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15. Blind Baking!

Marissa: Heating up and maybe burning your ramen, mac and cheese, or other garbage frozen food of choice is a mundane part of life for any college student or adult living on their own for the first time. But if you're blind, this seemingly simple process of getting used to the kitchen and being able to make meals, preferably healthy meals, for yourself can be much more complicated, especially if you're nervous working with hot appliances or sharp objects. You may have grown up with sighted parents or family members who primarily took on those responsibilities, calling out all blind, only children out there. But this is why I have a fabulous guest, Lia Stone, joining me today. She will be sharing several tips and tricks for navigating the kitchen as a blind person. So stay tuned to learn several organizations, assistive technologies and other pieces of advice that can help you gain confidence in cooking and baking and just life in general.

*Intro Music*

Marissa: Welcome back to another episode of Legally blonde and blind. I am so excited to have another special guest with us today. Lia stone. So take a few minutes to introduce yourself, talk a little bit about what you do for a living, your hobbies, interests et cetera.

Lia: Yeah. Sure. So, my name is Lia. My pronouns are she/her/hers, I work two jobs, so I do not have a lot of time for hobbies and interests anymore, Unfortunately. I am the work experience coordinator for the edge program which is New Jersey's Pre-Employment transition services program for blind and low-vision high school and college students. So I've been working there for three, a little three and a half years., I was a program coordinator in the summer and I transitioned to work experience stuff, which basically means it is my job to get our students employed. So that is my day job. And at night and on the weekends, I am a contact tracer and COVID investigator for the Burlington county health department.

I also am the chair of the state rehabilitation council for the commission for the blind, which is basically an advisory council that exists in every state for the state’s various state disability agencies. So I was appointed to that in 2017 by a previous governor. And now I chair it. I am also on the board of the New Jersey affiliate of the National Federation of the blind. And I chair our scholarship program, which is super exciting.

The National Federation of the blind scholarship program is the largest scholarship program in the country for blind students. The prizes or the scholarships range from 3,500 to, I think the top is 12,000 at the national level and I think every state affiliate also has its own scholarship program to go along with it. So scholarship applications actually just opened last Wednesday. And so, you can apply for it. This is a merit-based scholarship to be clear. This is not needs-based. it is merit-based so, you know, you do have to have a pretty solid GPA. They like seeing extracurriculars. They like seeing even tangential involvement in the NFB at the national level, but, if memory serves me, it's just, an essay, a couple of letters of recommendation, something confirming you are in fact, at least legally blind.

Marissa: Yeah, it was pretty easy. It's almost kind of like the standard materials you would get for a college application. I don't remember it being too hectic trying to get everything together.

Lia: Yeah. So it's not, it's not too terrible. And in New Jersey, this isn't the case in other states, but the nice thing about New Jersey is when you apply for the national NFB scholarship, you are automatically also entered for the New Jersey scholarship. So, we just had our convention last month, wrapping up awarding five scholarships to some pretty awesome people. students who I'm sure are going to go on to be complete badasses in their respective fields. But, that is the scholarship program in a nutshell.

Marissa: All right. Well, before we get into today's topic, I wanted to ask if you're comfortable, could you share a little bit about your eye condition and what your vision is. Just so people get a sense of how you navigate and what the world looks like to you.

Lia: Sure. So I will do my best. So, I have a condition that is very challenging to answer. And it's really difficult to describe what you see because no other person can really fully comprehend what each person sees when it comes to any level of vision loss.

But I will certainly try. So, I have a condition called uveitis, so I've been slowly losing my vision since I was four. And, I lost light perception in my right eye about six years ago. And, so my vision has kind of been steady like this. I would say probably for the last four years. So no light perception on the right side, which means I'm in the dark out of my right eye. So that's easy and self-explanatory, and in my left eye, I see some shapes, and some colors with the assistance of glasses. I don't read print. Subtle colors are difficult for me to discern anymore.

Marissa: And you still have light and shadow perception, right?

