WHEN CHRISTMAS WAS SIGHTED — SIX HOLIDAY MEMORIES FROM THE TIME BEFORE I WAS BLIND

As Christmas approaches and the world descends into a frenzy of holiday activity, I take a walk down memory lane, and reflect on the six Christmasses with my family before I became blind. I don’t remember many of them as I was so young, but there are bits and pieces that I recall which form the fondest of memories and the warmest of feelings. And I want to share them with you.

Here are six special childhood memories that I will always hold close to my heart and take with me as I celebrate this and many more Christmas seasons to come.

I. Frosty in Footprints

One winter while my grandparents were visiting, Grandpa and I were playing in the backyard, when Grandpa said “follow me.” He began walking in odd patterns, shuffling his feet in the snow. I followed where he put his feet, and was entirely confused. After he was finished, we went inside and he lead me to the kitchen window which overlooked the backyard. There, in the snow, was the word “Frosty” which had been written out by our footprints.

II. The Snow Mountain

Every year, our side yard became home to the snow mountain. When the handyman came around with his bobcat, he shoveled the snow into a hill and carved out small steps in the side. And every year, my siblings and I spent hours running up the snow mountain and sliding down just as fast as we could!

III. Home from the Hospital… Just in Time

I was fortunate that, for the first year I was battling my cancer, I was able to spend Christmas at home with my family. But it was a close call. I was released on Christmas Eve, and when I walked in the front door, my entire family was waiting for me–my grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins on my mom’s side were there! It was so sweet, being surrounded by family for the holidays. I remember some, but I’m sure not all, of the mischief me and my cousins got into, and as the youngest cousin, I’m sure I got out of all the trouble, too.

IV. The Christmas Eve Tradition

For most people I know, Christmas morning is the pinnacle of the holidays. It’s when stockings are opened along with the presents piled up beneath the tree. For me, it’s opposite: Christmas Eve was the night I awaited with such excitement, and continues to since I’ve brought its tradition into my adulthood.

My family attended the Christmas Eve service at church where we would sing carols, read the story of Jesus’ birth and light candles. Once home, we’d change into pajamas and open every present… almost. Except for our stockings and the gift from Mom and Dad, every other present was torn open and squealed over. Then came the movie, which as tradition dictated, was the classic, Miracle on 34th Street. To this day, I have most of that movie memorized!

V. Into the Wilderness!

The first Saturday of December was the most exciting day–it’s when we got bundled up and headed out into the woods to cut down a Christmas tree! My memories are made up of trudging through the snow, picking out the perfect tree, Dad cutting it down with a saw and dragging it back to the car, and me, exhausted from the day’s events, insisting on being pulled home on the sled. On Sunday after church, we’d decorate it, and my favourite ornaments to hang were always the musical instruments.

VI. The Reindeer

Dad was a forester for 30 years, and as a gift from a coworker one year, he received a uniquely “foresty” gift–a reindeer made of tree trunks and branches! It has survived many a move and still stands proud, albeit a bit wobbly, in my parents’ living room.

Christmas, both when I was sighted and now that I am blind, holds a special place in my heart. There are parts of the season I wish I could see still, but I’ve gained a new appreciation for the holiday as a blind woman. After all, it’s still a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and that is something I can celebrate with or without sight.

What do you remember about Christmas and the holiday season when you were a child? Let me know in the comments.

THERE IS NO MEANING IN DISABILITY PRIDE WITHOUT GOD

My first braille Bible came a few volumes at a time. In the first box was the Gospel of Matthew and Acts of the Apostles, two books in the New Testament. I was ecstatic. And as they came box by box, my Bible filled up my bookshelf and at seven years old, I could read the Word of God for myself for the first time.

It was so exciting, being able to read the Bible like my family and friends at church. I took it to Sunday School with me and was able to participate in Sword drills and follow along with the passage during the sermon. I kept a volume next to my bed, and half the shelf in my bedroom was taken up with the 37-volume Bible from Lutheran Braille Workers.

