Why I Don’t Mind Being an Inspiration

Recently, I’ve seen a series of articles, posts, stories and the like circulating about people with disabilities and how they don’t want to be an inspiration to others. I’d like to speak to this, and relate to you why I, myself, don’t mind being an inspiration.
First, I’d like to clearly state that this post is not meant to offend any of my peers or the online community as a whole that feel otherwise. You are entitled to your opinion in the same way that I am entitled to mine, and I respect that.

So why don’t people want to be an inspiration? Based off my own observations, folks, especially those with a visible disability like myself, are already in the spotlight. I can’t hide that I have a guide dog, others can’t hide their canes, wheelchairs, walkers, and the like, and I guarantee that even though people with visible disabilities can’t help but stick out, all of us want to blend into the crowd just like the next person. People with disabilities are just trying to live normal lives, like the person next to them. It can be hard to rise above the low expectations that society generally places on the disabled population, and many times it’s annoying to be applauded for accomplishing a menial task, when you’d rather be applauded for accomplishing something big, like a job promotion, earning a degree, or inventing a breakthrough technology.

I’ve had my own share of these situations. For example, I’ll never forget the time I was at a holiday gathering, and an instance like this occurred. I had only recently moved to New York, and was just then starting to come to terms with the fact that I would have to start doing things in life differently than other people. Without a job for the first time since I was 16, I spent many of my days at home, depressed and restless. Well, everyone around the dinner table was relating recent adventures, world travels, big time jobs, and family raising, then the story was told about how I had recently taken my cane out, walked 2 blocks to the subway, and met my husband. Now, this was actually a really big deal for me, as I’d never had orientation and mobility training, and never really gone out with my cane before, but when everyone began applauding me for doing this, I replied with some snarky remark about how it wasn’t a big deal and why don’t we all congratulate me for being able to put on my pants in the morning? Truth is, it was embarrassing, and entirely frustrating to have fallen so far from the independent young business person to the woman that sat at home and omigosh! was able to walk 2 blocks on her own. So, I completely understand why people do not want to be an inspiration for living their lives.

That being said, here’s why I don’t mind.

First, let me ask you, who inspires you? I know we all have our heroes who changed the world in some way or another, but let’s take a step back and focus on who, on a local level, inspires you? Got someone? Great.

Maybe it’s your neighbor, who is dealing with stage 4 cancer, but still gets up every day with a smile. Maybe it’s the single mom who is working 2 jobs to feed her 4 kids. Maybe it’s the recent immigrant who speaks English as a second language, but is working long hours and going to school at night to achieve the American dream. Perhaps it’s someone who has intense social anxiety, but gets up in front of a classroom every day and shares their knowledge with their students. Or, maybe it’s the mother who gave up her own desires for a traditional career to stay home with her kids. Perhaps it’s the person who is living in deep poverty, but is always ready to give whatever they have to help someone else, or maybe it’s the person who sacrificed the comfort of home to go abroad and help people in a third world country.

Point is this – all those people I just listed, are just living their lives. They are doing what they have to do, in spite of their challenges. They are not trying to show off, but somehow, their existence inspires others to go further, to realize that the situation at hand isn’t so bad, or maybe it is, but it can be overcome, because others have proven it’s possible.

So, who has inspired me? Here’s a couple examples. My husband has a friend who just happens to be in a wheelchair. A couple of years ago, when I was really struggling with accepting the fact that I am now different than others and can’t always be truly independent and under the radar, he told my husband this: “I don’t need help a lot of times, but people offer to help, and I’ve found that if I let them help me, it helps them, and that is why I let them.” I’m paraphrasing here, but that statement really inspired me. I hated people asking if I needed help, hated needing help in the first place, but I often think of those words. At times, letting folks help me when I really don’t need it, helps them. They feel good, and that makes me feel good. Plus, being appreciative will perpetuate acts of kindness. Maybe they’ll offer help to someone who really needs it, instead of being burned by a sarcastic remark by me, or maybe someone else letting someone help them will help me in the future when I really need it.

