The Blind Pleading the Blind: Organisations

One thing I learnt in the sight loss awareness training that prompted this series is, every blind or partially-sighted person is entitled to an assessment of their care needs. During that assessment, social services will categorise their needs as Critical, Substantial, Moderate or Low. Shockingly, many fall into the Low category, for which no funding is available. Now, I don’t think I’m someone who likes to play the sympathy card, especially when it comes to being assessed. Organisations will advise you to paint the blackest possible picture, but I think it’s really important to be honest about what I can do, so I don’t currently have any help from social services, but I do have a volunteer from a local organisation come to read my post once a week. This is very beneficial, but you do have to be organised, E.G. what if your volunteer’s been on Wednesday, but it’s someone’s birthday on Monday and you’ve forgotten to ask her to write their card? Thankfully I have friends/family nearby and a lovely, small, family-run card shop. They’ve addressed a last-minute card for me before now, but if your local card shop is a chain and staff are constantly busy, they may not be able to do this.

To help someone with sight loss, I’d really recommend seeing what’s available locally. (Non-UK readers, please bear with me for a minute.) You used to be able to look for your local Association for the Blind. They now have more abstract names like Sight Concern or Vision Link, but I’m sure if you contacted your County Council, they’d point you in the right direction. Though RNIB is a very high-profile charity, I really don’t understand why. Admittedly they do have a great selection of products to help with everyday life, but blind and partially-sighted people still have to pay for these. Now they’ve merged with National Library and Action for Blind People, there are the books and holidays as well, but I think local organisations are far better when it comes to meeting your needs as a blind person. There are more benefits to RNIB when you’re a member, E.G. getting books transcribed into Braille free of charge.

What was that about holidays? Yes, there are holidays that cater specifically for visually-impaired people. Action for Blind People run hotels in Devon, Somerset and the Lake District. A friend has been on several of these holidays and loves them, but because I’m wary of dogs, she’s cautioned they wouldn’t be for me. (In hotels like these, a high proportion of the guests will be guide-dog owners.) If you’re a Christian, you might enjoy a Torch holiday, or if you’re more adventurous, Traveleyes take blind and sighted travellers to all sorts of destinations – Cape Town, Canada, Jersey, York … Can you tell this is the one I’m leaning towards? Sighted travellers receive a discount in exchange for guiding a blind person, so blind people have to pay more in order to subsidise their guides. Fair enough, but it is very expensive. One day when I’ve got the money, I’d love to go to Cape Town, or on the holiday they call Rhythms of the Deep South.

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If you’re supporting someone with sight loss, my recommendation would be to get as much advice as you can, from as many different organisations as you can. I hope this series has given you a starting-point to be able to do that.

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A Great Concept: “Proverbs Prayers” Book-Review

John Mason’s hit the spot with this book, taking every chapter of Proverbs and turning it into a prayer.  If there’s a verse about greed, for example, he’ll personalise it and pray about the greed that might be present in his own life.  Scripture text is included in the book, so you don’t have to read it with your Bible open.  It’s perfect if you’re looking for a short daily devotional – a chapter per day of the Proverbs, and then a handy index of principles at the end, in alphabetical order from achievement to words, with titbits from the author and snappy little quotes.

 

I tend to read Holley Gerth’s “What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days” alongside the Psalms.  “Proverbs Prayers” is similar, in that it would make a very good companion guide to the Proverbs.  It brings out things you might not notice yourself.  I’d recommend it if you’re like me and love your Bible.  My only sadness was his focusing solely on Proverbs, rather than the Bible as a whole, so Jesus and His love for all people doesn’t get a mention in any of the prayers.

The Blind Pleading the Blind: Inclusivity

Some have the idea that blind people will always be the recipients, rather than the givers. One thing I appreciate about where I live is how inclusive people are. Using my church as an example, when someone goes into church, the bulletin for that week is on a piece of paper on their chair. However, it’s also offered by Email. The Email is sent a couple of days prior so that when I go into the service, I’m as informed as everyone else. There is a little bit of room for improvement here because if a blind person went in who wasn’t a member, and they didn’t have their Email address, they couldn’t then access the bulletin. Perhaps one of the people on the door could sit with them before the meeting and read it to them.