In my early twenties, I decided it was time for a new Bible, one with crisp braille dots and edges that didn’t have permanent curves from leaning against the wall by my bed. I opted for a 20-volume, hardcover Bible in the New King James Version [NKJV]. It now sits on my bookshelf, taking four cubbies to hold it all. It’s made the trek with me from my home two cities and four houses ago. It still takes up most of the bookshelf, and I still keep a volume by my bed.

It’s been with me for as long as I can remember, and so has God.

But my relationship with my braille Bible is easier to define than my relationship with God. There was a beginning, a conscious decision to open the pages and glide my fingers over the sweet dots that spelled out the story of God’s love for me. But growing up in a Christian home meant that God was in my life while I was still in the womb, and before I could say the name of God, He was a significant part of my existence. There’s never been life for me without Him. No beginning, no divide between when I knew Him and when I didn’t. Along the way, there have been landmarks in our relationship, like my baptism at 14 and my decision to attend Bible college after high school.

Receiving my braille Bibles have been landmark moments in my faith journey, too, but it’s not only because of being given the ability to read God’s Word for myself. It’s because the Bible was in braille, and for the first time, my identities as a disabled woman and a Christian came together in a real, tangible way.

The immense pride I have in my identity as a disabled woman only has meaning when taken with my pride in being a follower of Jesus Christ. I never believed they could coexist before, but not only can they, it makes my life overflow with beauty and meaning in both.

My disability is beautiful because I know that God created me this way and takes joy in me.
My faith is bolstered because of what I have endured as a disabled woman and every trial I face points back to God.

As simplistic as it may sound, the Bible sitting on my bookshelf now and the one in my childhood bedroom is how I know this is true. In one book, my disability and my God come together. It’s the only way to have full and complete meaning in both my disabled identity and my Christian identity. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My disability brings me closer to God, and God brings me pride in my disability.

You all know that I’m very vocal about my disability pride and a bit less so about my Christian pride. My faith journey is a very private one, and I keep it behind a curtain for only me and God to see. But every time I write about disability equality, accessibility, rights and ways to become allies of the disabled community, it stems from my love for the God who made me disabled, and beautifully so. There’s no meaning in it if God isn’t the maker and the center, and I’m thankful that He is, and will always be, there.

How does your faith impact your relationship with your disability, and vice versa? Let me know in the comments.

ARE YOU ABLEIST? LET’S FIND OUT

Ableism in its simplest form, is discrimination toward disabled people. But it encompasses so much more than what you might assume. The belief and treatment of disabled people as “less than” is so deeply engrained in our culture that it can be hard to recognize ableism in our daily lives, which can also make it frighteningly easy to slip into.

Even disabled people can be unknowingly ableist. Over the last several months, I’ve come to realize that so much of my language and actions are ableist, and I didn’t know. But now that I do, I’m working on changing them.

But how do we know if we are using ableist language or creating environments that perpetuate ableism? To answer this question, I am not relying on my own perspective or experience, but on the collective knowledge of the greater disability community.

This post, as you’ll realize if you click over to this wonderful resource by Access Living is my primary reference for information on the basics of ableism. I’m no authority–I won’t try to reinvent the wheel. But they are by no means the only one. So, just as I will, I encourage you to continue to research, learn and grow in order to stand up against ableism. Please note, that as I share portions from the Access Living website, I may summarize, shorten or omit certain pieces for brevity’s sake.

