Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Guide Dogs For the Blind Home Visit.

Last Monday was a big day for me. I first applied to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association here in California to be considered for a dog at the end of last year.

Monday was the long awaited home visit portion of the application. 

The home visitor was very nice, arriving on the strike of nine in the morning as we had agreed a couple of weeks ago. As we live in a semi-rural area I was expecting her to be several minutes late, but no, she was right on time.

After a few minutes chatting over introductions the home visitor went through my application. We talked about the reasons I had chosen to apply for a guide dog, my experience with dogs in the past,  having had German Shepherd dogs for the last thirty years two of which lived to sixteen and eighteen years respectively raised an eyebrow as one doesn't expect those dogs to be so long lived. We also talked about my personal preferences, color, breed, and gender. I am pretty open, I wouldn't want to disregard a good dog just because it didn't co-ordinate with my wardrobe  or something like that. Being flexible allows the Guide Dogs assessors to make an easier fit too. I was also asked if I have a preference as to the campus where I would train, San Rafael CA or Boring Oregon. I said that either would be fine, again multiplying possible allocated training options.

Following this portion of the interview the really hard work began. I had to walk with my cane to my workplace, coming back would be with the empty "Juno" harness, pretending I was following a dog.

On the route out, the visitor noted several danger spots and so we altered the route slightly, which was not at all easy, but she had an iPhone with an app which showed sidewalks. Wow there's an app for that!

Coming back we took a slightly different route again making adjustments for danger areas. 

We also checked out my directional awareness, the visitor leading mean a spiral and asking me what the original direction of travel had been and how to get back to the original route. Dogs will, take you of course sometimes and it is up to you to know how to get unlost.

After this two hour exercise we got back to my house and finished on a what next portion.

She was concerned about danger areas on the route, butt would suggest retraining with my white cane trainer, in the meantime putting forward my application for a dog.

The report which she makes will go on to a selection board to be examined. Because of my earlier choices as to breed and campus I could receive a placement more quickly, but the process is currently filling spaces in about five months time. Maybe November 2013.

I am glad that portion is now over. I will be waiting for several more weeks to see if the selection board have accepted the visitors recommendation.

Patience is a virtue they say.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ambutech Rolling Ball Cane Tip: Product Review

I bought the Ambutek Rolling Ball tip for my white cane to replace my old marshmallow type cane tip.
The new Rolling Ball tip was large and round and looked pretty heavy. But it turned out to be a wonderful new tip.

Newly fitted Ambutech Rolling Ball
Cane tip.

The new tip, my tip is the hook on variety, fitted snuggly onto the cane in a few moments see my video on fitting the cane tip on "Reparing Your White Cane."

The tip has been in daily use for over three months now and is showing signs of wear and tear as you may be able to see from this photograph.

Ambutech Rolling Ball Tip
After three months daily use.

I have walked 150 miles with this cane tip. Normally after three months I would be looking to change the tip of my cane. This tip however looks like it has at least two or three more months use in it and I am confident that I don't need to replace it just yet.

The tip looks heavy but it is very light to use, I roll the cane easily with my thumb and forefinger. The ball tip is large enough to roll easily over breaks in the sidewalk and uneven surfaces but also give both audible and touch feedback.

The hard nylon case means that the ball gives a good crack sound as it strikes any object or broken sidewalk. Finding crossings  at the roadside is also easy as the ball makes a sound which is audible over some loud traffic noise.

The large size of the ball tip also means that other sighted pedestrians can see the tip and so move to oneside to let you pass. A common failure of small marshmallow tips are collisions with sighted pedestrians who do not notice my cane and so this cane tip has saved me many apologies.

All in all a great cane tip and at just a little higher price than a marshmallow rolling tip, I would say great value for money... See what others say about the Ambutech Rolling Ball Cane Tip.
Available at my Low Vision Store

Ambutech Rolling Ball Video Review



Friday, May 24, 2013

Happy Anniversary

Today, May 24, 2013 sees the seventh anniversary of the Central Retinal Veon occlusion which began my loss of sight in my left eye.

I remember the moment well. I was actually painting the bathroom of our new home. I was painting the wall white and suddenly my vision went fuzzy. I knew that was bad straight away.

I told my wife, and we got to a doctor pretty quickly. That doctor said I was ok, leave it a few weeks. At that point I made a mental note to change doctors A.S.A.P. but get the eye seen too first. Then there was a frantic series of calls to eye doctors. The first that I saw was irate that I had called as an emergency and made him cancel his lunch. Not going there again. The next eye doctors office we called from our cell phones in the car. They saw this was a real emergency and had everything set up to see the doctor within minutes of arriving.

Since that day seven years ago, my file has grown so thick that  it takes the nurses at the office two hands to lift and my doctor and I even discuss the possibility of introducing a frequent visitor miles option for me or at least placing a memorial plaque on the latest laser in memory of my service to her office.

