Mobility Mix

When I was first confronted with the idea of using a long white mobility stick, I laughed. This white cane was an accessory for the blind beggars on street corners. I struggled to conceive how it would become a part of my life.

The first time I held one it was placed in my hand by my new friend, Barry. He kindly handed me one of his old canes to try out and gave me a quick five minute lesson on how to navigate with it. This was fine with me as I have always been a fast learner. I had the attitude of, “Let me just figure it out.” I would fall and stumble, bounce off some walls and furniture, get a few cuts, scrapes and bruises and eventually just find a way to manage.

There were indeed many falls and blood shed, some black eyes and even broken fingers after a car boot lid was slammed closed onto my hand. I did ultimately get my act together. I even managed to drag myself to the local society for the blind for just one very basic but fruitful mobility lesson with a friendly instructor, Nombusa.

I had no idea how a long white cane would become such an important tool for me. It is the first thing I reach for when stepping out of my front door.

It s a great tool and invaluable to a blind person. I have a collapsible one that is made out of carbon fiber. it has a roller ball on the front that is the shape of a marshmallow, a rubber grip that has one square side, the same kind you would find on a golf club. the cane comes up to the top of my shoulder. Speedy walkers prefer longer canes. There are many options available. Some are made of fiberglass, some out of aluminum and some even sport fancy electronic devices that beep when you get close to a wall and that sort of thing. The blind community has a varied set of rules about what is right.

So, how does it work? Let me try explain as best as I can. 

The automatic response when walking with your eyes closed is to reach out in front of you and feel your way forward by waving your arms in front of you to ward off danger, kind of like a zombie. But with the stick in hand, it simply becomes an extension of your arm. It allows you to feel your path in a sweeping motion in front of you as you walk. This prevents stumbling over invisible obstacles. Well, most the time. It is not fool proof. Tree branches are my worst enemy as the cane does not calculate what is coming to get me from above. The cane gets held in front of you, more or less to your middle. You sweep the ground either by rolling the tip or tapping it from left to right. The left swing predicts where your left foot will land and vice versa.

Very important is to never ever take a persons cane in hand and point it at an obstacle. This is similar to grabbing a sighted persons arm and moving their fingers in the direction of a challenging obstacle. Remember, we can’t see the obstacle and if our cane control is taken from us, well, then we can’t feel it either. Rather use words to explain  what is happening.

I have even heard about a guy who was briskly walking along his normal daily route. His path followed a sidewalk that he had walked alone hundreds of times. On this particular day, he was moving along at his normal speed, feeling every bump and crack. Stepping over the familiar potholes and cracked pavers. Then all of a sudden he was being rushed to hospital for a set of stitches across his forehead. All complements of a builder’s scaffold that had been positioned right aver the side walk in his path. Construction men were repairing a light and by the time they realized that this poor old chap was coming, he was on the floor out cold with blood drizzling out of his crown.

My personal opinion is to use the cane and walking style that feels right for you. For example, when I walk on a trail or long hike, I have a small loop strap. I hold one side and the person guiding me holds the other. This is a lot easier than keeping your arm up and gripping onto the elbow, which can be exhausting for both the guide and guided person. There are also different canes for different applications. Ones with giant roller balls for outdoor hiking trails, etc. I have yet to play with one of these.

The most important rule is to communicate properly. If uncertain, stop and take a minute to explain the obstacle clearly.

For me, noisy crowds and windy days are the enemy. We as the blind generally see with audio and touch. When these senses are impaired in any way, it creates a debilitating environment that is very difficult to navigate successfully without assistance.

I hope that explains more about how I use my white cane, mobility stick, light saber, ninja sword, self stick, fighting stick etc. You can call it whatever you like, just know that for me, it is like an extension of my arm. Move over Inspector Gadget.

Lastly, I have a couple of spare canes and would welcome any of my sighted friends to come and let me give you a taste of how easy and hard it is and can be. Just bring your own blindfold.

#BlindManCan

 

Connecting and Communicating #BlindManCan

Not that many years ago, becoming blind meant that you were issued with a begging bowl and a blindfold. In the more recent past and present day, it means that you are taught how to weave baskets or perhaps string beads. This is all fast changing with technology advancing further than ever before and blind people putting themselves out there, showing the world that they still can play a full and fruitful part in society.

Let me be totally honest here and admit that I too was once unaware of the plights and situations that the visually impaired live with and encounter every day. That is until I become a blind man myself. I guess I would have also directed a comment or question to a blind person’s sighted companion, “What will he have to drink?”. I too would have been startled and confused by the blind person’s ability to communicate by email and social media. I perhaps would have also tried to say politically correct things like, “You are so inspirational!” and told the person how amazed I was at their ability to function with such a crippling affliction. The reality of a blind person’s world is, however, very far from what I  and most uneducated sighted people know.

So, how does a blind person communicate with technology? Let me try and explain. The most valuable tool that allows us to use computers and mobile phones is something called a screen reader. This is a little robotic voice that not only reads out and audio describes whatever icon is under our mouse as we hover around our devices. It also speaks letters, words and sentences to us as we type them. I can scroll around the home screen for example with this voice over screen reader software switched on and the voice tells me what icon I am hovering over. From my email programme to Facebook and Twitter, from YouTube to a Word Document, I navigate primarily with the arrow keys on my laptop and then hit enter to select the last read button. It’s that simple. 

On my mobile phone touch screen it works almost the same. I either slide around and listen to the labels or flip my finger from left to right or vice versa. I can open the last read icon by double tapping the screen to select.

So, let me take you through the step by step way that I would create a new Tweet. I first need to scroll to the correct app on my iPhone. The voiceover software reads the buttons as I scroll through: mail, contacts, calendar, clock, Facebook, messenger, Facetime, Skype and then Twitter. As soon as the name of the icon I want is read, I stop scrolling and give the screen a double tap and the app opens. I then flick through the top of the page until I hear the icon labelled ‘compose a new Tweet’. I double tap it and it opens a text pop up. I then have three choices by which to compose my message. I can either slowly ‘type’ my tweet on the phones screen using the same touch and double click method; I can click on the dictate button and speak my message which is transcribed as text for the Tweet, or I can pick up my bluetooth keyboard and just type. I normally choose the keyboard. 

As I type, the letters are read out to me – in this way I can be sure to check my spelling.  When the space key is pressed I hear the words. Once I have completed composing my tweet, I again touch the phones screen and move around to the ‘Tweet now’ button. A double tap here and my new message is shared with the world.

I know this may seem tedious and yes, at times it is, but it is better than nothing. Communication has a way of freeing a blind person otherwise trapped and confined to spending many hours alone waiting for a sighted guide to assist. 

Thanks to technology, I am able to use much the same system to post status updates on Facebook, skype chat with friends all around the globe, listen to audio described books, send and receive my own emails, research things on google, stream my favorite radio stations and listen to you tube clips. A blind person is able to do pretty much anything that a sighted person can, given the correct equipment and training. Unfortunately much of the world does not ever get to play with these toys and is left to the baskets and beads.

