Day 1 at GDB


Oh man, today was a LONG travel day but well worth it. I was out of town for a wedding so I had to fly out of the other city, which then happened to fly into my home town, and then to Portland. I had to be at the airport at 5:20 or so this morning. THAT was early. And of course I didn’t get the greatest night sleep last night because of the excitement of the wedding and worried that I was forgetting something. Turns out I was.. I had forgotten to get cash, but we took care of that easily in the morning.

We arrived at the airport, Mom was able to come through security with me because I have a disability. She stayed with me until I preboarded. American Airlines at the Austin airport had a little vibrating buzzer thing that let you know when it was time to go up. I was the only one pre-boarding though and I just stayed in the “Special Needs” seating with Mom so they motioned to her when it was ready for me. Still, I thought this device was pretty cool and high tech for an airline/pre-boarding. (Pictured below)

American Airlines Pre-boarding Pager

The first leg of the flight went by without a hitch. I was asleep before take-off even. I wasn’t told that I had to transfer planes for the second leg but then I soon figured that out when EVERYBODY was getting off. So I went out and there was somebody to assist me to the next gate. That is when the crazy stuff started happening. So all of a sudden, there is this lady in front of me with a wheelchair, taking my cane, my bag, my boarding pass, etc. She hadn’t introduced herself to me, said not a word, just started grabbing things. So I said, “what’s going on?” and she said she was going to put me in the wheelchair. That is when somebody that was working the desk said, “The wheelchair is for somebody else. She is blind and just needs your arm.” So then I asked her for all my belongings back. So then she like grabbed me in this really awkward position and practically started dragging me. She wasn’t angry or anything, she just legitmateily thought that was the way to guide me. I really think that may have been her first experience with a person with a visual impairment. Then I told her I would prefer to just grab her arm so she let me but then she tried to do this awkward thing about grabbing my arm too. I just wasn’t going to win with this one. So then when we got onto the passageway between the airport and the plane, she started manually guiding my cane back and forth. Well, that practically makes the cane useless for me because I am no longer able to detect anything by using the cane. So then she started telling all the flight attendants. “She’s blind. She’s blind. She’s blind.” Oi. She stressed me out. So then once I got on the plane, I found my seat and I put my cane over to the left side since I was at a window seat. That is where the previous flight’s flight attendants told me to put it. Well, this flight attendant said that wasn’t allowed so she took it from me. See, I was in the bulkhead so I had to store everything overhead but apparently this time that included the cane. Okay, now I’m settled and I try and get some sleep. I fall asleep and then all of a sudden I wake up FREEZING! Apparently they turned on all the air blower things overhead. I tried to turn mine off several times without any luck. The passenger next to me was asleep. Since I was short, it was difficult to even reach and try to turn it off and then once it didn’t work I needed to call the flight attendant. Well, I managed to press the button and she came immediately. She couldn’t even turn the thing off. So then I asked for a blanket, and of course they didn’t have any. So there I am freezing for another hour or more on the plane. I was so ready to get off.

Plane landed. I didn’t wait like the flight attendant’s prefer for everybody to get off. I instead got off close to the start and there was somebody waiting to guide me. He was a good guide. I think he’s had experience because he automatically guessed that I was here for the Guide Dog school and he was very good about guiding me. I appreciated that. I told him I was supposed to this certain place in baggage claim. He was leading me there when suddenly I heard, “Jessica?” It was a married couple who are volunteers for Guide Dogs for the Blind. So they helped me get my luggage and then we waited around for another student. She was about an hour later. Meanwhile, I got Starbucks. I was so ready for it! This other student, “R”, has been blind since birth and is on her like 9th guide dog or something. It’s incredible. I hadn’t met any of the other students yet and we headed to campus.

Once we got there, the volunteers brought in our luggage and showed us around our room. It’s very nice. It’s a converted double room but it’s now private. We have this super long desk and several chests of drawers, two sinks, two areas to fill and dump the dog’s water, a tie down and a mat for the dog, a patio for relieving, two closets, another super long desk on the other side of the room, and a really nice bathroom. Oh, we also have a really nice TV. These rooms are really nice. Also in the room is a nice recliner and a bean bag area. I’ll talk more about that later.

