My first day of school jitters reminded me of being a kid.  I barely slept a wink the night before classes began.  My younger sister is graciously allowing me to crash on her couch while I’m in Seattle for classes every 3 weeks.  And she even made me a “first day of school” sign along with all sorts of school supplies and snack goodies waiting for me when I arrived at her apartment.  Sisters are the best!!!

image1.jpeg

One of the questions I’ve been asked most about going back to school is, “What does MSW mean?” Master of Social Work is the full title of the program, and the field has a long and interesting history (which I am totally geeking out over, so if you have a few spare hours, I’ll take you on a trip down the memory lane of social work compliments of my required course readings).  Social work is often one of those obscure fields of work that leave people who don’t work in the field wondering what exactly it’s all about. While some consider it a noble profession,  others have negative impressions based on personal experiences or observations from the media.  Some have accused the field of having a bit of an identity crisis since practitioners work in a wide variety of roles.  From my perspective, the social work field is appealing because of these vast opportunities including leadership and direct service roles, research, policy, “licensed” clinical work, and many opportunities to affect social change.

The following definition was approved by the IFSW General Meeting and the IASSW General Assembly  in July 2014:

Global Definition of the Social Work Profession

“Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work.  Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance well-being.

The above definition may be amplified at national and/or regional levels”. (www.ifsw.org)

I’m still in the process of exploring the type of field work (internships, practicums, etc) that I’d like to pursue, which comprises a large percentage of my education in this program.  Meanwhile, I find myself feeling inspired by the faculty, and fellow students in my cohort.  After meeting many of my professors at orientation in September, I am not at all surprised that this is a top ranked program worldwide.

But still….why social work? Why now? Well, first of all there is A LOT of work to be done when it comes to oppression and social issues in this country, and around the world.  I’m rolling up my sleeves, and ready to be in the thick of it because there is too much pain and suffering for me to ignore this calling in my life.  I’ve woken up to the fact that I am extremely privileged in many ways, and yet my disability has allowed me to experience a degree of prejudice and inequity firsthand.  Also, the advocacy and education work that Joy and I started on this blog over 6 years ago would likely not exist if it were not for the counseling services I received from a licensed MSW, which gave me the space I needed to explore feelings of grief, anger, and sadness over my vision loss.  I am beyond grateful for the people in my life who are supporting me as I begin this journey – my husband, kids, parents, siblings, extended family, friends and neighbors.

“In the unceasing ebb and flow of justice and oppression we must all dig channels as best we may, that at the propitious moment somewhat of the swelling tide may be conducted to the barren places of life.”
― Jane AddamsTwenty Years at Hull House

 

This is one of those topics that, in an ideal world, would not need special attention.  But since we at Doublevision blog believe strongly in educating the public and bringing awareness to blindness related issues, this post is necessary.  All these points are based on real actual situations that have happened to us or someone we know.

“How did you get here?”
In a society that highly values independence, most adults have their own personal vehicle and cannot fathom otherwise.  For those who cannot drive, alternate modes of transportation are necessary, including public transportation, Uber, rides with family / friends, and walking.  We often need to put more thought into our transportation than simply pulling out the car keys, but we manage to make it work.

Joy recently had this experience at a work training in SoCal.  She walked into the training session where a handful of other teachers were sitting, waiting for the morning to begin, and the trainer noticed her guide dog. After saying hello, she immediately asked how Joy had gotten there.  While other teachers were met with “How are you?” or “Good to see you.”, Joy was asked to explain her mode of transit while the group sat listening.

(Note: If you are truly concerned with a person’s transportation needs, kindly offer a ride.)

“Do you know where you’re at?”
Chances are, yes, the person holding the cane or guide dog harness is fully aware of their location and surroundings.  Our friend Keith, fellow VIP, recently had this experience with a stranger at a train station marching up to him and asking if he knows where he’s at.  Keith, being the light-hearted guy that he is, was tempted to reply. “Do you mean like emotionally?”

(Note:: If someone looks lost, blind or sighted, the kind thing to do is say, “Hello, do you need help with directions?”)

Silently wave and keep going, hoping they sense your presence and identity.
Waving is an automatic social gesture that comes so naturally that it is often hard to control the wave and dash mentality.  But it is possible to both wave and offer a short greeting.  I honestly did not realize how many waves I was missing until my daughter was old enough to talk, and started asking things like, “Why did you not wave back to the neighbors when they passed by us?” It may not seem like a big deal to wave at a person who can’t see you anyways, but it matters.  Social customs of greeting one another are part of how we as humans feel connection in our society.  On the flipside, no need to shout and wave obnoxiously to ensure the person has your attention.

(Note: A simple, “Hey, it’s John. How’s it going?” works wonders.)