So that brings me to my point, is it really the person that is disabled or is it the environment that forces them to be disabled?

There are a few ways that you can make yourselves more accessible to the visually impaired. Some are really simple and some are a little more tricky. Let’s start with the easy. Everyone can post a description when sharing their selfies on social media. Screen readers do describe pictures somewhat, it my say ‘A man standing in nature’. Whereas a description written by the person who took the picture can be much more descriptive, ‘This is a picture of Chris standing under the shade of a massive oak tree with a cascading waterfall to his rear. This photo was taken in the wine lands region near Cape Town during a short walk I did in the forest today.’ 

Ok, that is maybe a heavy embellishment and it is not really expected unless you were sending that pic to me or posting it on my wall and tagging me in it. I would really just be happy to know who is in the picture. I really don’t have to be told what clothes they are wearing. I imagine them all naked anyway. Ha ha.

The more tricky way to help is to get the software and app developers to properly label their buttons on their programmes and websites. Imagine me wanting to stream my favorite radio station on my iPad and the button that says play is not a word but rather a picture. My little robot voice just says ‘button’ then and I have no way of knowing whether I will accidentally delete the app or hit play. Guess what, most of the time, I move on to a different station.

Another simple way to connect with a blind person is to just speak to them. Don’t be afraid, we are not demons or possessed. We don’t know that you have come into the room or left. Except for our heavy footed friends that is. Just say hello and until I recognize your voice well enough to greet you by name, tell me who you are.

Now all of this is really simple, but who am I to judge? I would have made exactly the same mistakes and bad judgement just three years ago when my eyes still worked. So let me not rant, but rather try to educate and show you that a blind person is very capable if the right circumstances exists.

Blind people have normal jobs and do all the things that sighted people do. We like good food, travel, music and nature. We just see everything in a different way jusing our remaining four senses. This is sometimes a really good way of experiencing things and can even lead to more appreciation of the situation.

So let me leave you with this, It took me going blind for me to see things more clearly than I ever had before. Remember that the number one rule when meeting a blind person is to treat them just exactly the same as any other individual. #BlindManCan

Aquarium Delirium

As a blind person it is never easy to visit a tourist attraction and enjoy it to its full. This is obviously even harder when the place is bustling with other frenzied visitors during the peak season. In my experience, the worst thing however is for staff members to have absolutely no training in how to interact with a blind visitor. This was unfortunately the case in my interaction and visit to the Two Oceans Aquarium.

I was excited to have my sister-in-law and her husband visit along with their daughter, my 2 year old niece. I set up an agenda and scheduled visits to many of the highlights and tourist hot spots that the mother city has on offer. I was well aware that during this peak and crazy holiday time, everything would be really busy and manic. I was prepared for the worst. The crazy season is not impossible, just a little more of a challenge than usual. I was up for the challenge. After all, South Africa has recently run a big advertising campaign promoting itself as an accessible destination for visually impaired visitors. I was more than willing to put it to the test.

From visiting the crowded beaches to the penguin colony at Betty’s Bay, from the shops and markets scattered around the Western Cape, I was very impressed. Staff everywhere were kind and courteous, always making me feel comfortable and safe. Then we visited the Two Oceans Aquarium at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and everything went balls up. Not because of the selfie snapping crowds, not because of the wild children running amok, not because of the access, but because of the poorly trained and rude staff.

It is almost as if they did not prepared to deal with a blind person and would have rather been at home watching the television or sleeping. Very disappointing.

From the first contact by email asking when the best time to visit is and informing the aquarium that I would be blogging about my visit, to the actual visit, the interactions were challenging.

My email enquiry was to ask whether they charged for a blind visitor. Yes, they do. This is unusual as I obviously cannot see the exhibits. I was however told that my guide, aka wife, would not be charged. So I booked three tickets for the two visitors and myself and left the booking for my wife and niece out (children under 4 years old are free). On the 28th of December, we, informed by the recommendations in the correspondence we had had, arrived in the late afternoon.

It was crazy busy and perhaps would have been easier had we come first thing in the morning, as per my original idea. This was a question I had asked the recipient of the email, but she had said that afternoons were better. As I said, the crowds were not the problem anyway, this was expected.

At the door the staff member told me that I was misinformed and that neither my wife nor I needed to buy a ticket. Well, she actually told this to my wife as she refused to speak to me, commenting “He can’t see anything anyway”. It was as if I was not there in fact. I inquired about a refund for the one extra ticket we had paid for and she just brushed it off and ignored me while saying to my wife that there was nothing she could do as they do not refund online tickets. Like water off a ducks back she just refused to deal with us. Even leaving us standing at the counter while she disappeared for a long time to go and deal with a different issue that another client was having.

At the gate we were shoved through like cattle coming off a truck at a slaughter house. The lady that had to stamp my arm, did not speak to me but grabbed my hand and hit it a few times in the way that I imagine a cow would be branded before shoving me and my visitors through the door and turning her back on us.

Into the flow of visitors we moved feeling rattled and overwhelmed.

I asked my family to get me to a place to sit out the crowds where I could wait while they wondered around. The predator tank would be perfect. No wait, this was not open. Unusual as it is peak season? I was informed that their was a sign at the front door informing the patrons of this. But perhaps this was just a maintenance issue and not poor communication?

Eventually a sticky seat was found and I sat to catch my breath. The noises and smells were overwhelming and unpleasant, but hey I was there for my niece and would just bite my lip and chill for a couple hours while she was shown around by her folks. My wife bought me a disturbingly sweet and not very icy slushy. I folded up my white mobility stick and sat to wait. Then someone walked right into me. Guess what? It was a staff member. Sigh.

After a few minutes more we just got up and left. Not without more obstacles and rude inconsiderate staff avoiding us en route to the door that is.

My visit to the Two Oceans Aquarium was an overwhelming and disturbing low point of an otherwise great holiday with my family. The sad part is that the crowds were not the issue, the hectic traffic and tight parking was not an issue, the loud noises and overwhelming odour were not an issue either. This was all expected. The problem was the staff and their total lack of competence when dealing with a blind visitor. A little accessibility training would have gone so far to make this experience an enjoyable one. I put it down to miss management. Unfortunately, at this stage, I would not recommend the aquarium as a spot to visit for a visually impaired person. They don’t care about the business we bring (I had still paid R405 for my family to enter). Never mind the 285 million blind visitors they are inaccessible to, their families and friends coming along with them are obviously also not important.

Next time, I will try a different attraction and let’s hope that the staff are a little more aware. My recent TEDx talk is all about the challenges of sight loss and how, in a accessible world, a #BlindManCan do anything that a sighted person is able to. Well, the Two Oceans Aquarium is not part of this accessible world.

#Accessible #Blind #BlindScooterGuy #BlindManCan

Spectacular BeSpecular

 

I have not always been blind. When I lost my sight and became another statistic among the 285 million visually impaired people around the globe, I truly did not know how I would manage. The solitude and confinement was paralyzingly. It is as if you are locked in a prison cell while the world still moves around you and you are unable to do anything but sit and wait.

