Tag: safety



30 Oct 16

We originally posted this a few years ago, but it’s still relevant. Happy Halloween!

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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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14 Aug 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Autumn walk on the sidewalk during her training.Students are often amused when I describe how Autumn has been trained in “intelligent disobedience.” It is the dog guide judgment to determine something is a threat and to disobey a command in order to alert me of a threat or obstacle. If I were to tell her to go forward and there was a flight of stairs or a curb in front of me she would refuse because my striding out could very easily lead to a tumble. Instead she halts directly in front of the obstacle and refuses to proceed with the command until I show her I understand the problem by acknowledging with a tap of it either with my foot (for the curb) or my hand (for a high branch). She may also wait until a threat has passed such as a silent electric car. The key point is her refusal and my part in the process to identify that I understand before we proceed.

For those of you who read last week’s blog on distracted driving, I was asked how I can tell the difference between Autumn doing her job with intelligent disobedience and Autumn being distracted. While some might be shocked to consider that my sweet princess might ever pause to sniff the grass or face off with the rabbit eating the tender grasses of a lawn, the truth is these distractions can happen sometimes. Depending on how attentive *I* am being usually impacts how quickly and efficiently I realize the difference between her distraction and her quality work. The feel of the harness handle tells me when she tips her head down for a sniff and so that is a good reminder for me to give her a verbal correction to keep going and not be distracted.

Despite my best and most consistent efforts, we are occasionally going to have our progress thwarted by her distraction. The very reasonably small number of times this occurs is a testament to the training work which goes into selecting and conditioning these dogs for their job. I’m proud to say that on her typical day Autumn rarely impacts our work together with distraction. While we all have our less than stellar days, I trust her warnings and that trust is rewarded by my safe, independent, and joyous ability to travel the world with my girl.

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6 Aug 16

By Randy Pierce

Emergency personnel attend to Brent Bell and his friend after they were struck by a car while riding a tandem bicycle.

Emergency personnel attend to Brent Bell and his friend after they were struck by a car while riding a tandem bicycle.

Fortunately the title is not quite reality, but there have been several very close calls. I find the world around me increasingly full of distracted people. While I applaud all the healthy undertakings, sometimes I simply do not know how to awaken people from the distractions that occupy the attention at critical times. The judgment to understand when our focus simply should not be divide is essential–and yet more and more I see evidence this judgment is failing.

Recently my good friend Brent Bell was piloting his tandem bicycle with a friend and he was struck by a car. There are very credible reports of the driver looking down at their cell phone as the primary reason for missing the double long bicycle. Both riders were seriously injured and only a bit of luck prevented this from being a fatal accident. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated situation and luck is not always good.

The car with the windshield smashed from the impact of Brent Bell and his friend.

The car with the windshield smashed from the impact of Brent Bell and his friend.

One part of the problem is that it is so easy to take a quick moment of distraction and believe nothing will go wrong. Many times of success will erroneously reinforce that belief. It only takes one moment to validate just how wrong it is and change many lives forever, and even end them.

My friends report witnessing a frightful number of distracted drivers.

Studies suggest distracted driving while texting is more dangerous than driving while under the influence of alcohol and yet that sobering reality is still not sufficient to wake many from the high risk behaviors. How can I possibly hope to do so with this blog? I’ll settle for every saved glance as a possible saved life and build from there – with your help.

Autumn is a wonderful guide for me and I’ve learned that one of her largest challenges is distraction. If I keep her focus I know she’ll keep me safe and on course. I’ve also learned that once distracted I’ll have to work much harder to break her from the distraction and restore us to safety. She isn’t a bad dog or bad guide. She, like many out there, is susceptible to the enticements of distraction.

Similarly, people driving while off in a world of their own distraction are not necessarily bad people. They may inadvertently bring about incredible frustration, or mild or even fatal harm to others as a result of this. Most would be disappointed or devastated to realize that if only they could be made aware in advance in a healthy manner.

So whether you are playing Pokémon GO on foot, tuning the radio, tending your crying child in the car seat, or thinking about that text, think about how much more important it is for you to be fully present in your activity for all the lives you might impact, potentially literally, otherwise. I hope to never write the title of this blog and mean it, but the odds say it’s only a matter of time without all of us making efforts of mindfulness personally and calling on those we know to do the same.

