Thursday, September 17, 2015

Invisibility of the Deaf-Blind - #ImNotInvisible Deaf-Blind Campaign

I identify myself as deaf-blind, yet I am invisible to the public because I can act like I talk, hear, and see like anybody else. I'm often asked what country I’m from because I have an European accent despite being born and raised in Michigan. People are surprised when they learn I have vision and hearing loss. 

One time, at a disability in sports awareness event in college, I wanted to do some jet skiing and kayaking they were putting on. I was informed by them only people with a disability can do the events. I stammered, saying I am deaf-blind. They were very apologetic when they learned that, they should knew known better than that because there are disabilities you can't see.

Writing this post on how deaf-blindness is invisible to the public is great timing because there is an on-going campaign on Twitter: #ImNotInvisible. This campaign is to raise awareness on how deaf-blind is its own disability, different from deaf or blind. Deaf-blind is an unique disability for several reasons. Most of us are already familiar with at least some of the issues of the deaf and the blind. At the very least, we know the deaf can't hear so give them hearing aids, and the blind can't see, so give them a guide dog.

Combining the two disabilities, however, don't necessarily mean the deaf-blind share the same issues as the deaf r the blind. It is a whole different disability altogether, and that needs to be recognized by the public. Giving them a hearing aid won't always solve the problem of communication, and a guide dog has to be specially trained to work with a deaf-blind because using the same type of training used on the dog to help the blind don't translate well for the deaf-blind.

It's true the deaf-blind shares life experiences with the deaf and blind. However, the deaf-blind has issues unique to them and the biggest one is the method of communication.

The deaf has the ability to use visual languages to communicate with others, and they miss very little of what goes on around them, but to the deaf-blind, they miss most, if not all, of the visual cues the deaf picks up.

The blind can use their auditory senses to fill in what they are missing, such as a loud crack to signify there is a thunderstorm. If there is no vibration from the storm, then the deaf-blind don't know there is a thunderstorm in their area, and if they're outside, their life could be in danger.

People, even those trained to help deaf or blind people, make the assumption that if a person is deaf-blind, then they  need help with vision or hearing— separately and not together. A lot of traditional mode of communication for one or the other will not work for a deaf-blind. A deaf-blind can't watch a signing interpreter like another deaf person or wear headphones to hear audio description in movies.

One time, a Division of Blind Service counselor sent me a sound recording device to help me in the classroom when I requested for something similar to closed captioning in the classroom, to get what the teacher is saying. The counselor did not understand the needs of the deaf-blind and assumed whatever works for the blind will also work for the deaf-blind.

 For me, the issue of being deaf-blind is different than the average deaf-blind because I have the cochlear implant and was given oral instructions instead of sign language in order that I may speak and hear. I use lip-reading to help me understand people. But, I know in time when my vision gets worse or totally blind, I won't be able to lip-read or read closed captions anymore. I may have to get a second cochlear implant to be able to continue to be a part of the Hearing world, but I may no longer enjoy watching TV.

The needs of the deaf-blind is varied and unique because of the varying loss of both vision and hearing. Some have better sight but no hearing, and others have some hearing but no sight. Which makes the deaf-blind community so unique and different from the blind or deaf.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

3 Horrible Ways to Lead the Blind, and How You can Effectively Guide Them Safely

We have a tendency to want to help people who have a disability, and there is nothing wrong with that! It is a good thing because people with disabilities do need some assistance from time to time.
However, we do need to learn what is the best way we can do to help them without stepping on their dignity and/or lose their respect for you. So, how can you help someone who is blind? How  do you help them navigate around a potentially hazardous situation or to guide them to a table at a restaurant?

title photo with a picture of a cane tapping on brick ground
3 Horrible Ways to Lead the Blind, created with
This might come as a surprise to you, but there exists a list of guidelines on what a sighted person, that is someone who can see, can do to safely lead a blind person. When you follow the etiquette, I guarantee you the blind person will remember you in a positive light rather than a bad one.

The following list are the three methods of leading the blind an average person often commit. To help promote disability literacy, I've listed the standard way to guide a blind person. If you follow the standard guidelines, you're golden.

1 | Holding on to their wrists with both hands

Think about the common phrase, "lead someone by the hand."

It's a natural part of our language, because we tend to lead someone by the hand, sighted or blind. However, in our culture, it is not socially acceptable to hold's a stranger's hand. To compensate, we go for the next best thing—their wrists. When we have someone's life literally in the palms of our hand, we want to be extra careful and hold on to them for dear life, often holding their wrist with both of  our hands.

While their wrist is being held on by us, their hand is holding onto nothing but air, throwing off their sense of balance, and they feel in danger of losing it and either trip or fall. A lot of blind people have experienced tripping over their own two feet because they don't know where the person is leading them. This applies to other forms of bad methods used by the sighted person when guiding the blind.

Let us be reminded that we human beings are not all that fragile as we think others to be, and that includes people who are legally blind and other forms of disabilities. Being held by the wrists with two hands makes the blind feel like they are made of glass, and they sense you don't trust yourself or them to follow your lead. This in turn causes them to not want to trust you. To maintain a two-way street of trust, ask how you can best guide them.

2 | Pulling the Blind From the Front

No one likes to be treated like children, but when the blind is pulled towards somewhere by their wrist, arm or other parts of their body as parents do when they need their kids to go somewhere. It also creates an awkward walking pattern for both yourself and the blind, doubly so if you are walking backwards while craning your head back to check your pathway. Feeling like a kid or walking awkwardly does not inspire a good feeling in a blind individual.

Again, if the blind does not have something to hold on to, it can throw their balance off. Give them something to hold on to when you're leading them somewhere. The awkwardness of being led from the front could also make the blind feel ill at ease because they are not walking as they normally do.

Instead, turn around and face the same direction they are facing, and you will be on the right track to leading the blind.

3 | Pushing From Behind Into an Unfamiliar Place

Do you want to feel like you're going to get murdered in a horror flic? Using someone else as a shield is how you get murdered, more so in a place you have never been to before and it is poorly lit.

If you are not sure where you are going, the blind person can tell you don't know and, consequently, feel unsafe with you. It is a classic case of the blind leading the blind.

Instead of having them in front of you, always keep the blind person just behind you on either of your arm. It also helps to be aware of where you are going even in unfamiliar places. Stop walking if you need to in order to assess the area for the best course of action to take. They won't mind if you took a moment to familiarize yourself with the environment.

4 | How to Lead, The Right Way!

The standard way to lead a blind person is to offer them your elbow or your shoulder, depending on their preference. Ask the blind individual how they prefer to be led. The reason the elbow or the shoulder is the standard is because both body parts are the best places for a blind person to sense the direction you are heading in.

Click to get a larger view of the two diagrams,
leading by the elbow and by the shoulder
Your arm and shoulder is in sync with the direction your body is going. The blind has honed their senses to pick this up.

If you are leading a blind person by your elbow, do not stick your arm out away from your side or keep your arm straight. Doing so hampers their ability to sense where you are going. Keep youar arm close to your side and bent at an angle, If it helps, cros your forearm across your stomach.

Letting them use your elbow or your shoulder also helps them maintain their balance. If they cannot sense where you're going, their balance will be thrown off and become hazardous not only to themselves but to you. It is for both of your safety you keep your arm close to your side and to ask if the way they are being led is comfortable.

It never hurts to ask what works for them when you need to guide them, so, don' tbe shy. When you lead, the two of you become a team, and teamwork is important in order to chieve your goal—getting somewhere safely.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Why There is Such a Term as "Legally Blind"

"Legally Blind" What does THAT mean?How can you be legally blind? Does that mean someone can be illegally blind? You might be thinking, "The terms the government uses don't make sense! They're wasting our tax dollars!"

But there is actually a purpose for the term. The basics of the definition "legally blind" is someone with severe vision loss, and it allows the government to grant individuals as legally blind. This is to help speed up the process of giving benefits from various agencies, particularly since many cannot read print or forms that needs to be filled out. People know how long red tape can take, and to deal with these forms, on top of not being able to read, compounds their dilemma.

As formally defined by American Foundation for the Blind, it states: "Legal blindness is a level of vision loss that has been legally defined to determine eligibility for benefits. The clinical diagnosis refers to a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction, and/or a visual field of 20 degrees or less."

So, you may be wondering what happens if a sighted person, someone without a vision impairment, were to apply for assistance they don't need, would be illegally blind? Not exactly; the term doesn't come up, but instead, what that person did is committing fraud. Nothing else to it.

So, when someone says they are legally blind, it generally means they are not totally blind, but still blind enough to need assistance with reading print or to navigate their way in life. They may be able to see features of your face in detail, but won't see the incoming car until it's too late.

Saturday, September 5, 2015


As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, I have a dream. A dream to inspire people who have disabilities, and want to share their stories. This place is for them to be inspired and to share their stories with others.

I also have a dream of providing resources, education, and inspire the average person on the issues of people with disabilities.

My long-term goal is to start a for-profit business where all employees and writers have a disability.