MY WRITING ESSENTIALS LIST

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing, that’s why we recommend it daily.” — Zig Ziglar

Like taking a bath, brushing our teeth and drinking water, adopting regular habits that promote a healthy lifestyle not only improves our health–physical, mental, emotional and spiritual–but can also help us maximize our productivity.

With that said, here is another list, and another happy Rhianna. [Okay, I’m always happy when I blog, but you know my thing for lists!] These are my six writing essentials, my must-haves that kick up my motivation, get my writing fingers in gear and make writing a little easier and a lot more caffeinated.

I. BrailleSense U2

My first foray into the world of braille notetakers for the blind was in the fourth grade when I received my first PacMate from Freedom Scientific. With a refreshable, 20-cell braille display, it became home to my earliest writings—stories about my crushes and my journal of the houseboating trip my family took two summers later. In middle school, I upgraded to the BrailleNote Apex from Humanware,similar in that it used a refreshable braille display and was a fully functional unit, but with more advanced features.

And since grade 11, I have used the BrailleSense U2 by Hims Inc., which I have lovingly nicknamed George.

Braille is not merely a method of reading and writing for me; it’s freedom, independence and a love I can’t quite articulate. Reading words with my fingertips shows me a world I can’t touch through audio; it’s tactile, real, and the words come alive for me in a way they can’t do any other way. Whether reading someone else’s words or writing my own, it needs to be in braille. I focus better, I edit better, and I believe that I write better when the words trying to escape my brain have a physical outlet beneath my fingers.

But these devices are far from affordable. Often in the thousands, I find it tragically ironic that assistive technology is often too expensive for the very people its created to serve. That’s why I’ve held onto George for as long as I can, but his time is coming to an end. The BrailleSense U2 is no longer supported by the manufacturer, many of the functions I rely on stopped working a long time ago and mine has developed an eerie rattle. But I can’t buy a new one like I could a new notebook [something I’ve always longed to be able to write in].

This is why I have a GoFundMe campaign to raise financial support to purchase a new computer. You can read about my funraiser for a QBraille XL here and I’d appreciate any support so I don’t ever have to write without my beloved braille computer, George. Because yes, every braille computer has been and always will be called George!

II. My Couch/Bed

I’ve been told time and time again that my two favourite places to write are bad for my back—and it is, awful, in fact. But I can’t escape it. The familiarity, comfort and safety they bring allow my brain to relax and let my imagination and words flow.

My bed and my couch are my two havens of comfort and coziness. I find that I am most productive here, wrapped up in a blanket and surrounded by pillows. It’s the perfect recipe for a happy Rhianna.

I can write in coffee shops, on airplanes and wherever else I happen to be, but by far, these two spots are for me, my words, and of course, my dog [because he has to be comfy too, right?]

III. Music

Not a unique item for a list of writing essentials, but as I am rarely without music as it is, it is even moreso when I’m writing. Whether it’s blasting on my Amazon Echo Dot or in my headphones, there is always music around me.

I have written with almost everything from country tunes to acapella hymns on repeat in the background. One of the key words there is repeat; I do have to listen to songs on repeat or else my mind derails and I get distracted in the story, the rhyme, the instrumentation or whatever else my brain desires to use as an excuse for not writing. With songs on repeat, I don’t have to guess at what’s coming up, and if the song inspired my writing, it’ll continue to do so as long as I play it over and over and over again. Apologies to anyone in advance who ever wants to write with me!

IV. Coffee/Water

Before the last few weeks, this item would have only listed coffee. But I’ve been re-inspired to drink more water, so now coffee has to share the spotlight.

I recently bought this half-gallon water bottle with time markings and I carry it with me everywhere. I make it a habit to drink one bottleful before bedtime, and though I can’t see the time markings, which say things like “almost there” when the line reaches 7 PM, I find it motivating to push me on. Water helps keep me healthy and energized, and besides, I get the bonus of having a water bottle in my favourite colour—green [the pink was a somewhat unfortunate side effect].

But that can’t detract from my love of coffee. Hazelnut creamer is a staple in the fridge, and I know the way to the shops that serve hazelnut lattes like I know my own house. Yes, I love the taste, but coffee is also a comfort drink that brings me back to memories of people I love. And yes, I’m drinking a hazelnut latte as I write this. Would you expect anything else?