Ableism: In General

Let’s start with a few of the more general ways in which we as a society can, are, and continue to be ableist. Let’s take a look:

  • Lack of compliance with disability rights laws
  • Segregating students with disabilities into separate schools
  • The use of restraint or seclusion as a means of controlling students with disabilities
  • Failing to incorporate accessibility into building design plans
  • Building inaccessible websites
  • The assumption that people with disabilities want or need to be “fixed”
  • Using disability as a punchline
  • Refusing to provide reasonable accommodations
  • The eugenics movement of the early 1900s
  • The mass murder of disabled people in Nazi Germany

Ableism: In the Every Day

If you look at that list and think “but I haven’t done any of that,” you may be right. Ableism is often unintentional. But even unintentional ableism is still harmful to the disabled community and to our fight for equality. That’s precisely why I’m drawing attention to it in this way, because we can all do better, and need to do better. But we can’t until we know where we’ve gone wrong. So please allow me to share with you some further ways that we as a society have practiced ableism. And if you see yourself on this list, you’re not alone–I do, too.

  • Choosing an inaccessible venue for an event, therefore excluding disabled participants
  • Using someone else’s mobility device as a hand or foot rest
  • Framing disability as either tragic or inspirational in news stories, movies, and other forms of media
  • Casting a non-disabled actor to play a disabled character in entertainment
  • Making a movie that doesn’t have audio description or closed captioning
  • Using the accessible bathroom stall when you are able to use the non-accessible stall without pain or risk of injury
  • Talking to a person with a disability like they are a child, talking about them instead of directly to them, or speaking for them
  • Asking invasive questions about the medical history of someone with a disability
  • Assuming people have to have a visible disability to be disabled
  • Questioning if someone is “actually” disabled, or “how” disabled they are
  • Asking, “How did you become disabled?”

Ableism: Micro-Aggressions

Micro-aggression is a term I only heard after joining the broader disability space on social media, and what it refers to explains so much of my past that I hadn’t had words to articulate before.

“Micro-aggressions are everyday verbal or behavioral expressions that communicate a negative slight or insult” in reference to a person’s disability. And it’s in this form that I’ve been the most guilty, and where I’m working on change. The words we use have so much power, and I don’t ever want my words to be used as weapons or instruments of ableism. There are more–oh so many more–examples of ableist micro-aggressions, but I’ll share with you this brief list which we can use as a springboard for further change.

  • “That’s so lame.”
  • “You are so retarded.”
  • “That guy is crazy.”
  • “You’re acting so bi-polar today.”
  • “Are you off your meds?”
  • “It’s like the blind leading the blind.”
  • “My ideas fell on deaf ears.”
  • “She’s such a psycho.”
  • “I’m super OCD about how I clean my apartment.”
  • “I don’t even think of you as disabled.”

How Can We Get Better?

All is not lost. It’s abysmal reading through only SOME of the ways that our world has been and continues to prcipitate ableism against people with disabilities. But there are things that we can do. There are ways to change and become better allies, fellow humans and let disabled people know how valuable and worthy they are. Here are just a few:

  • Believe people when they disclose a disability
  • Don’t accuse people of faking their disability
  • Listen to people when they request an accommodation
  • Don’t assume you know what someone needs
  • Never touch a person with a disability or their mobility equipment without consent
  • Keep invasive questions to yourself
  • Don’t speak on behalf of someone with a disability unless they explicitly ask you to
  • Talk about disability with children and young people
  • Incorporate accessibility into your event planning

Ableism is like anything else–something that needs to change but can only be done once we know how to change and are willing to put in the effort to make it happen.

What forms of ableism have you experienced? Let me know in the comments so we can find ways to ensure it never happens again.

Credit:

Access Living. Ableism 101 – What is Ableism? What Does it Look Like?

YOU ARE NOT ENTITLED TO DISABLED PEOPLE’S MEDICAL INFORMATION

People are curious about what they don’t know. I get it. I’m curious to know what a wooly mammoth feels like, and how people can read my emotions so accurately just by the way I move my face. [How does one raised eyebrow say so much?]

But there are some things, no matter how curious you are about, that are simply not appropriate to ask a stranger. And particularly, a disabled one.

“Were you born like that?”

The question came from a man sitting across from me on the city bus as I was on my way home from university. I was absorbed in my phone, tracking what stops we were passing so I didn’t miss mine, and more than that, I didn’t think this abrupt question was directed to me.

