Things That Go Buzz In The Night

Summer is drawing to a close, and to make myself feel a little better about the autumn chill in the air, I’m going to take this opportunity to discuss creepy crawly buzzy creatures you only find during the otherwise idyllic summer months.  Who knows? It might just make you feel better about the impending cold, too!

 

 

Insectophobia is one of the most common phobias worldwide. Its effects can range from mildly irritating to devastatingly crippling. Some people won’t even leave their houses for fear of encountering even the most inoffensive of insects.

 

I didn’t always identify as insectophobic, reasoning that my fears did not impede my life enough to qualify as bona fide phobias. I’ve since changed my mind, and use the label quite freely. I am irrationally afraid of many different types of insects, and I’m not alone. Many of the people I know have similar fear or disgust reactions to bugs like wasps, bees etc. What people may not realize, though, is that being blind can add a further dimension to this fear, making it harder to cope with and more severe in nature.

 

Sometimes, coping with insects when you’re blind is no more difficult than it would be for a sighted person: as you’re lying in bed, drifting off, the insidious whine snaps you back to alertness. Then, you search vainly for the mosquito, intent upon murdering the insolent little nasty before sleep is possible. Turning on the light doesn’t help; the mosquito usually vanishes until darkness returns. Mosquitoes are easy enough for me to kill in any case; they’re usually too stupid or too slow to escape a swat once they’ve landed. (I’m not yet at an emotional point where I’m fully capable of letting mosquitoes get near enough to land on me at all, but I’m working on it.)

 

Unfortunately, it’s another matter altogether where bees, wasps, hornets, and other bugs are concerned. There are generally several tasks that blindness makes more challenging. First, you have to identify the insect. What are you dealing with? Is it a mellow bumblebee, high on nectar and enjoying life? Is it a slightly more threatening honeybee, looking for a snack but not unwilling to attack if frightened? Or is it—horror of horrors—an evil little wasp, just waiting to launch its vile assault?

 

Second, where is it? Sometimes, insects that make especially loud noise can seem closer than they actually are. Is the bug near enough that any sudden movement will disturb it, or is it far enough away that escape is possible? And do you dare find out?

 

Third, how should you go about eliminating the threat? I’m as big a bleeding heart as anyone I know, so my first instinct is usually to put a harmless spider or lady bug outside rather than ending its little wee life. I’m not near as philosophical when it comes to creatures that buzz, however. My fear of insects is sometimes so acute that the mere sound of an insect—even a house fly—will set me so on edge that most thought processes simply stop. I want to either escape, or see the creepy-crawly slaughtered (hopefully by someone who isn’t me).

 

I’m not alone, either. Alicia tells me that she finds the mere idea of being trapped in an enclosed space with an unidentified insect terrifying in itself. If there’s an insect in her house, she’ll avoid it rather than trying to kill it or put it out. Even worse, she hates the knowledge that she may not know a bug is around until it crawls on her, at which point she has no warning, no sense of what the bug might be, and virtually no time to evade it.

 

Once, while alone in a car, I noticed that there was an awful lot of buzzing going on directly behind my head, right against the back window. I knew there had to be at least four or five different insects there, but I wasn’t entirely sure what they might be. They sounded like they could be flies, but they also could be bees or wasps for all I knew. Positively quaking with fear, I hunched down, put my head between my knees, and stayed curled like that until my friend turned up. “Oh my God!” he exclaimed, opening the car door, “There are about six bumble bees in here!”. … I still shudder at the thought.

 

I’ve been by turns laughed at, scoffed at, sympathized with, and coddled because of my all-consuming fear of big buzzy things. While a lot of the fear is quite normal and part of being human, some of it is directly related to being blind, and I wanted people to understand that feeling as much as possible. It starts to make a tad more sense once you step into my shoes for a moment. Keeping in mind that not all blind people react this way (my boyfriend, for instance, feels little more than irritation with most bugs), I beg my readers to cut me some slack when it comes to things that go buzz in the night.