Slowly as my confidence improved, certain activities became manageable, like finding my way around my home. I quickly learnt about accessibility and the many people and organisations who are working hard to create inclusive environments through the correct application of accessible principles. There are however some tasks that are seemingly insurmountable – these are the real challenges that a visually impaired person faces.

The number one wish that all blind people have is to be as independent as possible in our daily tasks. Tasks that may seem simple to a sighted person can be next to impossible for a blind person without seeking help.

Reading the label on food stuffs, without unnecessarily opening and spoiling the contents, for example, can be so frustrating. No matter how many times I ‘will’ my sense of smell to tell the difference between a can of peas and a can of peaches, there is always a 50% chance I will open the wrong thing. Challenges like this have made me want to scream, swear, jump up and down and sometimes spontaneously combust into flames.

Now asking someone is an easy solution, if there is a sighted person around, but that always makes me feel like a burden and annoyance.  I am braille illiterate, so a labelling machine does not help me either.

I sometimes feel that I would rather just go without than have to ask for guidance. Other times, I like to play a game akin to Russian Roulette to see if the tin can I am about to crack open contains coke or beer.

When a new App, called BeSpecular, was launched earlier this year to bridge the gap between the blind and sighted, I must admit, I was a bit unsure. The app endeavors to pair sighted volunteers with a blind user to assist with resolving daily challenges that blind people encounter. How would it work and how easy and accessible would it be? How long would it take to get a reply, if ever?

I was surprised at how intuitive it was to send through my first request. I opened the app and followed the simple instructions to snap a picture of the onion I was about to chop. I then recorded an audio message asking if it was a red or white onion. The app told me, within seconds, that a person was responding. A short while later I had three replies and confirmation that it was in fact a red onion. Brilliant.

As a blind user, I can chose to receive more than one response. If I am not satisfied with the initial feedback, I can leave the request ‘active’ or, by a simple double tap of my finger, I can close my request. I can also rate the responses, thereby giving the most descriptive sighted volunteers the proverbial cyber high five. I was suitably impressed.

Over the following days, I challenged the app with all sorts of questions. If volunteers were willing to ‘loan’ me a moment of their eyesight, I was going to take it. It has been a life saver for me and given me back some of my independence. From checking the labels on food stuffs, or anything for that matter, to getting volunteers to read me the dosage on a medicine bottle, this app really works.

I have used it to check the reading on my tape measure and to get the wires the right way around when putting a plug on my new toaster. I am sure that if you chat to any blind people they will tell you their own stories of going out with mismatched socks or shirts that are really not a good match. I have even managed to go the entire day wearing two slightly similar but very different in color shoes. This will never happen again thanks to this amazing new app.

Being blind is always frustrating, this feeling never goes away. Having a pair of ‘on demand’ eyes readily available is what I call accessibility in action.

If you are a blind person, like me, I challenge you to download and try the BeSpecular app for yourselves. It is a free download and free to use. It can be obtained for both iOS and Android devices. Try it! You have nothing to lose and I can guarantee it will change your life.

#BlindManCan

It’s Christmas time. I am excited. I have some money to spend and a list of items burning a hole in my pocket. My family and friends are going to be so excited and proud when I surprise them with unexpected gifts. I fire up my laptop and start shopping.

I manage to find the website for a local shopping company. I know that all the items I want to purchase are available from this supplier. I sit back and start to scroll down until I hear my screen reader announce that the cursor is hovering over the search button. Then what should be a simple, fast and pleasant experience turns into a nightmare.

You see, I am blind and I struggle to navigate a store’s website that is not properly labelled. This means that it is inaccessible to me. This means that regardless of how close to the top of the google search engine this website appears, it simply does not get my money.

Wikipedia describes accessibility to mean when a product, service, software, a device or an environment is designed with the disabled in mind.

There are 285 million visually impaired, or legally blind people on the planet. If that little shopping cart on the top right hand corner of the webpage is not labelled properly as the checkout, my audio navigation system simply won’t find it. The lack of accessibility in the website design makes it impossible for me to spend my money. This means that this online store does not get to do business with me or the 285 million other blind people just like me around the globe.

As a disabled person, I always say that I do not want special treatment; I do however wish for equal treatment.

Failing to label the buttons, icons and pictures on a website, an app or a software program is an oversight that is easy to rectify. If it cost a company to make their service accessible, then perhaps I would be more forgiving. It is however nothing more than the fault of unaware developers that is to blame. When creating their platform, all that needs to happen is for the buttons to carry a written description in the template that houses them. It is that easy. No need for a fancy voice recording or special software to accommodate this functionality in the website build – just label your buttons!

Let me take a minute to explain what a picture looks like to me and what it could look like. So, lets for a minute say that one of the items on my shopping list is a collapsable camping chair. Yes, even us blind people do like to go camping, don’t be shocked.

When I reach the picture in question, my voice over reads what has been written in the label. It says, in its little robot like voice, “CHAIR”.  That’s all. I move on and don’t select it for my trolley because I don’t have a bloody clue what it really is.

So, what would a more suitable picture description read? Let me be brave and embellish a little. In a perfectly accessible world, the screen reader would say, “ DARK GREEN COLLAPSABLE CAMPING CHAIR WITH ALUMINIUM LEGS, WEIGHS 5 KILOGRAMS AND FOLDS TO A SIZE OF 80CMS X 20CMS. WHEN FULLY ERECTED IT CAN CARRY A PERSON WEIGHING UP TO 100 KILOGRAMS. IT HAS A NICE STRONG BACK SUPPORT AND A WELL CUSHIONED SEAT. IT ALSO HAS A HANDY IN ARM DRINK HOLDER.”

Did you know that search engines, like google, will prioritize your website in the search listing if it is totally accessible? In most countries, lawmakers have listed that software and devices must be accessible. Let me again remind you, there are 285 million people that you are not doing business with if your site is not accessible. And that is just the blind community. What about the rest of the disabled population of the planet?

All I want is to buy a dark green collapsable camping chair that can hold my hot sweaty bum, and my chilly ice-filled drink comfortably when I next go camping. It would be so wonderful if I could buy this chair without asking a sighted person to assist me.

Independence is something that visually impaired and blind people crave on a daily basis. Having to ask for help is something that is only done when absolutely necessary and is never easy. Blind people hate to be a burden on their family and friends. Often, the visually impaired don’t even have someone readily available to help, they are really screwed. The internet has brought so much ease and simplicity to the world’s day to day tasks. This power is perhaps even more important for the blind community. It has the potential to make the world accessible to individuals who may never had had the opportunity of this type of exposure before.

Everyone reading this article can make themselves more accessible. It is as easy as labelling your photos before publishing and sharing them on social media. It is as easy as asking the blind person if they need assistance rather than turning to their sighted companion and asking them what does he or she need? I have found myself sitting in restaurants on a dozen occasions just to have the waiter approach the table and after realizing that I am blind, turn to my good wife and ask her what I would like to eat. The number one rule is that although I am blind, I still have a voice and am able to let you know exactly what I would like to eat.

