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Embracing Disability Through Self-Expression

Embracing Disability Through Self-Expression featured image description is in the body of the post.

Embracing Disability Through Self-Expression

I’ve always loved fashion and style. So when it came to my white cane I thought why not use it beyond its intended role? Why can’t it help express my inner sense of being, much like my hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, and jewelry?

~Abby
Abby & Gold Cane

Hi Everyone, Abby here! It’s been a while since I’ve last spoken with you. The boss lady (Steph) has me going hither and yon all while working behind the scenes. Today though, I want to talk about a topic near and dear to my heart―embracing disability through self-expression.

During my business trip to the UK, I met up with my friend Vicky (Victoria Claire) to accompany her to Dublin. As an Ambassador for Retina UK, Vicky serves to help people living with sight loss understand life is not over. She shares her message of hope through the 3 A’s―acceptance, adaptability, and accessibility.

Depending on the severity, acquiring a disability at any time during our lives can be a soul-crushing experience. There are a plethora of articles about the fear of blindness and how people feel it would end their life. It’s no wonder when we find ourselves in this very situation we balk and some of us give up. Granted, working through sight loss is a deeply personal ordeal and getting through it can be an ongoing process.

When we lose our eyesight it can feel like a small part of us is dying. Our whole world shifts and like a baby learning how to walk and talk, we have to learn to adapt. Sustaining a part of ourselves that’s familiar yet tweaked to our new life circumstance becomes a lifesaver.

Customized Colored Canes At Home & Across The Pond

For me, I’ve always loved fashion and style. So when it came to my white cane I thought why not use it beyond its intended role? Why can’t it help express my inner sense of being, much like my hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, and jewelry?

While there is some debate on using customized or more specifically colored canes, my canes are an extension of me. I believe what makes blind and visually impaired people stand apart from other cane users is our technique. Our canes are used to help us navigate by probing to let us know if there is an obstacle in our path. 

So it was fabulous meeting up with Vicky, both of us with canes in hand (hers black and mine gold). Both of us noticed a significant difference in how we were received by those around in our respective countries and Dublin. 

Here in the U.S., with the explosion of mobile devices, it seems like people aren’t really attentive to their surroundings in general. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Research Note “2016 pedestrian fatality count (5,987) is the highest number since 1990.”

In the UK when we were making our way through the airport people seemed to be oblivious to us using our canes. However, when we arrived at the Dublin airport the attitude was very different. It was immediately recognized that our mobility canes were for the blind.

Freedom To Express Ourselves

The hotel we stayed at was very lovely and had good lighting in the room, along with contrasting colors in the bathroom. We visited the Jameson Distillery which was really great and we also spent a lot of time walking. The River Liffey was well paved with decking and a nice and flat walk area for us.

When we went to the NewsTalk Radio Station Studio, they couldn’t have done enough for us. The conference, held in a large and well-lit conference room was very organized. Overall we had a great time in Dublin and I for one cannot wait to return one day soon. Vicky said it best:

The world can become a much more accessible place, somewhere we are all free to express ourselves and we are not stuck in a limiting space.

While I cannot speak for Vicky, I believe she would agree with me that those who choose to use the standard white cane rock as do we!

Embracing Disability Featured Image Description:

A futuristic image of a 3-D wire-frame female body rising through clouds with arms raised above her head. In the background, a silhouette of a mountain range can be seen peeping above the clouds.


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Inclusive Online Shopping & Fashion Technology

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 Inclusive Online Shopping & Fashion Technology

“Create inclusion – with simple mindfulness that others might have a different reality from your own.” 

~Patti Digh
Abby is on the job sitting cross legged in her PJs (gray bottoms & white top with a gray collar) with a teal Abby logo laptop on her lap. Sporting her signature explosive hairstyle, she is wearing a headset with microphone and her white cane is propped up next to her.

Recently Steph was asked to take part in a project on the accessibility of online fashion shopping. Collette Costello, creator of Kiku Girl Accessibility Fashion Technology Blog spoke with Steph and two others for comments. From the responses she received, Collette made a video on what makes a good inclusive online shopping experience.

Introduction

Abby: Hi Collette, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Can you tell our readers what Kiku Girl Accessibility Fashion Technology Blog is about?

Collette: My blog and Kiku Girl You-Tube Channel are about making the future of fashion and wearable technology more fun and accessible to young people. I started by looking at new technologies like 3D printed dresses and machines that fold your clothes for you. When I recognized a gap, I began to focus on how to make the world of fashion more inclusive by using technology. Ultimately a more inclusive fashion environment will lead to improving the online shopping experience for everybody.

