Answering Stranger’s Questions- College Edition

As college decision day approaches, prospective students and their families have been touring my college, trying to decide what school will be the best fit for them. Often times, college is the first time people are exposed to a large, diverse population, and it can seem overwhelming. Naturally, people are inquisitive and like to ask questions, sometimes not thinking about how to phrase them.

Because of all of the visitors on campus, I have been using my blindness cane more often for identification purposes, so I am less likely to be hit by a car. With low vision, it can be difficult to navigate campus when there are so many visitors driving around. As I have been walking on campus, I have had many families approach me or loudly talk about me using a blindness cane, sometimes in a very rude way. It can be difficult to answer these questions, especially when they have negative or offensive tones, but education is one of the best ways to combat ignorance. Here are some of the questions I have been asked over the last two weeks by visitors, and how I answered them. I have been requested to add a trigger warning for what may be considered ableist slurs/language and offensive terms.

Whoah! Are you totally blind?

No, I have low vision and poor peripheral vision, meaning I have trouble seeing what’s around me. I use my blindness cane to help me analyze my environment and as a cue to other people that I can’t see very well.

Can you see me?

For some reason, I often hear this when people are standing right in front of me.  I usually respond with “sort of” or “yes.”  If it is someone who is convinced I can’t see anything, I usually find some feature that I can mention to them, for example a blue shirt or green backpack.

Look kids, a blind girl!

I was walking with a friend when someone yelled that in our direction. We didn’t want to yell back that I had some vision, because that would waste time. Instead, my friend yelled back”check it out, a sighted person!”

What’s with the sunglasses inside?

I wear tinted glasses to help with light sensitivity and glare. No, they aren’t transition lenses, they always are this color. And yes, I guess I do wear sunglasses at night, like the song.

What’s your major?  Oh, that’s not a real major

I’m studying assistive technology and software engineering, which is a fairly uncommon major but there are many different careers available, so I will not have an issue finding a job after graduation.  I have learned to give an example of what I will do after college, so when I say my major, I add that I am “studying to create tools for people with disabilities.”  Often times, people then think my major is really cool!

How come she can see but uses a cane?

Another friend was asked this by an employee while we were at a restaurant. My friend explained I have some sight, but still rely on the cane frequently. A different friend responded by saying “she runs into less walls this way” or “it’s easier to figure out where she is based on the taps of the cane.”

You’re too pretty to be blind!

While I’m not blind, I have low vision, my favorite response to this statement is “apparently not!”

You’re too young to not be able to see!

See above- apparently not!

Why do you disableds think you can just parade around campus?

This was said to me earlier this afternoon, and I just wanted to shove my post “You Belong” in their face. People with disabilities fought very hard to be able to attend college, and we deserve to be here, just like everyone else.

I didn’t know blind people could go to college!

I’ve answered this a couple of ways. For people that seem pleasantly surprised, I say that there are laws that make this possible, and I am grateful for the opportunity. When someone seems surprised in general, I just say “here I am!” And when someone seems greatly upset that someone with low vision can attend college, I just smile and move as quickly as I can from the situation.

You’re taking education away from someone who can see!

I got into this college not because of what I have, but who I am as a student. It had nothing to do with my low vision- my essay to admissions wasn’t even about my eyesight, it was about volunteer work. I’m not here because I can’t see.

Hey, can you give us directions to…oh nevermind

I’ve had several people approach me for directions, look at the cane, and quickly try to move away. I actually know this campus extremely well, and would be happy to help you find your way to wherever you need to go!

How bad is your eyesight?

I used to explain a lot more, but now I just say “it could be worse, but it’s still not great.” This question doesn’t really bother me, as often it is how people start conversation when they first meet someone with low vision, but it still can be an interesting question to answer.

I hope these answers help you when dealing with questions of strangers. Feel free to add more questions/answers in the comments below!

My Phone Isn’t Paper

Back in high school, I had teachers who didn’t believe that my vision was as bad as I said it was. They believed that I was like the rest of my friends- texting, reading, and driving around. These teachers would often ask me, my friends, my parents, and even my case manager why I could be texting (or doing some other task) but not able to see what was on the board or on my non-enlarged classwork. And honestly, it was very frustrating to explain time and time again.

I have many accessibility settings enabled on my phone and also use third party apps in order for me to see my phone clearly. The font size on my phone is the same as the font size I receive for print materials, and I have a high contrast filter applied. As a result, I am able to text my friends easily and use my phone as much as anyone else.

