The Pain Of Exclusion

Were you ever picked last for a game when you were a kid?? Ever find out about a party that everyone but you seems to have been invited to? Been in a group of friends reminescing about an incredibly fun memory they shared that you weren’t there for? Remember how the feeling of exclusion felt?

For the blind, we face that almost everywhere we turn. This is a visual world. It always has been, but it seems to be getting more and more so every day.

Video game culture is on the rise, picture sharing platforms are extremely popular, places like Disney World have a plethora of simulator rides based on viewing a screen, even the education of online learning can rely heavily on pictures and videos.

And we can’t participate in that, or if we can we get only a very watered down version of it.

It hurts. It feels like a little jab every time it happens, leaving an inner six year old standing at the edge of the field wondering “What about me?”

The truly frustrating part of that for me is that it doesn’t even need to be this way. Images can be tagged with very descriptive text that would tell us precisely what is in the photo, but no one seems to do it. Rides can have audio tracks, and to be fair many at WDW and other similar theme parks do, but not all of them. Videos can have audio descriptions as well, or at least some sort of back up explination, and not all of them do. Some video games can even be made somewhat or entirely accessible, but designers don’t.

I do not expect the world to bend to meet my needs. I really don’t. The fact that I am blind is always going to limit some of the things I can participate in. But it doesn’t have to limit quite as much as it does, if only those behind designing these things would take a minute to think about the blind and visually impaired community. I’m sure the same goes for other groups as well, but I can only speak to my own experience.

I do want to send a very heartfelt thank you to anyone who has taken the time for accessibility, I’m not unaware of you, it’s just that sometimes the pain of not being able to participate in things that everyone else is doing hurts.

Like all those nifty Facebook avatars people are sharing. Like the buzzfeed personality test I saw yesterday that relied entirely on photos with no description. Like the online courses I’d like to take to maintain my status as a registered massage therapist that require me to see the video.

It sucks. It hurts. And it could be so much better. All society needs to do is take a little bit of time to consider those with disabilities during the design phase and if there is a solution that would include them, do it.

As always, be kind to yourself and to others.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.

What It’s Like: Having A Guide Dog

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about what using a white cane was like. I said it was like navigating by frustration, though my inner critic is kicking itself for not coining the term “navigation by frustration”. Oh, well.

If using a white cane is navigation by frustration, then using a guide dog is like navigation by adoration.

To get a guide dog, you first have to be skilled in orientation and mobility. Basicly, you already need to know how to get around independantly. That’s important, because while a dog can make simple decisions, you’re the one who has to tell it where to go.

There are many schools all over the world, and they have different requirements, but that one is pretty standard. I got mine from Guide Dogs of Canada. I had to fly out to Ontario for a month and train, and one day I’ll likely write more about that experience, but for now just know that it does take some intense training to learn how to be a guide dog handler. Part of that is learning the commands, but part of it is also learning to trust your companion.

The basics of how it works is this: Every guide dog wears a harness. The harness has a long handle which you hold onto, putting the dog a bit ahead of you. You’re the one calling the shots, though. You tell the dog when to go forward, turn right or left, turn around and stop. Additionally, though, the dog is trained to make a few of those decisions on its own, and will automatically stop at stairs, curbs, doors and the like as well as veering right or left to get you around obstacles. As the dog walks forward, it puts a gentle pressure on the handle you’re holding onto, and you follow its lead.

The dog is also trained to know when to disobey an order. For instance, if you are wanting to cross the street and order the dog forward, but a car is coming, the dog will not obey.

Trust lays at the center of the relationship. You are trusting your dog to get you safely from point a to b, and the dog is trusting you to know what you’re doing. In that dog’s eyes, the two of you are a pack and you’re the leader of that pack, which is why I call it navigation by adoration. You and your partner are going to go everywhere together. Unlike a cane, the dog can’t just be tucked away on a shelf when not in use.

Having a guide dog has its disadvantages. For one thing, be prepared to be remembered more for your dog than for yourself, and often the dog will be greeted before you will be. Be prepared for clueless people to try to pat your dog at the most inopportune times, more on that below. Be prepared to have to take that dog outside in the worst of conditions. Blizzards and rainstorms don’t matter much if the dog has to go. And be prepared for facing the fact that you’re working with a dog, not a machine, and dogs aren’t perfect.

On the other hand, I found that having a dog gave me a lot more freedom than using a cane does. My cane can’t see anything. It doesn’t know where the door is. I did things with my dog that I’m not brave enough to do without him, because it felt much safer. I also had a constant companion who loved me unconditionally, even when I accidentally stepped on his paws.

I did mention above the problem of petting the dog. I know it’s tempting. They all just look so darned cute with their harnesses on, and there’s also the novelty of encountering a dog where you usually wouldn’t. Most of you do have the sense not to pat the dog when it’s actively working, at least, though I have experienced someone patting my dog while I was in the middle of crossing a road where it intersected with the highway. However, even if the dog is just sitting there at the feet of its handler on the bus, doing nothing, don’t pat the dog. That dog is trained to associate wearing the harness with being on duty, and to not seek out affection or attention while working. You patting the dog is a tiny crack in that training. If it happens enough, the dog will start to think that it’s okay to seek out attention. The only time it’s okay to pat a service animal is when the harness is off and its handler has given you permission.

I do miss having a guide dog. Perhaps someday, I’ll get another one, though for many reasons I’m not currently in a position where it would be a practical choice. But having one is absolutely fantastic. They are amazing animals.

