Sunday, March 29, 2009

What Does Blind Mean?

I truly believe that most of the sighted world has a fixed notion as to the meaning of the word "blind." I say this based on a life-long experience, plus those of several of my fellow blind and visually-impaired friends and acquaintances. In a nutshell: the word "blind" is taken by the majority of society to mean that a person is unable to see anything. In addition, many mainstream persons would tell you that they have a very difficult time understanding what blindness really means.

As a kid growing up in a mainstream environment with two sighted parents and two sighted brothers, I never really gave much thought to this topic except to tell you that from the start I always knew that I was blind because I could not see what others saw. I had a bit of vision that enabled me to see things at a very close range but still things were extremely blurry. I was able to see colors, daylight, and I could distinguish light from dark and some objects. Then when I was in my teens I received a cornea transplant and the world really opened up for me. I was still classified as "blind" but now I could see much more. Then five years ago I lost most of it, and now I really know what it is to be blind.

To clarify the picture for you: The word "blind" is liberally used to describe a person who has difficulty seeing things. Someone who is unable to drive because they did not pass the eye test. Someone who either uses a cane or a guide dog to move around. Someone who uses specialized glasses to read and write. Someone who can only see light, shadows, but nothing more.

Someone who is totally blind means that they are unable to see anything.

So you see, there are varying levels or degrees of blindness and there are different terms to describe each common level. You may hear terms like: High partial, high functional vision, low vision, low functional vision, light perception, and totally blind. If this is all confusing to you, then there is the term legally blind.

As for me, I was born with low-functional vision, graduated to high-functional vision, and now I am back to light perception. All very confusing you say? Then try this on for size: Different countries apply these terms a bit differently.

Here are two websites to visit so that you can see for yourself: - In the United States. - across the pond in Britain.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your accessibility and special-needs business consultant wishing you a terrific day and asking you to help educate the rest of the world about what the term "blind" really means.

I Am More Exposed to Identity Theft

The title of this blog is a true statement. I am making this observation because as a blind person I can see where this particular group of persons is probably the most vulnerable when it comes to identity theft. True it is that seniors and persons with other types of disabilities run a very close second, but please allow me to explain a bit further.

As a person with precious little vision, I have to depend on my sighted family and friends to help me navigate through the mounds of paper generated forms. When it comes to filling out those cumbersome online forms, it's a whole new ball game. How does this make me feel? I'll tell you: helpless, vulnerable, scared, and left wondering who is really listening or really cares?

Each time I need to complete hard copy forms, it means that I have no choice but to share personal and confidential information with someone else and it means that I have to trust that person to keep my information private and confidential. I have to trust that the information I give is what is going to be written down exactly as I wish it to be and that the person completing information on my behalf will not copy that information on a separate piece of paper for their later use. In addition, I have to trust that the person reading the information to me is reading exactly what is there and not reading something else that they may choose to make up.

When it comes to completing those cumbersome and complicated online forms, I have to depend on either my screen reader software to tell me exactly what is being required or, if that is not possible, I have to depend on sighted assistance. At the present time, screen reader software still faces many challenges when it comes to being able to decipher the contents of forms and why is this? Because many website developers do not take the time to ensure that the forms have been designed to be accessible and usable. Just think of it in this way: If sighted persons have difficulty completing forms online, then the challenge for someone who is blind or visually impaired becomes twice or thrice as difficult.

So, the picture is this: If I am unable to complete forms on my own, then I must depend on a person with sight to help me which requires that I place complete trust in that person to read accurately to me and write accurately for me. This puts me in a very vulnerable position and opens me up to identity theft. There is a growing demand for forms to be provided in alternate formats. This means that forms need to be provided in a format whereby blind and visually-impaired persons will be able to read and complete their own forms independently.

If you would like to learn more about the meaning of alternate formats then you can visit This Canadian-based company provides alternate formats to those who are print-disabled which includes blind and visually impaired persons.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your accessibility and special-needs business consultant wishing you a terrific day and encouraging you to go out there and start advocating for more information to be produced in alternate formats. It will not only help those with vision problems, but millions of others who are print disabled.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Growing Up With Sighted Parents

In a previous blog, I talked about blind persons being parents. I grew up with two wonderful sighted parents who allowed me to go out there and take the world by the tail. For the most part, it was a delicate balance of ensuring that I fit in and at the same time being realistic enough to understand that being blind had its limitations.