I also use an eReader to read books,enlarging the font size to the largest one available. I have a print disability, meaning I cannot read small text, which is why I had an IEP in school with accommodations that included large print. Comparing my ability to read accessible materials and my ability to read inaccessible materials is unfair.

As I’ve gotten older, more and more teachers have asked me if I drive or have a learner’s permit. Since I could barely see the board even with visual correction, I was always confused when teachers were surprised that I don’t drive. One teacher went as far to ask my friend sitting next to me if I was able to drive, trying to see if they could trick my friend into telling what they believed was the truth. Of course, my friends often laughed at the idea of me behind the wheel, saying I would have six casualties before I even pulled out of the driveway.

The most frustrating comments of all were when I was asked why I couldn’t see perfectly, even with glasses. Just like crutches don’t make someone walk perfectly, glasses don’t make someone see perfectly, it only gives them the maximum correction. That may not mean perfect eyesight, and they might need some accommodations to ensure they are able to see things. Never doubt that someone could have low vision just because they are wearing glasses, and don’t compare their sight loss with correction to someone’s sight loss without correction. Also, if someone has an IEP, chances are they need the services they are provided, and it is a bad idea to argue that they don’t, especially when it comes to low vision. Assistive technology has come a long way, allowing people with disabilities to seamlessly integrate with their friends, and I will always be grateful for the technological advancements that have helped me succeed.

Having an Undiagnosed Chronic Illness in High School

Back in high school, people often asked me why my vision was so bad, why I had frequent migraines, why I wore a leg brace several days a week, and how I simultaneously looked completely normal.  It wouldn’t be until after graduation that I could answer those questions, after nearly four years of asking the same questions myself.  Going through school with an undiagnosed chronic illness was a unique experience, and today I will be sharing answers to common questions and comments I received from fellow students as well as teachers.

Isn’t there medicine/glasses that can fix this?

WIth the medical model of disability, any type of imperfection is viewed as something that must immediately be cured, so that the person can be considered normal by society again.  Sometimes, there is no cure with today’s medical research, and people are left to try and manage their symptoms in the best way that they can with what they have.  I would have people without a medical background tell me that I should go on certain medications, and when I would respond that I have tried the medication and it was not helpful, people would dismiss me as not really having whatever symptom we were talking about.  Another factor is that it is fairly difficult to cure something when you don’t know exactly what it is.  Typically, the best answer to this question is that there is no treatment available yet, but who knows what can happen in the future.

You’re faking for attention

Ah yes, I must be faking my condition.  I love having lower grades because I had to miss class, and missing my band concert I looked forward to all year because someone chose to use flash photography when I was getting on stage.  I was beyond thrilled to get up in front of my entire freshman English class while spasming and slur my speech so that all of the boys in the class thought I was weird.  I adore having teachers refuse to assign me leadership positions because they’re worried I would be too sick.  And most of all, I love  not being able to do my classwork because I can’t see it, and having the teacher give me a zero!  All sarcasm here, but people say that a condition is fake when it is something they don’t understand.  What I don’t understand is why I would choose to have such poor health in what is supposedly the best years of my life.

I wish I had your condition, haha!

I wish I didn’t have this, but hey, things happen.  There is no reason for you to be jealous that I take naps during the day to get rid of migraines or that I get to sit in the hallway during a movie because of flashing lights.  Comments like this are always interesting to me because it seems like there is no stigma for chronic illness and that it is viewed as something normal.  I just laugh off the comment and drop the subject.

What do you even have?

If you can answer this question, then you would be a totally awesome person.  My condition baffled doctors for many years.  When I first started dealing with symptoms, my primary care doctor told my mom and I “don’t go looking for a zebra in a field of horses,” meaning to not go looking for uncommon or rare conditions.  About a year later, he looked at us and said “time to find that zebra!”  I’m sure towards the end of our search for a diagnosis it felt like we were looking for a unicorn.  Regardless, we always talked about my condition by mentioning the top symptoms, which is usually what I told people who asked me what I had.  Eventually, I would start telling people that my doctors suspected I had the condition I was later diagnosed with.  I felt comfortable doing this because we were running diagnostic testing at the time and I was also the textbook version of that particular condition.