V. My Blog

In college, I heard a story about the lecturer’s two daughters; when they were small and on a family hike, the mother tried to motivate them to reach the top, but knew that each daughter was motivated by something different. For one, it was chocolate, and for the other, it was a few dollars. I don’t remember the point beyond the commentary that a person is either externally or internally motivated, but it stuck with me.

Like the two daughters, I am externally motivated. Money and chocolate both work, but another force I’ve found to be incredibly adept at motivating me is my blog.

Seeing my words, alive on the page and being read by others is magnetic, a strong, unrelenting pull that encourages me on when I get discouraged. Hitting “Publish” on a post gives me an adrenaline rush that I can’t quite describe, like the moment my feet lifted off the ground in my Hawaiian vacation paragliding expedition. That feeling alone is worth writing for.

VI. My Why

When I was a kid, I wrote because it was fun. I could make animals talk and do things that I couldn’t do. Later, I wrote because I was told that I had a talent for it, a skill that if I honed, could take me places. And in the awkward years between teenager and emerging adult, I wrote because of the question that niggled at the back of my mind, the one that whispered, “what if you can’t do anything else?” That’s not to say that I didn’t love writing, that I wasn’t head over heels for the craft or the way words on a page could say what I couldn’t out loud.

But it wasn’t until after I started blogging that I began to write for myself. I finally found my why, the “thing” that I wrote for, the pull, the draw, the passion that moved me to get up each and every day and write, even if no one would read it [or even if they might one day]. It’s what I lived for, what I longed to bring to life and what satisfied me in a way not much else has ever done.

I found my why, and without it, there’s no reason to write. That is an essential I never go into a project without, because it’s the only thing that makes the words live and breathe and make them worth writing.

What are your writing essentials? Are you externally or internally motivated to pursue your dreams? What keeps you going? Tell me in the comments.

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.

MY BLIND GIRL ESSENTIALS LIST

If writing is like my Daddy’s homemade pancakes for Sunday dinner, making lists are the maple syrup I drown them in.

I make lists for everything–to-do lists, grocery lists, clothing inventory lists, even lists to organize my lists. Yes, I am that person. My brain thrives on it to keep me organized, and… it’s fun!

So, I thought it might be fun to share a list with you of the six things that are essential for my life as a blind woman. This is of course, not a comprehensive list and not meant to speak for all blind and visually impaired people, but these are the things that make my life a little [or a lot] easier and I cannot live without. Here we go!

I. My Guide Dog

Arguably the most important thing on an essentials list for any blind or visually impaired individual is a mobility aid. For many, this is a white cane like this one that I own from The Braille Superstore. For others, a guide dog is their aid of choice. Some rely more heavily on the assistance of others through the use of sighted guide, a technique wherein the sighted person offers guidance by having the blind individual hold their elbow. And for others still, their remaining vision is enough to see them safely about—visual impairment is a spectrum and not every person with an impairment needs a mobility aid.

In becoming blind at six, I was taught to use a white cane. I learned various techniques for maneuvering through my environments, both at school, in my neighbourhood and in the broader community. The skills one learns with a white cane are invaluable, and are necessary if, like me, you wanted to transition to working with a guide dog.

Now, I work with a guide dog, and it is only thanks to the dedication of my orientation and mobility [O&M] instructors and my own perseverance that I’m here. For me, a guide dog is undoubtedly the best decision for my mobility needs, but it is not for everyone. However, having a reliable mobility aid is non-negotiable for the safety of a blind individual.

II. My iPhone

My iPhone is an invaluable part of my life, and not merely for entertainment purposes. Sure, I play my fair share of Battleship on Blindfold Sea Battle, but it is a vital tool for my independence, safety and wellbeing.

There are several apps that I use on a daily basis to be more independent and self-sufficient and help my life to run a bit smoother on the whole. These range from apps that offer sighted assistance for varying tasks, to navigation, and apps with AI [artificial intelligence].