The great thing was that my parents never really said no to my requests for adventure, but they were naturally cautious and timid towards certain things. My dad allowed me to reach for the stars when it came to education, but he was always leery when it came to my choice of career. My mom on the other hand was a bit more outgoing and made very sure that I fit in with the sighted world. With two loving brothers for company, a gentle granny who prodded me along, and wonderful cousins, I managed to grow up in a very unique type of environment.

It was not always easy for me at times, mainly when I wanted to be a bit too mainstream for my own good, but I learned fast. There were the times when I was limited by my lack of sight and my parents had to step in and teach me the reality of the situation. Nevertheless, I soldiered on. As far back as I can remember, it was always my goal to leave home as early as I could in order to be as independent as possible. It has paid off, but not without tremendous sacrifice on the part of both me and my family.

I learned to ride a bicycle and had bike races with my dad along the beach. He taught me how to swim and fly a kite. We went fishing together. He and my brothers played football and cricket with me in the park. My mom and granny taught me how to cook and bake and even played dollhouse with me. My dad was my constant source of knowledge, while my mom and granny were my constant tutors of life. As for my brothers? Well, they were brothers all the way.

If you would like to learn more about how sighted parents can interact with their non-sighted children, then you can contact me directly at, and I would be delighted to give you some useful pointers.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your accessibility and special-needs business consultant reminding you to go out there and tell the world that when it comes to sighted parents being able to raise blind children, nothing is impossible.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Why I Learned to Ice Skate

Growing up in Canada often means that ice skating is par for the course, but what about for blind and visually-impaired kids? Many of you may think that it is not possible but I am here to tell you that it most definitely is. Really!

You're probably trying to figure out how or why would someone want to skate on ice if they are unable to see where they are going. Why would they want to put themselves through such torture? How on earth would they be able to retain their footing and keep from falling? These are all very logical and legitimate questions.

I'll be very honest with you. I took the step to learn to ice skate in order to improve my confidence. Skating without much vision can be very daunting and scary, and that was indeed my experience when I first started, but I was determined to overcome.

When I first learned to ice skate I had some vision; so it was not too bad for me; it has helped me tremendously to continue on now that I have lost most of my vision. I managed to complete four of six levels and learned to do such things as: glide on one foot, skate backwards, skull, do cross cuts and hockey stops, plus more. I still skate regularly, but without much vision I have to use different techniques in order to stay on my blades.

Ice skating gives me the feeling of power, self-control, and togetherness. Up until five years ago, I used to skate on my own with limited guidance, but now I skate by holding on to a friend’s arm. Ice skating brings me freedom! The feeling of pure bliss and exhilaration! I can be myself when I step on to the ice. I can fly high by feeling the wind on my face and smelling the fresh air and as Whitney Houston says in one of her songs: “Give me one moment in time. When I’m more than I thought I could be! When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away and the answer is all up to me.”

When I am on the ice, I am on the top of the world and sight or the lack thereof really does not matter to me. I know that when others see me ice skating they stop and stare but I do not really care. My friends often tell me that occasionally skaters bump into each other while staring at me. Let them! I am blind but I can skate and have fun just like them.

I even played ice hockey! No, not within the mainstream environment, but with a team of blind and sighted players. This hockey team has been in existence since the 1970s and has traveled to such places as Russia and Finland to play other teams of blind players. If you would like to learn more about this team, then please visit

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your accessibility and special-needs business consultant inviting you to go out there and tell everyone that yes! Blind and visually-impaired persons can learn how to ice skate and enjoy it like anyone else.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Which Subway Stop Am I At?