This general lack of awareness is not limited to restaurants and waitron staff. In banks as well as retail stores, I have been led to the counter where the staff member again turns to my good wife and asks her what I need. Funny at times, but mostly disappointing.

Accessibility, in most cases does not have to cost anything more than some training. It does not have to be an obstacle for companies. It should rather be considered an essential part of the core values that is integrated into the design and development of their business mission or service. It should just be a natural part of how people do business. It is however forgotten or neglected most of the time.

I guess that the fact that I had not ever met another blind person before becoming one myself would have probably made me just as guilty as most. Perhaps I would have looked to the sighted person and asked them what their blind companion wanted or needed. Perhaps I to would have been an idiot. Perhaps yes, but I certainly hope not.

So what do we as the blind community do? We get furious. We go into a rage when our sighted guide dogs are not allowed access. We swear at the top of our voices when we are not able to complete a task alone. We cry. We wait. We sit in our prison cells and wish for an easier road.

Yes, all true, but then, hopefully, we act. We educate and encourage. We stand up and speak. We plant seeds for a more accessible future. A more aware world. Some of us manage to stop, breath and think and when the obstacles are totally insurmountable, we just keep trying. Most of the time with sheer determination, we sometimes find a way over them. If we can’t, then we manage to survive by moving around them. In the perfect world, we turn our obstacles into stepping stones.

There is a Greek proverb that states “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

I want to challenge all the business owners, designers and developers of software, apps and services to plant some of these proverbial seeds.  Become more aware of these challenges. Make yourselves and your products accessible, you may just earn yourself that loyal customer base of 285 million blind and visually impaired shoppers.

Let me finish off by stating a mantra that I have come to appreciate and have strived to live by since loosing my eye sight just two and a half years ago…

“In a fully #accessible world, a #BlindManCan do anything that a sighted person is able to.”

Now don’t you want to be a part of making this world more accessible? Tell me how you are becoming more accessible: Tweet @BlindScooterGuy

Blog written for Visualise Training & Consultancy:  http://www.visualisetrainingandconsultancy.com/

Coming Back To Life

When I first lost my sight, I was in a terrible state. A state of astonishment and confusion. Days past with me not sure how I would survive. Many moments were spent wondering if I even wanted to survive. Many nights I would go to sleep and wish to never wake up again. I was alone in the dark. Trapped in a prison cell, a solitary confinement for which I had not committed any crime. My life was akin to that of a person trapped inside a bubble. I was disappearing. I was becoming an invisible man.

Not only did I struggle with the suffocation of my sight loss and find it so hard to accept, but many of the people around me could not come to terms with it either.

Please forgive my anger and frustration in writing these harsh words. Please allow me this moment to vent and wash myself of this bitter poison in my head, in my heart and encapsulating my body.

People that I had foolishly considered friends, chose to pretend that they did not know me. They chose to pretend that they were not aware of my struggles. They chose to steer a route away from that which I was on. They chose to be oblivious. Not saying anything was easier than perhaps saying the wrong thing.

I can honestly say that even if the wrong thing was said, it would have been better than nothing. I have tried to understand and even at times stopped to ponder how I myself would have reacted and behaved if the shoe was on the other foot. What would I have said? Would my choice have been to also just close my eyes to the situation and ignore another’s suffering? Would I too have walked away with no regard and no conscience? I am sure that I would have behaved differently. I would have said something, even if it was the wrong thing to say. I would have spoken and broken the silence.

When the ability to see is taken away from you, the last thing you need is silence. It is a torture that stabs into the deepest part of your soul. It is a torture that burns and aches, like every nerve ending splintering in your body. Like every bone holding you upright crumbling away. Like all the flesh on your skeleton burning and melting away.

Desertion is, in my opinion, the most unforgivable and hurtful reaction that a person can choose.

I have had to question who my friends really are and at times ask myself, ‘What makes a good friend?’ I have learnt the hard way that many people, whom I considered to be friends, were in fact just users and leaches. I know that my life is really better off with them gone, but it still burns me so much. Not so much for the loss of friendship but for my own stupidity in thinking them to be my friends in the first place.

I am ashamed to admit that I allied myself with people who are bigots, racists, thieves, conmen, alcoholics, drug addicts, sexists and traitors. These are the types of people that don’t matter and should not occupy my thoughts. They do not deserve moments in my sighted memories. And yet, here I am writing and venting about these very despicable people.

When I was sick and could not catch my breath, where were you? When I was dizzy and disoriented, you laughed. When I was vomiting blood, you walked away. When I was exhausted to the point that I could not stand up, you were gone. You bastard! You know that if you were in the same position, I would have carried you on my back and done everything in my power to make sure you were ok. You laughed at my illness. I was not faking it, I was not homesick. This illness cost me my sight.

I won’t forget, I wont forgive and I wont ever accept. I don’t need people in my life that have no character traits that I would value to have as my own. I choose consciously to move away. I choose to rather say nothing to these people and give them a taste of their own ‘silent’ treatment. I choose to leave all the vengeance up to Karma. She will deliver justice when the time comes.

To those who have not yet seen these people’s faults; who do not know the whole story; who are still suckered, conned and deceived by the ignorance; I hope that you are never let down in the same way that I have been. I hope that you are never stabbed in the back by these people that you hold in such high regard.

There is a fine line between thriving and surviving. I am tired of just surviving and am writing this angry and difficult story so that I can close the door and move forward. No, not close, fucking slam the door closed. ahhh…

When a concrete foundation gets some small hairline cracks, they can be repaired. When it gets shattered, there is no option to repair it. New concrete needs to be set and new foundations built. Nothing can make a bridge reappear after it is destroyed. When the timber framework is shouldered and the ashes blow away, there is nothing. Nothing to fix, nothing to make right.

As this year comes to a close, I am grateful that these individuals no longer occupy any part of my world. They don’t get the privilege of my friendship and respect.

To the people who have stood by me, to the individuals who held me up and allowed me to be strong, to the genuine friends who delivered orders of soggy salt and vinegar ships while I was lying in hospital, fading away, thank-you, dankie, grazie, nKosi, merci, gracias – you are the ones that deserve my memories.

In closing, some song lyrics from the incomparable Pink Floyd: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjoPWxmOCtc

Where were you when I was burned and broken

While the days slipped by from my window watching

And where were you when I was hurt and I was helpless

‘Cause the things you say and the things you do surround me

While you were hanging yourself on someone else’s words

Dying to believe in what you heard

I was staring straight into the shining sun

Lost in thought and lost in time

While the seeds of life and the seeds of change were planted

Outside the rain fell dark and slow

While I pondered on this dangerous but irresistible pastime

I took a heavenly ride through our silence

I knew the moment had arrived

For killing the past and coming back to life

I took a heavenly ride through our silence

I knew the waiting had begun

And headed straight …into the shining sun

 

#BlindManCan #BlindScooterGuy

Wondering whether I should go wandering in the winter weather

Today it is raining. A heavy waterfall of icy winter precipitation is converting my frost bitten lawn into a muddy pond. The constant downpour has created a solid wall around my working senses and has robbed me of my ability to navigate, like I normally do.  Many people ask me what some of the biggest challenges are that blind people are forced to deal with when living without sight. Heavy rain is one such challenge. Listening to the mass of water funnelling off the roof and through the branches of the bare trees, I am grateful to be warm and dry and at home. As the rain settles into a calming thrum and pitter patter, this audible backdrop has set the scene to share with you how the weather affects me and generally gets under my skin.

