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Traveling With Vision Loss & My Guide Dog Named Jewel

Featured image is described in the body of the post.

Editor’s Note:

Last year at the Daring To Own Your StoryTM women’s retreat I met some of the most amazing women. Through our shared experience of sight loss/blindness, the connections we made with one another were even more special. “Courage is contagious.” Courage is also unselfishly giving to enhance the lives of others. In my circle of friends, I’m surrounded by many courageous and resilient people one of whom is Marsha Bukala.

I met Marsha, and her beautiful guide dog Jewel at last year’s retreat in Park City, Utah. While Marsha credits Jewel with regaining her independence after losing her sight, make no mistake, this woman is a courageous activist. A wealth of knowledge, Marsha is constantly working on special community projects to make life better for those living with sight loss. Marsha is one of those rare gems who gives unconditionally and with Jewel by her side she is unstoppable!

Constantly on the go, Marsha enjoys many activities around leisure, volunteerism, and travel with her faithful companion Jewel. In today’s post, Marsha shares helpful travel advice for people with disabilities flying with and without guide dogs. To learn more about Marsha and Jewel’s story check out: “Guide dog leads to friendship.”

Preparing For Travel

Two years ago I went to Guide Dogs for the Blind to train with my first guide dog. Jewel and I have traveled to many places in the US since returning home on March 24, 2018. Here are some tips and tricks I have learned when traveling with her.  

  • Book Non-Stop: First, when traveling by air I try to book a nonstop flight if possible. The connection flight I took last year was a fiasco requiring an overnight stay to catch an early flight the next morning. It all worked out in the end but this reminds one to always make sure you have extra food for your guide dog.
  • Airline Accessibility Line: After booking a flight, I typically call the airline accessibility line to reserve my window seat. I have found the airlines to be quite accommodating to give us a seat with a little extra legroom if available.  
  • TSA Cares: Next, I call TSA Cares with my flight information. Guide Dogs for the Blind Travel Agency recommended this service when I flew to training and I have used the service ever since. Here is more info on this service: www.tsa.gov/videos/tsa-cares-traveling-guide-dog-0
  • Precheck: Also, I would recommend either Global Entry or TSA Precheck depending on your travel schedule. I have Global Entry which also includes TSA Precheck which speeds up getting through security. This is especially convenient at large international airports.
Jewel's image is described in the body of the post.

Facilities & Luggage

Marsha & Jewel Image is described in the body of the post.
Marsha & Jewel

Finding relief areas for our guide dogs is another area where I try to get as much information as I can before a trip. Some airports only have relief areas outside and they are typically by baggage claim areas. Other airports have indoor relief areas past the security checkpoints, however, Jewel refuses to them because of the smell of disinfectant. Here is an app I have used to locate relief areas in the airport: Working Like Dogs – Where to Go.

Depending on the length of my trip I either pack one suitcase for both of us or two individual bags. If Jewel’s items are in a separate bag it can be checked for free per the ADA regulations. However, Jewel’s bag cannot contain any of my personal items only her food, bed, toys, etc. I have found you have to go inside the airport to the counter for this fee to be waived. Some airlines are better trained in knowing this regulation and it can take a while to get them to check your bags. So I would recommend you allow for a little extra time. I typically pay for my other checked bag in advance online if that is available. This makes it easier than having to take out my state ID and a credit card.  

Also, if I am staying with family or friends on a longer trip I ship Jewel’s food to their home. That way, I only need to pack a couple of cups of food in my carry-on bag.    

Jewel’s Travel Necessities

Now for my backpack that I carry on the aircraft with me. Here is a list of items I typically carry on each flight for Jewel:

  1. Empty water bottle to fill after security
  2. High-value Treats
  3. A few bags of her food measured out in 1/2 cup bags (this makes it easier for me to track how much food she’s had that day).
  4. Nylabone
  5. Half of a yoga mat cut into two pieces (I put this on the floor space at my seat)
  6. Mat to put on top of the yoga mats (this is for Jewel’s comfort and familiarity as I use it at the gym and other places we go)
  7. Collapsible bowl 
  8. Poop bags

I limit Jewel’s food and water intake either the night before a flight if it is the next morning or the morning of the flight. It also depends on the length of the flight how much I cut back on her food. In addition, I try to take her on a long walk either the day before or the morning of a flight. The pre-flight exercise makes her settle in her floor space on the aircraft a lot easier and she’s become such a good traveler. Initially, she would not settle down until after take-off and again during landing, she was unsettled. Now she sometimes does not even want to get up once we land! However, a piece of kibble will get her moving! 

