Annie, with Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, is hosting a Friday call-in session support group featuring independent living skills (ILS) now and throughout the summer. She is demonstrating many different accessible devices for better home living and hopes to be able to share some of these devices with participants in the near future. I have worked with Annie at Foundations of Adjustment to Blindness (FAB) and find her to be very knowledgeable, warm and caring. All you have to do to participate is call the number and put in the code on Fridays at 1:00.
Fridays: 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM
Learn and Talk about ILS in 2020
Some of our topics include:
On Saturday I took one of my white canes to the Southwest duck pond right next to my apartment to take some photos for our blog and instagram pages. I had fun luring the squirrels and birds over with peanuts, and I got some great photographs.
As I was finishing up I heard, “Get that lady to help, she’s a woman, the ducks won’t run from her.”
I turned around thinking, “OMG! How sexist! Now what crazy thing is about to happen to me?”
A strange inebriated man was approaching me and telling me he had a baby duck that he needed to get back to its mother. I said,”None of these ducks are mothers.” They were obviously male mallards since they had emerald green heads. I hadn’t seen any babies nearby either. The man was upset and cradling a duckling in his t-shirt. He wanted me to put the duckling near the other ducks to see if they would take care of him. I remember two strong feelings: rescue the duck and get out of this weird situation. I completely forgot I was supposed to social distance so I went and took the duckling from him and placed it near the other ducks. I got a good whiff of some kind of alcohol as I took the duck from him. He told me all about how fifteen ducklings were jumping from the big S on the safeway sign and how he was catching them in his shirt so they wouldn’t get hurt. I don’t really remember why he still had this particular duckling, but he and his friend had been walking all over the place for about 6 hours trying to find the duck’s mother. I told him that I have lots of experience raising ducks and that I would happily take this duckling off his hands.
He and his friend were so relieved. They just knew they had needed to find a woman for this duck. LOL! As I was walking away with the duckling, they called out “What are you going to name it?” Then they looked sad and said, “Oh no, you can’t name it because we don’t know if it's a boy or a girl duck.”
Quick thinker that I am, I say, “How about Kelly? It can be for a boy or a girl.” They happily agreed and I headed home wondering how the heck did I just end up with a duckling?
The only thing I had to keep a duckling in was the plastic bin I use for cooking sous vide. I lined it with a washcloth and put in a dish of water. I chopped up some peanuts and greens and put them in a small dish next to the water. I covered the top with a cooling rack for cookies and set a heat lamp from another pet adventure on top. The duckling acted weak and pitiful, cheeped a bit, and then went to sleep.
I really did have chickens and ducks back in Texas, and I wasn’t sure if this duckling was gonna make it. I decided to wait until the next day to take it to City Wildlife. I figured this duckling had probably been stressed enough for one day.
After it’s nap, I had an active angry duckling on my hands. It cheeped and cheeped and cheeped. It wanted its mama. It jumped into its water bowl and splashed water everywhere. It ate the peanuts and the greens and cheeped some more. I had forgotten how messy ducks are. I changed his water four times that afternoon and he immediately jumped in again each time. The video shows him playing in his water bowl.
Finally it was bedtime for duckling. I moved him to the kitchen since it's the warmest room of the house and hoped for the best. He slept most of the night. Except when he didn’t. I think I had to get up 4 times to check on the noisy little baby. The next morning he was doing great so I let him go for a quick swim in the bathtub. He loved it and tried to bite me when I took him out! I dried him off and put him back in the sous vide container. You can hear him cheeping in the bathtub in the video below.
Finally it was time to take him to the DC Animal Shelter where City Wildlife would pick him up. My friend and fellow blog writer Olivia went with me for moral support and to block the holes in the banker box so he wouldn’t escape. She renamed him Safeway (a much better name), and was immediately in love with the little thing. We passed him off to the Humane Society and told them he was a feisty duckling. The officer brought me a form to fill out and sheepishly admitted that the duckling had already escaped the box, but was now secure! I was assured that there were lots of ducklings at City Wildlife right now and he would make lots of friends.
