A friend challenged me to write an alphabet from A to Z of descriptive words or phrases for my 2021. Try it!

             I’ve challenged other folks and have gotten some interesting responses. One friend started out with:

 A: abnormal

 B because of 

C: Crazy Covid. 

Another mentioned hunting, birds and crops from their garden, accentuating normal life activities.  

                        Here’s mine:

A: access issues as usual!

B: beginning to figure out meeting my support needs in the “new normal”

C: Calvin’s antics kept me sane

D: didn’t have Covid

E: got enough to eat, enough to do, etc.

F: found fun in small ways like sharing Facebook funnies

G: grew a little kinder (sometimes, anyway)

H: house made me happy by not demanding any big presents

I: inclusion efforts on several boards

J: joined a couple new boards

K: “Kathie Comments” and “Corona Chronicle” blogs kept going

L: learned to use a Braille keyboard for iPhone

M: much to be grateful for

N: new experiences like lecturing by Zoom

O: got older and watched friends getting older

P: participated as I could, in civic life

Q: quit sulking (mostly) about needing to do church differently

R: read a lot of great books

S: made lots of scones of varying kinds to share with friends (cranberry orange was a fan favorite)

T: tomato crop was excellent

U: ups and downs managed by talking with  friends and prayer

V: vaccinated and boosted

W: wrote a lot of emails

X: exercised on stationary bike almost as much as my goal was!

Y: yacked with a lot of friends, sometimes by phone, sometimes in person

Z: zydeco and other music from Amazon to keep me motivated during exercise

As for 2022, my wishes for all of us  are well summarized by the last couple lines of Gary Johnson’s poem, “Another Year”:

                        “May this year bring us before it has flown
                          All we would have wished for had we only known”

                This is not an infomercial for Schneider for Supervisor! It is the story of the team it takes and the fun along the way to get me the fifty signatures I need to be on the ballot April 5. All over the county, twenty-eight other incumbents, plus an unknown number of challengers, are doing similar canvassing.

                 The extras in my story come about because of my blindness. I could not do this by myself, so I built a team.

On the team:

  • A retired gal who loves to shop thrift stores and scored a clipboard for me.
  • A retired faculty member who produced an advertising card for me that was described as “professional” by a media specialist.
  • A husband and wife and their nine-year-old, and several other friends, who took time out of busy lives to go  door to door with me.
  • A friend who went around her apartment building which is in my district and scored twenty  signatures.
  • Friends who drove me to the Courthouse to pick up and later drop off my papers.
  • Several people who can’t go door to door, who agreed to be on my prayer team to support my being my best self when doing county business.
  • Voters in the district who signed for me. My oldest signer is 92 and my youngest is 18. One gal was one of the first three women on the County Board back in the sixties.  She said one person wouldn’t sign for her and just told her to go home because women shouldn’t be out there on boards.  She went on to serve both on the County Board and eventually City Council, as well.  Only one person said “I don’t think so” when asked to sign.
  • My Seeing Eye dog was a perfect gentleman, just standing there letting the house dogs sniff him or tell him to get off their property.

                The people who walked with me described Christmas decorations or made a game out of trying to predict if anyone was home. Of course, the nine-year-old had the best line. After listening to my intro several times about this just being signing to get me on the ballot and the person wasn’t committing themselves to vote for me, she told the next person “You don’t have to vote for her!” 

                For an introvert like me, this was hard work. Meeting new neighbors and hearing people’s ideas and issues made it good work.  The weather gods were with me and I got the requisite number of signatures before it turned bitter cold.

                The friend who brought pizza to celebrate the end of signature gathering made the perfect ending to a project that was way more fun as a team event than a solo. Interdependence, a necessity for those of us with disabilities, once again proved to be the better way to go. 

                                               

            Yesterday was Alexa’s birthday and she gave away a joke book, “Tell Me a Joke” through Kindle. Unfortunately, it is inaccessible using either Voiceover on my iPhone or Kindle for PC with JAWS (my screen reading software).

