Tag: disabilities



19 Aug 18

By Randy Pierce

By choice of planning and response I work to sustain life as a generally positive adventure. Nonetheless, I’ve often shared the reality of challenge and frustration which work into my own life and in particular this week I hope to provide a glimpse of a sight challenge frustration.

When I fly, my ears often become blocked upon landing and I find my hearing significantly impaired, a poor accompaniment to the total blindness. In fact the cold I’ve had since my Scotland trip has similarly kept my hearing more challenged than normal and perhaps that has heightened my awareness of the challenges resulting from my blindness. It has heightened my respect for my peers who manage Usher syndrome (sight and hearing impairment) or the incredible people such as Helen Keller who thrived despite a complete lack of sight and hearing. The reality is, change is difficult and for each of us adapting to a new level of challenge may naturally increase the potential for difficulty and frustration.

Crowded street of pedestrians rushingWhere I find it the most difficult is in a generally busy public location. A multitude of difficulties converge to intensify the problems. First, I’m trying to discern an unknown environment with limited resources at my disposal. Losing the directional components of my hearing (and often more) means I have the touch of a guide dog harness, cane or sighted guide, the smells of the environment, and a cryptic level of verbal communication to guide me. These are interfered with by the background noise and  jostling crowds. If the nature of those crowds are to be time pressured, as in airports, or distracted, as in the world of smart devices, the results can magnify significantly.

The overall level of awareness of people has seemingly plummeted significantly over the last decade. Amidst the jostling or worse, it is rare to get an acknowledgement in a frenzied environment and despite my large size, rather adorable Guide Dog (she and I like to think), it seems most people do not recognize the signs of my impairment. It similarly proves difficult to get them to pause in their pace long enough for a moment of inquiry and if I manage to get a pause and a realization of my sight challenge it is yet another challenge to quickly build the right foundation of interaction for a truly helpful response.

I do not suggest for a moment a malign intent–in fact most people in the right situation and with the right realization are incredibly supportive. In the difficult environment, facing my own challenges and encountering others with an assortment of their own distractions it is simply a common reality to use tremendous focus and concentration to work out the minimum requirements.

Those are the difficult days and most of us encounter them in various flavors throughout our life. I share this in part for the suggestion that any of us might slow down a step, raise our awareness, and be more attentive to enhancing the experience of our fellow travelers on the path around us. I also share this to in part ask a bit of forgiveness if in those times of my more significant difficulty I do not have the wherewithal to be at my gregarious best. I do try to slow a step and raise the awareness I can but down nearly 50% of my total senses I may likely fall short of my ideal.

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14 Jul 18

By Randy Pierce

Autumn meets Fungo, the mascot of the Fishercats. Dog jumping up while Randy looks down at her.

Autumn meets Fungo, the mascot of the Fishercats.

I love synergy: the working together of two things to produce an effect  greater than the sum of their individual effects. On August 26 at 10:00 a.m., I will participate for the Future In Sight Knights as we take on the NH Fishercats in a competitive game of Beep Baseball at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium! Our game will be a warm-up for the Fishercats who will later host the Binghamton Rumble Ponies at 1:30, but you can join us for our game, lunch, and their game as part of a fantastic Sunday Summer extravaganza!

Get your tickets from the Future In Sight Events Page

What is Beep Baseball and how will our blind/visually impaired team possibly have a chance against this professional baseball team? No, we won’t be using our Guide dogs as secret weapons–though Autumn did love her meeting with Fungo, the mascot for the Fishercats who have partnered up with Future in Sight to help us accomplish several worthy goals in support of each other.

My teammates and I all derived significant skills and support from Future In Sight, including an emphasis on “Ability Awareness.” The notion we can achieve with a little creative problem solving is at the heart of the training and services provided by Future In Sight as they help ensure people experiencing low or no vision can participate in the life enriching activities we all deserve–and this Beep Baseball game is a great opportunity to showcase it at a very high level as we take on professional athletes in this grand event!

I first played Beep Baseball for the “Lowell Lightning” back in 2002 and 2003. It’s baseball, or more closely softball, with a few different twists. The ball has an electronic beeper within it so it makes a noise that a batter or fielder can hear and use to react accordingly. All participants will be wearing full blindfolds so that everyone will be on the same sight level as me, no light perception, total blindness. The one exception to this is the pitcher is sighted and is on the same team as the batting team, trying to make the pitches easier to hit rather than more difficult.

When the ball is hit, there are only two base options, effectively first and third base. As soon as the hit is made one of the two bases will being beeping and the batter must hear which one and run towards that base. The object is to reach that base before the defensive team in the field is able to get control of the ball. If the runner reaches the base first then it is a run. If the fielder gets control of the ball in their hand first, the runner is out. This prevents blind runners in the field of play with blind fielders, a recipe for collisions!

There are typically sighted coaches in the field who are allowed to make simple number calls to help the fielders decide who will field or back-up an incoming hit but otherwise it is solely managed by the sound. Based on the speed of the ball, a fielder will typically get themselves in front of it and lay across the path to halt it and wrap around it as quickly as possible. Knowing whether to charge towards a slower ball, back up for a quicker ball just get down in the right place is the largest challenge to fielding.

There are many tips and tricks I hope to keep for my teammates as we face this professional team, but what is our edge over these talented athletes? Most of us are familiar with very low or no sight and should make some of the sound based adjustments fairly well. For the Fishercats it will be an untypical experience for them to switch to an entirely audible world. Do they have the advantage? I expect their swings to be smooth and strong, their pitching precise and their coordination excellent. This makes us the obvious and easy underdogs, but Autumn knows we like to achieve the unexpected.