I have several friends who are blind, and they do so much! I don’t know what their perspective is on being an inspiration, but I do know this: when I am scared, struggling, frustrated with something I have to do, talking to them, or reading their posts makes me want to do more. It makes me realize that, hey, I CAN do this- they did, why not me? Because of these people in my life, I limit myself less every day. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one out there dealing with what I deal with. There are doctors, lawyers, athletes, leaders, travelers, artists, motivational speakers, all who are blind – and that is the tip of the iceberg. So, why can’t I accomplish those same things? I can, and thanks to people like them, I will. (Well, maybe not the doctor or lawyer thing, that’s just too much school haha),

So, now back to my situation. I have had so many people tell me I am an inspiration to them. From people who struggle with intense pain every day and can’t walk, to people who are cancer survivors. Regular people with no visible problems (I say visible because everyone has challenges) to people going through tough divorces. Random people on the subway, who are going through things that I will never know. Immigrants from other countries working countless hours to get by. The list goes on. And for me, when one of these people, who have so much more to deal with than I do, tell me I’m an inspiration to them, it is the highest compliment I could receive. Because in me just living my life, I somehow encourage others to go further in theirs, or just as importantly, keep going in spite of their own challenges.

This is why I do not, and never will, mind being an inspiration.

Dude…Where’s my Dog?

As I mentiponed in my last post, I applied for a guide dog last month. The process is long, at least six months, and is comprised of getting a lot of forms filled out by doctors (along with the necessary appointments), having a home interview, and a whole lot of waiting.

Wednesday was my home interview. I was warned in advance that the appointment may last 2 to 3 hours, so I took a half day from work. I knew there would be some amount of embarrassment, as I had been told over the phone that I would have to walk a route with my interviewer. I had also read somewhere that the interviewer would bring a harness and have me try it out. So, as I waited for my appointed time, I grew increasingly nervous.

K (I shall use only her first initial) arrived at around 8:30 in the morning. Adam was getting ready to leave, but was able to meet her and ask a few questions of his own about what owning a guide dog would be like. After a couple minutes, he had to be off, and K and I were left to begin the interview process. The whole point of the home interview is to determine whether or not the applicant will be well suited for a guide dog and if the environment is one that would be healthy for the dog. It costs an average of $48,000 to train one of these creatures; so in essence, getting a guide dog is like being given a Mercedes and taught how to drive it.

The first portion of the interview was long, but pleasant. I was asked a lot of questions about my lifestyle, where I go, what I like to do in my spare time, work and more. I also had to answer some of the same questions I filled out on my original application and medical form. At this time, I mentioned that I am allergic…to animals. *slaps forehead* When K heard this she asked “you understand that you are applying for a dog, right?” Of course I understand. I’m allergic to my cat, and I still got her… I tried to explain that I controlled my allergies generally, but she still recommended that I see an Allergist and wrote that in her report. Dang. More doctors. Did I mention I hate going to any kind of doctor? What is going to an Allergist going to tell me that I don’t know already? Wash your sheets, vacuum, air purifier, I’ve heard it all. Maybe they’ll recommend allergy shots. I’ve always wanted to try those…but, I digress. Oh well, if I have to see another doctor and spend a little to get a new Mercedes, it’s worth it. Although I am still kicking myself for mentioning my allergies to animals, K and I found common ground when I informed her that I am gluten intolerant, and what do you know, she is too! We talked all about living without wheat, alternatives, and I recommended some great places to eat whenever she is in the city.

After the questions about me were over, I was told about the school, how the dogs are raised, and how people get in. The school is located about an hour from the city, and students stay on the premises for the 21 day training period. Training is a bit like boot camp, but everyone has a great time and bonds over the mutual learning process. You don’t pick your own dog. Instead, the guide dog trainers pair you based on temperament and activity levels. The process on how dogs are trained is equally interesting. The school raises 98% black, chocolate, or yellow Labs, with the other 2% being German Shepherds that are spoken for years in advance. There is a special lab where the genetics of the dogs are tested, and the most intelligent and well mannered are picked carefully to be bred. Once these special dogs are born, the are trained in the basics by volunteer puppy raisers, who take the dogs into their houses, socialize them, and teach them to behave. At some point during their puppy life, the dogs are given a temperament test. Only about 50% of the already specially bred dogs are accepted into being trained to be a guide. The other half become police dogs, airport security dogs, or therapeutic dogs for children with Autism. Wow, this is the cream of the crop! Somewhere between the ages of 12-18 months, the dogs are taken back to the school grounds for four months of guide dog training. After that, students are brought to the school and trained with the dog.

Acceptance into the program is determined by a committee and is similar to the process of getting into a desirable college. The committee reviews all the material from the forms submitted, the home interview, and whether or not the applicant is recommended for acceptance by the interviewer, and makes a decision on who is best for the program. Then the wait begins. Right now, the wait is 6-7 months from the time of acceptance, and I don’t even have all my forms in yet.

