too soon in our relationship together. Was anybody around to give me a hand? Apparently not, for there was no kind voice appearing out of the air, as there have been in previous situations. (See my post called Stranded.) Or maybe there was someone near, but they didnt know how to approach me. If they offered to help, would I rebuke them? Would I be offended? On the other hand, they might have thought I looked confident and self assured. Short of crying, I havent mastered a facial expression that says I need help.

When someone pushes help at me that I dont want or need, I really do try to be polite and to explain why I say no thanks. For example, if Im in a restaurant or meeting room, and my companion offers to lead me out as a sighted guide, instead of letting my dog take the lead, I might say, He knows how to find the door. Id really like for him to keep in practice. Its only when they offer help thats insulting that I get impatient. No, you dont need to open the packet of sugar for me and put it in my tea. No, you dont need to stir it. Would you like to drink it for me too?

Woops. I mean, Thanks, but I can take it from here.

The art of offering help can be summed up in one word. Ask. Do you need some help? Would you like some help with that? Or How may I assist you? By asking the person a question, youre putting him in control. You are respecting his ability to know what he does or does not need. The response to such a question is much more likely to be polite and friendly than something like Here. Let me do that. Youre going the wrong way. Or Im moving your coffee so you wont spill it. Asking me if I need help will always elicit a better response than telling me.

In the 2 situations I mentioned above, if someone had grabbed my arm and dragged me to where they thought I wanted to go, I would have been very angry, but a simple question like Would you like some help would have been a huge relief. Sometimes, being independent can get in the way of your peace of mind. Sometimes, it can turn you into a rude obnoxious person. When you allow others the freedom of their independence, or when you recognize the right times to help or to accept help, the worlds a happier place.

Old Family Sayings

Do you say vanilla or vanilla? This question started a discussion at the table with friends yesterday. We concluded that it might be a regional thing. The discussion then evolved into a reminiscence of old sayings that may or may not be remembered by everyone. Sayings and expressions that are attributed to specific family members are the most fun to recall.

Had my grandmother been at that table, she would have commented, Vanella or vanilla? Just call it wheel barrel and go on. What? She originated this phrase when she was teaching her students in a one-room school to read. When they came to a word they couldnt figure out, shed say, Just call it wheel barrel and go on. Well, she had only gone through the 8th grade herself.

My grandmother was also famous in our family for exclaiming, Peoply peoply, got more problems than anybody. This would come in response to hearing about somebodys troubles. When 1 of us kids would fret about something in our appearance, say a pimple or a spot on our shirt, shed assure us, It will never be noticed on a galloping horse. I believe the original phrase was from a galloping horse. Every time I walk into a crowded store that seems to be wall to wall shoppers, I laugh, as I remember what Grandma would say at times like this. they dont have any. Whenever I have a day completely to myself, with no appointments and no commitments, a day when I can do chores Ive put off like cleaning out closets, I hear my grandmother say, Sometimes, you just need a day to make soap.

My aunt Lynn was a writer of fiction, having a fabulous imagination. I think it was she who taught me to say, whenever there was an unpleasant task to do, Lets dont and say we did. She wasnt teaching me to lie, just to laugh about wishing we could.

Then there were expressions my family used that Ive never heard from anyone else. that jangles my ankles, or That makes my teeth itch. We say this when something Is extremely annoying, like chalk screeching on a blackboard. I bet you have family sayings too that are unique to your own clan. But Ill bet you have never heard the ones that my dad used all the time. When Id have trouble pulling open a particularly heavy door or lifting something, hed say, You need a brick in your pocket. When the coffee was too strong, he would say, It will put hair on your chest. This was always hilarious to me as a little girl, but I find myself quoting him all the time. The expression he was credited for, as being an original was thats a very pregnant idea. I used to think it was funny, but now I understand that what he meant was an idea that was full of promise and possibility. Hed say it in a kind of jokey way, but thats what I think he meant.

When someone was rude to him, or inconsiderate, or even unfriendly, hed tell about it this way. No hello, how do you do, or kiss my foot. Imagine someone coming up to you and saying Kiss my foot, or maybe some other part of your body, which was really what my dad would say. We always laughed about that. I hope this has made you smile today and recall some of your own family favorites.

Look Both Ways

Cisco and I were walking down the sidewalk in the neighborhood, minding our own business, when suddenly, just to our left, not 5 feet away, a motor roared into life. I mean, it was as if the operator had waited until the very second we were exactly adjacent to him before he switched it on. My immediate reaction was to stop, mouth open in startled shock and hand to heart to put my heart back in my chest. Seeing my reaction, the man shut off his motor and said with some enjoyment, Did that scare you? I answered, You could have waited 2 more seconds. I never seen ya, was his excuse for such an inconsiderate action.

On the other hand, Ive been grateful many times when someone mowing their lawn would either shut down his motor until we passed or turned away from us, thus avoiding the possibility of kicked up debris damaging my dogs eyes. Ive been equally annoyed when someone does just the opposite. Ive had lawn mowers head straight for us, and all I can do is urge my dog to move along out of the way.

