Breaking Out of the Toilet Talk Trap

One of the topics many of our readers express interest in is the relationship and dynamic between siblings where one or both have a disability. What does this bond look like? Is it any different? And while we aim to provide information about disability in today’s world, we find that sibling relationships are best illustrated through stories told by siblings and their parents.

That’s why we’re pleased to have Keith Hammond back with another post about raising two children who are both on the autism spectrum. His last entertaining post described his son Steven’s propensity to break iPads. After reading today’s guest post, I’m surprised Steven didn’t try to break his Dynavox, too!

Keith and his kids

Keith and his kids, Hillary (left) and Steven (right)

by Keith Hammond

As a parent of two children with special needs, I am often asked about how siblings with autism interact. Rather than try to explain, I think a story will illustrate it best.

My son, Steven, being non-verbal, relied on a Dynavox years ago. Steven’s Dynavox had two screens: an action screen and a noun screen. Steven could press a button on the action screen that said “I want to eat…” and on the noun screen, he could press his preferred item, say, “french fries.” The Dynavox would put the two together, and say in a robotic voice “I want to eat … french fries.” There was always a characteristically awkward pause in the middle putting the two screens together.

One day, we had taken the Dynavox to my wife’s cousin, Heather, who is a speech therapist in Columbus, Ohio. She tinkered around with it for about an hour or two, figured out how to program it, and added a few new things for us and his speech therapists at home. We figured that was that.

Well, Steven’s sister, Hillary, is really good with computers and an excellent visual learner. We had noticed she had been watching Heather program the Dynavox, but didn’t think anything of it. When we got home, however, our naivete was exposed.

Without our knowing, Hillary got her hands on Steven’s Dynavox and re-rigged it to where the noun was always the same, no matter what button was pressed. This was revealed when Steven began to say things like:

  • “I want to eat … poop.”
  • “I want to play with … poop.”
  • “I want a drink of … poop.”

Needless to say, Hillary was incredibly proud of her work and could not stop grinning. Neither my wife nor I could figure out how to reprogram a thing that an 8-year old figured out after a few hours’ observation. I could have watched the process for a couple of weeks and still never figured it out.

Thankfully, the school’s speech therapist was able to break us out of our trap of toilet talk. My wife and I scolded Hillary and told her not to do it again. Then, as any good parents will do, we shut the door and laughed ourselves silly.

As you can see, siblings with autism prank each other just as well as any other pair of siblings. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to…..poop.

Interested in reading more stories about siblings where one or both have a disability? Check out perspectives from other brothers and sisters here. We’d also love to hear stories about you and your siblings in the comments.

 

Losing Friends to Ableism

Text: Losing Friends to Ableism; Image: Multiple pins grouped together with one alone away from the group.“I would’ve made sure it was accessible if we were closer friends.”

An ex-friend said this after I expressed hurt over his party being held in an inaccessible venue. I wasn’t mad at him initially, since it was a surprise party, and it was planned by his family. They knew I couldn’t get inside, and they ignored guests who’d offered alternate, accessible spaces.

When this ex-friend told me of the event, all he said was, “sorry you can’t come.” That was it.

I wouldn’t have been too upset if this person offered to visit for a mini celebration with mutual friends. I wouldn’t have been angry if he gave a sincere apology rather than defensiveness and silence.

Ableism is the discrimination and oppression of people with disabilities in favor of people who are not disabled. It can take on many forms, from overt violence to inaccessible public spaces. Like racism or sexism, ableism is systematic and perpetuated regularly, and making accessibility a privilege offered only to closest friends or family is horrifically ableist. This person was someone I hung out with regularly, so I assumed we were good friends. But even if we were just acquaintances, what he said was dehumanizing.

To make things worse, he spouted that quote while knowing I was going through an emotionally vulnerable time in my life. I’m glad I ended that friendship, especially after realizing he was toxic in other ways as well.

This was not the first time folks have invited me to a party that was not accessible. One of my best friend’s mom hosted a party at a local VFW, and we all assumed it was wheelchair accessible because, you know, veterans.

