By: Tony Heath
Most of the time, it’s not “good” to be blind. Everybody complains about not being able to drive, or read, or do a lot of the things that our sighted counterparts do. We’ve all heard those complaints over and over again to the point where, for me, I’m getting tired of them. I have some other things to complain about that are fresh, new and different.
Like many blind people, I have never gotten enough exercise and have led a sedentary lifestyle. As a result, I am now paying the price. Therefore, I’ve had my dealings with those in the medical profession. Now I will admit that I am a bit of a hypochondriac. In fact, any time I get sick I assume it’s either a heart attack or cancer. But having said this, I notice that a lot of the doctors, nurses and technicians do not take me seriously because of my vision impairment. I notice them talking to my wife or the person who brought me to the appointment.
I have even been ignored or overlooked by colleagues in the blindness profession. I can remember being at trade shows selling video magnification equipment where I was clearly the one with the most knowledge about the devices and people avoided me to ask my driver questions. It makes me angry and frustrated to think that these educated individuals who worked with people who are blind every day, would display this type of behavior.
Another thing that bothers me is how people will talk down to me as if I have cognitive or mental issues when they find out I am blind. They’ll talk loudly or slowly when addressing me. They’ll say how amazing I am when I tell them the slightest little thing that I do. And my biggest pet peeve is when someone asks me “can you guess who I am?” One of these days I just want to reply “I don’t care who you are!”.
Sometimes, however, it can actually be good to be blind. Here are some examples.
- When I went to Disney Land with my white cane, I was escorted to the front of the line for every ride. I got to do everything in the park, and the good things twice.
- I’ve been excused from doing a lot of school work and chores throughout my child hood as a result of my vision loss.
- There is a nice young lady who works at one of my doctor’s offices who gives me a big hug and peck on the cheek every time she sees me and I’ve never noticed her doing that to anyone else before.
- I have no car insurance or other vehicle maintenance expenses; thus giving me more cash to spend on music and other gadgets.
- When I was in high school I used to brush up against the girls and then apologize, saying that I didn’t see them standing there. Well… at least I apologized .
- My wife and I went to New York City to visit a friend who had gotten us tickets to see a show at Radio City Music Hall. The problem was that the only three tickets she could get were scattered throughout the theatre. We arrived early so that our friend could ask if an usher could collect me after the show while she went to get my wife and then we could all meet somewhere. The usher said she could do us one better and got us all seats together down front in the orchestra pit. These are the plush seats that you see the big stars sitting in on TV during the awards shows.
So I’m not just a grumpy old man. I’ve come to the realization over the years that since blindness is a disadvantage most of the time, any time I can make it work to my advantage I’m going to do it. I’m looking forward to putting this into practice in the future as I am in the process of getting a guide dog. And guess what folks… dogs are babe magnets.
Tony Heath is ForSight Vision's Access Technology Specialist, and he also speaks to groups of children and adults on behalf of the organization to help them better understand vision impairment. Learn more about Tony on our website.
I’ve stood in front of many groups of kids in classrooms or scout meetings for the purpose of talking to them about what it’s like to be blind and educating them about how to help a blind person. I’ve been doing it so long that the kids I talked to when I started out are old enough to be parents and I’m probably doing my dog and pony show to their children now.
My favorite part of these presentations is at the end when I give the students a chance to ask questions. The older the students are, the more interesting their questions. I like the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade age group the best. I’ve fielded such questions as: “Does it hurt to be blind?”, “What if you're blind and can’t hear?”, and even “How do blind people go to the bathroom?”
I treat my opportunities to speak to groups as performances, trying to make them funny and entertaining while being informative. I like to tell jokes and ask that everyone please laugh at them because I will repeat them and they are worse the second time. Like the one about the blind guy who walks into Walmart with a guide dog. He picks the dog up by the tail and swings him around over his head. The store manager approaches and says, “Hey buddy!” “What do you think you're doing with that dog?” The blind guy replies, “Just looking around.”
Oh, I got a million of ‘em. For example, when I tell the kids why most blind folks prefer a white cane to a guide dog because: “I don’t have to take my cane out at 3:00 in the morning to go to the bathroom”, “I don’t have to feed my cane”, I don’t have to give my cane a bath”, and the one that really gets them laughing “I don’t have to clean up after my cane if it throws up all over the floor”.
Even though these types of presentations have always been one of my favorite parts of my job, in recent years I have been wondering if I’m really making a difference. Are these kids learning anything, or do they even care? I always said that if one youngster thought for a minute to put on a pair of protective glasses before using fire crackers or chemicals, then I’ve done my job. But lately I’m not sure. I sometimes find myself complaining about “these darn kids today” and then realize that I sound just like my dad when he would put down my generation.
This all came to a head at an engagement I did last year at an elementary school. I use coins to demonstrate how a blind person can distinguish a penny from a quarter by feeling the size and the edges. I then asked for a volunteer who was to keep his eyes closed for the whole exercise and pretend like he is a blind person at a grocery store. I, the clerk, give him change in the form of paper money. When he is unable to identify what bills I have given him, I show him how you can fold each denomination in different ways so that it can be identified later by its shape. I turn my back on him for a minute to explain something to the rest of the class, and the little punk pockets my money.
But my faith in our youth was restored last week. It all started near the end of the school year when I was invited to talk to a 5th grade class at Spring Forge Elementary in the Northeastern School District.
I like to show the children how easy it is to help a blind person get from place to place by using proper sighted guide technique. But first, I gotta have a little fun. I get a volunteer to come to the front of the classroom and ask them to help me get to the door. The usual response is to give me verbal directions like “turn left” or “walk straight ahead”. I exaggerate what they tell me and intentionally walk right into a nearby desk or chair. This really embarrasses the poor kid.
Oh, but I can’t stop there. The next thing that typically happens is the classmates tell the volunteer to lead me by my hand. And, once again, I act goofy and stumble over something.
By now the poor kid has had enough shame and embarrassment. I then demonstrate the correct way to guide where I, the blind person, hold the volunteer’s arm slightly above the elbow and we walk to the door.
Let’s jump ahead to last week when I was on a mini vacation with my driver and her family. Her 11-year-old son, Aidan, who was a student in the Spring Forge Elementary class offered to guide me to the men’s room. With first-timers who are providing sighted guide in a busy crowded area, a blind person can expect to bump into door frames, signs, people, etc. but that’s ok. To the contrary, as we walked I noticed we were zig zagging through there with ease.
When doing sighted guide and walking through a narrow area, you put your arm that the blind person is holding behind your back. This lets me know that I should walk behind and not beside you so that I don’t side swipe any nearby obstacles.
I soon realized that Aidan was using this trick to navigate through these tight quarters without saying a word. When I asked him about it later he said, “Oh yeah, I remembered that from when you talked to our class. The fact that someone remembered such a small detail from a few months ago affirms that there really are good kids out there and they are paying attention.
When I congratulated Aidan on the good job he did for his first time he said, “Well it was OK, but you knocked over one of those little wet floor signs.” Then he added that he wants his mom’s job when he grows up.
On Monday, July 4, 2016, the ForSight Vision Thunder Sticks took on the Susquehanna League Jacobus Jackals in an intense game of beep ball. The noon game was played during the Jacobus Lions July 4th BLAST celebration. There were a few twists to this year’s game. I had been notified previously that the Jacobus Lions would be unable to field a team. Jed Larkin, who got to know our team a couple of years ago and manages the Jacobus Jackals stepped up to the plate (pun intended) and volunteered his team to play us. He also asked for a noon start time so we would have more fans watch and learn more about the skills of our blind beep ball players. I have to mention that when I met Jed at one of our games, he was so impressed that he wrote out a personal check to support us.
As the Manager, I was a bit nervous. We would be playing young, skilled baseball players! As the Catcher, I get to see all the action in front of me so when our first batter, Scott Berube, got a hit and scored a run, I was relieved. There followed many more runs, seven in all, and some great fielding by our Sticks. In fact, most of our players went home with more than enough dirt from the infield as they dove and rolled and made some spectacular plays in the field.
While the Jackals did not score on us, you could see them become more comfortable with the game as the innings went on. As the Van Driver, we had one full and happy van load going home from what was a wonderful day.
Thanks to Jed for all his help and the wonderful reception we got from his players. It was more than enough that these players would go up against a team of blind persons. It was totally unexpected but deeply moving that at the end of the game, Jed presented me with $75 in cash, collected from his players and to help with our expenses. Wow!
Enjoy a few more pictures from our game.
ForSight Vision has signed on with Community Aid to collect used clothes which benefit both us and the community.
For us, Community Aid will pay us for every pound of clothing that we collect. The clothing then goes to Community Aid stores across the mid-state. We also receive clothing vouchers which we can use for our clients and others that may be in need of assistance.
Our clothing bin is located in the parking lot here at ForSight Vision.
You can help us in two ways...
- First, bring your used clothing to our parking lot and deposit it in our bin.
- Second, if you have a location and would be willing to have us place a bin at your location, that would further increase our ability to raise additional funds.
You can read more about Community Aid at www.communityaid.net
A month or so ago I was asked by Elaine Welch, CEO of the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind, if she could feature our beep team in the next PAB newsletter. I was happy to do so and sent her newsletter writer some information on our team. The writer asked if she could interview Scott Berube and he was very accommodating. I thought she did an excellent job and wanted to share with you her story on Scott...
What’s That Beeping Sound?
By Joanne Ritter
Pennsylvania Association for the Blind
Love baseball? Imagine playing it wearing a blindfold! Beep baseball is an adapted version of traditional baseball designed for people who are blind or visually impaired. The ball beeps and the bases buzz. And in case you think it’s not a serious sport, think again. Teams compete in local, regional, and even world championships.
For Scott Berube, it is a chance to feed his competitive spirit. “Before I lost my vision, I was into motorcycles,” he said. “I used to race in Florida and California, and I even won a motocross championship.”
Although he hadn’t played baseball seriously since he was a pitcher in Little League at age 12, it all came back to him pretty easily. He loves the game. “I would never have believed I’d be playing baseball at 52,” he said, “And certainly not blind.”
It is not a sport for the timid. Participants who are sighted or have partial vision must wear blindfolds. The idea of doing something without using vision can be jarring at first. But, like anything else, practice improves performance. “If you’re sighted, you can watch a few games and you kind of get the arc of the ball and the timing,” he said. “It’s fun. It’s inclusive. A sighted person can play and try it out.” It’s also a great way to encourage teamwork.
But for Scott, it is an opportunity to enjoy a sport he used to love. “It felt good to swing a bat and hit a ball again,” he said.
He explained that the beeping of the ball is mostly for the outfielders. “The fielding’s different because we’re listening to the ball coming at us instead of seeing it.”
Another big difference is that the pitcher and batter are on the same team. “When you’re batting behind the plate, you don’t have time to gauge the location of the ball from the sound. The batter just has to go by feel. The pitcher is not your enemy, though. The pitcher is your friend. You work together.” Pitchers call out before they pitch so the batter can be ready to swing.
Instead of the traditional diamond: three bases and home plate, beep ball uses two bases (first and third). Bases are tall foam columns. They emit a solid tone, different from the beeping ball. “When the ball is pitched, the sound of the base you need to run to is turned on. It’s 100 feet away, rather than the traditional 90. You’ve got to get to that base before the fielder gets the ball. We run full bore and hit that base. Sometimes we just go right through it and knock them over,” Scott said. “Once, I ran so hard, I took out a spectator,” he laughed.
It is that opportunity to “just go for it and charge the base with all you’ve got” that appeals to Scott. “We play even if it’s raining. As long as there’s no thunder, we play right through. We go slipping and sliding through the mud. Sometimes, you miss the base entirely — you go right by it and slip and end up on your butt. It’s fun; it really is!”
Scott plays for ForSight Vision’s team, the Thunder Sticks, out of York. The team has competed with teams from Lancaster, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and even Boston. “You play some of the better teams — they come in on a bus and start doing jumping jacks to warm up and we say, ‘Oh, geez!’ These are teams that have been around a long time. But we’ve scored against them.”
“We let everybody play on our team,” Scott said. “We even have women on our team. But we play to win.”
It’s been raining a lot in York lately. But that doesn’t matter to Scott. Practice starts next week, and he’s ready.