MY GUIDE DOG ESSENTIALS LIST

Having the proper equipment for any job makes a world of difference, and I’ve found this to be especially true when working with my guide dog, Saint.

Because Saint is a fully certified, trained working guide dog with a special job, the equipment I choose to carry with me may be different from that of a typical pet parent. I want to be prepared to face any number of situations, so, I thought it would be fun and educational to share with you the equipment that I use as a guide dog handler.

I will insert links to the products that I personally use, but I may be unable to find links to every item. Also note that I may earn a commission from purchases made through the Amazon links on this page, but be reassured that I use and love each product listed.

Guidework Essentials

• The Harness and Leash

The harness is the most essential tool for a guide dog team since the harness is the means by which the dog actually guides its handler. When working with my first guide, my instructor explained the function of the harness as the dog’s mechanism of communicating with me, and the leash being my way to communicate with my dog.

The harness that Guide Dogs for the Blind issues to their clients is a leather item, consisting of a chest strap that crosses over the dog’s front, as well as a girth strap that passes beneath the dog’s belly and is secured behind the front legs with a buckle. The handle is u-shaped, with leather padding on the end that the handler holds during guidework.

The leather leash is a simple leash and can be adjusted to two different lengths—three and five feet, and attaches to a ring in the collar.

Both the harness and leash are the cornerstone for any guide dog team, and I love the quality and functionality of the ones GDB issues its clients.

• Gentle Leader

Also called a head collar, a gentle leader is a piece of equipment that fastens securely behind the dog’s ears, around the muzzle and attaches to the collar by a small strap for extra security. When in use, rather than attach my leash to the regular collar, I clip it to the ring beneath the muzzle which gives me more control of his head movement. This isn’t something that I use regularly, but it is good to have on hand; for high-distraction environments like pet stores, crowds, food courts etc, the gentle leader allows me greater insight into the position of my dog’s head and thus, greater control.

• Reward Pouch

The reward pouch is one of our team’s necessary items to keep within reach at all times. The pouch GDB issues is worn around the waist, with a magnetic clasp for quick and easy access.

Food rewards are a necessary part of maintaining a high standard of guidework. “Would you work for no paycheck?” my instructor asked. “You shouldn’t expect your dog to, either.”

The system GDB teaches is to fill the pouch with half a cup of the dog’s daily allotment of kibble, then whatever is left over at the day’s end is added into their evening meal. This way, the dog isn’t taking in extra calories from treats, and keeping the dog at a healthy weight is more manageable.

• Clicker

A clicker is a small device with a central button which, when pressed, produces a precise click sound. Clicker training is an effective method of training by positive reinforcement. When the dog exhibits the desired behaviour, the trainer clicks and the dog is rewarded.

I keep a clicker on hand for situations where I either need to train a new behaviour or reinforce one that my dog may need some reminders about. It isn’t to be used consistently, but as the dogs find it enjoyable [since they receive food reward after every click] and it’s beneficial for maintaining training, it’s great to keep within reach.

Health and Safety Essentials

Keeping both my guide dog and I healthy and safe is vital to a long, effective working life together. Here are some of the ways I do that:

• Poop Bags

Everyone’s favourite part of having a dog… picking up poop. It has the potential to be messy and a bit stinky [or a lot, in our case]. But the task becomes easier and cleaner with these poop bags that I buy on Amazon. They come in a box of 900 bags, with a dispenser that’s easy to carry with you on the go.

I’ve used these bags since day one of doggy-momhood, and I haven’t had a bag break or tear yet. High-quality and affordable, these are my go-to bags, and I ALWAYS, ALWAYS keep one, if not two, rolls in my bag at all times.

• Travel Bowl

Proper hydration is important not only for us, but also for our dogs. To always have a means of offering water to Saint while out working, I carry on eof these collapsable, travel bowls It’s also convenient for outings over mealtime, as I can both feed and water Saint using this one bowl, which expands to accommodate a large meal and then collapses to tuck discreetly inside my bag.

• Audible Beacon Safety Light

The audible beacon safety light that GDB provides to its clients is small, easy to use, and very effective. It attaches to the harness handle so I never forget it and can simply turn it on whenever Saint and I need to be a bit more visible to those around us. What I love about this beacon in particular is that it’s audible; a musical tone sounds when turned on and off, and every 10 minutes while on, another tone sounds as a reminder that the light is still on. As someone with no light perception, this is incredibly helpful as I can often leave lights on long after they ought to have been turned off simply because… I can’t see it, so I forgot! No need to worry about that with this light. And another bonus? It’s USB-rechargeable, and I keep the cord in my bag for on-the-go charging if the need arises.

• LED Collar

To add an extra measure of visibility, I purchased this USB-rechargeable, LED dog collar. To use, I simply fit it around Saint’s neck beneath his regular collar, fasten the buckle, and press the button to turn on the light. Simple, effective, and easy to keep in my bag for easy access should I need it.

• Reflective Jacket

Although I don’t always carry this with me, I have a reflective jacket which I wear in dimly-lit conditions to keep me visible to drivers and other pedestrians. This jacket has zippered pockets, a hood, and several strips of reflective tape sewn on for extra visibility.

• Boots

GDB guide dog teams are issued a set of boots from Ruffwear, an excellent source for all manner of high-quality dog gear and equipment. These boots have incredible tread on the bottom and a Velcro strap which tightens securely around the ankle.

Certain environments can be very harmful to the pads of dogs’ paws such as hot pavement, the salt that’s spread on icy sidewalks, and rough terrain. These areas require me to keep Saint’s paws protected, so I keep these boots in my bag at all times, just in case.

Saint’s right to enter public establishments as a working dog comes with a certain level of responsibility. One of my primary responsibilities is to keep him groomed and respectable. To do this, I have a few items that I keep on hand for when we’re out and about but just a tad on the dirty side:

• Microfiber Towels

If it’s raining out, I always like to wipe off Saint’s paws and belly before entering a public building so as not to leave behind a trail of wet paw prints. A pack of small microfiber towels is my solution; easy to slip into the pocket of my backpack, reusable and quick to remove the worst of the grit and grime, I keep these on hand at all times.

• Lint Roller

While I’m not bothered by the omnipresence of Saint’s light, golden fur making a home on every piece of clothing I own, there are rare occasions when being fur-free is appropriate, like job interviews , church, or a friend’s house where leaving a pile of hair behind isn’t always appreciated. To this end, I keep a lint roller in my backpack to quickly and efficiently remove the majority of fur off clothes and furniture.

The Backpack

While training with Saint, I visited the gift shop to pick up a few extra supplies. My best purchase, undoubtedly, was this backpack. As someone with chronic upper back and shoulder pain, finding a backpack that wouldn’t cause any extra stress was vital. This one is small, lightweight and when filled with Saint’s equipment, doesn’t overwhelm or add unnecessary weight. It’s perfect.

It’s Saint’s personal backpack, and at any given time, you can find the majority of the above items inside:

  • Gentle leader
  • Clicker
  • Travel bowl
  • Boots
  • Microfiber towels
  • Lint roller
  • The charging cable for the audible beacon
  • Lots and lots of poop bags

I didn’t carry very much equipment when working with my first guide dog, and whenever we headed out the door, I was scrambling to gather what we needed. I wanted to be as hands-free as I could, but that always left me feeling unprepared and panicky.

I wanted to do better this time. Now, whenever Saint and I head out of the house, I simply grab his backpack from the hook by the door and we’re off, prepared and ready for the adventure ahead. I can’t describe the difference it makes knowing I have what I need to help Saint and I succeed in our relationship together.

If you’re a service dog handler, I’d love to know what gear and equipment you find helpful. Let me know in the comments!

MY TOP READS OF 2022

To celebrate Disability Pride Month in July, I opened the Authors with Disabilities Showcase. This online bookstore began out of a deep desire to shed light on the diverse talent within the disabled community, and support a group of writers that often get marginalized and underrated. In my journey of searching for and adding new titles to the bookstore, I have collected many favourites along the way, and my TBR pile [To be Read] just keeps growing!

Now that 2022 is drawing to a close, I wanted to highlight a few of my favourite reads from the bookstore.
Disclaimer: The links in this post are affiliate links and I may earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.

Thunder Dog by Michael Hingson

There’s no such thing as being late to the party when it comes to a great book! Thunder Dog was published 10 years after the tragedy of 9/11, and I read it more than 10 years later. But we will never forget, and this book is a wonderfully, poignant reminder of that day.

“When one of four hijacked planes flew into the World Trade Center’s North Tower on September 11, 2001, Michael Hingson, a district sales manager for a data protection and network security systems company, was sitting down for a meeting. His guide dog, Roselle, was at his feet.

Blind from birth, Michael could hear the sounds of shattering glass, falling debris, and terrified people flooding all around him. But Roselle sat calmly beside him. In that moment, Michael chose to trust Roselle’s judgment and not to panic. They were a team.”

Buy Thunder Dog on Amazon.

How to Lose Everything by Christa Couture

Grief is hard to feel, but even harder to understand. But it helps to hear a fellow human speak openly about their own grief and their journey through it. If nothing else, it can help us feel less alone, which is sometimes, all we need.

“From the amputation of her leg as a cure for bone cancer at a young age to her first child’s single day of life, the heart transplant and subsequent death of her second child, the divorce born of grief and then the thyroidectomy that threatened her career as a professional musician, How to Lose Everything delves into the heart of loss. Couture bears witness to the shift in perspective that comes with loss, and how it can deepen compassion for others, expand understanding, inspire a letting go of little things and plant a deeper feeling for what matters. At the same time, Couture’s writing evokes the joy and lightness that both precede and eventually follow grief, as well as the hope and resilience that grow from connections with others.”

Buy How to Lose Everything on Amazon.

Poster Child by Emily Rapp

Heartbreakingly vivid, raw and relatable, this memoir digs into the emotions we’d rather keep hidden, explores the parts of ourselves that are uncomfortable, and teaches that disability is only one part of who we are–and there’s so much more that defines a person and who they become.

“Emily Rapp was born with a congenital defect that required, at the age of four, that her left foot be amputated. By the time she was eight she’d had dozens of operations, had lost most of her leg, from just above the knee, and had become the smiling, indefatigable “poster child” for the March of Dimes. For years she made appearances at church suppers and rodeos, giving pep talks about how normal and happy she was. All the while she was learning to live with what she later described as “my grievous, irrevocable flaw,” and the paradox that being extraordinary was the only way to be ordinary.”

Buy Poster Child on Amazon.

Sitting Pretty by Rebekah Taussig

I will confess: I haven’t finished this book. Though I’m well on my way, I can only read for about 10 minutes before I have to put it aside for days to digest what Rebekah has written. It touches parts of me that I didn’t know were there, challenges subconscious beliefs I held about myself, and offers, in personal and theoretical terms, a way to understand the world around me and find my place in it.

“Growing up as a paralyzed girl during the 90s and early 2000s, Rebekah Taussig only saw disability depicted as something monstrous (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), inspirational (Helen Keller), or angelic (Forrest Gump). None of this felt right; and as she got older, she longed for more stories that allowed disability to be complex and ordinary, uncomfortable and fine, painful and fulfilling.

Writing about the rhythms and textures of what it means to live in a body that doesn’t fit, Rebekah reflects on everything from the complications of kindness and charity, living both independently and dependently, experiencing intimacy, and how the pervasiveness of ableism in our everyday media directly translates to everyday life.”

Buy Sitting Pretty on Amazon.

Forward, Shakespeare by Jean Little

Jean Little had an uncanny ability to take disability and create something universally relatable in her books. Forward, Shakespeare, and its prequel, Rescue Pup, are no exception. Alongside learning about how guide dogs are trained to guide the blind, you’ll fall in love with Shakespeare and learn about how letting someone love you is the first step in learning to love and accept yourself for who you are.

“Seeing-eye pup, Shakespeare, conquered many fears in Rescue Pup. Now he is back, about to be matched up with a blind boy, ready to begin his working life. Tim is enraged by his blindness and wants nothing to do with a guide dog. But he is no match for Shakespeare.”

Buy Forward, Shakespeare on Amazon.

It’s Not What It Looks Like by Molly Burke

I have been a fan of Molly’s Youtube channel for years now, and her audiobook, It’s Not What It Looks Like, did not disappoint.

Molly and I are both blind, but our experiences and perspectives are sometimes poles apart. Our disabilities have shaped us in different ways, but that’s what makes this such a wonderful read. In her book, I saw myself clearly in her words and depictions of living as a blind woman, but I also learned a new way of perceiving blindness and how we can all appreciate the diversity of disability and a person’s individual journey.

“Close your eyes and get ready to see the world in a new and more positive way. As a child in Toronto, Molly Burke was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa and became completely sightless as a teenager. Now an award-winning YouTube star and global influencer, Molly shares what it’s like to be a purple-haired, pink-obsessed fashion and makeup lover in a seeing world. She speaks with authenticity and candor about how she tackles the preconceived notions we have around blindness; Molly has made it her mission to make us see her – and ourselves- in a wholly empowering way. Learn about her struggles with bullying and anxiety, her quest for inclusivity, how she built a successful influencer business (with more than 1.8 million followers), and what it’s really like to travel with the true star of this audio, her service dog, Gallop.”