But when I got there, there was a flight of stairs. Those friends were as upset and shocked as me, so we partied on another day at home — with ice cream cake. Compassion and following through to solve a problem make all the difference.

Dismissing my valid pain in the face of ableism is unacceptable. When that happens, the relationship needs to end. It can be hard (especially if you put a lot of energy into a friendship and genuinely enjoyed the company) but it’s necessary for survival. Healthy relationships begin with mutual respect. If you don’t respect each other, there is nothing to build on.

Losing friends to ableism exposes what people think of you as a human being, and that truth is painful. It’s another scar you get from living as a disabled person in a society that devalues you at every point. When I befriend abled people now, I do so cautiously and expect them to mess up occasionally. Unlearning ableism, for both abled and disabled people, is a process that never ends.

I still struggle with internalized ableism, and I am grateful to my disabled friends who help me through it. We learn from and hold each other responsible for breaking through those negative feelings. My abled friends who have put in the work to dismantle ableism through self-education and listening to/reading authentic disabled voices are people who I hold close. These are friendships I respect and cherish, and they’ll last a lifetime.

Read a longer version of this post on Erin Hawley’s Geeky Gimp blog.

 

Get Published, Win Cash in a Writing Contest for People with Disabilities

Photo of Andrea Kelton.

That’s the award-winning Andrea. Photo courtesy Darlene Schweitzer.

In addition to my job moderating this blog for Easterseals National, I also lead four different memoir-writing classes every week for senior citizens here in Chicago. Some writers in the memoir-writing classes I lead have had their memoirs published, but none has ever won an award (with a cash prize, no less!) for their writing…until now.

A poem Andrea Kelton wrote has been awarded a cash prize for second place in the Magnets and Ladders poetry contest! Andrea’s poem What a Feeling will be published in the Magnets and Ladders Spring/Summer 2017 edition along with a memoir called Water Balloons that she wrote for class.

Magnets and Ladders publishes writing by people with disabilities, and their submission guidelines are pretty clear:

  • Writers with disabilities may submit up to three selections per issue;
  • Writers must disclose their disability in their biography or in their work;
  • Poetry maximum length is 50 lines;
  • Memoir, fiction, and nonfiction maximum length is 2,500 words;
  • Single-space all submissions;
  • Use a blank line to separate paragraphs and stanzas;
  • Spell check and proofread all entries.

Previously published material and simultaneous submissions are permitted provided you own the copyright to the work, and Magnets and Ladders staff asks that you cite previous publisher and/or notify them if work has been accepted elsewhere.

So back to Andrea. A visual artist, Andrea Kelton was running a pottery workshop for children in 2005 when she first enrolled in our “Me, Myself and I” class sponsored by the City of Chicago’s Department on Aging. I couldn’t see the low vision magnifying reading glasses she used to wear to read her essays in class. It wasn’t until she read an essay about losing a job after being diagnosed with an eye condition in her twenties that I realized she can’t see well: Andrea has uveitis.

In 2009, glaucoma started setting in as well, leaving Andrea unable to read print. Like so, so many other writers in the classes I lead, Andrea did not give up. She learned to use an audio and magnifying computer program called Zoom Text to write and edit her pieces at home, and when it’s her turn to read in class, she passes a print copy to Wanda (a writer who was diagnosed with a severe hearing loss when she was young) and Wanda reads the piece aloud. It’s the deaf leading the blind!

Magnets and Ladders is an online magazine with a tag line that says it all: Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities. The submission guidelines make it clear the magazine “does not feature advocacy, activist, how-to, or what’s new articles regarding disabilities” and prefers poetry, memoir, fiction and non-fiction.

You can read the magazine or sign up for the email edition by visiting the Magnets and Ladders website. The deadline for the Spring/Summer issue is over already, but you have plenty of time to write before the August 15 deadline for the Fall/Winter issue. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a sneak preview of Andrea Kelton’s prize-winning poem here. Congratulations, Andrea.

What a Feeling!
By Andrea Kelton

The easel
Holds a painting
Featuring a free-form tree
Under an explosive yellow sun.