Lia: Yeah. Light, shadow, color, some colors, some shapes. I sometimes wear insanely thick glasses. In fact, the other day I went to get a new pair of glasses. Cause mine are seven years old and scratched to holy hell. And when I told them, I called around to optical shops to say what my prescription was, the reaction I got was the same across the board, which was, oh my God. So my glasses are a plus 30. Oh, So they're very, very thick. I do not wear them all the time I used to before I went to a training center, but I don't anymore because trying to use my vision actually messes me up more, especially when I'm out and about navigating. But, that's what my vision is like.

Marissa: Awesome. So as you were growing up and starting to experience this vision loss, did you ever feel anxious about learning how to cook, navigate, or other independent living tasks?

Lia: Yes and no. I was certainly not prepared for how much division I was going to lose. I had a considerable amount of vision as a child. And even as a teenager, I became legally blind when I was 11. But as you know, I know now as a professional in the blindness field, my God, 20/200, I can read print. So I had a lot of vision and I didn't really have a frame of reference for how little vision I would have. So I was still kind of doing normal things in the kitchen. You know, my mom worked three jobs and was a single parent of four kids. And as the oldest, that meant me making a lot of ramen or Mac and cheese and things like that. So I wasn't really anxious, I would say until I got to college. And until I got into my junior year of college, when my vision took a very dramatic turn for the worse, that is the point when I started to get anxious about this stuff.

Marissa: I think I've always been very lucky in the sense that I've had the same vision throughout my entire life, which is about 20/400, which is kind of funny because to most people who are sighted, that sounds really bad, but relatively, in the spectrum of blindness, it's still a lot of remaining vision, right? So I can only imagine having to not only get used to how you see things now but having to prepare in the future for when you lose more vision, right? Adapting to that and getting ready for that. Especially before I left for college, I would always feel almost embarrassed to ask for help with these types of things, because it just felt like, oh, these were things that I'm just expected to know. And I especially felt nervous asking like sighted people, because one, they probably wouldn't know how I could do it. Right. Because they don't have any experience working with blind people. And secondly, I was just worried that they would assume that, “oh, you just can't do it.” That there wouldn't even be a conversation about it. Like,” oh, you can't be near a stove.”. Or it becomes, “oh, don't worry about that. Let me do it for you.” So it's almost like it, it's very, very quick for it to not even to be about how you can do it. It's just like, oh, it's just going to be easier if I do it to make it more convenient.

Lia: Exactly. Yeah. I definitely felt that to a certain point. I described myself as being independent to a fault, even now as a person who definitely knows better that still peaks out from time to time, but I used to very steadfastly refuse to ask for help and I would say from high school onwards I was like that. And I think a part of that was like just how I grew up, like having to grow up quickly and be pretty fiercely independent. , but the other part of it was, you know, ask if you ask for help and it's kind of the same thing that you felt, you know, I don't want to ask for help and have someone think I'm incompetent. Or have someone pity me, that would be the worst. So I just never, ever asked for help until things were such an unavoidable problem that I would have to be.

Marissa: So, how do you recommend that people who are blind or visually impaired get started in the kitchen? If they're anything like me and have only ever heated up a frozen muffin in the microwave.

Lia: Yeah. So number one, let me just back up and say, there is no substitution for going to a good rigorous training center. I was fortunate enough to go to an NFB training center, the Colorado Center for the Blind, and learn from other blind adults under a teaching method that I found very beneficial. Short of that, learning from an itinerant instructor, someone who comes to your home every week or every other week, and who helps you learn some basic things is good too. but I do have to put those things up first. I firmly believe there's no substitute for going to training

That being said, obviously, that's not immediately feasible for everybody and people still need to eat while maybe on a waitlist for a training center. So, I mean, as part of my job, since the pandemic started, I teach cooking over zoom to my students. And, as it turns out, that is more difficult than it sounds, but, something I tell the students all the time is to respect the tools that you're working with. Start from a frame of mind of respect instead of fear. And that will make things a lot easier for you in the kitchen. And it'll make it a lot safer for you in the kitchen. So instead of being afraid of the knife, because it's sharp. Respect what the knife can do, a really good solid chef's knife can be your best friend in the kitchen, and it can be very versatile and do a lot of things.

