“Just because you cannot see doesn’t mean you do not have vision.” (Anonymous)
When Mary and Chris Minor invited me to go with them to the Vision Expo at the Portland Doubletree Hotel last Sunday, sponsored by The Casey Eye Institute, I stalled for two days before saying yes.
Being visually challenged with macular degeneration, I really wanted to go and find out if there were new tools to help people like me, but a couple of things held me back: a) I have such a problem asking friends for help, especially since I’m temporarily dependent on a wheelchair, and b) they wanted to pick me up at 6 a.m. in order to get to the opening program. I am so not an early riser, but common sense won out.
Mary also has AMD, and I was anxious to know how she is coping. When Chris insisted the wheelchair was no big deal, I decided it just might be worth getting up at 5 a.m. And was it ever!
The hotel was already crowded when we got there, which was a clue that there are many people with varying degrees of vision loss. We made sure to scope out all the displays of visual aids — high tech magnifiers, reading lights, special glasses. We enjoyed seeing guide dogs, and we laughed out loud over the handsome black Lab with a red light bulb attached to the part that wags. Chris said, “Oh look, he has a tail light.”
We made a point to attend all of the programs that featured informative and inspirational speakers, one of whom was Mary Minor’s physician at the Casey Eye Institute. As I listened to a blind speaker (with his guide dog curled up behind him), my mind shot back to the several years this News-Times column was read over the air throughout the Midwest on what is known as the Radio Talking Book Network. My mom had lost her sight and she loved listening to Bobbie’s Beat on the Air. Soon, out of curiosity, I visited the Omaha offices of that network and thus began my education with blind folks, and how they have learned to adapt and function successfully in a sighted world. I also learned a lot about guide dogs and how they are trained. The Talking Book Network, with all of its complicated broadcasting equipment, was mainly run by two great guys (Dick and Wyman), a few other blind and sighted people, and many volunteers who read newspaper and magazine articles over the air for people like my mom.
I never intended to be speaking on commercial radio until Dave Miller listened to one of my tapes, called and said, “What does ‘blind’ have to do with it? Our listeners would love this.” Those radio programs (produced at our home on audio tapes) were broadcasted for about six years on several networks, and each program lasted about as long as it’s taking you to read this column. Things really got interesting when Dick and Wyman wanted to add their own funny senses of humor, and soon listeners in Lincoln County were referring to these two gentlemen as “The Frick and Frack of the Blind World.” Both guys had guide dogs, and from Dick and Wyman, we all learned that blind people love to tell jokes about blind folks. Here is one that appeared on the air. Better brace yourselves, but keep in mind I’m a huge dog lover, and you need to take the humor with a grain of kibble.
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A blind man was in the middle of a department store and suddenly started swinging his guide dog up in the air in a big circle. The horrified store manager came running over and demanded to know if he could do something to help. The blind guy said, “No thank you, we’re just looking.”
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Thanks, Chris and Mary Minor, for urging me to join you for a great day that was not only educational but such fun. I’m making a list of things that will help me see better. And if I ever need to get a guide dog, I’m putting a red light bulb on the end that wags.
Bobbie Lippman is a professional writer who lives in Seal Rock. She is the author of “Good Grief: A Collection of Stories As One Woman Journeys From Heartbreak To Healing Through Honesty and Humor” (Dancing Moon Press). The book (with all proceeds going to Rotary International) is available at JC Market in Newport and directly from Bobbie, who can be contacted at [email protected]