For those with vision, it is not an issue for them to know which stop they are at when traveling on the bus or subway, but for me it is. If I travel by train there is no problem because the conductor announces each stop. Up until a year ago, blind and visually-impaired persons living in Toronto had to depend on several techniques to tell them where they were when traveling by bus or subway but since then -- thanks to the hard and tireless advocacy of David Lepovsky, a blind lawyer -- this has changed.

David had to lobby for over 10 years in order to get the Toronto Transit Commission to implement a system whereby stops along bus and subway routes would be announced. The TTC spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting against, David but in the end they lost their case and David prevailed. This case should never have gone this far but I guess the TTC was determined to be stubborn. David prevailed against Goliath.

So, how do blind and visually-impaired persons overcome the challenge of knowing which stop is the correct one for them?

They can count the stops as they travel along. On the subway it is easier as the subway always stops at preset locations, but for a bus it is different because the driver does not always stop at the same location. If there is no one standing at a pre-designated bus stop as the bus approaches, the driver often drives by and moves on to the next stop. If this occurs, it is then difficult for a person without vision to know if a stop has been bypassed or not. Before David won his case, some bus drivers used to announce the stops but those without vision could not always depend on the driver to announce the stops.

Within the last few years, there have been some exciting breakthroughs in the form of talking GPS gadgets for blind and visually-impaired persons. However, they are not cheap and most blind and visually-impaired persons are unable to afford them. There are two specific ones that I am personally aware of and these can help a blind person to plot their route and familiarize themselves with their immediate surroundings. Blind and visually-impaired persons can use these devices to make traveling easier and more enjoyable and they can also become more independent as well. You can learn more about these exciting devices by visiting

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your accessibility and special needs business consultant wishing you a terrific day and urging you to go out there and spread the word that blind and visually-impaired persons can and do travel around on their own.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How Do I Communicate With The Internet?

How do I communicate with the Internet?

I am asked this question nearly daily, and as long as it helps to educate mainstream persons, I will never tire of answering it.

I communicate with the Internet through software known as screen readers and self-voicing browsers. These pieces of software, also known as access technology, enable me to hear what is on the screen and, for the most part, I can hear what a sighted person sees but there are some drawbacks.

Firstly, screen readers and self-voicing browsers are unable to decipher images, graphics, and icons. The only way that they can decipher them is if they are appropriately tagged with textual equivalents.

Secondly, screen readers and self-voicing browsers are only able to read PDF content after they have been properly tagged by content developers. In addition, a blind or visually-impaired person needs to use the right version of screen reader. Many of the earlier versions are unable to communicate with PDF content, so it is important to have the latter versions at hand.

Thirdly, screen readers and self-voicing browsers can only work for us if websites are accessible and usable.

Unfortunately, over 97% of websites are still inaccessible to both sighted and blind persons alike. In a future blog, I will talk about some of the barriers that presently face me on the Internet as a blind person and will share what I am doing to raise awareness. In the meantime, I have some urls for you to visit. These websites will enable you to learn all about screen readers and much more.

Visit: and

Just to give you a sneak preview: Screen readers and self-voicing browsers can read as follows: Entire screens, by paragraph, by sentence, by word, by letter. They can spell entire words, perform phonetic spelling, announce punctuations, read and ignore punctuations, plus much more. However, they often have difficulty with handling pop-up screens and pull-down menus, and they are unable to communicate with CAPTCHAs because CAPTCHAS require users to enter security codes based on proffered images.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your accessibility and special-needs business consultant wishing you a terrific day and reminding you to go out there and tell others all about how blind and visually-impaired persons use screen readers and self-voicing browsers to communicate with the Internet plus more.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How Big Is My World?

In the normal scheme of things, my world should be as big as I want it to be, but in today's society it is very difficult for me to define the size of my world. You see, my world is not really in my hands. For the most part and sadly so, my world remains in the hands of society; there are days that I wish I could change this, but I can't.

One of my favorite quotations is by Robert F. Kennedy: "Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?!" And this is the philosophy that I use every day of my life in order to define my world in my own way.

You may be wondering why I would say that my world is not in my hands but rather in the hands of society.