Abby: I noticed on your ‘About‘ page that you educate women interested in STEM. What was the driving force behind your decision to work with this particular group?

Image is a simple black and white photo of a silver key approaching a black keyhole
Image #1

Collette: I’ve spent many years working in and lecturing about the fashion industry with an interest in the future of fashion and wearable technology. I found many of the designs for fashion technology clothing are not fashionable. There seemed to be this divide between the technology people and the people most interested in fashion—young women. This is because lots of young women don’t choose STEM careers and are more interested in creative subjects. I wanted to show that fashion technology could be fun, exciting, and inspiring. Should they desire, they could have a future career in STEM.  

Inclusion In Fashion & Beauty 

Abby: Historically the beauty and fashion industries are not inclusive. Have you noticed a shift in how these industries are looking at people with disabilities (PWDs) as a market segment?

Collette: The fashion industry is all about making money with mainstream products, and advertisements. The majority of which target the masses, not the individual. We’re beginning to see more niche markets with PWDs included in fashion advertisements. While this still more about making a statement, meanwhile, a quiet revolution of ordinary people is occurring. Beauty and fashion bloggers living with disabilities are defining what it means to have an interest in fashion and beauty.

A big issue is the more specialised an item of clothing the more expensive it is to make. With technological advancements such as 3D printing, it’s becoming cheaper to make more personalised products. Because of this,  we may see more fashion items for PWDs in the future.

Technology In The Lives Of PWDs

Abby: Technology is making a dramatic improvement in the lives of PWDs. Do you envision more employment opportunities within the field of fashion for PWDs because of some of the technological advances?

Collette: The focus at the moment is more about what fashion technology can do, like your bracelet turning into a phone. I began to feel the needs of the consumer were being compromised because everyone was so focused on the future. They weren’t looking at how the technology we have now can be used to benefit the user. This is the reason I made the “How Accessible is Fashion Shopping On-line?” video to highlight this issue.

I see accessibility as being the future of technology and it is this which I think will create employment opportunities for PWDs within fashion. Imagine PWDs working with fashion companies to make sure their websites, shops, and products are accessible and usable. Also, I think companies will gain a better understanding of disabilities and break down some of the prejudices around the hiring practices of PWDs.

Fashion Resource Recommendations

Abby: Can you recommend a few fashion resources for PWDs such as books, websites, designers, etc.?

Collette: A great blog that is giving style and beauty advice in the form of podcasts is Inclusive Style, they are pioneers in this area as I have never heard an audio fashion blog before. Blue Badge Style is another blog dedicated to highlighting accessible venues and products that are also stylish and fashionable. Open Style Lab is an organisation that design innovative clothing personal to each person’s disability, projects include speakers built into clothing to help people with speech problems, other ideas are using conductive fibers so wearers can control their wheelchairs by touching their pocket.

Abby: Thank you, Collette, for stopping by and taking the time to chat with me.

Inclusive Online Shopping Featured Image Description:

The image is twelve online shopping cart icons in various shades of blue and green. Each of the icons are square, circle and hexagon shaped.

Image #1:

The image is a simple black and white photo of a silver key approaching a black keyhole.

You can connect with Collette on:

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White Cane Guru Leads The Way To Independence

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White Cane Guru Leads The Way To Independence

Intro: We’ve got a real treat for you today! But first, (in hushed tones) can you promise to keep a secret? Okay, please don’t tell our interviewee that I’m a cartoon character or that he’s an inanimate object. Between you and me, apparently, he’s very touchy about the topic.

Introductions

Abby is on the job sitting cross legged in her PJs (gray bottoms & white top with a gray collar) with a teal Abby logo laptop on her lap. Sporting her signature explosive hairstyle, she is wearing a headset with microphone and her white cane is propped up next to her.Abby: Today, we are honored to be in the presence of Hawkeye a rising star in the world of white canes. Hawkeye, in light of your busy schedule it’s so lovely of you to join us. The first and most important question is this, what is your secret to keeping so trim and fit?

Hawkeye: Lots and lots of travelling!

Abby: Nice! I understand you travel quite extensively what’s it like being responsible for leading your vision impaired friend Cassie?

Hawkeye: It is an absolute honour to lead Cassie through her day. We get along so well now, in the beginning, it was tough. She was determined to prove that she didn’t need me despite the issues it was causing her. I’ve watched and helped her go from a struggling cane user to a confident cane user. It brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it.