Right now as I am typing away with my frost bitten fingers and struggling to hear my Apple Mac’s VoiceOver software speak the letters and words to me, the infamous Cape winter continues to flex its might. Rain is beating down like nails falling on steel as it drums upon the windows and the paving that leads a pathway from my front door to my home office. The occasional sound of thunder is almost deafening and water is puddling everywhere. The dogs, although covered up and laying on top of each other in their warm bed, are upset and moaning at every loud crack of thunder as well as every gust of gale-force wind.

A visually impaired person, like me, relies heavily on sounds to navigate. I don’t use my long white mobility stick at home much, certainly not indoors. When outside, the feel and sound of my cane’s roller scrapping the ground is paramount in helping me to figure out where the bumps in my path lie ahead. This sensation is gone when the ground is little more than a flowing stream. The sounds of people in my path and echoes emitting off walls as I move about are also not so readily audible to me when navigating in a rainy haze.

Then there is smell, or lack thereof when the weather is acting up as it is today. I know this may sound crazy to a sighted person, but, yes, this is also helpful as a navigation aid for us blind people. When the rain is not pouring and the wind is asleep, I can tell when I am walking past the lavender that grows between the side gate and the deck. I can tell which way I am facing by the scent of burning incense that our neighbours love to smoulder every morning. The scent always finds its way over the wall and gets carried past my office most mornings by the prevailing breeze. This is however, not the case when the winter weather has attacked.

So right now, as I listen to the rain, I cannot hear the dogs barking across the street as people pass. Nor can I hear the rumble of homeward-bound rush hour traffic in the distance. I cannot hear the noisy kids skateboarding in the road outside our front gate, nor the pedestrians passing by with the sound of distorted music emitting from their mobile phones . I am robbed of the sounds I have become so accustomed to. I just hear water falling and the wind carrying squall after squall over from the nearby seaside.

Some sighted people have asked me from time to time if it is indeed true that when a person looses their sight that their other senses become enhanced. I don’t think they are improved as such, we sightless are just forced to put more focus on the listening, tactile and smelling abilities we still have. So, unfortunately, blindness does not come with any superhero abilities like spiderman’s enhanced 6th ‘spider sense’  or Superman’s superhuman hearing. We are just forced, out of necessity, to take the time to feel, listen and smell our way around.

When I first lost my eye sight, oh did I struggle. I had to learn to focus in a totally different way. There were fingers that got bloodies when slammed into unseen closing car doors. Black eyes, plus bruises on my knees, from falling over snoring hounds. Knocked head and bloody nose from misjudging doorways and openings. Bleeding foreheads from head-butting tree branches that hung too low over pathways. Sore bums from slipping on wet tiled floors and while stumbling to climb out of the bath. Many broken glasses and spilled drinks while trying to navigate the dinner table minefield, both at home and while out at restaurants. Yes, not all of these things could have been avoided if I could have heard better, but certainly a large amount of pain could have been evaded.

Things are different now. I listen with superman ears and gently feel my way around making sure that nothing is in my route. I smell the odours to advise me of my place, whether it is the stench of rotten kelp on the beach pointing out the direction of the sea or the toxic fumes of the petrol pumps as I pass the gas station. Most importantly, I feel my way around. Sometimes with my white graphite cane and sometimes with my hands. I guess what I am trying to say is that, yes, the other senses, are very important to a blind person.

So, with that said, bring on summer. Winter is definitely more of a challenging time for me. All I can do is stay in the safety of indoors when, on days like today, the skies are not so friendly to me.

It does not hurt to dream of my friends in the Northern Hemisphere, who are no doubt complaining about the heat at the moment. I would gladly swap a few degrees with them. It would also come with a little gift of rain and wind – be warned, before you accept the trade. And yes, the Celsius to Fahrenheit exchange rate would at last be in my favour, unlike that of the Rand to the US$ or Euro..

Perhaps a privileged few of these Northerners are at a Caribbean themed seaside bistro with a coconut filled pina colada in hand. Don’t forget the little pink umbrella of course. There will be gentle sounds of a steel drum being tapped and guitar strings plucking away as the band in the corner entertains them. The sun will be hovering over the ocean as it nears the water edge while still shining some rays over the bay and keeping everyone warm and toasty.  The smell in the air will be that of garlic-laced roasted meat with subtle Jamaican Jerk spiced seasoning. The sounds of the mellow music will only be broken by the soft chatter of the other restaurant customers and occasionally the bell from the kitchen announcing that the next meal is ready for collection. Oh well, soon the mosquitoes will get you all. At least the rain is making it impossible for them to fly here.

So, as I face the prospects of yet another wet, cold and noisy mid-winters night here at the southern tip of Africa, I am going to take some time to relax.  I now plan to  climb into my bed where my electric blanket has been warming the sheets. A quick cup of hot chocolate and a few minutes of listening to the rain before snuggling up to my gorgeous wife, Mrs Blind Scooter Guy, while avoiding her cold toes and drifting off to sleep. I will be dreaming tonight of all those mosquitoes biting away at the warm people, friends and foes around the globe. I hope you guys itch like hell.

#Blind #Accesible #Writer #VIP #BlindScooterGuy

BeSpecular App – my introduction

A skeptical spectator’s sightless senses ‘see’ the spectacular new Application called BeSpecular… and with that feeble attempt at alliterative poetry, I will get right down to what I am best at and leave the word wizardry for those literature linguists around the globe. Let me rather just be a story teller. A safer option for this keyboard tickling tale teller that has discovered a cool piece of tech to tattle on about.

What most blind people know and what most sighted individuals don’t realise, is that us visually impaired people absolutely hate having to ask for help. We would rather stumble over things and pull hairs out than have to, through grinding teeth, utter the words: “Can you please tell me what this says?” or “What colour is this?” or “Where can I find xyz?”

To my utter delight, I was recently introduced to a new Application that can assist us broken-eyed humans, regardless of where we are and what time of day, or night it is. The App was only launched this month, July 2016. Since first downloading it, I cannot stop playing, fiddling and smiling away. What an ingenious idea this is that I would like to share with all my readers.

Once a user has downloaded the app, which has a free basic version, they can either register as a volunteer or a VIP. That is a Visually Impaired Person. The person needing assistance can then, through a very easy to use and accessible platform, snap a pic and send a request to the sighted volunteers and ask for clarification of what the picture contains. This team of volunteers will help you by describing what they see i.e. Reading the label on an unknown box or selecting an outfit and helping to confirm if your socks match. This can be a great help when wondering which of the two cans you have is the corn and which is the peach slices. I have been known to try sniff a can to determine its contents, but my bloodhound senses come up negative each time and I need to rather open both cans or wait for someone to ask for help.