            I contacted Amazon’s disability helpline and they promised to send my complaint in. They acknowledged that the accessibility features “weren’t turned on”. The customer service rep didn’t seem to think I’d ever hear back, but reiterated that he’d turn in my comment.

            I’m frustrated. Both Alexa and Kindle have great potential for increasing accessibility to written matter for blind people. If it’s just a matter of “turning on” accessibility features, why wouldn’t Amazon do it on this promotional giveaway?

            I’m aware this is a “first world” blind problem. I’m aware there are many joke books available to me in accessible format and I can just ask Alexa to tell me a joke.  But it feels like being invited to a party and then being told at the door, “actually you’re not wanted.”

            Am I madder about this than I would have been pre-Covid? Probably. So, I get to practice those stress management skills I’m always recommending like take a walk, distract yourself with something pleasurable, etc. Luckily, I was able to download the new Grisham book The Judge’s List and it is an engrossing read.

            To end this diatribe with a smile, here’s a limerick from The Mammoth Book of Filthy Limericks that does consider accessibility:

                                    “On the breast of a barmaid named Gail

                                    Was written the price of the ale

                                    And on her behind,

                                    For the sake of the blind

                                    Was the same information in Braille.”

                                    

          Sometimes it helps to look back at funny little things that happened, to take a break from Covid, politics, climate change, etc. Don’t worry, they’ll still be there when you’re done reading this list.

  • “The Accidental Chef” article in the Wall Street Journal for September 18 talks about mistakes in cooking that created something good—like oyster sauce and brownies, to name just two. 
  • Spitting watermelon seeds as I enjoy a late summer treat.
  • Three books I put on my TBR list just because of the titles:

Beautiful World Where Are You?

          How to Speak Chicken

          Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old

  • A Calvin story (in honor of National Guide Dog Month):

          As we were walking around the neighborhood, we ran into a six-year-old birthday party breaking up.  At least eight kid/parent groups were on the sidewalk chatting and getting ready to go home. Calvin did an amazing parting of the waters combined with ‘do you want to admire me’ walk through the group. I stopped and did the “my eyes are broken and he leads me” thing, because some of the parents were explaining it in ways I don’t prefer. As we continued our walk, Calvin’s tail was up and you could just hear him saying: “This is my town and my people worship me.” 

  • Alternating among all kinds of free Amazon music streams like Klezmer and Cajun to accompany my time on the exercise bike
  • Little words of wisdom from Facebook like:

                   “The older we get, the more dangerous it is to sneeze.”

                   “What do you do for a living? “  — “My best.”

                   “Does your family say a prayer before you eat?” –“No, my wife knows how to cook.”

  • Sitting on the new wood bench near the Welcome Center near campus and hearing the words carved into the roof over the bench:

                                                          Sanctuary

                                                                    by Nick Butler

                             Consider the souls that have also been drawn here

                             Not just this bench,

                             But this city.

                             Consider that

                             This bench

                                      This city

                                      This moment

                                      Is what we have (might be all that we have)

                                      Each other, this place, this time.

                                      Do not squander all that you have.

                                      What little you may have

                                      Give it all away.

                                      Just as love cannot be banked

                                      Or a cloud put into a box.

                I’m writing this for those of you who are curious about how blind people live—what’s the same and what’s different in life when you’re blind. No perfect person with an Instagram-worthy life; just the facts!

Morning:

  • Flick through 100 Facebook posts and repost a few. I post funny, animal and bird posts that have plenty of description, positive quotes, poetry and disability-related news.  Memes for blind folks is a favorite source of funnies. If you’re my Facebook friend, remember to describe your pics so I can enjoy them too, please!
  • Listen to national and state news on public radio—ten minutes well spent.
  • First of about six trips to backyard for Calvin to take care of business. In case your eight-year-old wants to know how I pick up poop, I feel Calvin’s back which is curved when he’s pooping and when he moves away, I feel around in the grass with a bag covering my hand and invert the bag and tie it up and toss it in the trash. 
  • Feed and water Calvin, breakfast and play a couple games of chase before settling down to work on the computer. Calvin wears a bell so I can locate him in the chase game. 
  • In a typical day I go through several hundred emails.  Outlook on my desktop computer works well with my screen reader JAWS. Some PDFs have to be rescanned using the Kurzweil program. The initial outlay for my computer set up was about $1500 more than for a sighted person’s set up. I take notes in Braille on a Brailler I’ve had for 65 years. It cost $200 then and now would cost at least $600, I think. 
  • Check front page of local paper and the program schedule for the day on public radio station’s website. Local paper’s website is not particularly accessible. Since I can’t use the mouse to point and click, I have to tab through 120 links on the front page to find what I’m interested in. Public radio’s website uses heading markings well, so I can quickly tab to the daily schedule.  The local paper says they’re too poor to even consider improving their accessibility.
  • Call a friend with a disability who wants to brainstorm with me about better accommodations for her disability at her workplace.  I try to share strength hope and experience, particularly the necessity of asking repeatedly and specifically for even small changes and saying “thank you” a lot.
  • My reader arrives for two hours of reading. We go through about twenty pieces of mail, including a letter from a friend who doesn’t use computers. The reader writes checks, addresses mail and orders groceries online. The website to order groceries is somewhat accessible, but pictures of items are not described and it’s ten times quicker for her to do it than me. Then she tidies up the spacing on a blog I’ll post. I pay her $12.50 per hour but will raise it to $15 soon. As she exits, she picks the red tomatoes on my plants for me–one thing I can’t do myself.
  • Lunch of a burrito, chips and fruit, eaten at the kitchen counter is followed by a power nap. Often getting a nap is one of the wonderful parts of being retired.
  • Refreshed, I rise up to read materials for a county board committee (received electronically) and attend the meeting by WebEx on the phone. The pandemic has made attending meetings easier for me; I don’t have to hunt around for transportation.
  • After the meeting, Calvin and I take a walk around the neighborhood to enjoy the crisp almost fall weather and I listen for the fledgling eagles that are in a big old tree only a block away from where we live.
  • I cook asparagus in the microwave and sauté Chinese eggplants with onions, garlic and soy sauce on the stove for dinner with a friend who brings a pasta dish.  I’ve put bump dots on both the microwave and stove at strategic spots to mark start and stop on the flat inaccessible displays.  I have a beloved knife to chop with that is sharp enough to cut things but not sharp enough to do me harm as long as I’m careful. For timing I use Alexa or my Braille watch.
  • In the evening I continue reading Louise Penny’s latest The Madness of Crowds which talks about a post-pandemic world where disabled and elderly would be euthanized because “we don’t want them to suffer in the next pandemic.” I worry this could happen as depleted people just want to get back to normal and are not prioritizing equity and inclusion.
  • I check headlines in seven newspapers on the computer through the NFB Newsline service provided by the National Library Service and play five word and trivia games on Alexa to keep the old brain cells working.
  • I power down by listening to hymns and praying. I’m grateful today for information access using screen readers on computer and iPhone, books and magazines from the National Library Service and Bookshare, friends who fill in the gaps like telling me that a neighbor’s tree has dead limbs hanging over my roof, and Calvin who keeps me traveling safely and amused.             

Fall is around the corner which means book festivals are as plentiful as sunflowers.  This year, because of uncertainties about Covid, many book festivals are virtual and free. For those of us with funding and/or disability issues that make in-person attending difficult, this is one of the few good byproducts of the pandemic.   Below, find info about the Library of Congress National Book Festival and Eau Claire, WI’s Book Fest.

Would love to know what your town is offering.  Kathie

Attend readings at the National Book Festival in Washington DC free online:

 

2021 National Book Festival | Events at the Library of Congress

Featured authors include:

 

Kazuo Ishiguro

Roxane Gay

Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Michael J. Fox

Angie Thomas

 

Chippewa Valley Book Festival www.bookfest.org

Lila Quintero Weaver “South American Eyes in the American South” October 25 at 7:00 PM Central time

Kao Kalia Yang “American Journey to Belonging” October 26 at 7:00 PM central time

Dasha Kelly Hamilton “Alignment” (poetry) October 24 at 4:00 PM Central time

 

August 6 I’ll train a few people to give audio tours to blind folks so they’ll be ready when a Smithsonian exhibit on bias comes to town in February. Most of the “training” will be practicing on exhibits at the Chippewa Valley Museum.