The artist
Brush in hand
Stands back
Admiring her masterpiece.

Satisfaction bubbles
Then
Glee gushes and rushes
Through her four-year-old body.

Andrea glows with wonder
At this treasure she’s created.

Emotions explode
As she discovers
That
Doing art
Creates bliss.

 

Meet the Filmmaker Behind an Autism Documentary on PBS This Month

Spectrum poster of silouette of head with colors swirling outPlease join me in welcoming today’s guest blogger, filmmaker Jill Jones. Jill is the producer behind SPECTRUM: A Story of the Mind, a thought-provoking documentary about autism and sensory issues that PBS will be airing the next four weeks to honor Autism Acceptance Month (check local listings).

by Jill Jones

When I first told friends I was making an autism documentary, their eyes glazed over. When you think of the words ‘autism documentary’, what are the first words that come to mind? Controversy, screaming children, sad music. It seems boring, like something that’s been done many times before. But I had a good reason to make this film, and that reason is my cousin Grant.

I grew up in a small city in West Texas and have fond memories of visiting my Dad’s family in a small town. My aunt and uncle and their kids are among the kindest people I know. They have smiling eyes, a knack for making up fun games, and making me feel at home.

One memory plays over and over in my mind. I’m sitting inside, drinking Dr. Pepper. Everyone is telling stories, and I’m looking out the window at my cousin Grant jumping on the trampoline. I’ve been told that he has something called autism, and I don’t know much about what that means.

I know that Grant can’t talk. I keep watching him. He’s jumping for hours and flapping his hands. I’ve finished my Dr. Pepper, and he’s still jumping. The West Texas sun is setting, and he’s still jumping. He looks joyful and full of life.

Later in life, I kept hearing more about autism. Everyone is concerned about the cause of autism. It’s deemed a puzzle to be solved. But when I think of my cousin Grant, I imagine him jumping, and while I know his daily life is difficult, I wanted to know more about how he sees the world and what joy feels like for him.

And so, I started to make this documentary called SPECTRUM: A Story of the Mind to explore the experience of autism rather than the cause. Together with my fellow producer and cinematographer Brent Yontz, we packed up our film gear and started traveling the country.

We started by interviewing the famed Temple Grandin after a conference in Ohio. Then, we flew to Austin to meet Tito Mukhopadhyay, an author and poet who types to communicate. We went to Berkeley to meet Nick Walker, an aikido artist and autistic activist. And we went to Wisconsin to meet Judy Endow, an author and painter.

Each person shared their way of seeing and experiencing the world. For example, Judy explained how eye contact can be intense and painful. Tito described sensory overload as the world turning into “fragments” before his eyes. Nick helped me understand the beauty of his synesthesia.

I learned more than I could possibly fit into one film. Not only that, it felt impossible for me as a neurotypical to represent autism on screen. Instead, we aimed to create a sense of emotional truth.

Our composer, Frederik Wiedmann, wrote a brilliant soundtrack that echoes the joy I saw in my cousin Grant. Our lead animators, Gloria Arteaga and Richard O’Connor, created stunning animation, rich with color and movement. When the credits roll, I hope SPECTRUM inspires viewers to think about autism with a new sense of curiosity and maybe even joy.

See more stories of inclusion and achievement this Autism Acceptance Month

 

How Can Museums Be More Accessible? Ask the Community.

The facade of the Shedd Aqaurium in Chicago, Illinois,

The Shedd Aqaurium in Chicago, Illinois.

Last Thursday I sat on a panel at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium with a theater director, a mother of three school-aged children, and a lawyer.

Theater director Brian Balcom uses a wheelchair, one of Laurie Viets’ children is on the autism spectrum, attorney Rachel Arfa is profoundly deaf and uses bilateral cochlear implants to hear, and then there was me, with Whitney the Seeing Eye dog at my feet. What do we all have in common? We enjoy going to plays, to concerts, to museums.

The four of us were there to talk with staff from a variety of departments at the Shedd (from VPs to senior directors to facilities staff) about ways museums and cultural institutions can be welcoming to all visitors — including those of us with disabilities.