I know that some people can simply start a video chat with a friend and ask to loan there eyes for a second, but again, we don’t like asking for help unless we absolutely have to. And there is added frustration if there is nobody available to ask.

There are other apps out there that use computerised algorhythms to describe an image – although remarkable, these Apps have limited abilities and lack the unique ‘human’ touch that BeSpecular has. Most of the tech made available to blind people, such as screen reading software, means that much of our engagement with technology is via a highly synthesised and computerised voice. Blindies truly miss human warmth that is so clear in a photograph for sighted individuals. The BeSpecular tool provides one with a sense of comfort when asking for help from an actual volunteer – with the added bonus of feeling accomplished at the end of a task having completed it alone. Well, kind of alone that is.

The App was created by a couple of young innovators who developed and incubated the idea while attending summer school at Stanford University in the USA. The developers are an Italian, Giacomo Parmeggiani and, much to my surprise and delight, a South African – Stephanie Cowper. This made me feel so proud and patriotic for my home country. Go the Springboks.

The first thing I did after downloading BeSpecular was to position a large unpeeled onion on the table in front of me and snap away a pic. I positioned my iPhone with the lens over the tear-making vegetable, opened the application and double clicked on the ‘take a picture button’ that my voiceover guided me to. Next step was to ask a question. I simply dictated the following message “Hello there, can anyone please let me know if this is a red or white onion?”  (If you haven’t realised it yet, I spend a lot of time cooking). The application submitted my request to its online volunteer base and about twenty seconds later, I had my first reply. It was from someone called Susan. She chose to send me a voice reply that said, “Hello Chris, this is definitely a white onion. Enjoy your chopping and tears that will follow.” Seconds later another couple of replies followed confirming Susan’s assessment. I then clicked on the link that asked me if I would like more responses or not. I was super impressed and promptly gave Susan a 5 star rating.

I played away for a couple hours with this App and even tried to trick the volunteers a few times by purposefully hiding the tab labels of the soda bottles. But there was always someone who could assist and help solve the mystery for me.

At one point, I faced the camera towards my cocker spaniel, Isabella, and snapped away a photo. My message read “Is my dog cool or what?” replies flowed in, again within seconds. “Yes, Isabella is a beautiful girl.” One person even jokingly said that she was almost as beautiful as his bulldog (she growled when I told her this).

The BeSpecular application is amazing and I know that I will be using it regularly. I am already anticipating how useful it will be when travelling and needing to read a sign or a notice board. It has already helped me immensely in the kitchen as a tool to identify ingredients. As a visually impaired person, I am super impressed with how smart and easy the App is to use.

Check it out on www.bespecular.com and download it from the App store. it is available on iOS and android devices.  I think this is going to develop into a much larger tool for us VIPs and could be developed into a navigation tool as well as an assistive learning aid. I feel lucky to have discovered it in its early days and am excited about the possibilities.

Thank you Stephanie and Giacomo… I look forward to using this helpful tool when I travel from Paris to Palermo by train in 2018. I am sure that I will get myself lost a lot and am certain that BeSpecular will help me find my way, not miss trains, not eat the wrong things and maybe even see some stuff that I would have otherwise missed.

#Blind #Accessible #Travel #BeSpecular #BlindScooterGuy

TALES FROM THE TAILS… A trio of little stories from the Blind Scooter Guy’s canine friends

 

 

Scooter’s Story:

When my Dad first came and fetched me, I was so relieved. The people where I lived had not treated me very well. I cannot remember exactly what they did to me, but there was lots of shouting, swearing and many smacks. The yard I was locked up in was smaller than my parent’s bedroom now. The people I lived with for the first few months of my life even had the audacity to give me a stupid name like Dumpie. I was not a very happy dog. When my new dad fetched me, I was so relieved.

 

I was allowed to sit on the front seat on the drive to my new home. My Dad, as he drove away, looked towards me and said that everything would be alright now. He told me that we were going to my new home where I would meet the nicest lady in the world. She would love me always and I would be her special boy. She would be my new mom.

 

We drove fast along the highway, passing lots of trucks and cars that roared in the traffic. I just sat like a very good boy and stared at my new Dad. He told me that my name was now changed and from today on I would be known as ‘Scooter’, I was excited. What a cool name hey?

 

When we got to my new house I was still pretty nervous. I kept close to my dad and walked next to him as he took me around the house and garden. He gave me some nice fresh water that was icy cold and tasted so good. The garden was big with lots of trees and grass to run around on. I had never seen such a nice home. I could not believe that this was where I was now going to live.

 

A couple hours later my new mom came home. She walked through the red door that separates the front and back yard and stood staring at me for a few seconds. It was almost as if the world stopped turning. Time paused and there I was, looking up to see the most beautiful mommy I had ever imagined. I ran and jumped up into her arms. My mom had found me at last.

 

My new parents were so cool. My dad made a nice house for me. He got me lots of cool toys and together we ran around the grass and played. My mom brushed all the knotty parts of my hair and rubbed me on my tummy.

 

When my new parents adopted me I was only 5 months old. I am a golden cocker spaniel and although my folks are both different to me, humans apparently, my mom has the same colour hair as me. We both have long curly red hair. I thought that was so cool.

 

My folks took me to this place on weekends called the beach. There is loads of soft sand to run on and icy water that crashes along the shore that is really nice to cool down in. My life had turned from a nightmare to a wonderful new chapter. I was the happiest little boy in the world.

 

One day my dad came home with an old lady dog called Quigley. She was fat and although she was a little small and slow, we fast became great friends. We would walk to the park together where my mom would throw a ball for me and Quigley would wonder around sniffing everything. It was not long and she also lost some weight so we could run together and play more than we had been able to. Everyone loved me so much and although I was still a little nervous at times my world had become a pretty awesome place to live in.

 

Isabella arrived when she was very small. She is also a spaniel. An English cocker spaniel. Very similar to my kind, just with hair that is more curly. She was brought home to be my girlfriend. I like her, but now that she has grown up and is bigger than me, it is hard to play with her at times. She is a bit of a bully and when she does not get her own way, she becomes something of a bulldozer.

 

A couple years ago my dad went away on a long trip. When he came home I was so happy. I stood up on my back legs and wrapped my paws around him. I missed him so much and would never let him go again. Then he got really sick and his eyes stopped working. Sigh.

 

He is ok now. I just have to make sure that I watch where he is walking and jump out of his way because he cannot see where I am standing. I have stopped being a grumpy boy with him now. Well, I have tried to be, but, we are both boys and I do sometimes challenge him for my mom’s attention.

 

We have lots of friends who come visit me from all over the world. Life is fun and I always have someone to play with. I can chase my ball all day long and never feel tired.

 

My Dad’s parents also came to live by us now. He has built them a cottage of their own behind our house. I plan to visit them there every day. I have already been going around the building site and peeing on everything so I can claim it as my own.

 

So, we are all good here and my life is special. I have learned some tricks like how to sit and stand on two legs to get a biscuit. Quigley and Isabella share my food and although we have a couple beds, we normally end up in one by morning time. This sometimes makes me very angry as I don’t like sharing my bed and blankets at the best of times.

