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Really?

My dog got carded last week. Not at Hackney’s, don’t be silly. Everyone there knows Whitney is 21 (in dog years).

Idcard

My Seeing Eye dog Whitney was carded last week in the lobby at 30 N. Michigan, a Chicago high-rise where my doctor’s office is. Every human who walks in has to show an i.d. card, but this is the first time they’ve asked for an i.d. to prove that the superbly-trained three-year-old Golden Retriever/Labrador Cross who guides me through a revolving door, into their lobby, around their desk and onto the elevator is legit.

The building’s security guard told me they’d all been told to ask for certification when anyone comes into the building claiming the dog at their side is a service dog. “A lot of them fake it,” the guard said with a shrug. I wasn’t surprised. I’ve written posts here about people I’ve run into who pretend to have a disability in order to bring their dogs everywhere, and my husband Mike has written a post about this, too.

Let’s face it. It’s not hard to tie a vest on a dog, and it’s pretty easy to get fake certification for a dog as well. It’s not easy to live with a significant disability, however, and faking that you have one is an insult to everyone who really needs their dog, and to the airlines, hotels, restaurants and stores who are trying to do what’s right.

Last week National Public Radio (NPR) ran a story called Four-legged Impostors Give Service Dog Owners Pause and interviewed Tim Livingood, a man running one of the many,many businesses you can find on line that sells bogus service dog certificates and vests:

For $65, customers can procure papers, patches and vests to make their dogs look official. They can even buy a prescription letter from a psychiatrist after taking an online quiz. The laws are broad enough to allow that, Livingood says. While his business, the National Service Animal Registry, sounds official, he says government-sanctioned registration agencies do not exist — federal law does not actually require registration or identification patches.

It’s true. There is no national registry of service dogs, and therefore no official i.d. to certify that a dog qualifies. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) allows employees to ask a person if the dog is a service dog, and if the dog is required because of a disability. Documentation of the person’s disability or the dog’s training can NOT be required for entry into a business, but non-disabled amateurs think letters from bogus psychiatrists and dog vests will help them look legit, so they buy them online.

The Seeing Eye gives graduates an i.d. card for our dogs, and while I do carry Whitney’s i.d. card with me, I’ve never had to use it before last week. It wasn’t much trouble to fetch Whitney’s i.d. out of my wallet, I’m just sorry that fakers have brought us to the point where the managers at the building require security guards to ask for such things.

It is a privilege to go through life without a significant disability, and I wouldn’t wish blindness, or any other disability, on my worst enemy. Hearing stories like these, however, start me thinking we should come up with harsher punishments for people who fake or exaggerate disabilities in order to gain privileges from the government.

Buy him some peanuts and Crackerjack

Here’s one last post I prepared before taking off for my residency at the Vermont Studio Center. Baseball season is finally here, and when I asked my friend Bob Ringwald to write a guest post about his love for the game, he willingly agreed.My brother Doug introduced me to Bob Ringwald years ago — they’re both jazz musicians, and they play together from time to time. Bob is blind, and it sounds like he’s looking forward to baseball season as much as – maybe even more than? – I am!

Take me out to the ballgame

by Bob Ringwald

The New York Giants moved to San Francisco In 1958, and that’s when I became a Giants fan. I was at a game at Candlestick park on a day when Willie Mays hit four home runs! But in the 60s and 70s, after Willie Mays left the Giants, I was working 6 and 7-nights a week as a musician. I had no time to follow baseball.

We moved to Los Angeles in 1979. One night I happened to decide to listen to a Giants – Dodgers game on the radio, and that was it: Vince Scully, the amazing Dodger play-by-play announcer, won me over. He is the best I have ever heard, and believe me, I’ve heard a lot of baseball announcers. I became a dyed-in-the wool Dodger fan.

We moved back to Northern California some 18 years ago, but I’m still a Dodger fan. I bleed Dodger Blue. Dodgers games are not heard this far north in Sacramento, but I can listen to the games using my computer on MLB dot com.

That's Bob--Molly's dad--announcing the lineups (reading from a Braille lineup card) at Dodger Stadium.