Society has, inadvertently, continued to erect countless barriers for me and others who are blind and visually impaired. They have erected daunting barriers for millions of persons with disabilities and have even gone the extra mile to do the same for seniors. In the case of persons with disabilities, and in particular persons who are blind and visually impaired, one of the most challenging barriers that I and my cofrères face is a barrier called Attitude.

This barrier is nothing new and has been around for a long time. If we do not take steps to bring it down, then I am afraid that we will find ourselves short changing tomorrow's generation of disabled kids, preventing them from experiencing a better future. In short, if we do not start to be pro-active in stead of re-active, we will be robbing our disabled kids of their rights to a future that ought to include them as contributing members of society.

All my life I have had to battle attitude barriers from society. As early as I can remember, my parents had to battle the system to allow me to obtain my formal education. Then, as a university student I had to endure constant remarks from those professors who made no effort to hide their discontent about having a blind student in their class. In the workplace I and others have had to deal with the narrow-mindedness of managers and co-workers alike who do not believe that blind and visually-impaired persons can be productive.

This is why I am so glad that I can now use the Internet as my workplace. Most of my clients are blissfully unaware that I am blind and, frankly, they would probably not care as long as I was able to perform to their satisfaction.

I am not content to sit back and wait for things to happen and this is why I have managed to expand my world much more than many others like me. I challenged an ice skating school to teach me to ice skate; I have learned to play chess; I have written two books; I have hang glided, sailed, and even driven around in a parking lot. No, I am not showing off! Just trying to motivate others to expand their world. Nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it, but one has to be realistic.

The attitude barrier needs to be addressed. To be charitable (which I am), I can say that 99.9% of the time, this barrier is erected by those who are limited by such things as: cultural beliefs, fear of the unknown, fear of interacting with those who are different, and an unwillingness to learn new things and meet new people.

Here are two websites that you can visit in order to learn more about the world of blind and visually-impaired persons: National Federation of the Blind ( and American Foundation for the Blind (

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your accessibility and special-needs business consultant, wishing you a terrific day and reminding you to go out there and help us to lower the attitude barrier. You will not only be helping us but you will also be helping to create a better future for others.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Why I Touch Light Bulbs

As a rule of thumb, the mainstream person with enough vision can usually tell when a light bulb has had it; they can usually do this after turning on the light switch and noticing that the bulb is not lighting. For me, it is very different. When I had enough vision, it was no problem for me to tell whether or not a light bulb was lighting, but ever since losing my vision over five years ago, it is a different story.

I now have to use a different method to tell me if the good old light bulb is lighting up. Often times if a light bulb is ready to quit lighting, you would usually hear a "pop" sound when you turn on the switch but you can't always depend on this indicator. So, I have to use another technique. Yes, you got it! I have to touch the light bulb to see what's going on or, if the light bulb is close enough to me, I can just bring my hand close enough to feel if there is any heat coming from it.

The other day, I went to turn on a switch in my office and as I did so I heard something go "pop." I immediately realized that one of the light bulbs had blown; but which one of the two was it? I took my step ladder and climbed towards the light bulbs. First I had to locate them by feeling along the ceiling for the chandelier. Next I had to stretch all the way to see which one was hot and which was cold. After a minute or so, I found the culprit and then had to climb back down, turn off the switch, and then climb back up and repeat the process of finding the chandelier. Upon locating the blown light bulb, the cold one, I removed it and then returned with a new light bulb. But there was more to come!

After screwing in the new light bulb, I climbed back down, switched on the light, and returned to make sure that the new light bulb was lighting. I tested both light bulbs with my hand and, lo and behold, the new light bulb was not lighting. It was cold. So down I went to repeat the process all over again. After a few minutes, I had things working again.

Last year, I discovered a little gadget that I can use to tell if lights are on in a room. If you turn it on and it buzzes, then there is light but if it does not buzz then there is no light. A very handy little thing for telling if my computer screen is on or off but be careful now! It will only work if there is no residual light close at hand. For example, daylight. I will hasten to add that I could not have used it in the incident described above because there were two light bulbs for me to deal with.

