Archives for category: Aging

What would you think if you heard “128522;” in an email?   

Would you have guessed it’s a smiley face?  In some speech programs instead of being read as “128522;” it reads “symbol 74 field”. Now consider :), which is read as “colon right paren” The student who reads to me is shaking her head, trying to explain to me the different kinds of smiley faces.

The program on my desktop computer called JAWS that reads aloud everything on the screen reads “bang” when I type an exclamation point. Now enter the world of emoticons and emoji’s. Emoticons have been around since 1998 and now there are over 1,800 emoji available. For those of us from before emoji times, an emoji is a small digital image used to express an idea, emotion, etc. in electronic communication. Emoticons are the symbols like the smiley face that started this rant.

On the desktop computer that I’m using which has Windows10, there is no easy way to use emoji’s so I’m stuck with emoticons. I can search out the emoticon of choice from Wikipedia, if I’ve got all day and copy it into my email. Or I can write the words in parenthesis and hope sighted readers imagine it (winking face).

Using my iPhone with Voiceover turned on,  the world of emoji’s opens up to me. They are labeled with text so I can dig through the category “animals” for example to try to find an emoji of my beloved crow. Unfortunately, they are not in alphabetical order. People with low vision are more likely to use emoji’s because they can see and enjoy them using magnification software on their smartphones. All of us can use the dictation software but sometimes this produces the emoji and sometimes just the words. Never could get that crow to show up! I searched for the crow and didn’t find it or a raven or even a blue jay, so I guess a parrot will have to do for the moment🦜 Oops, all that shows up for you sighted folks is an empty square my human reader tells me since I’m writing this on a Windows10 computer.

So those of us who are disabled don’t feel left out, earlier this year Apple proposed 13 new disability emoji. The proposed emoji’s include an ear with a hearing aid, a person in a wheelchair, a prosthetic arm, a service dog, and a person with a cane. So far I haven’t been able to find these labeled so voiceover will read them. But I’m working on it!

I realize sighted people are not totally clear either on what each emoji means. For example, the Information Desk Person.infodesk2-5a79dd2631283400361a1b4e.jpg

Most people call it the “hair flip” emoji because of the position of the girl’s hand. It’s become trendy to use this one in a message when trying to be sassy or cheeky.

What it actually means is the girl’s hand is positioned the way it is so that it expresses helpfulness, as if she were asking “how may I help you?”

iDiversicon is an app for adding more diverse icons to your communications, including many disability icons I was too cheap to buy before knowing if my screen reader would read them and the creator did not answer my email question before press time. If you know, let me know. We keep learning, don’t we? 


Labor day makes me think about work and play and how they mix in retirement. Here’s a piece I wrote for a local reading.

Hi, my name is Kathie and I’m a recovering workaholic. As a blind child growing up in a sighted world, I concentrated on learning to excel academically. With parents who’d grown up during the Depression, play was not a big part of their worlds either. Learning to play has been a lifelong adventure.

With very high unemployment among people with disabilities, it’s no wonder my mom was a Tiger Mom about being all I could be academically. Before the word Tiger Mom was invented, she demanded that all homework be completed before there was any playing done.  My dad brought home a briefcase of work to complete every night modeling work before play.

It takes extra planning and adaptive equipment for me to play as well.  I can’t just go to a game store to pick up a Scrabble set or Sudoku book, but have to search out an online store that sells Braille versions. Going on vacation to swim with the dolphins involved finding a site that would let me swim and arranging friends interested in swimming with me and watching my Seeing Eye dog while I swam. Even participating in a book club involves persuading the other members to choose books that are available in accessible formats.

But when accessible play opportunities happen, it’s grand. The first time I watched a movie with descriptive audio added, it was fabulous. I knew who got shot! Scenes were beautifully and succinctly described. Finally I knew why people enjoyed going to movies.

My only sporting experience was being on a mixed sighted/blind bowling team forty years ago. Blind bowlers line up trailing a rail with one hand as they walk up to the foul line.   My average was 90, but the camaraderie was great. Now my sports interests run more to games like Scrabble and bridge.

This summer I got to pay back for being helped to bowl  by helping make Eau Claire a bit more blind-friendly to the 400 blind beep baseball players who came here for their beep ball World Series.  I helped train hotel staff in blind etiquette and made sure the visitors got Silver Springs product samples to take home instead of slick printed brochures in their welcome packets.

In the crafting world, I’ve knitted a sweater and crocheted innumerable placemats, but there’s not much joy there for me. I do enjoy vegetarian cooking. Black bean salsa anyone? Ask me for my peanut butter cookie recipe; if you can count to two, you can make it.

Thank goodness I had nine Seeing Eye dogs to help remind me to play. When they roll over for a belly rub or play bow to get a game of chase going, they remind me there’s nothing more important to do right now than celebrating the goodness of just being alive.

Playing with words is fun too.  Recently I entered a contest to create Burma-shave-like poems for a fermentation festival. My best entry was:

The land is beautiful;

The people are gentle.

Wisconsin is great

If winter doesn’t

Drive you mental.

Recounting funny stories about interactions with a sighted world is play to me.  It also helps take the frustration out of the situation.  For example when undergoing the usual extremely thorough screening before flying in Minneapolis, the TSA person demanded to know what sex my guide dog was because the same sex person had to search the dog as the dog was she said. I said she’s a female, so a female searched her. The same sex searcher rule is not true for service animals, but a good example of how all of us make up the rules as we go along when we don’t know what to do.

As I age, I realize I’ll never become a playgirl. I won’t go to the casinos at least until they let me use Brailled cards. I won’t take a zip line across the Grand Canyon.   But having friends over for a potluck with good food, and exchanging funny stories about life is mighty fine. Afterwards I can settle in with a spy thriller almost without guilt for not doing something more productive. I can play!

One of the things I love about retirement is that I can find something I want to do and hop right on it, at least sometimes. This week it was a contest that a fermentation festival in Wisconsin was having. Yes we celebrate fermentation and almost anything else here! The contest involved submitting Burma-Shave-like poetry about the land, nature etc. If you remember the ads, five short lines with the second and fifth rhyming.

Below you’ll find what I submitted. But here’s where you come in.  If you email me yours on any subject you like, I’ll put the printable ones together into a future blog.  The unprintable ones I’ll just enjoy myself. Who said life is fair!  My email address is:

Here are my entries to the contest which has already closed by the way.


Living here is fine / most of the year/ as long as you’ve got / plenty / of beer.


For Wisconsin / Let’s all cheer / Eat some / cheese / and drink beer.


The land is beautiful / The people are gentle / Wisconsin is great / If winter doesn’t / drive you mental




Summer is going by way too quickly for my taste. People are already being very generous with zucchinis, which means the end of summer is nigh. A friend who lives out in the country already had a mouse move in looking for winter quarters I guess.  Her two cats can’t get to it, so she’s trapping and losing sleep listening to it scratch in the wall.

Ivanna is here for a ten-day visit while her mom is on an Alaskan cruise. She occasionally poops in the house, which I totally understand for a 14.5 year-old dog. But it does make me leery of trotting around the house.  I’m getting my house painted outside so there’s extra chaos with that. So far I haven’t walked into any ladders or wet paint, but it’s only just begun.   Unfortunately the painter prefers rock music to classical.

Today I greeted at the local soup kitchen while another volunteer counted. Instead of my usual counting partner they let me work with a guy who was hallucinating and talking to folks who weren’t there.  I snagged another volunteer I knew and asked if they’d like to do a second count, just “to be sure we got as high a number as we could” my man with voices got testy and let it be known he didn’t want his job taken away from him.  I took a few deep breaths and gave it to God.  If the count is off, I guess it’s their problem not mine.  Apparently he’s doing this several days a week and the young paid staff aren’t willing or able to say no, go help with the dishes. After a lot of thought and prayer I approached the team leader to ask if we could brainstorm how it could go better for me in the future.