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16 Jul 16

By Randy Pierce

July Weather has Autumn and me facing 90-degree temperatures for many consecutive days which would mean one hot dog if I wasn’t prepared to take some precautions. While a hot dog may be a fundamental part of America’s summer pursuits, it isn’t a good idea for the Dog Guides or any of our dogs… “frankly!”

Autumn in her harness with her collapsible bowl. In planning my schedule I try to ensure it involves as little time as possible on hot pavement during the prime time heat hours. If this means I have to make extra arrangements for cabs, Uber, Lyft or friends then so be it because my girl’s health is my responsibility. As a shocking example, when air temperatures are at 77, pavement in the sun has measured as high as 125! Rising into the 90 range and we are at risk of burning the paws even for short distances.

She still wants and needs her work and I still have my obligations to attend which means that I supplement the schedule adjustments with some other simple precautions. While dogs do not sweat for their cooling system in the same way our bodies respond, it’s imperative to ensure they have plenty of water. I keep her collapsible bowl on the harness and give her frequent water stops *with* accompanying extra opportunities to relieve herself. That same water that supplies her system can be used to soak her paws and help her keep cool and protected for any short distances on pavement although I still attempt to avoid it and particularly avoid the sunny portions.

Autumn drinking out of her collapsible bowl on a hot day.Ultimately I get her opportunities to work early in the morning before the heat of the day and late evening if it cools sufficiently. I evaluate whether it is unreasonable timing for her during the day and consider allowing her to stay home in the AC while I use my cane if I absolutely must travel outside at the worst times.

Being attentive and aware is the first step but it’s not enough. We all should make the choice to ensure our canine friends are kept safe from the dangers the hot summer sun can present!

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9 Aug 14

By Randy Pierce

Autumn is fascinated by the butterfly that has landed near her.First and foremost, Autumn did NOT eat any butterflies. She did, however, accompany me to the Butterfly Place. They absolutely welcome service animals and in fact were as warm and kind with Autumn as they had been with Ostend and Quinn in their visits to this wonderful opportunity just a few short miles from our home.

They did once have a potential service animal run amok in their facility and even eat a couple of butterflies. It’s sad that I have to say “potential” service animal but a proliferation of fraudulent approaches coupled with inappropriate behavior is a significant concern at present.

Any service animal acting inappropriately may be and should be requested through the handler to depart. As a handler, it is our responsibility to ensure our dogs are properly prepared for any and all environments to which we are bringing them. It is our job to maintain control over our service animal as we work with them to benefit from their training to provide us with their service. This is something well taught at Guiding Eyes and likely all Dog Guide schools. While the occasional failure may occur, it is more common with the fraudulent situations and leads to questions about how best to manage the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Anyone being expected to grant access to a Service Dog has the right to inquire:

  1. Do you have a disability?
  2. What service is the dog trained to perform for you?

Those two questions and the right to request that inappropriate behavior cease immediately or that the dog be removed from the premises are the means to protect business owners. Truthfully, many are intimidated by the entire process. Wanting to not restrict appropriate access or fear of litigation causes a paralysis of action and may allow those abusing the system with fraudulent service animals or misbehaving service animals to cause significant problems. As much as I have been frustrated by illegal service denial in the past, I am similarly disheartened by the animal users who perform an equal injustice.

Autumn poses behind a large wooden butterfly with her head peeking out

This is why I will always strive to ensure Autumn and I are prepared for all of the situations we encounter. I want to open lines of communication in every way possible and I want to savor experiences like the marvels of the Butterfly Place for both Autumn and me… as well as the many others sharing the experience with us. I hope many others give their personal responsibility an equal due diligence and get to savor the experiences as well!

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6 Apr 13

By Randy Pierce

A treacherous bridge provides a good opportunity for risk assessment.

I am often asked about my relationship with fear in dealing with blindness as well as my many adventures. I prefer to think about it in terms of a healthy respect for dangers, both real and perceived.

As a planner and problem solver, I like to understand the potential risks as best as possible and then evaluate a range of possible solutions for these in advance. A strong part of my approach is knowing that a problem solver should be able to undertake every experience of a risk taker with more success and fewer bruises!

My experience is that attempting to practice solutions to challenges can lead them to become routine. The risk management can be reduced to acceptable levels before things are attempted. Part of this is to ensure that when reaching a moment of particular danger potential, I will be as prepared as much as possible to avoid the “paralysis by analysis” situation of over-thinking in an instant when an immediate reaction is necessary.

The first decision in situations of danger is whether or not an immediate reaction is needed at all. If, for example, I begin to lose my balance on a stretch of trail for which I don’t know the full dangers present, I probably need to make a quick decision about the level of balance loss.

If the chances of falling are high enough, it is likely best to immediately allow a fall in a more controlled fashion. That is, if the spot my feet are on is sufficiently known to me, then landing there is probably the lowest risk of the other unknown options. I similarly know that my pack is a cushion that landing upon will typically be preferred. So I tuck my head and drop back if at all possible.

I’m not eager for that fall, but often it’s the best reaction for an unanticipated dangerous situation. If my balance is such that I have time, then I might call out to someone around me to get a quick terrain understanding or I might explore myself with the hiking/support stick. In that moment of uncertainty, I feel concern that can border on a fearful moment. The more I know the situation, however, the more I know a range of possible reactions and likely consequences to reduce or remove the fear.

Sometimes, it's safer just to fall backwards and sit down.

There’s an old expression, “don’t borrow trouble.” I find a similar approach to allaying fears. By trying to fully understand the real cause of fear, I find that I get to truly know the fear and this is a major step in achieving a goal of having no fear.

In the above example of balance loss, I’m likely facing varying levels of concern for possible injury. In the moment of uncertainty for how big my risk is at that point, I can envision more significant injuries. Ultimately though, planning has reduced the likelihood of injury. By thinking through this in advance, we accustom our minds and some of the emotional surge in the moment to the realities of those risks. Considering the worst case scenarios and our reactions has diminished the “fear” to “concerns” and the advanced paralysis of anticipatory fear can be eradicated.

So in planning any adventure or experience that could make you anxious, I suggest taking the time to think about what are the real and reasonable risks. Get comfortable with the approaches you might take if problems occur. This is where the preparation not only aids in your likely success, but also may enhance your comfort or courage to undertake a task. Practice often makes perfect, as the expression says, and practice with mentally breaking down our fears or concerns is a means to build confidence to manage them.

This is not to say you don’t want real solutions or are trying to avoid things for which reasonable risks have not been addressed. It is to say that in truly and thoroughly knowing fear, we may eventually get to a point of low or even no fear! I know that at this point in my life I have little time or attention that is spent unnecessarily on fear. This additional time and energy is placed instead on more rewarding things in my life!

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27 Jul 11

Randy and Quinn on the trail.

by Randy Pierce

Our July New Hampshire heat wave is not untypical, nor is the choice to seek some solace from the heat by hiking amidst the elevation of a 4000-foot peak. Aware of the real dangers of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, we were relieved to have an early morning shower easing the challenge and risk. Our task was to hike a longer distance on some generally moderate trails to the summit of Mt. Starr King and then along the ridge to Mt Waumbek. The mostly wooded course would limit the relief of wind on our long humid hike, and we expected the heat to be our larger challenge.

Mt. Waumbek is part of a ring dike complex, which means it was formed by volcanic activity. In fact, it bore Pliny Major as its name for many years in honor of Pliny the Younger, a Roman who provided the only written eyewitness testimony of the infamous eruption on Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Vesuvius, at 4206 feet, is a similar height to our climb, and the tale of James Holman humbles each and every one of my efforts. He was the first blind person to summit Mt Vesuvius and he did so while it was still active. The tale of his life is remarkable, and during that particular expedition, he dealt with a fair bit more than our July jaunt in the White Mountains.

Team 2020 - Waumbek!

Still I’m quite proud of the nine friends who joined Quinn and me, and overcame the heat of our journey. A diverse group shared a collection of wilderness and life details as we took up the steady climb to the Chimney overlook of the Northern Presidentials from the summit of Starr King. One of the gentlest ridge trails brought us to a vastly restricted view from the wooded summit of Waumbek. While the light breezes did cool some, the heat was steady from the high noon sun. As we returned at a comfortably quick pace, we left the elevation-gained coolness. As a group, we had plenty of water and we supported each other well, yet as we reached the relief of the trailhead, I could still feel the light touch of some heat exhaustion. I needed an electrolyte boost and the cooling benefit of an ice pack on the back of my neck to regain full comfort.

Even one of the gentler challenges of the 48 teased us with a lesson in respecting all factors that can place a hiking group risk. I’m certainly no James Holman, and unlike him, I had a fantastic team of support throughout this day. I respect and appreciate the experience with the people and the mountain, as well as all of the hikes past and in the future. Each hike to come will have unique rewards and challenges, and Mt. Waumbek has now carved out its place on our path!

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25 Jul 11

by Randy Pierce

Vision loss is a challenging experience, regardless of the extent of the loss. All the levels of loss are a disrupting change and require some transition. I felt, in my first adjustment to ‘legal’ blindness, that it was almost criminal to complain, given that I still had some usable vision. The simple fact is that loss is hard, vision particularly, since we rely on it for so much of our interaction with the world.

Accepting the reality of that difficulty is essential, both in anticipating the effort required to make the adjustments, as well as the willingness to seek out solutions and/or help in learning the skills and tricks to resume a normal life. Learning to be safe is the first step, and that starts with the ability to take steps. Mobility training and potential use of a cane, or eventually a guide dog, allow someone to understand the many non-visual details for safe travel. Even learning to better use the limited vision can make enormous strides possible.

Safety around survival skills from cooking, to how to set a thermostat, to managing grooming and hygiene, or even use a remote control are all made easier with a low vision specialist’s consultation and teaching. Creativity and an open mind allow the solutions to match the individual’s needs and wants, but it can be tremendously daunting to seek these solutions out without the right support.

This is true for any amount of loss. In fact, my hardest transition was not the one to total blindness, but rather the first loss where emotional turmoil and the lack of helpful connections created the most overwhelming response. A feeling of guilt, that I didn’t need or deserve help, limited my willingness to accept reasonable options that could make the transitions better. So, whether it’s low vision or blindness, there is tremendous benefit to reaching out and learning how some simple suggestions can help change focus to a positive direction, with a safe foundation of tips and tricks for managing the changes. This conviction is a large part of my inspiration to have 2020 Vision Quest help ensure that services will be there for those who can benefit from them!

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11 Jul 11

by Drew Bourn

I first met Randy a little over 20 years ago, and in the last 7 years or so, we have become very good friends. Both of us were active in athletics as kids and adults, and this was immediate common ground for conversations. Later, we started going to Patriot games together and Randy has come to my school (I teach PE and Health) a couple of times to talk to my students. When Randy told me about starting up 2020 Vision Quest a few years back, I thought it was a great idea. He is always one to take on challenges, and this was a big one.

Randy’s enthusiasm was tangible from the beginning, and I very much wanted to be involved, so I signed up for the Mount Pierce hike last year.

Team 2020 at the hut on Pierce last year. The author, Drew, is in the light gray coat.

Not being a huge fan of camping, a day hike like this was perfect for me. I knew a few others in the group that day, and while it was a long hike, it was a great trip. It was my first time hiking in the Whites, and it was just a wonderful experience. I looked forward to doing at least one hike every year with 2020 Vision Quest.

Little did I know that Randy had bigger plans. This year, he asked me to lead to the Mount Waumbek hike. At first, I wasn’t sure that I was the right person. After all, my first (and only) hike in the Whites was the previous year. Randy can be persuasive, however. He pointed out that I help lead 50+ students up Mount Monadnock in Jaffery, NH each year. Of course, this was also going to be a one-day event as well, making prep a little simpler. Finally, Mount Waumbek is one of the smallest 4,000-foot peaks at 4,006 feet, making the hike an “easier” climb. How could I not say yes?