You may be asking yourself if I am unable to see the light, then why do I bother to turn on lights? Very simple! It is for the sighted world, in case I should have visitors. And, somehow it makes me feel as if I am still part of the sighted world.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your accessibility and special needs business consultant wishing you a terrific day and reminding you to go out there and tell others what blind and visually-impaired persons do in order to tell if light bulbs are working.

To learn more, Visit Independent living aids (ILA) at
Tel: 1-800-537-2118
Or Maxi Aids at:
Tel: 1-800-522-6294

Friday, March 6, 2009

Can Blind Persons Become Parents?

This is one of the most frequent questions I am asked. My answer is yes, but it is a tempered yes.

It is never easy to be a parent at the best of times whether or not you are blind, but for a blind person the challenges are many. Many significant steps have been taken within the past two decades to make it easier for blind moms and dads to become successful parents, but there will always be many concerns on this topic.

I myself am not a parent but I have several blind friends who are parents. I would hasten to add that if one of the parents is sighted, it makes things a lot easier for the home. Even if one parent has a bit of sight it is much easier than having both parents being without sight. In many cases, if one of the parents is blind and was born with a genetic disease, chances are that their kids will also be born blind. I have seen several situations of a combination of one or both parents being blind and their kids either being born blind or being born fully sighted.

The challenges for both parents being blind and the kids also being blind are different to those for two blind parents having fully sighted children. The challenges for one parent being blind and the kids fully sighted are different to those of one parent being blind and these kids being blind. Confusing you say?

Maybe so but when all is said and done, blind persons are no different in their desire to be good parents to their kids whether they are sighted or blind. There are many techniques that blind persons can use to help them raise their kids and these techniques are improving all the time. The important thing is for persons to be fully educated about the potential challenges that they could face as blind parents. I personally know blind dads and sighted moms with sighted kids, blind dads and sighted moms with blind kids, and blind parents with sighted kids. They each have their own unique suite of challenges to deal with but the ones that I know have done very well for themselves. Parents and kids have managed to overcome.

I was born to two wonderful sighted parents and in a subsequent blog I will tell you what it was like growing up with two sighted parents at the helm along with two sighted brothers. My closing advice to any blind person would be: Nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it but you must be prepared to face interesting and ongoing challenges. The road would be a bit longer and bumpier for you but if you really want it, it can be achieved. One of your biggest challenges will undoubtedly come from the rest of society.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your accessibility and special needs consultant wishing you a terrific day and reminding you to go out there and help convince others that blind persons can become parents.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Please Don't Shout At Me!

Sometimes I get so tired of people shouting at me! No, not because I did something wrong or inappropriate, not because they were frustrated with me, not because I was not listening to them. None of the above!

They keep shouting at me because they feel that I am unable to hear. For some strange reason, much of the rest of the world has this odd notion that persons who are blind or visually impaired are also deaf or hard of hearing, and it is not just one type of person, a particular race or culture, or a particular profession of person. I and many of my blind and visually-impaired friends can tell you that at the supermarket they do it. At the pharmacy, in the doctor's office, at the bank, on the sidewalk, or lining up to wait for a vacant bathroom people do it. So many times I have come home with my ear drums practically hanging out of my ears because someone shouted at me in their attempt to have a normal conversation with me.

I have had days of returning home with ringing ears after someone shouted at the top of their voice at me while I was walking on the sidewalk. They did so because they were trying to give me directions. Or I have had to endure headaches after someone tried to help me out at the supermarket. I have also had to deal with roaring frustration on several occasions after someone shouted at me while answering my question. The thing to remember is this: Blind and visually -mpaired persons are afflicted with the inability to see. However, they can hear; they are not deaf. There is absolutely no reason for you to shout at them in order to be heard. Just speak to them in a normal tone. The same tone that you would use for anyone else except for someone who is hard of hearing.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your accessibility and special needs consultant wishing you a terrific day and reminding you to go out there and tell others that blind persons can hear as well as you can. They just do not see as well as you.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Disabled is (not) My Occupation

A few weeks ago I went to the post office to retrieve a money gram. For those of you who do not know what a money gram is, it's used to send funds internationally. The sender buys the money gram and is given a transaction number which they then give to the receiver so that the receiver can then go to the post office and present to the post mistress or master. The number is then used to retrieve the funds and upon successful completion of the transaction, the receiver is presented with a cheque. Nice and easy, right? It should be, but on this day I had a very interesting encounter with the post mistress.