“Are you blind?”
Asking someone with a cane or a guide dog whether they are blind is like asking someone in a wheelchair if they are paralyzed. It’s not how anyone wants to be greeted, and is a very awkward conversation starter. To clarify, we are usually open to questions, especially if someone is truly curious about vision loss, but a blunt question like that right off the bat feels out of place.

How do most people with sight loss want to be greeted? The same as most people, with warmth, kindness, and a few words.

 

 

(Repost from article by Joy Thomas from Crixeo Magazine)

AN ACCIDENT UNLOCKED JASON PADGETT’S MATHEMATICAL AND ARTISTIC POTENTIAL, MAKING HIM ONE OF ONLY 40 PEOPLE IN THE WORLD WITH ACQUIRED SAVANT SYNDROME.

Jason Padgett, who has acquired savant syndrome, says he wouldn’t change any of the pain he underwent after being beaten, as he now sees the world in an overlay of geometric fractals that he believes hold answers to some of life’s biggest questions.

With the popularity of shows like The OA, The 4400 and Second Chance, questions about the human brain’s hidden abilities surface, leaving many of us to wonder what price we’d pay to unlock hidden neurological gems. Though these shows are fictional, the brain science behind some of them is not. And there are real-life people to prove it.

Read more…

Acquired Savant Syndrome: Meet an Accidental Genius

(Repost of article by Joy Thomas from Crixeo Magazine)

MANY PEOPLE SEE THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SERVICE DOG AND HANDLER AS A BEAUTIFUL, SYMBIOTIC BOND, BUT SOME ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVISTS VIEW IT AS HARMFUL. ARE SERVICE ANIMALS ‘HAPPY’ WORKING? WE ASKED THE EXPERTS.

Amanda Bagwell-Chase, a self-proclaimed animal rights activist, proudly wears a T-shirt displaying a lion’s paw print next to a human handprint, referring to Cecil the Lion and symbolizing unity between animals and humans. But on several occasions Bagwell-Chase has been the target of public ridicule while wearing this shirt. The reason? She wears it while holding the harness of her service dog, Patsy.

Read more…

Service Animals: A ‘Chosen’ Career Path or a Life of Servitude?

The question of “How are your eyes?” pops up from time to time at a social gathering with friends or a holiday meal with extended family.  I don’t find this question rude or intrusive, but I’m never quite sure how to answer.  Especially when the question often seems to come out of nowhere – not even closely related to the last topic of conversation.  Is the question being asked as a polite “How are you?” to which a “Fine” or “Okay” is expected.  Or is the questioner hoping for a detailed description of my last trip to the optholmologist? Did they see me accidentally dip my finger in the salsa bowl, thus prompting them to wonder how much more vision I’ve’ lost since they saw me last?

My typical response goes something like, “Well, RP is like getting older – it happens so slowly over time that you don’t notice the changes on a day to day basis.  Yes, my eyes are worse than they were 5 years ago, but I can’t exactly define how worse.” The questioner typically changes the subject as abruptly as they started it, leaving me to wonder if I’d given a clear enough answer.

A recent trip to a retina specialist at the Casey Eye Institute provides an updated answer to the “how are your eyes” question for those interested in details. Continue reading

20247589_1900845293573972_6553534300030194330_oLesson #1:  Paddle boarding visually impaired is the perfect illustration to describe the continuum of blindness that confuses the public (i.e. for people who are perplexed when they see someone with a guide dog or cane reading a text message with their eyes).  

Navigating around Newport Harbor today reminded me of my favorite quote about my eye disease, Retinitis Pigments. ”RP is seeing a tiny piece of paper across the room and then tripping over an elephant on the way to pick it up.” I paddled hard to the right in order to avoid a small buoy, feeling extremely proud of myself for spotting the bobbing mound of plastic, only to ram the tip of my board directly into a giant boat, which seemed to literally appear out of nowhere, though it rocked there gently all along. That’s RP, my friends: the person standing silently by the elevator, unbeknownst to you, who suddenly says “hi”, startling you to a halt. The trickery of RP is that you see many things. And then you don’t. You think you’re gliding along just fine. And then you crash. You see just enough for your mind to convince you that you’re seeing the whole picture. But you’re not.

The mobility help of a guide dog or cane might seem confusing or unnecessary to some. But it isn’t. Mobility aides keep second-guessing to a minimum and prevent run-ins with mute elephants and strangers near elevators who come out of nowhere (and perhaps with silent sea vessels if they were useful in water). #blindpaddleboarding #guidedogsfortheblind

Continue reading

This blog has unintentionally become a long lost friend. The kind of friend that you treasure and wish you stayed in touch with more. As the days pass by, this friend frequently comes to mind and yet the fullness of life continues to distract from finding time to connect. But this friend is always there when you return, waiting to pick right back up where you left off. Alas, so much time has passed that a quick text “hello” won’t do.