Some of the ideas we shared were new to the audience, others served as good reminders.

We played well off of each other, and one staff member said afterwards that we’d shared information they would have never considered. “Even though when I thought about it, the idea was really just common sense.” A few examples:

  • Brian said he’d love to be able to join with others at the Shedd’s Touch pool exhibit and feel a stingray or sturgeon fish, but the way the touch tank is mounted you have to be able to stand up and reach over to get your hands in the water. “You have stools there for the kids to use, but I can’t stand on a stool.”
  • Rachel said she’d been to the Dolphin Show at the Shedd but without audio captioning she wasn’t able to take it in the way others did.
  • Laurie said taking breaks at quiet areas can help avoid meltdowns in museums, but when at a museum for the first time, she doesn’t always know where those quiet areas are.
  • For my part, I said I don’t mind at all when people ask me if I need help, but I like to know who’s offering.

Brian pointed out that a lot of kids come to the aquarium. “How old are kids when they’re this high?” he asked. I pictured him in his chair, placing his palm on the top of his head. “Seven or eight? When you’re planning new exhibits, maybe you could arrange everything so a kid who’s seven or eight can see it, that way anyone using a wheelchair should be able to access it, too.”

Rachel encouraged them to use audio captioning with all their shows and videos, noting that some older adults who are hard of hearing like audio captioning, too.

Laurie suggested signage and maps that mention where the quieter areas of the museum are.

I said I’m more comfortable accepting assistance if I know the person asking is someone on staff. “I can’t see your uniform, though,” I reminded them. “So if you think of it, introduce yourself before you ask.”

Our presentation occurred right smack dab in the middle of spring break week in Chicago, and the aquarium was p-a-c-k-e-d with kids. Eyebrows up! Instead of sitting at home watching TV, the kids were all learning how important the waterways are to us, and to the creatures who live there. Bonus: the Shedd Aquarium gifted all four of us with free passes to visit when it isn’t so crowded. Can’t wait to get my hands on one of those stingrays!

Read how one of these panelists helped designed an accessible rally

 

What a Broken iPad Taught One Dad About Parenting

I am so pleased to introduce Keith Hammond as a guest blogger today. Keith is a manager at the adult day services program at Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati, and he’s the father of two children on the autism spectrum.

by Keith Hammond

Keith and his kids

Keith and his kids, Hillary (left) and Steven (right)

There is a saying that claims “Challenges are what make life interesting.” As a parent of two children with special needs, I can assure you that life is always interesting.

My son Steven is on the autism spectrum and is predominantly nonverbal. My family has become accustomed to the ups and downs, finding that progress often presents new challenges. In summer of 2011, we had one such breakthrough that came with unexpected challenges.

We had always struggled with how to help Steven communicate. He had a Dynavox that brought moderate success, but the invention of the iPad opened up more possibilities thanks to the autism apps available. He made excellent progress during that school year.

The challenge was that Steven was rough on the iPad. He had a tendency to fling it away from him when he was done. This broke several of them — we probably bought five iPads the first year. As you can imagine, it made for an expensive year.

Oh, yes. We did buy Otter boxes for it. We armored that thing up so much that Tony Stark would have been impressed. But Steven is a master of destruction. Give him Captain America’s indestructible shield and in five minutes you will have a pile of red, white, and blue dust.

Steven had been attending summer camps, and so we sent his iPad to camp with him, and when he was finished using it to communicate with his aid there one day, he flung it away from him, as had become his practice.

Unfortunately, at that time, he was in a boat. In the middle of a lake.

Bloop! Straight to the bottom of the lake. The aide was very optimistic, diving in and recovering it from its watery grave. At home, my wife Amy covered it with rice. She’d heard rice can absorb moisture, and while that may work if you spill a drink on an iPad, it is less successful after the iPad was fully submerged in the middle of a lake. It was time for iPad number six. This one did not go to camp.