That’s Bob–Molly’s dad–announcing the lineups (reading from a Braille lineup card) at Dodger Stadium.

When we were still living in Tinsel Town, the Dodgers had a promotion once where you wrote in which baseball job you’d like to do: hang with the grounds crew, drag the base path during the 7th inning, sit with the sports writers and write your own story, hang out with the umpires, that sort of thing. I wrote a letter saying that I wanted to be the Public Address announcer. I knew someone in the P.R. department, so I handed the letter to him. That way it wouldn’t get lost in the thousands of letters I knew might come in.

On July 27, 1991 I used my Braille skills to announce the lineup for a Los Angeles Dodgers – Montreal Expos game. Guess I passed the audition: they invited me to announce the players as they came up to bat in the bottom of the 3rd inning, too, and when I put a little extra English on my announcement of Darrell Strawberry’s name, the 50,000 people in the stands went crazy. What a sense of power!

Later I was invited to go out onto the field at Dodger Stadium to see what the pitcher’s mound, bases, base path and home plate really felt like. I jumped up against the center field wall like a big league outfielder. I picked up the phone they answer in the bullpen when managers call from the dugout. I sat in the Dodger dugout alongside the famous drinking fountain that angry players have been known to destroy with their bats, and, as if that wasn’t enough, I also had the honor to sit in Vince Scully’s chair in the press box. My tour that day ended in the Dodger exercise room. Legendary Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda was on the treadmill, and we had a very interesting chat.

In the early 80s, my daughter, actress and author Molly Ringwald, sang the National Anthem at several Dodger games. Fernando Valenzuela gave her a signed baseball. Another time she was given a baseball signed by all of the 1981 World Series Championship Dodgers. I proudly display those autographed baseballs in my office.

From time to time people ask me, “If you can’t see the action, why would you want to go to the game when you could just as easily be at home listening to it on the radio?” I sometimes answer by saying “Why would you want to go to the game when you can see the action better, close up, at home on TV?” I do take a portable radio to the game to hear the play by play. But there is something more. There is the electricity of the crowd, the sound of the ball hitting the bat and mitt, the P.A. announcer, the venders selling programs, ice-cream, peanuts and other assorted goodies. And of course at Dodger Stadium there are the famous Dodger Dogs. Dodger Dogs are just regular Farmer John hot dogs. But, once you walk through the turn styles of the ball park, they become a gourmet repast.

Care to guess where I’ll be later today? Yes . . . . we’re traveling 400 miles south from Sacramento to Los Angeles to attend the Dodgers vs. Giants opening day game at Dodger Stadium. Care to take a guess which team I’ll be rooting for???

You can check out more photos of Bob’s baseball days on his web site. Play ball!

On the air again, and on the road again, too

Sound the trumpets! Here’s something I never dreamed would happen to me: I’ve been awarded a writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts! Mike, Whitney and I take off today for a couple days vacation in Canada, and on Sunday morning Mike will rent a car and drive Whitney and me from Montreal to Johnson, Vermont. Thanks to fellow writer Jeff Flodin, who encouraged me to apply for this fellowship, I’ll be spending the entire month of April with 50 other poets, visual artists and writers at the Vermont Studio Center, where I hope to make some progress on a manuscript I’ve been working on.

That manuscript is about all I’ve learned leading memoir-writing classes for senior citizens here in Chicago, and I got the perfect sendoff yesterday afternoon: Chicago Public Radio aired a piece on All Things Considered featuring the writers in my Wednesday class. WBEZ has been doing a special series on what was going on in people’s lives the year they turned 25: scientific studies have shown that the frontal cortex area—which governs judgment, decision-making and impulse control—doesn’t fully mature until around age 25, which can make that year a transitional one for many people. After hearing a few Chicago celebrities interviewed on WBEZ about their 25th year, I assigned “Being 25” as a topic for my own celebrities, the writers in my classes. From the WBEZ web site:

In this installment of the Year25 series, WBEZ Producer/Reporter Lauren Chooljian visits a memoir writing class for senior citizens at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Their assignment? To write 500 words about where they were at 25.