 

 

The Trouble With Transit…

Public transit is a truly wonderful thing, especially if your city has a good system. It’s particularly wonderful for blind people, who have no alternative except expensive taxis and carpooling. It’s a bit hard on the pride to continually ask for rides, and it’s even harder on the wallet to take taxis everywhere you go. For routes that I travel often, the bus (or LRT train) is the best way for me to get around.

 

Unfortunately, traveling with public transit isn’t all roses, as even experienced blind travelers will tell you. Having grown up in a rural area most of my life, I’m still getting used to how transit works. Everything from finding the right bus, to locating a seat, to getting off at the right stop is a challenge. Last summer, I had my first job, and I had to figure out the ins and outs of public transit in a few short days. It was … interesting to say the least. Below are just a few of the things which make bus and LRT travel so difficult for me. They make great stories, but I can’t say they’re some of my fondest memories.

 

Once, I asked the bus driver to drop me off on 109th avenue and 149th street, indicating a specific bus stop. When we got close, she said something very ominous: “I’ll just drop you off over here.”. Being hopelessly green, I didn’t think to say “Wait! Wait wait wait! Where, exactly, is ‘over here’?” I got off the bus, thanked the driver dutifully, and tried to get my bearings. Immediately, I knew I was in trouble. I was on an unfamiliar sidewalk, along an equally unfamiliar street. I walked to the nearest intersection, whipped out my phone, and tried to get my GPS to tell me where I was. It wasn’t helpful at all. I then called CrazyMusician, whom I was staying with at the time, but she couldn’t help much at first, either. I must have stood there for fifteen long, long, long minutes before she finally figured out where I was and got me back on track. When a blind person memorizes an exact route in an unfamiliar area, you can’t knock them even a little off course. If you do, their entire concept of where they are is changed. If I know the area, you could drop me off a block or two away and I’d figure it out eventually. If I don’t know the area, though, my destination could be 1000 miles away for all the success I’d have searching for it. Maybe other blind people are much better at mapping than I am (I expect I’ll be hearing from them, indignantly accusing me of misrepresentation), but I need to know exactly where I am to get anywhere with any kind of grace. Drivers who drop me off “over here” probably don’t realize that they’re endangering my entire sense of orientation. From then on, I  insisted that I be told explicitly where I’m being dropped off.

 

I used to have a very, very grumpy driver in the mornings on my way to work. Every day, just to be cautious, I’d confirm that hers was the bus I was looking for. There’s nothing worse than getting on the wrong bus and discovering it later. Every day she’d respond, sounding more and more irritated. One morning, she finally allowed her exasperation to show through. She, of course, was tired of saying “yes” every single time I asked. Probably, she thought I was a little on the slow side or something. I explained to her as politely as I could that it’s very important to check which bus I’m on. Annoying drivers for the rest of my days is worth being secure in the knowledge that I’m where I’m supposed to be. If I annoy you, well, I’m sorry, but I’d rather risk annoying you than end up somewhere other than my destination.

 

Locating a seat can be a bit of a challenge. The more a blind person rides buses, the more comfortable they will be with finding things. As I’ve said, though, I’m not overly comfortable with much of anything yet, so I definitely have a few stories about fumbling for a seat. For the sake of brevity, I’ll stick with this one: I was searching for a seat, reaching out with my hand like a good little blind person to feel what I was about to sit on. Instead of finding the rough material of the front seat, I encountered the lap of a very startled gentleman! I don’t think I’ve ever apologized so profusely before or since. I just hope he didn’t focus on the implications of such an intimate moment …

 

Perhaps my favourite story is the one where I tried to ride the LRT train with my friend Jess. Jess is a wonderful guide, but sadly there were no empty seats available, so we had to stand. I, having no balance whatsoever, was swaying so drunkenly with the movement of the train that I had to use her as a support pole, being unable to find one myself. Luckily for me, she’s a very steady person, so I just wrapped my arms around her and held on for dear, dear life. I had a similar incident on a bus one day. It was standing room only, and since I wasn’t sure where the nearest pole was, I simply fell towards the left side of the bus. Again, I was fortunate: a large crowd of passengers all rose at once and caught me. It was actually a bit surreal. I thank the universe every day for good people. They’re everywhere, they really are, and they’ll help you out of almost any sticky situation.

 

My final tale is one that’s a bit more serious. It happened while I was with CrazyMusician, so I’ll let her tell it:

“I was thrilled to have Meagan come and visit me. We laugh and talk like sisters sometimes, and bring out the hidden girliness in each other.

On Saturday, we went out for brunch at a mall near my house, and the timing and weather was just perfect enough to take Jenny, my black lab guide dog,

for a run in the park to expend some of that Labrador energy.

This path is a wonderful straight line of concrete where we could walk, and runners and bikers can exercise, and strips of grass on either side where Jenny

could run, frolic, and generally have a great old time, resulting in one very VERY tired dog.

After our lovely walk/run, we made our way to the bus stop to go back to my house. there are two buses that stop there – one that gets us home and one

that doesn’t.  Two blind people sitting on the bus bench – one of whom is with a guide dog – are not exactly inconspicuous…

We were sitting and chatting, and I think one of us (I don’t know who) looked at her phone, when a diesel vehicle just came flying past the bus stop.

As it shifted gears, I turned to Meagan and asked, “Wasn’t that our bus?”

I don’t think either of us would’ve been surprised if the bus had slowed down, we didn’t indicate our interest, and then kept going, but at the speed it

was flying down the avenue, there’s no way it could’ve stopped safely. As a result, Meagan, jenny and I were waiting on the bus bench for another thirty

minutes in the growing – though not unbearable – heat.

I did call in a complaint to the transit company, if for no other reason than the driver should have slowed down at the very least.  Had I been sighted,

perhaps I could’ve seen him at the corner and been prepared; perhaps not.

I am married to a bus driver.  After chewing me out for not calling him to pick us up (the thought never once occurred to either of us), the first question

out of his mouth was, “Did you call in a complaint?”  I know how bus drivers are supposed to do their job, and that driver did not do it well, period.

All this to say, as a blind person I am very visible; most blind people are.  Glasses, canes, guide dogs, magnifiers, squinting at signage and sometimes

bumping into things make us, by our obvious difference, noticeable.  It is sometimes a source of aggravation to me, especially when people seem to think

that I am only defined by my blindness; sometimes a big help because I get to meet new people I wouldn’t otherwise get to meet.  It is unfortunate that

on that hot summer Saturday, two blind people seemed completely and utterly invisible to that bus driver.”

 

All in all, I’m deeply grateful for public transit. We’re lucky enough to have a reasonably efficient system in Edmonton, and for many folks, blind or sighted,  it’s a real gift. As I’ve shown, however, there is a certain amount of risk and hassle involved, and the results can be disastrous at times. Next time you take a bus, just be grateful that you haven’t gotten on the wrong one, groped a stranger’s intimate bits, or been dropped off on some random street you don’t know.

 

I know some other blindies out there have some juicy bus stories to tell. Share them in the comments below, so we can all have a laugh at (…I mean with…) you!

Running In Circles: Superblinks And The Quest For “Normalcy”

Today, Gregg and I have teamed up to address a topic which troubles us both. We hope that this offers some insight, even if you do not agree with our general stance. Enjoy!

 

Anyone reading this article is apt to have seen at least one so-called “supermom”. She’s the sort of woman who’s involved in everything her kids do, while still managing to cook, keep house, balance the family accounts and take time for herself to pursue a hobby or three. Many of these women are wonderful people, but the worst among them can be frustrating, condescending and infuriating by turns if others don’t do as they do. This particular phenomenon isn’t limited to mothers, however. A small group of blind people are guilty of much the same thing, and we commonly refer to them as “superblinks”.

 

Being good at a lot of things doesn’t make you a superblink. Trying to help other blind people get better at things you can already do quite well doesn’t make you a superblink either. There’s nothing wrong with either one of these things, as long as you exercise caution with the latter so as to avoid coming across as a know-it-all. Superblinks are defined by a rather strange paradox. They do as much as they possibly can, in as “normal” a manner as they can manage, to stop people from thinking they’re inept; being blind, however, means they’re going to stand out sometimes no matter what they do, and since relatively few superblinks exist, they end up seeming more abnormal than ever. Their desire to blend in makes them stand out. Central to the idea of the superblink, as well, is the insistence, to any and all around them, that their way is best. This often manifests even if the superblink in question has trouble with the task at hand or cannot fully understand why they need to do something a specific way. Many superblinks are excellent at the things they do, but some are not; for those latter individuals, doing something well becomes secondary to doing something normally.

 

Most of the time, it’s easy enough to let “superblinks” be. True, they can sometimes be irritating, just like supermoms who drive everyone else crazy with their insistence upon being the very best at absolutely everything. Unfortunately, there is a certain subset of superblinks who can be downright damaging to themselves and to other blind people.

 

It can be very taxing to associate with someone who tries with all their might to seem “normal”. They are so unwilling to accept their blindness as part of them that they do everything in their power to behave as much like a sighted person as possible. For these people, appearing “blind” in any way is undesirable. I’ve even met some people who refuse to carry canes because they don’t want to “look blind”. These people are a danger to themselves and occasionally, to others. These are the superblinks who march out into traffic without caution, explore new routes without a clue where they’re going, and refuse to acknowledge that they are different in any way. Needless to say, this lifestyle is absurd at best and dangerous at worst.  No matter how hard you try, your blindness will never go away. We’re not suggesting that one has to embrace their blindness with open arms and adore that part of themselves; it’s perfectly normal to feel a little subpar sometimes. But to ignore it completely? That’s wrong on so many levels. To value normality above all other things is a grievous mistake, considering that no one really knows what normal means.

 

Those who dismiss their blindness can be trying enough, but still worse are the superblinks who define themselves by their disability. These are the types of people who are inordinately proud of their accomplishments in the context of their blindness. For example, someone might be very proud of their cooking skills, employment-related skills, etc. That’s perfectly fine. Being proud of one’s accomplishments is sometimes underrated. What isn’t so nice is when someone is proud of these things because they are blind and still manage to do them. Sighted people do this to us all the time: “Look! This guy is a singer/skier/teacher/lawyer … and he’s blind! Isn’t that just amazing? What a hero!”. There are people who defy the odds and take on tasks that are difficult for the blind to do. This is admirable, certainly, but there is really no need to go around singing one’s own praises. Be proud, by all means, of what you have achieved, but don’t contextualize it all the time.

 

I’ve known blind people who are so intent on defining themselves by their blindness that it’s almost as if they think they have “blindy” superpowers. “Look at me go! I’m blind but I can do this, this, this, and that!”. It sends the message that we’re special or heroic or worthy of adulation simply because we do what sighted people do anyway with particular skill. Certainly sighted people might admire us, and that’s not in itself a horrible thing, but we should know better than to adopt the practice ourselves. In fact, for someone who is so intent on seeming “normal”, defining all of one’s accomplishments by the difficulties caused by blindness is awfully counterproductive.

 

The main reason that these types of superblinks are a problem, though, is the judgmental behaviour they often exhibit towards other blind people. They assume that, just because they can do certain things well, every blind person should be able to do them equally well. “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you do this? I can. There must be something the matter with you.”. I’ve already discussed the dangers of comparing blind people to one another, and superblinks really should know better. There’s a difference between being supportive (“You can do this!”) and being judgmental (“Why can’t you do this?”). Call me a dreamer, but I think the world would be a much better place if people spent less time judging and comparing, and more time supporting and encouraging.

“I’m Right Here!”: On Treating Us Like People

Before I begin the meat of my post today, I’d like to stress a few things: one is that I understand that not everyone knows how to behave around people with disabilities, so they do whatever they can think of at the time. The second is that generally, people mean well, even if they do things that make me angry or hurt my feelings. Third, despite the somewhat ranty nature of the following, I accept that not everyone gets it right the first time. I’m here to help you get it right in the future. Of course, “getting it right” is subject to my views; other blind people may have opposite opinions. Try and read this with an open mind, and understand that while I feel strongly about this matter, the last thing I mean to do is offend.

 

I literally cannot count the times I’ve gone into a restaurant, store, or other public place, and been treated more or less like a child. If I’m with a friend, for instance, servers will sometimes ask what “she’d like to order”, as if either I can’t decide for myself, or I can’t hear the conversation at all. Other times, people will talk about me at great length, sometimes when I’m just a few feet away; it’s as if they believe that deafness (or at least lack of awareness) inevitably accompanies blindness. This is, of course, true in some cases, but my ears are in excellent working order, and I hear everything going on around me most of the time. Just recently, I went into a Starbucks with some friends, only to find that the group at the next table were having a loud conversation about how nice it is that people help “the poor blind people of the world”. I chose to laugh the whole thing off, but it bothered me. Why do people insist on talking about me when I’m right there, just because I can’t see them? Do they think I’m deaf, or do they honestly fail to consider that I might overhear (and care about) what they’re saying?

 

The thing is, I’m a human being—a highly functional one who can hear and understand things. The other common mistake people make is assuming that, while I may be able to hear them, I won’t understand. I have had many people talk to me in excessively loud voices, speaking slowly and clearly as though to one who barely speaks English. Worse still, some people will speak to me in a high-pitched, sickly sweet voice, as though addressing a child. A few years ago, I went into a salon to get my hair cut. The hairdresser, who couldn’t have been more than a year or two older than I was, said “What can I do for you today, sweetie?” in a singsong, overly motherly tone. This would have been okay if she talked to every customer this way, but I soon discovered that she only spoke this way to me. It was infuriating. I have seen people do this to blind people who are much older than them, and I simply don’t get it.

 

Then there are those who try to speak for me. I’ll go somewhere with them, and when I’m asked what I’d like, they answer for me right away, as if I can’t do it for myself. This is often done by family members who used to do it when I was very young, but who haven’t grown out of the habit over the years. It’s easy, I suppose, to do this without thinking, but it’s really not necessary. You wouldn’t speak for any other nineteen-year-old, so why speak for me? I have command of the English language, and I certainly have the autonomy to decide things for myself.

 

Don’t believe me? Try watching an elderly person with a walker sometime. They’ll be patronized; they’ll be called “sweetie” by people half their age; they’ll be spoken to in slow, singsong tones; they won’t be taken seriously, or they’ll be treated like children. They’re just old, and they have a walker. This does not automatically transform them into someone completely subhuman (or inhuman). Unless they have some form of serious dementia or similar condition, speak to them as the capable adults that they are.

 

I can both hear and understand what’s being said to and about me. I am an adult who is capable of speaking for myself, making my own decisions, and having normal conversations with people. There is no need to speak for me, or to speak to me like a child (or worse, act like I’m not even there). While I realize that most of this is entirely unintentional, I want people to realize how it feels, and understand why they should try not to speak this way. It’s patronizing, and even hurtful at times. I’m used to it, so I tend to let it roll off me, but it saddens me that I even have to. There are enough barriers, real or perceived, separating blind people from the “rest of the world”. There is no need to add another one. People with physical disabilities are still people, and they ought to be treated as such.

Guest Post: Yes, I’m The One With The Dog

Today, we’re in for a bit of a treat. CrazyMusician, a guide dog user, will be discussing common myths about guide dog travel; she will also share the turmoil and chaos of the “first year from hell”. Since (as should be obvious by now) I’m not a guide dog person, I wanted the perspective of someone who is living it right now. The post is wonderful, so without further ado, I’ll let her do the talking.

 

As of August 31, 2014, I will have been partnered with my guide dog, Jenny, for one full year.  It has been rewarding, exhausting, freeing, and emotionally

draining.  We have struggled to form a strong partnership through blizzards, her bad habits, my frustration, and changes in food, training methods, collars,

employment, and home furniture arrangement.

 

Since having a guide dog is in many ways a large shift from using a cane, and since many dog-lovers think that all blind people should have them, I would

like to dispel several myths regarding guide dogs, handlers, and the partnership.

 

1) “A guide dog will make your life easier.”

