Julie’s blindness FAQ’s
Julie gets asked loads of questions all the time about being blind. Here’s just some of the most frequently asked, along with some of her most common answers.
HOW DID YOU GO BLIND?
On March 27, 1997, at the age of 31, I was diagnosed at Dunedin Public Hospital with inflammation of the retina due to an unknown virus which left me legally blind. This took my remaining partial vision after already having been diagnosed at the age of 18 with a juvenile form of macular degeneration which had me already seeing things in a blur. In 2008 I lost the remainder of my vision; I am now totally blind
HOW DO YOU DO YOUR GROCERY SHOPPING?
This is indeed a challenge. I couldn’t do it on my own. My sister and I go to the same supermarket each time. There are a couple of rules to grocery shopping blind. The first is that we have to go the same way up the same aisle each visit because I have become familiar with what is on the shelves. The second thing is once I get it into my kitchen I have to unpack it myself. Otherwise I have no idea of where it all ends up. As I am responsible for the overall functioning of the kitchen, I have to know where everything is! And as you can imagine, everything has it’s rightful place. Eh boys?
HOW DO YOU GET ON WALKING HALF MARATHONS?
go with a sighted guide, otherwise known as my friend Jo. Using a small piece of hot pink rope (about 10 cms in length), we each hold on to either end and with me walking slightly behind her off we go. The team at the Cadbury Moro Marathon in Dunedin always allow us to start 15 minutes before the rest of the pack. This is great as it means people have to pass us rather than us pass people. We also have sighted guide and blind walker on the back of our t shirts to let those behind us know why there are two of us walking together. The hardest part of walking a half marathon blind is being fit!
HOW DO YOU COOK A MEAL?
Actually I’d prefer not to but foolishly my pride didn’t allow this as an option, so I have been cooking without looking ever since I went blind. Icing chocolate éclairs has been something I have given up but otherwise I just get on and cook using my other senses, using my smell, touch, taste and hearing to tell me when food is cooked. You can hear saveloys boiling, smell when a cake is cooked and feel the dry skin of chicken when it is done. Serving meals onto plates is probably the hardest part of cooking without looking. This is done by using a clockface on the plate, so that you serve potato on all the plates at 12 o’clock, peas at 3 o’clock and meat at 9 o’clock. Well thats the theory anyway.
HOW DO YOU GET GOOD AT MAKING TRUFFLES?
I got asked this question by a 12 year old girl at Avalon Intermediate when I was traveling around the country with Operation Truffle. I thought at the time that it was a great question because the answer has such a strong message. The way you get good at making truffles is to keep making and making and making and making them. That is how you get good at anything, just keep doing it. Don’t give up!
WHY DON’T YOU HAVE A GUIDE DOG?
This is the other most commonly asked question. While I am still my husband the thought of training and being responsible for another creature 24/7, is not for me at this stage of my life. I’m sure one day I will get a Guide dog, after all they are a superior mobility tool, nevertheless mobility tool that needs walking, feeding and caring for. In the meantime, my white cane can be folded up and put away in a drawer when I am not using it – try doing that to a Guide dog!
WHAT’S THE HARDEST PART ABOUT BEING BLIND?
Not being able to read the newspaper in the morning, not being able to drive and missing out on seeing a bride walk down the aisle at a wedding are all things I miss but have adjusted to. The hardest thing about being blind is fighting for the funding you need to gain the support and equipment you need just to keep up with the rest of an ever changing world. Being blind takes more energy then being sighted because your memory is working a lot harder. Throwing extra battles into the war of blindness only increases it’s toll.
HOW DO YOU SEND TEXT MESSAGES?
The same way I use my computer, with speech software. I use the braille dot on the number 5 to navigate around the keypad. You will find this on all cellphones, so check yours to see if it has one to. When I am sent a text my phone speaks out the words. For this reason words like “l8r” and “LOL” do not read very easily and as a result are hard to read so if you are texting me, its full old fashioned words please! I have the voice rate set as fast so most sighted people are unable to understand what the phone is saying. This is great because it makes the messages automatically private.
BUT YOU DON’T LOOK BLIND?
There’s not too much I can do about this one. What does a blind person look like anyway? This is one of the many reasons I carry a white cane, so that people know I am blind because they can’t tell from looking at me. The vein side of me is pleased that my eyes look normal. The pragmatic side of me wishes I did look so called “blind”. It would save loads of guessing. People often comment that I am looking straight at them, but what I think is happening is that they are looking straight at me and our eyes connect.
CAN YOUR TWO BOYS SEE?
Yes. Zachary and Sebastian are both fully sighted. There is no strong evidence to suggest this eye attack will be passed on to them, but if it is, they know what to do!
HOW DO YOU CHOOSE YOUR CLOTHES?
There are two parts to this question. When I am buying them I either take someone whose opinion I trust or go it alone in a shop whose clothes I trust. When I get them home clothes are hung in my wardrobe in order of shirts, skirts, trousers and jerseys. I can tell 95% of my clothes by using my sense of touch to differentiate between the shapes of the collar, length of the sleeve etc with my memory doing the remainder of the identifying. If I buy the same style top say, but in two different colours, I make a slit in one of the labels in order to tell it apart from the other one.
DO YOU DREAM IN COLOUR?
Yes. I dream as if I was totally sighted. It’s a bit funny to think that I have to close my eyes to be able to see, but that’s how it is for me when I dream. Not only do I see colour, I see shapes, people, and places I know. I think this has something to do with having a visual memory because I know that people who have been blind since birth dream without sight.
WHAT CAN YOU SEE?
Absolutely nothing, I am totally blind. People often ask me what I see, especially if it is either black or white. My reply is that it is white, its like looking through a fogged up bathroom mirror. Sometimes I can tell if a light is on in a room or not, but most times I am unable to. 96% of blind people have some useful vision; but not me!
HOW DO YOU USE A COMPUTER?
When I went blind, one of my first rehabilitation goals was to learn to touch type. Using a regular keyboard, I use a standard computer with a speech software programme called JAWS. When I type in a word the programme reads the word out so I can check what I have typed. Reading an email or word document is as simple as pressing “insert down arrow” (a JAWS key command because blind people don’t use a mouse) and then listening with your ears. Alternatively I can read the information with my fingers through an electronic braille display. A braille display has metal pins which pop up and down, forming new words in braille as the text changes
HOW DO YOU PUT ON YOUR LIPSTICK?
This is one of my most commonly asked questions. Without a mirror of course, but really it’s just by using my sense of better developed touch. I trace around my lips using the lipstick, taking care not to go over the edge or too far at the corners. The trick is getting the right lipstick! Braille labels and different shaped lipstick containers are both employed to help distinguish between the six lipsticks I may have on the go at any one time.