Lauren stopped by to hear their essays and talk to the students about their stories. She came to find out their teacher, writer Beth Finke, also had quite a story to tell about her 25th year. It was not only the year she was married, but it was the last year she could see. Finke has been completely blind since she was 26 years old.

Wedding day, July 28, 1984, photo by Rick Amodt

If you missed hearing the piece on the radio yesterday, never fear: you can still hear it online. Mike will fly home from Burlington this Sunday after dropping Whitney and me off in Vermont, and he has generously offered to keep up the Safe & Sound blog while I’m away. You’re in good hands.

All for now, folks: we gotta plane to catch!

Our beloved worlds

Blind justiceDid you catch John Stewart interviewing Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the Daily Show? Hear her interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition? Latino USA? Her memoir was published a few weeks ago, and I think the only day she’s had away from the book tour since then was Monday, January 21: that’s the morning she swore Vice President Biden in for his second term.

The reviews I’ve read of My Beloved World mention young Sonia growing up in a tiny Bronx apartment with her Puerto Rico-born parents, her father’s early death, her mother’s hard work, her beloved grandmother, and her appreciation for affirmative action. One reason she gave for writing the memoir was that so many people identify with different pieces of her story. She thought perhaps writing about her path to the Supreme Court might give them hope.

But, alas, very little of her story that I identify with most was mentioned during her book tour. You may not know this, but Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was eight. I was diagnosed with Type 1 at age seven. With all the press coverage she’s had the past couple of weeks, the only thing I found that dealt with ways Sotomayor’s early diabetes diagnosis may have influenced some of her life decisions was in an article in the Charlotte Observer. The paper revealed that the chronic disease nearly killed her, and that one of the reasons Sotomayor never had children was that she was afraid she wouldn’t be around to raise them. I know what she means. Here’s an excerpt about my high school years From my own memoir, Long Time, No See:

In 1972, at the beginning of freshman year, I was admitted to the hospital twice, both times via the emergency room, both times close to coma. In the first episode, I could still talk when we arrived there, but the second time, Flo found me in a heap on the basement floor and dragged me, a hundred pounds of dead weight, up the stairs and out the back door and into the car. During that second hospitalization, my doctor, exercising his version of bedside manner, declared that I wouldn’t live past age thirty.

I was 14 years old when that happened, and my doctor then couldn’t have known about the diabetic advances around the corner. Fast-acting insulin, diabetic educators and home blood monitoring methods came along too late to save my eyesight, but those advances, along with my husband Mike’s willingness to learn about the disease and motivate me to stay well, have kept me happy and healthy far longer than my Nostradamus pediatrician and I could have expected.

The Charlotte Observer article reported that monitoring her health has become second nature to Sotomayor now, and that she gives herself insulin injections five or six times a day. Me, too! Justice Sotomayor told the reporter that she no longer worries she will die young. “When I reached 50, I was able to let go of that demon,” she said. “But not without recognizing its benefits. It drove me in a way that perhaps nothing else might have to accomplish as much as I could as early as possible.” I know what she means. Justice Sotomayor’s memoir ends when she is named to the Supreme Court; mine ends when we move to Chicago. And hey, with more advances in diabetes around the corner, watch out, world. Sonia and I are just getting started.

A triathlete in more ways than one

Remember my last post, the one where I wrote about all the young people in my 2010 Seeing Eye class using talking iPhones? Eliza Cooper was one of those young Seeing Eye classmates, and the very day I published that post last week she was featured in a story on Marketplace from American Public Media. The story was all about, guess what? Smartphones for blind users.

The story opened with reporter Meg Kramer explaining the many ways blind users find standard smartphones so helpful. “A phone’s camera can identify money and read text, and GPS navigation tells blind users where they are and what’s nearby,” she said. “Screen readers are second nature for someone like Eliza Cooper, Who has been using the technology since elementary school.” The reporter goes to expert Eliza for details about mobile accessibility, and then listeners follow along to observe how Eliza uses her iPhone as she packs for a trip with her Seeing Eye dog Harris.

This guy look familiar? He’s my retired dog Harper’s bro!

