Back When I Was in School

At our meeting of the Columbus Advisory Committee on Disability Issues today, our speaker demonstrated the latest adaptive technology available to OSU students with disabilities. I was prepared to be more or less bored, because, as you know, I’ve been struggling with adaptive technology that seems to be fighting with me. Being forced into updating my computer skills to include working with Windows 7, and feeling the cultural pressure to join the smart phone set, I was expecting a ho hum presentation of screen readers and enlargers. But I had to sit up and take notice when we were shown a device that looks like a fat pen. As you sit in class, listening to the lecture, you take notes with this magical pen in special notebooks, and as you’re writing, it takes a picture of what you’re writing and creates a PDF on your computer. If that’s not magical enough, it records the lecture at the same time, so if you missed something, or your notes are missing an important word, you have a recording to fall back on. What’s even more amazing is that this device does not cost thousands of dollars, and it is available on line to the general public. The idea of being able to take notes in class or in a meeting, and look pretty much like anybody else made my jaw drop with wonder. I was born 50 years too early. Well, I don’t really mean that. I think growing up in the 50’s and 60’s was a blessing, but the way I had to take notes when I was in college was hideously cumbersome and awkward, to say nothing of time consuming.

I used a portable reel to reel tape recorder, which I carried from class to class, with extra batteries and 3-inch reels in my pockets. At the beginning of each class, I carefully threaded the tape, and if I forgot to rewind the tape before the next class, I’d have to fish out not only a new tape, but a new empty reel as well. Then when I got back to the dorm, I’d have to listen to the lecture all over again, so I could take notes on my manual braille writer, which I had borrowed from the Special Education office. There was no such thing as services for students with disabilities. I still have that braille writer, but don’t tell anybody. Kids nowadays wouldn’t know how to use it anyway I suspect. I used a huge tape recorder in my room with 7-inch reels.

I had to send my text books away to be recorded, and sometimes it took as long as 5 weeks to get them back on tapes. That was half the quarter. I recall one night when I was trying to study, and my 3 roommates decided to have a popcorn party in our room. I lugged that monster machine down to the common bathroom and studied there. Taking tests was always a challenge, and I wrote my term papers on a manual portable typewriter. They certainly weren’t as pretty as the papers kids turn in these days, with their fancy fonts and graphics. Oh wait. They don’t turn in papers. They send them via email to their professors. If I were a college student today, life would be completely different from the way it was back when I was in school. It might sound easier, because everything is supposedly accessible, but I think it’s a lot more complicated and a little more scarey, to tell you the truth.

Always Have an Advocate

When I signed in at the pain center to have a steroid injection for my chronic back pain, the receptionist seemed flustered, because nobody told her in advance that I was blind. To her credit, she recovered quickly and was friendly and efficient. Knowing that these injections are done in an operating room type setting, I asked to make sure Dora would be allowed to go in with me. She checked with the nurse, and Dora was cleared. While I was back in the prep room, getting my vitals taken and signing more papers, the receptionist told my friend Dan, who was waiting for me in the reception area, that I might have to wait until everybody else had had their procedures done that afternoon, because they would have to completely scrub down the operating room after the dog was in there. Dan, who is very conscientious about respecting my right to make my own decisions, offered to keep Dora with him in the waiting room, but that they should ask me what I wanted to do. When they did ask me, I said if it were a choice of Dora’s waiting with Dan or my waiting all afternoon, certainly, Dora could go out and wait with Dan. In the end, the doctor said it was fine for Dora to be in with me. It just bothered me that if Dan hadn’t been there, they might have just let me sit there in the prep room, possibly for hours, without telling me that it was because of the dog. This episode, which turned out to be a non episode after all, is just one example of how important it is to have an advocate with you, whenever you are placed in a vulnerable position in a medical setting. I am so grateful that I did not have to take a cab to this appointment and that Dan was there to guide me to the right office, which was in a huge medical facility and to be there for me. Sometimes, if we don’t happen to have a good friend like Dan to take us to these appointments, we bite the bullet and go on our own, but even if I have to pay someone, I’ll always have a “patient advocate” with me. You never know when a flustered worker will stir up unnecessary concern.

I was pleased that not one person treated me like a child or that I couldn’t think for myself. Dora charmed everybody, including the doctor and nurses in the procedure room. She lay peacefully on the floor, throughout the procedure, until she sensed that I was in considerable pain, which I was, during the actual injection of the steroid. The doctor warned me that I would feel some pressure. Pressure my eye. It was pain, but I’d been through this before, so I knew that it eventually would all be good. During those brief times when there was considerable pain, Dora got up to check on me, but she wasn’t in the way, and everybody thought it was sweet. The doctor said that it might take 24—48 hours for the effect to kick in, but at the risk of jinxing it, I have to say that already I feel better.

A few minutes ago, one of the nurses called to check to see how I was doing. She asked if I was pleased with my treatment. What a golden opportunity to tell her what I just told you. I hope she and her staff learn from this experience. Every experience is a learning opportunity.