Arriving At The Airport

Once I get to the airport the TSA Cares agent helps me get through security. Since I typically always travel by myself, I ask them to also help me get to my gate. Along the way, I’ll ask the agent where I can fill up my water bottle, or if there’s a family bathroom. In my experience, TSA Cares have been very helpful every time. You can ask them if they have a comment card to complete on the service they provided. If they do not carry the form they will sometimes come back with one for you to complete. I typically have them read the questions and fill them out for me.

Once at the gate I find a seat as close to the gate agent as possible. I do this for a couple of reasons.

  • First, if there are any gate changes announced I cannot always hear the announcement clearly and I cannot read the monitors. So I can just ask the agent.
  • Also, I like to ask the agent if there are any other animals that will be on the flight. This brings up another concern of mine I will mention in closing.  
Jewel image is described in the body of the post.
Jewel

Boarding The Flight

I do early boarding and ask the flight attendant to give me a quick safety briefing before the main boarding starts. This also gives me time to get Jewel’s space set up and remove her harness handle so she is only wearing the leather vest. Then I put the handle and my backpack in the overhead compartment. Once we land I’ll ask one of the passengers in my row if they would get it down for me. I always sit in a window seat as I feel this is the safest place for us to be. 

When flying into an unfamiliar airport, I’ll ask the passenger sitting next to me if they are going to baggage claim. If so, I ask if I can follow them to pick up my checked bag. In a familiar airport, especially Orlando, Jewel can get me to baggage claim no matter which terminal we are in. I find this so incredibly amazing how she can remember such things along with where our hotel room is or a house we are staying at after going on a walk!  

Air Carrier Access Act

It takes extensive preparations to make air travel a positive experience for myself, Jewel, passengers, airport/airline staff. With this in mind, I’m concerned with proposed changes by the U.S. DOT (department of transportation) to the Air Carrier Access Act. The changes are an attempt to curtail people from bringing fake service dogs and emotional support animals on aircraft. However, in my opinion, the recommendations will not solve this problem.   

The proposed changes will add an undue burden to people with disabilities versus those who are traveling with illegitimate pets! I encourage guide dog handlers, their family and friends to voice their opinions. Comments need to be submitted by April 6, 2020. Here is a link to the proposed changes: transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/2020-02/Service%20Animals%20-%20NPRM.pdf. Also for those with Guide Dogs please check with your school on how they are responding to this change. Guide Dogs for the Blind sent all handlers a survey so we could incorporate our concerns in their response. They will be sharing it with us in the near future. Also, The Seeing Eye published their response on their website. www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/02/05/2020-01546/traveling-by-air-with-service-animals

I do hope for safe travels for all especially during this time of uncertainty with the virus outbreak.

Image Descriptions:

  • Header: Marsha is smiling and sitting next to Jewel with her left arm wrapped around her. Jewel is a gorgeous yellow lab with dark-rimmed eyes and an expressive face that always looks like she’s smiling. Marsha, wearing a hot pink tee, has shoulder-length blonde hair and has on eyeglasses. Both are on the patio with greenery in the background.
  • Solo photo of Jewel with her signature smile, facing the camera laying in front of the greenery.
  • Another photo of Marsha and Jewel posed similar to the header image, in an open area of the patio. In this picture, Jewel looks like she has something on her mind.
  • Close-up of Jewel’s face with a serious expression.
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What Makes A Hero?

Image is described in the body of the post

What Does Hero Mean to You?

“I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”

~Maya Angelou

Some days I can’t help but feel that I’m the luckiest person on the planet. Throughout my life, I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by heroes. I’m not talking about fictional heroes or those endowed with superhuman qualities although this could be dependent upon how these traits are being used. No, the types of heroes I’m referring to are those who practice humanitarianism as a way of life.

Those who give of themselves without the expectation of monetary gain or notoriety to me are extraordinary people. With these types of individuals, there is no ‘catch’ or deception because these folks see the world differently than the vast majority. Qualities like truth, integrity, compassion, empathy and the like are dominant characteristics in these people.

Last year, when my friend Carla Ernst died I felt a part of me died with her because Carla was one of my all-time heroes. She was an extraordinary person who believed in the mission of Bold Blind Beauty. On days when I doubted myself (there were many), she lifted me up and motivated me to continue pushing forward.

While Carla’s death knocked me off-kilter and I struggled mightily to honor her memory there were days grief threatened to devour me. Yet, it was at one of my lowest points another hero came into play. Her name is Nasreen Bhutta a woman I am honored to call my friend.

A Heroic Act Out of the Blue

I’ve known Nasreen for nearly two years and while we’ve periodically maintained contact she called me completely out of the blue. This act may not seem like much until I tell you she called me when she was on an extended stay in India.

I can’t remember exactly how our conversation went but I do remember what she said next: “Steph I like what you’re doing and I want to help.” Since I wasn’t prepared for this I was momentarily speechless. I mean, Nasreen was so emphatic and she wasn’t going to take no for an answer. My response—I cried. Without shame, I cried because here she was halfway around the world and she was compelled to reach out to me. By the way, I should probably mention that while Nasreen has been featured here before this will be her first time on the cover of B3 Magazine.