So as soon as we got our stuff in the room, the nurse came by and discussed our medical needs with us and then she took me down to lunch. “R” and I ate lunch, they had turkey sandwiches for us, and then I went back to the room to unpack. I met Laura who helped me learn a few more things about my room and then told me I needed to in a certain room at 4:30pm for our first meeting. I skyped with my family, took a shower, and then headed down there. That is where we learned about basic rules and how things work. We also did introductions. I’m the youngest here. There are 5 other people, two older individuals, one male and one female, a middle-aged man, a middle-aged woman who is a mother and then another mother who looks younger. They all seem like a cool group of classmates for these 2 weeks. We are sure a chatty bunch though.

So after that, we took a tour around the facilities so that we would know what’s where. It’s very nice. We have a library, nurse’s area, music room, public restrooms, dining hall, grooming room, several lounges, etc. After the tour, we went to eat. I had ordered Chicken Marsala. It was delicious. We placed our order for Monday and Tuesday meals as well. I’ll tell you about them as they come though. After dinner, I had Laura, the Resident Adviser who has been helping us all evening and leading the meetings, help me with my key because it was being stubborn. Then we went to another meeting where we learned more about the equipment we will be using. We were all issued a leash and a food pouch. The food pouch is for treats. We take a portion of the dog’s daily food rations and put it into the pouch and we use that for treats throughout the day. It’s a way to regulate the dog’s caloric intake and therefore their weight. The leash is very nice leather.

Equipment

The above picture is of equipment we have here to use or we are issued. The top left picture is what we had in our rooms upon arrival. It’s a medium-sized bin of kibble, a cup, and a Guide Dogs for the Blind fanny pack. I think it has grooming equipment inside. The top right picture is the tie-down and doggy mat. When we are sleeping, we tie-down our dog so we make sure they are well-behaved and they learn that we are in control, etc. The middle picture on the left is something I thought was really cool. It’s a HUGE bean bag and a recliner. I’m told that the huge bean bag is so that we can cuddle up and lay with the dog. And then the recliner is just a really nice area to sit. The middle right picture is the food pouch which I described above. The bottom left picture is the nice leather leash, which we can make into a short leash or a long leash depending on what we need to do and then the bottom right picture is where we fill up and dump out the dog’s water bowl. Pretty cool, huh?

So after the second meeting, we were dismissed. I called a few friends and then sat down to write this blog. I think I’m going to pass out soon. This time is 2 hours earlier than my normal time zone so that will work out to my favor right now. I just can’t believe how early it is and how tired I am, but then I think about the long day I had and it makes sense. Tomorrow my day starts at 7:30am with breakfast.

GDB (Guide Dogs for the Blind) does this every two weeks so they have thinks worked out so well. I will tell you little things that they do that I think that are neat as I think about them. But one of them is we have phones in our room. We can call a certain extension and it tells us our schedule for tomorrow and the discussion questions we should be ready to discuss tomorrow. Isn’t that neat? As everyone probably knows, I am very schedule oriented and I like to have all the details. So, I am very excited about this feature. The Resident Advisor, Laura, also said she is going to email us the schedule and a map of Portland, where we do a lot of the training. I appreciate that because I am also a very visual person (ironic?) and so I like to have everything in writing. I haven’t listened to it yet but all I do know is that 7:30 is breakfast, we have lunch in the afternoon and then right after lunch around 1:30pm we get to meet our dogs. Oh man oh man! I’m excited/nervous!

Everything is really nice. The people are amazing, facilities fantastic, food wonderful, it is just a great atmosphere. I was a little hesitant about being away for two weeks because of all the emotional stuff that has gone on the past two months but I don’t think it will be that big of an issue. I hope not, at least. 🙂 I had heard all these things about GDB and that is why I chose to come here. I think everything I heard will prove to be true. I mean, the nurse manager came by and said she was going to the store and is there anything she could pick up for us. What did I ask for? Some Dr. Pepper of course! We even have our own mini-fridge in our room. (Forgot to mention that earlier). I’m just so impressed by this place so far and I’ve only been here like 6 hours!

I think that’s all for tonight. I’m exhausted. I’m really hoping the weather doesn’t get too bad this week because I am very much a Texas gal and Oregon weather just doesn’t sound like it would be too pleasant most of the time.