“What?” I said quietly. No one else had responded.

“Were you born like that?”

I didn’t reply. It was safer than anything that might have emerged from my mouth. But I knew what he meant. Had I always been disabled?

That encounter was years ago, but it was by no means the only time I’ve been asked that question. And the unfortunate reality is that the occurrence of strangers asking after disabled people’s medical information is ongoing, and far too frequent.

Disability happens for any number of reasons, and often, these origin stories are painful and difficult to talk about. I’m fairly open with mine: I became blind due to retinoblastoma, cancer of the eyes, when I was six years old. Both of my eyes were enucleated and I now have prosthetics, painted with the same hazel that I got from my mother.

I’m open about this part of my history. But I choose when and with whom to be open about it. And let me tell you that it is not with a stranger on the bus.

But there are people who became disabled in other ways, such as tragic accidents, attempted suicide, violence, and many more, things that are not appropriate to discuss. Maybe it brings up the trauma. Maybe they don’t want to relive what happened because it’s too painful. And maybe, they just don’t want to talk about it. Because, believe it or not, disabled people do talk about things other than disability.

It is their right to choose how they respond. And that reason also doesn’t have to be disclosed.

There is nothing more private than someone’s medical history and current condition. I’ve never once encountered an able-bodied person on the bus get asked this question.

But every disabled person that I know has been asked at least once, and often in a very insensitive way. Just because we are disabled does not mean that anyone other than the disabled person and their doctor gets to know that information.

At this point, it isn’t even curiosity about the unknown as it is plain and simple nosiness, and a good dose of ableism. If someone believes a stranger’s medical details are theirs to know and asks with no regard for privacy or consent, the disabled person has just been dehumanized and reduced to an object by which to glean information that to be frank, isn’t theirs to know in the first place.

Now, if someone asks me with genuine kindness and interest about my cancer history or my blindness, I’m often more than happy to answer. There’s a difference between curious and nosy, and if one can ask and still respect that what I divulge is my choice, then I’m all for it.

I said earlier that I’ve never seen a non-disabled person get asked so callously for their medical information. You just don’t do that — it’s an unspoken, societal rule of etiquette.

Why then, are these standards tossed aside in the face of a disabled person? When did we become things that exist to indulge and satisfy a stranger at the expense of our privacy?

Our information is free for the taking. It’s rude if we don’t give a satisfactory answer. We’ve offended the asker — how dare we refuse their request?

The entitlement is staggering. The line between personal information and public knowledge is so easily crossed and it both infuriates me and makes me laugh. How, in the 21st-century, have we gotten to a place where people feel entitled to the private information of strangers, simply to satisfy their curiosity?

Disabled people are not freaks of nature. We are not part of a circus display for you to stare at, poke and prod.

We are people. Yes, we have disabilities. But it is not your job, your right or your place to know about it unless we give our full and enthusiastic consent.

So the next time you ask me “were you born like that?” I’m going to take the advice of my mentor and respond with, “You mean gorgeous? Yes, I was born like that.”

I WAS BULLIED FOR BEING BLIND –A MINI MEMOIR

I’m somewhere between four and six years old–no longer sighted but not quite blind–when I’m bullied for the first time. And though the details are lost to memory, the belittlement and fear has never left my body. And I know it never will.

This is that story, the moment when I first learned that I would not always be safe, protected or valued because I was disabled.


“Who am I?”

“Who am I?”

“Who am I?”

Their voices tumble over each other, the cascade of the same mocking, accusing question thundering like a waterfall in my ears. I close my eyes and try to drown it out, but I can’t.

“Who am I?”

“Who am I?”

I don’t remember how I got here. The grassy slope that inclines up to the soccer field was where I’d been rolling down gleefully–maybe not today, but I know I have before–but now, it’s my prison. I’m on my back, my feet above my head at the top of the slope, and like a sheep amongst wolves, I am in the middle of them.

Trapped.