I wish that were the end of the story, but sometimes challenges have a way of hanging around to add insult to injury. A few weeks later, I ended up talking business with a camp rep at a gathering of multiple disability service agencies similar to Easterseals. For some reason communication devices came up as a topic — maybe I mentioned that my son used an iPad to communicate.

The camp rep smiled at me, nudged me, and said, “Hey, you want to hear something funny? This family we serve at our summer camp sent an iPad in with their son to talk, and you know what happened?”

I had a feeling that I did know.

“The kid threw it in the lake! Isn’t that hysterical?”

I weakly agreed, “Yyyyeahhhh—hysterical.”

“Can you believe it?”

What else could I do but nod knowingly? “Yes. Yes, I can believe it.”

Challenges definitely make life interesting. But there’s more. The rest of the saying is that “Overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” Steven may not have learned how to be gentle with an iPad, but we have learned how to take the lows, and enjoy the highs. And that’s pretty meaningful.

Read one dad’s story about his daughter’s experience with the Dynavox

 

Stricter Rule for Service Dogs Goes Against the ADA

I am pleased to introduce Sarah Albert as a guest blogger today. Sarah teaches companion animal courses for the animal sciences department at the University of Illinois. One of the courses she leads each semester introduces the 600 students enrolled to important topics involving people and their animals, and one thing they discuss every semester is service dogs and legislation.

by Sarah Albert

Sarah Albert and her dog, Jax.

Sarah Albert and her dog, Jax.

I’ve been discussing the importance of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with my students for years, especially the laws meant to protect individuals with disabilities and their ability to use service dogs in public to aid them.

Imagine my surprise then when I found myself stumbling upon a newly introduced bill in the Illinois state legislature. The bill, HB 3162, would require the department of Financial and Professional Regulation to establish a service dog license program in our state and would require that same department to come up with rules and guidelines for this licensing program. If passed, this new law would:

    • Require the dog respond to basic obedience and the skilled task 90% of the time on the first command in both the home and public places;
    • Require the dog demonstrate basic obedience skills with both voice commands and hand signals (sitting, laying down, walking in a controlled manner, staying in place, and coming when called);
    • Require that the dog meets all of the standards laid about by the Assistance Dogs International group in public, and also being well behaved in the home;
    • Require that the dog is trained to perform at least three tasks for the disability;
    • Require the dog/handler to have a license card with a photograph of the dog and the names of the dog and handler;
    • Require a service dog in public to wear a cape, harness, backpack, or other similar equipment with a logo that identifies it as an assistance;
    • Require dogs be spayed/neutered and be vaccinated as determined by the dog’s veterinarian and applicable laws

At first glance, this may seem like a good idea, especially considering the string of fake service dogs entering public places. The rise in people bringing their pets to public places (posing as service dogs) is both dangerous and disrespectful. It jeopardizes the rights of individuals with true disabilities.

Individuals with disabilities have had to fight for their rights; rights that were finally afforded to them with the passage of the ADA in 1990. The ADA defines service animals as a “dog that has individually been trained to perform a task to aid an individual with a disability.” The law does not require a central licensing system, harnesses or vests on animals, professional training by approved organizations, or documentation of a disability.

So, why would this law be such a bad thing? Maybe we need to crack down on these fakers. To understand this question better, let’s consider three reasons why the ADA left a lot of these requirements out:

  1. Not all individuals with a disability have easy access to a medical doctor, and some cannot afford a visit to a medical doctor. A person with a diagnosed seizure disorder, for example, might not see a doctor regularly and making a doctor’s appointment just to get an official letter could be expensive.
  2. The requirement to get this license and equipment to identify an animal as a service dog. What costs fall upon the individual with the disability (a fee to apply, the cost of a vest or harness that is specially made)? What costs are required of the taxpayer to fund someone to test dogs and hand out licenses? Cost and confidentiality for the person with the disability is a huge concern – and one the ADA intended to avoid as it does not require medical documentation or vests for dogs.
  3. The obedience and skills required are too subjective

Let me try to explain item #3 on the list by taking a look at our seizure detection dog again as an example.

This individual who suffers from seizures may not have started out with a specially trained service dog. They may have a dog that helps them by alerting them to their condition — this could have been a pet who started to alert on its own. Alerting about seizures could become its specialized task (the one the ADA requires) but under this new proposed Illinois legislation, what three tasks will this dog be required to perform? How will they showcase the dog can do this on command if an impending seizure is needed to trigger the dog’s task? How will we ask a quadriplegic to use hand signals with his service dog? Or an autistic child to give perfect verbal commands under pressure to their service animal?

These seem like unnecessary demands for individuals who truly need these animals, and let’s also consider this: Dogs are still, well…dogs. They’re not robots who perform on command at a perfect rate. Heck, even robots mess up sometimes.

The expectation that a dog would be able to perform close to perfect in all situations is unreasonable. Even the most highly trained dogs are not always able to do this. It’s hard to know what the department will be looking for, and what will happen if someone with a true disability is denied their service animal simply because the dog had an off day.

With only these points in mind, it’s apparent this law is extremely harmful to individuals with disabilities, and completely goes against the intention of the ADA to protect their rights.

Stay tuned for a future post by Sarah Albert where she’ll outline some ideas to address the increase in fake service dogs.

 

A Group for Adults with Disabilities Gathers for Fun, Friendship

I am pleased to introduce Molly Wiesman as a guest blogger today. Molly has a long history with Easterseals, having received speech, physical and occupational therapy at Easterseals DuPage and Fox Valley from the time she was six months old until she turned eight. Molly served as an Associate Board Member at Easterseals DuPage and Fox Valley from 2011 to 2014 and has volunteered with various outreach groups there as well.

By Molly Wiesman

A flyer for CDFF's next event. Join CDFF on March 26 from 12 pm to 2 pm at Happy Apple Pie Shop in Oak Park for some pie and to make some new friends.

CDFF’s next event is Sunday, March 26.

I am 31 years old, and I have cerebral palsy. Since I have a disability, it may not surprise you that one of my interests for years has been connecting with other people with disabilities. And so the idea came to me: Maybe there’s a group out there with the sole purpose of helping people with disabilities find other PWDs to socialize with. Perhaps there were others out there like me who wanted this as well.

So I tried to find a group like this. I looked on Meetup.com hoping to find someone else’s group with these kind of goals, but no such group existed.

That’s when I got my idea. In my own life there was a definite lack of structured social opportunities for people with disabilities, so I set out to form my own group. Last December I started a monthly social group specifically for adults with disabilities. I called the group Chicago Disability Friends and Fun, or CDFF.

So far, CDFF has hosted two events. One was bowling, and the other was going out for coffee. And now, this Sunday, March 26, 2017 we will be going to Happy Apple Pie Shop in a Chicago suburb called Oak Park. Happy Apple Pie Shop not only sells pie, but is also a supportive work environment for people with intellectual disabilities.

We also have plans to attend a performance by solo performers with disabilities. The performance is produced by Tellin’ Tales Theatre, a group dedicated to shattering the barriers between the disabled and able-bodied worlds. Tentative summer plans for the group include seeing fireworks at Navy Pier and other fun activities!

Chicago Disability Friends and Fun has a strong presence on social media. CDFF is on Meetup.com, and we are on Facebook too. Anyone 21 and over who has a disability can join by searching Chicago Disability Friends and Fun on either of those websites and asking to join the group. You can also email me directly with questions at chicagodisabilityff@gmail.com. New members are always welcome!

 

Hamilton to be Sued for Accessibility, But is it Reasonable?

That's meaand Lafayette outside after the Chicago performance. Or me and Jefferson. Whichever you prefer.

That’s me and Lafayette outside after the Chicago preview performance. Or me and Jefferson. Whichever you prefer.

An NPR story this past week reported that a theatregoer who is blind is suing the producers and the theater that’s offering the hit musical “Hamilton” in New York City because they are not offering headsets with live audio description for theatergoers who are blind or have visual impairments.

You regular Easterseals blog readers know that I’m a huge fan of the word “reasonable” when it comes to reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, but in my view, the “reasonable” part applies to both parties. Is it reasonable for a blind patron to insist the theater have a paid audio describer on hand at live productions of Hamilton for people who can’t see the stage?

Sure, someone would be there live to describe the actor’s movements, but at what expense? Who on Earth would want to mask the sensational sound of the live music on stage by wearing a headset?

Thanks to my dear friend Colleen, I was able to attend a preview of Hamilton when it opened in Chicago last year. Audio description was available at the performance we went to, but with so much information out there about the hit musical online and in audio books, I didn’t use them. I already knew that this would be one theater piece that would be more about music than action. Here’s an excerpt from my review. The excerpt opens with a description of my husband Mike buying me the CD ahead of time:

“He even bought me the CD and read some of the lyrics to me before I figured out where to find them online to research the wording myself. Anytime he left home, he’d return to the sound of the Broadway performance blasting from our living room speakers. ‘You can leave it on,’ he’d sigh, but I turned it off. More fun to listen alone anyway. Then you could dance and sing along.”

In my review, I report on what a good sport Mike was about my little obsession. He asked questions about — but did not attend — “In the Heights” (Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Broadway musical) after Colleen and I went to see Chicago’s Porchlight Music Theatre’s production a few weeks before we went to Hamilton. And, being a non-fiction kind of guy, Mike happily listened along when I’d go to bed with the audio version of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton (the biography that inspired Hamilton the musical).

Colleen chose to listen to the book on audio, too, rather than read it in print. The audio book is 38 hours long. It is absolutely astounding that the musical Hamilton covers pretty much the entire Alexander Hamilton story in three hours. The founding father packed a lot into his short life, leaving more than 26 written volumes of work and oodles and oodles of personal letters behind when he died. And when he was alive? Alexander Hamilton liked to talk. To tell all that in three hours, you need to fit a lot of words in to every measure. You can’t hold onto a musical note very long — you’ve gotta move right along to the next scene. Using hip-hop was a no-brainer. And, simultaneously, brilliant. One thing that is stunning about Hamilton is that it never stops, and there are no speaking parts. Every word is sung. You wouldn’t want to miss a word, and I think you’d miss a lot with someone in your headset describing the action.

The NPR story reports that Scott Dinin, the attorney representing the blind theatergoer, is not seeking damages for his client.

“He can’t under the terms of the ADA. He’s trying to make sure that theater becomes more inclusive by spotlighting the problem using Broadway’s biggest hit.”

Is that reasonable? I don’t think so.

 

Guide Dogs Never Get a Day Off

Photo of Beth and her previous seeing eye dog Harper making their way through a shoveled, tunnel-like path.

The snow this week has a lot of people asking me if my dog Whitney likes being out in winter weather. Truth is, she doesn’t have much choice. Poor guide dogs, they never get a day off work!

The snow started falling in Chicago Sunday night, and it’s still coming down this morning. Snowy weather is often more time-consuming, more physically and mentally tiring and can be more dangerous than traveling in good weather.

When I was a kid, I thought it was magical the way snowfall muffled the sound around you. I still do. But my walks with Whitney this week won’t be the magic I’m looking for. Enough snow fell last night to mask the audible cues I use to navigate the city. Commuters who can see will be trudging through the Loop (downtown Chicago’s business district) with their heads down to avoid the snow pelting their faces. This would be fine if they all had dogs like mine to guide them, but they don’t! Whitney will be on her own, weaving me around the blinded commuters in our path.

And that’s not all: Snow has accumulated between the raised, circular bumps I’ve come to rely on to tell me we’re at the edge of a curb ramp, so I won’t always be sure where we are.

“Stay home!” friends and family tell me. Easy for them to say, but some of us have to go to work! And then there’s this: We live on the seventh floor of an apartment building, and Whitney needs to get out and “empty” every once in a while. Not to mention, get some exercise.

Eyebrows up! All I have to do on days like this is take a deep breath and remember what trainers drummed into our heads when my blind peers and I were first learning to work with our guides: Trust your dog. Hold on tight to Whitney’s harness, and follow her lead. “Whitney, forward!”

Check out these tips on how to stay safe in winter weather conditions