Buy It’s Not What It Looks Like on Amazon.

What were your favourite books of 2022? Let me know in the comments!

NINETEEN YEARS AGO TODAY…

I Became Blind

Nineteen years ago today, I took one last look around the Children’s Hospital with blurry vision.

I saw my family, together with the ophthalmologist, holding hands in a circle as we prayed for what was about to happen.

Nineteen years ago today, my Daddy carried me into the operating room and laid me down on the operating table.

And I smelled the watermelon scent that always lulled me to a blissful, dreamless sleep.

Nineteen years ago today, I became fully blind.

And nineteen years ago today, I became cancer-free.


This day goes by several names—my blindaversary, my blind birthday, Classy Glassy Day, but no matter what I call it, it will always be a day that I celebrate.

Yes, it’s the day that I became blind. It’s also the day my little body was free of the retinoblastoma. But this day acts as a marker for much more than that.

It reminds me how far I’ve come.

It reminds me of what my family and I went through, because cancer and blindness isn’t just my story—it’s theirs, too.

It reminds me that everyone who has a disability has a story, and each of those stories are unique and worthy.

It also teaches me things that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

It taught me the value of my health, and how nothing in this life can be taken for granted.

It taught me to be thankful for what I have, and who I have.

It taught me that my story has shaped me for the better, that I wouldn’t be who I am without having experienced what I did.

And it taught me that God is here through pain and suffering, and sometimes, it’s through those times that He’s the most visible.

So, happy Blindaversary to… me! I’m excited for what the next year will hold. How will I grow? How will God shape me into the person He wants me to become? I’m excited to find out.

Oh, and I forgot to mention one thing that this day always reminds me to be thankful for:

It isn’t the end of my story.

ON ACCESSIBILITY — IT’S JUST THE RIGHT THING TO DO

Accessibility is near and dear to the hearts of many a person with a disability.

Why?

Because for me, it’s how the world tells me, “Hey Rhianna, we value you. You are important. We value your contributions to society as a person, and we want you to know that you matter.”

But unfortunately, this isn’t always the message that I receive.

Let me tell you a story to illustrate this:

After moving to a new city in early 2021, I was in search of a family doctor. I happened upon one practice in my neighbourhood and they had an application for prospective patients to complete. When I called the clinic to enquire if they had an electronic version that they could send to me, the receptionist rudely informed me that the application is only available in hard copy print and in no way could they provide an alternative format. My only option was to have a sighted friend fill it out for me. Having no other choice, I did just that.
My landlady picked up the form, and before leaving the office, asked that same receptionist about their policy of no electronic documents.
“We cannot provide electronic forms due to the possibility that someone may copy it for their own purposes,” came the clipped reply.
“Like they can’t do that with a photocopier,” my landlady said as she walked out with the printed application.
Needless to say, I never returned the form to that practice, resolving to find one that prioritized their patients’ needs above their convenience.

Yes—I said convenience. Because the truth is that it is often more a matter of convenience rather than an inability to accommodate.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a perfect example. When it became unsafe to attend medical appointments in person, and appointments went to virtual platforms, I breathed a tentative sigh of relief. On one hand, previously inconvenient obligations were now made easier and more accessible as I didn’t have to arrange rides to and from the clinics, spend money for the time and transportation, and I was able to handle my affairs independently. But on the other hand, a question was niggling at me, and the friends in whom I confided in, were also wrestling with this question.

Why did the change that disabled people had been lobbying for only come about when it became an inconvenience for the able-bodied? How come, when the world was thrown into unprecedented chaos, could we so quickly adapt to alternative means of living, yet, it was too inconvenient or “not available at this time” when a disable person asked for it before?

Was the voice of the non-disabled truly that much more valued than that of the disabled?

Let me tell you another story, thankfully one with a happier ending. I do not want this post to be all doom-and-gloom because there are people and businesses out there that do prioritize accessibility and the people who live with disabilities. It’s just sadly, the rarity.

It was November 2020, and I was sitting on the guest bed at a friend’s house, dialing the number for the walk-in clinic to ask for a prescription for antidepressant medication. When the receptionist answered, I launched into my explanation, undoubtedly a defensive tone to my voice: “I’m calling because I’m fully blind and use a screenreader on my laptop, but I wasn’t able to do the booking online as you requested. But I really need this medication for my depression and I was wondering if I could book a doctor’s appointment through you, please?” I waited, a bundle of nerves in the bottom of my belly.
“Of course. I’m sorry that the website was not accessible for you. Let me connect you with one of our nurses who will help you complete the mental health questionnaire for the doctor.”
I was astounded. Did they just accommodate my blindness without so much as a blink? I wasn’t reprimanded for going against their written request to book online only. I never once felt like a waste of time, or an inconvenience. I was heard, accepted, and treated like a valued individual.

How different are those two experiences? Where one wasn’t willing to think outside the box and offer their best service to a potential patient, the other was willing to recognize where their system was lacking and remedy that the best they could in the interest of getting me the help I needed. Where I felt excluded and devalued by the first practice, the second overwhelmed me; they cared about me, and I don’t know if any able-bodied person can truly understand how amazing this feeling is.

The problem is that it shouldn’t feel amazing. It should feel normal.

That’s what it comes down to. Accessibility is more than a laundry list of physical adaptations to be made in order to appease the disabled person. It’s making the world accessible for every person that lives in it, ensuring we know that you see us as valuable and equal.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a few suggestions for those physical accommodations I mentioned, as, making a space, digital or physical, a welcoming and inclusive one for all, is a vital part in the wellbeing of
Let’s consider a few scenarios and how you can work to improve:

• Your website isn’t accessible for screenreader users? Hire an accessibility tester to offer feedback on ways you can improve.

• Are your virtual presentations audio-only? Provide closed captions for those that may be hard-of-hearing.

• Do you post lots of photos on your social media? Write an alt text [alternate text] description of the photo so that your visually impaired followers know what the photo is.

• Do your clients need to complete forms or paperwork for your services? Offer them the option to fill it out online or in an electronic document so that their personal information (like medical records, and identification) can be disclosed privately without a third-party.

There are countless ways to be more inclusive and accessible to someone with a disability, and so often, it’s simple and easy to incorporate into your business plan or process.
But the simplest, and best, thing to do for accessibility?

Ask.

If you want to know if your business is accessible, reach out to the disability community for input. Trust me: we won’t berate you for not already being accessible; we’re just grateful that you value us enough as people and as consumers to make your business accessible for us.

This article, “7 Reasons Accessibility is Good for Business” sums it up well in their 7th point: “The previous 6 reasons all amount to one main one: building sites and apps that are accessible is just the right thing to do! Just like you would hold open the door for your elderly neighbor who has trouble walking, you’d want to extend that same courtesy to everyone who wishes to enter your digital environment.
And this doesn’t even have to be for ethical/moral reasons – even if business outcomes are your number one priority, you’d naturally want as many users and/or customers as possible. Preventing people from purchasing your products or using your services would be the near equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot.”

I am a person who, day in and day out, lives on the cusp of accessibility; every time I visit a website, download an app, or walk through the door of a brick-and-mortar store, I don’t know if I’ll be facing a welcoming and accommodating space, or one where I have to fight for what the able-bodied take for granted. When I visit a doctor’s office, will I be able to independently fill out my medical information or be subjected to share it with a third-party because they only have a printed form? Will the cashier at Walmart address me as my own person, or direct all conversation to the able-bodied friend that I’m shopping with because they don’t realize that I’m 25 and don’t need someone to speak for me?

Accessibility isn’t an inconvenience. It’s a necessity. Don’t do it just because I’m asking you to. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. Do it to show that you love and value your disabled friends and neighbours.

Do it to make this world a better one for all of us.

ON LOSING ACCESSIBILITY — YOUR CONVENIENCE IS NOT AN OPTION FOR DISABLED PEOPLE

I was half-asleep yesterday afternoon when a notification popped up on my phone. I swiped it away, only absorbing which app it was referring to, and promised myself I’d look later. It couldn’t be that important. Right?

But it was.

It was a notification from Microsoft Soundscape. This app is on my essentials list because I find it invaluable for helping me navigate the streets while out walking. In short, this app speaks out your surroundings in real time: for example, as I walk down the street, it will announce “X Street continues ahead. Y Street goes left.” It is a big help to keep me oriented, particularly in new areas that I’m not as familiar with. I’ve used Soundscape for years now, but that relationship is ending.

According to this article from their research blog, the app is being discontinued as of January 3, 2023. It will not be available for download, but existing installations can be used until June 2023. The software is being converted to open-source, so any developer can use the software as they wish.

Apart from the technicalities that I don’t fully understand, I do know one thing: I will no longer be able to use Microsoft Soundscape.

And that fills me with so much anxiety, and oh friends, I wish I could articulate it so that you can understand and feel what I feel right now.

Soundscape isn’t just an app. It’s part of my accessibility, my freedom, and my independence. I feel more confident walking the streets alone when I have Soundscape to rely on in the sticky moments. I’ve gotten turned around and couldn’t tell which direction I was going, but I pulled out Soundscape and with its features that can read my surroundings, I got back on track, no problem. Even now, I am still learning the nuances of the routes in my new town, and I use Soundscape on every trip out of the house.

And now, there’s the added factor of finding another app that is equally as accessible, free [because many disabled people can’t afford to pay for apps like these] and accurate. And as much as I wish, it’s not as simple as scrolling through the App Store. I’ve spent far too many hours, yes hours, sifting through various apps, trying to ascertain which ones were accessible and discarding the ones that weren’t. It took me no fewer than 30 different apps before I found an app I liked for curating my music playlists, and I’ve downloaded the same amount in hopes of finding a menstruation tracker [and I have yet to find one].

I’m sure there are other apps. I know of a few that may offer the same info as Soundscape that I will take a closer look at. But what amazes me more than the sadness at losing something I glean such value and freedom from, is Microsoft’s admission of that value and their unwillingness to continue it.

In their statement, it reads: “Through the Microsoft Soundscape journey, we were delighted to discover the many valuable experiences Soundscape enabled, from empowering mobility instructors, to understanding the role of audio in adaptive sports, to supporting blind or low-vision individuals to go places and do essential activities for their lives.”

This, my friends, is the heart of the matter. Too often, organizations and individuals recognize the benefit of accessibility for disabled people, but when push comes to shove, they aren’t willing to commit to accessibility. Too frequently, it’s because of money. Accessibility doesn’t “sell.” But that shouldn’t mean it can be tossed to the wayside.

Microsoft recognizes the value that Soundscape has added to peoples’ lives. But it’s not enough for them to continue offering that value and benefit to the disabled community. Yes, they are making the software open-source, but that doesn’t comfort me much–that requires a new company or person taking on the project which isn’t guaranteed [along with the myriad of other considerations which I will not detail here].

But it’s not enough. WE are not enough.

So… what is?

When I first read Microsoft’s explanation for discontinuing Soundscape, I felt it like a punch to my gut. It wasn’t about losing an app. It was, and is, about losing accessibility. In a world where so many live as though accessibility is optional, and is sometimes impossible to come by, it is most definitely a gut punch to know that a weapon in my arsenal to stay independent and confident is being taken from me.

If you have any suggestions for accessible apps to use for directions while walking, please let me know down below! Otherwise, I’ll let you know how many downloads it takes until I find one.

SIX LESSONS I’VE LEARNED FROM MY THERAPIST

Therapy is for everyone. No matter if you think you need it or not, we are all human and have things we need to work through. Therapy is a wonderful, and for me, lifesaving tool.

This month, I’m celebrating my sixth anniversary of beginning my counselling journey. As I reflect on who I was when I first began to who I am now, it is a world of difference. I have a long, long way to go and there’s always more to learn, but I’m just so grateful for the therapy that I’ve been able to access, the gift of growth, and of course, my therapist.

Starting with the Foundation: Three Lessons

I. Having Cancer was Traumatic

Having been diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma at the age of four, I grew up with the “C word” being commonplace. I learned, whether explicit or implicit, that because I was fortunate enough to survive and be healthy now, I wouldn’t be traumatized. I survived, I was healthy, and I had a bright future ahead of me despite the challenges of my blindness.

But this optimism, while well-intentioned and a means to cope on behalf of those closest to me, lead me to question my mental health and search for the root cause of my anxiety and depression. And what my therapist, who is both a Christian and a trauma-informed practitioner, explained to me was that my cancer experience was indeed traumatic, and many of the issues I face are due to that trauma. Knowing this has freed me and allowed me a way to understand and move forward in my life in a much healthier and more fulfilled manner.

II. Spiritual Bypassing

Out of my years of therapy, spiritual bypassing is a concept I’ve only learned about within the last few months. Yet, it is revolutionary for how it has opened doors for me to begin deconstructing particular patterns and relationships.