 

I get really cold sometimes, being the small little boy I am. My folks got me two jerseys. One is an old man’s diamond patterned and made out of wool that makes me look very prim and proper, but keeps me nice and warm. The other is a springbok rugby jersey with the number 6 on it. I really like this one.

 

I have also learned many human words. Biscuit, bed, sit, foods, park, mommy, etc. I even know what it means when they tell me that my Uncle is coming to visit. I am always so excited. I just can’t help myself.

 

I wonder if my Dad will ever get a guide dog, I have met one or two of them and they freak me out a little. But hopefully if he does, we can be friends. Right now, he says that he is not planning to but he may still be open to the idea in the future. I wish I could be his guide dog, but I am just a little crazy boy who never learnt those special skills.

 

Ok, I must go now and very quickly.. I think I hear my dad calling me for a biscuit. Bye. Have a nice day.

 

Oh yes, before I go, I have a good dog joke for you. Woof, woof, woof, bow wow…. Haha. Tell your own dogs and I bet they will get it if you don’t.

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This is a picture of Isabella and me (I am the handsome one on the right wearing the bow tie)
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Me and my Dad
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I love my ball
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Me and my mom
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Me snuggling with Isabella and Quigley (I am the one on the right)

The Blind Builder Guy…

When I lost my sight, in June of 2014, I was a very sick chap. The virus that attacked me after my scooter trip through Africa had not only destroyed the light reflecting cells on my retinas, but had also messed up my body and its immune system. I was weak, and by the time I was discharged from the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, I had lost over 30 kilograms. I spent a couple months bouncing from my bed to a wheel chair. For the best part of six months I could not bath myself and standing up in the shower was so disorienting that it was impossible. I even struggled to wipe my own arse after having a crap. It was a tough and painful time. Friends deserted me and all that I had was the sound of my struggled breaths and coughs to break the monotony of my solitary confinement. I spent many hours afraid to close my eyes for fear that they would never open again.

The second six months were my time of getting strong again. I slowly learned to navigate my way around our home and through much frustration and difficulty, how to use a laptop with a screen reader talking to me. I started to go outdoors again and even managed a walk on the beach with my good wife guiding my bare feet around jagged mussel shells and rocks that were forever finding the bottom of my soles.

My folks came to stay with us as a way of assisting me. My father was away at work all day, as was my partner. My mother was left there to help me during the long days.

After a year of living blind I was strong again. I picked up all the weight I had lost, as well as a few extra pounds of spare weight around the belly. Every day I figured out new ways to do things on my own.

After a year and a half, I was well. Not only was I cooking most of the food by myself, I was also navigating my way around alone. It was then that my wife and I decided to look at building a small cottage in the corner of our property so that my folks could move into their own space. We longed for the solitude of having our home to ourselves again and were certain that my parents would be much more comfortable in their own space. Luckily we had some extra funds available that we had paid early into our home bond. We called an architect in and before long had the ball rolling.

The builder’s quotations shocked us. They were not only expensive and way beyond our budget, but they were so varied and confusing. It took us a few months to get the plans approved by the local municipality.  Even though the architect turned out to be a total incompetent idiot, we eventually had the council’s go ahead.  We had also found a building project manager who we were prepared to work with.

Our mortgage company had made the funds available and we were ready to go – then the builder disappeared. This was so strange to us as we had not paid him anything as yet and he simply stopped replying to emails and answering calls. Perhaps he got cold feet? Perhaps he realised that he had bitten off more than he could chew? I was very confused by this and sat wondering where to go from here. Back to the drawing board was our only option.

I posted a request on a local neighbourhood Facebook page asking everyone if they had any recommendations for a contractor. I waited.

Minutes later builders started to approach us. People with crazy prices and some that just did not look the part. Everyone tried to convince us that they were the best to take on this job and all were ready to jump right in. Somehow nobody we met convinced me. Here I was, a blind man, who was a little OCD at the best of times. I needed a person who was prepared to slow down and explain things to me in a way that I could understand. I needed a person who understood that we were looking at building on a tight budget and would only be prepared to participate in a project with someone that could make us, well, me, comfortable. And most of all needed someone that when meeting us, spoke to both of us and not only to my wife – as if the blind man wasn’t even in the room. Then we were approached by an unlikely fellow who wanted to come and talk to us. I called him up and he said he could be with us in ten minutes. Ok, I thought. Lets meet this guy and see what he was proposing.

A short while later we were sitting chatting to a guy who specialised in modern and alternative building methods. Walls made out of sand bags and roofs made with old car tyres. Floating bag floors and all sorts of eco methods that sounded impressive. They also sounded expensive. Walls using building blocks that were similar to Lego bricks that children assembled in minutes and all sorts of ingenious techniques of plastering the walls. CreteStone, solar heating systems, LED lights and grey water tanks all sounded very good. When our enthusiastic new fellow spoke about all this stuff he sounded like a child with a bag of sweets in him as well as 2 litres of Coke who had eaten a mountain of candy floss in a few gulps. He was excited and so were we. Then it came to figures. Ouch.

For our small 46 square meter little garden flatlet the eco, modern, alternative method of building would not be cost effective in its full capacity. We needed to rethink.

Our new friend sat with us and together we came up with a plan. I would manage the building project myself and as he had some projects in a distant town keeping just some of his workers busy, he could lend me a guy or two to get the first stages going. What was he offering and what did he want in return? He was offering to come by a couple times a week and be my eyes. Luckily he lives close by and was able to do this. What did he want for his services? Well, a case of Jack Daniels whiskey would do. Deal.

The following week I started. My chap came by and brought one of his workers and together we marked out the foundations. I collected a couple casual labourers and we started to dig trenches. A couple days later and sand was piled up high all over the place. We had trenches in the ground and they were ready to be inspected by the municipal building inspector. He would check the trenches before concrete footers were cast. He would check and approve the sewage lines. He would check the roof was correct before ceilings are installed. Finally he would come and sign off that the place was complete and fit for occupation. This suited me fine. Another set of eyes would be appreciated. Someone to make sure all was going right.

I spent hours calling around for sand and stone suppliers. I visited hardware stores with my wife every weekend and purchased items as we needed them. I juggled between dealing with brick yards and tool hire companies. I made sure that we always got the best deal on everything. It is amazing how different the charge for hiring a concrete mixer can be from places all offering the exact same item and even from places located right next door to each other.

After one week the trenches were ready to be filled with concrete. The steel support rods are suspended in the holes. The sand, cement and stone was on site, a concrete mixer was hired and the inspector had given his vertical head bob indicating go. The footer was cast and we were moving along nicely.