Here are three apps that I use daily and would be lost without:

  • Seeing AI — This app has so many features that I love. Being fully blind with no light perception, I make regular use of the Light channel which outputs a tone which increases in pitch when pointed in the direction of more light and decreases when it becomes darker. This is awesome for knowing if I’ve left my lights on by accident! This app is also how I take my own photos, as after I snap a picture, Seeing Ai describes the photo for me–for example, when taking a photo of my dog on his bed, the app has said, “A dog lying on a rug.” Seeing AI has the capability of reading product labels and pages of text, making it handy for distinguishing between food cans, boxes and packages or incoming mail. For all these features and lots more, it is on the homescreen of my phone for quick access.
  • Moovit — This is a navigation app that helps me to feel confident in planning travel on public transit independently. Enter your starting location and a destination, and the app maps out the route, including all stops and arrival/departure times. While on the bus, you can monitor which stops you are passing, making it easy and efficient to get off at the correct stop. It’s fully accessible for blind users and is my main navigation tool when out and about.
  • Microsoft SoundScape — Another navigation app, SoundScape assists me while out on a walk by calling out the names of the streets I pass and the intersections I’m approaching. It can mark locations that you travel to regularly, and will describe your immediate surrounding and any landmarks in the vicinity such as parks, schools or community buildings. This app has saved me on more than one occasion when I’ve been out walking and gotten myself turned around; I use the app’s descriptions of my location to reorient to the correct direction and continue on safely. An absolute must-have!

III. A Perkins Braille Writer

Braille is an essential part of many blind individuals’ lives. However, it may surprise you to know, and saddens me to no end, that “fewer than 10 percent of the 1.3 million people who are legally blind in the United States are braille readers.” In my life, I’ve come to adore braille, finding it absolutely essential in becoming independent. It promotes literacy skills and gives me greater access to education.

Having a way to produce braille is a very important part of my life as a blind woman. While in school, I used a Perkins braille writer like this one but only recently received one of my own through CNIB [Canadian National Institute for the Blind]. Nothing makes me quite as happy as the satisfying sound of braille being impressed onto the paper by my own fingers and then being able to instantly read pages of handwritten braille… it gives me chills.

IV. My Braille Bible

Because of my love for braille, a hard-copy, braille Bible definitely has a place on my essentials list. My first Bible was this 37-volume item produced by Lutheran Braille Workers, but after years of wear and tear and flattened dots, I now read this beautiful, hard-cover Bible in New King James translation. It’s big, inconvenient to store and nearly impossible to take along outside the house, but I find it easier and more enjoyable to read in this fashion rather than simply listening on audio–it’s a more immersive experience and something I wouldn’t trade for the world.

V. Tactile Dots

While seemingly small, tactile dots play a significant role in my day to day life. These dots, varying in their size, texture and shape, are used in a multitude of ways. From marking the buttons on my microwave, to the temperature controls on my oven, to the cycles of my washer and dryer, these dots are invaluable. I’ve found them at stores dedicated to adaptive equipment for the blind, or simply at the local dollar store. They needn’t be anything fancy, but without them, I’d be lost and much more dependent than I like to be.

VI. Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain which helps to regulate the wake-and-sleep cycle. Because light intake is directly related to melatonin production, totally blind individuals like myself often struggle with keeping a steady circadian rhythm. Struggling with sleep as a preteen, my ophthalmologist recommended I take a melatonin supplement each night to help keep my sleep pattern on track, and I’ve taken it every night since.

As a teenager, I came close to having Non-24-Hour Sleep Wake Disorder, a condition that “causes sleep and wake times to get pushed progressively earlier or later, usually by one or two hours at a time. Over days or weeks, the circadian rhythm becomes desynchronized from regular daylight hours.” It’s a very disruptive sleep disorder and taking melatonin nightly is how I’ve maintained a sleep schedule which keeps me functioning at my best. Though melatonin affects every person differently, I’ve found absolutely essential to my health and wellbeing, and I’m lost without it. I personally recommend Nature’s Harmony, though keep in mind that I speak only from personal experience and have no medical background. This is merely what works best for me.

There you have it, my blind girl essentials list! I hope you had fun reading, because believe me, I had more fun than you’d think writing this list for you!

So, what’s on your essentials list? Let me know in the comments.