Jeopardy At 50

Today, I heard an NPR story that noted that Jeopardy began on this day 50 years ago. Wow, way back in 1964. And that the current host, Alex Trebak, has been there for 30 of those years. He’ll retire after this season.

I’m not entirely certain why I became so addicted to Jeopardy. I used to watch it somewhat even as a kid, though I would mostly get angry because I knew not what any of the answers were referring to. I often asked my precosious cousin to give me some of that information, as well as everything else he knew, and would yell and act like a toddler when he tried to get me to narrow it to specific topics. Looking back, I was a very strange child. I wonder how people put up with me.

Anyway, I eventually moved to Southern Pines in 1994, and my mom met her husband a year or so later. This happened as I entered high school, and he and I began watching Jeopardy religiously. It came on at 7, and if we were in the grocery store line at 6:30 I’d become antsy. I really hated to miss the beginning, feeling I guess as I might about watching my sports teams. I had to see the whole thing.

Through readings particularly of National Geographic Magazine, I soon found that I became sharp enough to get many of the Jeopardy questions right.

I did make some hilariously incorrect responses that I’m embarrassed to admit, but whatever. I can’t exactly remember what the answer, for that is the actual Jeopardy format that prompts the respondant to say “What is…” was, but it had to do with some rare animal found in the wild. I said “What is a warewolf!” My dad still amusedly gives me grief over that to this day.

I enjoyed competing on Jeopardy teams at school too, often created as a way to get extra credit on tests and such. People wanted me on their teams, because they knew I would usually be thorough in my information gathering.

One time though, I made a big mistake that cost my team dearly. I use the word HOMES to remember the five Great Lakes. My instructor told me to name them, of course within a time limit, and I shouted “Hurron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Wisconsin!” I knew it was Superior, but the state name got in the way of my proper response.

I have considered trying to get onto the real show, but many of the ways of so doing don’t seem to be too accessible. I did manage to take a sample test somewhere, and I came out of that feeling like I knew practically nothing. Hard stuff!

I remember a few years ago that a blind guy appeared on there and absolutely pounded everyone over a five-day period. He did have a bit of a challenge remembering which categories and dollar values were still in play, which I imagine I would struggle with as well. Still, it was cool watching him blaze that trail and perhaps in some small way improve public perception of those with disabilities, and persons who are blind in particular.

I don’t watch Jeopardy as much as I did in my high school days, but I do sometimes catch it through various portals. It makes me nervous that I’m already over the hill or something, as I no longer seem as able to get the answers as regularly as I once could. I wonder though if they now place a greater emphasis on pop culture, a subject area that I’m naturally not going to be as strong in. I’m not a movie person, and while I love music I tend to follow newer acts a lot less because I can’t hear the same anymore. I suppose I should know a lot about books and authors, though.

My sister told me recently that my dad misses the days of watching that show in our way, and regularly reminisces on it. I do too, and can’t help but to wonder how it will change when Alex exits. It’s funny, but even his name and the answer structure have become cultural icons, as I sometimes hear people say “I’ll take … for 500, Alex”.

I think I will always enjoy things that ask me to stretch my knowledge beyond its limits and keep learning. Here’s to 50 more years!

Travel By Leg: on my mobility abilities

This post inspired by Adventures in Low Vision, a blog about the different challenges and happenings its author encounters as she adjusts to low vision life. She writes snippets that I always enjoy, as they turn visual images into words.

In her most recent post, she asked the question “What do we as blind or low vision people do to ensure safe travel.”

In my now defunct blog, I had written about a series of techniques lumped into the general category called Orientation and Mobility that are designed to help blind people learn to navigate their environment. These most commonly include crossing the street safely moving around in large spaces such as malls and department stores, and using public transportation.

When many think of Orientation and Mobility, (O&M) they think of learning routes to specific places. Yes this happens, but if one only knew how to get from one particular place to another I don’t think one would be able to adapt well to new settings. I am happy to say that my instructors, probably some of the best there ever have been taught me methods that allow me to figure out where I am even when I locate to another area.

I never heard them use this exact term, but I believe the ability to put together bits of information to figure out different surroundings is called Structured Discovery. I sometimes do this by walking with a sighted person a couple of times and paying really close attention to turns, cracks in the sidewalk, street gutters, the sound of ventelation units, etc that help me memorize the layout. I would venture to say that suddenly I’ve gotten pretty good at this, and especially living in my sprawling Durham neighborhood with its restaurants, convenience stores, and leasing office a quarter mile away. I’ve also had to use this in the place where I work, as they often rope off familiar hallways without warning and I am forced to readjust.