Labour is one of the most expensive parts of a building project. I had between 4 and 8 guys on site on a daily basis. The portable toilet I had hired worked over time. I will just add here that when the truck came by every week to empty it, everyone took cover. The air was filled with the most vile smells emitted from the suction pipes. I was often found falling over myself as I scrambled to shut all the house windows as soon as I heard the pump kick into action. This type of truck is lovingly known, by those who work onboard it, as the Honey Sucker. I cannot imagine a more unpleasant employment opportunity. They did assure me that after a couple days on the job, they no longer smelled the shit. Not for me thanks. I was just happy to pay and have someone out there doing the dirty work. I feel like such a privileged ass when I think about it though. I guess someone has to do it. I just hope the fellows are paid well.

Ok, back to the building. So, when you build a new dwelling you first cast a footer. This is about 750mm wide and 250mm thick. You then build your double course of bricks on top of this. The first bricks that lead you up to the buildings floor level, or plinth height, is slow. Each row of bricks gets a steel wire support grid placed into the mortar between the bricks. This is called brick force and keeps the bricks strong and crack free. Concrete is also cast between the two rows of bricks up to the plinth height to make sure that the foundations are strong. Once the plinth height is reached, the trenches are back filled and the main floor area can be filled in with old rubble or filling sand.

Our little flatlet was pretty far from the sewer mains. We therefore had to build up a lot to allow for a gradient so the poop could wash down the pipes that led all the way to the street side sewer outlet. The sewage trenches were almost two meters deep by the time they followed an angle and made it to the manhole that was twenty something meters away from the new building. This proved to be a massive task. Our ground is luckily clay free, but rocks called ‘koffieklip’ blocked our way for more than half the dig. Much swearing and many hours of manpower and the building inspector finally gave that box on his forms a tick.

Next thing was to get the walls up. Our bricks were made of concrete. They came from a yard that manufactured them using rubble from some old silo towers that were recycled from an old local power station. About 5 years earlier we had watched the city authorities demolish these towers – together with most of Cape Town community. It made an interesting afternoon out and a cool stop off during our monthly scooter ride. Yes, I was riding a scooter. Before I become ‘The Blind Scooter Guy’,  I was just ‘Chris The Scooter Guy’.

It was nice to think that at least some of the building was going up using some sort of recycled product. We used 8000 bricks for the build. They are called maxis and are the same as normal bricks, just a little taller. They each have 3 holes on top to allow the cement to bite on well. There is a cavity of air that is about an inch between the two courses of bricks, left behind as a form of insulation. I was learning so much as I figured this all out and chose what was best.

The walls went up over a couple weeks and although a few different brick layers had to be hired, fired and sworn at for building skew walls, the grey bricks started to reach for the skies.

Back fill was a problem and this was something that really shocked me. We used a total of about 40 cubic meters of rubble to get the massive cavity filled in. Then one 6 cubic meter truck of sand and two days of rumble from a diesel compactor. Then more steel laid out on top of bags filled with a dry mortar mix. They then got a light compacting before water was hosed over the bags so they could set. This new building technique was interesting and although costly as well as labour intensive, I could at least do it myself without the need of specialised assistance. My Jack Daniels chap was anyway coming by and saying yes, yes, yes, all is ok every few days. His favourite term was actually, cool bananas. I assume and hope that meant that all was right.

The floor was then cast on top of the bags. This is called screeding and gets everything up to floor level and ready to tile.

Walls were up, floor was in and windows were set. These are made of meranti timber frames glazed with 3.5 mm glass that came later.

After some shopping around, the timber roof beams were delivered. The roof is a single pitch with a small six degree angle to the front of the building. We built right on the neighbouring boundary wall, so could not over hang the roof to the rear. The sides and back are finished off with something called barge boards.  The roof sheeting is called zinc alum and apparently carries a 35 year guarantee. So, lets hope.

The rafter beams are massive heavy timber struts that overlap to the front of the cottage by a half a meter of so. Then smaller timber runs perpendicular to the rafters. To these purloins, the roof sheets are attached with stainless steel self tapping screws. The rafters are attached to the walls with something called hoop iron and at each join between the purloin and rafter, there are two little steel brackets called hurricane clips. A left and a right one. This should keep the wind from ever being an issue. The cape doctor is known for blowing pretty hard down here in the mother city. I wanted to make sure the roof would be more than strong enough.

The roof sheets are also industrial ones that are thicker than their domestic counterparts. These are normally used on commercial buildings like shopping malls and big warehouses, so should be strong. After all the little extra cash spent here was worth it for me. I did not want to compromise on the roof and made sure that I would not have to be up there in a couple years fixing leaks. The roofing carpenter that helped me for the first part of the job was a donkey who obviously had a different idea to me as to what was acceptable as a level of standards. He was replaced with someone who could listen and follow instructions better. To finish the roof off we lined it with a nice rhino board ceiling and packed the cavity with an isotherm insulation that is 130 mm thick… the normal is 40 mm to 80 mm at best. Again, making sure that it was an overkill.

The last thing that happened was for the floor and bathroom walls to be tiled. This was a job for a contractor. The chap that quoted and got the job was a Zimbabwean guy who came recommended again from the neighbourhood Facebook page. His name was Shepard and yes, he started preaching to me from the moment he arrived. Would he really be able to ask the god he believed in, through prayer, to heal my eyes? I have had this happen to me a few times since loosing my sight and have learned to just smile and say nothing. Perhaps it gives people like him some comfort to believe what they do. For me, I don’t think so. Being an atheist, who only believes in science, I wished he rather knew a good doctor who would come up with a breakthrough in medical advancements. I bit my tongue and kept my thoughts private. He was a good tiler after all.

Only 8 weeks after breaking ground with the first swings from the pick  axes and working of the spades, here we are with a shell completed. Walls are now painted and the place looks good, or so I am told. Next step is for the carpenter to come and hang the front door. Then it is kitchen and bedroom cupboards followed by some wall tiles on the kitchen walls. More preaching I see a coming no doubt. Then blinds go up as well as some security bars and I can call the building inspector in once more. He needs to come and make a final inspection to ensure the place is habitable. He will need electrical and plumbing compliance certificates, all the erf plans showing the new sewage line route, something called fenestration calculations, whatever that is, and then, hopefully, all will be signed off.

Lastly I will get to have the pleasure of a couple workers here again to help me move some furniture in. A bed, fridge, sofa and cabinet, etc. then, I get to evict my folks from my home so that the house can once again belong to my patient wife and myself.

If all goes well, by August at the latest, we will have a spare room in our place again. Soon friends and family from afar can come visit us without having to sleep in a tent in the garden. Yes, this has been the only option of late.

I will leave you with a funny story about at least ten people who have arrived here to either quote or work over the last couple months. Generally, I would have spoken over the phone to these people and or emailed them a few times before they came here. They would arrive and be greeted by me at the gate just for them to tell me that I had not sounded like a blind guy on the phone. Really??? The first time it happened it was funny, then it became somewhat ironic.

After folks got to know me and realised that, yes, a blind guy can manage a building project, they would ply me with questions. What happened to cause your sight loss? How long have you been blind? Do people try take advantage of your inability to check things properly? The answer is yes, by the way. At the end of it all they learned to be patient with me, to explain things properly and most importantly to not stand or leave things in my way. Blind builder coming through…

#Blind #Accessible #ChaosConstruction #BlindScooterGuy