Without that CRVO or the subsequent macular degeneration this blog may never have happened.

Happy Anniversary!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Macular Degeneration

The most frustrating part of having macular degeneration is the constant question of how bad will my sight be today?

As things go my eyesight is pretty bad. I can barely see more than five feet and that distance can make things look pretty foggy. My eyesight can vary, day yo day and sometimes seemingly hour by hour. For instance when I wake in the morning it may take me an hour or so to be able to see my hands.  Other days I can wake and see them just fine.

There is always a constant fog in my world. Make things brighter and the glare makes it worse, make things darker and all things quickly disappear into the blackness.

At this stage of the disease I think my retina is just about finished. Maybe it may be reversed but at 51 years old I cannot imagine the economic benefits of being able to see again would warrant treatment for much longs. Blindness is an ever changing disorder in my case. I can sometimes see something but more of the time these days white/grey fog is about all I see from my right eye, my left descended into blackness quite some time ago.

Treatments of laser and Avastin and Lucentis have played their part in keeping total blindness at bay, but as time passes these seem less and less effective after six years.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Looking Back at New Year Resolutions

With the mid point of 2013 fast approaching, can you believe we are in the last few days of May already? I decided to go back and look at my New Year Resolutions for 2013.  Back then I had just one resolution with work in mind.

I wanted to return to work by the end of January. I did just that with two weeks to spare.

Also I had just been able to walk across town to Starbucks for a coffee. Saturday I walked across town and back for a coffee. That was not a first time doing that though. I can do that now most days, while it is cool enough, but with temperatures now almost daily in the mid 90's Fahrenheit not too often.

My walking regime is now up to full again even allowing for another recent spell in hospital.

I am walking a one and a half mile or two mile route every day. So am very happy with that. The milage also doesn't include short walks to the bathroom and across my workplace. Though they would add something they do not add a lot of walking to my day.

With just one week to go now until the Guide Dogs for the Blind home visit, I am about where I wanted to be exercise wise in January and my New Years Resolution was fulfilled so definitely a good year for resolutions.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


Movie going has becomr much easier in recent months. As I posted before Christmas the Regal Cinema chain here in Fresno, CA. has up graded its cinemas to have audio description of the movies as they screen them.

At first there was some problem actually getting the customer service people to actually set up the small black box correctly. Seemingly the box has two settings H or B.

H I take to mean for use with a hearing aid or some such thing. B suggests to me Blind or visually impaired for those who insist on our disability being described in the most ineffective politically correct way.

Anyway the wrong setting means the little black box is completely useless for my needs but sometimes it takes time to have a customer service person recognize that I know what setting I need better than they do.

Barring that moment when one finds a wrongly set little black box and having to trudge to the customer service desk two or three times to have them reset the thing, I now really enjoy the movies again.

I am looking forward to a bumper crop of Summer movies, Iron Man 3 was great. Star Trek looks good and what another Superman may do, well?  Who knows?


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Day I Died

I have come to the conclusion lately that I am coming to a new period of my life. There was my childhood, my teenage years, adult single life etc.

Then a couple of weeks ago there was the day I died.

Of course you are not now reading the words of a "Ghost" writer. I am back again at my keyboard typing today as I am in a hard work type of mode. Dictating to Dragon Naturally Speaking is for my slower days.

Anyway. Three weeks ago, today was in fact the day I died.

I had gone to the doctors a couple of days before and complained of a pain in my left side. I had a cough and was not surprised to have him say that I had probably strained a muscle in my ribs coughing too hard. I had pulled one of those muscles many years ago in a car accident, the seat belt held me so tight it pulled one of the rib muscles. I concurred the pain was about the same.

He did not send me home however, this was cause to delay and send me to hospital. Two days of tests showed nothing wrong. Thumbs up for the pulled muscle diagnosis I thought.

Then just one procedure to do. There I was all wired up to a heart monitor and a nurse prepared my arm for a new I.V. drip for the duration of the procedure.

I recall her saying "Just a  prick."

I answered "OK, but I feel faint."

Next thing I recall was the room was full of about twenty people, shouting and calling to me and each other.

Some people called on me to look at them, and I remember getting irritated with them saying, "I am blind. I can't really see you."

Anyway. My mutterings gained a rapid quieting in the room. As people began to settle down and move out slowly.

What had happened? Not long after the nurse had heard me say I felt faint, my heart had stopped beating for over thirty seconds. It had then started and stopped again over the next several minutes. Finally continuing to beat strongly.

For several minutes I had hung  between life and death. There were no mystic revelations. Just quiet peace. Most worrying was it was all too easy to just die. Way too easy.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Photograph App Coming Soon

According to a new app for your smart phone will soon be available to help you frame and take the perfect photograph.

If you are like me, I love to take photographs even though I can no longer see the result.

Whenever I go to a place it just seems right to take a picture.