It’s never a good idea to remove a duckling from its mother and if he had been left alone, mom probably would have come back for him. Trust me, she would have heard him cheeping for her!
If you have a wildlife encounter this spring, City Wildlife is a great resource. Animal control will even pick up your creature and deliver it to them to be rehabilitated and released back into the wild if possible.
What crazy encounters have you had with DC wildlife? Let us know in the comments or share your own story on our blog.
We have collected several responses since this was originally posted. We are going to end the survey on July 22 and post a follow up article about the results in August.
I have been hearing comments about masks interfering with O&M skills from friends and in conversations on the internet, so I made a survey to help us get to the bottom of this. I am also planning to look up articles and studies on facial vision and echolocation to see if there is any extra insight into this.
If you are interested in participating, just fill out this form. Please share this with everyone who uses a white cane and mask! We are not collecting personal information or emails. We only see your answers. I will do a follow up post to let you know the results and potential recommendations for masks and O&M!
O&M Mask Survey
By Olivia Norman
I have been a dog guide handler for over 20 years and I want to take a moment to honor all the Guide Dogs who have worked so hard to enrich my life. All my dogs have taught me so much about life, about how to love, and about the things that are important. They’ve sat in hospitals with me, seen me through some wonderful times (and some difficult ones) and been by my side through the majority of my life.
I remember my first time at The Seeing Eye, eagerly awaiting the knock on the door that would change my life forever. My trainer Dave finally came to my door and I could hear a dog panting. “This is Stoney,” he told me. “He is a male golden retriever.” Just like that, my journey with guide dogs began. Stoney was so funny with his antics, his pillow collection, and laid back personality. Stoney and I grew up together. He taught me how to care for another being. I had a lot to learn, but we did it together.
Yahzee was my amazing smart beautiful German Shepherd. She could remember anything, no matter how many times we did it. She saw me through college graduation, comforted me when I lost all confidence in myself during a fruitless job search, learned with me during work toward a Master’s degree, which I ultimately dropped in favor of full-time employment. She saw me start my first job. She was a wonderful girl, but ultimately decided that she was ready to retire after 4 years of working and preferred to go live by the beach.
Both Stoney and Yahzee enjoyed wonderful retirements with my parents and were loved and cherished members of our family until their deaths in 2008 and 2015 respectively. Not a day goes by when we don’t miss and think of them.
Next came my sweet and wonderful Norah. She saw me through three job changes, being hit by a car, and (after some extra practice) a significant increase in confidence as a traveler. We tackled Metro trains, planes and cars, noisy intersections - all part of busy city life in Washington, DC. Norah was my calm rock, my constant companion and my best friend. Retiring her after seven years was difficult, but I absolutely knew that it was the right thing to do. Now she is enjoying her life as a lady of leisure on the beach in Delaware with my parents. I am so glad that she is still a part of our family, and my life, and I hope that we can cherish her for many years to come.
In March of last year, I got my sweet wonderful Tofu. Before going to California to get her, I had my heart set on a male black lab. Mostly because I wanted something totally different from Norah so I would not compare the two. A few days before class, my trainer Lauren asked me if I would be open to working another yellow female assuming she was different from Norah. I said I would, because I wanted the right dog for me, which is exactly what I got. I am so glad Lauren wanted me to be open to working with this girl. She is just what I need at this stage in my life: calm, smart, intuitive and loving. She loves our walks, a rough game of tug, and more than anything a good cuddle session. She is young, but acts like a much more mature animal. She loves physical contact and she even knows when I am sick. She is always there. I can’t wait to walk many more miles together!
My decision to partner with a guide dog is one of the best decisions I have made in my life. I want to thank my dogs for all they have taught me and my family and trainers for all they have done to make our partnership successful. Thank you to my friends who diligently helped me to pattern my dogs - especially Norah - when she decided she didn’t want to go up the escalators at Cleveland Park Metro station anymore. My life would not be as rich without these precious dogs and I want to celebrate my partnership with these amazing creatures today as part of International Guide Dog Day.