No way to escape.

Their hands pin me to the field, their taunts unrelenting. I can’t see whose holding me down, my vision is already too blurry to make them out. They’re older kids, anyway. I’m too small to struggle, and I’d never win. But there has to be at least five or six.

“Who am I?” comes the mocking refrain. Over and over, they spit the question and laugh. Let the little blind girl figure it out.

But I don’t.

So I stay put.

I don’t know how I get free. But at some point, I’m released from their grip, able to stand and brush the grass and dirt from my shirt, and go inside. It doesn’t happen again, but it doesn’t have to–I’ll never forget.

ASKING “WHAT WOULD YOUR LIFE BE LIKE IF YOU WEREN’T DISABLED” ISN’T BEING CURIOUS, IT’S ABLEIST

It’s always puzzled me, when watching interviews with artists and musicians who’ve made it big in the industry, that almost without fail, the interviewer asks a question along the lines of, “What would you do if you hadn’t pursued music?”

I understand that the underlying intent of the question is a curiosity about the artist’s other interests. After all, not everyone who pursues music makes it to a level where they can rely on it to pay their bills. Most creatives have full-time jobs, or several, with their creative passion as a side hustle or hobby.

But whenever this question arises, a lump forms in my stomach, and only recently, have I begun to realize why.

As a disabled woman, I’ve been asked a similar question but with a completely different underlying message.

“So Rhianna, what do you think your life would be like if you weren’t blind?”

For some, it may be simple curiosity. Maybe, if I hadn’t become blind, I’d be an airline pilot, something I am unequivocally unable to do, and that’s all they’re after.

But, there’s an hidden ableism in this question that even I didn’t realize for years, and it needs to stop.

Why are you asking me about what my life would be like without a disability? I am disabled, and unlike pursuing a career in the music industry, my disability wasn’t a choice. What good does it do to play the what-if game about my life now? — I can’t change it. And in truth, I wouldn’t change it even if I had the choice.

Is my disabled life that sad or pitiable that you need to imagine it, able-bodied and “normal” to cope? Are you really going to wallow in the “what might have been” pity pool?

These mindsets don’t do anyone good, but especially not for the disabled person for whose life you’re talking about like nothing more than a hypothetical rather than a human being. Our lives aren’t a guessing game, or a puzzle that’s missing a piece that you need to find so we’ll be whole again. You don’t need to feel sadness at what might have been if we weren’t disabled.

Because being disabled isn’t something to be sad about or pitied, and it isn’t something anyone needs to regret. You don’t need to dwell on the past in a vain hope to offer sympathy; all it does is tell me that you don’t see the value of my disabled body the same way I do.

And that’s what makes me sad.

I’m not sad that I’m disabled. I love my disabled self, because it’s who I am and life is only good when you accept yourself for who you are and who God created you to be.

So, before you ask your disabled friend what they imagine their life would be like if they weren’t disabled, do them a favour and don’t. Move on from the what ifs and might-have-beens, and accept that their life is just as valuable and fulfilling as anyone’s. And pardon my bluntness, but it’d be a lot easier to live like that without having to fight these ableist mindsets that are far, far too prevalent in our society.

Be part of the solution, and cut this question from your conversations with disabled people. On behalf of the 25% of the population, I thank you.

WHY I’M THANKFUL FOR MY DISABILITY

Growing up around the Thanksgiving dinner table, when asked what I was thankful for this year, my disability was never on the list. I said things like a loving family, friends that support me, Jesus, opportunities at school and church, all of which were true and deserving of a place on the list, but I was missing one big blessing.

My blindness.

The story of how I came to not only accept but embrace my blindness is a long one, and is still ongoing. It changes as I change, it ebbs and flows as I grow and learn more about myself, God, and the world around me. It’s a story that I used to look at through a lens of disgust; I was ashamed of what I was and how I couldn’t let go of my anger and feel freedom and pride in who I was. My adolescent years were spent in a fog, unwilling to change but not knowing how to change at the same time.

