Category Archives: Uncategorized

repost: I’m a Braille Reader

I’ve been totally blind since birth. My mother is also totally blind, so she knew the importance of literacy.
Ever since I was a baby, she read me stories; she says The Little Red Hen and Daddy Makes the Best Spaghetti were two of my favorites. When I was a little older, I would put my hands on the braille, and since I had the story memorized, I would run my hands from left to right across the page, mimicking how I saw her reading.
When I was three, I entered preschool, where I immediately started braille instruction a few times per week, and by the time I entered kindergarten, I knew uncontracted and contracted braille.
After that, I was immersed in braille in school and at home. My textbooks, including math, were braille. The braille teacher made me stories for library time, or I brought books that I had gotten from my state library. All appliances were labeled; I remember standing in our kitchen reading the key for the microwave and asking my mom, “What does m I x spell, or why do you defrost in the microwave if it is supposed to cook things?” Cans of food had dymo tape, as did the spices, jars of jelly, and sometimes packages of frozen food. We had braille playing cards, board games with labels, and instructions for how to play them.
Because of this early instruction, I was a voracious reader. There were whole Saturdays where my mom and I would sit in the same room
Reading our individual books. When I went to relatives’ houses, they often said, “don’t you want to do something else besides read?”
I always took the opportunity to read anything I could get my hands on, and if I could keep the books, that was even better. For example, I was 10 when the National Federation of the blind had its annual convention in Atlanta. It was my first time there, and my mom took me to the free children’s books section. We had UPS mail me 32 books; they were Goosebumps, Anamorphs, and Babysitter’s Club and each one had two or three parts. My bookcase with three shelves was already crammed full, so two boxes were put in my room so I could make space for my new collection.
Being literate helped me participate fully in academics and in extra-curricular activities. That was so useful for all subjects, especially Algebra, geometry, and trig, where equations had several steps as well as biology, chemistry, and physics with tactile diagrams of gene problems, the periodic table, or graphs with acceleration and force per second.
Back then, writing and languages were my passions. I wrote stories for our high school newspaper, magazine, and year book, and I eventually became the copy editor where I edited for spelling, punctuation, AP style, and paragraph structure. I would not have been able to do that through listening to it on the computer. I also took one year of German, two years of French, and four years, including advanced placement, of Spanish. Learning languages has four distinct parts: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. If I hadn’t had braille, I would have missed a critical component of this experience. Listening is *NOT* literacy, and I would have missed accent marks and had extreme difficulty learning new words.
I went to college and have degrees in print journalism and sociology. I had many braille textbooks because I scanned them and put them into my notetaker, so I could read them on a braille display. Now, I am studying for my masters degree for teaching blind students.
Helping children enjoy reading leads to success in school and in life. Sadly, many blind children are denied the opportunity for literacy. Since I’m totally blind, there was never a question about my reading medium. However, children who have residual vision are made to struggle with print, reading 10 words per minute and experiencing eye strain headaches. These blind children don’t learn reading is fun and don’t realize true literacy can take them to any real or imaginary world; instead they learn reading is a struggle, and they fall behind academically, which will affect them for the rest of their lives. Too many times, teachers of blind students teach print because they either did not have adequate Braille instruction in their preparation programs, or they believe Braille is too hard, too slow, and old-fashioned. Not true. I was tested a few months ago and can read 180 words per minute out loud and more than 300 per minute silently; that is because I was taught early and encouraged to read.
Today is Read Across America where every child is encouraged to read a book in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday. I read The Lorax on my Braille display. Creating life-long readers is a goal of this event, and blind children can be part of this group of people who never stop learning because they have access, through Braille, to the written word.

A very good down

This is my post for The 10th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival where the theme is Perfect 10.
Jory is my fourth guide dog, and we have been a team for almost 10 weeks. When I come home with a dog, there has always been a new skill to teach or an old skill that needs to be polished. Valerie had to learn to come on command, Zorro needed to heal, and Dee needed not to bark every time people came close to us or opened our stairway door leading to our floor in the apartment building.
Jory is an excellent guide dog, and she is 20 months old. She is fast-paced, confident in crowds, and loves to learn new skills. She can find railings for stairs, find rooms after going to them once or twice, and loves traveling. She heals, comes when called even if someone is petting or playing with a toy with her,and can hold a sit-stay for more than 20 minutes. However, the skill we are striving to perfect is the down. I cannot figure out why she doesn’t like to do it half the time. It doesn’t matter if she is in or out of harness, on carpet or tile, or in familiar or unfamiliar places. She especially doesn’t like to do it in small spaces, like on the floor in the front seat of a car or between my feat and the legs of a table. I could physically force her into a down, but I don’t like to train like that.
Clicker is my first method. She can put her nose on my hand and move to follow my fist. I moved my hand first with a treat to get her into position, and that helped some at first. After that, I took away the treat, moved my fist, and c/ted when she started going into the down position. I moved on to moving my fist and c/ted after she was completely down and settled. That works sometimes but not always. I am obviously miscommunicating somehow, or there is some reason why she doesn’t like to down, and I cannot figure out what it is.