There really is no such thing as an “easier” or “simpler” hike. Each trip into the mountains and woods has unique difficulties and areas for concern. In leading, I am taking on the responsibility of not only myself, but also the whole group of 10 (11 with the Mighty Quinn). This time I will only know Randy, Tracy, and Quinn. However, Chris Garby, an experienced hiker, is co-leading the hike with me. I’m sure his knowledge and experience will be very useful during the trip. The rest of the group is not strangers so much as friends I just haven’t met yet. In addition, sharing a beautiful trip into the Whites is a great way to get to know others.

If I have learned anything from Randy over the course of our friendship, it is that all challenges, big and small, should be met with a positive attitude and a willing work ethic. No matter what the challenge is, taking it on leads to a better sense of self and stronger relationships with those involved. Of course, if this hike is a great time as well, I’m sure Randy will try to convince me to do an overnight hike next year.

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1 Jul 11

by Randy Pierce

The Northern Presidential range is dominated by the daunting Mt. Adams, and it will be by far the most challenging peak in this year’s hiking season. At 5,774 feet, it is the second highest in the 48 after Washington, but in many ways presents a more formidable challenge. Adams’ 4,500 feet of elevation gain is the absolute most in all of the White Mountains. Its cracked, boulder-strewn cone is often considered to be the most challenging terrain. Thus, Adams represents perhaps the supreme challenge for me personally, and for all of our team, during the entire 2020 Vision Quest.

Courtesy of Sherpa John: www.sherpajohn.com

Weather is frequently the most difficult factor for any hiker, and here again Mt. Adams stands tall. We’ll make our summit attempt through a convergence of paths known ominously as “Thunderstorm Junction.” It is said that there are more lightning strikes on Mt. Adams than any other point in New England. Though we could not verify this detail, we can confirm that Adams’ mystique has landed it on a list of the top 10 ‘Holy Mountains’ as maintained by the Aetherius Society, who are said to keep their symbols upon the summit.

The best path: Thunderstorm Junction

While we chose Thunderstorm Junction as the shortest section of the challenging summit cone, the very threat of lightning would drive us from our task. As fearsome as lightning can be as it rolls through your town, imagine the same experience on an exposed mountain ledge, with no means to escape or even hide. And given my necessarily deliberate pace, we must only attempt to approach this region if both the forecast and the view confirm we are at very low risk of fast-moving storms.

We will undertake both Adams and its neighbor to the north, Mt. Madison (fifth highest in the 48), during a three-day climb based out of the AMC’s Madison Spring hut. The plan is to ascend the Valley Way trail from the northwest. This moderately steep trail will bring us to the hut nestled in a col between the two pyramidal peaks. If time is sufficient we hope to climb Madison that very day. While only a 1 mile round trip from the hut, the terrain is similar to what we’ll encounter on Adams, and we hope to gain from the experience.

And then there’s Plan B

Courtesy of Sherpa John: www.sherpajohn.com

If weather or timing do not allow that practice run, we plan to achieve the summit of Mt. Adams the next day, July 3. Many backup plans are ready based on the conditions on the mountain, and we hope to find the window of opportunity to travel the 2.4 miles of challenging terrain and achieve Mt. Adams’ notorious summit. We anticipate an exhausting day which allows us back to the hut to rest one final night before making our July 4 return down the Valley Way.

Many hikers have managed these summits, but every experienced hiker who knows us well has said this will be an enormous challenge. We could do everything right and yet be forced to forego the attempt of a summit should the weather not hold sufficient clear skies. Even wet rock will greatly magnify our challenge – but of course we are more mindful of the larger dangers of being trapped in hypothermic conditions – — yes even in early July! – — while lightning rages around us.

As you know, we are not doing this because it’s easy. But never before have we looked forward to a hike with such vivid awareness of the dangers we may encounter.

So we’ve prepared more than any peak previously, we have three days of potential to consider a summit and we are prepared to accept any weather reality. After all, all we can ever do is give our best efforts, plan well and make the most of the realities which can challenge or limit our choices. Win or lose, I expect an experience to remember. And I have little doubt that our 8 person team will come out of the endeavor charged by the experience we intend to share!

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