I hope you’ll come out and watch a historic game, a fun game, and get a whole new perspective on baseball, ability awareness and the benefits of organizations coming together to make a difference: synergy!

Connect with the Fishercats:

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2 Jun 18

By Amy Till, Vice President, Strengths Now, Inc.

This blog is reprinted from the original version on Strengths Now. 

The quintessential 2020 Vision Quest image with Quinn guiding Randy up the steep, snowy, craggy summit of Mt. Monroe. Quinn’s golden muzzle basks majestically against the blue sky background illuminated by the sunshine while he patiently pauses for Randy, one hand on the harness, one hand on the snow as he struggles up the final slope to the summit!

Randy and Quinn on Mt. Monroe.

Strengths, Leadership and Resilience: Meet Randy Pierce, President and Founder, 2020 Vision Quest

Randy Pierce is an impactful keynote speaker and accomplished athlete who founded and manages a successful nonprofit organization. He runs marathons, has hiked all the 4000+ feet peaks in the New Hampshire White Mountains and has been known to participate in extreme sporting events like Tough Mudder. And he is completely blind.

Randy’s top five talent themes are Responsibility, Woo, Connectedness, Includer and Restorative.

Randy, thank you for sharing your strengths with us today! To get us started, tell us about your work and your organization.

I am the president of 2020 Vision Quest. Our goal is to inspire people to reach beyond adversity and discover all they CAN do. I lead by example and share my experiences to motivate and inspire others. I speak regularly at schools, corporations, and everything in between – from large industry conferences to small scout troops. The money raised supports two non-profit organizations: Future in Sight and the internationally renowned Guide Dogs for the Blind. In the eight years since inception we have given over a quarter of a million to charities. So far this year we have raised over $90,000.

What was your first reaction to your strengths report?  

I felt like my top-five really fit and I relate to all of them. I was entirely unsurprised by the order and by what was included. The Strengths Insight Report absolutely surprised me for its uncanny accuracy. This played an important role for me, because the tool really earned my confidence. As a result, I was motivated to think deeply about my results and give good consideration to the impact of my strengths.

Which of your strengths do you relate to most strongly?

Responsibility and Includer are the themes that stand out most strongly to me. Woo is also a big part of me, and I am comfortable with it, but it did sound a bit like a snake oil salesman at first. Restorative defines how I adapt to challenges and Connectedness fits because I am very aware of how one person’s actions can have great impact on another’s experience. 

During my life I have been fortunate enough to benefit from a process that allowed me to have significant regrowth, and I feel such appreciation. My Responsibility motivates me to propagate that experience and help others. I felt powerless and helpless when I went blind. I was able to shift that with guidance and direction from others. I know how hard that can be and I am compelled to help others.  

The very first 4,000+ feet climb I did with my guide dog was Mt. Hale. This mountain was named after The Reverend Edward Hale who famously said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” This has been great inspiration to me. I cannot do everything, but I am going to do my part. What CAN I do? What tools do I have to help me? My Responsibility drives me to do that which I can do. 

I know firsthand that one of the best ways to feel better is to help others (Includer, Connectedness). I still have days when I feel bad, but helping others is part of how I manage my own life and feelings. It is altruism? Is it self-servicing? It is both. You can choose what you do and how you do it. This reminds me of a powerful life moment that ultimately helped me lean into my Responsibility more. 

That sounds interesting. Are you willing to share it with us?

Absolutely. In May 1989 I was nearly 22 and I started to lose my eyesight. It was unexpected, and it happened quickly. When I was admitted to the hospital, I had a can-do kind of attitude. Just tell me what we need to do to deal with this and I will do it (Restorative). I easily made friends with the nursing staff (Includer, Connectedness, Woo). It soon became clear that there were no easy answers and that there was no path to restoring my vision. In my mind, success was not possible, and I just quit trying.

One of my nurses got a day pass and took me on her sailboat. She had an honest talk with me. She said I arrived at the hospital fun loving, gregarious and upbeat, and that it was easy for the nurses to work with me and do everything they could to help. She said that I had disconnected and closed them all out, but they were still going to help me. She wondered aloud if other people in my life were going to feel the same way if they met this new version of myself. She feared that others might step away from me, not go towards me, and she asked if I could make my way back to the person I was.

I’m sad to say I was annoyed with her at first, but I thought a lot about it. I wanted to change my behavior, but it was hard. We can logically know something, but our emotions are still there, right? In the hospital I got better with the nurses, but I stayed distant with friends, getting off the phone quickly when they called. I couldn’t do anything fun, so why would anyone want to be around me?  My family was too far away to visit. My girlfriend was overwhelmed and didn’t take my calls. I was isolated, bitter and angry. I knew I had to go through the stages of loss, but what could help me get headed in the right direction? How could I get out of this? 

Things slowly got better when I got home. I started reaching out and sharing my truth, opening up and making connections. And by doing this, I started to help other people. My Responsibility grew from that. I am not even sure Responsibility would have been in my top five prior to this experience. But now whenever people lean on me, it grows. It combines with my Includer and Connectedness, and okay, Woo, to drive me to do more for others.

Woo stands for Winning Others Over and you said you didn’t love it at first because it sounded a bit like a snake oil salesman to you. How do you use your Woo? 

I don’t intentionally try to influence people or win them over. That is not my objective, but I am aware that I do influence people. I want to relate to people and share my stories and experiences. I want them to take what matters to them and works for them or is helpful. I don’t approach my public speaking with, “here are the answers, here you go.” The reality is that my influence does exist, and I can tell from experience that it comes through to others in how I address a crowd, how I tackle challenges and how I live my life. I want it to be present and visible for others to choose to be influenced by – or not. That is how I put it out there.  