Spiritual bypassing is defined, according to John Welwood, the psychotherapist who coined the phrase, as a “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.” It is a fascinating concept which I am in the midst of delving into more deeply to gain a fuller understanding.

III. My Body Has Answers That I Don’t

I used to believe that I knew better than my body. It was just a collection of organs and physiological processes, right? But thanks to my therapist and the abundance of research available, I know that the body is much more than that. Our bodies and our minds are intimately connected, making our mental and physical health inseparable. The body remembers events and traumas that we’ve forgotten or buried. And if we learn to listen to its wisdom and signals, we will be closer to gaining an understanding of our pasts and how we can use that knowledge to shape a healthier future.

Building On the Foundation for a Healthier Future: Three More Lessons

IV. Let Go of a Toxic Self Image

Umm, let’s just say that my self image needs work! In my 26 years, I have become incredibly skilled at crafting an image of myself based solely on everything negative, shameful or uncomfortable that I have done, said or believed. While these are parts of me that I can’t erase from my past and will continue to work on, they are not what defines me and not [usually] how others view me. I hope to learn to forgive myself for the mistakes I’ve made [and will make], and define myself by God’s standards rather than the world’s.

V. Deconstruct the Unhealthy Parts of My Faith

I have been a Christian since I was five and grew up in a conservative household. As I’ve matured into adulthood, I was able to begin disentangling what I’d been taught by the Church, the Bible and other Christians, and I want to continue this journey. This does not mean that I’m being selective in which parts of God’s teaching I believe. However, there are toxic teachings I have adopted which aren’t bringing me closer to God or showing His love to others. It’s these teachings and beliefs which I am hoping to shed as I continue to learn, grow and develop as a person and a follower of God.

VI. How to Talk to Others About My Journey

Talking comes naturally to me. Talking about deep, emotional and often traumatic experiences is another thing entirely. I’m hopeful that as I continue going to therapy, I will learn to balance my emotions with the knowledge that my mind and body hold, and engage in conversations that can help those around me understand and validate the journey I’m on.

Have you gone to therapy? Tell me about your experiences. What’s something you’ve learned there that you use in your life now?

SIX THINGS I LOVE ABOUT BEING A BLIND GIRL

Sometimes, it’s hard to be positive about having a disability. I’ve always called myself a pessimist and more often than not, I focus on the challenges and struggles that come with it. But, even I need a dose of disability positivity every now and then.

So here you go, a list of six things I love about being a blind girl.

I. Being A Braille Reader

A system of six raised dots arranged in various configurations to represent the letters of the alphabet, braille is a code developed to make reading accessible for the blind. It came out of the personal experiences of Louis Braille, born in France in 1809. After an accident in his father’s workshop at age three, little Louis was left totally blind and at the time, incapable of reading books independently. But determined to make a change, 15-year-old Louis Braille invented the system that is now universally accepted and loved.

And you’d be right to count me as part of braille’s fan club! My braille reading lessons started in earnest when I was in second grade and according to family, I soaked it up like a sponge. It’s true; I learned to read and write in braille with much enthusiasm and that enthusiasm has only grown with me as I’ve gotten older. I’m a sucker for braille apparel and accessories; I’ve had braille earrings, a braille necklace and the decorative quilt hanging on my wall has “love” and “friendship” knitted in braille on it. And from elevator buttons to washroom signs, to braille notetaking devices like this one that I use to a good, old-fashioned book read by the fire, I can’t imagine my life without it. It isn’t merely the way in which I read—it’s a way of life, a way that I learn and connect with my world. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to fully express my love for braille and what it has done in my life, but I’ll never stop trying.

II. Getting a Guide Dog

Although not every blind or visually impaired individual chooses to work with a guide dog as their primary mobility tool, I don’t think anyone, blind or sighted, could deny the perk.

From a young age, I knew I wanted to work with a guide dog. And while attending university, it was the end goal that propelled me to practice my independent living skills such as using public transit. By 22, I received my first sweet boy, Cricket. And now, I have Saint, who, by the way, 99% of the time, does live up to his name!

A guide dog has given me freedom and confidence beyond what I ever expected. Now, even though I do have to plan my routes in advance, I feel more equipped to walk out the door with the harness in hand and face whatever may come. Having a floppy-eared partner to journey with me and keep me safe along the way is a blessing I can’t imagine living without and I’m so thankful for.

III. Painting with Many Brushes

Let’s get this out in the open once and for all: Blind people do not have a heightened sense of hearing. We simply rely on our senses more and are more in tune with them as our primary means of gathering information—sight–is no longer available. After all, it’s estimated that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual.”

But what is a reliance on sight when you have hearing, smell, taste and touch to paint a beautiful picture of the world. Think about it for a moment: If you could only look at a tree, you would miss out on the rustling of the leaves in the wind, the earthy aroma of the bark, running your hands over the rough knots of the wood, and… well I’ve never tasted a tree but you get my point.

Sure, sometimes I miss being able to see. But I’m just grateful I have other ways to enjoy this life and I’m completely content with that.

IV. Being the Innovator

By being disabled in a world that doesn’t always know how to accommodate it, it’s inevitable that a certain amount of creativity and innovation is required. Adapting to a disability can be challenging enough, but add to it the pace at which the world is evolving and it’s exhausting trying to keep up. Whether it’s a technical work-around or a tactile adaptation for an art project, simply looking about will give you enough fodder to be creative and find innovative solutions to a multitude of challenges.

At times, it’s been a negative, but I’m working on turning this into a positive. It stretches my imagination and expands my problem-solving skills which will help me in more ways than just my disability.

V. The Community

As a Christian, I often wonder who I’ll meet in Heaven. I dream about being reunited with my Grandma and Grandpa, and getting to have coffee with King David. Who knows if that will ever be part of a life in Heaven with Jesus, but why not dream, right?

But even here on earth, it’s quite amazing to think of the people, past and present, that are part of the blind and visually impaired community. History is chalk full of blind and visually impaired people who have left a mark on the world, like Louis Braille, [inventor of braille, 1809-1852], Helen Keller [disability advocate, 1880-1968], and Fanny Crosby [Christian hymn writer, 1820-1915]. Of course, there are contemporary figures including Christian speaker and author Jennifer Rothschild, Youtuber Molly Burke, among many others.

And I’d be remiss not to mention the blind and visually impaired friends in my personal life that helped me grow, heal and become a fuller version of myself—the one that accepts who I am as a unique, God-designed creation.

I don’t know about anyone else, but it feels pretty amazing to be in the same community as these amazing men and women who, in one form or another, have touched my life in immeasurable ways.

VI. The Little Victories

And I can’t end this list without having some fun. All right, it might be a bit at the sighted folks’ expense, but give us just this one.

  • We get to be the heroes in power outages when you don’t know where to go, but we do.
  • We can read books in the dark [and sneak past Mom and Dad’s bedtime rules].
  • We have access to programs, technology and resources that are unique to the blind and visually impaired community.
  • No one can peer over our shoulders at our text messages since we can operate our cell phones with the screens turned off.
  • We can watch movies from a different room, and without worry about the video quality.

There you have it, my friends! Another list, and definitely not the last! For any of my blind readers, what’s on your list? Let me know in the comments.

SIX WRITING DREAMS

During one of our weekly phone calls, my dear friend, Anneliese, blindfluencer and blogger from Look On the Dark Side, asked me to write down a list of dreams. As someone who has always classified myself as a big-idea, sky-high dreamer, this caught me off guard; I knew all my dreams… didn’t I?

Nope. Dreams, like people, change and evolve, and things you never thought you’d consider are now at the top of the list. It’s an exercise in self-discovery more than a list of things to check off. And I found that the process was totally and wonderfully unexpected!

Please allow me to share six of my writing dreams with you.

I. A Blog About My Experience with Blindness

Sound familiar? Though I may already be fulfilling this dream, it doesn’t mean my dream is complete.

Not Your Blind Writer began out of a desire to overcome my fear of being known only as a “blind” writer. Now, over a year since my very first post, I’m proud to be a blind writer and to use my experiences, struggles, celebrations and voice to further disability equality, accessibility and bring about a true, heartfelt understanding that disabled people are valuable and important.

II. A Memoir

I’m hesitant about this one as I feel like I haven’t had enough adventure in my life to warrant a memoir; after all, don’t people want to read memoirs about people like Helen Keller, Fanny Crosby, Michael Hingson, or so many other people who have lived and done more noteworthy things than me?

But it’s an idea that won’t go away, and I’ve learned to listen when that happens. So, I will wait and write and see what happens next.

III. A Biblical Fiction Novel

There’s one idea that’s been swirling about my brain for years–at least since I was a preteen–about writing the backstory of a character from the Bible whose story is stubbornly lacking any detail. I began to write my first novel in university, but dropped it when I became overwhelmed by the historical research needed. And while I love research, it became a hang up and my novel was shelved. But not forgotten. And there’s not only one! I’ve got many ideas along this track, but I owe it to my first book and the characters I’ve lived with for over a decade to write their story first.

IV. A Fantasy Novella

When I say fantasy, I’m not talking about an entirely new world like Middle Earth or Narnia, but rather, a story set in what looks like our world and acts like our world, but with a few magical additions–talking animals, for one [of course].

The prologue to one such novella sits ready and waiting on my laptop, and has for years now. But the story it was intended to precede has lost the “thing” that brings it to life. When the time is right, I’ll bring it back–maybe then, the characters and I will be ready to tell the story the way it was meant to be told.

V. An Anthology of Short Stories

I’ve begun in the way any writer does–by writing short story after short story. Three of my stories can be found here, and I have more than enough drafts to keep me busy for a while. And that, my friend, is a great feeling.

VI. A Picture Book About Guide Dogs

I won’t give much away about this one, but needless to say, the guide dog in question is a spunky, go-getter, yellow lab with a brilliant sense of humour and a heart of gold [entirely inspired by my current guide, Saint]. And while he has the job of being a guide dog to a high school girl named Tara, he has another job too, which takes him down many unexpected roads and nose-first into many adventures.

As with every idea that comes into my head, any of these may change. In fact, I’m sure they will. But that’s the wonderful part of being a writer; characters and places that at one time, only existed in my imagination, become alive and breathing and the story tells me where it should go, not the other way around.

Maybe I’ll fulfill these dreams, and maybe some of them will only live on this list. And that’s okay. The important thing is to keep dreaming. And let’s be real: that’s the fun part, anyway!

What are some of your dreams? Tell me in the comments. And no matter what they are or what happens, let’s keep dreaming.

THE A-E-I-O-U’S OF ACCESSIBILITY — A IS FOR ASK

Welcome to a new mini-series on the blog, The A-E-I-O-U’s of Accessibility.

I’ve started this series because I want to delve into a few of the fundamental ways the able-bodied community can begin to help build an equal and accessible world for people of all abilities. So often, it can feel as though the disabled community is fighting this battle alone,, without the support of our able-bodied allies.

But sometimes, I think it’s because they just don’t know where to start.

That’s what I want to do in this series, give you five ways to start and to become that ally.

But why did I choose to use vowels?

Because in an alphabet of 26 letters, there are only five vowels—five vowels that are essential to the mechanics of communication. They are woven into the very fabric of language, and I cannot think of a single, English word without one.

Likewise, I believe that this series discusses things that are essential to the building of that equal and accessible world that I want to live in, and that we can only make happen together.

So let’s jump right in, with the first installment in our series: A Is For Ask.

Ask Because You Care

Be honest with me for a minute: When the cashier says, “how are you doing today?” do you return the question, and mean it?

I know I don’t. At least not as often as I’d like to. I’m usually in too much of a rush, feeling tired, or just “not in the mood to human today.” And I always leave feeling a little guilty.

Could I not have taken five seconds out of my day to ask another person how they’re doing? How much energy would I really have expended caring about their answer?

Definitely not enough to complain about.

But already, I’m sure some of you may be thinking, “But Rhianna, it’s just being polite. They don’t want to hear your life story.”

And you’d be right on both counts. Often times, it is simply out of respect that the “how are you” is asked, and most people don’t want to hear every detail of a stranger’s day.

But what do we do about the one person that needs to be heard? Who needs to be asked? Who needs to feel like someone cares about them? And since we don’t know who that person is, isn’t it our responsibility to give each person we encounter that opportunity?

Now, by saying this, I’m not implying that we need to ask every passerby on the street how they’re doing and dive into a detailed analysis of their personal life. Nor am I insinuating that we must speak to every person to care about them. Caring goes far beyond just verbal; opening doors for someone with their hands full, standing on the bus to let the elderly lady sit down, or simply giving a smile as you pass by can go a long way to show someone you care in one simple act of kindness.

Or simply being… yourself.

I remember, during my last year of university, I became utterly exhausted of the insincerity of the “how are you” exchange. I could almost taste the practiced, automatic question and answers, and I wanted to change it. Since I couldn’t force anyone else to be genuine in their answers, I committed to being more honest in mine.

