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Whatever Works!

Editor's Note: Anyone who is blind must learn alternative ways of doing things and each person employs a variety of methods; even family members and friends learn to adapt. While the learning curve may be steep, these techniques often become second nature after a period of time and those in question have difficulty articulating the particular adjustments they have made. What follows are three people\'s accounts of some of the adjustments they have made-one is blind, one has low vision, and yet another is a sighted family member.

TRADE OFFS AND IDENTITY CRISES

By: Sara Bennett

When I first became blind, I memorized just about everything-the number of stairs in the house, which box contained which toy, television channel line-ups, the alphabetical order of long-playing records and 45's, etc. I thought it a challenge and it kept my mind active and alert.

But, alas, memory is not infallible and I was forced to devise other methods. Shape, sound, size, texture, position and location became my new means for identifying things, as well as labelling.

The tube of toothpaste goes next to the toothbrush and nowhere near the tubes of muscle rub or moisturizer, both of which go in separate drawers with bandages and soap respectively. Shampoo and conditioner are always in the shower, an elastic band around the conditioner.

When I can't differentiate between one clothing item and another by texture, size, shape or adornments (like buttons, zippers, etc.), I either group them with other items of similar colour, function, season, etc. If there's any doubt, one item gets a label of some kind, typically a safety pin on the inside tag.

When it comes to laundry, I have two clothes hampers-one for whites and the other for colours.

These organizational methods make it much, much easier to find and return desired items. The drawback is that I have to be super disciplined and remember to put items back "where they belong". No room for messiness here!

Similarly, I identify food items by the shape and size of their containers, or by the sound they make when shaken. Stews and pastas are usually in shorter, fatter cans than vegetables or fruit, and tuna fish and other sandwich fillings are usually in very, very short tins. Boxed pastas and cereals can often be identified by container size or by shaking them.

When it comes to drinks, my favourites are always at the far right in the fridge or pantry, with less-liked brands and flavours at the left. To distinguish my soy milk from the two kinds other family members drink, an elastic band goes around the carton.

But what I gain in ease and speed in these methods, I tend to lose if just one family member (or myself, for that matter) forgets just once to put and keep my favourites in the agreed upon place or slip on the identifying elastic band.

For personal items that can neither be identified by touch or location, I use braille labels; that is, I use braille labels when I remember to actually write them up and stick them on.

Right now, probably about a third of my CD's and videos are without labels and I'm using a very inefficient memory to distinguish between them and pull one out of their alphabetized order. When things get really bad, I just throw them into the player and listen, but even that is fruitless when you don't recognize something you purchased umpteen years ago!

But perhaps the biggest trade off comes with sighted assistance.

I have lived alone, with blind and with sighted people, and I have discovered that what you might lose in terms of independence and self-determination when living with sighted people, you sometimes gain in those little, always present opportunities to ask for sighted feedback.

Very little can compare with the ability to ask someone if it's sunny out or if there's still snow on the ground; if my hair is sticking up or if my make-up is smudged; if a piece of clothing is stained, or if it's blue or black because I forgot to put whatever it is back in the appropriate place; if clothes I'm trying on in a store suit me in terms of colour, size, style, etc.; if the blue chair I want to buy matches the blue sofa I've already got at home ...

And then there are the cats. What you gain in company, affection and play, you give back in hairballs and furniture (and hand) scratches.

How do I identify them, having more than one? Naturally, by shape, size, texture and location.

Pudding is short and squat, bordering on heavy, woolly, and typically can be found on someone's bed. Boots is long and sleek, relatively light, silky and usually can be found somewhere she's not supposed to be.

And if any of these methods fails to help me identify which cat I just sat or stood on, I simply either pet them and pet them and pet them ... or pick them up and refuse to let go ... until whichever cat it is verbalizes her displeasure (they always do).

Then I can use sound to make the identification!

Pudding always growls, and Boots always hisses-an infallible method at last!

WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS?

By: Judy Smith

I walked into the glass door of my stereo unit last night, ripping it right off its hinges.

Even though it's the kind of thing that's happened to me a lot in the 14 years since I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), it still infuriates me.

A few friends were over playing Scrabble and one of them put some music on and then wandered back to the table. I got up and strode right into the open door.

It was all I could do to keep myself from picking up the door and smashing him on the head with it.

It's hard for me to realize that, because I look "normal", my friends still forget that my peripheral and night vision is limited and so they continue to leave things open or lying on the floor for me to trip over.

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised. I did it to myself for many years before I'd remember to shut cupboards and drawers as soon as I'd finished and not to leave the vacuum in the middle of the floor. It wasn't as though I didn't feel a fair bit of rage at this self-inflicted pain as well.

The anger, of course, is simply for the fact of my having RP in the first place. I wasted plenty of time wondering what I was being punished for that this cruel fate had befallen me.

After all, I'd had to leave a very high paying job and live in reduced circumstances, as well as suffer a generalized lack of confidence. Where before I strode around and kept my head up, all of a sudden I had to walk tentatively and look down often to see where I was going.

Over time, and with peer support and therapy, I had become adjusted to the changes in my life and didn't wake up every morning with the sense of dread that had so much characterized my first few years. It's only when my vision deteriorates that I have to go through the upheaval again.

And it has. In the past year or so, while I still have good central vision, my peripheral vision has lessened.

So I find I must try to keep the stressors in my life to a minimum. I eat well, I get enough sleep, I don't drink or smoke, I talk to close friends; these are the things I must do to maintain my emotional equilibrium. No longer do I have the luxury of letting any of the threads that hold my life together unravel.

I know I'll accept the latest changes too.

It would be nice to just jump over the fear and onto acceptance, but unfortunately no one gets a free ride. Meanwhile I'll just carry Tylenol pills and Band-Aids with me for the inevitable bumps, scrapes and bruises and perhaps enroll in anger management classes.

Oh, and the cane I use at night is a lead pipe painted white.

COPING WHEN SOMEONE BECOMES BLIND.

By: Ross Robertson

It was a great shock when my wife suddenly became blind, and it took me some time to adjust.

Previously, we had shared life's daily responsibilities such as shopping, driving, financial matters and many household tasks. Now, I assist Carole with her makeup, clothes selection, sewing and paperwork.

Recreational activities that we once enjoyed together such as playing chess, cards, and bridge with friends are no longer possible. We can no longer share the driving on holidays either, and our sightseeing is not shared in the same way.

I have less energy and little chance to read my own books, watch TV or work on projects around the house. I feel guilty if I choose to watch movies with subtitles or fast action that are difficult for Carole to follow.

But I would rather read bestseller novels to my wife anyways or assist her in all her volunteer work. Although our lives have changed, I am pleased to be of some help.

Carole appears to be coping very effectively with her greatly reduced vision and I sometimes overestimate what she really can see. I keep reminding myself that I need to be conscious of her needs and limitations.

I draw on Carole's positive attitude and enjoy sharing additional activities with her.