The only thing that does concern me is the degree to which I rely on my rather shaky hearing in order to safely move about. I had lost this ability near totally with the lower quality hearing aids I’d had from January of 2006 till February of 2011, as they didn’t provide a high enough degree of stereophonic sound. By this, I mean the ability for both of my ears to work together to create a unified soundscape that makes it clearer when, say, cars are passing in front of me as opposed to going by on a parallel. This is vitally important when crossing streets.

Not that I’m entirely perfect even at that yet, unfortunately, but I think I do well enough to stay in one piece. I always press the button, waiting until I’ve heard an automobile pass in front of me before so doing to try and get myself as close to the beginning of the next light cycle as possible. It’s fun being me sometimes.

You might think it odd, but I believe the most dangerous part of the travel I do is actually crossing open parking lots. Here, if a car is moving it is usually doing so slowly. While I wouldn’t be hit particularly hard, hopefully, I also can barely hear the engine when there is little speed involved. I have lost a couple of canes this way, though as others point out in those situations, at least said canes did their job and kept my toes in tact.

To try and head that off, I’ll usually stand on the curb and, in a technique taught to me by my O&M instructors, wave my cane three times across my body to hopefully let anyone know that I’m about to step off. Then it’s just a matter of holding head high, trying to make sure I can be seen, and crossing fingers!

And on pressing buttons, or pulling cords, riding the bus is also usually an adventure. I’ve very much improved that over the year plus that I’ve been here as well, finally actually learning where the cords even are and thus how to properly use them.

And even though the ADA mandates it, not all stops are called out on most of the routes with which I interact on a regular basis. This is less of a concern for me lately though, as I can use my iPhone’s GPS apps to help me get a sense of where my exact stop is. I do this for the first several times I need to get to a different destination, until I get all of the turns, speed bumps, traffic lights and the like down so that I can ride without that assistance. I of course also tell the drivers where I wish to get off, but being human they are prone to forget and sail right on by if I don’t ring that ell in time.

As I stated earlier, I’m kind of afraid that my travel abilities may continue to deteriorate. I’ll probably never be able to really move around malls and such, unless perhaps I go ahead and get a guide dog. As far as that goes, I do feel I might be better with a dog than I’d thought as my basic mobility principles are solid. But if I have to get a cochlear implant, I’m raeding that others who are blind have lost some of that ability to track themselves in relation to other objects. That might render me unable to function, but I guess I have to hope not. Maybe it can be reacquired with time.

Thanks again to Adventurous in Low Vision for this post idea.

Let The Games Begin

Recently, I wrote an article about the various ways in which I enjoy watching (listening to?, although you can always say watching to me I promise) sports. It is a national pastime for so many of us, and yet ironically, it probably contributes to our sedentarism. So few of us actually get off of our rumps and play ! sports, especially those of us with disabilities.

With yesterday’s launch of the winter Paralympics, a series of adapted sports for persons with disabilities that began in the 40s, I thought I would attempt to highlight some of the sports and leagues that have been created to try and address the affore mentioned shortcoming. I heard via NPR that there are five sports currently played in the Paralympics: skiing, sledge hockey, the biathalon, which involves cross-country skiing and shooting at a target, and I am unable to recall the final two. I am not sure to what degree blind individuals participate in these games, but I do know some who enjoy skiing. I’ve never tried it, and am not entirely convinced I have the guts to do so.

I think for the most part, blind folks tend to partake in summer-type activities to a much greater extent. These range from nearly full-body contact sports to rather more laid back pursuits that at least allow for some display of ability.

The one I most enjoyed while growing up was beep baseball. Many of us refer to it as more a combination of baseball and football, as you have to corral the heavy softball as it rolls along the ground, and you’re just about as likely to lose an arm in the process. Ah, but it was great fun. My hearing, and perhaps my body, has deteriorated too much for me to safely play now, sadly. For more details on that sport, read the linked article above.

Another sport I tried but didn’t like as much was goal ball. Here, you lie on the floor inside of a taped line, and smash a ball with bells to the other side where the other team is. Your objective is to get it by the other team and across the line, which would result in a score. The other team must attempt to stop it with their bodies, quite often by having the ball slam into a belly. Ah ok, this was kinda fun I suppose. But it’s usually played in hot, sweaty gyms. I was never all that good at it.

And of course, there are always track and field-type events. Of these, I most enjoyed the longjump, where you have to gather up momentum and launch yourself across a sandy pit as far as you could go. I was also a decent runner in my day, often tiring my guides out when in high school.