Do you think your blindness has caused you to rely on some strengths more than others? 

Complete blindness takes away all sight, and with that goes 80% of the way a typical person interacts with the world. All my skills of people interaction had to go up. One of the best things that blindness did for me is that it gave me a really good dose of humility. I was fresh out of school, had a great job as a hardware design engineer and had lots of things going my way. I hope I wasn’t arrogant, but I was closer to overconfident than humble. Losing my sight gave me perspective on the ease in which our world can change and our challenges can become different than we think. From this point forward, I had greater compassion for what others might be experiencing. I began to look through other people’s eyes, literally and figuratively, after that moment. 

How has blindness changed or impacted your strengths – as you perceive them? Do you ever wonder if your themes were the same before and after losing your sight?

Yes, I do wonder. There is no way for me to go back and take the assessment, but I suspect it would change because being blind has changed my brain. Parts that did sight processing now do language processing. I visualize everything internally with no external mnemonics. In my mind, people are feelings and attributes more than anything physical. Helen Keller, who was incredible, says the most beautiful things in the world we see with our hearts, not our eyes. I try to look at things this way too, though I still enjoy having someone describe a sunset to me. 

I don’t get to look at facial expressions, but my strengths give me candor! I will ask you anything, and I will do so with respect. If there is something I need to know, I will just ask. With my Connectedness and Woo, I can’t imagine not asking.

How have your strengths helped you in your role as the President and Founder of 2020 Vision Quest?

I have a great team of people who work with me, and I do a lot of the work myself too. My wife, Tracy, manages the finances, and I have staff and a board. With my Responsibility, I don’t let things slide. Connectedness and Includer keep me reaching out and building relationships. Woo is so important for all the public speaking and it helps me be comfortable sharing about myself and my accomplishments. Restorative comes into play when there are challenges. I am ready to solve problems and keep things moving forward.  

How do your strengths help you in your role as a keynote speaker?

When I step in front of a group to speak, in most situations I am the first blind person many people will encounter. I just assume people are going to be uncomfortable with me. In order to establish an effective learning environment, I need to put others at ease and in a very real way, win them over (Woo). I can’t see faces and body language, so I rely on sound to collect information about the audience. I listen to get a sense of the baseline of room from a distraction sense. When people are not attentive they shuffle, so I listen for that. I tell a few jokes and pay attention to what their laughs sound like. Different types of laughs can tell you things about the comfort level in a room. Most importantly I note the change in these laughs as we progress, so I can measure the impact I’m having on their comfort and engagement. 

I use my Restorative in these moments too. I need to know where the audience is, or I might rotate a little and no longer be facing them. I develop ways of orienting myself. I am not always at a podium, which can set you apart from the audience. If there is a stage behind me, I might orient by tapping my heel 

When I am at schools I make things as interactive as possible (Includer, Connectedness). I ask questions like, “What do you think a person who is blind might not be able to do?” This gets the students thinking and talking, which helps me achieve the all-important engagement of the students.

Your specific physical affliction could cause more difficulty for you at any time. How do you stay in the moment? Do you ever worry about your health?

Yes, I have an ongoing rare neurological disorder called chronic demyelinating polyneuropathy, which causes nerve damage. It can attack any part of the nervous system. There is no telling if or when the disease will progress nor what part of the body it might impact. There is no comfort in not knowing. My mindset is that I don’t like it, but I can’t immediately affect it. I have to avoid hypochondriac feelings. The disorder could affect any part of your system, so you don’t know what to look for. It could be intensely frustrating.  

Do any of your top five strengths themes help you stay in the moment?

There is a higher chance of a car accident than my neurological condition being my end, but I am not irresponsible about either of these things (Responsibility). There are plenty of good times and good experiences ahead, but I have already won. I choose to not live with the shadow of affliction darkening out present and future possibilities. This mindset has already let me have wonderful experiences and much success. To me this is demonstrable proof that I am taking the right approach. When I have a set-back, I am frustrated in the moment, but I find the new baseline and build from there (Restorative). And I have had incredible rewards from doing this. I am living life to the fullest.  

People always say when you are faced with adversity, you choose how you react. I like to take it a step further. WHAT we choose to do, the specific choice we make, will have a bigger impact on our life than our adversity. My choice of following all my dreams, hiking, founding a company, giving presentations, these are what impact my life – not my blindness, not my neurological disfunction. The specific choices I make impact my life and this is how I view it. 

I am 6’4’’ tall, have gray hair, and am blind, but the strengths at the top of my list have a phenomenally larger impact on my life than my height or sight. My choices, which involve continuing to use my strengths, are what defines my life and leads me to my success.

For more information on 2020 Vision Quest and Randy Pierce, visit 2020visionquest.org. Stay tuned for Randy’s upcoming book, which will be published later this year.

***

To learn more about Amy Till and Strengths Now, Inc. visit the Strengths Now website.

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17 Mar 18

Randy walks a tight rope alongside a mountain.By Randy Pierce

“Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this.”
– Stephen Hawking

In honor and celebration of the incredible life achievements of Stephen Hawking, I chose the above quote to lead this week’s discussion. Communication is a double-edged sword for certain. Like so many tools, it is in the manner of use by which its effect for positive or destructive influence is most commonly achieved.

I prefer to advocate for healthy communication with an equal intent for open minded listening and sharing. To that end, I heard an inordinate amount of praise for his work stated in the rough form of  “he was incredible despite his disability.” I suspect the intent there for most was to denote that without question his disability provided additional challenges which he also seemed to manage with seeming grace, dignity, and success.

The praise I mentioned did not suggest he was a brilliant mind for someone in a wheelchair, which would have a much stronger negative resonance, but it does have a hint of that suggestion, which is why I adjusted the semantics to showcase it. Stephen Hawking was a brilliant person with an incredible legacy. His resolve and perseverance through adversity were similarly admirable and commendable. They are separate statements.

I share this because I often hear two diametrically opposed reactions to various accomplishments in my own life. The first is the often well intentioned but rather limiting expression of: “great achievement for a blind person.” This suggests that as a blind person, I should perhaps be judged by some lesser standard. If the accomplishment is noteworthy and deserving of the commendation, it is received far better without the qualifier.

I obviously understand my blindness does enhance the challenge of many things and there is at times a desire to express that as part of the statement which I’ve heard done effectively many times. It’s a matter of the approach to the words and expression which, to be fair, are likely unique to each situation. I simply suggest that thoughtful choice is valuable in these times.

The second counterpoint is a similarly well intentioned incredulity at the most simple of accomplishments. Frequently, because of a challenge, there may be a desire to set extremely low expectations. As I shared at a recent presentation at LL Bean, after hearing of my hiking experience, marathon running and Tough Mudder undertakings, it is difficult to hear someone express appreciation and awe that I am able to tie my own shoes!

As someone who strives to reach for my peak potential and to encourage similar in others, I want to set expectations higher and reach for them without the mindset of settling as a consideration. Whether by lack of exposure or education to what is a reasonable possibility, those who make such hyperbole of the most modest achievement can leave me feeling insulted even knowing it was likely not their intent. I want to ease my frustration and enhance the communication to address such things through this blog and my direct interaction at the time.

With that spirit in mind I also want to suggest this attitude for all of us facing any challenge and do so with another final quote from the mind who inspired today’s discussion:

“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.”
- Stephen Hawkins

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11 Feb 18

By Randy Pierce

Autumn rests on a recent plane trip.

Autumn rests at our feet on a recent plane trip.

Delta Airlines recently announced a new disappointing policy for all animals traveling with them effective March 1, 2018. It creates unreasonable travel restrictions for teams like Autumn and me. Several other airlines are evaluating how to follow suit and I want to credit United Airlines for excluding trained service dogs from these policies.

Specifically, this new policy requires anyone traveling with their animal to download a form from their website, have it filled out by their veterinarian to confirm the animals rabies and similar vaccinations, and then upload this form through the Delta website within 48 hours of traveling.

While this doesn’t seem an inordinate burden for a particular planned flight, it is compounded tremendously by the possibility of unexpected travel on Delta. Airports reroute a traveler due to cancellations and missed connections routinely and if any of these required a new Delta leg, we could become stranded by this policy. Bereavement or emergency travel would obviously be beyond consideration for them and all of this ignores the ability to have stored the form with them or to note that her rabies information is always on her collar. If my journey has multiple airlines and they all have similar policies, I’m getting multiple forms downloaded, printed, out to my vet, home, scanned, uploaded to the various websites for each and every trip. All while knowing any change in plans could leave me stranded anywhere around the country depending on how extensively the draconian Delta policies are adopted! At the very least, these need to be standardized for all airlines to accept the same form for the entirety of any trip!

Why did they make this change? While most of the country operates under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), airlines operate under the Air Carrier Access Act. In this they have opted to allow a much broader support animal. I do not have the qualifications to know the need or training for all the variations of animals and need in this situation. I do know that under the ADA businesses have been managing a large amount of false service dogs as people choose to forge the process in order to bring their dog where they want.

This problem is only intensified with the broader definition of both need and types of animals allowed. Peacocks, pigs, and tarantulas are all recent animals which may or may not have been legitimate but illustrate the diversity in progress. All this said, it was a non-service dog attack on a flight which likely sparked the most recent change. While the paperwork policy will not add any protection from such attacks, it may provide additional liability benefit. I absolutely acknowledge there is a problem and I want to see a resolution. I believe when Delta chooses to be a Maverick they take the risks of their failings as well.

For now, I want to simply applaud the better choice made by United Airlines than the disappointing choice made by Delta. My personal experience suggests Jet Blue is trending towards a little additional airport paperwork which can be managed at the airport, more in line with United, but still more delays and challenge for me. Trying to discern what all the various rules may be for all the individual airlines is going to make the challenges exponentially more difficult.

There was progress made in an initial conference in 2016, but reports make clear the airlines are having a problem, though it is not with service dogs. I hope the parties making policy would consider bringing a conference of stakeholders together to ensure a more reasoned and consistent policy may be planned and implemented with an expectation of more reasonable results than the risks ahead for Delta leaving customers stranded even after expecting them to take on some unreasonable amount of work.

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22 Dec 17

By Randy Pierce

Christmas is certainly for all ages, though I admit to the appreciating the special enjoyment it brings to children. In this wonderful Christmas tale, Jonathan Mosen shares an insightful story of Christmas being for people of all abilities. If you visit the link to his story directly you’ll discover audio versions of the story are available and can share feedback directly with the author. Meanwhile with his encouragement to share this story here is his clever and educational Christmas story.

Link to original story here. Reprinted below. 

***

 “Louis, The Blind Christmas Elf”, a Story for Children
- By Jonathan Mosen

A long long time ago, so long ago that even your teacher hadn’t been born yet, so that makes it a really really long time ago, a stylish, shiny elf-driving car pulled into the long driveway at Santa’s busy workshop.

Out of the car stepped Mrs Scott, a smartly-dressed elf wearing a business suit and black patent leather high-heeled shoes.

They made such a loud clop, clop, clop sound on the cobblestones leading to the gingerbread front door of the workshop, that Harold, the chief elf, heard his visitor coming, even over the sound of all the toys being made and packed.

He met Mrs Scott at the door of the workshop, greeting her with a wide smile, a firm handshake and a laugh that was squeaky and high-pitched, yet somehow when you heard it, you could tell it was coming right from his wobbly little tummy. He immediately felt under-dressed in the overalls he was wearing while he was helping out on one of the assembly lines. Yet despite Mrs Scott looking immaculate, and Harold looking decidedly shabby, Harold was the boss, and she had something he needed.

“Come in, come in! You must be from the elf-improvement school,” Harold exclaimed.

Harold ushered Mrs Scott into his office, and one of the kitchen elves was asked to make her a cup of tea. Making all those toys and sorting them for Santa made all the elves hungry like a wolf, so Santa’s workshop had a big kitchen where all kinds of delicious treats were being made for the elves to eat whenever they got hungry.

Mrs Scott had been the director of the School of Elf Improvement for five years, but this was the first time she had visited Santa’s workshop. If elves were ever lucky enough to get a job with Santa, almost no one left. That meant that even though there were many elves graduating every year from the School of Elf Improvement, not many got the ultimate prize, the job of working for Santa.

Mrs Scott was at Santa’s workshop on this day, because Harold had called her late one night on her elf-phone, saying that with more children than ever in the world, they could use a bit more help.

After the tea arrived, and Mrs Scott had sampled some of the delectable fairy cakes from the workshop kitchen, she opened her briefcase and they got down to business.

“As you can appreciate,” she said, “every elf would love to work here at Santa’s workshop, but I know you can only use the cleverest, most capable elves. You have so much to do! So I’ve brought you three elf-assessments to take a look at.”

Mrs Scott took out three beautifully spiral-bound leather folders, with the name of an elf etched in gold on the front cover of each one.

“This is Huey”, she said. “Huey loves building musical instruments. During one of his exams, he built a piano, a clarinet, a huge noisy drum kit, a Didgeridoo, a nose flute and a plinkety plankety, all in under an hour. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Mrs Scott beamed.

“Well now,” said Harold looking impressed, “I’ve heard of most of those things of course, we have lots of them being built in the workshop right now actually, but what’s a plinkety plankety?”

“Oh,” said Mrs Scott, beaming with pride, “it’s a new instrument Huey invented himself! If he doesn’t come to work here, I’m sure he’ll be producing it for one of the big toy companies before the year is out.”

“Hmmm,” said Harold, “he sounds wonderful and would make a great addition to the team I’m sure, but the thing is, we’re not really having any trouble keeping up with musical instruments. Who else do you have?”

“Well,” said Mrs Scott, moving the second leather-bound volume to the top of the pile, “this is Stewy. Now Stewy is a genius at making toy kitchens, and all the things to go in the toy kitchens. Do you know,” she said, getting so excited that she spilled a bit of fairy cake all down her front, so it was just as well that her garments were elf-cleaning, “the other day, Stewy made a toy kitchen with a fridge that really gets cold? But that’s not the half of it. It only works when you put chocolate in the fridge. Put any other food in that thing, and nothing happens. Outstanding piece of work.”

“Very clever,” said Harold, “although I’m not convinced the boys and girls will want a fridge that only keeps one thing cool. And we do have some good engineers here. Still, he’s worth considering. And who is the last elf you wanted to show me?”

“Ah, well,” said Mrs Scott, suddenly looking a little fidgety, “I really wasn’t sure about whether to suggest Louis or not. Louis is special.”

There was something in the way Mrs Scott used the word “special” that immediately peaked Harold’s curiosity.

“What exactly do you mean by special?”

“Well, you see, Louis makes excellent use of his hearing. It’s not that his hearing is better than any of the other elves in the school, it’s just that he tends to take a lot more notice of what he’s hearing. Recently, we were manufacturing a load of ride-on toy tractors for a toy company, and one of the whizimybobs developed a fault!”

“Oh no,” said Harold, understanding exactly how serious a matter this was. “You get a problem with one of your whizimybobs and it can really set you back. Actually we had a fault with one of our whizimybobs here at Santa’s workshop last Christmas. It stopped a lot of our production for a week because no one picked up on it, and we nearly had to cancel Santa’s delivery altogether”.

“Well exactly,” said Mrs Scott. “If Louis hadn’t heard the subtle change in the machine caused by the problem with the whizimybobs, I think we would have lost the contract. We were so lucky he was around.”

“I’m intrigued,” said Harold. “We could definitely use someone with those skills. Tell me more about this Louis.”

“He’s very thorough,” said Mrs Scott. “He inspects things with his hands and often picks up on problems making things that we might miss visually. It’s been very useful to us more than once”.

“But why?” asked Harold, “why doesn’t he just use his eyes like everyone else?”

“Because his eyes don’t work,” said Mrs Scott. “Louis’s totally blind.”

“Blind?” Harold scratched his little head in utter bemusement. “How does he…how will he…what if he…I just don’t think a blind elf could work in our workshop.”

“I thought you might think that,” said Mrs Scott patiently, “but hear me out. Remember how you nearly had to cancel Christmas Eve once, because it was too foggy for Santa to travel. If it wasn’t for Rudolph, kids all around the world would have gone without presents that year.”

“Oh I remember it well,” sighed Harold. “It was the most scary day of my life. I was so stressed out I was beside my elf.”

“Then surely,” continued Mrs Scott, “you know that people with a range of abilities and gifts make Santa’s workshop run more smoothly! Louis can bring skills that many of your other elves don’t have.”

“You make a good point Mrs Scott,” Harold said. “Send him to us. We’ll take him on. I don’t want anyone getting hurt and there is a lot that goes on in this workshop, but we’ll give it a try.”