When the meeting starts, there’s a time of singing, which is fine if you know the songs, but if an unfamiliar song is up on a screen and you can’t see it, you’re stuck. Worship for All helps churches provide material in large print or Braille, but if you’re in a church where it’s very spontaneous, the worship-leader might not know what the next song is themselves until it comes into their head and they start playing it. As a blind person myself, I wouldn’t want to take away from the flow of a service, I.E. “We must have this song next because it’s the one Sarah’s got in Braille.” I’d hate that, so how to get around this problem? I have had people offer to read the words. While I appreciate this, I’ve always felt it takes away from their worship-experience. If you’re reading a line out-loud, then trying to sing it, what time have you got left to focus on God and how He might be speaking to your heart? What I found really helped when I first started going to a church was, they gave me the songs on a computer-disc (we still had floppy discs back then), but churches could also do this by Email. I could learn the songs at my own pace and, as I got to know them, participate in worship the same as everyone else. Having been on the worship-team at church, when we’ve had new songs to learn, my pastor has Emailed us the lyrics beforehand with a YouTube link to the song. Fantastic idea! And if there’s a blind person in your congregation who’s not on the worship-team, you might want to include them in those Emails too.

Sometimes, people will show a DVD/YouTube video during a sermon. Very often, these videos will be music with pictures on the screen to illustrate a point. I appreciate it more than words can say when someone plonks themselves in the chair next to mine and whispers to me what’s going on. It can be hard to hear them sometimes over the music, but it makes me feel like part of a church-family. If a blind person is new to the church, it might be helpful for the preacher to approach them beforehand, say they’re showing a video, and give them some idea what it’s going to be about. If you’ve got a TV in your house, some programmes will be audio-described. Why not put the audio-description on for a programme or two, to get a flavour of the sorts of things blind people might miss out on?

It’s definitely possible, both at church on Sundays and during the week, for me to give as well as receive. Thanks to the speech software on my computer, I can type. With Voiceover and the Kindle app on my phone, I can review books. Thanks to my Braille Bible, I participate at Bible-studies. Thanks to RNIB’s transcription service, I can go into school assemblies with a Braille copy of the story we’re acting out. I think this needs applauding.

1 Nation, 1 Goal, 1 Faith

I want to express my support to the people of Mali today, after the horrible news of yet another terrorist attack. Their official language is French and their motto translates as “1 nation, 1 goal, 1 faith”, which is a reminder to me of my future.

The Bible says we’re citizens of heaven. If we’re Christians, one day we will be there in the place of our citizenship with one goal – to glorify God, and with our faith firmly in Jesus as our Saviour and Lord.

Have you considered becoming a citizen of heaven? Because I think God would want you to be able to look forward to a future like this during difficult times. Why not hand your life over to Him today? Apologise for any wrong in your life, and accept the forgiveness Jesus bought for you when He died on the cross. When you get to heaven, you’ll be glad you did.

Worship with Darlene: “Worship Changes Everything” Book-Review

If I say this book is by Darlene Zschech, what’s the first thing you think of? Maybe you’ve never heard of her. Maybe you have heard of her, and you’re reminded of her recent struggle with breast cancer. For me, Darlene takes me back to when I first became a Christian. I listened to a friend’s “Shout to the Lord” album, and the end of one of the tracks where she talked about making known to all the world what God had done – not Hillsong Church’s music, but what God had done. When you hear of a book on worship from a worship-leader like that, it’s something to look forward to, so I was really pleased to receive a free copy from Bethany House in exchange for a review.

Had I been choosing the title for this book, I might have gone with “Your Worship, Your Everything”. Darlene prays God will use it to help us live our lives in His presence, and does a good job of exploring several aspects of worship through the various chapters. It seems she’s a lover of God’s Word, like me, as she takes us into some Bible-stories we may not at first associate with worship. I particularly liked her thoughts in chapter 7 on James and John at Gethsemane.

I’d recommend “Worship Changes Everything” not just to worship-leaders or Christian songwriters (who may well be drawn to it anyway), but to anyone who wants to experience God’s nearness and to know His love for them.

The Blind Pleading the Blind: Reading (Part 2)

Nowadays, with the increase in technology, there are so many more options for blind and partially-sighted people. You can purchase speech and magnification software for your PC, and some mobile phones (like Androids or the iPhone) have it built in. I love the Kindle app for my iPhone. There are so many books available and I can read them as soon as they come on the shelves, but websites are also extremely helpful. Did you know supermarket-websites sometimes have cooking instructions on them? With Tesco, if I go to the link for a product (let’s say chicken Tikka Masala), within that link it’ll have the ingredients, nutritional information, how best to store the product and how to cook it. As you can imagine, this is very useful if you live alone and can’t read the packaging. When my shopping’s delivered, if there are 2 ready meals that feel similar, I have an app on the phone called TapTapSee that reads the packets, telling me which one’s which. This also helps with identification of clothes. I don’t have many that feel the same; just a few items, but the app can tell me whether it’s white or grey textile. It doesn’t always get the colours exactly right, but close enough. RNIB sells something called the pen-friend audio-labeller. I haven’t got one, but it sounds wonderful. You record a label and put it on your jar, then when you hold the pen over that label, it reads what you’ve recorded. If you know Mayonnaise lasts 6 weeks from the time you open it, you could record a message saying you opened it on June 10th. Then 5 weeks later when you’re wondering: “When did I open that Mayo? Is it still all right?” you can hold the pen over the label and find out!