Lawn mowers can not only be annoying and frightening, but they also can be a dangerous threat to a blind pedestrians safety. My heart sinks every time I approach a corner where I must cross the street, and I hear the roaring of a lawn mower in the yard. I know that Ill never be able to hear on-coming traffic. If its a quiet street, where cars are likely to not be moving fast, Ill wait for a few seconds at the curb, then give my dog the forward command and pray. So far, thats worked, but its not exactly safe. In a perfect world, the person pushing that mower would realize that I need to be able to hear the traffic to cross safely, but most people, if they think at all about it, have the mistaken notion that the dog watches for traffic and lets the person know when its safe to cross. In truth, its the person who determines that. The dog will refuse to cross, only if the car turns in front of him or if there is a car in the crosswalk. He cannot be expected to judge the speed of an oncoming car. After all, hes a dog. Hes trained to obey commands and to intelligently disobey if the danger is immediate.

One morning, on my way to church, I approached just such a corner. The lawn mower was roaring in the corner lot, and the street I had to cross there was a busy one. It would be impossible to hear when it was safe to cross. I had 2 choices. I could wait until he was done mowing his lawn, and thus be late for church, or I could do something proactive to remedy the situation. I faced in his direction and waved my arms around. He shut off the mower, and I explained to him that I was not able to hear the traffic, and could he please keep it off until I had crossed. He was so nice about it that I went a step farther and asked him to look up and down the street to let me know when I could cross. When I got to the other side, I waved my thanks, and he went back to his yard work, having just learned something he didnt know about how a blind person and her dog manage busy street crossings. I can only look both ways if I can hear both ways.

Pressures of Our Culture

Okay. All right. I get it. As soon as the next to the latest generation of the I-Phone goes on sale, Ill be there, standing in line to update my entire life.

For the last few years, Ive protested that my little cell phone that just makes phone calls is all I need. Yes, a smart phone would be fun to have, but do I need it? No. But Im beginning to get the message that soon I will actually need one. I remember fighting against using a computer, then using windows, and now weaning myself off windows XP, and I managed to get through it and to enjoy it. I cant imagine life without email, but even that is destined to change into not being able to imagine life without texting. In fact, realizing that most of the world is in text mode, Ive been forced into stifling my instinct to communicate with background stories and descriptions that people simply dont want to take the time to read. Thank you, Dear Reader, for taking the time to read this post that is more than 45 characters long.

Ive stopped leaving messages on my sons voice mail and that of many of my friends. They dont think they have time to listen to a message and would prefer to just tap a button to call me back. Wait until I learn to text. Then phone calls will stop completely. Ive watched with amusement while my son and daughter text back and forth about where to meet for lunch, when a 10-minute exchange could be reduced to a 1-minute conversation with their real actual person to person voices. But you just dont do that these days. You also dont use conventional spelling, to say nothing of punctuation. Ive been slowly dipping my toe in these waters by using OMG and BTW and SLAP, but Im going to need a dictionary to keep up. Otherwise, Im going to appear as antiquated as using a quill pen and a jar of ink. Remember the ink well in our school desks? I bet you dont. Now Im really showing my age.

Even TV and newspaper articles dont tell the whole story. How many times have you heard or read, For the full story, go to our website. Or, Follow us on FaceBook. By-lines for columnists now include their twitter addresses. The older I get, the more I see the need to grab onto the technology train and try to hold on for dear life. I do know people who dont even have a computer in their homes, but they are missing a lot.

Or are they?


Many years ago, when I was losing my vision, I subscribed to a publication called dialog Magazine for the Blind. One of my favorite columns was ABAPITA, which stood for Aint Blindness a Pain in the Anatomy. People sent in funny stories about how their blindness mistakes turned into something to laugh about. Youve probably heard someone tell about how they grabbed what they thought was toothpaste and then discovered they had put Ben Gay on their toothbrush, or dipped their fries into what they thought was ketchup only to take a bite of potato covered with tarter sauce. It happens, even to sighted folks, but we who are blind get to do it a lot more often.

Last night, I had a guest for dinner, and I wanted to make a special after dinner drink, one of my favorites, Brandy Alexander, made with ice cream. Yum. Several months ago, my daughter Kara had talked me into buying an emersion blender. Its great for making smoothies and soups, she said. So I made a smoothie with it once or twice, but mostly I ignored it, not being a fan of smoothies and not wanting to make soup in this hot weather. But making a Brandy Alexander called for getting out the blender and magically creating a delectable treat. I carefully measured out the cream de cacao, the brandy, and the vanilla ice cream. I plugged in the thing that you stick down into the cup, pushed the button, and away it went. It seemed to be working okay at first, but it felt like there was something solid in the bottom of the cup. We guessed that maybe the ice cream had become packed and stuck on the bottom, so I pushed down harder, and held the button down for longer periods of time, and still, that blob remained. Then Dan took a look, and what he pulled up from the bottom was a hunk of something unrecognizable. Well duh. I had forgotten to take out the cardboard thingy that goes in the bottom of the blender cup when its not in use. It keeps the blender part in place, that is, when youre not using it. When you prepare the ingredients for your Brandy alexander, it works a whole lot better if you take the cardboard out first. The cardboard thingy looked pretty chewed up, which meant there probably were shreds of cardboard in our would-be delectable dessert drink, so I poured it down the drain. How sad to waste all that wonderful stuff, but its just one of those blindness moments. ABAPITA.

Theres a happy ending to this story. Because we had plenty of the 3 ingredients, we started over, this time without the cardboard, and it was indeed delicious.