Louis arrived at Santa’s workshop the next day, with his little suitcase and his long white candy cane. He put it out in front of him, so he new when he was getting close to an obstacle. If the cane hit a wall or something left on the ground, he would feel it. And after being shown around the place, he soon started remembering where all the divisions of Santa’s great workshop were located. It wasn’t that difficult for Louis. He soon noticed how different the sounds of the machinery were depending on which part of the workshop he was in. Sometimes, his sense of smell helped too. Just like his hearing, it was no better than anyone else’s, but since he didn’t have his sight, he took more notice of what his other senses were telling him.

Louis was very excited about meeting Santa, but Harold explained that since Christmas was getting close, Santa was very busy preparing, and usually, elves just starting out didn’t get a chance to meet with the big guy.

Louis settled down to work as quickly as he could, but he wasn’t happy. He felt that he wasn’t being given as much responsibility as he was capable of. Everyone was very nice to him, but they just couldn’t imagine how he could do the things that needed to get done if he wasn’t able to see. Louis tried to be patient and explain.

“Since you’ve been able to see all your life,” he said, “you use your sight. You depend on it for a lot of things and that makes sense. But I’ve never been able to see, so I don’t know any different. I get by just fine without any sight. I might do things in a different way sometimes, but I still get the job done in the end.”

Still, the elves found it hard to give Louis a fair chance. It’s not that they meant any harm, they just were scared about him being hurt.

Then, one day, a mad panic developed in the mail room at Santa’s workshop. Every day at precisely 29 o’clock, a small earthquake could be felt, as the mail from all the children who had recently written to Santa got delivered to the workshop.

The mail elves had an efficient system of sorting through the mail, and making sure that all the requests from the girls and boys got put on Santa’s list. At the end of every day, Santa would always check the list twice, to be sure all the good children had their requests noted.

But today, the mail elves had a problem they didn’t know how to solve. They had received a group of letters that were nothing like they had ever received before. The mail elves prided themselves on being able to read every single language in the world. But these letters had them stumped. Rather than being written with squiggly characters on the page, these letters felt all bumpy. Hannah, one of the mail elves, said the pages reminded her of her teenage brother Brad, who was having a major problem with pimples. The pages, she said, looked and felt a bit like Brad’s face.

“Do you mean kids are now writing to us in pimple?” said Harold, who had been put in charge of solving the issue because of how urgent it was.

“I don’t think any child would be quite that dotty,” Hannah replied. “But I think we need to call an elf-development meeting, to see if anyone can solve this problem. Because Santa has made it clear, we need to do whatever it takes to make sure all girls and boys who write to us have their requests read, even if we can’t always grant them all”.

Elf-development meetings didn’t happen very often so close to Christmas, but this was an emergency. All the elves from around Santa’s workshop stopped what they were doing, and gathered together at exactly elve o’clock for the big meeting.

“For the first time in our history,” Harold announced, “we have received a group of letters from girls and boys that none of our team can read. Here’s a sample.”

Harold held up a page of the dot-filled writing. Everyone stared, first at the dotty page, then blankly back at Harold. No one had any idea what the writing was, or how to read it.

“The interesting thing about this writing is,” Harold said, “if you touch it, it feels very easy to distinguish by touch, almost as if you’re supposed to read it with your hands.”

Louis’s little ears pricked up. He couldn’t see the sample, but based on the description, he was pretty sure he knew what it was.

“May I please feel a page of that writing?” Louis asked.

Harold handed Louis a page filled with the dots. Louis took the fingertips of both index fingers, and started gently running his fingers across the page. He began to speak.

“Dear Santa. My name is Sam. I’m nine, and I can’t wait until your visit. For Christmas, I would please like a cool train set, one with plenty of awesome sounds and loud whistles if you can. My sister Amy is seven. She is a pest, so I think you should bring her a frog. Love, Sam.”

“How did you do that, and more to the point, what is that dotty stuff?” Harold asked.

“It’s Braille,” said Louis. “It’s the new way for blind people to read and write. These letters are from blind boys and girls. They’re writing to you themselves. You see, Braille lets blind children write to us here at Santa’s workshop, just like sighted children can.”

Suddenly, all the elves started jumping up and down and clapping. “Hooray for Louis! Hooray for Louis!”

The elves were happy because, thanks to Louis, they could make sure that all girls and boys, including those who read Braille, could get their presents on Santa’s list.

Louis spent a lot of time in the mail room after that, but that wasn’t all he did. The elves realised that just because you’re blind, it doesn’t mean you don’t have valuable skills that others may not have. They realised that Louis just did things differently. Not better, just differently. Soon, Louis was also put in charge of whizimybob inspection. The elves used to be worried that Louis would hurt himself, because whizimybobs have so many moving parts. But they knew that Louis was careful and capable, more capable at that particular job than anyone else.

One day, Harold came into the mail room to find Louis.

“The big guy wants to see you Louis,” Harold said.

“Santa? See me? Have I done something wrong?”

“No idea,” Harold said, “I was just asked to bring you to see him.”

Louis timidly knocked on Santa’s office door. “Ho, ho, ho!” came the reply. Louis opened the door, and walked into the office, which seemed to be shaking. It turns out Santa was happy to see Louis, and Santa’s enormous belly-laughter was making the whole office bounce up and down like a carnival ride.

“I wanted to see you in person Louis,” Santa said, “to thank you so much for your gift.”

“Gift?” said a puzzled Louis.