If I were you, I would be in bed

Well, I would love to be, here I am at school regardless.  Since I deal with migraines and chronic pain every day, staying in bed all day isn’t an option, because I would never get anything done.  I have what my friends refer to as a superhuman pain tolerance because of my condition, since I can hold a conversation and participate in activities without collapsing, and I often don’t notice injuries unless they are pointed out to me.  While pain definitely is relative, I have learned to function through it and be able to continue living.

Why can’t you do this anymore?

As my vision has gotten worse, my need for accessible materials has grown exponentially.  I’ve also found it more difficult to participate in activities like dance.  It can be sad to remember the things I was able to do before I got sick, but it’s important to remember there is still so much that can be done.  I got more into writing and playing instruments after I got sick, and took up several other interests as well.  This may be said a lot, but it is true- don’t focus on what can’t be done, but focus on what can be done.

Have you tried essential oils?

I have had several people tell me that my symptoms can be cured by essential oils.  I do believe that they can help with certain symptoms, since I use peppermint for nausea and lavender for restlessness, as well as a few other oils, but none of them are able to completely cure my symptoms.  I tell people that while essential oils are wonderful, they are not a cure and should not be talked about as such.

Aren’t you a little young to be dealing with these medical issues?

Yes, yes I am.  Another favorite response to this question is “apparently not!”  Chronic illness can strike at any age, it does not discriminate.  While I have had low vision almost my entire life, I have only had my condition since I was around fourteen, and people are frequently surprised by that.  Someone once even asked me how I am supposed to be a teenager when I am so sick- since my condition did not stop my aging process, I still got to be a teenager, but not in the same way as a lot of my friends.

Why can’t you do this, but you can do that?

The environment I am in greatly influences whether I am able to perform a certain task or not.  If I am in a room with strobing or flashing lights, I will not be able to function as well as I do in a room without them.  Other factors include my use of assistive technology, my fatigue level, the time of day, the weather, and how much pain I am in.  Just because I can do something one day doesn’t mean I can repeat the same task the next day.

It would suck to be you

Actually, no.  Although my chronic illness has made me miss out on many experiences, I still have been able to do a lot of things and learn about topics that I wouldn’t have otherwise.  I’ve also developed a greater sense of empathy and kindness towards others, because I understand what it is like to be in large amounts of pain and feel like the entire world is spinning.  As I like to remind myself, I wouldn’t be studying assistive technology if I never had this condition.  It’s important to be grateful for the opportunities I have.  My illness will always be something I have, and never who I am.


 

Save Bookshare

Author’s note- Bookshare, a service that provides large print and Braille digital books for people with print disabilities worldwide, is currently in danger of losing federal funding. As a student with low vision, I have been using Bookshare since 2011 and it has dramatically changed the way I read. Below, I have written a sample letter for my local congressmen and senators so they can see how important this service really is. Feel free to use my letter as a template to send to your local representatives.  Read more about Bookshare here.



Dear (representative),

My name is Veronica, and I am a college student here in Virginia studying software engineering and assistive technology, to develop tools for people with disabilities. I graduated from Virginia public schools in 2015 with an advanced diploma and a 3.8 GPA. In addition, I run my own blog about assistive technology and disability life at www.veroniiiica.com. This wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t have Bookshare, an accessible media library that’s in danger of losing federal funding in the FY2017.

I have low vision, which means that I can’t access standard print materials and require large print. Large print books can be very expensive and hard to find, and sometimes the font size isn’t big enough. Bookshare digitally scans in books so that users can access them in whatever format suits them best- large print, Braille, or audio. Almost any book that can be found in the local library can be found on Bookshare, and I can read the same books that my peers are reading. I’m not just limited to the small large print selection at my library or the even smaller selection at the local bookstore.

I have been using Bookshare since 2011, and it has helped me tremendously both inside and outside of the classroom. Before I had Bookshare, I would have to order large print books that would take weeks to come in, and then I would have to catch up with the rest of the class on the reading. My classmates would talk about books they had read for hours on end, and I would often be excluded from the conversation because large print wasn’t available for the book they were talking about, or the book would be too heavy for me to carry around, like in the case of the Harry Potter series. Once I got Bookshare, I could carry my books around on an eReader or tablet, and download a book almost instantly to read in class. I started reading more and more, and was able to join more discussions in class. Education is invaluable, and with accessible materials, more students are able to learn and go on to pursue higher level education, enter the workforce, and contribute to society. By making these materials accessible, students can thrive in the educational environment, as opposed to failing because they can’t see the materials and believing that they just can’t learn.