If there’s a theme for these minor complaints, I guess it is not wishing to step in something.  But I hear you saying “Yes, but life is messy.” And so it is. I’ve just begun reading  Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli According to its blurb it’s for those of us who aren’t acting up to our own standards of holiness, not praying right or enough, not as generous as Mother Teresa, etc. Sounds like me. He’s quite reassuring that failing, being stuck and being unbalanced are parts of spiritual growth too.

I’ve worked with the director of a county agency to prepare the budget for the agency since I’m the chair of the board. Talk about messy and hard! Benefits cost more each year and total amount of money available doesn’t rise nearly as much. Doing more with less is just plain painful.

Off to a new shrimp restaurant where they sell you a pound of shrimp with shells in a bag with whatever sauce you pick and no utensils. Now that’s a kind of messy I think I’ll like!



Have you ever reread a book you hated? I’m rereading The Great Gatsby for one of my book clubs and hating it just like I did when I first read it in high school. Rich people behaving badly just don’t interest me.  Of course I could skip the book club meeting or just slide through on my fuzzy memories from fifty years ago. But I like the people in the group, to say nothing of the home-baked goodies one gal brings and am a little curious if my opinion will change with the age and wisdom? I’ve gained in the intervening years.

Pamela Paul in her opinion piece in The New York Times (written in 2017) says we should read books we hate.  “reading what you hate helps you refine what it is you value, whether it’s a style, a story line or an argument.” The first thing I noticed is how little empathy I have for people I don’t like. True in real life too, I’m afraid. I don’t have to approve of a rich man having an affair, but surely I could find a drop of compassion for the emptiness he feels in his life.

After reading three commentaries on the novel, I did enjoy thinking about the following questions:

Supposedly this novel is about the great American dream. Can I find a better one, not so shallow and futile?  Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath comes to mind immediately, but I may need to reread it to see if it’s as good as I remember.

The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock is hugely symbolic (remember high school English!) of those dreams we chase. What’s mine? Yours?

The book discussion was robust including the question of who’s your least favorite character and why.  The English majors among us maintained it was great literature because it was well written and described a particular time and place well.  The rest of us grudgingly agreed and eagerly leapt on finding out what’s next month’s book?


This week I finished three projects. I did training for hotel staffs who will welcome 300 blind athletes in six weeks for the Beep Ball World Series. I tested the library’s new Braille printer to make sure it really produced good readable Braille. I wrote a sermon for the first Inclusive Ministries church meeting.  All projects went well—not perfectly of course, but well enough to satisfy someone who always strives for a high grade!

After the flurry of thank you emails to others who’d worked on the projects and either a beer or a chocolate to celebrate, I was still left with a “is this all there is” kind of a feeling. So I read a Finish Strong book by Capen and listened to a podcast on ending with a flourish.  End of project thoughts led to end of life thoughts.

Barbara Ehrenreich talks about how hard it is to come to peace with aging and dying in her newest book Natural Causes. We try to postpone death by exercising, dieting and all sorts of self-help stress management strategies.  We comfort ourselves with religions with an afterlife and think about leaving a legacy and dying for a cause.  I think her preferred strategy is going out rejoicing in the living world. As Billy Graham said he didn’t remember seeing retire in the Bible and he certainly kept charging until he died although in changed ways as his health failed.



I find it hard to talk about my faith without sounding all churchy. I volunteered to do the first sermon for an inclusive ministries worship experience we’re offering next month for people with cognitive and other disabilities that may make “regular church” not work well for them.  Here’s what I wrote:

In 1 John in the Bible we read “God is love.” Think with me about what these three small words mean to each of us.

I love my Seeing Eye dog Luna. By the way, when you see her, ask me if you can pet her before petting her please. I show her I love her by feeding her, petting her and telling her she’s a good dog and taking her to the vet if she’s sick.

