Archive for February, 2009

Survivor: Mardi Gras Edition

Posted in LCB on February 27, 2009 by Brian

I am a Mardi Gras survivor. Costumes, masks, beads, extreme consumption of food and libations, and all manner of debauchery. This is the city of New Orleans at Mardi Gras. The Louisiana Center for the Blind students, myself included were in full attendance of the events from Sunday afternoon to Wednesday morning this week. The weather was moderate. Not too cool and not hot. The humidity was fair, but the urine index was well over 1000.

This was the first time in my adult life to experience such craziness and fun. My family and I lived in New Orleans about 35 years ago. I was in Kindergarten. I have only a few memories from that time. It is so much different than I remember. We all get but one chance to look at things with wonderment and exhilaration. Our childhood is full of those one time experiences. During our lives, we cross oceans of time, leaving our childhood upon each change in the tides. I count myself fortunate. For me the tides changed, as this time without eyes, I saw even more. The smells of Cajun foods and sounds of Jazz bands, marching bands, street vendors, people laughing and singing…just sublime. We were paired in groups of 5 students and two staff members. One staffer sighted and the other blind. It was a superb mix. I will admit I was a little disappointed that we did not get to choose our own groups, however, I am glad the choice was made for us. I got to know some wonderful souls and make new friends. Places we visited included “Bubba-Gump” seafood restaurant, The House of Blues, Cafe Dumond, the French Market, Thearella’s, Handgrenades of Bourbon Street, Marie Laveaux’s House of Voo Doo. We also took a Ferry ride across the Mississippi River. ‘A most humbling experience.

Of course, the trip was not completely without incident. The following is a commentary based on the less than favorable events of this week in New Orleans. That being said, I must preface this with one fact; I have a complete absence of malice. I had a few occurences with pedestrians trying to save me from myself. I was pushed, pulled, yanked, grabbed, and generally manhandled and treated as someone without any common sense. No, I am not bitter. I would just prefer not to be forced into compliance to the whims of others. The sighted most assuredly do not allow people to treat them that way. Just because my eyes don’t work does not mean my mind is gone.

If you see a blind person with a cane; keep the following in mind. First, they are not faking it. No one in their right mind would be faking it. Second, they are not called “blind sticks” . People can be blind but not sticks. The White Cane is our tool of travel. It provides the feedback necessary to negotiate our environment. Additionally, we use other means such as Sun cues, echo location and traffic patterns to ascertain our position and direction. Next, shouting unsolicited directions is inappropriate. Those would include: “there is a pole in front of you, go left”, “keep straight”, “you are doing great, keep right for 10 more steps”, and my personal favorite, “excuse me, but I believe you are lost”. These are not helpful. We are not lost, and we do not count steps. If a blind person asks you for directions, pointing with your hands and saying “that way” does not help. Close your eyes and give yourself pause, then describe the way. It is two blocks west, etc. So when you see a blind person with a White Cane or Cane as we refer to it, please know that the person using the cane did not just get it yesterday at Wal Mart. That blind person has been trained how to use it. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask us questions. So many people think it is a social faux pas, they never dare ask what they really want to know. We actually enjoy educating the sighted on alternative methods. It does not hurt our feelings. The only real travesty is not having a conversation.

The parades were fantastic. Bacchus, Zulu, and Rex parades were full of surprises and of course lots of beads, coconuts, etc. Grand Marshals included Val Kilmer and Kid Rock. I was able to catch some beads with my face. I don’t recommend this method (it hurts). Some of the women there in New Orleans measured their bead acquiring acumen by… shall I say they “racked” up.

Overall, the experience was one to place in the thumbs up category. I will definitely return to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. I highly recommend you take the trip. It is well worth it.

Progress

Posted in LCB on February 20, 2009 by Brian

I am making quite a bit of progress in many of my classes.  Actually, I am doing well in all; save one: Braille.  That stuff is harder than Chinese Algebra.   Rather, I should say that the code is not complicated, it’s my ability to tell one cell from another.  I have yet to develop a sensitivity which will allow me the essence of reading.  My instructor, Mr. Whittle, said that I am a highly analytical reader.  In one way, a compliment, but not for Braille.  It must not be over-analyzed.  I have to relax and trust my first instinct. 