By Elisabeth Payne, COMS
These days, many of us are using Zoom and other types of videoconferencing - both for work and pleasure. I know you want to look your best at these events so here are some great tips for better Zooming!
Extra Credit: This video from Angie at Hot and Flashy offers great tips and she does a good job of describing what she is doing. This video from PC magazine gives you general tips on how to run a professional Zoom Meeting.
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By Elisabeth Payne, COMS
The city is so much quieter now that we are all staying home. I can hear lots of birds singing to welcome spring. I have always enjoyed wildlife and I got my first pair of binoculars and a field guide for my twelfth birthday. I only know a few bird calls, but I would love to learn more. The Cornell Lab Bird Academy has all kinds of lessons for learning bird calls. There is a fee for the entire course, but there is a free sample lesson that is amazing. You will learn to identify the call of a robin, a chipping sparrow, and a mountain chickadee in this lesson. YouTube has lots of bird call videos, but they tend to have on screen text that isn't accessible to identify the bird making the sound. The best way to use YouTube to learn bird calls is to know the name of the bird whose call you would like to learn and then search just for that bird call. For example here is a YouTube video of an oriole call. Note: If VoiceOver won't play the video try rotating your device between portrait and landscape view.
I know for sure we have robins here in DC right now! The next time you are outside listen closely and see if you can hear one. How do you learn new bird calls? Let us know in the comments if there any other websites or apps we should check out.
The following websites provide tons of information about discounts, food pantries and programs to help you get groceries.
The State of Maryland has a county by county list of the grocery stores that are offering delivery here.
Prince Georges County has a great website for food assistance resources:
and Montgomery County's food system resource page:
We have been trying to find resources for grocery delivery during the pandemic. This is a very real challenge for people who don't use the internet or may not be able to leave the house. Many of our support networks are fraying as more people become ill.
Fortunately Mayor Bowser has provided some new options.
Please call 1-888-349-8323 if you or a loved one is unable to get food or other essential items. They will deliver it to your home. If you use this service please let us know how it is working for you.
From Mayor Bowser's Facebook page:
"Today, I launched 10 weekday grocery distribution sites at DC schools to help families access meals and other resources during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency. The grocery distribution sites are being launched in partnership with Martha's Table and DC Central Kitchen. They're available to all families and are open Monday – Friday, 12:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. At these sites, residents can pick up pre-packed grocery bags, which include fresh produce and dry goods. Groceries are being distributed on a first come, first served basis.
Breakfast and lunch are still being distributed at these schools and other sites across the District.
Visit https://coronavirus.dc.gov/…/images/Meal%20Sites04102020.pdf for a comprehensive schedule and list of distribution sites.
I also launched a COVID-19 hotline and web portal for residents to request food and essential items be delivered to their homes if they have been directed to self-quarantine, or if they have no other means to acquire these items:
1-888-349-8323 or http://coronavirus.dc.gov/gethelp
Twenty years have passed and I still remember that route like it was yesterday. It was a hot August day in 1999. I’d just come home with my first guide dog, Stoney. Brimming with optimism, I decided this weekend would mark my first independent route, just me and my brand new guide dog taking on the world.
My parents had recently gotten me a cellphone, which by today’s phone standards was a giant brick. It was expensive too, calls cost about fifty cents a minute. “Only use this if you’re traveling or in an emergency,” said my dad.
Armed with my cell phone, my wallet and my dog, off I went to 7-Eleven to get some milk. “Forward. Left. Right.” I told my dog confidently at every intersection, just like I’d been trained. We actually made it to the store unscathed. I felt great. Milk acquired, my mission almost accomplished, I turned to head home.
