Thursday, July 20, 2017

What I Learned from Being a Sighted Guide

Hi folks, Lynn here. I decided to share some tips for sighted guides in this week's blog because I was recently assigned to be a sighted guide for a person at a conference in Austin. I had not done this before, but I had also been working on a written project on the very same topic. So I did a little research and learned some simple techniques for being a sighted guide for people who are blind or visually impaired.

A daughter serves as a sighted guide for her father at a restaurant. (Photo courtesy of the American Foundation for the Blind)

Here is a basic step-by-step guide. But always bear in mind that each person has a different need and a different experience. It is up to you as the sighted guide to learn and listen.

  1. Address the person and identify yourself. Tell them you are there to assist them.
  2. Touch the follower’s (the person who is blind or visually impaired) elbow, forearm, or hand with the back of your hand.
  3. The follower will choose which part of your arm to grasp, or it may be the top of your shoulder depending upon your height. They will let you know which is most comfortable and secure for them.
  4. Walk at a comfortable pace.
  5. The correct grip is important for comfort and safety.
  6. The correct stance is important for protection.
  7. Doorways – it is important to allow the person being guided to be in control of the door; they should be on the hinge side.
  8. Narrow spaces – advise the person that a narrow space is ahead.
  9. Stairs – stop at the first step and tell the follower whether the steps go up or down. Stop when you reach the end of the stairs and tell the person when you are at the top or bottom, respectively.
  10. Seating – explain which way the chair is facing and where it is in relation to the rest of the room. Also explain which part of the chair you are touching.
  11. If leaving the person alone, leave them in contact with an object.

Here are a few bonus tips:

  • Remember there are differences among people who are blind or visually impaired; no two people are alike.
  • Many people have some useful vision, and there are also variations in how people have adjusted to their vision.
  • The best way to know how to be helpful is to ask.

Here is an instructional video from YouTube that can help you see how this all looks in action:


I hope these tips will help you be the best sighted guide possible! If you have any other helpful tips, please tell us in the comments:

Thursday, July 13, 2017

INTRODUCING the 2017 Inaugural Haven Street-Allen Award Luncheon

This year, we are excited to announce our inaugural luncheon on September 19 at Saengerrunde Hall in downtown Austin, where we will be honoring past board member, Forrest Haven Street-Allen.

At VSA Texas, Haven willingly shared her knowledge and insights with her fellow board members and the staff, and supported the activities offered by VSA Texas with her presence and her financial support. She was instrumental in updating the organization’s personnel policies and led the board through an interactive process to update both the mission and vision statements. She truly had a “spark" and embodied how important it is to give back to the community you live in.

A woman with dark blond layered shoulder length hair wearing pearls around her neck and a blue scoop neck shirt smiles in front of a brick wall and small indoor green plant

Starting in 2018, the Haven Street-Allen Artist of the Year Award will be offered in memory of Street-Allen, who died in January 2015. Haven was an insightful and caring person who had a history of helping others. She was a Board Member of VSA Texas as well as the Austin Dispute Resolution Center, a volunteer mediator for the Resolution Center, and the Director of Human Resources for St. Edward’s University in Austin until her retirement in 2012. The Haven Street-Allen Artist of the Year Award recognizes her dedication, vision and respect for all, and honors her commitment to creating greater access to, and support for, the arts in Texas.

The Haven Street-Allen Artist of the Year Award honors an individual who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming a creative dimension in the arts. Each year, the Artist of the Year Award is given to one artist with a disability in Texas who, through a one-time creative act or a substantial record of achievement, embodies the spirit and vision of VSA Texas.

This individual challenges perceptions of how people contribute by demonstrating artistic excellence or leading the way as a community catalyst for change. In addition to a plaque commemorating artistic achievement, each award also consists of an honorarium of $500, recognition as a featured artist on the VSA Texas website, and an invitation to attend our annual luncheon as the guest of honor to be publicly recognized for individual artistic achievements.