Hope you enjoyed my first post and I hope you continue reading!

Accepting the Cane.. What about driving?


So I’m finally starting to accept that the cane is very beneficial and I should start using it.. despite the reactions that I will get from others. That took a long time to adjust to and accept. It seems this whole RP thing is full of adjustments when you don’t necessarily need or want them.

I’m still working on accepting the fact that I shouldn’t be driving now and probably never should drive. That’s just so HUGE. It’s like saying “byebye” to your independence when I know there are tons of people out there who are less able to drive than me, but still do. It’s the right decision, I’m sure of that, but it still sucks. I can’t go out with friends on a whim, go to the mall, go to the grocery store. I used to dream of going to the grocery store to pick up food for my Dad for some reason. It was just a “big girl” thing and even though I’m 22 years old, I still can’t do that “big girl” thing. Oi.

To Cane Or Not To Cane– That is the question


Hello to all my new readers! I’m so excited to have new readers and get more feedback from other individuals with RP or who have some connection to RP. I noticed on my last post there was a lot of feedback about using a cane. I said I was going to write another post.. so here it is! 🙂

A few years ago, I started my Orientation and Mobility training. I didn’t know that i would need my cane for years and years, however now I’m realizing that wasn’t the case. I didn’t have the chance to complete my training because at that point I was going to school out of state and did my training on holidays. I learned how to cross intersections, travel down streets, navigate through a busy mall to find a certain store, etc. I did this all with a blindfold on and my cane.

At my previous school, I was pretty good because I had my best friends there (and my then-boyfriend). They were so willing to help me get from place to place at night, however now that I’m at a new school it’s a little bit more difficult. They also don’t have a good night escort program here, whereas they did at my previous school.

In the past, I would carry my cane when I traveled on an airplane, or when I went to places where I thought I would probably have issues. Now, I really want to have it in my backpack more so that I can use it on the really sunny days or whenever I’m having trouble with the lighting situation, outside or inside. I am traveling from school building to dorm or another school building a lot at night. I’m having all sorts of issues with that, as detailed in other blogs.

I frequently have incidents where I do a near-flip over a cement bench, trip over a curb, and so forth. I think, and so I’ve heard, that if I start gradually with my cane and work with it more and more, I’ll learn how much it really does help me. I imagine I’ll start using it more and more.

Since I have moved a lot within the past 1.5 years and I haven’t used my cane hardly at all, I have somehow managed to misplace my cane so now that I really do want to use it, I can’t right away. It was free through my state rehabilitation agency but now that I lost mine, I had to pay for another. It was 36 dollars, including shipping, from Ambutech which really isn’t that bad. The drawback is that it has taken almost 2 weeks to get here and still hasn’t arrived. It’s not like we need our assistive devices or anything, right? 🙂

I’m not sure how my parents feel about me using my cane more. My father asked via text one day, “Are you sure you really need this?” After I explained why and asked him if that was okay (just to be courteous, since he was paying), he replied, “Sure, just curious.” But I’m pretty confident in that he doesn’t think I really need it.

My mother, on the other hand, understands more. I tend to vent to her when I injure myself and she knows more of what I go through. She recently offered to pay someone to help me get back from an organization meeting to my dorm on campus on Monday nights. I told her I appreciated it but I wanted to hold off on that for awhile. I think I’ll be a little more able and happy to do it independently.. meaning walk to the bus and get situated, then get off.. once I get my cane.

I will receive more Orientation and Mobility training soon. My instructor is going to give me a recap lesson over Spring Break and then we’ll continue our real intense sessions over the summer when we have more time. I think this will be good.

The biggest situation in which I really want to learn how to use a cane is getting on/off buses and finding a seat. This is where I meet the most negative/rude people and have the biggest difficulty. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Those of you who do use canes, or even really a guide dog, how do you find an empty seat on the bus?

Hope to get more feedback and hear from you soon!

Jess

DARS


As I live in Texas, the state vocational rehabilitation program is called “Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services.” (DARS) This is a wonderful program for individuals with disabilities who wish to go to college and/or get a job but might need a little assistance doing so because of their disability.