Four blocks, forward, left, right. I counted my street crossings just like I was supposed to. “Wait a minute,” I thought, “I’ve gone four blocks and this is not my street. Something went wrong, but what, oh what have I done, and how am I going to get myself out of this one.” I stopped, defeated. My dog laid down in the middle of the sidewalk as if to say, “Lady you don’t know what you’re doing.” At that moment in time, I agreed with him. I listened for a minute; surely some pedestrian would come along and help me. There was no one around. I began to cry.
Panic set in. What had I done, why did I think this guide dog thing was a good idea? I took out my phone, called my parents and said, “I don’t know where I am.”
My dad got in his car and drove around looking for me. He couldn’t find me. I’m sure my parents were worried at this point, but they remained calm. “What can you hear?” he asked me.
I listened for a minute, ”I hear the metro,” I said. This small clue helped my dad figure out where I was and finally find me. He pulled the car up, got out, and helped me figure out that I’d somehow crossed every street diagonally and ended up somewhere completely different from home!
Instead of putting me in the car and taking me home, my awesome Dad then proceeded to walk behind my right shoulder, just as you’re supposed to do, and helped me walk back home. I’m sure Stoney’s confidence in me was a little rattled, but he got over it and so did I.
I’ve come a long way in the past 20 years, both in terms of independence and problem solving abilities and the technologies that are available to help me when I get stuck. But I still remember that first route as a guide dog handler with a sense of awe and pride. I quickly realized that having a guide dog wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought, and that things do go wrong, but that with the right help and support and abilities I could go anywhere!
I want to end this by thanking my parents and my dogs for being there for all the bumps in the road, big and small.
Flattening the Inaccessibility Curve
Your input is needed! Please take a moment to complete this very important survey that is investigating experiences of adults who are blind or have low vision during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey covers areas of healthcare; transportation; employment; education; social experiences; access to meals, food, and supplies; and voting. Thank you for helping flatten the inaccessibility curve.
Olivia Norman and Elisabeth Payne, COMS
As a blind or visually impaired person during this coronavirus pandemic, it is natural to have concerns surrounding social distancing and its impact on your day to day life. I know I was concerned about how I would get things done while following social distancing recommendations and keeping both myself and others safe. I have collaborated with a couple of friends and O&Ms on this article to help address some common concerns you might have. We hope you find it helpful and informative.
How can I keep people at a safe distance?
A great way to encourage social distancing is to simply wear a mask. A cloth mask is fine if you can’t get a medical grade mask. The purpose of this mask is to be a visual reminder to others that there is a virus and we need to keep our distance. This website has great tips on how to properly wear a mask. Make sure to wash your hands before and after wearing the mask, don’t touch your face while wearing the mask, and then dispose of it or clean it properly.
How can I tell if I am six feet away from someone?
If you are using a cane, the reach of your cane is 4 to 5 feet with your arm extended. Usually a store counter is about 2 feet wide, so you are about 6 feet from the cashier if you have your arm and cane extended. If you are a dog guide user, you might want to carry your cane to help you tell how far you are from a service counter. If you are in an alley type checkout like at the grocery store, it’s not possible to be six feet from the cashier the entire time.
You also could practice localizing sound at home by listening to how things sound as you move away one step at a time. Practice estimating distance with Siri and Ok google by setting your phone on a table and then speaking to it from different places in the house.
What do I do on a narrow sidewalk?
This one is difficult for everyone. You are mostly at the mercy of other people on a narrow sidewalk. You don’t want to lose your orientation, but if you can move onto the grass temporarily you can give yourself a little more room. You could also walk a few feet up an intersecting sidewalk or driveway to give people room to pass.
How am I going to do my shopping?