I was always the first student to arrive for my History of the English Language class, and Jeremy was always next. When he entered and said, “Morning Rhianna, how are you today?” I took a breath.

“I’m…” I paused. “I just am today.” I sighed. It was a tough morning and I was overloaded by everything I had to get done. “How are you doing?”

Jeremy’s reply surprised me. “I just am, too.” His voice sounded tired, a stark difference from his cheerful good morning.

“I know,” I said quietly. “We’ll make it.”

That’s the only conversation I had with Jeremy throughout my four-year degree and dozens of shared English literature classes together. But to this day, I can’t help but wonder if, because I dared to be genuine in my answer—even though it wasn’t the most optimistic answer—it gave him permission to drop the “fine” facade and be genuine himself.

I wonder if he could tell that I cared.

After all, Jeremy was a person with a story that, whether I knew its content or not, was worthwhile and valuable. If I could show that I cared about him in one simple exchange, then for me, it was worth it.

If we don’t take the time to ask, we’ll never know the answer. And they’ll never know we cared.

Ask Because You Believe

If we never ask the question, we’ll never get the answer.

But what do we do when we get that answer, especially if the answer isn’t something we want to hear?

It saddens me to say that what I’m about to describe is not an uncommon occurrence in my life and in the lives of many other disabled individuals. Living with a disability comes with numerous challenges that are just par for the course—limited access to gainful employment, denied access to public establishments because of a service dog, adaptive equipment that’s too expensive for the majority to purchase, attitudes that treat us as inferior, and much more. But there’s one that hurts more than any of the others, because it cuts straight to the core of who I am.

And that is when my lived experience of disability is not believed.

When confronted with the sometimes negative reality of my life with a disability, I’ve heard a range of responses:

“We have good intentions.”
“You can’t blame us for not knowing.”
“You should just be grateful for what you have.”
“Why is it such a big deal?”

Why is it such a big deal?

This is why:

Because a response like this doesn’t dismiss the practical struggles of the disability, but it dismisses the real, raw struggles of the disabled person.

Why ask a question if you’re unwilling to accept the answer? Why take the time to invest in our stories if your response invalidates what we’ve shared? Why ask about the challenges we face with systemic inequality and discrimination if you’re going to defend the actions of the ones who discriminate against us?

This, my friends, is why it’s a big deal. And it’s also why I’ll keep making it a big deal. Because I’m not talking only about accommodations or adaptations or a theory to be debated.

I’m talking about the lives of people you love—your neighbours, your friends, your families.

It’s our lives.

It’s my life.

And you can’t guarantee that it will never be yours, either.

If we don’t take the time to ask, we’ll never know the answer. And they’ll never know we cared.

And if you never take the time to listen, we’ll never know you heard us.

And we’ll never make progress toward equality and accessibility. That will only happen once we stop segregating the able-bodied from the disabled and start asking, “What can we do to make this a better world for all of us?”

THE A-E-I-O-U’S OF ACCESSIBILITY — E IS FOR EXPLORE

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but seeing with new eyes.” — Marcel Proust

Welcome to the second installment of The A-E-I-O-U’s of Accessibility, a series where I’m exploring a few of the fundamental ways able-bodied people can become allies with their disabled friends, families and communities and create a world that is equal and accessible for all.

In the first post, I put forward the thought that asking is the only means of getting answers. But, this process is three-fold:

If we never ask, we’ll never know the answer.

If we never know, we’ll never learn.

And if we never learn, we’ll never change.

Explore Other Perspectives

I’m as at fault as anyone else—I am a comfort seeker. Staying tucked inside my comfort zone, which usually consists of coffee, a onesie and radio drama, is easy and non-threatening. It’s safe.

But it’s also contributing to the problem.

It keeps me in my own world view, and it keeps me from exploring other perspectives, learning from them and being an ally with my friends in the disability community.

I am one person with one disability. I’m blind. But I don’t even know what it’s like to be blind—I know only what it’s like to be Rhianna, who is blind. Yes, I can offer insight into ways the sighted world can accommodate and how particular views are damaging and how to remedy them, but it’s filtered through my unique set of experiences and beliefs.

But what about the experiences of the other 1.5 million Canadians with vision loss? How about the 26% of Americans who identify as living with a disability?

What do they have to say about these issues? Isn’t it time we find out?

Behind every person with a disability is a story. And for many, it can be quite a painful one. Disabilities happen for a multitude of reasons—genetic conditions, medical crises, tragic accidents, attempted suicide and more—and not every person is comfortable sharing the details. (So side note: please do not stare at us on the city bus and say, “Were you born like that?” We, or at least I, will not answer you).

Every experience shapes how we move through the world and where we choose to put our energy. Because of what I have personally experienced, I choose to advocate for ways able-bodied people can begin to see disabled people as equal, and treat them as such.

But other disabled people have their own drives, their own ambitions and their own passions. And sometimes, it isn’t in the realm of disability advocacy at all. And to anyone reading this who isn’t making disability rights their full-time passion project, I don’t want you to feel bad—not every disabled person is called to this, and I want you to use your talents and abilities in whatever capacity you wish.

But many persons with disabilities do feel called to make a change because we know how it feels to be disadvantaged, discriminated against, and undervalued. I am, but it took years for me to come to terms with that. Now I can’t keep quiet!

Each individual person, because of their individual experiences, beliefs and values, have a unique perspective on living with a disability, and that perspective needs to be heard, validated and viewed as an important contribution in shaping the world’s perception of disability.

And making progress toward equality between able-bodied and disabled people starts with the founding belief that people are people, no matter their physical, mental or emotional abilities. And the only way to learn about these is to ask and to listen.

It goes hand-in-hand: We ask, we listen, we learn.

Explore Available Resources

But there’s more to making a change than a paradigm shift. There are practical solutions that can be learned, implemented and go a long way to creating that equal, accessible world.

More than I complain about how the braille on the elevator buttons in my fiancé’s apartment aren’t even accurate, I lament about the lack of knowledge, and willingness to learn, of many able-bodied people regarding those with disabilities. I’m scolded and told that I can’t blame people for not knowing what they don’t know. And while I believe this to a certain extent, I also maintain that every person has a level of humanitarian responsibility to be educated about the world around them and the people in it.

When I’m told that people don’t know how I can be independent or complete tasks like attending school or cooking, my immediate reply (which thankfully doesn’t often make it out of my mouth) is, “It’s the 21st-century. Of course we can do that.”

But I also acknowledge the need for education. Just as disabled people aren’t always called to devote their lives to disability rights issues, not every able-bodied person has the resources to educate themselves. I don’t expect anyone to know the names of the assistive technology organizations or the equipment available, but I do expect and hope that people would give us the benefit of the doubt; in an age where we rely on a device the size of a deck of cards for directions, medical information, world news, financial services and virtually everything else, you have to believe there’s a way for someone with a disability to do it, just like anyone else.

So, in the spirit of educating and sharing resources, here are just some of the programs, courses and resources that I have taken advantage of in my personal life (and there are plenty more for blindness and people with all different disabilities):

  • CNIB [Canadian National Institute for the Blind] — A leading source of information and programs to assist Canadians with visual impairments
  • CELA Library [Centre for Equitable Library Access] – Providing books in accessible format for Canadians with print disabilities
  • PRCVI [Provincial Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired] – Providing services that ensure equal access for students with visual impairments
  • Canadian Assistive Technology – Retailer of adaptive equipment for blind and low vision consumers
  • WorkBC – Persons with Disabilities – Providing supports for disabled British Columbians to secure employment

Just look around, and you’ll find plenty of resources to empower people with disabilities. After all, it is the 21st-century, and if there are YouTube videos on cats flushing a toilet, there are certainly programs, courses, therapies, organizations, technology and so much more to assist disabled people with every challenge that comes.

Will you help? Will you believe that we’re capable until told otherwise? Will you take a minute to explore the world around you, listen to a different perspective, explore what resources are available for people with disabilities, and how you can get involved and become that ally we need you to be?

Let me know your experiences in the comments. What resources have you used? How has listening to someone’s perspective changed how you perceive disability?

Make sure to follow the blog and stay tuned for the next post in the series!

THE A-E-I-O-U’S OF ACCESSIBILITY — I IS FOR INCLUDE

Welcome to the third installment of The A-E-I-O-U’s of Accessibility. Today, I wanted to take a few minutes to chat with you about disability and inclusion.

Inclusion is one of those words that, when used too often, starts to lose its true meaning. It’s a little like love—it amazes me how I can say I love my fiancé with the same word I use to describe my feeling towards mint chocolate ice cream. After a while, if we let it, we lose the meaning and understanding of what love is.

And in looking at the world around me and the society I live in that prioritizes things like inclusion, tolerance and equality, I have to wonder if inclusion is starting to lose its impact, too.

But let’s take a step back. What, exactly, is inclusion? And how does inclusion relate to this series’ mission of helping able-bodied people to become allies with people with disabilities?

Include Accessibility in the Foundation

According to Merriam-Webster, include is defined as: “to take in or comprise as a part of a whole or group.”

Did you catch that?

“To take in or comprise as a part of a whole or group.”

Inclusion is not an afterthought. It’s part of the foundation.

While I was in university, I took several literature classes in which my instructors frequented the use of PowerPoint presentations in their lectures. While this didn’t pose a problem as a whole, the images were a challenge (for obvious reasons). In one particular class, to ensure that I didn’t miss out on any of the material, my instructor took it upon themselves to describe each image in their presentation in excruciatingly, vivid detail.

I sat at the front, scrunching down in my chair and wishing for Alice’s ‘drink me’ potion to make me shrink. You could feel it in the room; everyone knew that our instructor was describing the images just for me. And it was awkward.

I applaud my professor for making an effort to be inclusive. What I critique is their method.

I hope that we can all agree that chocolate chip cookies taste more delicious when the chocolate chips are baked into the dough and not merely dropped on top as decoration. When they are an essential ingredient in the making of the dessert, they cannot be added later and yield the same, yummy result.

Accessibility inclusion needs to be given the same treatment. It doesn’t function the way it ought to if it exists as an afterthought. For it to be effective at creating an inclusive experience for people of all abilities, it needs to be at the forefront.

So rather than add awkward, last-minute descriptions for the images in a PowerPoint, write an image description directly in the presentation so that it’s part of the presentation from the start. In doing this, you’ll let us know that you were valuing accessibility inclusion all along, and not simply scrambling to make it work when a disabled student shows up in your class.

Include Disabled People in the Discussion

But there’s a condition when it comes to being inclusive of the disabled community that can’t be overlooked.

Remember how accessibility is like the chocolate chips?

Disabled people are the cookies.

But, let’s look at this from another angle.

How do you think it would go if a cat tried to teach a bird how to fly. “No, not like that. Do it this way.”

What? Am I crazy? Maybe.

But maybe I’m eluding to a thread that is woven into the fabric of our society that frankly, needs to be cut out entirely.

I’m sorry to be blunt, [but what else is new, right?] Non-disabled people are very fond of telling disabled people how to handle their disabilities, without having any felt experience or knowledge of what it’s like to live with a disability.

And it needs to stop.

It happens in practical situations, when assistive technology organizations run by non-disabled people claim to know what equipment will best fit our individual needs, though we definitively tell them otherwise.

It happens in everyday conversations, when a disabled person is told not to be entitled when requesting accommodations to make something accessible.

It happens on a societal level, when changes are brought in that directly impact the lives of people with disabilities, but those people aren’t consulted or asked if the changes would even be of help.

A cat cannot teach a bird to fly since the cat itself cannot fly.

And a non-disabled person, well-meaning though they may be, cannot tell a disabled person how to best handle challenges that come with their disability because they themselves are not disabled.

Now, this isn’t to say that non-disabled people cannot offer suggestions, raise concerns or questions, or contribute in the greater discussion around disability and inclusion. It doesn’t mean that disabled people are never asked for their opinions, views or feedback on accessibility features or projects. It doesn’t mean that every non-disabled person is doing it wrong.

But what it does mean is that the voices of those in the disability community need to be the ones we go to first. We need to hear them out because issues of accessibility and equality directly impact their lives more than any other. We need them to explain what is helpful and what isn’t, and believe them when they do.

In the apartment building without an elevator, it isn’t the able-bodied person that will be most impacted if the elevator isn’t put in—it’s the person who uses a wheelchair, or the person with chronic fatigue syndrome, or the people with any number of conditions for whom elevators are essential to ensuring accessibility, equality and inclusion.

This is why the world needs to include the people who live with disabilities in the discussion from the get-go. We need to listen to their perspectives, validate their experiences and work to formulate a society that values inclusion as an essential aspect of our lives.

Because inclusion is a value, not about the practical considerations of buildings or university lectures, but a statement about the value of the people it impacts.


Chocolate chip cookies and cats… a post of widely varying analogies, but I hope you grasped my meaning.