The new app was created by scientists in Santa Cruz California  who asked a number of visually impaired and blind people what they needed to know in order to take a photograph. This app is a amalgamation of their answers and sounds very good.

Personally I have difficulty locating the shutter release on my smart phone and also at times I have to ask my wife to frame a photograph for me, of course that then does detract from my experience of taking the photo as it becomes, to my mind, my wifes photograph.

The new app uses audio cues to guide you into framing your picture and also allows the recording of a moment of sound to give you a clue as to the photograph itself.

It all sounds great and we will keep an eye out for any developments.

To read the Smithsonian Article click here 

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Life with Blindness: Annoyances

A few weeks ago on my video blog, one of my viewers asked about the things that as a blindman I find really annoying or irritating.

The question was so thought provoking that I felt that it needed a video blog just to answer it.

Here is that video blog.


US Citizenship Class ends in Smiles.

Last nightwas the fifth class of the US Citizenship class which I have been teaching at my local public library.

All the classes had been very well attended, over ten people every week for the five weeks. The format was simple an introductory week then four study sessions where we looked at the one hundred citizenship test questions and examined them, learned some of the history. Worked on a worksheet together and generally made the whole process fun.

I believe in learning for fun and making learning fun.

I was really moved and almost cried, when several of the people who had attended thanked me for the class. It just seemed to really be something these people needed and that made me very happy that a service had been provided.

I will be going away from the class for a few weeks to re-examine how to improve it, with the use of their feedback. I had begun the class with one idea of how to make it happen and for the most part that was the way it worked, we also had some suggestions from some people as to how they would like to see the class develop. Those that could be implemented quickly were added over the five weeks, some others will require time to work out how to implement.

All in all, the last five weeks on a Thursday has just gone to confirm, to me, that blindness does not mean that I can't do something for others. It just makes it easier for me to make excuses not to do something, and I don't like excuses.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


I have been waiting . Not for anything in particular. Just waiting.

Isn't that just how life is though?

Waiting for one thing to happen and so you can get on with waiting for the next thing to happen, then the next.

The other day I had to wait for the bus, then wait for the waiter to serve me lunch while I waited for the time to go to my doctor appointment. After that I had to wait again for the bus to bring me home and on the bus I waited to get home to have my dinner. Before waiting as I watched TV to go to bed.

Basically a whole day of waiting with perhaps thirty minutes of waiting free time when something actually happened.

Fascinating in the extremity of the boredom of some days.

If anyone had asked me what did I do on Monday I would have filled up with time wasters like I read a book, went to the doctors, had some ideas for wok to do. Posts to write, anything to seem as if I had really spent the day actively.

Anything to say something other than I just waited. "Waited for what?"

Friday, May 3, 2013

Guide Dog Home Visit Appointment

I was beginning to think that the next step in my Guide Dog Application might never happen.

I began my application at the end of last year. Then I had hoped that by now we would have had a home visit from guide Dogs for the blind.

It has been my own eagerness to get things done that has led to frustration. I placed minimum turn around times on getting reports from doctors and such. Too soon I realized that doctors work at their own pace, and no matter how much I wanted to get letters back they only sent them in their own time.

Well yesterday, I had a call from one of the home visit staff. She was calling to make an appointment, it will be in three weeks, on Memorial Day, Monday 27th May. A really great weekend to look forward to.

Our town has a fair and parade on the Saturday, then great excitement for me ensues with the Indy 500 on Sunday then to cap it all the home visit interview.

The visit consists of a discussion about the reasons for having a guide dog and also requirements, then I show the mobility person how I get around town at present. Then there is a test with Juno the instructor takes one part of the harness and takes the role of a guide dog and I learn some of the basi steps to handling a dog.

This is both nerve wrecking and also exciting, all my Christmas's have come at once. The final step  before possibly finding a place in the guide dog training program.

Wish me luck.

To read previous posts about my Guide Dog Application read here.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Too Hot, Too Soon

One of the bad things about living in Central California for me is the summer heat.

Summers can be brutal here. 100 degrees Fahrenheit from July till late September seem the norm. OK Humidity is almost non existant but the heat can be oppressive.

These last few days have almost seen me break, already we are having temperatures in the high 90's F. High 90's! No I can't stand it not for at least another six weeks at least.

I remember when friends at work in England cried on the unfairness of me moving from England to California. I never liked the heat even of the occasional 80 F degree summer day in England. To move to the land of sun, California's golden beaches, surf or mountain. Er well the Central valley is about 2 hours drive from both beach and mountain and while the coast enjoys moderate temperatures we just bake.

One relief from the heat though is to drive over to the coast.

I remember two or three years ago. My wife and I drove over to the coast. Just inland temperatures were at about 109F. on the beach the temperature was 65F. The moment we parked the car, we opened the windows to let in a cooling breeze and in seconds were asleep. So cool, so refreshing. Several hours later we awoke as the sun was setting and droe back home to our 100+ F. Home.

Summer has come way too soon for me again. It's hot.