After being informed of the process, it was my turn to ask some questions. Once my curiosity was satisfied, it was time to hit the pavement. Before going outside, I had to sign a video waiver. Yes folks, I was about to be videotaped for the committee. Oh, boy. We journeyed outside. It had begun to drizzle. At least it’s not snowing, I thought. Locking my door, I turned around. Let the embarrassment begin!

First, I had to introduce myself. Wishing this could’ve been done inside, I swallowed my embarrassment and introduced myself and the ol’ Bob to the committee, and then it was time to walk. I traveled down to the subway entrance, then turned and crossed the thoroughfare that runs past my house, then walked a couple blocks down the other direction, all the time being filmed by K. Now, the real “fun” begins.
To preface this next portion, I live in the busiest part of my neighborhood. My apartment is on the main road through the neighborhood, and perpendicular to that is the busiest shopping district in the area. It had begun to rain harder as I finished walking with Bob. At that time, K told me to put away my stick because it was time to pull out the harness. NOOOOOOOOO! With everything inside me, I wished that this examination and familiarization process could’ve taken place inside, but it wasn’t, and I had to go through this in front of hundreds of folks milling around on foot or in cars. To top it off, we were almost directly across the street from my landlords’s store, and I hoped to goodness I didn’t have to explain this behavior later.

K pulled out the harness, which was void of dog, and had me examine the leash and handle. After I had checked it all out, it was time to go for a walk. I dealt with this uncomfortable situation as I deal with all others, by cracking lots of jokes and laughing through the humiliation. I was instructed on the commands I was to give the nonexistent dog, the name Juno that I was to call the oxygen filling the harness, and the hand motions I was to use. Once this was sorted, we were off. “Juno, forward.” I said, and K pulled the harness along, down the thoroughfare, in front of my daily surroundings. We made it to the curb. “Now, praise the dog,” K instructed. Am I really doing this? I thought as I bent over and pretended to scratch the ears of the nonexistent dog. Now, turn to the right. “Juno, right.” I was led right, then across the road, and then down the street near my house, which just happened to have one of the busiest stores in Brooklyn. And, now it gets more interesting. I have to reprimand the dog. K jerks the harness down “No!” I yell and jerk the leash. I wonder what the passersby are thinking when this woman jerks a harness without a dog filling it downward and the holder of the harness reprimands it? Oh well, nothing I can do about it. The harness jerks again. “No!” This happens about three more times. We rounded the block and eventually made it to the front door of my house, where I had to learn the other way of reprimanding a dog, directly in front of the neighboring business. But, then it was over.

K told me that pending I see an allergist, I would be a great fit for a guide dog and she was going to recommend to the committee that I be accepted. After a hug and a thank you, I went upstairs to dry off and get ready for work.

This was probably one of the more embarrassing experiences of my life, but as I look back, I think to myself about the amount of embarrassing things people do on game shows to win $40k, and then I think, this interview was like my non-TV version of a game show. If I end up being accepted, the embarrassment will be worth it anyway.

Here’s hoping I do!

I Got Lost

This story happened to me about a month ago, during the extreme cold snap. (I warn you, it is a little long).

The temperature was in the single digits, with a wind chill of bitterly cold negatives. It had snowed a few days before, and now piles of snow lay everywhere where it had been shoveled or plowed off the path. Snow is beautiful, but is also one of the arch-nemeses of a blind person walking with a stick. The blanket of frozen water covers landmarks that are necessary to hit with the stick to orient yourself, and snow piles are completely unpleasant to climb. Nevertheless, I made my way to work as usual…I can’t let a little snow keep me down.

For some reason, I wasn’t wearing my sunglasses, which blinded me even more than usual, as everything was reflecting the sun, and I couldn’t see much but neon lights in my eyes. As I walked my usual path from the train, I noted that a sidewalk that had been previously covered with snow had been shoveled, making it easier to walk today. Sweet. I hurried along. I work near water, which always amplifies the wind. Today, the never-ending wind was cutting right through my coat, gloves, and shoes, and my fingers and toes were going numb fast.

I made it to the corner. My office building is just across the street. I’m in the home stretch…hurray! There is only one problem with this street crossing…no traffic light. There is a traffic light on the next block over, but it is way too cold and snowy to walk an extra 2 blocks just to catch the light. Besides, this road isn’t too heavily trafficked, but when the cars come – they come fast. This fact makes me extra cautious, as I don’t particularly want to become an asphalt pancake. So I always wait extra long to make sure there are no cars coming.