It is especially frustrating in public or when I’m working. I go to the houses or schools of blind children and adults to teach braille and technology. I was sitting in someone’s kitchen and asked Jory to go under the table and down/stay. She went under and sat but didn’t lie down. She did the same thing in a restaurant with carpeted floors. If she does eventually lie down, she doesn’t stay. During a lions club meeting, she got up seven times and I couldn’t get her to get back into position.
I always carry a clicker and treat pouch with and c/t every time she immediately lies down on her own or with one command. It’s a high-value meat treat that I don’t give her for any thing else. I also pet/praise along with the treat in hopes that will make her think this is a fun game that she wants to win more often.
I asked her puppy raiser if she had any suggestions, and she said to try a blanket on the floor. Jory likes the blanket, but it doesn’t add to more downs. I asked my trainer and school for suggestions. They looked in her file and it says she had this problem when she was a puppy too. They said try a leash correction or more leash cues. I tried it a couple of times, and it doesn’t help at all. In fact, it makes Jory dig in and refuse even harder.
With each dog, I learn something new. This time, I think it is if one method doesn’t work, try something else till she understands. I don’t expect her to be perfect, but I’ll be happy when she is very good and happily lying on the carpet or tile in and out of harness.

health recovery center and new dog!

I am exhausted. I flew into Minneapolis Yesterday. I got a monthly bus pass, dropped off my stuff with the first friend I’m staying with, and went to dinner. Since I am going sugar free, I had hot fudge lava cake with icecream last night.

This morning, I left here at 8:15. The bus stop is right outside her building, so that is nice. I misheard the stop, so I had to walk two extra blocks. When I got to the center, I met with the doctor and reviewed medical history. After that, I met with the nurse who started me on a five-hour I.V. It has vitamin C, B-complex, magnesium, and a couple other things I can’t remember. This is to start the detoxifying process, and I have one more of those tomorrow. My arm is sore because they took several tubes of blood. The heating pad is my friend.

Later, I met with Dr. Larson, the woman who founded the center. She interviewed me for a couple hours about medical history, life history, mental history, ETC. She explained all the nutrients and why I would be taking them. I have 17 so far at different times for the day. I need to clarify with someone tomorrow because a couple of the columns didn’t scan properly. I also need to ask someone about my schedule because it is not laid out well for scanning.

In other news, I have been accepted at the San Rafel campus of GDB for training Nov. 25. I’m soooooooooo excited, and I can’t wait to have this new dog. I know I will definitely feel safer traveling with him/her. Now, I’m taking my melotonin, tryptophan, an chromium and going to bed.

call for submissions for the ninth assistance dog blog carnival

It’s my turn to host the ninth edition of http://aftergadget.wordpress.com/about-the-assistance-dog-blog-carnival/
This is a quarterly event where people write about a theme related to guide, hearing, mobility, or other assistance dogs.
This time the theme is moments. Some ideas to get you started are:
  • The moment when your puppy or dog learned a task
  • The moment you and your dog felt like a team for the first time
  • Last moments working with or being with your dog
  • Favorite moments, funny moments, embarrassing moments, ETC
You don’t have to have an assistance dog to participate. You can be a puppy raiser or have some other relationship to assistance dogs.
To participate, you can leave a comment with the following information:
  1. Name of your blog: E.G. Believe in Who You Are
  2. The title of your post: E.G. My Favorite Moments
If you can’t or don’t want to comment, you can also email me mch26485 at huskies dot bloomu dot edu or tweet @latinanewschic if you want to post. If you could please link to this post when you are writing your entries, that would be helpful.
Deadline for submissions is October 31.