People with disabilities are one of the fastest growing minorities here in the United States, with about 1 in 6 people having some type of disability. Disability affects all economic classes, races, nationalities, and other demographics. By funding Bookshare, it ensures that more than 400,000 people with print disabilities are able to access materials. Without it, the responsibility would fall on state and local governments to provide for their students, and the selection wouldn’t be as large, easy to access, or as inexpensive as Bookshare is- Bookshare is able to create materials at a cost that’s fifteen times less than the previous national program.

I hope that you will advocate to restore the Technology and Media FY2017 budget line to $30 million, the same as it was in 2016. Bookshare is extremely important to me, and so many other students, and we don’t want to imagine life without it.

Sincerely,

Veronica Lewis

To The Parent Using Flash Photography in a Restaurant

Dear Parent,

I know you were very excited today to be attending the end-of-season party for your child’s sports team at a local restaurant today. The entire team was there, enjoying pizza and talking to each other, sometimes very loudly. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the celebration, and this letter isn’t to complain about the noise (though my brother wasn’t happy about it being so loud). My problem is that to document this occasion, you decided to take several photos with the flash on. By doing this, you ruined my evening, and could have sent someone to the hospital.

You see, I have chronic migraines that are triggered by strobing or rapid flashing lights, such as those from a camera. When I see those lights, I get an intense migraine that knocks me out for a few hours. However, it’s not just me and fellow migraine sufferers who can have an adverse reaction to flashing lights. Photosensitive epilepsy is common in children, and those flashing lights could trigger a seizure. Seizures aren’t just limited to epilepsy, either- there are many other conditions that can have non-epileptic seizures caused by flashing lights. Some people have light sensitivity in general, and bright flashing lights can be an issue. Even people with anxiety disorders and PTSD can have flashing or strobing lights as a trigger. That’s a lot of people that could be affected by a rapid camera flash!

I understand wanting to photograph your child with their friends, but by using flash photography, you could be putting other people around you in danger. A better solution might be to take a big group photo at the beginning or end of the event, so that way you can see everyone. You can also just turn the flash off and continue taking pictures like you were, and simply retouch them for lighting later.

I’m pretty sure you ignored my mom when she told you that your camera could trigger a seizure, or a migraine like it had in me. My hope is that someday you will understand just how dangerous flashing lights can be for others, and you will think twice before using that camera flash in a crowded restaurant. For all you know, your child could develop a condition like this, and then you’ll be the one wishing all of the flashing lights would disappear.

Sincerely,

My head still hurts

 

You Belong

Last year, I found myself having a conversation with someone who was not knowledgeable about people with disabilities. They were shocked that I was in college, because I have low vision, and kept asking me why I “took the opportunity away from a sighted person to attend this college.” I was in a bit of shock, and explained that I had attended public school just like them, I took classes in the general education system, and applied to college just like the rest of my friends. I even pointed out that I was in the engineering department at my college, something that I don’t often mention to people I have just met. They didn’t seem to care and kept insisting I was robbing others of educational opportunities. I dropped the topic and walked away.

Earlier today, my friend had a near identical conversation with someone who claimed that students with disabilities shouldn’t even go to public school, let alone go to college, because it would be impossible for them to accomplish anything. My friend came to me depressed, as they had taken the words of a complete stranger to heart. I don’t know the exact circumstances leading up to this conversation, but I want to remind anyone who has ever felt discouraged after these types of conversations of these two words:

You belong

You are a person with a disability, not a disabled person. After all, you are human, and the disability is something you have, not who you are. It is not a good thing or a bad thing, rather just a component of the person you are.

You can attend public school and receive accommodations thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), something that has been around for over forty years. It lets you be in the least restrictive environment for your learning, meaning that you have the right to be in the classroom if that’s where you function best. And you also have the right to receive services that help you learn, such as large print, Braille, extra time on tests, and so much more.

You can go to college thanks to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, which prevents discrimination based on disability. Your college helps you succeed by giving you a disability services file, and you are held to the same standards as other students. You are not stealing opportunities from other students because you have a disability, because chances are, your disability was not something you listed in your college application, so it wasn’t something you were judged on.

You can go anywhere. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 grants accessible transportation and buildings, as well as many other things. Title II also grants workplace and postsecondary disability accommodations. I joke that the only jobs I can’t hold are taxi driver and brain surgeon, but thanks to this law, I can be a software engineer or work in an assistive technology lab, or whatever else I want.