Now here we are, finally sitting down for that long awaited cup of coffee. Let’s catch up.

First off, I’m going back to school! I know, can you believe it?! Here I am teetering on the tail end of my 30’s with 2 young children, and I’m going to be a student once again. I’ll be pursuing my MSW (Master of Social Work) at the University of Washington in Seattle beginning this fall. My husband pointed out that I will be on campus with students who were born the year I graduated from undergrad. Super helpful fact – thanks babe.

Classes haven’t even started yet, and I’m already behind on my reading. I’m excited and slightly overwhelmed as I peruse the course schedule for this 3 year program. Between research papers and commuting to Seattle for classes, I will find time to give updates on my new life as a student/wife/mom/daughter/sister/friend/yogi/grant-writer/crisis-line advocate/blogger.

Now I want to tell you all about my crazy amazing summer. It started off with that retreat I’d been talking about forever. Yes, the Brene Brown Rising Strong retreat at the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah. I’m not sure if I should start with the inspiring women I met, or the 35 foot high climbing wall/ropes course, or water skiing for the first time, or breath-taking hikes, or the magical disappearing foot scrub. It truly was an experience I will cherish forever. Oh, and did I mention the group of bad ass blind women with me on this retreat? Our tribe continues to grow.

Joy and Jenelle wearing sunglasses and helmets at the high ropes course in Park City, Utah.

Next up, family camp at Enchanted Hills in Northern California. Incredible camp counselors and staff, HOT weather, the best talent show I’ve ever attended, and quality time for the Thomas/Landgraf families. It doesn’t get much better than that. You have to listen to the fun interview with Joy and family from the last day of camp.

My 4 year old son riding a horse with a camp counselor while another camp counselor leads the horse at Enchanted Hills Family Camp.

My 4 year old son riding a horse with a camp counselor while another camp counselor leads the horse at Enchanted Hills Family Camp.

I can’t leave out my trip to Portland to see my best’ies combined with a visit to the Casey Eye Institute to meet with a new retina specialist. I will have to tell you all about that visit over our next cup of coffee, as some of the details are interesting. My husband and kids picked me up from my appt, and with my eyes fully dilated, we headed straight to Mt. Rainier where we enjoyed meeting up with family. One of our beautiful hikes included a rickety bridge with a sign that read “One person at a time”. Whoever said I wasn’t a risk taker?

Jenelle standing on long thin suspension bridge.

Jenelle standing on long thin suspension bridge.

After returning from all these travels, we were blessed to have a full house of visitors throughout the remainder of July and August. If we had more time, I would tell you about all the fun we had rafting the river and SUP boarding at the lake, followed by delicious BBQs. But this cup of coffee is about done, so we’ll need to schedule another one. Hopefully it won’t be too long until next time.

Oh, and did I tell you Joy started a new job? Well, I’ll let her tell you about that.

Pasted Graphic.tiffEHCPIC    In July, our families attended Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa, CA, an incredible 4-day family camp run by the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind. EHC has their own podcast, and on the last day of camp, we were interviewed for one of their episodes! We’ll share a bit more about our camp experience in future posts but wanted to give you a taste of it here…

Listen to the Everything EHC Podcast Episode 32

(Check out more Everything EHC Podcast Episodes)

 

This week, I had the pleasure of co-presenting at the Spring ADA Paratransit Conference with my friend and fellow blogger Keith Edgerton.  I felt instantly at ease alongside this seasoned public speaker as we shared our experiences of using public transportation with visual impairment.  Each year a transit authority from one of Washington’s Counties puts on the event.  39 out of 40 counties were represented at this conference held in my hometown of Leavenworth.  Talk about a short commute!

Blog Photo

Photo Description: Jenelle (left) and Keith (right) standing outside in Leavenworth with the Cascade Mountains in the background. Continue reading

FullSizeRender 2

Joy and Jenelle laughing and holding hands at Aliso Creek Beach in Orange County, CA.

Loyal, lovely readers, our apologies for the scarce posts in recent months.  We’ve received emails from some readers checking in on us, and we appreciate your encouragement.  You, our courageous tribe, are why we will continue to write amidst bustling schedules.  And we thank you for taking time out of your busy lives to stop by Doublevision blog.

FullSizeRender

Joy and Jenelle’s young children smiling in front of a fountain.

We are actually writing this post together IN PERSON, as Jenelle is visiting Joy in sunny SoCal for a couple weeks. Our kids are getting lots of cousin time building sand castles and soaking in Vitamin D while we catch up and enjoy our time together.

Today we’d like to loop back to a topic that everyone LOVES to talk about (insert sarcastic undertone here). We’ve written posts on it and spoke on a podcast about it and its relationship to blindness. While it’s not something that most people deal with daily, it does have a way of Continue reading