Can it cut you? Yes, of course, but if you are so afraid of the one thing that it can do to hurt you. You're going to forget all the benefits. So respecting fire is another big thing. Respect, fire. Don't fear it. Can you burn yourself? Yeah, probably, but if you are focused on that instead of the fact that you know, if you have a gas stove or oven, you need that to be able to cook, you're not going to do it. So. Changing your mindset and reframing it to respect. Instead of fear, I think it is a really solid starting point. I am a, I am a licensed social worker and this is part of cognitive-behavioral therapy, and it is, I find it really exceptionally useful. Start with a start with respect first.

Marissa: That's a great way of looking at it because I've always been very afraid. I think that might've come from my family because, well, firstly, I'm an only child and I think it's part of only child syndrome that you just don't do as many chores when you're younger because it's at that point where it's like, there's only one extra tiny human, so it's easier just for the adults to do it for the most part. And especially in the kitchen, with my parents. Incredibly anxious about me like burning myself on the stove or cutting myself. So it would mostly be like, if they're cooking late, just stay out of the way, get out of the kitchen. But I think reframing it to think of it more as like, what can this do for you rather than simply thinking about how it can hurt is a good way of looking at it. So what are some good starter meals or recipes that you have in mind?

Lia: I will be honest. In terms of teaching students first, anything, so I didn't go into this with a plan or a really solid curriculum. I just thought, oh, well, we got to learn stuff in a pandemic. So whatever., so some basic things I think are good to learn. So number one, if somebody has absolutely zero experience, I recommend starting with things like frozen pizza. , or like for whatever frozen garbage food of choices, you know, people who are afraid of ovens get a lot of practice in making something relatively simple in the oven or in the oven and do that until you feel so comfortable with taking things in and out of the oven that you are bored by it. So start with something small and easy like that.

If you have absolutely no kitchen experience whatsoever, as I have in the past, I know, I think the very first cooking thing we did was scrambled eggs. And I'm not going to say hash Browns, but something resembling hash browns. But that was, you know, that was a relatively simple recipe. It's really relatively fast. It doesn't require a lot of ingredients and energy. And again, the skills you're learning: how to scramble, how to flip something, how to crack an egg without getting shells in it.

Marissa: These are all useful, useful skills. I also, when I was young, I, well, I still hate this. I always hate cracking eggs because I hate getting my hands dirty. So my parents always make fun of me. They'd be like, “oh my God, the eggs touching you, you're going to die”.

Lia: So yeah, so here's something that I tell. This is something I tell the students so often that I'm sure their eyes roll every time I bring it up now, but like if you are going to be a person doing things non-visually in the kitchen. And so non-visual, I don't try to put my head over the pot to see what is going on. I use all non-visual techniques. If you're going to be using non-visual techniques. You gotta be prepared to get your hands dirty. And I would strongly recommend investing in a good hand lotion because you are going to be washing your hands very often while baking something. The other night I made, last night I made cookies and I probably washed my hands nine or 10 times over the course of the night,

Marissa: do you have any apps or any other assistive technologies that you recommend?

Lia: In terms of apps, I used to be, you know, I used to be a big fan of making my own braille labels for everything and being well-organized. But as it turns out, when you work 70 hours a week, that doesn't really, doesn't really work. So, I've gotten pretty lazy with that. So I use Seeing AI pretty often. I mean, at this point, My various things are spices and extracts and everything is all different shapes and sizes. So I kind of know, but if I can't tell something by the way it feels or the way it smells, I use Seeing AI, which is the OCR app that has the barcode reader and everything. So, that is really good. You scan it with your, you know, you scan the barcode with your phone camera and it'll tell you what it is.

Marissa: Oh, that's really interesting.