God loves each of us even better than I love Luna. He made you and me, perfect as we are. When people say to me, “if God loved you, he’d make you see” I disagree. In God’s eyes, I’m okay even though I’m blind. I just have to figure out how to deal with being blind like asking for help when I need it and having this beautiful Seeing Eye dog to lead me.

Just like I take care of Luna by feeding her, God gives us what we need to live. He gives us a beautiful world to live in with food and water, and air to breathe. He gives people skills to become farmers to grow food, doctors and nurses to take care of us and veterinarians to take care of our animals. He makes some of us good at music, some good at art and some good at cooking.

I talk to Luna to tell her I love her. God talks to us by giving us the Bible to read and by giving us wise people to help us make good choices. Sometimes I have to tell Luna she’s not doing the right thing. Sometimes God has to tell me I’m not doing the right thing. He tells me by my conscience that tells me what is right and wrong. Sometimes I listen and sometimes not.

Luna loves me back. She shows it by licking me and by doing her job guiding me. She keeps me safe when we cross streets and walk up and down stairs. If I fall down on ice, she stands by me and waits for me to get up.

We love God by loving and taking care of the people around us. We listen to them when they are upset. We stand by them when they fall and help them get back up. That makes God happy.

It also makes God happy when we talk with him. That’s what we call praying. Sometimes we thank him for things and sometimes we ask him for things. Just like Luna asks me for more treats!

So God loves us. We love him back by praying and by doing good things for others.  Thanks be to God!


This week our City Council considered an ordinance to mandate all city communications be written in person first language. I would be a person who is blind instead of a blind person. A poor person would become a person living in poverty or a person living with economic challenges, etc.  This wording hit academe, particularly education over twenty years ago. I don’t know quite why our fair city decided to deal with the language issue now. But in the meantime, many folks in the disability rights movement, led by the Deaf have gone on to say they prefer identity first language—Deaf and proud!  I wrote to city council members stating this and suggesting when things are contested like this, it might be best not to legislate the issue.  It passed anyway!

For me, it matters less what someone calls me than how they treat me.  Sure, the words they use to describe me are part of that, but not a huge part. Just like some of my male friends can say “you and the rest of the girls…” and I won’t bristle about being belittled by the term “girls”.  Is the friend generally kind and respectful to his wife, daughters and other women in his life?

In many encounters, whether in person or with something written, I have to do a different kind of translating of how this applies to me as a particular person with particular disabilities.  For example, one of the meditations I read for today was as follows:

“Practice: Wandering in Nature”

“Psychologist and wilderness guide, Bill Plotkin, believes that to “save our souls” we need to reconnect with nature. To rediscover who we truly are—and who our brothers and sisters are—we must become intimate with our natural surroundings. The wisdom of nature can’t be understood with our thinking mind. We have to experience it with our being and let it speak to us through all our senses.

Plotkin’s own mindful walks support his insights:

Wandering in nature is perhaps the most essential soul craft practice for contemporary Westerners who have wandered so far from nature. . . .

The Wanderer allows plenty of time to roam in wild nature, and roam alone. Maybe you start out on a trail, but if the landscape allows, it won’t be long before you wander off the beaten track. Because you are stalking a surprise, you attend to the world of hunches and feelings and images as much as you do to the landscape.

. . . You will get good at wandering, good at allowing your initial agenda to fall away as you pick up new tracks, scents, and possibilities. You will smile softly to yourself over the months and years of wanderings as you notice how you have changed, how you have slowed down inside.

Through your wanderings, you cultivate a sensibility of wonder and surprise, rekindling the innocence that got buried in your adolescent rush to become somebody in particular. Now you seek to become nobody for a while, to disappear into the woods so that the person you really are might find you.”

Beautiful and well worth doing, but wandering and getting lost in nature is not possible for me as a blind person, or person who is blind! The translation I worked out is: take a few minutes each day when I wake up and hear the birds singing to just listen and let my mind wander.

How does that translate for you?