I looked around on the Internet for a quick and dirty handout but couldn’t find anything.

                Here’s what I wrote:

                                                                                Audio Description

                Individual audio description of a museum exhibit for a blind person can be a wonderful learning experience both for the describer and the listener. If you have the luxury of working with just one customer, you can ask them at the beginning if they like to stand near the case so they can see the exhibit, or if it doesn’t matter because they’re totally blind. Asking “How much can you see”? to a total stranger may be intrusive. Also ask how long they have to spend on the exhibit and if they have a particular interest in part of it or just want a general tour. 

                Describe in concrete words and short sentences. Give information like size, shape, color, what it’s made of, etc. Better to say “It’s as big as a bread box” rather than “it’s big.”  If you’re describing an unusual object, try to relate it to a common object. 

                Don’t spend time apologizing for not being good at this. The person will be likely to be happy that they’re getting any description.

                Point out things that are interactive, touchable, etc. and guide their hand to interesting parts of the object if it’s big. If something stands out or interests you, point it out.

                You can practice by adding descriptions to your Facebook or other social media posts of pictures. Blind friends will appreciate it anyway!

                If there’s lots of text, read a headline or first paragraph and then ask “Want more”?

                Guidelines will probably be enhanced after we do the training. A friend suggested I give an example and then show them the object so here goes:

                Get a picture in your mind’s eye of this object:

“It’s a model of an animal, made out of a silver metal. It’s about as long as a hand. Near the head it’s about an inch wide but narrows to a long thin curling tail. It has two front and two rear feet. There are scales aligned along its back. The mouth is open and teeth are suggested. It looks alert and ready to challenge you.”

It’s an alligator!

Did you guess it?

            On this day, when the second Continental Congress passed the Declaration of Independence, and Henry David Thoreau started his life at Walden Pond, I think a lot about freedom and independence. I’m deeply grateful for the freedoms I have, including freedom from want, fear, and disease. Then there are the freedoms to vote, to worship, to associate with those I choose to, to work for the common good, and to “pursue happiness,” among others. To me, independence more often means interdependence. Even Thoreau had to get his groceries somewhere! 

            A program on National Public Radio asked what song typified the American Dream. “This Land Is Your Land,” by Woody Guthrie, occurred to me. As I volunteer and work for justice in various ways, it feels more and more like “my land.”

            “We Shall Overcome” also quickly came to mind. Frequently when I advocate for increased access and get nowhere, I realize again the necessity of a “we” to overcome. I need the backing of a disability group, the ACLU, or some other big group to get even tiny changes to happen.

 But since this is a holiday, I’m just going to kick back and celebrate that I have the freedom to try advocating. Celebrating will include a walk with my guide dog, (free to travel independently as a blind person), listening to stirring American music on National Public Radio, and diving into a good book in accessible format (freedom to read for those of us with print disabilities).

            On the 26th of July, I’ll celebrate the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This is a far-reaching piece of civil rights legislation for equal access for the 19% of Americans who have disabilities. For those of us with disabilities, the ADA anniversary on

July 26 is sort of like the Fourth of July Independence Day again.  So celebrating is a good thing to do. There are many kinds of accessibility to celebrate in addition to curb cuts and wide doors, like service animals, hearing loops, and accessible websites.

            I’ll probably celebrate this second Independence/Interdependence Day in much the same way as the Fourth, but add some pushing for more access. A Smithsonian traveling exhibit on “The Bias Inside Us” is coming to Eau Claire in a few months. It’s totally inaccessible to blind people, so I’ve started working on that. Maybe I’ll nudge them on the 26th

            Feel free to enjoy celebrating ADA Day, even if you’re temporarily able-bodied. Caption your next Facebook pic you post with “look at the red rose I grew” instead of “Look at this!” I’ll imagine how good it smells even though I can’t see the pic. We can all savor independence and interdependence this month.

