Who is Donna Tripley and Why Is She Sending Me Emails?

I have listened to JAWS the screen-reader for sixteen years, way back to version 3.0.  With each upgrade (they’re up to #17 now) I immediately import Dictionary Manager.  Dictionary Manager gives me power to change how words are pronounced.  I can make sure that retinitis pigmentosa sounds like ret in I tus pig men toe suh, so I don’t get confused about which disease is messing with my eyesight.

Nowhere is pronunciation control more crucial than with my last name.  For six decades, from grade school classrooms to two-star restaurants, I’ve been called Mr. Flodden.  Flodden is not my last name.  It sounds undefined, like a name written in water.  With JAWS Dictionary Manager, I become who I really am, Mr. Flow dean.  With Dictionary Manager, I have a greater sense of who I am.

People deserve to have their names pronounced correctly.  I think of my friend and fellow blogger, Beth Finke,  from whose last name JAWS omits the long e sound. With Dictionary Manager, Beth’s character is restored.  Then there’s our Canadian friend, blogging under the moniker, blindbeader.  For months, I misheard this to mean someone who is beating blindness, like the Edmonton Oilers beat the Calgary Flames.

Which leads me to the mysterious Donna Tripley, from whom I receive emails.  I am not acquainted with Donna Tripley and hearing her name in my inbox reinforces my concern that my personal information is being sold to mass marketers.  But Donna’s not trying to sell me anything, so what’s her game? JAWS helps me find out.  When I press the Insert key and the #5 key twice, JAWS  reads her name one letter at a time: D O N O T R E P L Y. DO NOT REPLY.  Oh, Donna, you’re breaking my heart.


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Common Denominator

My wife is feeling the effects of major surgery.  I am contending with a common cold.  We haven’t energy beyond eat, feed the animals, rest.  We stick to basics and concentrate on core matters.  We defer details to a later date.

I haven’t energy to exert, physically or mentally.  I conserve motion.  I limit analysis.  And I’m finding that I am letting go of the need to control events, to impose my will on circumstance.  I just don’t have it in me.

This energy conservation is refreshing and replenishing.  I realize how much effort I customarily expend on what is out of my hands.  I am going with the flow.

My priorities are clearer: practice self-care, nourish those around me, accept life on life’s terms and find joy in simple things.  I’m not retreating to the sidelines.  Rather, I’m taking an active role, minus the drama.

Today’s marathon is walking downstairs and retrieving the mail.  Mulligan the cat sneaks into the stairway.  Customarily, this annoys me.  I want Mulligan to stay where I think he belongs, on the right side of the upstairs door.  But today I welcome his company.  He scampers through the next doorway into the foyer.  He checks the scent of the great outdoors.  I gather the bills and circulars.  He scrubs the Astro Turf doormat with his five-toed mitts, then flops over and onto his back.    This is the point I normally say, “Get in here, you meathead!” Today, I take a seat on the bottom stair and listen as he investigates.  He makes quick work of it.  Now he’s rubbing against my legs like he hasn’t seen me in days.  I rise and close the foyer door. Mulligan and I turn and walk up the stairs, slowly, one small step at a time.

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If I Could See for Just One Day


Here’s what I’d do if I could see again. For one glorious winter day, I’d examine snowflakes for subtle differences. I’d get impressed by Impressionists hanging around the Art Institute.  I’d take a few slap shots wearing my red and white Blackhawks jersey.

I’d explore unfamiliar places—historic Union Station, modern skyscrapers.  I’d find peace in familiar places—the shining eyes of my beloved, the gleaming coat of my big, black dog.

I’d set aside time to spy on myself, watch how I do things and figure out how to do things better.  I’ve never seen me as a blind person.  I’d like to witness my own resourcefulness, see how I solve problems. If I saw my blind self from a sighted perspective, how would I look?  I live in a sighted world.  I’d like to know how other people see me.  Maybe I’d understand both sides better

I like to think that I’d be grateful for one day of vision.  I don’t want to resent it as a miserly expression of someone’s sense of fairness.  Wishing is not a waste of time and does not mean that I am doing a lousy job of accepting life as it is. I refute the suggestion that to wish for something not likely to occur will only make me sad or bitter or both.  I seek not to escape, but to understand and appreciate.

And when my day of vision ends, let me be grateful for what I have.  Let me not resent those who have what I lack.  Let me strive to make better that which I possess.  Let me find peace and bring that peace to others.

[Note:  While the writer helps his wife recuperate from surgery and gets over his own cold, he has revised this story from summer, 2011, and presents it to you now]

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My wife is coming home from the hospital today.  She’s had surgery.  Cancer surgery.  She’ll be in pain.  She’ll be weak and weary. She’ll need lots of help. I’ll be her helper.  One hospital nurse murmured “Oh, Dear” when she learned the family caregiver is blind, but my wife told her not to worry, that I’m caring and capable.

It’s important for me to make things nice for my wife, to help her feel good when she’s feeling bad.  I place fresh flowers on her bed tray.  I soak her pajamas in Downy until they feel like butter.  I make sure the clean, crisp bedding will lie gentle on her skin.

I’ll be part of the healing.  I’ll rub her back when the rest of her hurts.  I’ll tell a joke without   trying to cheer her up.  I’ll listen to what she wants and needs without thinking I know what’s best for her.

I’ll help by sharing myself.  I too have cried, “This can’t be happening.”  I too have lived with a body that betrays.  But this is not about me.  She helps with my struggle as I help with hers. We adapt to life as change.  We are different, not less than, what we were before.  We relearn that our strength comes from surrender and acceptance.

Where we unite on the most elemental level is that we have no answers.  I clean the house, tell a joke and hold her hand because that’s all I can do. We are humbled by this life force.  Like Gatsby, we “beat on, boats against the current.” Our challenge is to align with the tide.

My wife is coming home from the hospital today.  She’ll be home for Christmas.  Together, we find comfort and joy.  We wish comfort and joy for you.

Note:  Jeff’s favorite audio version of The Great Gatsby is NLS BARD catalog # DB 16147, read by the incomparable Alexander Scourby.

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Miracle Cure

Thirty years ago, when the doctors told me I was  genetically out of whack and would lose my eyesight, I told them, “Well, that takes my mind off losing my hair.”  Everyone chuckled, but their punch line, “There is no cure,” fell flat.  After a decade watching that dim prognosis become dark reality, I was sick of the joke.  I wanted a cure.  That’s when a friend told me about the holistic herbologist who had done wonders for her maladies.

I called the doctor’s toll-free number.  He told me his six-week course of oral medication had restored vision in people like me.  I sent him a check for $799.95 and, when it cleared, my miracle cure arrived at my front door.

I followed the treatment regimen religiously.  Each day for three weeks, I sloshed down eighteen horse pills.  They were huge, brown and smelled like a barnyard.  These pills, promised the doctor, would remove toxins from my body.  I figured anything tasting so vile had to be good for me, the same logic I used as a teenager trying to drink beer.

For the second phase of the six-week program, I ingested twenty small, odorless pills per day.  These would resurrect the dead cells in my retinas.  The ingredients included bovine eyeballs and leftovers from the rendering plant.  Stuffed with horse pills and bovine eyeballs, would I whinny and moo along to “Old McDonald Had a Farm?”  I wouldn’t mind, just so I could see the barn.

My miracle cure for lost eyesight lasted the better part of a bitterly cold winter.  As weeks passed, I felt a bumper crop of hair sprouting from my scalp.  Friends christened me, “the Woolly Mammoth.”  Was this simply protection against the frigid temps or had the barnyard feed brought out my animal nature?  My furry head was a boon to my vanity.  I fluffed it.  I moussed it.  I showed it off.  Write me up in Ripley’s Believe it or Not.  I’d join the circus.  Move over, Bearded Lady.

The day I gulped my last bovine eyeball pills, I ventured a glimpse in the mirror.  I stared.  I squinted.  I put down the mirror and picked up the phone.  “Doc, do you remember me?  I’m the guy who called about my vision loss.  Well, I’ve finished the pills and I have good news and bad news.  The good news is I have a full head of hair; the bad news is I can’t see it.”

I didn’t give the doctor a chance to reply.  I didn’t demand my money back.  I hung up the phone, rubbed my furry head and laughed until tears rolled down my cheeks.

When spring arrived, the fertile ground that spawned my head of winter wheat turned barren.  Had going cold turkey from the barnyard drugs or the return of warm weather caused the Woolly Mammoth to lose his wool?  I didn’t call the doctor for his opinion.

Now and again, a vision comes to me: a sleek, white yacht slicing deep blue Caribbean waters, the retired herbologist at the helm, sipping Dom Perignon and lighting Cuban cigars with $100 bills — all proceeds from his miracle cure for baldness.

[Copyright 2009, The Rockford Review.  Used with permission.]

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Cultural Competence

At work today, I attend a program entitled, “Providing Culturally Competent Services to Individuals, Especially Those with Disabilities.”  The audience consists of counselors, nurses and social workers like me. We learn how to become more sensitive to and effective with clients of different cultures, ethnic groups or disabilities.

Walking home, I mull over what I’ve learned.  I reach the first crossing, where cars turn from a busy street onto my side street.  As I step into the crosswalk, a voice from the car turning in front of me screams a phrase including “mother” as the first half of the whole word, then two words that aren’t “dim wit” but which rhyme and mean the same thing.

My first thought is that this man obviously didn’t attend the same program I did.  If he had, he’d be more sensitive to the blind culture.  He’d understand that blind people can’t see cars.  He’d have learned that a person attached by a harness to a guide dog has the right of way.  My second thought is that I’m glad he didn’t run me down.

I try to understand this man’s culture. Driving is stressful.  Road rage rages.  Offensive driving is the rule. Perhaps he had to drop out of school to support his drunken parents who now get on his case because he doesn’t make enough money.  Maybe he’s just having a bad day.

The man must not be a member of the blind culture.  He may not even know anyone who is.  He probably doesn’t counsel blind clients.  Perhaps he thinks disabled people ought to stay home and out of sight.  Maybe he hates dogs.

I cross the street and walk on.  I don’t take this man’s harsh words personally.  I neither call him a dirty name nor judge him harshly.  I am a professional.  I am above that pettiness.  I just  hope his girlfriend in the passenger seat says, “That man was blind, you moron.  Drop me at the next corner and never call me again.” That way, he might learn a lesson in cultural competence.

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Rehearsing for a Mugging

What would I do if a stranger demanded my money and my cell phone?  Order my guide dog to “Quit wagging that tail and look fierce?”  Beg and pray?  Flail away with errant crotch kicks?  I ponder these questions because, being a blind person, am I an easy mark? Or shall I put my faith in the kindness of criminals?  I pose these questions not to add to our pervasive culture of fear.  Rather, I endorse the motto, “Be Prepared.”

Deterrence is preparedness.  Cruising the urban landscape with a big black dog may appear a street crime deterrent, but Randy’s primary threat is drooling on peoples’ shoes. Self-defense can be a tactic.  One blind fellow in Philadelphia learned martial arts and flipped a mugger so effectively that he broke his neck.  But manslaughter — mine or the assailant’s — is too extreme. And don’t mention any “Blind Conceal and Carry” silliness.

Perhaps self-knowledge is the better deterrent. I recognize I am capable of outrage.  On bad days, when disrespected as a blind pedestrian, I scowl and hurl verbal zingers.  And while I have found a voice as a blind person, I need to know when to keep my mouth shut.  If confronted by a street criminal, my outrage might boil over into an impulsive physical response. That I would lash out is tempting, even cathartic, and it satisfies my sense of outrage at being victimized.  But self-preservation trumps. I can feel outrage at being mistreated, but it’s best expressed in this medium rather than on the street.

I am fortunate that street crime etiquette has remained hypothetical.  I feel safe out there.  I feel confident and at ease and that’s what I wish to project.  But I also want to be prepared without expecting the worst or skewing the Law of Attraction toward negative outcomes.  So, when a stranger says, “That’s a big guard dog you got there,” I’ll just nod and say, “Yup, Brutus is one mean mutt.”

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