Lia: Yeah, no, it is super, super helpful. The other kind of assistive technologies are really, these are low tech things. So like tactile dots on your oven, dial or buttons, oven buttons, whatever set up, you have tactile dots, which are super helpful. I have them on my microwave. I have them in my oven, and that is so I can tell what the different temperatures are. So that's an assistive, piece of assistive technology that is low tech for sure. Other things are, again, like my thing, the things I use are very low-tech. So as I teach my students, use your tools, think of your tools like a cane. So your spatula, you're a spoon, whatever you're now you're, you're making something on the stovetop in particular. Use your tools like a cane, like an object finder, and think of it that way. So, I guess all of my solutions are very, very low-tech. I don't like talking thermometers or anything like that, although I definitely want to give the caramel a try. So I think I might have to invest in a talking candy thermometer, but like, I don't use things like that.

Generally speaking, I use the lowest-tech solution that I can find because I am both very busy and very lazy. So I will take shortcuts where I can and most pieces of assistive technology in the kitchen. I have found don't actually, let me take a lot of shortcuts because there's always something wrong or glitchy or whatever. And I end up wasting more time than I save.

Marissa: No, I agree with that. I think sometimes the simplest and what's really important for me is something that's convenient. It's easy to carry, right? Like if it's going to destroy my back, I don't want to use it.

Lia: Yeah, no, exactly, but in terms of apps, Seeing AI is really the most helpful app I've found for things like kitchen organization. Now there's always Aira if you're really unsure of something. which is good particularly if you haven't had the opportunity to get training. Aira of course is not free. So I recommend it with that caveat only.

Marissa: So how do you recommend - we talked about this a little bit, but more like practically speaking. How do you recommend handling knives? Ovens? Any other sharp and dangerous objects?

Lia: Yeah, definitely. So again, the respect thing has to come first, but once you've kind of got that down, you know, being smart and thoughtful and intentional. For example, I have a gas stove in my apartment. And, so what I will do if I've got a pot or something that I feel is maybe misaligned or out of the way, instead of putting my hand down there and burning myself, I use the spatula or whatever tool I have like a cane to feel where the burner is, where the pot is in relation to the center part And to kind of move it back and realign it that way. You know, I'm not burning my hands by trying to feel where the pot is on the burner and all of that stuff. If I'm not sure if I turned the right burner on, I will, at least a foot above, put my hand over the burner to feel the heat, and that, you know, that's a pretty simple way to do it. Although I do want to emphasize your hands should probably be a foot above, not like two inches over it, right?

So there are the ovens. I mean, until you get real comfortable. As I said, practicing simple things like making frozen foods in the oven, I think is a really good start. But If it'll make you feel comfortable, get those oven mittens that go up to your elbow. I think it might make some people feel more comfortable, comfortable until they get the hang of it. What I tell my students is to get intimately familiar with your oven and where the individual shelves are. Right? So when your oven is often completely cool, Really get intimately familiar with the, you know, the stovetop as well, but the stove tops a little easier to figure out, but get really familiar with your oven, touch everything all inside of it. It's a good way to find out if it needs to be cleaned too, and you know, get familiar and that will help you get more comfortable with it.

In terms of handling knives, I think this is probably basic knife safety that anyone who goes through like any kind of culinary training program probably learns too, but I don't know. Keeping your hand out of the way out of the field of the knife is super important. Having a good grip, not handling a knife with wet hands, if you, if you can avoid it, and you know, keeping one hand on the knife. So if I'm chopping up an onion, I will keep the hand that isn't holding the handle on the top part of the blade. And that kind of anchors it and it also sort of helps guide it. And most importantly, it keeps the knife out of the way or my hand out of the way. And if I have to walk away for more than 30 seconds, I slide the blade of the knife under the cutting board, and that way I know exactly where to get it. And I also know my cats aren’t going to hurt themselves.

Marissa: Do you have any other organization tips like how to organize a kitchen or just anything in daily life?

Lia: Well, being organized is the best way to be independent. This is very much done, as I say, not as I do because my pantry is a mess, but, being organized is really, really the best way to be independent, especially if you don't know braille, or if you don't have the time or capacity to make Braille labels for everything. Really keeping yourself well organized, you know, your beans in one place, your tomatoes in a different place so you know where things are. Anything else would really be kind of organization and life hacks stuff.

Marissa: It sucks because blind people do actually have to be more organized than sighted people, sighted people have the benefit of being able to be messy and like scan the room and be able to find it right away.

Lia: Right. Exactly. But we don't have that. And unless we want to spend all of our time touching everything in the room, you know, we do have to be more and better organized. We need to be more intentional about where we put things, right?

Marissa: Exactly. How do you recommend handling things like spills or dropping things in the kitchen? The reason I added this one today is because I dropped a pill bottle in my bathroom. And fortunately, it was like a week before I needed a refill. So there weren't that many, but the tablets went all over the floor. So the universe set up like the most sadistic scavenger hunt for me this morning.

Lia: Of course. Yeah. Okay. My favorite. I've certainly done that too. So a couple of things, number one, learn to be quick. If you can quickly step on a thing to grab it before it rolls away. Really using your hearing. Obviously, this does not work for people who are deaf-blind, but like paying attention to where you hear things fall. And that is a skill that does take a little bit of time, but really paying attention to where you hear things fall is super helpful. Now with things like pills, that is tough because if they're, you know, if you have those little capsules, those just roll all over the place once you drop them versus the flat tablets, which just kind of stay fixed in place wherever they fall. In those situations, if I drop a whole bottle of pills like that, and after I've gotten what I think I can get, that is actually a scenario where I will ask a sighted person or use Aira to just kind of scan the floor and see what else I've missed,

Marissa: Especially when you have animals.

Lia: Exactly. Yeah, that's exactly it because like, I know for me, like whenever I drop a pill, if I don't grab it immediately, I'm sure one of my cats will find it. And not a single one of my cats needs Adderall. In fact, I would like them to have the opposite of Adderall, but yeah. So, honestly, that is a scenario where I do think it's useful to have a sighted person just help scan and see if anything else has fallen all over the place, or if you've missed any after you've gotten what you can.

Marissa: Finding buddies in college are great.

Lia: Yes that’s solid. In terms of things like spills, like spilling liquids or knocking over stuff, which I tend to do. And it’s because I’m not graceful. It has nothing to do with being blind.

Marissa: I’m the same way. It's like the clumsiness comes along with the blindness and it's a really terrible combination.

Yeah. When I was at the Colorado center, there were a few things where my instructors would be like, “you can't not do this because you're blind. This is a you thing.” And it was things like crappily wrapping Christmas presents. These are some traits I happened to have that are unrelated to blindness. But, you know, using your hearing, keeping a lot of cleaning supplies on hand, which is what I do. I make sure that I have lots and lots of multipurpose cleaners, lots, and lots of paper towels, as many cleaning tools as you can use, a vacuum, a little hand broom thing, a Swiffer, a dry Swiffer, and a Swiffer duster. I try to have as many things at my disposal so that when I do make a mess, because of course I will make a mess. I can adequately handle it.

Marissa: And I really liked the way that even, even just now, the way you were talking about how to respond when things like this go wrong, like not viewing it as like a personal failing, but rather just this happens to everybody, even sighted people. And even if it might be, even if it might be, really frustrating at the moment that it's not like the end of the world and that there are strategies you can use to take care of it. I mean, I was very angry this morning. Right?

Lia: Absolutely. And here's the thing. It is super frustrating at the moment. And I will, you know, if I'm already stressed and frustrated and like to knock something and have it go flying everywhere, I will, especially if I'm alone for the world's biggest hissy fit and temper tantrum, but, that happens o everybody. And if you're going to throw a temper tantrum, every time it happens, you're definitely not going to get anywhere. And you're going to feel more stressed all the time. And you're going to feel more high-strung all the time. But, you know, remembering that this stuff, this is not a blindness thing. This is a part of the human condition.