Braille books take up significantly more room than print ones, so reading online is a great space-saver. Using the Bible as an example, I have a New International Version (NIV) in Braille. It’s 38 volumes and takes up 2 shelves of a bookcase. Here’s a passage in the NIV:
“In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:11-12).

Now here it is in the New Living Translation:
“Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for He chose us in advance, and He makes everything work out according to His plan. God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God.”

Which did you like best? I liked the second one. It’s far easier for me to understand, but you can’t get that translation in Braille. You can, however, get it on a website called Bible Gateway. This is a fantastic site where you can search for any passage of the Bible in whichever version you choose. You can even search for a phrase or topic. It’s useful to blind and sighted people alike. Years ago, my pastor told me he had 21 Bibles. 21 Braille Bibles would fill my whole house!

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It must be sad for someone losing their site to find they can’t access material the same way, but it’s good that these resources are there if they’re willing to learn and adapt.

The Blind Pleading the Blind: Reading (Part 1)

One of my hobbies is reading. It has been from childhood, so let’s think about reading without your eyesight. Some people can read large print. They might use magnifying glasses, or CCTVs (close circuit televisions) where the page of printed text is placed under a contraption and magnified on its screen, but if you can only see light and dark (like me), large print is no use to you.

I was at primary school in the nineteen eighties when if you couldn’t read print, you learnt Braille. Considering eighty percent of people lose their sight later in life, should they learn Braille or shouldn’t they? If you’ve been a bricklayer or even a guitarist all your working life, you may not have the sensitivity in your fingers to be able to learn it by touch, but many people can – and do. There is an alternative to Braille called Moon, invented in the nineteenth century by the Englishman Dr. William Moon, who lost his vision due to scarlet fever. (I’ve been told Moon is just raised-up print letters, but an H in Moon is nothing like the print letter H!)

Braille was invented by a Frenchman, Louis Braille, which explains why the letter W is out of sequence (there’s no W in the French alphabet). There are 2 types of Braille – grade 1 (where the words are written letter by letter), and grade 2 (where certain letters are joined together – er, ar, ing or ed, for example). If you want to read Braille quickly and proficiently, grade 2 would be your best option, but as RNIB points out, even learning uncontracted Braille opens the door to things like playing cards. I’ve played lots of games with my family; my Braille Scrabble is still a favourite. You can take courses in grades 1 and 2 Braille whether you’re blind or sighted. A sighted person might use it to support someone who’s blind or to proofread Braille books.

If you’re a musician, did you know Braille music is vastly different to the music a sighted person would read? For instance, a C quaver is the Braille letter D. (Why it couldn’t be C, I have no idea!) You add a dot 6 to make it a crotchet, or a dot 3 for a minim. I’d call Braille music incredibly difficult. Also, I read Braille with my left hand. I discovered this when I tried to read with my right and play with my left. I remember how surprised I was that I couldn’t do it!

When I was a child, I joined what was then the National Library for the Blind. They sent a catalogue every so often (when I was smaller, they’d send a print one for my parents) and we’d choose my books. It’s now merged with RNIB and you can find the catalogue of books on their website. You can also find various Christian titles in Braille, large print and audio at Torch Trust.

There’s much more to say about reading. Will you join me for part 2?

Letting Go

I remember someone once describing the Christian life as offering God a blank piece of paper. This has seemed extremely negative to me – this offering of blankness, as though I’m offering nothing, and yet God made me the person I am, I argue inwardly; gave me abilities, emotions and desires. People write about the dream God’s placed within us, but what if it’s our dream? Of our flesh? And what God really wants from us is nothing?

What if it’s only in letting go of our dreams that we make space for Him to fill us with His dreams? “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11); my favourite verse, but to get to that means giving God everything we are and everything we hope to be. This would be fine if we all knew we’d have an Isaac-moment: That moment where Abraham put his son Isaac on the altar to be sacrificed, as instructed, and God’s angel basically said ‘It’s ok, you don’t have to anymore. I just wanted to see if you were willing’ … but will we do as Abraham did? Will we trust God with our lives? Will we do the things He asks us to? Hand over the things He asks us to give Him? Maybe it’s only in letting go of old aspirations that we can grasp true life.