A lot has happened since Nasreen’s call last summer and I almost feel like I’m in a dreamlike state. This woman, who gives wholeheartedly and unconditionally, has become my right-hand person here at Bold Blind Beauty. Thank you, my friend!

Up until this past January Nasreen and I hadn’t even met in person. Yet the universe presented an opportunity for us to meet. Nasreen traveled from Toronto, Canada and I from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to meet up in New Jersey for a conference. What was true serendipity though was for the two of us to connect with some other amazing heroes.

It was in New Jersey where we met Melody Goodspeed (another friend who I’ve only previously known online). With Melody, an innocent conversation led to her excitedly becoming our new voice of Abby. Then there were others:

  • Cheryl Minnett
  • Tish Gelineau
  • Michael Moran
  • David DeNotaris
  • Tanner Gers
  • John McInerney
  • Jeff Wissel

The above is only a partial list of individuals who I consider heroes because of their commitment to improving the lives of others.

Who Is The Hero In Your Life?

If you pay close attention, there are an abundance of heroes all around us. And let’s not forget the most important hero—you!

It’s not your job to like me – it’s mine.”

~Byron Katie

Everyone isn’t going to like us and likewise, we aren’t going to like everyone. However to like/love anyone it has to begin internally and it’s no one else’s responsibility to do this for us but ourselves. My favorite speaker, author, researcher, Brené Brown says it this way: “Practicing selflove means learning how to trust ourselves, to treat ourselves with respect, and to be kind and affectionate toward ourselves.” Maybe real heroes understand that in order to love others they must have a healthy dose of self-love. So the next time you are in need of a hero…

Lyrics

There’s a hero
If you look inside your heart
You don’t have to be afraid
Of what you are
There’s an answer
If you reach into your soul
And the sorrow that you know
Will melt away

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

It’s a long road
When you face the world alone
No one reaches out a hand
For you to hold
You can find love
If you search within yourself
And that emptiness you felt
Will disappear

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you, oh, oh

Lord knows
Dreams are hard to follow
But don’t let anyone
Tear them away, hey yeah
Hold on
There will be tomorrow
In time you’ll find the way

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you
That a hero lies in you
Mmm, that a hero lies in you

Source: LyricFindSongwriters: Mariah Carey / Walter AfanasieffHero lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

Featured Image Description:

The B3 Magazine cover has a gray/white marbled background. The date & edition number, are in the upper right corner in black ink. Nasreen’s photo is aligned on the right margin with the background appearing on the top, bottom and left margin. In this photo, Nasreen, a pretty brunette with shoulder-length wavy hair is wearing a black pantsuit. She’s standing in the lobby of our hotel with a black shoulder bag on her left shoulder. “B3” is in large teal text and a teal-colored circle with Nasreen’s name and “Monthly Beauties” in white text. There are four 4-lines of black text on the image that reads “A Real-Life Hero Fierce, Fiery & Passionate For People.”

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Blind Beauty 81 | Catherine Harrison

Featured image is described in the body of the post.

“I am not the victim, the enemy or even the hero…I am the author of my dreams. I am not afraid to fall because I know how to rise with strength and dressed on point”.

~Catherine Harrison

While I’ve shared with you my frustrations on the pitfalls of social media, there is an equal amount of positives. One of those positives comes in the form of today’s featured Blind Beauty, Catherine Harrison.

I was introduced to Catherine by Vicky, a good friend of mine who lives in the UK. Vicky felt that Catherine would be an excellent feature on Bold Blind Beauty because of her line of work. Catherine is a Commercial Print Model by trade whose outer beauty is incomparable to her inner beauty. And believe me when I say this woman is gorgeous!

The Author Of Her Dreams

“Sassy blind southern gal encouraging bold strength while swinging a cane & in high heels”

Catherine harrison

During our first telephone conversation, I learned that Catherine was a Registered Nurse prior to her sight loss. When her eyesight worsened to the degree she could no longer be effective in nursing she chose a different career path. What struck me most about Catherine, aside from her humanity, is how warm, funny, and down to earth she is. I guess the saying “Everything’s bigger in Texas” is true because as a proud Texan Catherine’s personality is stellar! The above quote from her Instagram profile should have been a clue as to who she is. And make no mistake, Catherine “KNOWS” who she is and she shares her inspirational wisdom with others. A very well-rounded individual, following are some of Catherine’s hobbies/skills that include:

  • Weight training/working out,
  • Waterskiing
  • Snow skiing
  • Public speaking
  • Writing
  • Ballet
  • Western horseback riding
  • Handgun shooting
  • Social media marketing
  • Event planning and fundraising

Catherine also spends a great deal of time giving back to the community in numerous capacities. From serving on numerous boards and committees to major fundraising activities, Catherine is the epitome of a warrior of change.