Things may seem a bit scary right now, and it’s okay to admit that. But don’t think for a moment that people with disabilities don’t belong in the world we live in. Albert Einstein had dyslexia and became one of the most brilliant minds of our generation. Stephen Hawking uses a communication device to deliver mindblowing theories about the world around us. Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles didn’t let blindness stop them from creating music. And of course, there are people like Helen Keller, Christopher Reeve, Edward Roberts, and so many more that helped to advocate for people like them who lived with disabilities. Without these people, our world wouldn’t be the same.

So remember this when someone tells you that people with disabilities should be anywhere but where you are right now:

You belong.

Amazon PrimeNow

For Amazon Prime users near major cities, Amazon offers free two hour delivery of hundreds of items through a service called PrimeNow. With a minimum purchase of $20, items are hand-delivered by couriers similar to AmazonFresh. Living within the Washington DC/Northern Virginia service area, I have been able to receive high quality products faster than it takes for me to get to the store, get lost in the store, and get back home. Here are some ways PrimeNow has been awesome for me, and why I recommend it to everyone with an Amazon Prime account.

It’s faster than going to the store

While I have reliable bus access here at college to many stores, as well as friends who drive, I find it easier to use PrimeNow for when I need to buy items. I can add items to my cart almost instantly, choosing from my purchase history or searching for items manually through the PrimeNow site. The prices and selection are comparable to my local store, and I’ve never had any issues finding items.
Items that I have purchased on PrimeNow include replacement pads for my portable TENS unit, protein bars, paper, toiletries, chargers, adapters, command strips, and many more.

No poorly rated products

When I came back from school in October, I left both my phone and iPad charger at home. Not wanting to pay $20 at the bookstore for a cable, I bought two highly rated cables for each device plus two wall adapters. All came highly reviewed and at a reasonable price at less than $30 for all items. Amazon would not keep low quality products available on demand, only the high quality bestsellers that are at a reasonable price.

Items can arrive within an hour

For $8 extra, the item(s) will arrive within one hour after they are ordered. While I very rarely do this, my friend once used it to get a laptop cable after theirs was destroyed and said it came within twenty minutes. The fastest delivery I’ve ever had was about thirty minutes.

Brown bag with Amazon PrimeNow logo and items inside
My package has arrived!

I can get items right outside my door

I program the delivery address right outside a restaurant near my apartment. Since users are able to follow where the courier is, I wait until they are within five miles of my address. Then I go wait outside and have the courier bring the items to me. I have a note for delivery that I am visually impaired with a description of what I am wearing (for example, red sweater with gray scarf). Most of the couriers just walk up to me and say they are from Amazon and ask what my name is, and this works well. For users who don’t live in a secured dorm, unattended delivery is also an option.

Excellent customer support

Customer support understands that I have low vision (a member of customer support even follows my blog!) and has been able to help couriers locate me, instead of having me wandering around trying to find someone I’ve never met. When there was an issue with an order I had, they issued me a full refund and helped ensure that the issue would never happen again. I’ve never met a rude customer support person or anyone who was impossible to understand over the phone, and I’ve never been on hold for more than thirty seconds later. Because I know customer support will help in case of a problem, I feel confident every time I place an order that I will be able to get my items.
I highly recommend PrimeNow to anyone who lives within the delivery area for it. I’m so happy that it’s available in my area, and can’t wait for it to expand even more.

Buddy Holly’s Glasses

Today marks 58 years since the plane crash that killed musicians J.P “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Ritchie Valens, and Buddy Holly, as well as their pilot, Roger Peterson. Their deaths came as a massive shock, and the tragedy was later nicknamed “The Day the Music Died.” However, the crash didn’t just take the lives of three talented musicians. It took the lives of a father, a son, and a star who would pave the way for others who wore glasses.

Buddy Holly was reported to have 20/800 eyesight before correction, but hated wearing his glasses in his early days of performing. He believed that they took away from his image as a rock and roll star and wearing glasses would impact him in a negative way. The contacts he was originally fitted with could only be worn for an hour at a time, and caused major discomfort, and didn’t even correct his vision much.  He considered wearing glasses after he realized he couldn’t see his audience, but eventually he started wearing them after he dropped his guitar pick at a show, realized he couldn’t even see the floor it was on, and had to crawl around on stage looking for it…and still couldn’t find it.