The only other “sport,” if it can indeed be called that, in which I participated is bowling. Specifically, my area had created a team that was a part of the American Blind Bowling Association (ABBA). They connect with several local teams who host area and regional tournaments, and send participants to the National Tournament held once a year.

I only ever competed in one tournament in Winston-Salem, NC. I enjoyed it, though my scores were laughable and it can get pricy to bowl every week. We had practices, and so we went to the alley on Fridays at $8 a pop.

There are other sports about which I know less, such as blind golf. My cousin says he has done this, and if I remember correctly you have a sighted person behind you who lets you know where abouts to swing the club. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some sort of blind table tennis league also.

For those of you who are curious, especially parents raising blind or low vision children, I’d suggest googling a lot of these sports. There is a lot that one can do to be and remain active, and of course the benefits of so doing cannot be overstated. While I may not engage in athletics as much as I once did or should, I definitely do walk for at least 20 minutes a day. Going to and from the bus stop is good for that.

I am aware that this is a blind-centric post, since that is what I most know. I invite persons with other sorts of disabilities or those who have learned about what may be available for wheelchair users and the like to guest post here. Just contact me if you are willing to do it. Thanks.

Time to Plan Summer Travel

Welcome to March, 5 days late. Did you know that in many countries, they consider the season to have changed once we reach the first of the month in which equinox or solstice is reached? Well, I’ll boldly take up that idea and say hello Spring! Now if only all this freezing rain, single-digit temperatures, snow, and the like will agree and make haste back to Alaska where they are, if not entirely enjoyed, certainly more expected.

And yes, I am of course aware that Northern winter put our comparatively puny Southern winter to shame. But looking at it from a relativist perspective, we’ve been hit about the same.

So where warm can I go. I know? I’ll go to Chicago! Um, quiet about that, it is so warm.

In any event, I’m still not sure if that will happen anytime soon. I reported winning that contest to attend a live taping of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me there. However, I haven’t really been able to confirm all of the details, and so I can’t actually book the trip. With all I’d have to do other than that, such as visit a special, blind-friendly exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute, maybe go and at least hear Lake Michigan (because I can’t imagine a lake with waves!), and have lunch/dinner with countless friends; I’m likely to just go anyway. Maybe I’ll be better served to just hold off until at least May though, when perhaps the temperature will at least remain at or above 50 degrees. We shall see what happens with that.

I’m trying to decide something quickly though, because I haven’t exactly ruled out a jaunt to Vegas in July to attend some of the Convention of the American Council of the Blind, (ACB). I’ve never been to Vegas, and would have lots to do there and many people to meet also. I think it would be considerably more expensive though, and I’d have to ask myself am I getting the most bang for my buck. I wish I had an unlimited travel budget sometimes.

I’m hoping these stubborn days that forced me to take off work by icing and snowing everything in won’t significantly cut into the meager vacation time I am given. I think we weren’t charged at all for taking Valentine’s Day, since almost everyone found the sidewalks impassable. I had to take yesterday off too, well ok maybe I could’ve made it in but I wasn’t certain of that and didn’t want to get way far from my door only to realize the path was too treacherous. I saw another person who stays in this neighborhood, and she told me the bus was sliding back down the hill as they tried to pull up out of here anyway. I guess I would’ve been ok through all of that, but it sounds kinda scary nonetheless.

I think y full 40 hours of paid vacation doesn’t kick in till July, but I do get five unpaid days. I probably have 2 of them left, so wherever I go during this part of the year will likely be a Wednesday night/Thursday morning departure. Man, could I ever use something to look forward to!

Have you started planning your trips yet? Ideally, where would you like to go? To a big city? Up in the mountains? Down by the ocean? Does it matter? Do you know to which song I’m referring. I’m sure something will happen soon.

On Disability and Connection

I’ve been pondering this topic for a while, as I seem to have unending challenges in maximizing or at least maintaining my links to others. At its root, connection is the basis of our humanity. We all want to belong to an organization, form solid romantic and/or friendship relationships, and ensure that our family bonds are strong.

I guess whether we like it or not, we tend often to be defined by what we do. What kind of job/occupation/career do we have?

I suppose not only persons with disabilities but many have a hard time associating with the individuals who might help them get to the place where they would like to be. However, I can say from my own experience and that of some of my friends that those of us with disabilities may grow up never really learning how to accentuate networks, and thus we find it harder to obtain meaningful employment, if any at all.

Fortunately, I think that modern technology is leveling that playing field for kids of this generation. I can’t imagine how different my trajectory would have been if I had Facebook, an iPhone and the like during my formative years.