I am a little ahead of schedule in Shop class.  I have used a radial arm saw, a drill press, a table saw.  Next is the band saw.  My measurements are within 1/32nd of an inch.  We measure and cut within that tolerance.  When you take away visual and make it mechanical; measuring and cutting is more accurate.  This class is mainly a confidene builder.  It has done wonders for mine!  Next tool is the  band saw, then router, then sander.  After I complete the repetitive tasks of “braille blocks”, I will be able to start on my graduation project.  This usually takes 4 months depending on the bomplexity of my choice of project.

Home Economics is a breeze.  I have been familiar with cooking a long time.  Many of the people here have never cooked for themselves, so the curriculum is designed around the newness. My instructor, Mr. Piercey, is totally blind like most of my instructors and he gives me free reign to create.  I do not have to follow the recipes on cassette tape.  As long as I make the required items and meals, I can use whatever recipe I want.   I enjoy that class.  Yesterday, stir fry chicken and vegetables, today maybe a meatloaf.  I do love to eat!

Computer class is a combination of learing Microsoft Office programs such as Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, etc., and navigation of JAWS (a screen reader) we do not have monitors.  Fun!! Love it!  Well, got to get ready for class now.  More later.

Still alive!

Posted in LCB on February 19, 2009 by Brian

Sorry.  It has been too long since my last post.  I have been working very hard at this blind thing.  It is not very easy.  Yesterday’s turn of events prompted me to write again.  Cane Travel Class was a disaster.  Ms. Arlene, my instructor took us on a journey…and we got lost.   We ended up on an interstate on ramp.  That was interesting to say the least.  All this was after my cane broke getting caught in the sidewalk crevice, but that was after I stepped into what seemed like a small pond, but in reality was a GIANT puddle.  Now my shoes are wet, cane broken, then lost as Waldo.  What a day. 

 Well, now I am counting down the days to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the city of excesses.  We are leaving Sunday morning and will return Wednesday afternoon.   Eating at Cafe Dumond, drinking at Pat O’Brien’s, and Jazz at  the House of Voodoo.  Stay tuned for more!

Solo!

Posted in LCB on February 3, 2009 by Brian

I did it!  I traveled with only my cane and only 4 senses.  You know, without sight.  I went 8 blocks from the Center to my apartment on my own.  I crossed two busy intersections using only the traffic sounds and echo location as my guides.   I realize it doesn;t sound like much.  I was quite thrilled at navigating my way through a town I barely know. 

 

One additional success to report.  I have measured, grid, indented, and drilled a block of wood using a click ruler, a square, a scratch awl.  Also, I set up a drill press finding a 5/16ths drill bit with a click ruler, set the depth, and drilled precisely in a grid/holes 3/4 inch apart.  Again, all with no eyes!  It was so cool!

Almost

Posted in LCB on February 1, 2009 by Brian

Let me begin by stating upfront I almost did not make it two weeks.  On day 9, I was so very frustrated with the struggle, I told the Director of the Center I wanted to quit the program.

I found Braille and and Shop classes incredibly frustrating.  I am very homesick.  I miss everyone back home terribly.   The combination of those things pushed me to what I felt like was over my limits.

Needless to say, I am still here.  The Director, Pam Allen, talked me down from the ledge and reminded me that if I went back home,  I would not be homesick anymore, however, I would not have the skill set I need to make it with the rest of my life.

I met Brett who had just graduated Friday.  He told me that he almost quit on two occasions.  He told me to stick it out or I would regret it.  Brett said that he reminded himself almost daily why he was here and not to think of this training as being selfish, but rather a small time investment that would reap benefits for a lifetime.  That was enough.   Regardless of how frustrating things become here,  it is not impossible, just hard.  I admit it is most likely the most challengingendeavor I have ever undertaken.

I felt like I was failing and I have always been a quick learner.   I am glad I stayed that day as two of my instructors stated I was doing very well in their class.  “So Cane Travel and Home Economics are currently my strengths.  It was then I realized that I was being my own worst critic and being a perfectionist.  It is not about being perfect, but rather, it is about a process.  I will get off my own back and allow myself to make mistakes.  With that weight lifted, and the great support system back home, I will succeed.