Navigation by adoration is absolutely worth any of the disadvantages.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.

What It’s Like: Watching Television

Watching television seems like such a visual thing to do. After all, we do call it watching, don’t we? For the most part, for most people, it is a visual experience.

But where does that leave those of us who can’t see the screen, or who have difficulty making out the details? Are we marooned in a televisionless world? Or stuck only understanding a small portion of the program?

In short, what is it like for me to watch television as a blind person?

If you want to be purely pedantic, I don’t watch television. For one thing, I can’t watch anything in a literal sense, and for another… I don’t actually own a television.

I do own a laptop and a smartphone, though, and do subscribe to streaming services.

We are now in a time and place where it is easier and easier for someone like me to enjoy shows to nearly the same degree as sighted people do, especially where streaming services are concerned. For years now, closed captionning has been a thing that has allowed the hearing impaired to follow such things. Audio description is now catching up.

Audio description is basically a track laid over the program with a narrator describing the action and setting between moments of dialogue. It isn’t perfect, but it’s usually good enough to get the idea across. And streaming services seem to be leading the charge. I have tried Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney Plus (though am not currently subscribed to all three). Of the three, Netflix and Disney are the ones I have the most experience with, and these days, any original programming either has offered up has audio description. Disney Plus, as a much more recent offering, can claim to have done this from the start but Netflix gets the credit for beginning the trend. Starting back when their Daredevil series began, every series and movie they have created has come with audio description, and no, it isn’t lost on me that they chose the show with the blind protagonist to begin this.

Now, it’s on everything. Even their standup comedy specials have it, though to be honest I find it distracting in that one instance. Mostly, though, it’s awesome. And sometimes unintentionally hilarious, such as the time when the narrator dramatically announced that Daredevil (a blind man, I will remind you) “walks away and doesn’t look back.” Of course he doesn’t look back, he can’t. But mostly, yes, it’s awesome.

But what about the shows that aren’t created by/for the platform? Those, unfortunately, tend not to come with audio description when they stream, though some do have it when watched on their originating television channels. So can I still watch them?

Yes. Mostly, I can still follow those stories. You would be surprised how much you can get from sound effects and dialogue.

For instance, Doctor Who does not have audio description. Or at least, it doesn’t the way I consume it. It is the only show that I outright buy, as it is no longer on Netflix but I still love it and want to follow it, so I buy it on itunes. That show has always been particularly good at conveying what is actually happening through sound and dialogue. Right now, with its current cast of characters, I hear a common complaint that one or two characters tend to state the obvious. “Look, a big plane” or the like. It probably is annoying for most of you. For me, though, it’s awesome. I know that there is a big plane. But failing anything that obvious, the sound of a jet engine is fairly distinctive. As is the sound of planes taking off, which would have already told me we were at an airfield. True, I sometimes miss some details, but I have almost never been left unsure what was happening as a whole.

I’m not going to try to claim that it is just as easy for me to consume visual media as it is for most people. I have to take an extra step here and there, and I do have to concentrate a bit more. I do miss some things. However, I do get just as much enjoyment out of it, and now you know how.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and find something to not actually watch.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.

What It’s Like: Introduction

When you lack a sense that a majority of the world has, things are bound to be a bit different. Different doesn’t always mean bad, though.

Sometimes it does. I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I tried to tell you that it’s all sunshine and roses with no struggles. But it isn’t true that it’s all awful, either.

I don’t often get asked outright what it’s like to be blind. However, I do get asked questions that approach it indirectly.

“How do you use a computer?”

“You’ve got a smart phone with a touch screen, how does that work?”

“Is it hard to get around?”

I think it’s because it’s easier to ask me about a specific than to just baldly ask “What is it like?”

It’s hard. But it can also be easy. It’s frustrating. But it can also be rewarding. It’s limiting. But it can also be freeing.

I’m going to try to tackle this whole question of what it’s like, but just like those who ask me questions, I’m not going to try to answer it all in one go. That’s not blog post material, it would be a book. So instead, I’m going to handle this like a series. Likely not a weekly one, though. I’d get bored writing on the same subject week after week.

However, I want to stress something right out of the gate. My experiences and opinions on this won’t be true of every blind person. For one thing, blindness is a spectrum. Some of us live in complete sightlessness. No light, no movement, no nothing. Others of us have vision around the edges. Some of us have vision in the center. Some of us view the world through a thick fog. For another thing, we’re all different. We enjoy different things, find different things difficult, and face different obstacles.

All I can do is to write what I know.

I’m going to try to be as candid as possible with these. I won’t sugarcoat the negatives, but I’m also not going to shy away from pointing out the positives. My experience with blindness is a mixed bag, and I suspect that each post I make in the series will reflect that.

I was actually going to write a post about what it’s like to watch television as this week’s post, but I realized there were many more topics in the same vein to explore, and that the idea needed an introduction. I also realized that just tossing that explination onto another topic would be too bulky, so instead you get this post.

If there’s any topic that any of you yearn to know about, though, please do leave a comment on my Facebook page’s post about this article. The link is down below. Or you can send a message privately if you’d rather not ask there.

So I’ll see you next week, probably, with what it’s like to “watch” television when I can’t see it. Or possibly the week after, like I said, I get a little bored if I always do the same thing here.

Want to follow or interact with me on social media? Find me on Twitter by following @jennifermorash or head over to https://www.facebook.com/jennifermorashblog. I post blogs every Wednesday.