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Linking up with Tuesday at Ten

The Blind Pleading the Blind: Perceptions

Other people’s perceptions can be difficult for those with sight loss. As an example, I go out for lunch quite a bit with a friend. One day, he was shopping locally and a shopkeeper (who’d obviously seen him with me) asked: “Are you a care-worker?” My first response when I hear of something like this is usually to burst out laughing, but then I think about it afterwards. By asking that question, they’re assuming I don’t have friends (like normal people), and if I’m out holding onto somebody’s arm, they must be my carer. This doesn’t give me much dignity and it’s awkward for my friends as well. Similarly, in this great blog-post, a visually-impaired bride-to-be is asked: “Who’s going to be a bride’s-maid then?” because she’s looking for a bridal shop, and the person has assumed she couldn’t possibly be the bride!

A few years ago, someone actually said to me: “You have physical needs; I have emotional needs”. This shocked me and I didn’t know how to respond, but I’ll tell you now I have emotional needs as well, and many times the emotional needs are far greater than the physical.

For me as a blind person, it can be very easy to get disorientated. (Put a blindfold on and try to find your way around your house to get an idea what it’s like without sight.) I found out relatively recently that my eye-condition affects my sense of direction, so it can take longer for me to get routes into my head. If I’ve practised a local route regularly, I’m fine with it, but if I’m walking it having not done so for a while, I can get as lost as if I was walking it for the first time. The problem is that when you get lost or feel nervous, strangers can treat you like you’ve got a screw loose. “Are you all right? You look confused today,” they say, in a voice loud enough for anyone nearby to hear. Um – thanks! The truth is that sometimes I can go out with complete confidence, but I can also have off days like everyone else.

I suppose another perception I don’t particularly like is a more general one: That people will want to be grouped together with those who are the same as them. There are various groups for people with a visual impairment. My local branch for the blind meets roughly once a fortnight, but as someone recently pointed out, there’s nothing in those meetings for the more active person. Not everyone wants to sit playing Bingo or listening to an entertainer, but some people might. For visually-impaired Christians, there are Torch Fellowship Groups or the Disabled Christians Fellowship, but personally, I’d rather spend time with people who don’t necessarily have disability in common.

So, to summarise this post, everyone’s different. Blind people are capable of having friendships/relationships and yes, even getting married! And we do have feelings, which can be hurt the same as anybody else’s. All these seem obvious to me, but because of my experiences and those of others, I thought I’d point them out.

The Blind Pleading the Blind

I just wanted to share with you something I learnt this week. I went to do a half-day of sight loss awareness training, which might sound a bit daft, but my blindness was caused by prematurity and my being given too much oxygen. Having been blind all my life, I don’t know what it’s like to suddenly lose my sight.

I’m not sure how this plays out across the world, so I’ll just tell you what happens here. In the UK, when you’re first diagnosed with sight loss, you apparently get a phone call from social services. You’ve had a hospital appointment with an ophthalmologist, who’s passed your information on to them, and they ask you whether you want to be registered (I didn’t know registration was voluntary). Legally, you’re blind if your sight is so poor that you “Can’t do work for which eyesight is essential”.

So, let’s say you agree to be registered, and they agree to come in twelve months to see how you are. What happens during those first twelve months, especially if you have no support network? And when they’ve visited and assessed you, and given you what you need, if you have an eye-condition where your sight deteriorates gradually, common sense tells me that in a few years, you’ll need more than you did at the time of their assessment.

The organisation I trained with went to see a lady who’d decided to apply for a guide-dog. (I wasn’t asked to keep this story confidential, so my guess is she’s given permission for it to be shared.) The lady had been diagnosed; she’d waited the first year; she’d had her assessment from social services, and she’d been given a symbol cane. This is exactly as it sounds: A cane that symbolises to others your lack of sight. A person can use one of these if they’re partially-sighted. It’s a short cane they hold across their body as a symbol, while still using their vision to get around.

Years passed before the lady I mentioned applied for a guide-dog. When the organisation went to see her, she was walking the streets bent double, dragging this symbol cane along the edge of the kerb and following the double-yellow lines on the road. She’d had no formal mobility training and her sight had deteriorated so much, this was the only way she could cope. I think they were as shocked as I was, and gave her the support she needed. They trained her up with a long cane (which comes approximately to your breastbone and you swoosh it from left to right in front of you, so it hits any obstacles before you do). Suddenly she could stand up to her full height, look straight-ahead, and walk along the pavement without having to follow the kerb. It made a huge difference.

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Why am I telling you this? I suppose to highlight the lack of support out there for someone who’s just lost their sight, and to encourage you if you know someone in that situation to please, please try to be there for them. It’s a huge adjustment they’re having to make. Maybe they won’t want to discuss it at first, but it might help to have someone there when they do.

But once they start talking, how do you handle it? What can you do to support them? I thought perhaps we could explore this over the next few weeks. Are you with me?
(Linking up with Tuesday at Ten on this week’s prompt: Change)