Me vs. The Restaurant

Eating out is almost always a great time… unless you are blind like me. Okay, so that might have been a bit of a “shock” opening line but, unfortunately, it is true for me. Like most people, I love eating good food with family and friends. I especially love it if I don’t have to help clean up the dishes afterward. This is where the restaurant comes in, those nearly ubiquitous dining establishments that can be spotted on just about any street corner in our town. However, I have begun to notice that I don’t enjoy eating out as often as I used to as my sight deteriorates. There are a number of reasons why and none of them have anything to do with the quality of the buffalo wings.

The first thing is the seating, especially when we are talking about a non-fast food, sit down and order joint. Navigating the maze of tables and chairs, that to me seem like they are scattered haphazardly, is nearly impossible without help from my wife and kids. I get it. These places need to maximize their seating to get in as many customers as possible to maximize food sales and I don’t begrudge them that. But, you combine the table and chair arrangement with the dim, mood lighting that most places seem to love and I’m definitely running into a chair or three.

Secondly, is the process of selecting and ordering food. In a fast-food spot, reading the menu boards hanging behind the counter is nearly always a no go for me. The font is entirely too small and I often wonder why considering how much white space I can clearly see. Isn’t the point of these things is to help you choose what to eat? Then I have to either rely on my memory of what I enjoyed the last time we came here or I have to lean over to my lady and ask for help. Not ideal and it definitely does not inspire a feeling of independence. There have been a few places that have self-ordering kiosks, that I’ve been able to use for checking out what they offer, and that has been nice and somewhat liberating. More of those types of screens please, where I can actually walk right up to them and see what’s what.

In a sit-down restaurant, ordering from a laminated menu offers its own challenges. As mentioned earlier, the lighting is usually dim which by its very nature, makes reading difficult. And similar to the menu boards, the fonts are usually small and there is clearly a real emphasis on making it look cool rather than making it easy to read. In these cases, I can pull out my pocket magnifier, if the lighting is decent, and make my selections. But in poor light, I once again have to ask for help. (Are you picking up on a pattern here?)

My final reason for falling out of love with eating out so often has been touched on already. It is that I simply don’t feel like I could eat out on my own, independently, without assistance, and that is not great. I don’t feel safe navigating the dining areas and often even need help to find the restrooms unless I have been there a few times. Certainly not the most dignified thing for a man in his mid-forties.

So, I add all those reasons together and I just don’t have the level of enjoyment eating out as I did when I had more sight. However, I do still enjoy the wings.

Me Versus Braille

What a fascinating thing the tactile language of braille is. It utilizes a set of raised dots in a grid to represent each letter of the alphabet, plus numbers and punctuation. There is even a more advanced version called contracted braille that combines common letter groupings to make reading more efficient. It is hard to imagine that dots could convey all of that information through the touch of a finger, but it does.

What is almost as fascinating as the language itself is the history behind it. The story of how the written word has been translated into a language for the blind is a long and wandering one. One of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible, recently had an episode entitled The Universal Page. This episode provided a great overview of this history, along with looking at current trends and needs in this space. I highly recommend giving it a listen and reading the post that accompanies it. Notable to me was the emphasis placed on the need for involving individuals with visual disabilities in the development of new tools and methods. Who better to involve in the process than those who need it most?

I myself have always been hesitant to learn braille. I have even had some opportunities to take classes several years ago but I declined. At the time it just didn’t seem necessary considering all the digital tools and audio options that were out there. However, if I am being completely honest, it was more a matter of pride that was really motivating my hesitation. Deep down, by learning braille I felt like it would be an admission of need and I was not yet ready to do that.

Lately I have begun to feel my perspective shifting. My recent blog posts are evidence of that shift along with a realization that my blindness is an integral part of what makes me unique. It does not define me but it is a massive factor in how I live life. To fight this is to fight myself and that really makes no sense. I began to look into options for learning braille and came across Hadley via the American Foundation for the Blind website. Hadley offers braille training through correspondence courses, free of charge, along with a variety of other resources. After doing some reading on the site, I registered and received confirmation that I will begin in a few weeks.

I am excited to take this step. The time just feels right.

Me Versus Carlsbad Caverns National Park

rock formations in the Caverns

A blind man walks into a cave.

Sounds like the opening line of a joke doesn’t it? I have always been fascinated with the array of National and State Parks that dot our country. Of course, most of this fascination has been more intellectual in nature, as I am not an “outdoorsy” guy. I know that I am not the only computer nerd that prefers the indoors, stereotypes do exist for a reason. Recently however, I have been making noises about trying to do more travelling around our area. To try and make some memories by visiting some of the Parks and Monuments that are within a day-trip distance of our home in Lubbock, Texas.

Continue reading “Me Versus Carlsbad Caverns National Park”

Me Versus the World

Sometimes I feel like the world is out to get me.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I feel like the world that I live in is not particularly well suited for me. You see, I cannot see, at least not very well. I am legally blind. What “legally blind” means, in my case, is that I am completely blind in one eye and I have considerable loss of vision in my other eye. I have had nearly thirty eye surgeries throughout my life. Most of which came before the age of eighteen, dealing with issues like retinal detachments, glaucoma and cataracts.

Throughout my childhood and early adult years, I was able to live a relatively normal life. I played sports in high school, was a voracious reader of books of all sorts, built my own computers, played video games and drove myself where I needed to go. As my vision worsened as I entered my thirties. Many of those things that I used to be able to do easily had to go away or change drastically. Now, in my mid-forties, I am having to continue to adjust and learn how to live in a world that is designed for the fully sighted. It has not been easy and I want to talk about it.

This will be the first in what will be an ongoing series of articles about living in this world as a blind person. This initial post introduces you to me and will serve as a starting point. At the very least, I hope to put into words what my experiences are on a day to day basis. I will strive to address what I have done using technology and other methods to continue to enjoy those things I love. Additionally, I hope to shed a light on how much more needs to be done in our world for those with visual disabilities and advocate for change.

Is the world out to get me? No. But I’d love to go out and get the world.