Jewish Disabilities Awareness – Spotlight 1

This is the first in a series of email blogs from folks who have a story to tell about the challenges and experiences of dealing with physical disabilities daily. We hope that through these stories we can show our families, friends and community that, while we deal with physical challenges every day, they don’t set us apart; they can bring us together. The human condition places challenges to overcome for all of us whether they are physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual.
If you are reading this blog and have a story of your own to tell, PLEASE write it down and send it to michael.pucci.phd@verizon.net.  We would be thrilled to include your story along with ours. If you have questions, you can email the address above or call Michael Pucci (914 262-1354).
Thank you to Allen Levinson for our first spotlight:
How I deal with blindness
levinson
As many of you know, I lost much of my vision 6 years ago. Since then, I have often been seen with a smile, working hard to invent and perfect “blind guy tricks.” The tricks are merely ways to maximize the use of my senses, as well as my memory and common sense, to help me “see.” This challenge is quite great, but I am able to work on it 24/7, and that’s what I do.  While my vision is severely impaired, I do have the ability, when the light is right, to see shadows, or silhouettes. That is why my sunglasses are always with me and used whenever I think they might be helpful. I lack central vision but my peripheral vision is often somewhat useful, though relying on it is very exhausting. Keeping my eyes closed for a period of time, or just a short nap, provides a respite from the persistent battle with eye strain.

To grapple with my limited visual world, I make greater use of hearing and touch, and occasionally, even a bit of sight. While many people presume that blind people have enhanced levels of these senses, that is often not the case for me. My tricks using these other senses are successful because of my increased focus, not greater capability. Some of these skills develop through instinct, more through notable attentiveness. Listening for sounds is important. Individuals have different footsteps. Among those with leather soles, men are always heavier- sounding than women, and children are in a class by themselves. If I hear you walk on a hard floor first thing in the morning, I’ll probably recognize you at lunch time. Rubber soles? Forget about it.  Voices and speech patterns are also clearly distinctive. If you introduce yourself to me often enough, eventually, I recognize your voice; a pleasant thing for both of us.  One of my new mottos, pertaining to the fact that I cannot, with confidence, discern the words or symbols “Men” or “Women” on a restroom door, is “thank God for urinals!” 😉  In fact, finding the restroom is at times a bit of a challenge, especially in a place where I have never been before. Even though there are many amusing stories about my escapades finding the right restroom, the question “Where is the restroom?” is easily answered by plenty of friendly waiters who are happy to direct me. Good luck asking the ensuing question on the return trip- “Where is my table?”! The important thing to remember, I’ve learned, is always look around and count the number of tables along the route to the restroom. Counting is always a very important tool.  Most notably, counting the number of steps on my way up a staircase and remembering that number on my way back down, is a great way to help keep me on my feet. If my companion leads, counts, and announces the number of steps, that is truly, as long as it is precise, very helpful. Another strategy that often leads to amusing outcomes is using my sense of touch. For example, it is not unusual to see me tapping my fingers around on the dining table until I find the salt shaker. Touch, in circumstances like this works quite well.  I’ve learned however, that an important area in which I can get in trouble using this technique is when “looking” at a woman!  😉   I can go on and on with anecdotes; hopefully, you have gotten at least a bit of the picture.

So, how can you be most sensitive to my needs? I think that the following observation applies to most all physically challenged people: remember we all want to work on our feelings of independence. Saying “Can I help you?” is always a thoughtful thing to do. When you hear “no” in response, don’t push. On some occasions, I don’t just say “no,” but rather “I don’t know,” followed by “if I can do it myself, I’d much prefer that. If I find I need help, I’ll ask you.” You can always help me most by using words, not by grabbing or otherwise touching me to guide me, and remembering that your words should not include gestures. “Over there” is rarely helpful. “Watch out” or “look out,” are for obvious reasons, not useful phrases when communicating with me. I feel least “exceptional” when I can be most like everyone else.

Thanks to all of you for your support and understanding. It is truly a mitzvah.
Wishing for all the best for all of us,
Allen Levinson

One response to “Jewish Disabilities Awareness – Spotlight 1”

  1. Ruth Hess says :

    You are amazingly positive, Allen, considering how you are coping with your disability! I cannot imagine what you are going through, and you seem to be doing it with “class.”

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