Online shopping is a great tool right now. However, if you can’t get a delivery spot, you may have to actually go to the store. Call beforehand to make sure there will be a shopping assistant. Some stores are overwhelmed right now and may not be thinking clearly about how to serve all of their customers. The stores should have sanitizing wipes at the entrance near the carts. It’s not a bad idea to bring your own wipes as well. Use the shopping cart to keep distance between yourself and the shopping assistant by staying at different ends of the cart. A six foot distance can be achieved by keeping your arms outstretched as you hold on to the cart. It’s okay to ask the shopping assistant to help you stay 6 feet away from others. We all need occasional reminders because this is a new thing for everyone
What do I do when someone comes up and grabs me or stands too close to me?
Say something like, “Step back, I need to stay six feet away from people.” or “Let go of me, I need to stay six feet away from people.” As soon as they step away, safely move in the opposite direction to increase your distance. Practice saying this or a similar phrase so that you are comfortable with speaking up.
I use human guide all the time, now what do I do?
These are not officially sanctioned Orientation and Mobility Techniques; use the following tips at your own risk. The goal is to place distance between yourself and your guide in accordance with current CDC recommendations.
If you must go somewhere and use human guide, you could use a handheld tether similar to the kind a runner who is blind might use with their running partner. Think of household items like a dowel rod, a short broom handle, a long scarf,or a piece of rope. Try to find something 2 to 3 feet long. A rigid tether will give you more information about when your guide is starting and stopping. If you use something loose like a scarf or rope you need to pay attention to when the line goes slack and your guide will need to give good directions about when to stop and when you are approaching steps and curbs. As always, use your cane in conjunction with human guide to help locate drop offs. Don’t forget to disinfect your guide tool between uses so we can keep everyone safe.
How do I find someone if I need help?
Before you leave the house think about which businesses will probably be open and how to get to them. Grocery and convenience stores will most likely be open, but they have shorter operating hours right now. Be aware and really use your listening and scanning skills to find people. There are going to be less people out and about right now so you might be the only person on the block. If you need to call out for help, use a strong voice so people can hear you. Say something like, “Excuse me, can I ask you a question?.” Use a confident tone and know what information you want before you ask. Remember sighted people often give lousy directions, so you may have to ask followup questions to get the information you need.
You could use Facetime with a friend and don’t forget you can ask Siri and Google, “Where am I?” to get an address near your location.
Download an app called Aira before you leave the house and give it a try. They allow short calls for free and have people in a call center who can look through the camera on your smartphone and give you information.
If you are having an emergency call 911.
How do I stay safe going to the doctor’s office or hospital?
Call before you go. Many offices are closed unless you are having an emergency. Your appointment may have been canceled since you last spoke to your doctor’s office. The entrance you use may have changed. Some hospitals have changed to allow one door for entering the building and another door for exiting the building. There will probably be a checkpoint where you have to answer a few questions and you may have your temperature taken. The room where you usually go for treatment may have changed and may change every time you visit during this crisis. When sitting in the waiting room just ask “Where is an empty seat?” and make sure you aren’t next to anyone. You need to sit 3 to 4 seats away from people on each side of you to have a six foot distance.
Elevators are another place where it is difficult to practice social distancing. If possible ride the elevator alone. Just ask if anyone is on the elevator and then say. “I will wait for the next one” if it isn’t empty and then wait for the door to close before you press the button to call another elevator. You may have to wait for a few elevators before you get to board. If someone tries to board your elevator say, “Do you mind waiting for the next elevator? I need to stay 6 feet from other people.” If they get on anyway, you will need to decide if you want to get off on that floor and wait for another empty elevator.
Obviously, the best way to practice social distancing is to stay home. We understand this is not always possible. We hope these suggestions are helpful to you during the COVID-19 Pandemic. We welcome your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below.
Great News! Freedom Scientific is offering their screenreader Jaws, Zoomtext, or Fusion free until June 30, 2020. Many of my students don't have this software at home and I am excited that this company is helping to bridge the gap to help them access their assignments. This is also a great chance for those of you who want to try out Jaws as well. There are lots of online articles and youtube videos to help you get started. We will try to feature some information here as well.
Learn more: https://portal.freedomscientific.com/SponsoredSoftware
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