After the incident, his optometrist ordered thick black frames with horned accents from a supplier in Mexico City, and had him try them on. After he realized he could see the people around him, he took the glasses and never performed without them again. He became one of the first celebrities to be seen in public while wearing glasses, and the first rock musician to wear them while performing. 

Even though he died so long ago, Buddy Holly’s legacy continues even to this day, beyond his musical influence. Instead of being criticized for wearing them, his glasses became known as his signature look and one of the most recognizable items in rock and roll history. People saw him as an incredibly talented musician who wrote and arranged all of his own music instead of as a person who had low vision. Performers such as John Lennon and Elton John wore their glasses on stage because of him, and many others followed. Glasses became more of a fashion statement instead of something to be made fun of, and one of the most popular styles of eyewear today is modeled after his trademark thick-rimmed glasses.

I’ll end this post with a picture of me from earlier today at the National Portrait Gallery, wearing Buddy Holly glasses of my own, and smiling next to the musician who helped make glasses not only cool to wear, but part of mainstream media. May his legacy never fade.

***special thanks to my friend Claudia for taking this picture and listening me go on and on about how cool Buddy Holly is.  This photo was taken at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC ***

Staying Warm With a Blindness Cane

A couple inches of snow arrived on my college campus this morning. Since learning to use a blindness cane, I have absolutely hated the snow, and six inches of snow once kept me trapped in my dorm room for two days because I had no idea how to navigate or stay warm while using a metal pole to guide me around. Here are some tips I have gathered on staying warm while using a blindness cane.

Veronica smiling in the snow and wearing all of her warm winter clothes.
Walking back from the dining hall. Shoutout to my awesome friend Sarah for taking this picture

The blindness cane

When there is snow outside, I use my marshmallow tip cane like I do everyday; however, a few of my friends have found great success with using a snow cane, which reminds me of the shape of a hockey stick. Because I’m staying on pavement, I don’t have much of a need for a special snow cane, instead I just need the feedback from my normal cane.

I walk  slowly using my blindness cane in the snow, using a wider range of motion than I normally do, and I always have a human guide with me even if conditions do not appear to be icy, like this morning.  When walking in the snow, my cane leaves a trail in the shape of the letter S, which some people mistake for snake tracks.

Also, no matter what, do NOT let anyone try and lick your cane. Sounds strange, but I had someone ask me that while I was walking this morning, and I had no idea how to respond other than confusion.

Fingerless glove

Not fingerless gloves, fingerless glove. I wear a normal winter glove on one hand and a fingerless one on the other. I got a couple packages of fingerless gloves at Target for about $3 each and they have been amazing. The material keeps my palm warm, but I can still easily feel the feedback from my cane and detect ice and other hazards. My fingers do go numb if I am outside for long periods of time, but I found this solution great for navigating to class.

Knit hat

My neck is very sensitive to cold, and while my coat does a great job at covering a lot of my neck, it doesn’t help if my hair is blowing everywhere. This beanie from Amazon is fantastic and I love the lighter color as well as the fact it covers my ears completely.

Longer length coat

Coats that are longer in length with lots of padding do wonders for staying warm. The slim fit helps to keep body heat in and I also like that cold wind doesn’t blow on my lower back. Since I tend to hunch over a bit while walking on ice, this is very helpful!

Sunglasses

The sun can reflect off of snow easily making it a bright white color. Since bright white can cause so much glare, I like to wear my sunglasses so that way my eyes don’t hurt. I do not have any difficulty walking when it is cloudy or nighttime while wearing sunglasses, however it is difficult when lots of snow is falling. My sunglasses are in my pocket for this picture because I had to troubleshoot my camera (I can’t see backlit displays in super dark sunglasses) and forgot to put them back on…fail.

Base layer

They can’t be seen in this picture, but I am wearing a thermal shirt and fleece lined leggings underneath my clothes. It keeps me warm indoors and keeps the wind from hitting my legs too much. I got the thermal shirt from Target and the fleece lined leggings from Amazon.

Boots with traction

Like I mentioned in my post about walking in the rain, it is critical to have shoes that have solid traction. I have a couple different boots I wear in the snow, but for walking to the dining hall and back, this pair works perfectly. My calves are protected from the cold and from me hitting myself with my cane, and I don’t have to worry about slipping on ice.