“Oh yes,” said Santa. “You know, every year, I give lots and lots of toys to girls and boys all over the world, and that’s wonderful. But your gifts are also very precious. You see, you showed us all here at the workshop that no matter who we are, we’re all special, we’re all unique, we can all do something no one else can do. Some of us are good at some things, some of us are good at others. Some of the elves here thought that just because you couldn’t see, you couldn’t contribute as much. But they just didn’t know better. Now everyone knows you’re a very important member of our team. We’d be lost without you. You showed all of us that the best gift we can give each other at Christmas is to love and appreciate everyone around us for who they are.”

And all these years later, every year, when he’s not looking after those pesky whizimybobs, you’ll find Louis in the mail room, making sure that all the Braille letters from blind children all over the world are making it onto Santa’s list, and being checked twice. Which just goes to show, there’s nothing you can’t do, as long as you believe in your elf.

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21 Oct 17

We often post this around this time of year as a nod to the season’s spooky nature. Happy Halloween!

**

The Scary Realities of Vision Loss

By Randy Pierce

Imagine reaching for the light switch in total darkness on an eerie Halloween evening. You flip the switch and nothing happens. You are surrounded by frightening noises as your hands find only unidentifiable objects. You’re trapped in a prison of manifested fear!

While there may be moments similar to this fright in the lives of someone newly blind, there is perhaps an even more powerful terror in the transitioning through vision loss towards blindness. Losing vision is challenging with the fear of the unknown and the anticipation of how much will become more difficult or seemingly impossible. Certainly any form of vision loss is going to present difficulty and each person’s experience will be different.

One fundamental part of our mission with 2020 Vision Quest is to demonstrate the possibilities of success despite vision loss, or, in my case, a transition to total blindness. This is not just intended for those dealing with the challenges directly, but also all those whose lives may be touched by these challenges despite living in a fully sighted life. So very much of a typical world is visual that it impacts many aspects of how we interact with the world and with each other. It can be tremendously isolating to have that common connection diminish in ways far too many people simply do not understand.

I do not for a moment pretend to have all the answers regarding life or vision loss. I still find many moments of significant frustration as I attempt to manage particularly difficult aspects of blindness and, not surprisingly, life. Just like anyone, there are challenges and they can at times seem to overwhelm any of us. As with any challenge, the right preparation, the right support, and a more educated world can vastly increase the chances of successful achievement through any adversity.

In thinking about the “Trick or Treat” of blindness, I acknowledge all the real and scary frustrations possible. I also welcome the incredibly powerful perspective it has brought to me as well. In losing my sight, I began to develop a more powerful vision for myself and my world. Paying attention to all the other aspects of our senses, environment, and interactions which are not visual can have a beneficial side. It’s forced me to “look” at the world differently, but has also inspired me to try to do so often in a variety of ways as I try to understand as much as possible outside the realm of the typical. While without question I do wish every day for the chance to have sight again, I know that I am glad for having lost my sight and the vision that blindness has helped bring to me.

Hopefully our charity efforts will provide education, inspiration and much more! I know that I’ve received a lot of both though the process thus far!

Happy Halloween!

See the original post here.

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29 Jul 17

A steep, rocky, uphill trail

When you’re blind, a lot of things can feel like a steep uphill climb.

By Randy Pierce

“Patience? How long will that take?!?” – Tracy Pierce

I firmly believe going blind was much harder than being blind. While losing sight had many challenges of varying intensity, being blind for some time has lessened the burden considerably. Still, there is one persistent challenge with a solution I attempt constantly and yet so often struggle to manage: almost everything I attempt simply takes more time to manage without sight. This can lead to frustrations and failure unless I plan for the potential extra time and learn to practice patience in everything I attempt.

Planning more time is a benefit although we all still have the same number of hours in each day. So as I prioritize the things I hope to accomplish, there are more difficult choices of things to exclude simply because I know I should allow additional time.

This time manifests immediately in the finding of items I need. This is mitigated by better organization, although that organization requires some initial setup time. Identification of items whether by tactile or technology is typically more time consuming. Travel usually requires a little more planning and preparation, whether to ensure Autumn is also prepared or that any coordination involved has been managed with possible delays included. Often this involves putting myself at the scheduling of others which means building in margins. Bus schedules have an earliest possible arrival and I need to be there by that time even though they may not arrive until the latest window. Several times it is well past that later window before I can determine reasonably they must have driven past me without stopping. Hopefully I’ve left myself enough time for back-up plans!

I admit these time drains are frustrating, moreso when I’m caught waiting outside in particularly unpleasant weather. The reality is that these concerns are part of the world in which I exist and to be frustrated by them too much would be to allow constant negativity into my world. This is why the notion of practicing patience is so valuable.

Part of that is learning to understand what is truly urgent and what is only important at varying levels to me. The more urgent, the more time margins I allow and patience I plan into events. The lower the importance, the more I can tighten those windows and accept the consequences if things go awry. These truths hold whether you are blind or fully sighted–it’s just that blindness affords me many opportunities to test my patience, as not only will most things take me longer, but also I’ll likely have to gently educate people around me for how and why things may take longer. Sometimes we can agree upon shortcuts to alleviate the process and sometimes there are good reasons why those shortcuts are not acceptable. In the latter case, it is often the explanation of why which may require the most patience and consume the most time. It is also the best reason for patience, however.

The best moments for education and team building occur when done from a platform of patient knowledge sharing. Reminding myself of that notion is a significant part of the motivation to success in finding my patience. I just hope you may forgive me if you encounter me in a time of failure and perhaps give me a gentle reminder to get back on the path!

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25 Mar 17

By Randy Pierce

Christopher and Randy posing proudly in their Mission Possible T-shirts after recording an episode of Christopher's popular podcast showOne of the many joys of the path I attempt to follow involves the incredible people and stories I find along the way. In this case Christopher and his Mom Christine found our 2020 Vision Quest charity back in 2012. We were hiking  Mt. Uncanoonuc with some students from Trinity High School as part of their community service efforts.