Braille is Not a Language

In my previous post, I attached the article I wrote for The Toastmaster Magazine. It was printed pretty much the way I wrote it, with the exception of one glaring word, that I never would have written in this context. The article, as I wrote it started, “it’s 7:25 on a Monday night, and my Toastmasters meeting will be starting in five minutes. The voices of my fellow Toastmasters blend around me as I check the agenda, which I have entered in Braille in my note taker.” Note that I said “entered in braille.” What they substituted, without my permission was “translated into braille.” Braille is transcribed, not translated. You don’t need to translate English into braille. Braille is English, at least in the U.S. It is not a foreign language. It is a tactile way of writing. Think of it this way. If you write something in cursive, or script, it is not a different language from writing the same thing in print. So why do I make such a big deal of the use of one word? Saying that I translate things into braille infers that it is another language, thus propagating the notion that as a blind person, I speak another language. I am a foreigner. I used the word “enter” in my article, because I was using an electronic device. I could have said “typed.” The point is, I did not say “translated.” It did not even occur to me to use the word translated. That was the editor’s choice and evidence of ignorance about braille and probably about blind people too. I am offended by such ignorance. Words are important to me. They often carry more weight than actions. As a blind person who has spent most of her life trying to prove that she isn’t so different from anybody else, I am constantly reminded that I am. I try so hard to remind people that it’s okay to use words like “see” and “watch,” as in “Did you see the game last night?” and “I like to watch TV at the end of the day.” Blind people speak the same language that sighted people do. We don’t need a translator.

My Article in The Toastmaster Magazine

The May issue of The Toastmaster Magazine has a story in it that I submitted last year. As you see in the message from them below, I am allowed to share it, so here it is.


Dear Toastmaster Hiland,

The editorial team is delighted to include your article in the May 2014 issue of the Toastmaster magazine. I have attached a PDF copy of your article to this email and have mailed three complimentary copies of the magazine to your address.

Please feel free to share it with your fellow Toastmasters, family and friends. In addition, please send any feedback you get about your story to so we can publish readers’ responses in the magazine.

Thank you for sharing your story with the Toastmaster magazine audience.

Kind regards,

World Headquarters

Shaelyn Berg
Toastmaster Magazine
Toastmasters International
Where Leaders Are Made

Mary Hiland Speaking in the Dark.pdf

Dangerous Exercise

Who would ever think that taking a walk in your neighborhood would be a dangerous endeavor? I have sidewalks that wander for miles within my subdivision. The streets are peacefully quiet after 8:30 in the morning, until about the time school is out. For this reason, I avoid walking from 7:30 to 8:30 on weekday mornings and after 2:30 in the afternoons. Still, I must be vigilant and be aware of any cars idling in driveways. When I approach one, I stop and wait to determine if it is backing out. I wait for a few seconds and then continue walking and waving my right arm in the air like a railroad crossing, in hope of catching the eye of a driver who might be sitting there, preparing to release the brake and back out without a glance toward the sidewalk. I was hit once; walking behind a car that I didn’t know was backing out. I wasn’t hurt, but it made me practice suspicious caution.

Yesterday, it was windy, which makes it hard to hear the purr of a motor, and yes, I probably had let my mind wander for a minute, and sure enough, when I heard the car, it was too late. It was coming right at us. I screamed, jumped back, and pulled Dora out of the way with her leash. If the car had been in front of us, she would have stopped, but being a dog, she can’t calculate that a car sitting in the driveway one minute will become a lethal weapon the next. The woman in the car jumped out and apologized profusely. She wanted to give me a hug. Seriously? She thought a hug would make up for almost mowing me down? I said, “No. Just promise me that the next time you back out, you’ll look.”

Then today, Dora and I had come to a crosswalk, and we waited until 2 cars had passed by. Thinking the second car had left, I gave Dora the forward command. She hesitated, indicating that she didn’t think she should go. Just then, a woman’s voice came to me from the middle of the crosswalk. “Not yet,” she called. For a second, I was confused, and then I heard her accelerate and drive into the intersection and around the corner. Then Dora’s hesitation made sense. She had just done a traffic check. It was the first time she had had to employ that skill since we left The Seeing Eye. During class, we experienced many planned traffic checks. This is where a trainer in a car turns unexpectedly in front of us, and the dog comes to an abrupt halt and might even scoot backwards if the car is coming too close. They joke about it in class, as in, “Well, I tried to run over most of the students this morning. I just have a few left to do after lunch.” If I hadn’t already experienced that thrill of having my dog save our lives that morning, it was fair warning to be on the lookout that afternoon. The instructor working with the student never warns them if they see a traffic check coming, so the student won’t anticipate, and do the work for the dog. It sounds scary, but it really isn’t, because the dogs have been through this many times in their training before their people come to class, and the instructors are right there, within arm’s reach, just in case. It’s always a very emotional experience. You get to see what your dog is made of.

Rarely, do we get the opportunity for Dora to practice her traffic check skill, which is a good thing, so it took me a second to recognize it. I’m writing about it today, as a way of making it up to her for not praising her to the hilt. She hadn’t had a traffic check in 2 months, but she hadn’t forgotten how to do it, this time for real.

Each time we go out the front door, somebody should say, “Be careful out there.”