Nominations are open to any artist with a disability over the age of 16 years in any medium. All nominations will be juried by a panel of judges and results will be announced January 31. All nominations must be in by December 31 of the previous year to be considered for the award.

Tickets for the luncheon will be $10 each and go on sale August 19, 2017. Save the date for this exciting event! We are currently seeking sponsors for food and varying monetary levels, so please contact me at janelle@vsatx.org or 512-454-9912 to get involved today!

Hope to see you all there September 19!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

What Does Independence Mean to You?

Depending on who you ask, independence can mean many different things. For people living in nations like ours, independence may be a fond reminder of freedom from tyrannical rule. For others, independence may indicate self-sufficiency on a personal level and the ultimate sign of maturity. For people with disabilities, who may require daily or weekly assistance, independence often means control over one's own decisions and the freedom to participate in the community. With the passing of another Independence Day, we decided to ask a few of our OMOD speakers what independence means to them:

Shaniqua Esparza

Independence does not mean having to do everything on your own. I used to think that. Independence means doing the things you want with whatever help is available to you. It takes a braver, stronger and more independent person to acknowledge and seek help.

Shaniqua poses at the National Mall in Washington DC with the Washington Monument in the background.

Renee Lopez

Independence means living my life as I choose to live it. The operative word here being I! No amount of independence would exist for me if it weren't for my personal care attendants. They give me the ability to live in the community. Without them, I would have to live in an institutional setting, like a nursing home, where my life would cease to feel worthwhile. Independence to me is being a full member of my community and being recognized and appreciated as such. Independence ultimately means that I, as an American citizen, have the unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness. Nothing else matters to me more than that.

Renee poses before Austin's skyline at sunset.

Adam Farris

In my honest opinion independence is where we are free to be ourselves. Think about it – this great nation was founded 241 years ago. We as a country need to understand that there are people that are different or unique from others in so many ways. Independence is where we can be free to be ourselves, and be united, with no hatred towards others. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a frequent quote that I like. Remember that everyone is equal in their own way.

Photo of Adam beside black text over blue reading, "My name is Adam Farris, I am 29 years old, and I don't think of myself as disabled because I have been able to accomplish so much. Maybe none of us are really "disabled," maybe we are all just different people with unique abilities. The world needs to understand that all of us are alike."

Kamand Alaghehband

I always feel independent when I am involved with Special Olympics. Let me win, but if I don't, then let me be brave in the attempt.

Kamand stands beside her Special Olympics swim teammates. Everyone holds their fists in the air proudly.

Jordana Gerlach

I feel independent when I take care of my horse. My horse cannot tell me when he is not feeling well or when his shoes are uncomfortable, so I needed to learn how his mood changes when he is sick in order to take care of him. If I couldn't recognize the signs of a problem, I could have lost my horse. Keeping a close eye on him makes me feel independent. Here we are with the farrier, the man who cares for my horse's feet and changes his shoes every six weeks:


Kaye Love

I experience my independence when I choose to rely on my inner Knowing, instead of the opinions of others. By focusing on my Truth I can live my life in a way that is best for me. When I give my gut instincts more consideration than professional opinions I find myself to be healthier and happier, as I do not function like the textbook says I should. I can experience my own acceptance when others are disapproving or critical, and speak my truth even if it is unique. Reliance on my inner Truth sets me free.

Kaye wearing a business suit

Eric Clow

In the contentious world of politics, our compassion for our fellow countryman and woman may begin to erode with the thought of supporting people we don't even know. In actuality, supporting programs that keep people with disabilities and seniors healthy and active in the community is supporting yourself when you get old or find yourself stricken by an unfortunate accident or injury, it's supporting your parents or your children, it's an investment in an entire country where disability is a normal and natural part of life. To me, independence is the freedom to pursue the life I want within the same opportunities and limitations as my fellow citizens without disabilities.

Living independently in the community gives me the opportunity to express myself creatively and develop new hobbies, like painting. This is "Tree at Sunset."

What does independence mean to you? Please tell us in the comments: