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The Checkered Eye Project

People wearing this symbol have partial blindness aka low vision.

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Irony

 

The Checkered Eye Project is working to get some information to the world. We want people to understand that the checkered eye symbol indicates that its wearer has low vision.  We also want people with low vision to know this wearable symbol is an option for them, and how to get one if they want to try it.

Access to information has historically had major barriers for people with poor or no vision. Braille, audio formats, and adaptive features for computers have all helped quite a bit with that.

So I am now doing a lot of reading and writing.  This can be tough because the information, the tool with which I’m trying to improve one little thing for people with low vision, isn’t always accessible to me.  Then there are the situations when I am reading and writing in my capacity as a volunteer member of the local Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC).  In that scenario I am commenting on safety issues for people with vision disabilities, and also access to information. 

On occasion the document I am asked to read is not accessible to me and my friend Tracey at the Municipal office is terrific for doing what she can until she has a version that’s accessible to me.

 

I’m no literary expert, but I think this fits the definition of ironic.

 

From Dictionary.com Irony: atechniqueofindicating,asthroughcharacterorplotdevelopment,anintentionorattitudeoppositetothat which isactuallyorostensiblystated.

 

So here I am doing my little part to help make the world more accessible to people with disabilities by doing something that my own disability makes difficult.  This was painfully (yes painfully) demonstrated lately when I was looking into adding my two cents to the review of the customer service segment of Ontario’s accessibility law, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).  I’d like to make it clear that there are plenty of people with vision disabilities who use computers with adaptive software and are quite proficient at it.  I however am not one of those people.  What makes it worse just lately is that my set up is getting old and therefore it fails me quite regularly.

 

So I wanted to comment on a law.  In my opinion one should be familiar with something that one wishes to discuss.  So I read it.  I read it.  Such a short and simple sentence to describe the process of seeking, finding, attempting to read, failing, restarting my computer, trying again, quitting, going for a walk, trying again, throwing myself on the floor, blogging, trying again……..

 

Is it like the people with physical disabilities building the ramps? 

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Just a thought.

Dare mighty things?

 

Sometimes you need to conjure up a lot of gumption just to go to the corner store.  This is particularly relevant to people who are new to operating with reduced vision.

 

Due to recent goings on within my circle of acquaintances I have been reminded to take stock of what’s actually important to me.  What really matters? 

 

For a long time I’ve felt it was most important to “dare mighty things” as is outlined in a favorite quote of mine.  The same thing that is expressed by that song that says “if you get the choice to sit it out or dance I hope you dance”. 

 

I still do think those things are important.  I do think life is less regretful if you give things your best shot rather than choosing not to risk failure.

 

These days however I’m also noticing the importance of being able to be okay with the here and now that may or may not involve mighty things.  And the definition of mighty things can have great variation.

 

If you’ve been given a diagnosis that states you may have less than a year to live, do you get busy with your bucket list?  Sure.  If there’s stuff you’ve been planning or waiting on, now’s the time to go for it.  However, my thinking lately is that it’s even more important to be present for whatever’s going on RIGHT NOW.  If you are sitting out this dance, isn’t it best to take note of the music, the feel of your chair, the person with whom you are sitting?  How you are feeling about all that stuff?

 

I’ve noticed that some blind people find that they get great pats on the back for just walking down the street.  Some view this as pity.  Some take it as a kindness and feel good about it.  I can imagine that someone who knows nothing about living without sight might think it is a mighty thing you are doing.  Well, for some it is no big deal, for others it is a huge deal. Take a compliment!

 

Of course there is value in being daring sometimes in life, and it’s also important to be present for whatever is going on while it’s going on.  If you’re looking forward to the moment when you’ll be daring or back at moments where you were, you’re missing all the rest.

 

Here is the quote I mentioned earlier.

In the battle of life, it is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better.

The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually
strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt

 

 

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Some History

As a teen with low vision I told my mother I wanted a t-shirt that read, “I‘m not stuck up, I’m blind!”  I was self-conscious because nobody knew my sight was failing and I didn’t want to seem like a snob when I’d walk past people I knew without saying hi.  I have a condition called Stargardt’s disease, it started affecting my sight when I was 12 and by the age of 18 I was legally blind.  I could function quite “normally” but there were many life situations that were a challenge.

When as a young adult I moved from a small town to a city, I had some close calls in traffic and was advised to use a white identification cane (ID cane). This is the type of white cane that is recommended to people like me who don’t need it as a feeler, just as a symbol.

Many people are unaware that long before we had the mobility techniques that employ the cane as a tool, a white cane was just a symbol. In 1930s Paris, Guilly D’Herbement noticed blind people struggling in traffic. She thought the white sticks being used to direct drivers would be well used by blind people to increase their safety.  She launched an awareness campaign which was taken up by the Rotary Club and proliferated in the US by Lions Clubs.  So the original purpose of the white cane was as a traffic safety beacon.

 

The ID cane did help my safety in traffic because I didn’t worry that someone would think I was an idiot waiting at a green light, so I took fewer risks trying to save my vanity. I quickly learned that the cane was also useful when I needed help, other than crossing the street, while at the same time a bit of a problem for me because I felt self-conscious about people noticing that I was able to see quite a bit; I wondered, should I act blinder than I am when I carry the ID cane? That didn’t feel so good either!

What the ID cane did not convey was the fact that while legally blind I still have some vision.

In the fall of 2000 I found I had a bit of time on my hands as my youngest child had started full time school. One day I attended an open house held by a charitable national service agency for blind people in Canada and got into a chat with people I met there. We started swapping stories about situations when the lack of eyesight hadn’t been the problem but rather the fact that whomever we were dealing with was unaware that we had low vision. One of the staff mentioned that clients had been asking for a badge that would let folks know they couldn’t see well. We all agreed that it was a “great idea” but there was no such thing. Since I had some free time I went home and designed a wearable symbol and called it the Checkered Eye. The Checkered Eye uses a white background with the words Low Vision in black. Between the words is a stylized eye with the iris depicted as a black and white checkered pattern; simple but effective. I sent a letter to the service agency confident the problem was solved.

Perhaps you can imagine how disappointed I was to hear that they would not pursue this idea.

At this point I consulted with many people. I discovered that some with low vision weren’t interested in a wearable symbol, and that many were. Most were thrilled with the discreet option of a pin on their shirt or jacket. People who use walkers or wheelchairs said it would be easier to wear a symbol than to carry an ID cane. I also learned that brain ailments can result in visual deficits and difficulty speaking and so a symbol to point to may benefit some of those so afflicted. I personally noticed that sometimes my cane is hidden behind a check-out counter and so a symbol near my face would help in scenarios like that. I also found that people in hospitality, retail, health care and any service type job, were happy to know when clients might need specific care and thought the wearable symbol was a good idea too.

So I decided to go ahead on my own. After 14 years of grass roots efforts, mostly by people with low vision,  the Checkered Eye is now in use in Canada, the US, New Zealand and Switzerland.

It’s clear that these symbols have their merits and meet existing needs and their usefulness can be cemented by clear understanding.
Remember this: for safety, the white cane, for low vision sensitivity, the Checkered Eye. Pass it on!

 

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