Marissa: I think it is really, really useful to keep in mind. Oh, you talked about this a bit at the beginning of the episode, but do you have any experience with training centers? If so, you already said that you recommend them, but could you elaborate a bit more about some of the benefits you can get from being a part of a residential program?

Lia: Oh, absolutely. It was the best decision I ever made and my only regret is that I didn't, I didn't do it sooner. I am a big cheerleader for attending a training program. And since this isn't technically working for me right now, I can say I have a big cheerleader specifically for attending a structured discovery training program. , And, you know, these are the three NFB centers, Colorado, Louisiana, and Minneapolis. But I do know there are a couple of other state centers around the country that are structured discovery,

Marissa: Could you explain what structured discovery means?

Lia: Sure. Structured discovery is simply a method of learning things. So for example, with orientation and mobility instruction with, you know, most standard O&M teachers, you're learning how to plan routes and you're learning how to get from point A to point B and maybe occasionally on weekends point C and that's it. Structured discovery is the opposite You are learning the tools and techniques for sure, like the literal techniques of orienting and getting around, but, once you learn those, you are on your own to play around, and figure things out yourself. You’re given the leeway to screw up and make mistakes and learn from them, which is something that is not afforded to a lot of blind people, especially people who are blind from birth or from a very young age, you know, we don't get to make mistakes. Often sighted people intervene.

Marissa: Right. Exactly. So not unless I’m about to run into a busy highway. Right?

Lia: I had a very high partial friend who used to be very overly helpful when I was out there. And I came up with a rule that I still follow, which is unless I'm about to walk into a pit of lava. Do not give me more directions. And so, yeah, that's, that's the only scenario in which I want someone swooping in and saving me, but, being able to make mistakes and learn from them is so invaluable. So that's the structured discovery method in a nutshell. And if somebody who is an actual instructor trained in that method wants to correct me, please do, because I am just a fan,

But there were a lot of little things that led to my breaking point to deciding to go to a center.

But I remember having a sighted O&M instructor back, way back when, who I asked how to get somewhere. And they were like, “well, ideally you would travel there with an ONM first.” And that was when I was like, “no, no, I am not reorganizing my entire existence around that nonsense.” I really liked the structure discovery method because I don't have to, so I can, I have the tools now to travel wherever I want and kind of use what I've learned to figure it out as I go and to get around, you know, mostly independently.

Of course, it has been hard getting back into that since the pandemic, so I don't really take public transportation right now. I'm immune suppressed, so it's really, really not safe so, you know, I'm sure some of my skills have faltered, but I didn't lose the knowledge or anything like that.

But learning in that method from blind instructors, And these are blind teachers who are adults living normal, boring lives with normal, boring spouses and responsibilities and children and hobbies and things like that was so invaluable when you think about training centers, right, is that in most of them, not all the instructors are blind. All of my instructors were blind, including my woodshop teacher. I can't really convey how powerful and how important it is to learn from other blind people. Sighted people who are in the field don't get me wrong. Many of them are very nice. But, and you know, many of them have the academic background to be effective teachers in some ways, but there is no substitute for a blind O&M instructor or a blind home management kitchen instructor.

Marissa: Absolutely. There is no substitute. You can’t put on a blindfold for a half hour and then understand what blindness is like.

Lia: Nor do I think you can really fully get it to learn it academically. Like, I don't think you're ever going to fully get it. And I have some friends and great people I love who are sighted O&M instructors but like, it's not, it's just not the same, you know, braille and technology. Those are different. Those are fine. So if people can teach those, you know, that's fine. But, I think when it comes to home management, orientation, and mobility, there isn't really a good substitute for having a good blind instructor. So, that is one of the benefits of attending one of those kinds of centers.

But, you know, it is structured like a school day. So you're there from eight to four. You're taking your classes in braille and home management and technology and O&M. You’re working on projects. The first couple of months I was there, I thought, oh my God, this is harder than grad school. And it is hard in terms of how, like, if you don't have these skills already, or if you don't even have a basic framework, obviously it's going to be hard to learn something completely new, especially a completely new way of doing things. But you know, it is so incredibly rewarding. The projects were really fun. One of the reasons I picked Colorado is because of an article where someone was talking about the drop, which is your final O&M project, where they just drop you somewhere in Denver and they take your phone and you have to make it back to the center.