Stay tuned to learn more about Catherine when she will be featured in Women On The Move in January 2020!

Connecting With Catherine:

Image Descriptions:

  • Photo credit Julia Wagner at Feather and Root Photography.
  • Featured image is a faux fashion magazine cover titled Blind Beauty. With short blonde hair and mesmerizing green eyes, Catherine is on the cover wearing a stunning red keyhole top. The neckline on the sleeveless top is cut to partially expose Catherine’s shoulders. Blocks of text superimposed on Catherine’s photo are: “Bold–She Keeps Pressing Onward, Blind–She Has Deeper Insight, Beautiful–She Sees To The Heart Of Others.” “Real Beauty Transcends Barriers.” “Makeup Trends for 2019–How To Maintain A Flawless Look”
  • A gallery of 5 photos from a professional shoot:
    • Catherine is rockin’ her white cane in a chic blue halter dress.
    • Another white cane photo, this one in black & white. Catherine is in her red keyhole top, white leggings, and white heeled sandals.
    • Catherine in the blue halter dress and wedge sandals is posed against a wooden column.
    • In this white cane photo, Catherine is wearing a white long-sleeved keyhole dress.
    • The last photo is a close-up headshot of the third photo.
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Blind Beauty 80 | Eliana Mason

Featured image is described in the body of the post.

“Disability does not mean inability” 

Introduction:

Since my relationship with sports is practically non-existent, I’m sadly out of the loop when it comes to any sports-related activities. However, I greatly admire women—and particularly women with disabilities—who are kicking @$$! I’m especially thrilled each time I have the opportunity to present one of these women on Bold Blind Beauty.

Today, I’m excited to introduce you to Eliana Mason, a young woman I’ve only recently met. When I saw her flip a 400-pound tire, I thought “I’ve got to meet this lady.” Like many women featured here, Eliana’s passion to change how people with disabilities are viewed is palpable. She’s a phenomenal woman who already is and will continue to accomplish amazing things in her life.

Blind Beauty 80 | Eliana Mason

Lima 2019 Throwing Photo is described in the body of the post.
Lima 2019 Throwing Photo

When I was growing up people always used the word “inspiration” to describe my accomplishments. This word frustrates me because you shouldn’t find it inspiring that someone with a visual impairment graduated high school, has friends, has a job, or plays sports. This should be the norm.

If you treat individuals with disabilities differently and as if they are incapable, then that is how they are going to view themselves and act. It is important we empower individuals with disabilities by not seeing them as ‘other’ or treating them differently but simply acknowledging that everyone faces personal struggles and overcomes them in their own ways. We all have challenges in our lives, just being visually impaired means everyone you meet knows what your challenges and struggles are.

We need both sighted, blind and visually impaired individuals alike to work together to change how blindness is understood and viewed. Don’t tell me I am your inspiration for doing something that is the norm. It is okay to tell someone they are inspiring, but it should be for something that is worth that acknowledgment.

I am an athlete and play on the Paralympic National Women’s Goalball Team representing Team USA. I found my identity and confidence through sports and wouldn’t be who I am today without adaptive sports.

Most people have never heard of the Paralympics, they are parallel to the Olympic Games, except they are for athletes with any type of physical disability. Goalball is a sport geared specifically to blind athletes and it has allowed me to excel as an athlete, to train, and compete at an elite level without my vision being a limitation. I am currently training full-time to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games next year in the hopes of bringing home a gold medal.

Being an athlete empowers me and makes me feel strong and beautiful. Strength is beauty to me and working hard to reach a goal is what pushes me every day to be better than I was yesterday. When I am a Paralympic gold medalist, then you can tell me I am an inspiration, after I’ve accomplished something that is inspiring and extraordinary. Until then, recognize that I am no different than you, and that I am capable and able to accomplish anything I set my mind to, just like you. 

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured image is a faux fashion magazine cover titled Blind Beauty. The event was of the Team USA Red Carpet 2016. Eliana is on the cover standing on the red carpet wearing a red dress and gold sandals. Pretty Eliana who has honey blonde hair just below her shoulders. She is wearing a bronze medal around her neck and behind her is a dark gray backdrop with the Team USA logo and logos of company sponsors. Blocks of text superimposed on Eliana’s photo are: “Bold–She Keeps Pressing Onward, Blind–She Has Deeper Insight, Beautiful–She Sees To The Heart Of Others.” “Real Beauty Transcends Barriers.” “Makeup Trends for 2019–How To Maintain A Flawless Look”
  • Lima 2019 Throwing Photo is an action shot of Eliana preparing to throw the ball.