I first heard about DARS a few years ago when a professor at my previous school told me about Vocational Rehabilitation. At that point, I was majoring in Deaf Education. (Funny how I’m now about to graduate with my Rehabilitation Studies degree!) I went and met with a case manager, “M”, and she was very helpful in educating me about DARS, the qualifying process, and the services they provide. Since I’m not legally blind, although I’m very close, we didn’t know if I’d qualify. However, they require you to have 30 degrees of field vision or less in order to qualify and that is exactly what I have. As soon as I gave them the paperwork, we were on the way.

Just so you know, there are different divisions at DARS. There is a Division for Blind Services, Office for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and then what I call the “regular” DARS which encompasses basically all the other disabilities such as cognitive impairments and physical impairments. You can go in for a session where you meet a case manager and they learn about you, you learn about their services. After that, they help counsel you and then refer you for other services. Keep in mind that all my services are either to help me right now, or to teach me skills that I will need when my vision progresses downhill. Since I am working with DARS and with my Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, we had to identify a vocational goal. My original goal was to become a Deaf Education teacher however now it is to become a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor myself. In order to do that, I have to complete my Master’s Degree.

The services they provide for me:

1. Assistive Technology
2. Orientation and Mobility Training
3. Home teaching, including Braille training
4. College Assistance

Assistive Technology:

Assistive technology is such an important part in the lives of individuals with disabilities. For individuals with a hearing loss, this could be a hearing aid or cochlear implant. For individuals with mobility impairments, this could be a grabber/reacher. For individuals with vision loss, this could be a cane, assistive technology on the computer, etc.

DARS sent me to Austin, TX for the technology evaluation. It was an absolutely incredible experience because I got to live in a facility for a night that was built for individuals with visual impairments. It was pretty fun!

They recommended to my DARS case manager that I get a CCTV (closed caption television) as well as an external monitor. They also recommended a small handheld cctv. They are all very cool advices. I find myself, right now, using the external monitor the most. I imagine I will be using the CCTV more in the future.

Assistive technology, especially for a geek like me, is very fun!

Orientation and Mobility Training:

Orientation and Mobility training is AMAZING. Originally, I started so that when my vision goes downhill even more, I will have a cane for travel. However, as I progressed through several trainings I learned that I can definitely use my cane skills at night time when I’m traveling. Travelling could mean walking from one person’s house to another, or taking an airplane, or anything in between. 🙂 Micha, my Orientation and Mobility Instructor, is great. She works with the Visionaries of Texas. We went to the mall and various streets and intersections. She made me get from Point A to Point B with a blindfold on and a cane. I learned so much. When I moved, somehow my cane disappeared and I now miss it quite a bit. I have ordered a new one. Micha and I didn’t finish our training because of my school schedule. We are going to work more together now that I’m back in Dallas/Denton.

Orientation and Mobility works with cane training, helping individuals with vision loss figure out public transit, as well as working with individuals who have guide dogs to successfully navigate/travel. It’s such a great service.
Home teaching/Braille:

This is a service which I haven’t used that much. The service is providing a home teacher to come out and help you learn to navigate your house and live well. They can teach you so many skills from cooking to Braille to laundry. All lessons are tailored of course to individuals with vision loss. She gave me some neat tools such as large playing cards, a high contrast cooking board, and a Braille book. She started teaching me how to use Braille. I hope I won’t need that for many years but it is cool to know it. We were going to work more on cooking, because I really didn’t feel the need to do it more. I may take it up later.
College Assistance:

Because my vocational goal is to become a VR counselor, I have to get my Master’s first. My current vocational goal is to get my Bachelor’s degree and then after I complete that it will be to get my Master’s. DARS helps me with college because it is required to reach my vocational goal of becoming a Rehab Counselor. They help me pay for various things such as textbooks, room and board, and tuition. It’s quite nice.

 

One last thing that I feel important to note is they do a sort of means-testing, but usually don’t require their consumers to pay much at all. I haven’t had to pay anything and it’s been a blessing. If you do pay anything, you would help pay for the assistive technology or something like that. You would never pay the counselors.

 

If you have any other questions about VR (Vocational Rehab) or DARS, please feel free to ask! 🙂

-Jess