Marissa: Oh my God. That sounds horrifying.

Lia: I know it sounds horrifying, but it's the last thing you do after you've been there for just six to nine months and it is so, so amazing in terms of confidence-building. I really can't stress how much of a boom that was to my confidence in my O&M skills, such a boom that when the pandemic is actually really, for real over, I think I'm going to ask somebody to drop me off somewhere in the middle of, I don't know, Jersey City or something somewhere that has more buses and trains and take my phone and let me figure out getting back because it is…

Marissa: I feel like that you'd be like a reality show.

Lia: Honestly, it could be, but it would probably get really boring. Because ike a lot of it is just you standing there and either talking to yourself and like talking out your process or like standing there thinking.

So, it might be, it might end up being the world's most boring reality show, but, my God. It is so amazing. So I was dropped off somewhere in the University of Denver neighborhood and made it back to the center in an hour and a half, but I know someone who's there at the same time as me. She got dropped off at a military cemetery and they were having a funeral. And so she's dropped off, she's blindfolded, she's walking around and she hears the shots.

Oh, I forgot to mention that. If you go to an NFB center, you are blindfolded. If you have any vision, even light perception, you are blindfolded all day. You can take your blindfold off during philosophy class, and when, you know when you're heading home for the day, but, yeah, you are blindfolded the entire time you're there. So everybody's learning as if they are totally blind.

Marissa: I'm sure that makes a lot of sense for those in the process of losing their vision.

Lia: Yeah. And I understand that albinism is one of the rare conditions that are relatively stable, but, many people's conditions are progressive. And even if they're not as you age, even if you don't have an eye condition to begin with, as you age, your vision is going to decline. And even for people who have stable vision, I think it's really useful because it builds confidence. And even the people with stable vision who have a good amount of it, you know, you don't want to be feeling like you got to stick your head an inch above the frying pan to see what’s going on.

Marissa: Exactly. Yeah. Because even if you have the option of using revision in some situations, it's not the best choice. Right?

Lia: Exactly. And having these tools in your toolbox for how to do things non-visually is really good because you can decide once you have those tools and those skills, you can decide what tool you want to use for the appropriate situation. Is this something where I want to use my residual vision or would this be a task where it would honestly be easier if I was using non-visual techniques?

Marissa: Honestly, that’s incredible. It sounds like it must've been like a huge life-changing experience.

Lia: Oh yeah. I didn't even realize how big of a change it was, but I remember my ex saying at one point, like, when somebody asked him about it, “Oh, she's just a completely different person.” And, you know, I didn't think I was that different, but other people around me clearly noticed a difference, and the further out I got from being there, I kind of realized, “oh, I am actually completely different.” I am not willing to sit around and wait for a ride for something, or I'm not going to not go someplace because I don't have someone to go with me or I'm going to order takeout because I am too afraid of my oven that has to be manually lit or anything like that. Like, I really did change profoundly.

And like I said, the only thing I regret is I wish I did that before college, or at least before grad school because college and grad school could have been a lot easier if I had the skills, the independent skills to navigate both actual activities of daily living and, academically, technology. All of that stuff you got out of this program and you develop all these new skills balance between wanting to be independent and asking for help.

Marissa: I know even in my life there are instances where it's easier to ask the sighted person if they're there, but you want to be able to do it on your own. So how do you like to manage those two?

Lia:. So, a couple of things. Number one I really prefer the concept of interdependence to independence because the reality is, and this is for everybody, regardless of ability, everybody is at least a little interdependent, unless you live completely off the grid and you kill your own food.

You are actually not independent. We live in a society, So it's not so cut and dry. So thinking about it like that, I think helps a little bit, but you know, asking for help is a tool in your toolbox and asking for help from a sighted person, figuring out when it's appropriate, is part of the thing you learn in training.