Being inclusive isn’t a matter of simply not being left out. It’s a part of the foundation of the world we live in, or, to be more precise, the world I want to live in.

How have you seen people, businesses, and the world around you, be inclusive of people with disabilities? What have they done well? How could they improve? Let me know in the comments.

Be sure to stick around for the next post in the series!

THE A-E-I-O-U’S OF ACCESSIBILITY — O IS FOR OPEN

Welcome, friends, to the fourth post in our series, The A-E-I-O-U’s of Accessibility. Today, I want to share some thoughts with you about what I believe is the key to making the accessible, equal and safe world I dream about into a reality. Let’s chat about change.

Change is not easy. Sometimes, it can be downright terrifying. Even positive changes, like going to college, moving to a new city, getting a job, or starting a family, can be scary as well as exciting.

I held onto my childhood pajamas until they were so threadbare and see-through that my parents had to throw them away without my consent. I was so attached to the blanket I’d had since I was three that I wouldn’t go to college overseas without it [and still won’t sleep without it]. I cried when my mother cut her hair in a different style because I was scared to lose the mother I’d been able to see before I became blind.

But I had to make those changes. And do you know what I found out? Those changes weren’t as scary as I thought. They helped me grow into a better person … and my mom was the same, beautiful, loving mom she’d been before.

It’s the same way with growing and changing your perspective. It’s not about losing who you are, but making room for new things to come in and shape you into a better person.

It can be scary. Very scary sometimes.

But it’s worth it.

But no one can change if they aren’t open to change.

Open The Box

I’ll wager that every person reading this post has, at some point in their life, been told to “think outside the box.”

It’s pretty straightforward, right? It means to think creatively, freely, without limitations, to find solutions to problems that are outside the realm of tradition.

But is it really so straightforward?

Before you answer, I have three questions for you to consider when telling, or being told to think outside the box:

  • What box are you in?
  • What else is in the box with you?
  • And what will it take for you to get out?

As hard as it is to reconcile, our pro-equality, pro-rights society has continued to this day to put people with disabilities in a box. This box has been affixed with different labels at different times; “dependent,” “helpless,” “incapable” “burden,” and “inferior” are a few that come to mind that have been taped to my personal box.

When I’m passed over for a job by someone who is less qualified than I am, but isn’t disabled, my box says, inferior.

When I have to ask friends for rides to events outside of public transit areas, I wear the label burden and worry that they’ll resent me for being needy.

When I am forced into accepting help with a task that I am fully capable of doing on my own, my box says, helpless.

It seems that no matter what I do, my box has a label on it that tells the world I’m disabled and here’s what to do with me.

But I believe there’s another group of people who are in a box, too.

Able-bodied people.

Yes. Able-bodied people.

People who are not disabled.

Their box may not wear the same labels as those with disabilities. And it isn’t up to me to write their labels for them.

But I do have my suspicions. And what I suspect is that people put others in a box because they themselves are in one.

Hands up if you’ve heard the expression, “Hurt people hurt people.” It means that when someone is hurt, they may act in a way that hurts others, even people they love. Maybe we could adapt it. How about:

Boxed people box other people.

Remember the three questions I posed earlier? I want to take a moment and go through them, not to give you the answers, but to help you find the answers for yourself.

What Box Are You In?

Everyone’s box is unique, constructed from a combination of familial influence, experience, choices and a host of other factors. The answer to the question of what box you’re in will depend on your upbringing, your personal experiences, and how those experiences have shaped your worldview, and how you choose to live out your life day to day.

What Is In The Box With You?

Is it a need to feel superior? Is it a need for self-preservation?

Is it fear? Are you afraid that your world view and your place in it will be threatened by allying yourself with people who are different from you?

Maybe it’s pride.

Now hear me out before you click over to another blog.
Everyone has pride, and pride in who you are and what you do is a great thing. But it can be our downfall if we’re not careful; sometimes, pride can tell us that we’re above others who have less, do less, or appear less due to individual circumstances. And sometimes that can make us distant, hesitant to associate, or fearful of the results if we do.

What Will It Take For You To Get Out?

This will be up to you and your box.

All I can do is encourage you to explore a means of escape. Therapists and trained professionals are always a recommendation of mine. The therapist I’ve been seeing for five years has held my hands as I’ve struggled out of countless boxes. It may be an option for you, too.

Or maybe you need a friend.

But no matter what path you take out of the box, I believe the key is being open and willing to go.

Let people help you. Let people teach you. Let others take your hand and guide you. Let those who care about you come alongside you and encourage you every step of the way.

I believe that this is the way forward. To create that accessible world that I, and every other disabled person dream of living in, we have to not only think outside the box, but ditch the box altogether.

Open The Dialogue

But Rhianna, how do we do all this? It’s hard enough to get out of the box, let alone get rid of the entire box.

Yes, it is hard. And in no way do I expect you to do this alone, immediately or without mistakes. That isn’t possible, nor is it right of me to put those demands on anyone. So let me offer one, crucial way for you to get started.

Open the dialogue.

Start the conversation.

And see it through.

Talk to people with disabilities and listen to their stories and experiences. Ask them how they feel. If they tell you about the challenges they face, ask what would be helpful, or not helpful? What would they appreciate able-bodied people doing (or not doing) in interactions with them or in situations like employment, relationships, education, etc?

Talk to them. Talk to us.

Disabled people are the only people who know what it’s like to be disabled. Go to the source and get it straight from those who live it day in and day out.

By this time in the series, I may sound like a broken record to you. Ask, explore, include, and now open, they all lead back to the same, founding principle: people with disabilities are people and deserve the equality, rights, and dignity of every human being.

But I’m not just going to let the record play out.

I’m putting it on repeat.

Change is the only way forward. And being open to that change is the crux.

It’s often said that you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped. It’s true: As much as family and friends encouraged me to seek out mental health counseling and medication, I had to come to that decision on my own and in my own time; for years, I didn’t want to be helped and so I couldn’t be.

I was in a box.

And as soon as I realized it, and felt the effects of the claustrophobic space I’d created for myself, I did something about it. I got myself to counseling and began taking antidepressants.

It took a long time, and hundreds of sessions of therapy (yes, really) before I could see the progress I was making. But I had to be willing to take the steps to make that change.

I had conversations, sometimes hard and hurtful conversations, with friends, family and my therapist. I still have these conversations. But because I knew these people loved me and cared for my well being, I pressed on.

And those dialogues changed my life.

And the dialogues we have about disability will change our lives, too.

But it has to start with being open and willing to have those conversations and the change that will result from them. It will hurt. It will be uncomfortable, and may even cause some pain.

But I’d like to think that you’ll believe it’s worth it.


How can you help to open the box, step outside of it, and close it behind you?

Be sure to check back soon for the next installment! See you there.

THE A-E-I-O-U’S OF ACCESSIBILITY — U IS FOR UNITE

Welcome back to The A-E-I-O-U’s of Accessibility, with our fifth post, U Is For Unite.

Unity is a word that I thought existed purely within the confines of a church. Growing up in a Christian household, I heard verses like Colossians 3:14: “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony,” I Corinthians 1:10: “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment,” and Philippians 2:2 which says “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” spoken in sermons and Bible studies, and I presumed that it was only a “Christianese” term, or religious jargon.

As a Christian, these verses hold a very special place in my life and in my faith journey. But I’m learning that what I thought of as “church words” have meaning outside of Sunday mornings, too.

Unity is one of those words. And it fits perfectly into the conversation of accessibility and disability equality.

Unite For One Goal

Pop quiz! (Don’t worry, I’m not actually grading you).

What is the goal that this series is trying to achieve?

If you said accessibility, you get a half point. No, you’re not wrong—it’s in the title, after all! But there’s a vital component that’s missing which can fill in the blank and help us gain a fuller picture of how to reach for and achieve accessibility.

This series was born out of and exists to explore ways we as a society can be more accessible, both in a physical context and in our attitudes and beliefs about disability and the people living with disabilities. It’s designed to lay a foundation upon which we can build a more accessible world in which disabled people are valued, prioritized and held as equal.

It hopes to encourage all people, able-bodied and disabled alike, to work together, bring together each person’s unique contributions in pursuit of making our world more accessible for all the people who live in it. Because when the abilities, skills, talents and passions of people come together, working toward a single, unified goal, I believe so much more can be accomplished.

Remember, if you can [I’ve tried to block it out, to be honest] when you were asked to work on a project as part of a team. These encounters were at best frustrating, and at worst, infuriating, in part perhaps because of who I was partnered with but more so because of how divisive the group usually became; one member would work harder than others, one would be late getting their portion in, and the final project would be the opposite of a cohesive team effort. At least I hope your experiences haven’t been like many of mine. But regardless, we’ve all been there.

And whether it turned out positively or negatively, it makes a point that can’t be ignored or undervalued when trying to create an accessible and inclusive world, and it’s the one, undeniable condition that holds us back from reaching it:

We need to work together to make it happen.

Unite As One People

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. / If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. / And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. / If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? / But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. / If all were a single member, where would the body be? / As it is, there are many parts, / yet one body. / The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” / On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, / and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, / which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, / that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. / If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” — I Corinthians 12:14-26

The Apostle Paul wrote these words two thousand years ago, yet, it amazes me how every verse in the Bible can apply to life today in 2022.

Some may find it a bit ironic, but I find it entirely fitting to use a body as the image of unity to talk about people with disabilities.

The body is the perfect image for how people need to come together to achieve accessibility, equality and inclusion. Able-bodied, disabled, people of all different backgrounds and experiences, need to come together and bring their unique gifts and abilities.

I wrote a poem as a teenager which is too cringy to post here, but it was inspired by the Bible passage above. Called “I’m a Hand, What Are You?” I likened myself to a hand because of my skill with the written word, and I asked my readers [who I believe have only ever been my parents], what part you see yourself as and what you bring to the body.

And I’m going to ask the same question now: What do you bring to the fight for accessibility and equality?

Disabled people are still fighting for accessibility and equality in 2022, which means there is clearly something missing. It isn’t that we are incapable or dependent on others, not because of our disabilities, but simply because we are human.

Humans were created to need each other. We were never meant to be alone. That’s why we crave community, friendships, relationships and connection so deeply. It’s a human need that is in each and every one of us, and with so many things that divide us, this is one thing that humans everywhere can understand and share.

More than asking for physical accommodations, we’re asking for relationship. We need allies, people who see our value and are willing to step out of their comfort zones and fight alongside us.

Of course, our goal is to increase accessibility in our communities for people with all kinds of disabilities, but we are also striving to change the attitudes around disability. Don’t you see? The one leads into the other: when people believe disabled people are worth it, making the world accessible for them becomes a value and not an inconvenience or an accommodation.

But this doesn’t mean that there won’t be challenges. It also is not a guarantee of reaching the goal: after all, we are only humans, and humans are immensely flawed creatures, and even working together does not guarantee success. (The Tower of Babel, anyone?] Because really, what do you get when you put a bunch of imperfect humans together?

Life.

Not exactly the best punch line, but true nonetheless.

But challenges and all, I believe the fight is worth it and I believe we can accomplish great things if we work together. I don’t write to further divide able-bodied people from people with disabilities; we are all people, and my deepest hope and passion is to work to close that divide.

But I am only one person and one voice in the fight. Will you help? Will you be an ally and fight for equality with us?

And in the words of a teenaged Rhianna:

“We all have different parts to play
It’s what God wants us to do.
But still one question I have now:
I’m a hand, what are you?”

[CRINGE!]

Well, my friends, there’s one more post in our series. Stay tuned to find out what Y is all about!

THE A-E-I-O-U’S OF ACCESSIBILITY — Y IS FOR YES!

It’s here at last, the final instalment in the series, The A-E-I-O-U’s of Accessibility! It’s bittersweet reaching this point, but more than a sadness at seeing this series come to an end, I’m excited to see where we take it going forward in our lives. I, as much as anyone else, have so much to learn, so much to explore, and I for one, am so excited!

A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y… isn’t that the rhyme we’ve been taught when learning our alphabet? Y’s place on the list of vowels is questionable, but on this list, there’s no argument.

Why.

Because…

Y is for Yes!

I’m not a natural adventurer. I’ve grown into this aspect of my personality and primarily, it’s come through practice and repetition. When faced with “hey Rhianna, do you want to go [camping, spelunking, skydiving, etc, you can fill in the blank], my instinctual response is to say no in favour of staying securely within my comfort zone at home with a cup of coffee, my guide dog and the familiarity of my surroundings.

But I’m learning to say yes. Not always to adventures of the outdoor variety because to be frank, I don’t believe I’ll ever enjoy them. One needs only to ask my ex-boyfriend to find out how grumpy I am on camping trips. But in non-outdoor environments, ones that are designed to grow me as a person and expand the limited perspective I’ve become accustomed to from living inside Rhianna’s brain for 26 years, I’m learning to say yes.

So, when the conversation turns to accessibility, I’m learning to always say yes.