Like me, Christopher is completely blind. I was gifted with his determination to experience the trail as we hiked together on that day so many years ago. At the summit, he shared with all of us his incredible singing talents. Along the trail, as is so often the case, we shared the start of a friendship.

Six years later and he’s still an an incredible inspiration. I was appreciative of his request to join him on his “Mission Possible Podcast.”

You can find my sessions with him here and here.

I hope you’ll visit his archives not just to hear the shows we shared but to hear all of the fun pieces he’s put together. At just 15 years old, Christopher faces many challenges and we are like minded in many ways for putting the focus on what we can do: possibility not impossibility.

Christopher working at his microphoneListening to him manage the recording studio with the technological ease and confidence of an adult professional was remarkable. My only reminder he was doing it totally blind was listening to the high speed chatter of Jaws in the headsets as he managed it all seamlessly throughout the recording.

His shows are 10 minutes in length and he had to manage the overall timing, develop his questions and work my often lengthy answers into the time frame of his show. He worked the edit process into our time shared while pausing as necessary to reset our efforts. We had our separate conversation off the microphones as well as on the recording while he managed the technology, his guest, and the over-arching plan. I was impressed and enjoyed myself in part for the process and in part to see how far I feel this remarkable young man has come on his journey. I encourage everyone, myself included, to reach for and achieve our peak potential. I don’t have to encourage Christopher as he already has that spirit in himself, in his family and in his community.

Seeing all this already ensured my day with Christopher was a success for me and I can only hope he found some value in our time as well.

Randy and Christopher recordingI know Christopher is renowned for performing the National Anthem for many major venues including the Boston Red Sox. I know he’s produced a couple of music CDs and that his faith is very important to him as part of his mission. I was not surprised when talking with him to learn that he’s starting to frame his future in ways that combines his talents and his beliefs with an eye/ear towards the radio world. My own future plans changed so many times from 15 years onward and still changes today.

I think once again Christopher and I have a similar mindset which will allow him to pursue his goals and dreams with a passion and a purpose determined to say to the world my “Mission is Possible” and you are welcome to be a part of it because sharing belief is at the heart of bringing people together for a better world.

Once again I encourage you to visit his show and listen to us or his many other shows to appreciate what’s ahead for us in this young man.

Listen to the Mission Possible Archives

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4 Mar 17

By Randy Pierce

As Chairman of the Board of Directors for the New Hampshire Association for the Blind, I have been actively and passionately dedicated to ensuring their best ability to effectively meet the ever growing needs of the sight-challenged. I help to direct the vision of the organization in positive ways and one of those paths brought President and CEO David Morgan to his position just over one year ago. He has helped inspire and guide the branding change which  I personally believe is vital to the organization’s success and, more importantly, the success of thousands of people who have been artificially limited to some extent by a naming convention.

I’ll allow David’s excellent announcement to stand below as a guest blog as well as on the redesigned website for Future In Sight which I encourage you to visit. I do want to address the word blind candidly and comfortably in advance. The organization will continue to provide excellent support, education, and advocacy for the blind and  visually impaired as before. There is no apprehension in use of the word “blind.” We have learned that the wrong timing of that word’s introduction to someone who is experiencing sight loss often inhibits their acceptance of needed services and even can impact a caring medical eye professional from choosing to refer to an organization with that name due to the strong emotional results commonly experienced.

We want to ensure we can welcome these thousands of people to receiving their needed services, education, and support while also providing the same high quality blindness services and advocacy proven over 100 years of valued Charity Service here in Concord NH. That said, I leave you with David’s excellent words below.

CHANGE IS IN THE AIR: WELCOME TO FUTURE IN SIGHT

FEBRUARY 28, 2017

WRITTEN BY DAVID MORGAN

After 105 years of working to improve the lives of blind and visually impaired people in our state, today is a new day.

The New Hampshire Association for the Blind will now be known as Future In Sight. We are so proud to announce our name change, and we believe that Future In Sight more accurately represents our clientele since 93 percent of our clients are visually impaired – not blind – and our geographic scope extends to states bordering New Hampshire. Our name aims to capture the optimism and hopefulness of new technologies, therapies, and programs that are always on the horizon to enhance the quality of life for our clients.

YA Gunstock kidrunning Article

Providing education, rehabilitation, and support services is about helping individuals build core skills in school or in their home, and helping them engage their world socially. We accomplish this through a multitude of programs that include recreation, peer support, and technology. We help individuals live and thrive with sight loss! Our new brand must be unique and memorable and reflect this new hope we bring to thousands who need our help, and we believe Future In Sight does just that.

Since 1912, we have continuously improved our offerings to the community so this is just one more step in that direction. Last year alone, we began working with infants and toddlers for the first time since we were founded; we doubled our education staff; and we started offering recreational activities to help clients lead their best lives.

There are more than 30,000 people with visual impairments in the state of New Hampshire, so we know we can be reaching many more clients who need, and would thrive with, our services in rural corners, inside our cities, and along the borders. Our name needs to be more inclusive and reflect the full range of services we provide to babies, children, adults, and seniors around our state and beyond. Our name also needs to resonate with a range of our partners and referral networks, which includes schools, eye doctors, primary care physicians, donors, the Veterans Administration, the state of New Hampshire, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

So, after many months of hard work and collaboration with Proportion Design, members of our staff, our Board, and our community, exhaustive research into our history, our mission, and our hopes and aspirations for the future, we developed this new name and a logo that better reflect the amazing organization we are becoming. We look forward to this fresh chapter as Future In Sight and continue to help clients live fulfilling, independent lives!

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