taking new steps

This is my post for The eighth assistance dog blog carnival The topic is marching to your
own drum.
When I received my first dog Valerie in 2006, I knew nothing about dogs.
We never had animals in my house growing up, so it was a completely new
experience for me. I listened to all of the trainers recommendations
about commands, corrections, equipment, medicine, and food. It wasn't
until a couple months later that I started to change.
Valerie wouldn't come on command when she was off-leash or heal on
leash. Doing leash and collar corrections didn't do any good, so I
started looking for help online. I joined some guide dog email lists,
and in one of my google searches, I stumbled on to clicker training and
clicker training podcasts. These helped immensely. She was enthusiastic
about food rewards, no surprise since she's a walking stomach lab. I was
so excited once she learned to put her nose on my hand and learned to
sit between my knees without my need to physically move her into place.
Before that, it never occured to me that my dog could learn commands
other than the ones she learned in class. After I suspected food and
environmental alergies, I found kibble that was human grade and natural
supplements such as fish oil and flower essences that would help her not
scratch so much.
When I received my second dog Zorro, I brought the more human grade
kibble to class and started him on it immediately. He learned hand
targeting and targeting counters before we had been home for two weeks.
I needed a turn around and back up command because I rode a bus every
day, and it was easier if he were facing the isle when we needed to exit
the bus. He had meat food toppers on his kibble after he had tapeworms
because he was too skinny and needed to gain weight. Finally, , I found
him a lighter nylon harness and the martingale collar instead of the
chain or gentle leader. We were never in sync while walking in the
harness from the school, and he refused to work in the gentle leader. I
could more easily feel his subtle movements with the nylon handle, and I
felt better using the martingale collar because it could only tighten so
far.
Last there was Dee. She received fewer corrections since the clicker
foundation was in place from her previous training and I used it as my
first sollution instead of a collar. She came with the martingale
collar, and she did well wearing it. With her, I could do more off-leash
work, teacher to lie down and sit in different positions, and added more
objects for her to find: upstairs, downstairs, trashcan, buttons, and
empty chairs. She also learned some counter balancing and to point her
nose in the direction where there was a sound.
Each time, the list of skills I want and need to teach grows. I prefer
clicker training and operant conditioning over traditional
correction-based training. I've learned to look for more hollistic
solutions to health issues instead of going with the conventional wisdom
of the vet. Other assistance dog handlers are excellent resources, and
they are my first choice for help instead of only relying on the
school's suggestions. I don't march to my own drum as much as assistance
dog partners who owner train, but I add as much as I can to make my dog
and I the best team we can be. Every dog is unique, and I can't wait to
see the different steps my new partner adds to the march.

just get over it

This is my post for Blogging Against Disablism DayI live with depression characterized by apathy, lack of motivation, inability to concentrate, and insomnia. No matter what I did, people’s negative attitudes affected me. Over the past five years, I’ve tried several ways of dealing with it. First was denial; I pretended as if nothing were wrong. I went to classes and participated in clubs and organizations, but my enthusiasm for all of that was gone. Any time someone would ask me if I were ok, I’d smile and change the subject. I knew the stigma that came with mental illness; I’d seen it in movies, heard it in the casual way people tossed out the words crazy and insane, and studied it in-depth in some of my journalism and sociology classes. I was already different enough with the blindness, the adoption, the left-leaning politics in a conservative town, and I *did* not need to add another difference to my list. After the denial came the crash. I had a horrible year after the one where I noticed the depression. My first guide dog was sick, had many vet bills, and retired; my second guide dog got sick and went back to the school; most of my friends graduated; I had money problems paying for school; and I failed my internship. I stopped talking to most people because I didn’t want to share my problems and sound like a whiner. I didn’t want to go to counseling because only unstable people went there. I now know that isn’t true, but it’s what I thought at the time. Eventually, I started doing the anti-depressant wheel. I take something the doctor prescribed; it didn’t work, and I tried another one. By this time, I was out about the depression to friends and family. My family said, “What do you have to be depressed about?” I was also taking a sociology class that did a major study of mental illness. I got to hear how big pharma was ruining everyone’s lives, and anyone who bought into the pills help was a mindless idiot, and he or she deserved whatever happened while on the meds. Thanks professor; I really enjoyed the disorientation, the irritation at everyone and everything, the constant hyper feeling as if I needed to run miles at 2 am, inability to fall asleep, and the nausea. I also heard from classmates in context with the discussion that if those people in the books we read just pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and had happier thoughts, the depression would magically go away. Now, I am in a somewhat better place to deal with the depression. I personally don’t take the anti-depressants because I’ve tried too many, and the side effects are just not worth the improvements. I have some supplements that help, and I will try more later this year. I’ve been to counseling, and I see the benefit of sharing feelings with others because it’s not good to hold all the sadness inside. However, I will always be affected by ablest attitudes, my internalized ones as well as those from society in general. I have not told anyone who has any say in my academics or finances. I will not disclose whenever I apply for jobs. Maybe I will someday feel open enough to let those who have authority over me know that, yes, I am one of those crazy people that many talk about with discomfort, but for now, I work on improving my biochemical and emotional health as well as detoxing myself of the ablest attitudes and language I hear every day.

good news

Things have gotten much better since my last post. My old boss talked to the lions club where he is a member, and they have graciously agreed to cover my $3,000 tuition bill from last quarter. That means I will now be able to register for classes in February, and the classes will start in March.
Shelley, Dee’s puppy raiser and new owner, paid for my flight. GDB is going to reimburse her $500 and I will give her the rest. It’s going to be a very long day. I leave Monroe, La at 9 am, get to Houston at 11, Denver at 2, Portland at 5 where I will transfer Dee, Sanfrancisco at 9, Chicago at 5:30 the next morning, and finally Baltimore at 12:00. After that, I am going to take a train to D.C. to spend a few days with my best friend Beckie who is in seminary there. Later that week, I will be attending a teacher leader seminar for teachers of blind students. I’ve also been able to get a few of the vitamin and other supplements that I need to keep me functioning ok. My medicare prescription card came, and I am so relieved!