I liked Eliza Cooper from the minute we met at the Seeing Eye. She’s a talented drummer, an we had a ball jamming together at weekend parties during class. When we discovered her dog Harris is Harper’s brother, we knew it was destiny. We had to continue working together after graduation.

Eliza is a social media consultant, and I hired her for a few months back in 2011 to learn new ways to use my Twitter feed and my Facebook fan page. She’s come a long way, baby, since then. She picked up three new consulting clients last year and completed a number of short-term projects in social media and web consulting in 2012 as well. And get this–after completing her first two triathlons (you read that right, two triathalons) last summer, she began blogging for the Huffington Post about her experiences as a blind triathlete. Eliza also appeared in a profile in Triathlete Magazine last year and was featured as a triathlete in an ad for Volkswagen, too.

And now, she’s started 2013 with a bang, too. Her Marketplace story is called “Building a Better Smart Phone for Blind Users” and you can still hear it online. It aired in time for the annual Consumer Electronics show this past week and was heard on public radio stations nationwide. Go to Eliza’s blog to find out more about the Marketplace interview and learn more about her interest in social media strategy and management. Go, Eliza, go!

Wanna win an Oscar? Play a character with a disability

I turned the radio on just in time last Friday to hear Fresh Air’s movie reviewer David Edelstein say The Sessions ( a new semi-fictional movie about the life of a writer paralyzed below the neck from childhood polio) was better than some of the other “disability-of-the-week Oscar-bait” pictures he’d seen.

Cynical? Maybe. His statement does have merit, though. Take Al Pacino. He never won an Oscar for any of The Godfather movies, but when he portrayed a blind man doing the tango in Scent of a Woman? Woo-hah! Best actor.

Dustin Hoffman won an Oscar for RainmanRain Man, Daniel Day-Lewis for My Left Foot, JohnJon Voight for Coming Home. Marlee Matlin won best actress for Children of a Lesser God, and plenty of actors and actresses have been nominated, too: Russell Crowe was nominated for best Actor in A Beautiful Mind, Salma Hayek was nominated for best actress in Frieda, Mary McDonnell was nominated for best actress in Passion Fish and Judi Dench for best supporting actress in Iris. Disability-focused movies are nothing new. Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has enough of them in their collection to spend the entire month of October exploring the ways we have been portrayed in film. From the TCM web site:

The Projected Image: A History of Disability in Film features more than 20 films ranging from the 1920s to the 1980s. Each night’s collection will explore particular aspects, themes, or types of disability, such as blindness, deafness and psychiatric or intellectual disabilities. In addition, one evening of programming will focus on newly disabled veterans returning home from war.

Lawrence Carter-Long has been joining TCM host Ben Mankiewicz at 7 pm central time every Tuesday in October to discuss the films they’re showing, which include:

  • An Affair to Remember (1957) Deborah Kerr’s romantic rendezvous with Cary Grant is nearly derailed by a paralyzing accident.
  • A Patch of Blue (1965), Elizabeth Hartman as a blind white girl who falls in love with a black man played by Sidney Poitier.
  • Butterflies Are Free (1972, Edward Albert as a blind man attempting to break free from his over-protective mother.
  • Johnny Belinda (1948) Jane Wyman as a “deaf-mute” forced to defy expectations
  • The Miracle Worker (1962) Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan and Patty Duke as Helen Keller
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Jack Nicholson as a patient in a mental institution and Louise Fletcher as the infamous Nurse Ratched
  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) post-War drama starring Fredric March, Myrna Loy and real-life disabled veteran Harold Russell
  • Charley (1968), Cliff Robertson as a man with an intellectual disability who questions the limits of science after being turned into a genius.

These movies reflect their times — the TCM retrospective only goes up to the 1980s, before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. I’m hoping that as those of us with disabilities become more of the fabric of everyday society, movie-goers will be subjected to fewer disability-of-the-week Oscar-bait-pictures and see more movies where we’re just part of the scene. So far, though, I can only come up with a couple examples of quality films featuring characters with disabilities in roles that are more in the background: Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), where main character Charles reveals a crisis of confidence to his brother David, who is deaf; and Contact (1997) where Kent Clark, A SETI scientist, is blind and helps Jodie Foster with her research. Know any other memorable movies with characters who have disabilities? Please leave a comment here to let me know. I am, ahem, all ears.