I only knew how to feel inferior. My blindness relegated me to a lesser place in the world, and I watched from below as my friends and family lived their lives with an ease and equality that I craved. The life I wanted for myself was a dream I couldn’t reach. So I settled into my place and passed the days and years in an embittered haze.

Being disabled is not easy. At times, it’s awful. The ableism and discrimination disabled people face is staggering, and so often, it takes everything in us to keep going. Sometimes, it feels like it’s us against the world, and the world is winning. It’s a very real part of living in a disabled body, and it can be a trial to find one thing to be thankful for. This is certainly the mindset I adopted as I grew up; surviving was hard enough. What was there to be thankful for?

As it turns out… lots!

My blindness taught me the value of every human life, no matter what abilities a body does or does not have.

It taught me that with God’s strength, I can overcome the challenges I face in a world that wasn’t designed for me.

I learned how to use my determination, stubbornness and voice to advocate for my needs and the needs of others.

I learned that you don’t truly appreciate what you have until you’ve fought for it.

And I’ve learned about love. I’ve learned how to love others, how to love myself, and most importantly, how God loves each one of His children, able or disabled. He made us in His image, and He never gives up on us even when we give up on ourselves.

This is why I’m thankful for my disability. Because it taught me that underneath what we see on the surface, when we look deeper than skin-level, it’s about people, and it’s the people we are inside that count. My blindness shapes who I am and who I will become. It’s a part of me I will never again be ashamed of. It’s a part of me that has made me into the person I am and the person I know I was meant to become. This is why I’m thankful for my disability.

And I’m thankful to be in the middle of this life. With all its challenges and struggles, and all the light and love that comes with it, I am thankful to be who I am because God created me this way. I will love my disabled body because He loves it and will use me and my story to make a difference for Him. And I can’t wait.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? Tell me in the comments. And if you’re American, join in anyway! We should be thankful all year round.

GUEST POST — AN OPEN LETTER TO NEW DOG GUIDE USERS

I’m so excited to have my dear friend and fellow disability blogger, Anneliese, once more grace my blog with her wonderful, wordly presence. Anneliese is many things–many wonderful, wonderful things–but today, she brings her experience and wisdom as a two-time guide dog handler to the blog, and I’m so happy to share her perspective with you!

This post is part of a blog swap. Anneliese and I are each writing a post about advice we’d give to new guide dog handlers and publishing it on the other’s blog as a way to build community and share different perspectives. You can read my post on her blog and guess what… it’s another list!

Now, onto the post!


Dear future leash holders,

I hope you’re giddy. I could hardly keep my feet on the ground when I got the call. I hope you’re starry-eyed, that you see potential magic in every imagined future. Whether this has been a childhood dream come true, or a joyful consolation for a midlife complication, you’re at a very important threshold over which you won’t step alone. Your two feet will be joined by four paws, and so the journey begins.

It was 2009 when I began this journey, and that’s why I’m writing to you now. I’ve been around a few blocks with a couple of different dogs, and I’d like to share with you some wisdom I’ve tripped over along the way.

I thought about trying to organize this letter into something trendy like “Three Life Hacks for Guide Dog Users.” But I kept coming back to a single foundational principle: knowledge is power.

Scientia est Potentia

You’re going to receive several weeks of formal education. You’ll learn about laws and guidelines, and hear lessons presented as rules and stories meant to teach morals. They’re all very valuable, but they are just the beginning of your canine education. And, to be frank, not much of a beginning. There’s so much more to learn!

Food, grooming, discipline, fears, toys, social skills…you’ll learn about them all, and more. But it will merely be a vocabulary with which to frame more and more nuanced questions as your experiences and needs dictate. You must not stop learning. Not ever.

Your instructors will most likely tell you, quite honestly, that they can’t prepare you for every situation. But I doubt they’ll encourage you to do your own research beyond finding a local vet. They’ve been training dogs and users for a long time, so they think they’re pretty good at what they do.