When I presented the number to her, I also had to present personal identification and fill out a form. My friend filled out the form for me and everything was going well until the post mistress asked me, "What is your occupation? Disabled?" Needless to say, both my friend and I were absolutely flabbergasted. I almost fell on the floor but after a few seconds I managed to reclaim my composure and calmly responded, "No! I am a systems engineer." My friend later told me that in turn I had managed to shock the post mistress. He said that if I could have seen the look on her face, I would have been very happy because one surprise was countered with another. The post mistress immediately apologized.

This has been the story of my life, as well as for several of my fellow blind and visually-impaired friends who are professionals. Society as a whole still does not think that blind and visually-impaired persons can and do work for a living. They either regard us as persons who need to be looked after or they do not have any regard for us at all. In short, we are the disregarded. There are the precious few who do respect our abilities, but I will say that on the whole our society still does not give much credence to our existence.

Similar types of reactions often occur when I go to fill out immigration documents. Everything is going along fine until they ask for my occupation and when I tell them that I am a systems engineer, most do not believe me. Sometimes I need to expand on my occupation. In general, people do not believe that I work for a living and in the past whenever I had to list my place of employment I was often met with total shock. Some of the more notable reactions that come to mind continue to be:

"You work for a living?"
"How can you work when you are blind?"
"May be IBM hired you as a token?"

It has taken me many years of cultivated temper to ignore these types of comments, but it has not been easy. I used to get very upset and angry but not anymore. Thanks to wonderful parents, family and friends, I have learned to ignore the naive statements and have replaced my emotional feelings with a dignified smile and calm response. However, because of my wicked sense of humor, I may just respond one day to the next person who asks for my occupation. "Disabled."

I'm Donna J. Jodhan your accessibility and business needs consultant wishing you a terrific day and reminding you to go out there and spread the word that contrary to popular belief, there are many blind and visually-impaired persons who successfully work for a living.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Hosting Companies Not Good Hosts

As a blind business woman, I depend heavily on my hosting company to help me with various functions which in the normal scheme of things can be easily performed by anyone who is sighted and has a bit of technical knowledge. Why is this so?

For the most part, it is practically impossible for persons with vision impairment to be able to access and work with hosting panels. Consequently, blind and visually-impaired persons have to depend on their hosting companies to help them with such functions as domain registrations and renewals, website maintenance and updates, web design and development, and more. Up until January 2009, I had the good fortune to have had a hosting company that truly understood the meaning of the word service. They went above the call of duty to ensure that my needs as a blind person were met. Since then, it has been a bit of a rocky road for me.

I have researched over 25 hosting companies across North America and to my chagrin I am here to report that almost all of them were unwilling to help me. Surprising you ask? Not really! Most hosting companies are only concerned with collecting their revenues and not too concerned with customer support and satisfaction. They claim that their hosting panels are easy to navigate but truth be told, they are not. If you are not technically savvy then you are in trouble and add to this the extra burden of having to work with these congested panels when you are unable to see what you're doing. In one sentence, most hosting panels are inaccessible and unusable to persons who are not technically savvy and to those who are unable to see. In short, most hosting companies are not very good hosts towards many of their customers.

So how can we begin to tackle this problem? As I see it, through education. We need to convince hosting companies that they need to design and develop hosting panels that are more accessible and usable. If they are more accessible and usable, then many more customers would be enticed to use their services. Aging baby boomers did not grow up in the age of technology and are the market that hosting companies should be gravitating towards. Too often, companies as a whole seem to forget that there is a real market out there with real consumers and real demand: consumers who are not technically savvy, consumers who did not grow up in the era of the Internet and modern technology, and consumers who are visually impaired.

I'm Donna J. Jodhan wishing you a terrific day and reminding you to go out there and start educating your hosting company on how they can become bigger and better hosts.