Catching up

Some updates on the people you read about this past summer here at the Safe & Sound blog:

  • Let’s start with my husband Mike’s guest post about White Sox pitcher Chris Sale. Last night Mike and I took the El down and got cheap tickets at the last minute to see Sale face Detroit’s Cy Young winning Justin Verlander. Alas. A rain delay. We were left to enjoy our beers and polish sausage while watching the Bears game on the JumboTron at White Sox Park instead. In the end, the game was postponed altogether. We still have Love for Sale, though.
  • A cousin in Ohio read the post I wrote about my brother Doug bringing his trombone along on a visit to Chicago and sitting in with some jazz bands here. He forwarded the post to his son and daughter-in-law in Chicago, and Jason and Keely surprised us at one of Doug’s gigs. Friends from the neighborhood came, too, and I had great fun showing off my big brother.
  • When Chicago trombonist Tim Coffman taught at that Jazz Camp for adults that I attended in July, I had no idea he knew my brother Doug. The post I wrote about jazz camp described the difficult time I had keeping up with the other jazz campers, and Tim’s reaction when he ran into me at one of Doug’s gigs confirms I was not exaggerating. “You’re Doug Finke’s sister?”
  • If you read Sandra Murillo’s guest post about her friend who competed in the 2012 London Paralympics, well, Anjali Forber-Pratt’s races did not go as well as she’d hoped. “I proudly wore my Team USA jerseys,” she said when asked about returning home without a medal. “And I had the experience of a lifetime racing in front of sold out crowds of 80,000 in the stadium.”
  • After I mentioned in a post here that Molly Ringwald’s father is blind, her proud dad (and fantastic jazz pianist) Bob Ringwald sent me a link to another Interview she had regarding her new book. Molly is currently on a 15-day book tour, and my brother Doug may be playing with her dad in San Francisco later this month.
  • After a guest post by Sue Martin was published here, another guest post she wrote was published on the blog of the Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Health Information during National Suicide Prevention Week.
  • If you were intrigued by my post about the essay I recorded for Race: Out Loud, they’ve archived the content created for the series. You can hear all of it now by linking to the WBEZ web site.
  • I had such fun with the six-year-old great niece I blogged about in July that we invited her back. On her second visit, “Baby Flo” went on a field trip to the Old Town Aquarium store with her Great Uncle Mike. And I mean that word “Great” in every sense of the word.
  • And lastly, speaking of great, a blog reader forwarded my post about chef Laura Martinez to an executive chef at a downtown Chicago restaurant. The chef had Laura in for an interview right away. From all accounts, her interview went well — she especially nailed it when asked how she handles challenges in the kitchen. The executive chef is looking to find a spot for Laura on his staff, and in the meantime, she is teaching a cooking class!

I’ll leave you here with the information about Chef Laura Martinez’s class. Sure wish I were 21 again so I could sign up. I could stand to learn from her knife skills!

Chef Laura Martinez is still hoping for a full-time gig. In the meantime, she’ll teach a cooking class for young adults.

The Chicago Lighthouse Vision Rehabilitation Center proudly presents cooking classes with
Chef Laura Martinez
Mondays, 5:00pm-7:00pm, September 24 – December 12
222 Waukegan Road, Glenview, IL 60025
Ages 13-21

Learn to cook: Chinese fried rice; pizza; brioche; couscous; “not your boxed” macaroni and cheese; Grandma’s recipes, and student requests.
Explore: the history and culture of the food of the week; menu planning; seasonal fruits and vegetables and budgetary factors.
Laura Martinez is a graduate of the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary program at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. She is totally blind, and excels in knife skills and in her use of herbs and spices, through her senses of touch and smell. Her finished product is as accomplished as any young chef, although Laura had the prestigious honor of being a chef at one of Chicago’s highest rated restaurants, Charlie Trotters.
To register contact:
Pam Stern, Manager of Youth/Senior Programs
847.510.2054 or pam.stern@chicagolighthouse.org


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