It was a three day weekend and I wasn’t going anywhere. This quote helped pull me out of feeling sorry for myself and into focusing on the delights I have:

Jack Gilbert’s poem, “A Brief for the Defense” says:

If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight.”

  • Playing bridge and dining with three long-term friends. We’ve shared each other’s grief, health issues discussions and they’ve welcomed my new dogs and tolerated my old dogs. Of course winning handsomely at bridge didn’t hurt either.
  • Going to the farmers’ market and trying a new item, salad on a stick. It consists of stir fried, battered cabbage, mushrooms, asparagus and radish; greasy but delicious. Saw five people I knew at the market and felt like I really belonged in Eau Claire.
  • Went to the bank and left my signature stamp behind. Luna was so excited about a second dog biscuit because it was a holiday weekend that I lost track of getting the stamp back. Before I got home there was a message on my machine from the teller. And I found a friend on the first call to take me back to retrieve the stamp. Luna got a third biscuit so she was really delighted.
  • Arranged a picnic lunch for four folks each of whom has disability issues. So some of us will go to the parade first and others won’t because of heat or walking concerns. All will dine and laugh together. One won’t say much because of aphasia. But the delight of breaking bread together with friends will be felt around the table and even under the table where Luna will live in hope of a dropped crumb.
  • Toured around town with a friend taking pictures of accessible playground equipment, boat launches, electric shopping carts, signs for closed caption devices at the movies and other signs that ADA has resulted in good changes for a poster for a display in July. It was over 90 degrees even in the evening, so I sprung for an orange cream shake at the end. Arby’s drive through offered Luna about two ounces of meat as we drove through. She’d never had free meat from a drive in. Now she’ll be bugging me to go there every day!

Delight is addictive.



Global Accessibility Awareness Day has rolled around again.  I’m still laboring in the fight for increased access and hope you are too. Access is like Swiss cheese: you’re munching along or surfing along and suddenly there’s a hole.  I guess the holes are necessary for good Swiss, but they sure get in the way of good Internet use.

PBS is running a media campaign for their show “The Great American Read” that will result in people voting and crowning one book as America’s favorite read. Their choices range from Charlotte’s Web to Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ll be voting for Grapes of Wrath, but that’s a different story. On their Facebook page, people are encouraged to post about books they love. Many are posting a picture of the cover of a beloved book, which Voiceover can’t read. So I’m posting a note occasionally asking that they type out the name of the book as well as posting the pic. Otherwise all I get is the comments like “Best book ever”; “Fabulous book” “You’ll never think of chocolate pie the same”… What book? I want to scream!

I explored Formed, a Catholic app full of books and talks about the Catholic faith with my parish’s director of religious education. We turned on Voiceover on her iPhone and started listening to some pages on the Formed app.  Its accessibility has improved a bit since (and maybe because of) my two years of lobbying them. But again titles of talks and books were often tagged such that Voiceover would only read one word like “the”. If one knew the exact title of what one wanted, one could do a search and find it that way.  It’s sort of like physical access to a building for wheelchair users being a ramp to the back door. You do get into the building, but it isn’t easy or convenient. The director of religious ed “talked to someone” at Formed and they said they’d get back to her.  I think she’s much more optimistic about the outcome of that call than I am, but the good news is she did do something.

A friend who heads a nonprofit wrote me to ask who my online donation was in honor of.  I wrote her back: “Your form was almost totally accessible. There was a check box near the end which I could check “yes” or “no” but it didn’t say “yes” or “no” to what. I always wonder about those, but reluctantly checked “yes” because I had to check something to get the form to process.  So now I know! I checked “yes” to “in honor of” Actually I didn’t mean it to honor anyone. Guess I could make it in honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day celebrated May 9 every year, but celebrated every day by some of us!”

If you’re new to thinking about access on the Web or on your phone, try using only keyboard commands (no mouse) and turning on Voiceover for the iPhone experience.  Slow down, take a few deep breaths and give it a try.  You’ll get the hang of it pretty soon and then you’ll know why we celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day every year.