This is probably the most frustrating and simplistic viewpoint.  While in many ways Jenny has made my life SO much easier – guiding me around unexpected

obstacles, construction, finding curbs on the far side of insanely busy streets, saving me from buses and cars running lights – she has also complicated

my life.  Packing for a trip involves more preparation than I would normally use for myself – does she have enough food? When/where is a good time/place

to take her outside? Do I have her blanket/bowls/water/toys?  Also, my cane has never once run full-tilt toward my husband, bent down to pick up a dropped

sandwich off the ground, or decided that it would be fun to insanely wag its tail at that dog across the street while knowing full well that it is NOT

playtime, resulting in an unhappy puppy across the street barking at it.

All this having been said, the extra preparation, training, and correction are a price I am willing to pay for the independence Jenny offers me.  She has

run me home in a blizzard, saved me from the path of an oncoming bus, and protected me from weird creepy people by letting out a loud bark (not a move

I encourage, but she’s quite selective about it).

 

2) “All guide dogs are fully trained”

Nothing could be further from the truth!  Guide dogs receive the basic overarching training – working in traffic, socialization, food refusal, etc. – but

once the training class is over, the real crash course begins. It is up to the handler to maintain the dog’s training, as well as to teach the dog any

new things the handler would like the dog to do.

Several months after completing training, I was at a really low point with Jenny. She seemed incredibly distracted, walking me into things, scrounging

at anything and everything… I just didn’t know what to do.  Almost all my friends who had guide dogs were still on their first dog and had worked with

them for more than five years, and all of them told me that “their dog never did that.”  I was so discouraged because I thought there was something seriously

wrong with me or my dog.  Then I met someone who was on his third dog.  He asked how things were going with Jenny, and I was just so discouraged that I

told him everything, even uttering the words, “I am seriously thinking about sending her back.”

I remember his words clearly: “the first year is hell; she’s testing you to see what she can get away with.”  He also told me that my feelings of discouragement,

frustration, and even squelched hope were completely normal; I just had to be consistent and let her know what behaviors were acceptable and which ones

weren’t.  Even now, nearly six months later, I still tear up at the immense relief that I felt; there was nothing wrong with my dog or with me… and yes,

things have gotten loads better!

** A caveat here: if you are struggling with these feelings and your dog is doing things that are blatantly unsafe (guiding toward traffic, for example),

it is essential to consult your school for tips, pointers, and a followup visit if necessary.  Your perceived independence is not more valuable than your

very life.

 

3) (along these same lines) “Guide dogs don’t make mistakes”

Yes, they do!

One of the most helpful things my trainer told me was this: “Jenny is a DOG. She is smart, willing/able to learn, but at the end of the day, she is a DOG!”

Dogs will have bad days, just like people, be grumpy, disoriented, sleepy, etc.

It’s always funny when we’re out in public in an unfamiliar area, and I give Jenny directions. If she’s confused, she exhibits certain behaviors, so I

repeat the command.  I can’t tell you the number of times someone has asked, “still in training?” I’ve started to laugh and say “Always!” I liken it to

having children: They learn something, but occasionally they’ll forget and you have to teach them about telling the truth or sharing their toys all over

 

4) General catch-all: Questions/comments that drive me crazy!

A. “You have such a great companion!” – if I wanted a companion, I’d get a little dog that I can carry in my purse. Comments like these demean the partnership,

training and skill involved in the work Jenny does.

B. “Can I pet your dog?” – I am fairly lucky that I get asked this question, rather than having people just reach out and pet her.  As such, despite my

annoyance, I am always polite at this question and say something along the lines of “Thank you so much for asking.”  This reinforces the idea that asking

is OK, but reaching out and petting isn’t.

C. “What’s your dog’s name?” – I don’t give this out, period.

D. “Still in training?” – see point #3 above. I’ve got a friend who’s had her dog for 6 years and still gets asked this question.

 

I did not expect to love having a guide dog as much as I do. Even now, after a bad day, I remember all the awesome things that Jenny has done and will

do in the years to come.  Jenny will get up, do some insanely flexible “doggie yoga” pose, wag her tail; I will hold out the harness as she shoves her

head through it, tail still wagging, and we are off to conquer the world.