Archives for posts with tag: Blind

With the health care situation in flux and Medicaid cuts looming, it seemed like a good year to do something public to celebrate the ADA while we still have it.  I approached some disability advocates in the community, the Center for Independent Living and a local health care advocacy group and they agreed.  My vision was for a public event where we handed out lemonade and chips, had booths with info about the Center for Independent living and the Aging and Disability Resource Center and displayed signs about “Don’t Cap or Cut Medicaid” and “ADA Matters”.

To make this happen in ten days, each of us took on several tasks.  I sought permissions from the police and the health department, made media contacts, recruited folks from the blind and Deaf communities and wrote a pep talk. One big learning from all of this was that things are more complex than you’d ever think. For example, I didn’t ask the Parks and Recreation Department if we could use the grassy plot near the farmers’ market. I blithely assumed it was public land and the police said that was okay if you don’t block motorists’ vision or sidewalks.  Or when it came to deciding to have the event or cancel because of likelihood of thunderstorms, I hadn’t even thought about power wheelchairs not liking to be out in thunderstorms.

Another learning for me is that compromising is good and leads to a better event in the long run. One gal wanted to bring a bubble machine. Bubbles don’t do much for blind people, so I scoffed a bit and figured out I could bring bells for blind folks to balance the bubbles. It turned out the bubbles attracted kids, which attracted their parents and great fun was had with both bubbles and bells.

Even though we weren’t allowed to hand out anything because we ended up escaping from the rain under the roof of the farmers’ market, the event was great. Lots of people with and without disabilities helped and many in-depth conversations about disability issues were held. Even the local newspaper story was respectful and got the facts right. Here’s my speech that somehow seemed to fit the tone of the event:


Happy Americans with Disabilities Act Day! Thanks for showing up to help our community celebrate the ADA and the Medicaid program.  Medicaid helps low income Americans of all ages get the services they need to live out the promise of the ADA for access.  My hopes for this event are that people learn about each other’s worlds. But that will take the bravery of asking other people how the ADA or Medicaid made their lives better and the bravery to tell pieces of your story to strangers not just throw out political sound bites.

The disability community has been the last group to achieve our civil rights with laws like the ADA in 1990 and the Help America Vote Act in 2002.

The disability community has some values I’d like to highlight today: resilience and a balance of independence and interdependence.  We feel the fear but do it anyway as we encounter attitudinal, architectural and communication barriers. We are problem-solvers and hard workers, just to get ready to get out the door sometimes. We’ve learned the truth of the Hopi Katchina Tehabi story “You see for me, I’ll walk for you”.  We’ve learned to ask for what we need and to give what we can. For example today I’ve asked Jeff to walk around with me being my eyes about who’s out there so I can greet them. I hope to learn some things about organizing from him too.  But I’ll also be educating him about the world of people with disabilities. So it’s a two-way street with the helping today. Both “please help” and “may I help?” are useful phrases for everybody.

As able, find a partner you don’t know and do the work of holding signs, conversing with people, handing out information or passing out snacks. Mix and mingle. Learn and grow and by all means have fun! Happy ADA Day!


I just got back from a fabulous volunteer vacation in Phoenix. Somebody has to go to Phoenix where it’s always sunny and the temperature during the day was in the sixties, right?

My volunteering was not building a house for Habitat or restoring habitats for cactus wrens. It involved doing what I know how to do, guest lecture university students. I lectured four classes and gave two interviews about journalism about people with disabilities. At the end of the day I got to present the award for excellence in disability journalism to Heather Vogell of Pro Publica for a piece she wrote about the over 267,000 per year uses of restraints and seclusion for children with disabilities in U.S. schools. This was the third year of the award and it received over sixty entries by all sorts of news media. It’s run by the National Center on Disability Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. They have a great website complete with a style guide on language about disabilities, sources of information on disability issues and examples of well done stories including Heather’s.

When I was talking about disability journalism with students I talked about the poor stories that treat people with disabilities as objects of charity, people to be cured or put them up on a pedestal in stories that activists call “inspiration porn” where they’re noble, saintly creatures who climb mountains in their wheelchairs on a daily basis. I asked these young journalists to ask themselves three questions about the pieces they write, record or video:

  • If it was about you, would you like it or be ready to gag?
  • How would any event you wish to report on be different if you were blind, deaf, a wheelchair user or had any disability?
  • If this story talks about a problem, does it also talk about possible solutions?

Then of course I had to talk about accessibility of the story, be it captioned for the Deaf, audio described for people who are blind and pictures alt text tagged with a short description for blind users of the Internet.

The students were attentive and asked great questions. Every time I do this I learn about the world of journalists. One class was trying to write five word headlines that are both inviting and represent the content of the story. We threw around should they call me a “blind psychologist” or not and we ended up concluding it depended on the point of the story whether my blindness was relevant or not.

I was treated very well, accompanied from place to place by a friendly staff member, fed well and made to feel I was making a valuable contribution with my day of service. Of course Luna made numerous friends and said it was worth it to endure two ten hour days of travel. The university housed us in a very nice hotel with beautiful green grass within ten feet of our room door for her pooping pleasure—not an easy thing to find in Phoenix! The fact Luna considered herself on vacation was shown by her stretching out luxuriously on the king-sized bed, something she never does at home.

We came back to Eau Claire on Giving Tuesday. One friend met us at the van from Minneapolis and gave us a ride home and another had tuna noodle casserole hanging on the door for my dinner. While I was in Phoenix I saw a woman who had read to me (as a volunteer) when I was in grad school forty years ago. We’d stayed in touch occasionally and it was a highlight of the visit to see her in person. We both commented on how you never know where volunteering will take you.