They are, of course. But what they do isn’t what you do. They train dogs, and train users. You LIVE.

Living is different than teaching.

And so you must learn. You must learn, and keep learning. With every new dog you’ll live differently, and so you must continue to learn. Learn from other users, from blogs and books and podcasts. Learn from instructors and YouTube experts. Learn from your own instincts, and learn from your dog.

Knowledge is power. It’s the power to say “no,” the power to decide for yourself, the power to recover from mistakes and turn them into triumphs.

It takes power to say “no.”

No, others may not interfere with how you work your dog.

No, others may not take up your time and energy simply because you dared to bring a dog out in public.

No, that activity isn’t suitable for a dog guide, even if it is legal.

No, you don’t need to feel guilty for saying “no.” You know why these “no’s” are important, what the cost of ignoring them are, and how to execute them properly.

It takes power to decide.

In a world of hyper-availability we are inundated with advice and choices from every possible channel. Your school may provide you with a set of recommendations for how to find a vet, what food to give your dog, how often to groom, but doggy bodies are as varied as human bodies. Their minds and experiences, your environment and finances, and a hundred other variables all add up to this: what you need might change.

I’ve gone through half a dozen types of food, three vets, and a revolving door of treats and training techniques trying to meet my dogs’ needs. Between allergies, injuries, career and house changes, and the natural progression of a dog’s life, I’ve had to make an endless series of decisions I didn’t expect when my instructors gave me their formula for dog guide success.

I learned from each decision, but each decision required the will to deviate from that formula. I needed to know I was making the right decision. SO I learned, and then I chose. You can, and will, do the same. Your decisions will rest on the foundation of what you know, so build it strong.

Power of the Expert

Power is a hot topic these days. It seems people are obsessed with how much power they have in their personal lives, social lives, professional lives, in politics and finance. They’re even more obsessed with how much power they don’t have, and how much more power other people might have.

Whether your disability has been a life-long companion or a new acquisition, you’re likely very aware of the fact that people who can see seem to wield a great deal more social, economic, political, and personal power than you. This can be frustrating, limiting, and even dangerous at times. It’s probably one of the reasons you decided to ditch your cane in favor of a dog guide. I certainly preferred being “The girl with the German shepherd” to “the skinny white chick with the flimsy cane” walking around my college campus.

Social psychologists who study power have categorized it into several types: reverent (sometimes called referent), assigned, legitimate power, expert power, and so forth. What the instructors and trainers at your dog’s school have is expert power. Those with expert power have specialized knowledge about a particular subject that allows them to solve problems important to others.

But here’s the thing: those instructors got into their field of work because they are passionately dedicated to empowering you. They want to give you power. That’s why they train dogs, and give you lectures and coach you and offer support. And any rule or guideline they provide that seems constricting or less applicable to your particular situation is only given because you have less expertise than them.

The true realization of their dream, empowering blind people, would be for you to take the expertise they poured into you and multiply it so that the problematic guideline can be adapted to your unique lifestyle. Take the vocabulary they give you, enter it into Google and Amazon and Spotify and YouTube and other learning sources. And build your own expert power. These experts you learn from are giving you more than a well-trained dog and some basic education; they’re giving you the tools to learn more.

Recognizing this earlier in my dog-working career would have changed a lot about my dogs’ lifestyle, healthcare, and maybe even longevity. It would have saved me money, given me more networking and career advancement and educational opportunities. But I meekly submitted to the expert power around me, failing to realize its inspirational intent or potential.

I gained expert power out of desperation, but I won’t wait to be desperate again to follow any line of curiosity that comes my way.

Dear doggy-destined friend, remember you are at the beginning. Like a high school or college graduation, graduating with your dog guide is when real education begins.

May tails wag and treats flow freely in your future. May you stride with purpose and pleasure down busy streets and through crowded conferences. May you never walk alone again.

Love from Anneliese and Greta