 
Even though I can stay warm, I still try not to leave my dorm when there is snow on the ground because there is such a high fall risk. As I’ve mentioned before, I slid on ice walking to class one day (prior to class being cancelled) and I’ve fallen into snow piles quite often. The best option for people with low vision is to just stay inside when there is lots of ice, attend classes remotely, and have food delivered.   Walking in a winter wonderland when you have low vision can be terrifying, but the key is to stay warm and walk carefully!

AmazonFresh Review

I was overjoyed to discover last semester that AmazonFresh expanded their service area and was now available in Washington DC/Northern Virginia. I’ve been able to keep healthy snacks and frozen food for when I get stuck in my apartment thanks to this service, and it has been invaluable to me as a college student with a disability. Here are some reasons I enjoy using it.

How it works

AmazonFresh is a service available in select cities that allows users to have unlimited grocery deliveries (minimum purchase of $40) for $15 a month in addition to their Prime membership (Prime Student also counts). Users can choose from thousands of different products to add to their order- things like yogurt, fresh strawberries, dried pasta, ice cream, and pantry staples, all at prices comparable to what they would be at the store. After all of the items are chosen, the user can reserve a two-hour window in which the groceries will be delivered to their door in special insulated bags. While there is an option to just leave the packages by the door, I’m on a college campus and use the attended delivery option, meeting the courier outside my building (side note- I write that I use a blindness cane and that the courier should yell my name or some other way to get my attention, instead of just waving). I then bring the items inside using a hand cart and put them away. The courier is happy to help bring in items if needed.

Three green cubes on a cart
My groceries are here!

Shop anytime

Having low vision, I often rely on public transportation in order to get where I need to go. However, it’s very difficult to schedule a grocery trip when the bus only stops at the grocery store every 45 minutes, and carrying groceries back on the bus, along with a blindness cane, is not a pleasant experience. Walking a mile to the grocery store and attempting to carry back groceries, even with a human guide, is more frustrating. With AmazonFresh, I can shop anytime and schedule deliveries for as soon as the next day. For my most recent order, I ordered items at 11 PM and I had them in my hands by 10 AM the next morning.

No expired food

I can’t always read expiration dates very well, so I often buy food that expires quickly by mistake. All of the food that has been delivered to me by AmazonFresh has been well within its expiration date. Cold food arrives cold, no issues with thawing while they are in the coolers.

Carton of milk sitting in bright green cooler with ice packs and a hand reaching out to grab items
Refrigerated items in their cooler, featuring my hand

Nothing gets crushed

In my rush to pack groceries at the store, I’ve often squished food, and one time managed to explode coconut water all over my other items. Everything is packed in the coolers carefully, and they use extra coolers if needed to keep food that is easily crushed separate. In my order today, I received three coolers, with one cooler dedicated to coconut water and juice boxes that could be crushed under the weight of other items.

No getting lost in the store

My friend and I were at the store when we realized we had to find something in another aisle, and we didn’t communicate which aisle we thought it was. Next thing we knew, we were far apart and I couldn’t find them, and I also couldn’t find the item we were looking for to begin with. After that experience, my friend found a complimentary balloon and tied it to my wrist so I could be found easily.
With AmazonFresh, there is no store to get lost in, as everything is online. Everything is organized easily by category, and users can search for items easily using the search bar. I was able to find most of the brands I enjoy, while trying new things at the same time. Some people have complained about the limited section, but I’ve never had a problem with it.

Less risk of injury

Since I have limited peripheral vision, the amount of times I’ve run feet over with shopping carts is very high, as is the number of times I’ve crashed the cart into edges of the aisle. For people with chronic illness or mobility impairments, AmazonFresh can allow them to shop safely from home and not have to worry about navigating a store.

Amazon Dash

While I don’t have one of these yet (it comes in next week!), I have seen them used by others. The Amazon Dash allows users to say or scan items that they need and it will add them to the Amazon cart. While it does not automatically purchase items, and the user still has to adjust quantities, it is a great way to make sure you never run out of essential items.

It saves money

Instead of buying whatever I see first or what is easiest to reach, I am able to compare prices by ounce or unit of identical products and determine what size best meets my needs. I also don’t worry as much about impulse purchases. I order items about three times a month and stock up on things like protein bars using the service as well.
Overall, I am extremely satisfied with this service, and anytime I have had a problem, Amazon has been fantastic about handling it and solving any issues. I wish the monthly price was a bit lower, but it has not stopped me from using the service.  I would recommend this service who has issues accessing a normal grocery store, and I look forward to the service expanding to my hometown so my family can see how awesome it is.