When it snows, every corner becomes the home of a giant snow pile, and this corner is no exception. Except today, I found the pile to be larger than it was the day before, which is weird because it hadn’t snowed. I climbed the pile and stood there with the wind constantly cutting through my coat, and waited until I was sure there was no traffic. Then, from a car in the street I hear “Go. Go go! Go now!” the person was obviously trying to get me to cross the street. I took the cue and scrambled over the pile to get across. “Straight, straight…you’re almost there. Go straight!” I had hit the corner of the street “I want to go left!” I yelled back, and turned the corner, hitting a snow drift. What the…? This wasn’t here before… I walked on. Getting to the end of the block, I turned the corner, happy to finally get to the office. Bang! I hit…a car??? What is going on here?? Why is a car parked on the sidewalk in front of the door? I walk around the car, but no door was to be found. Now, I was freaking out. My fingers and toes were completely numb, and I had no clue where I was. Frantically, I took out my phone and tried to launch my GPS app. I had to take off my gloves and could barely operate the phone. Plus, the voice over was on an extremely low volume, since last time I had used it in my house. I tried to get the speaker louder, but my fingers didn’t want to work. Finally I got it loud enough to tell me where I was. The address made no sense. It had the same street name, but was a block over? Panic mode set in. My hands and feet hurt. How could this have happened? I did everything the same as usual…and how am I here? I couldn’t feel my fingers to type an address into my GPS. I stood there frozen, trying to figure out my next plan of action.

Then…an angel emerged from the building I was standing in front of. I never do this, but I called to get his attention. I told him where I was looking for, and after some thought he surmised that it was probably the building across the road. I thanked him, and headed with uncertainty that way. He asked if I needed help. I answered that I would be okay, but after seeing my disoriented condition, he decided to accompany me anyway. As we walked, he asked if it was my first day. “No, I’ve worked here almost 6 months. I have no clue how this could have happened.”

When we came to the building I realized that I had landed diagonally on the opposite corner of the building than I should have been, and we walked around the corner. I thanked him profusely, and went to work, perplexed at what had just happened.

All day I thought about it. I couldn’t figure out how that happened. Finally I came to this conclusion, and it is still the only one that makes sense – When the guy in the car was yelling at me to go, I scrambled over the pile on a diagonal, not straight. Since I wasn’t wearing my sunglasses, I was more blinded than usual, and didn’t see the shadow of my building, and so ended up on the opposite side of the street facing the wrong way. I turned left as usual, but walked down the wrong block. Mystery solved.

It’s rather embarrassing that I got lost on a block I know so well. A little scary too. When pondering over this, I decided that I was going to apply for a guide dog, something I have been considering for months, but always too undecided to start the process. This situation made my decision. I know these dogs can learn frequented locations. There is no way I would’ve gotten lost with a dog.

Long story longer, I have applied and will be writing about my journey to dog-dom.

Meet Bob

Before I get into writing too many posts, I thought I should introduce you to my friend Bob and tell you where he came from, as his name will, no doubt, come up in some of my stories.

So who is this Bob fellow? Well, Bob is the tool I hate to love and love to hate…Bob is a little shorter than me, and never tans. He is stick thin and sports a black flat-top ‘do. He’s always two steps ahead of me, but tends to trip me up from time to time… Bob is my “cane.”

How Bob and I met:
A little over a year ago, I caved. After years of stubbornly refusing, I finally succumbed to learning how to walk with a “long white cane,” also known to some as a “blind cane,” “mobility cane,” or just a “cane.” Well, I was having some trouble dealing with the psychological aspects of even being seen with this staff of white and red reflective “glory,” and even worse was the name. I refused, and still refuse to call the thing by its rightful name. The word “cane” has such negative connotations associated with it in my opinion, conjuring up images of frailty or helplessness when mentioned. So, I began calling the thing my “walking stick,” but even that wasn’t enough.

I hated the thing so much, it was absolutely necessary that I do something to remove some of my negativity towards this object. With that in mind, I decided to personify it by giving it a name, and therefore, a great code name as well. I christened my stick “Bob” about a year ago, and refer to it as Bob since. Why is this relevant? Well, you’ll often find me referring to “Bob” and if you didn’t know what I meant by this, some of my stories may be a little confusing 😉

In essence, that is how Bob came to be. We’ve had a rocky relationship, but are learning to live with one another, one day at a time.