What this tech is doing for career possibilities, I’m not sure it can do for interpersonal connections. In my experience, there is a bit of a rock-in-a-hard-place thing that happens, and particularly for individuals with clearly visible disabilities.

I have learned my way around almost my entire half-mile neighborhood area, from the leasing office on one end to the restaurant strip containing Dunkin Donuts, Noodles and Company, and other establishments called, I think Pavillion East. It’s a very pleasant spot, especially when the sun is shining and I can grab a coffee and a sandwich and take a seat on the patio.

Anyway, so I might be cruising along thinking to myself and mapping where I am and wish to be.

“Hi sir,” I hear someone say. “May I help you?”

Often, I say no as I don’t actually need assistance at that moment. “But hey, I would like to chat if you’re interested.”

My experience is that people rarely are interested, unless they feel they can fulfill that apparent need. Because of this, I have had relatively few friends without disabilities. More than that even, I’m finding that increasing independence can often lead to increases in isolation, as people have fewer obvious reasons to interact with me. It kind of makes me think of what others have said to me, that we are so often seen only as our disability, and not as a whole person potentially full of interesting traits and yes even character flaws.

I guess the people who are most likely to see us as whole are of course our families. Even as much as they do know though, I have found that many even in my own family are surprised by some of the crazy stuff I enjoy doing.

Actually, I feel fortunate to have the folks around that I do. One problem that is common among folks with disabilities, causing us to sometimes feel a strong urge to act recklessly just to establish our own identity, is that our well-meaning families can be a bit overprotective. I know some, for instance, who have been practically forced to live at home into their 30s, because their parents feared imminent harm if they were unable to track their every move. This sort of thing makes me sad, and I guess I’m just hoping that things continue to improve for all of us as time marches on.

So those are some of my thoughts regarding how persons with disability connect and fit in among society. I suppose things aren’t actually as tough as they could be and have been in the past. I will continue to do my part in helping us all to make gains and understand each other just that little bit more.

Book Review: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

So as I hope is readily apparent, I’ve learned more about how and where to enter posts on my new site. I feel kind of silly too, because I could have been doing this all along. It’s definitely a lot more convenient than the mad dash I’d done before of composing it in notepad, pasting into an email, sending it to my iPhone, yadda, yadda, yadda.

I guess I really am investing in this thing now, as I pour a bit into it financially to get this stuff going. Doubtless, that will get me into writing more and hopefully better entries whenever interesting things happen. Now onto your regularly scheduled post, already in progress.

I’ve just completed an excellent novel entitled Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Spanning about 15 years, the story largely centers on the interactions between a Nigerian couple, and specifically what the female of that couple encounters when she chooses to venture to the US to pursue education.

This book actually starts near the end, as she has begun contemplating a return to her homeland from Princeton New Jersey, where she has completed a fellowship. She makes a trip to a Trenton hair salon, marveling at the difference between those two cities in terms of racial and class composition. In this salon, she meets other Nigerians, an individual from the Caribbean, and a diverse group of people from different backgrounds.

In fact, one of my favorite things about this book is that she creates a blog chronicling her thoughts about interactions of race and society in this country. This blog goes viral, landing her speaking engagements and causing some rankling of nerves among black Americans, who feel that they couldn’t get away with pointing out some of the same things she does. It is interesting watching her build a following and even reading some of the entries that had been posted therein, and perhaps it might give me some ideas about ways I can create more engagement here. I should probably read it again.

Adichie does some interesting things with reflection within this story, revealing that things have happened, then going onto another time and subject, and finally coming back to explain how that thing had happened. It sometimes creates the feeling that one has missed something, but I think it also causes the reader to focus and pay more attention to what’s going on.

I’ve heard Adichie speak on this book, and recall her saying that one of its aims was to show us that many in Africa actually live in the middle class, a fact that seems obvious to me but I guess isn’t very widely realized in the West. It also seems that she wanted to show Americans what our culture looks like to people not born into it, which I found fascinating. The main female character becomes interested in and works during the election of president Obama, noting the effect that had on people from Africa as well.

My final observation would be that the character’s adjustment to American life, frought with difficulty, was so real that I almost had to put it down for a bit. I’ve never adjusted to life in another country of course, but her challenges reminded me too much of my own adjustments to graduate school in 2009/10. That part was very well written, though.

So overall, I would say that this was a good, inspirational read. You might enjoy it more if you read the audio version, as there are parts written in Ibo, which I think is one of the main languages in Nigeria. The narrator does a pretty good job at demonstrating the accents, though amusingly she still inserts the R sound between words that start with vowels, as the British do. I imagine that’s hard to avoid. If you can though, grab a copy and be ready to be transported all over time and space.