Sweeping From Side To Side

Abby: I notice that you are a rolling ball white cane which means you use the constant contact cane technique. Can you explain how you function as a guide? 

Hawkeye: I guess you could say I get up close and personal with the ground. As a rolling ball white cane, I’m constantly in contact with the ground. This gives Cassie information as to what the ground surface is doing. She can feel whether the ground is starting to slope, or the ground surface has changed so she can adjust accordingly.

Abby: There’s been some controversy within the blind community on customized white canes. What are your views on different colored or decorated canes?

Hawkeye: It’s certainly a tricky one. I’ve been known to add some tinsel or some lights on myself at Christmas time. Other times I have added gold stars or other decorations depending on how I am feeling. I am all for personalisation but it can also complicate matters. When I am decorated it does make it harder at night time as my reflective tape can be covered up. So people/cars might not see me as well as what they would if I wasn’t decorated. It may also confuse the general public as well when colours are introduced as it is no longer a standard looking cane that they may recognise.    

Interactions With Humans

Abby: Some people who use white canes feel like they attract unwanted stares from passersby. What are your thoughts on questioning looks from people when you are out and about?

Hawkeye: I don’t understand why they stare, have they never seen a person with a cane before? It is one thing to do a quick stare but unnecessary to do a long obvious stare. How would they like it if someone was doing that to them? I sometimes feel I need a sign on me to say don’t worry I’m just a cane, I don’t bite.    

Abby: Since you take Cassie with you just about everywhere you go, how do people treat her when she is with you?

Hawkeye: Ahhh this is always an interesting one. We meet some amazing people along the way and some not so nice people shall we say. There are helpful people out there that will offer assistance to guide us around an obstacle, cross a busy road, find an entrance to a building or locate a building/street. You then get some mean people that will say hurtful things as we walk past. Other people find it to be a joke and will lie across in front of our path or wave their hands/objects right in front of Cassie’s face to try and get a reaction.

Abby: I suppose we will always encounter not so nice people. However, I have to believe amazing people greatly outnumber the unamazing folks.

Final Thoughts

Abby: As an ambassador for people around the world who use white canes, do you have any other words of wisdom?

Hawkeye: Embrace the cane! We are here to help you live an independent life.

Abby: There you have it folks straight from white cane guru himself. Hawkeye and his fellow white canes give one of the most precious gifts a person can receive—the gift of independence. Thank you again, Hawkeye for stopping by and helping us understand the importance of your role to people like Cassie and me.

White Cane Guru Featured Image Description:

Hawkeye is seen in the middle of a path lined with grass and trees on both sides. In this picture, our white cane guru looks like he is ready to take on the next challenge almost like a superhero.

You can catch up with Hawkeye on Instagram at @hawkeyestravels.

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Image & The Mystery Silhouette | Abby’s Reflections 35

Abby's Reflections 35 Featured Image Description is in the body of the post.

Image & The Mystery Silhouette | Abby’s Reflections 35

“Our image, or what we project to the outside world, is our essence and influences how others perceive us. Image is so much more than how we appear and it should come from a place of authenticity. It encompasses how we walk, talk, dress, and behave.”

Abby's Reflections 35 image description: Mystery silhouette is a gray symbol of a person with a round head atop a half circle representing shoulders.
Mystery Silhouette

Today I did a Facebook Live video about image or rather the default avatars on social media profiles. One can gather quite a bit of information from what is on or absent from a person’s profile. Depending on how you use social media, you will more than likely occasionally receive or send connection requests from/to strangers.

When using social media in a professional way one of the first things you’ll want to do is replace the default avatar with a photo. Personally, I prefer to use a headshot however the choice is up to the individual. Unfortunately, often, the default mystery silhouette or avatar is used instead of a photograph. While there could be legitimate reasons why someone would opt to keep the avatar I’d feel uncomfortable accepting these requests.

I think many people assume that image isn’t important in the digital age when nothing could be further from the truth. While we can connect with others in a meaningful way when we disregard the importance of our profiles we are selling ourselves short.

“No one is you and that’s your power!” ~Dave Grohl

Abby’s Reflections 35 Featured Image Description:

A gray, teal and white boldblindbeauty.com template uses the ‘Abby’s Corner’ image. Abby, sporting her signature explosive hairstyle is sitting cross-legged in her PJs (gray bottoms & white top with a gray collar). She is using her teal Abby logoed laptop with a headset/microphone and her white cane is propped up next to her.