Recently, I was asked if I thought the perception around disability and disabled people in society was improving. Yes, I said, when it came to physical accessibility and the ways in which we can accommodate different bodies; more buildings have wheelchair ramps, there’s more education and resources available on adaptive equipment and the creation of those devices are becoming more widely known and recognized in the non-disabled community.

But I also said no, I didn’t believe it was improving in the places where it counts the most–in the hearts of the people we love and do life with.

When I’m being “helped” across the street against my will, I do not feel trusted as an individual, capable of making safe decisions. When I’m denied access to establishments because I work with a guide dog, I feel discriminated against because of a tool that gives me independence in a way I’ve never had before and that many people take for granted. When a disabled person is praised and viewed as inspiring for being able to use a microwave, we are belittled. When our disabilities make able-bodied people thankful that they aren’t like us, we are pushed to the margins of society.

Until our disabilities are seen as an asset, until we are treated as people, until we are valued as equal members of society and not pushed to the sidelines, we have not grasped the true meaning of acceptance, love and equality.

there is so much work still to be done. And the best way to do this is to say yes.

But how, Rhianna? What do we say yes to? Oh, I’m so glad you asked!

  • Say yes to making the lives of disabled people as fulfilling and lifegiving as possible.
  • Say yes when disabled people need you to cheer them on in the fight against ableism and discrimination.
  • Say yes, I trust you, when disabled people tell you they don’t need help.
  • Say yes, I’ll help you, when a disabled person does reach out for help.
  • Say yes to seeing people with disabilities as people and not broken objects in need of fixing.
  • Say yes to being our allies and not our enemies.
  • Say yes, I see you for you and not what is or is not on the outside.

We are people. And people deserving of the same human dignity, value and love that every human deserves.

But we also have disabilities, and those parts of us are just as valuable, just as worthy and just as in need of love and equality as any other.

Come with me and let’s work to create a world of accessibility, equality, trust and care for every person in it. Because when we make the world a better place for one person, it becomes a better place for everyone.

Well? What do you say?

THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF AIR TRAVEL

I am not a good traveller. As a kid, there was nothing more exciting than waking up at 3 AM, dragging my suitcase down the stairs (and usually over someone’s toe, oops), and heading off on some grand adventure. Whether it was a road trip across Canada or a flight that would transport us to Disneyland, I was eager for it all.

But upon returning from studying abroad after high school, my budding anxiety had already attached itself to many a victim, and flying was one of its first. I vividly recall walking to and from classes at university and as airplanes passed overhead, stopping to cover my ears until it faded into the distance. Many a friend held me in the middle of campus as this new fear gripped me tight. And it was then that I realized that if I was having this strong a reaction to the sound of airplanes, flying on them would be unbearable.

And as I’ve just recently returned from two plane trips, one trip to Michigan to take Cricket to his forever home and one to visit my family, I’ve been reflecting on the process of travelling as a blind woman. Seeing as I’m often asked about how it works, I thought I’d take a moment to share my reflections with you and maybe help to answer some of your questions.

So, how does it work practically?

When I travel independently by air, I make a note in my reservation stating that I am visually impaired and require assistance to board and deplane. Thus, when I arrive at the airport and check in, there’s a well established system that I’m immediately taken into:

  • A customer service agent guides me from check-in, through security and to my gate where they seat me and inform the airline agent that I need assistance on to the aircraft.
  • When pre-boarding is called, the airline agent assists me down the ramp and on to the airplane.
  • Here, the flight attendant guides me to my seat, helps me settle in, and often gives me a description of the plane, where the nearest exit is located and the safety protocols.
  • I sit back and attempt to bear the flight as best I can, often with headphones blasting tunes until the Ativan kicks in and I fall asleep.
  • Once landed, the flight attendant guides me to the ramp where I am met by another airline agent who guides me either to the gate for my connecting flight, or to arrivals.

Being passed from person to person is at times quite overwhelming and exhausting; I find myself on high alert, taking note of my surroundings, who’s assisting me and where my bags are at all times. It can be a convoluted process, but it does accomplish its goal: it gets me safely from point A to point B, and I’m just thankful that airlines have policies and systems in place to assist their disabled passengers.

But I’d be remiss not to address the issues inherent in this system. Let me take you back to 2016 and my most notable solo air adventure. You’ll see why.

For my reading break, I booked a week in California, soaking up the sun with a friend of mine from Bible college. To save myself money, I booked the most inconvenient trip—three flights spanning an entire day. Needless to say, when I landed in Sacramento, I was utterly spent.

The first two flights were blissfully uneventful. But before I could board my final flight from Denver to Sacramento, I had a four-hour layover, and for its entirety, I sat in a chair. Just, sat. When the airline agent came to assist me to my gate, I was stiff, cramped and relieved for the opportunity to stretch my legs.

Pre-boarding was just beginning as I arrived and I was passed off to the airline agent for my flight. From here, it was a short walk down the ramp and on to the aircraft, and as I’d walked on and off all my flights and through the airports, I expected to walk this also. But the agent had another idea.

Many blind travelers that I’ve spoken to have been offered a wheelchair as a means of getting from point A to point B. While I know some visually impaired individuals prefer this method—it can be less stressful, faster and easier to manage luggage—it’s never been a method I use or appreciate. I prefer to walk, and I said as much to the agent who had a wheelchair at the ready for me.

“Oh, no thanks,” I said.
“Honey,” she said, her tone not at all kind, “you need to sit in this wheelchair so we can get you on to the plane.” She proceeded to grab my arm and pull me down into the chair, knocking me off balance. I stood up and planted myself firmly in front of her.
“I would prefer to walk on to the plane, thanks.” I could almost see the glare I knew she was giving me.
“Honey.” Again, that tone. “You’re making a scene in front of all these people, and you’re holding up the line. Just sit in the chair.” Once more, she attempted to physically force my body down into the wheelchair, but I resisted. I was losing my cool quickly, but again, I said, “I don’t need this wheelchair. I prefer to walk, and if I could just take your arm for you to guide me, I’d appreciate it.”

She was right. It was a scene, and I knew my fellow passengers were watching. But I wasn’t making a scene. I was asserting my independence, advocating for my rights, and being denied.

It was then that an angel stepped forward from the crowd of onlookers and said to me, “I could guide you on to the plane. May I?” I have to admit that it was a fight to keep the triumphant smirk off my face as I took the woman’s elbow and walked down the ramp and onto the plane. As it turns out, this woman was returning home from visiting her aging mother who was visually impaired.

I was exhausted and fuming by the time I fell into the arms of my friend. And even now, five years later, I find myself reliving this experience and asking myself the same question:

Why are disabled people valued less than the systems in place to serve them?

During that trip to California, I was patronized, verbally dismissed, and physically coerced, the result of which was the unmistakable feeling that my life as a disabled person isn’t worth as much as an able-bodied person’s.

But Rhianna, isn’t that a bit exaggerated?

No. Not when I’ve lived two decades as a disabled woman and continue to hear and endure countless experiences like this, and worse. Being disabled has forced me to take a good, long look at the world I live in and see it for what it is. Too often, it’s an ablest, discriminatory place with people and systems that show an unwillingness to learn, change, and do better for their fellow people.

But people can’t do better unless they’re taught how.
I won’t claim to know how to accomplish this because it isn’t merely an attitudinal change but a systemic one and I’m only one voice out of a global community facing these challenges. But I’m doing what I can, sharing my perspective as someone who lives in this reality, and praying that it might spark one person to action.

So to the woman at the Denver airport, I say this:
I’m not mad that you offered me a wheelchair.
I’m not mad that you were following the directives of your company’s policy regarding passengers like me.
I’m not mad that you assumed I needed the help. After all, that’s what you’re lead to believe by the world around you.
But I am mad that you didn’t value me enough to listen, and trust that I know what’s best for me. I’m hurt that you didn’t respect my body enough to treat it with care and consent. I’m disappointed that it was a fellow passenger who stepped into help while your coworkers stood by in silence. I’m angry that in a society that prides itself on equality for all, I was treated like anything but an equal.
I did not feel like a person in that moment, but rather a task on your to-do list.

And now I ask the all-important question:
Now that you know how, will you work to make a change?

THE LIE OF THE LIMITLESS PHILOSOPHY — AND WHY LIMITS ARE ACTUALLY A GOOD THING

Whether you prefer to use the term pessimist, realist or glass-half-empty, it amounts to the same thing: I see the world as it is. Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown up disabled, and been subjected to my fair share of pitying stares, condescending questions and ableist attitudes which have made me rather cynical. Or maybe it’s the handful of other trials I’ve faced that have shown me time and time again that life is, and will always be, a challenge.

This isn’t to say that I don’t dream, or have aspirations of greatness or ambition to reach high and achieve. Anyone who knows me in my personal life can tell you so. But I am, and will always be, a realist.

And as a realist, I must make a declaration, or a confession if you will, and one that I rarely hear uttered in the blind community. Pardon me while I take a deep breath.

There Is No Such Thing as Being Limitless

Well, have I done it? Have I just made myself enemies in the very community in which I’ve thrown so much of my time, passion and words into? Maybe, and the only reason I wonder is because, in my experience, this philosophy of limitless potential is one that is rather divisive in the blind community. But maybe, my words don’t have to be fighting words but offer another perspective for you to think about.

I’ve read many a headline, mission statement and mantra which propagate an idea that says that just because we are disabled, does not mean that we are limited. We’re fully capable of achieving anything we desire, and there is nothing that can stop us—especially people who aren’t disabled.

But each time I read the headline, the mission statement or hear the mantra repeated by a fellow disabled person, I inwardly groan. And this is why.

I have limits. So do you. You, my disabled compatriots. You, my able-bodied allies.

We all have limits.

And I believe we do a major disservice to the disabled community and our attempt at societal equality when we promote the limitless philosophy. Because it simply isn’t true. It creates a falsity that, motivating or otherwise, is wrong and will only lead to disappointment and failed expectations.

But We Are All Capable

Now let me be clear: Disabled people, and in particular, disabled children, must be explicitly taught that they are capable. The world does a good enough job instilling doubt in its disabled people, so we must combat that doubt with hope. Blind children can grow up to be teachers, lawyers, artists, performers, politicians, doctors and virtually, any profession they set their sights on. As a child, playfully predicting my future in a game of MASH, my friends and I always put “bus driver” as a possible profession, jokingly of course, since we knew that I could never be one. Ability is not a reflection of determination. For as hard as I may try, I, a fully blind woman, cannot drive a bus.

I have a limitation. There are things I cannot do, like drive, and there are things that are harder for me but still possible with the right adaptations or equipment.

Disabled children who grow up in the knowledge of their own capability, talents, skills and unique abilities can, and will, lead full lives. But what becomes of their dreams if a life without limits is the guiding principle?

Being realistic can have its downsides. But the prevailing positive of being a realist is that expectations can be more easily managed, and one’s limitations can be worked with, not against.

If one can acknowledge their personal limitations and learn to view them not as a drain on their existence but a parameter within which to learn and grow, so much can be done. How can the windows be washed to let the light in if no one acknowledges that they are dirty?

It’s the same with windows as it is for limits: we must know what they are, acknowledge their presence, and live on. Because to live life denying an integral part that influences my every decision is to deprive my life of what it could be if I were to embrace it, fully and completely.

Embracing limitations is not only a discussion for those with disabilities, though. Everyone has limits, so this is a discussion for everyone.

Maybe you don’t consider these limitations, but rather “struggles” or “difficulties.” No matter what you call it, doesn’t it amount to the same thing?

Being limitless is not what drives us to succeed. This philosophy only shelters the reality that, for many disabled people, is cold, inaccessible and an ongoing challenge. In this way, limits are exactly that, limiting, making it so that the person cannot achieve their goals and desires. But I believe that once the limits are acknowledged and not seen as the enemy, then a fuller, more free, success is able to be achieved.

And that success is a more rewarding kind, because it isn’t founded on the idea that we had no limits and could achieve whatever we desired, but that we embraced every part of ourselves and worked together to achieve our dreams. You don’t get more points for living a life free of limits, but you do get a more fulfilling one by working with what you’ve been given and doing your best.

Limitations are only limiting when we use them as excuses not to try. What we perceive as a limitation, like blindness, doesn’t have to limit blind people, but propel us to make a positive change. And this is what I strive for in my life, and what I want to encourage you to do, as well.

Tell me your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear your perspective about limitations and how you manage them in your daily life.

THE PROBLEM WITH PET FRIENDLY BUSINESSES AS A GUIDE DOG HANDLER

Imagine being able to take Fido with you everywhere you go. To the mall, the movies or on a plane. This is the privilege granted to guide and service dogs and their handlers, and it needs to stay this way.

Sorry, Fido [and Fido’s owner]. But you need to stay home for this one. But keep reading: You do need to hear this.

It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? You no longer have to worry about leaving your fur baby home, wondering if he’s peed on the floor, chewed up your shoes or worried about how little exercise he’s getting since you left him in his crate when you left the house. Why not take him with you on your afternoon errands? After all, the sign says “Pets Welcome.” No harm, right?

But there is harm. The privilege that allows guide and service dogs to enter public facilities is not there to give handlers an extra advantage or special treatment. It’s there to level the playing field. This is because of two factors: first, service dogs are not pets, and second, service dogs are trained to perform a service that mitigates the challenges of a disability.

When pets are allowed in public spaces where the community gathers, there are three things that can result, and they are what I call the Three D’s: danger, distract and detract. Let’s take a moment to go through each.

It Can Place the Team in Danger

Service dogs are highly trained to provide a particular service to their handler. My guide dog, Saint, spent four months of intensive training to learn how to guide a blind person. This meant learning to avoid obstacles, stop at elevation changes such as stairs, curbs, keep a straight orientation when crossing streets, and how to keep safe around moving traffic. It is a rigorous process, and only 50% of the puppies bred into the guide dog program graduate and are matched with a handler. It is not a job for the faint of heart; it is physically and mentally taxing. The responsibility they carry of ensuring their blind handler stays safe and out of danger is not for just any dog.

But it isn’t only the guide dog that gets trained. Handlers spend anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month learning to work with their guide dog. It takes upwards of a year to become a solid working team, and a big portion of their success is that both the dog and handler has a trust and respect for the other, particularly in situations that may be dangerous or distracting. That’s how they get through… together.

The world is rife with dangers for people who are blind. While we learn skills and techniques to keep us safe and independent, we are still living in a world that isn’t designed for disabled people and poses many challenges. Drivers of vehicles that don’t check for pedestrians can make crossing busy intersections risky. Encountering aggressive dogs who may be off-leash or not well-controlled pose safety risks for both the dog and handler. A guide dog helps to bear that weight. But it becomes increasingly difficult if the dog gets distracted.

It’s a Distraction

Service dogs may be highly trained, but they are still dogs and thus, will get distracted. They are expected to stay focused and avoid distraction while out in the community. But distractions are everywhere: people, food and other dogs being the most enticing of temptations.

If a working dog does get distracted, often, it takes only a simple verbal or light leash correction to get them back on track. But it can be more. And when a guide dog is distracted, it takes their focus off of their job and their surroundings; their focus transfers to how to get what they’ve just discovered–that piece of pizza on the ground, a pet from that nice lady making kissy noises, or a sniff of that cute girl dog. In this state, without the dog watching out for the safety of their handler, the team may walk straight into danger. Imagine what might happen if a guide dog gets distracted while crossing a busy road? They may veer into the traffic rather than keep a straight line across. I don’t have to imagine–I’ve experienced it. And it’s terrifying.

Guide dogs are inundated with possible distractions whenever they venture out of the house with their handler. And your pet is a perfect opportunity. *sniff sniff*

It Detracts From the Dog’s Purpose

But the greatest problem is a simple one of entitlement. If I get to take my dog with me wherever I go, why can’t you?

It’s simple: My dog is a mobility tool. He keeps me safe. He helps me navigate spaces that are difficult to do independently because of poor or inaccessible design. He levels the playing field, giving me access to equal opportunities that I may not have access to otherwise.

Your pet does not.

If pets are permitted to go places where only service dogs have the privilege, it detracts from the purpose of the service dog. Not only does it make the dog’s job that much harder, but it undermines the dog’s reason for being a service dog; to do its job, the dog needs to stay safe and focused so that it can provide the service it was trained to do. If any dog is allowed anywhere, then the privilege that these dogs have as working members of the community becomes meaningless.

I know it’s hard to watch someone walk into seemingly any establishment they wish with their dog at their side. But it isn’t always easy: almost every handler has experienced denial because of their service dog. Sometimes, this results in the staff learning about the rights of guide and service dogs, but too frequently, the handler is forced to go somewhere else because their legal right to enter a public facility was unjustly refused. And it happens more often than you think. This happens because people are unaware of the laws and rights surrounding guide and service animals, but also because someone has had a negative experience–a disturbance or aggression–by a pet, and to keep their businesses and customers safe, they feel that refusing all animals is the only option.

But in that moment, a disabled person has been denied the access that able-bodied people take for granted because of something that wasn’t their fault.

You might tell me that your dog is trained, and that he’d never do such a thing. He never even barks. To that I say: that’s wonderful! I’m so glad and thankful that you’ve taken the time and energy to train your dog properly. But that still does not give you the right to bring him with you when you go into the community because if you do, you’re undermining the tens of thousands of dollars it takes to train one service dog, and the work they do for one disabled person so that they can live their life with a little less challenge, and a lot more freedom.

THE QUIET SIDE OF CANCER SURVIVORSHIP — LIVING IN A WORLD OF WHAT IF

January 27, A.K.A. Classy Glassy Day to my family in honour of my first prosthetic eye, is the day each year that I celebrate being cancer-free. Although I underwent a few rounds of precautionary chemotherapy after the final enucleation, this day will always be near and dear to my heart. After all, it’s the day that I became blind and the cancer was eradicated from my tiny body.

Yes.

And no.

True, the cancer was gone and that part of my life was in the past. It was now full speed ahead into learning braille, using a white cane and adjusting to life as a six-year-old without sight. But what everyone failed to mention was the fact that what I had just endured was traumatic, and that I would live with that trauma for the rest of my life. Yes, the physical cancer was gone, but the psychological ramifications would be a constant fight.

I was in middle school, deep in denial about my blindness, when I was handed a book of reports written by a fourth-grade class… about me. I flipped through it, astounded at what I read. I recall one report vividly which stated explicitly that the doctors expected me to be depressed, but I wasn’t.

“I was supposed to be depressed?” I said to my mom, shocked. I hadn’t heard about this. Why did they think that? I wasn’t depressed.

The Clock Syndrome

“I’m going to die,” I announced to my therapist one afternoon when I was 20. “I’m not going to live past 22. I’m going to die young. You just watch.”

Spoiler alert: I lived, and am now a grand ol’ 25. But what was the deal with 22? It’s hard for me to explain without fearing that you’ll think I’m crazy, but if I write for anything, it’s to normalize the unspoken experiences that many people are too afraid to say aloud.

Growing up, I saw my future stretching before me like a road. I could see the twists and turns and the landmarks that I would pass by on my journey through life—high school graduation at 18, travelling abroad at 19, earning a university degree at 22, and then—
Then what?
That’s where the road stopped. I had no more visual concept of what my life past university could be. It was blank.
To me, the emptiness of the road meant there was no road at all.

But I kept this to myself. To be “normal,” I dreamt about what life might hold for me, and I even planned parts of it. I wrote a list of my favourite baby names, I designed wedding invitations when I was 15, and I speculated at what kind of old lady I’d be. But deep down, I knew it would never happen—I would die before I got the chance.

My therapist and I called this the Clock Syndrome. Many days, it was a physical weight on my shoulders and I felt the tick tock, tick tock, thumping in my brain like a hammer. “Don’t waste your life,” it whispered. “Pack in all the experiences you can now, before it’s too late.”

As a result, I raced through my late teens and early twenties. I graduated from university in three years, enduring a five-semester streak that ran me into the ground. I pressured myself to get married and have children before I lost my opportunity to, and I made myself a deadline to be a published author by 25.

The fear that I would die young was paralyzing.

And every time I contemplated my inevitable death, it was because of cancer. I had it once, of course I’d get it again. And I wouldn’t be lucky enough to survive twice. But what kind of cancer? And when would I get it? Would I have symptoms? What if I had it now and just don’t know it? Thus, I fall into what I term “cancer spirals,” and they look a little something like this:

  • I feel fatigued. It must be leukemia. Wait, where did that bruise come from? Am I having a night sweat or am I hot because I sleep under four blankets? This hasn’t happened before—it must be cancer.
  • I’m not on my period, so what’s this discharge? Is that a sign of ovarian cancer? Cervical? Have my periods been extra painful lately? Wait, was my period on time last month? It must be cancer… I’ve always been regular.
  • My heart is beating faster than normal. I heard that advanced lymphoma can cause rapid heartbeat. Let me check the results from my last blood test; is anything out of the ordinary? What if the blood test doesn’t catch it, and then it’s too late?
  • Do I want to undergo chemotherapy again? What about immunotherapy? Where do I get a wig? Maybe I should get one now so I have it… just in case.

If you’re exhausted reading that, welcome to my brain. These cancer spirals are as normal as dipping chocolate chip cookies in milk. I don’t even have to have symptoms to fall into the world of medical articles, diagnosis stories, the latest experimental cancer treatments, and which secondary cancers to be on watch for. I live every day, expecting to be thrust into this reality. Yet, it mightn’t ever happen. I might die before I turn 26, or I may live another 70 years in perfect health.

But, what if I do get cancer again?

It’s that what-if that keeps the clock running. And every day, I wonder if I’ll ever outrun it.


September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a busy time, with fundraising for cancer research and programs to support the children and their families taking their well-deserved place in the spotlight. But amidst all the activity that September brings, take a moment to remember the quieter side of survivorship.
Remember the ones who live each and every day with the fear of relapse and recurrence. The ones who won’t tell you that they lay awake, examining their body for any potential threat. The ones who have to leave the room because the smell of bananas triggered a memory from the hospital. The ones who have trouble remembering things because of the chemotherapy. The ones who you didn’t even know had cancer.

Take a moment this September and remember us. Our stories are still unfolding, and at least for me, all I pray is that with each page turn, every childhood cancer survivor will know that they are loved, supported and heard, no matter what happens.

THE UNHOLY CROSS — A SHORT STORY, PART ONE

HIDDEN

Katriel kneels where the blood pools from his brother’s ribs. The knife, now stained crimson with his crime, seems to gather the moonlight and reflect it out, exposing him. He slips it beneath the fold of his cloak and with one last dismissive glance toward the pale face, turns away.
Must leave now. Danger. Must leave now.
Crisp and cool on his cheeks, the air itself seems to know. Not a footfall, nor a whisper. But they know. He’s sure of it. Turning to the left and to the right, Katriel weaves his way between the cobblestone streets of his childhood, the modest homes of Jerusalem’s labourers and merchants lining its perimeters. Omer’s face lurks in the moonlit shadows cast by Katriel’s own movements, the bloodied figure hunches in open doorways. At every creak and on every corner, Omer points a fleshless finger at his brother’s throat. “You will be found out,” it seems to whisper in the silence. The end of the street. Katriel quickens his pace and his footsteps ring out like bells. In the distance, the murmur of livestock waking is like a warning: Hurry! He turns a corner and before him are the city gates. His heart leaps with relief, but a moment too soon.
The voice speaks out of the darkness. Like when God created the world, Katriel thinks. Is this how it happened? Darkness, light, revealed. “Katriel.”
It’s not a resounding shout nor a frantic scream as he expects. No sword pierces his side as his pierced Omer’s. No threatening hands grip his throat, squeezing the oxygen from his lungs. Instead, it is quiet, almost a whisper.
“Katriel.”
He stops, his joints locked, his skin iced with terror. Only his eyes retain their movement. They flick like a horse’s tail, back and forth, trying to locate the pest, or in his case, his captor.
“Katriel.” The voice is still soft. His name seems to slip from the speaker’s lips like rain, smooth and with the hint of a smile. Katriel’s heartbeat quickens. Is it? No, it couldn’t be”’
“Katriel.” A pause and then, “Why do you not turn to face me or greet me? Why do you stand as you did when we played soldier as little children? Will you not acknowledge me, friend?”
He’s sure of it now. His heartbeat softens to a dull but persistent thud, and the blood in his ears cools. It is only Eshkol. The sky above him is splitting into threads of marigold and crimson. Dawn. There isn’t much time.
His boyhood friend stands silently at his back, awaiting movement. The broad-shouldered man, still clutching the sin-stained knife, calms his breathing to a normal rhythm and turns around. “Ah,” says Eshkol. Even in the dim light of imminent morning, Katriel can see his smile, a smile that shows neither emotion nor motivation. Reserved. Masked. The identical smile he has donned since adolescence. But it seemed different now. Is it the dim light, or something else? “At last you show courage.”
“Why do I need courage? You are a friend, are you not? Unless perhaps, you were following me?” His voice sounds scratched and worn, as though a mere whisper might tear his vocal chords from his throat. He steps closer to Eshkol. The other man does not move.
“Following you? I am hurt, Katriel. Will you accuse your closest confidante of such a thing?” That smile. Spears pierce Katriel’s heart, suspicion growing ever present like the coming of day. “Would a friend follow a friend? Isn’t he more trustworthy than that? Even in the dead of night, Jerusalem asleep in peace… what would I gain?”
Katriel’s fists clench by his side. Fingers tighten, nails dig into tender flesh. What is this game?
“Well? Will you not answer me?” Expectant silence.
Katriel realizes with a sudden wave that he is exhausted. The darkness of night seems to pull at him from every direction, beckoning him to an unknown place where he might rest and find relief. His sandaled feet feel weary from holding up his dense figure, his eyes falter in their steadfast stare. No, he mustn’t. Be strong, be cunning. Awake! Katriel brings himself upright, squares his shoulders and musters up what resolve he has left.
“What manner of game is this, Eshkol? What do you mean by this, this, interrogation? Did you not say a moment ago that we are friends? What do you think I have done?” Even as the words leave his lips, Katriel knows they are fruitless. His captor smiles and raises his right hand.

REVEALED

Surrounded. Six men, dressed in Roman armour, swords at their sides and ready to strike, press closer to their victim. In Katriel’s mind, he sees again the Roman from Seleucia who imprisoned him. His tall, overshadowing figure suffocating Katriel’s chances for escape, his smile of gleeful malice painted with broad strokes on his lips, and when rage had filled his heart to the brim and then overflowed, Katriel’s fists landing on the Roman’s jaw, sending him sprawling. He had made his escape then, but what about now?
Katriel looks about him, from left to right, then back to left. He is surrounded. Not just one this time, but six, maybe seven. He can’t see clearly enough to know precise numbers. But what he does see is Eshkol. Standing on the outskirts of the soldiers’ enclosure, his fingers intertwine casually, almost contentedly, as though this capture was merely another trip to the market for fish. His shoulders are back, but not in a manner with which to intimidate, rather one of pure satisfaction at watching the scene before him unfold. The smile upon his lips, which had moments ago seemed achingly familiar to Katriel, now stabs his heart. It is the smile of the Seleucian. He knows now, without a doubt, that he will not escape this time.
A centurion grips Katriel’s wrist, the mere force nearly disjointing it. “You are under arrest by the authority of Rome. Come.” Katriel comes. A second man grabs hold of his free wrist and they march him forward, the remaining soldiers following with these swords drawn in preparation of an escape attempt.
“What crime have I committed that you arrest me?” Katriel’s lips are dry and his throat aches to release the words. His question does not sound as steadfast as he hopes.
“Murder of a Roman spy. I believe you know him well. A certain Omer Ben Rachamin.”
His capture becomes real in this moment. In his heart, he had hoped beyond hope that it was a mistake, an error, or at best, even a framing, wherein he would declare himself innocent and go free. But now, as the words echo against the backdrop of the rising dawn—perhaps his last—he cannot escape the truth. He is found out.
Omer is right.
“Keep moving!” a soldier barks at Katriel. A yank on his wrist and Katriel quickens his steps. Looking about him, he sees the sleepy houses of his home city, where mothers sing their newborns to sleep and fathers teach their sons of the Law and the Scriptures. In one of them, he knows, sleeps his father, Rachamin, fragile with age, his bones brittle from the battles between his two sons. In another, he envisions Rhoda, her black curls sprawled across the pillow as her delicate chest rises and falls with every breath, unknowing as to her lover’s fate. And in a ditch behind a red brick wall, is Omer, the blood now run dry and congealed at the seams of his skin, his eyes open and blank with death, his soul, Katriel hopes in his anger, rotting in hell. His heart aches at the memories and he pushes them from his mind. He will not remember… he will not… remember.
They walk for many minutes in utter silence, the only sound the boot-clad footfalls of the soldiers and Katriel’s sandals shuffling along the cobblestones. His breath comes in laboured inhalations as he struggles to keep pace with the marching Romans.
Before them in the distance, framed in the transfiguration of moonlight to daylight, is the official residence of Herod Antipas, the Fortress Antonia. Government officials roam the grounds, crowds of people mill about impatiently for their hearings. Katriel knows this is where he is being taken, to appear before Governor Pilate, the dictator of his fate. As they approach, Katriel’s ears catch drifts of frantic voices, rising in waves from near the palace.
“Blasphemy! Blasphemy! Crucify him!” He cocks his head toward the noise, a desperate curiosity rising in his belly. What could be so urgent as to disrupt the Preparation Day of the Passover with such antics?
The soldiers march Katriel on, the voices of the crowd growing louder with every step. His body aches, his joints screech with fatigue as they attempt to match the vigor with which he is being made to walk. His eyelids slip over the vacant blue and gray that had once been so full of life—not this vile and malicious intent they possess now. Dragging his feet, he fears for the events of the next few hours.
“Wait here,” a guard grunts at the prisoner and marches off toward the raging storm of spectators. Katriel can now see the man for whom they are gathered to condemn.
The man is filmed with blood, no doubt from the soldier’s whippings. His tunic and cloak are torn and his sandals broken, only held together by a few withered straps of leather. A makeshift crown sits on the man’s head. Amidst his own premature suffering, Katriel cannot help but gaze at it, astounded. Thistles woven together, thick as Katriel’s leathery fingers, each spike pushed deep into the man’s skull. Blood drips from it, as rain from the heavens. His hair is matted from the excretion, blood streaming down his arms and torso to join what flows from the gashes of the flagrum.
He can now hear what the crowd is shouting. “Crucify him! Crucify him! King of the Jews! Messiah! He must die for his blasphemy!” The man with the crown of thorns is convicted of blasphemy? What are his claims that they accuse him with such severity? To the imprisoned onlooker, the wretch in the rags appears feeble and weak, not a man that would pose a threat.
His eyes are still fixed to the man with the crown of thistles when the centurion returns. Gesturing to his comrades, they lead Katriel forward into the Praetorium. Here, Pilate’s judgment falls on the unfortunate souls to enter its confines.

THE UNHOLY CROSS — A SHORT STORY, PART TWO

Read The Unholy Cross, Part One here.

TRIAL

Pilate sits on an adorned chair, the pride of a Roman etched in his every feature. But in his eyes, there is a veiled glint of kindness, the glitter of hope that perhaps he will judge not as a Roman, but as a man. Attendants surround him, awaiting his command. With a sweeping gesture, he dismisses their attention and they scatter to their places about the room.
“State the case,” Pilate commands, his voice loud and abrupt.
The centurion who had gone in ahead of Katriel steps forward and speaks. “This man is convicted of murdering a Roman spy at just before dawn this very morning. There are witnesses who are willing to testify.” Katriel blinks with surprise. A witness? Was he not alone? Did he not examine his surroundings before he stabbed his brother dead? He glances about himself, scanning the Praetorium for the witness to come forward. He hopes with fading optimism that it is not who he suspects.
But it is. Eshkol emerges from the back of the company of soldiers and with confident strides, approaches the governor. As he opens his mouth to begin, he shoots one final glance toward Katriel, the smile of betrayal displayed unashamedly on his face.
“Governor Pilate, this man is indeed guilty of murder. I witnessed it with my own eyes, only an hour or two ago.” He clears his throat and continues. “I was on my way to my father’s house, having just returned from a long journey when I heard the blood-curdling shrieks of a man. I didn’t think anything of it at first I admit, but when it persisted and became ever more despairing, I made up my mind to investigate. I followed the sound to the edge of the city, just on the border of where I happen to know the victim’s home lies—”
“How do you know this?”
“I was brought up in the same neighbourhood, governor. The victim, his murderer and I were friends as children.”
“I see. Go on.”
“Here, I witnessed this man deliver the fatal blow.”
“How did he perform the murder?” Pilate’s voice is stable as he makes his inquiries, but Katriel is not so fortunate. His knees tremble, his vision blurs, and it is only the sharp grasp of a soldier that keeps him from collapsing.
“It was a knife. He stabbed the man numerous times in the heart and the side. Once he made certain his work was completed, he drew the knife up into his cloak and left, leaving the body behind a wall to decay.”
“What happened then?”
Eshkol’s eyes are fixed on the Prefect, his zeal evident in his gaze. His tale continues. “As quietly as I could, I followed him. When I realized he was heading toward the gates that lead out of the city, I left and went directly and gathered this company of men. They joined me in my pursuit and we did manage to overtake him. We captured him and brought him here to you for his just punishment.”
The room is quiet, not an exhalation to be heard. Even the murmur of the crowd in the courtyard dissipates against the explosive silence within. Within the room yes, but in Katriel’s heart, it is deeper, more despairing.
Was this the friend who had suffered imprisonment at his side? The man who aided him in his escape? Who time and time again, tried to turn him back to the god of his childhood? The one he professed to believe in, but stands and sentences his friend to death? Katriel’s mind begins to spin, a whirlwind that captures his thoughts and ruffles them beyond recognition. He is betrayed.
“If you have further need of evidence, governor Pilate, you may merely ask this man for the knife.” Katriel’s whole being goes still. He can feel the knife’s cool blade against his forearm. If Eshkol’s account is not enough to secure the him, this would be.
“Prisoner, remove your cloak. Let me see what is beneath.” Impatient for the trial to end, a soldier rips Katriel’s cloak from his shoulders and it lands on the floor in a heap. The knife clatters to the floor, loud and condemning. The entire room gravitates to it as a collective gasp is inhaled.
“It is final.” Pilate now stands and his attendants draw near. “Katriel Ben Rachamin, you are sentenced to death by crucifixion for the murder of your brother, Omer Ben Rachamin. Within the hour! You are dismissed.”

GOLGOTHA

With his hands tied, Katriel weaves between the remnants of the crowd that had called so fervently for the execution of the blasphemer. The man himself is nowhere to be seen—Katriel assumes now that the sentence was passed and he is on his way to the cross. Amidst the reality of his own peril, Katriel cannot help but marvel at the other prisoner’s integrity, silent in the face of his crimes and such willingness to take the beating his guards deemed necessary. What kind of a man is this?
Rising beneath the golden sun of blooming day, Katriel’s eyes find his destiny—Golgotha. At the top of this hill he knows, he will die.
The patibulum he carries on his shoulders teeters, the effect wobbling Katriel’s legs. Blood from his scourging runs from his shoulders, down his thighs and calves and leaves soggy imprints in the dirt beneath him. Lightheaded and dizzy, he is nearly completely unaware of life beyond his pain.
They reach the peak of the hill and the cross bar on Katriel’s shoulders is lifted and tacked to the stipe. In his delirium, Katriel does not notice a third cross being mounted in line with his and the blasphemer’s. At each, a company of Roman soldiers meticulously perform their duty.
“Murder a Roman, will you? Then feel the wrath of Rome! May it follow you to hell and torment you there for all eternity!” The centurion draws out two nails and with not a care nor concern, pounds them through Katriel’s wrists. He cries out in anguish. “That is just the beginning of what you will suffer for your crime.” The centurion spits in his face and laughs mockingly.
Nails are driven into his feet, pinning him to the upright beam of the cross. He is overcome with pain; he can no longer discern where it stems from, only that it is consuming him like a raging fire. His weight hangs solely from his wrists, his breaths shallow and quick. How long will it take?
The other prisoners are hung on their crosses, their shrieks and screams melding with Katriel’s. The criminal on the third cross is muttering between gasps. Katriel tries to focus on it, on anything to distract him from the excruciating pain.
“Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us! Where’s your power now, oh mighty King?” The criminal’s taunts are hardly audible above the blood in Katriel’s ears, the pain screaming up at him from every fibre of his being. But as he hangs there, the fingertips of Death grazing his skin, his mind flashes to a memory.
A father bends over his son, the six year old’s fingers cold and fragile in his. Looking straight into his son’s eyes—the same gentle, earnest eyes of his mother—Rachamin begins to speak. “Katriel, listen to me. I do not take pleasure in punishing you, but it needed to be done. You were wrong to say those things to Omer. Your words hurt him very deeply. You know I still love you, don’t you?” The tiny head nodded. “But do you know who will love you even when it’s hard for me to love you well?”
“Who?”
“God. He will always love you. Even if you have nobody left to turn to, even when you’re scared he doesn’t want you anymore. He will love you. I want you to remember that. Will you do that for me?”
“Yes, Father. I’ll remember.” The man leans down and ruffles the child’s hair, a smile spreading across his face.
The memory fades and Katriel’s focus is drawn once more to the victim on the third cross. Still hurling insults, but the silent sufferer on the center cross does not reply.
Defend him. It overwhelms Katriel, even stronger than the pain emanating from his wrists and feet. He shouts with all his strength: “Quiet! That man has done nothing wrong, unlike you and I. Don’t you fear God? We’re all suffering the same sentence, but ours is fair. Now quiet. Leave him to die in peace.” Lowering his voice so only the man next to him can hear, Katriel whispers, “If you are the son of God, if you are the Christ, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
When he speaks, it is like Katriel’s heart is both broken and restored in one breath. “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
Katriel stops fighting. He breathes his last and the pain ends.

FOREVER

“Come in, my son. Be welcomed in my name.” The voice envelops the new arrival. Comfort, joy and awe fill his being, the reality of his new life abounding in his soul.
He gazes down at his hands in disbelief. No nails, no wounds. No remnant of the pain that was the passageway to paradise. He strokes his palm with a gentle finger—soft, like silk, tender.
New. Everything is new. He is new.
He looks up to the sky, yet somehow, he cannot define the border between earth and sky. Does it go on forever?
As though reading his thoughts, the voice wraps itself around him and whispers, “It does, my son. As do you. And I. Here, together, we shall go on forever.”