                I’ve been thinking a lot lately about friends and how the pandemic made me treasure them even more. When I saw a recent article by Paul Fanlund in the Wisconsin State Journal about friendships, I realized this may be one of the few good things to come from the pandemic—more valuing of friendships.

                Then my best friend from high school “found” me on the Internet. Other than sporadic Christmas card exchanges many years ago, we’d lost contact. We had the first of many phone calls to catch up on fifty years of living.  She’s a retired clergyperson and I’m a retired psychologist. One of the things she remembers most strongly about our friendship was she and I were “naughty”; e.g., pranking a student teacher, etc. and she didn’t do that with anyone else.  I also remember what we did and it proved helpful in counseling. When students told me “dumb” things they did and got caught for, I could always think to myself that I had done equally “dumb” things but didn’t get caught!  I’m blessed with other long-term friends as well as some who have become better friends during Covid.

                In each friendship, my friend and I have had to navigate how my blindness will affect what we do together and how we do it. At the beginning, that takes my explaining needs; e.g., put things back in the cupboard where you found them. It’s okay to coach me on how to cut the seed out of a mango, but let me do it—don’t do it for me.

 As the friendship proceeds, the blindness stuff becomes less important. Sometimes friends become allies who work on disability social justice projects with me, sometimes not. It’s odd, but the closer the friendship, the harder it is to call the friend out if they’ve stepped on the disability issue.  I may have to caucus with a blind friend to check my perceptions before I do the confronting. Sometimes they give me a reality check that I’m expecting too much of my sighted friend and I may have to go back to explainer mode.  In many ways, I’d rather just skip over it, but to keep the friendship good and deep, I have to do the work.

                If a friend has a disability, I get to learn about their issues as well.  For one friend who was a wheelchair user, that meant I got to push her chair and she got to give me verbal directions. Luckily, she was someone who knew right from left!

                                A line from a   song we sang in Girl Scouts comes to mind: “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.” Even during a pandemic, you can reach out and call someone and both of you may well be the better for it. I hope after the pandemic wanes, I remember to value my friends like the treasures they are.

                                                                        by Katherine Schneider

            As more people are vaccinated and mask mandates are dropped in many situations, we’ve got to figure it out again: What will I do, with whom and under what circumstances.

            Recently I was with some friends, all vaccinated and they began hugging goodbye. I froze! I love hugs from good friends but have not been doing that for over a year. Should I start now?  I missed the moment and ended up saying “next time.”

            That little experience made me a believer in FONO, fear of normal. In each situation of deciding on closeness with others, some of whom will be vaccinated and some not, I’ll have to balance FONO with FOMO, fear of missing out. 

             I attended (virtually) a talk on getting back to normal as a guide dog user. Back to busier sidewalks and streets, public dining, etc.  The advice given may be applicable for us all, whether we have a guide dog or not:

  • Think it through ahead of time. As the poet Rilke suggested “from your solitude you will find all your paths.” Try something and monitor your comfort level. If you’re a masker, take it with you, kind of like an umbrella, in case you feel you need it.
  • Take it slow.  Don’t expect it to be perfect the first few times. Social encounters will feel weird.  

If you’re back to in-person work and suddenly need to do chitchat by the coffee maker, you may not know what to say. “How’ve you been?” might elicit a longer discussion than you want. Back to the basics like “So good to see you”!

  • Cut yourself and others some slack.

As Rilke said: “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.”

You don’t know what someone else’s pandemic experience has been and they may be at a different level of risk tolerance from you for a variety of reasons. 

Remember near the beginning of the pandemic, the slogan was “We’re in this together”. We still are.  Even if you’re ready to go back to in-person meetings, leave the virtual meetings, church service, etc. in place for those who aren’t.

  • If you’re having a hard time, talk to a friend, a doctor, a clergyperson you trust. Just talking it through, instead of having the dilemma running in circles in your mind, can help.