But you know, also kind of understanding and giving yourself grace and all of that. These are all important things. So. Sometimes, if I'm doing something, or if I'm doing eight different things and I'm in a rush and, I have a sighted person around and I don't have time to wash my hands, whip out my phone, pull up Seeing AI to read the difference between these two spice stars I have in front of me, I'll ask the sighted person, If I am by myself and I'm just leisurely making something and I don't wanna, that's when I will try to push myself a little more to use the tools I have at hand, but like, kind of learning when to use that tool and understanding that if you overuse that it only hurts you, that has gone a long way in helping me to figure, keep that balance. I could ask for a ride everywhere all the time, and when we're not in the pandemic that could be something I do all the time. Just get a ride everywhere, but that only hurts my own skills. And what happens when I can't get a ride? Do you know what I mean? So really understand that you can ask for help. It does not make you a bad blind person to ask for help. Everybody needs to ask for help. At some point, it is simply another tool, but understanding that is really, I think really important that it just hurts if it's something you're going to do all the time. If you're going to constantly ask for a ride, when you live somewhere with robust transportation and we are not in a global pandemic, then it's only going to hurt your skills. If you are going to do takeout all the time, instead of making your own food, when you have the time to make your own food, that is only going to hurt your kitchen skills.

Marissa: I wanted to ask this, I know we're all getting into the holiday season. And I think this is a time where you can encounter situations where family members may want to do things for you that you can do yourself. So how do you recommend navigating those types of relationships? Because I know sometimes like serving food is a really good example. Sometimes people want to serve food because they want to be a good host. Or because they want to show you they care. Or it can be because they don't think you can get it yourself. So how do you sort of navigate these types of things where people want to do stuff?

Lia: So I will say it's always the toughest with the families, dealing with your family, especially once you have developed independence skills. And it's really, really tough navigating that. There is the whole family dynamic thing to consider, but there's also the fact that like you don't want to upset your family, or maybe you do, in which case you might end up going down a different path with this, but, context matters. So if you're in a situation where someone appears to be clearly serving food to everybody, because they're trying to be a good host. Don't make a big deal out of it. Let them be the host. If they're doing it for everybody, then that's fine. If you're sitting at a table of 20 people and you're smack in the middle, and someone grabs food for you and maybe one other person in the middle. Yeah, I would probably let it slide. But we know when people are patronizing. You can tell. So, use the context clues to figure it out and, being firm, but polite is the way to handle it.

Now I will say this is especially hard for me as a person who grew up in North Jersey because my instinct for a really long time was to just go straight into aggressive mode. I did have to come down several notches and learn that people are trying to help you then people don't know when people are ignorant. and even though people’s desire to help and ignorance can be really harmful in many cases, it's benign.

So, analyzing the context, if someone is doing it because they think you're not capable or they want to help you because you are the poor, sad, blind person, being like, “oh, actually I can, I can do it myself. Can you actually just tell me what each of these trays are?” “Yeah, you know, I can actually find my way to your bathroom myself. “Can you actually just like, you know, tell me where it is?”

Having a light tone in your voice. Following up with a question. So if somebody has a bunch of those, you know, the trays and everything set up, and decides they're gonna make your plate cause you're blind how could you possibly. Saying “actually I can, can you tell me what, what's over here?” The question is a really good way to neutralize it. Some people will be really firm and be like, “oh no, don't worry about it. I got you.” And this is where you have to make a decision on whether or not you're gonna, you're gonna go ham or you're gonna like, it's easier to go ham with strangers than it is with family, of course.

But with family, you know, there is all sorts of other things to consider. So like, you know, that might be the point where you have to be like, and in a way that does not embarrass them in front of everyone because sighted people get in their feelings real quick, but being like, “Hey aunt Jen, look, I know you're trying to help, but I've been actually really working hard on this skill. So I would really appreciate it. If you actually let me serve me.” And if you're not working on the skill and it's been forever since you learned this skill, and this is like your, I don't know, 80-year-old, great aunt who you just don't want to upset too much. You can still say I've been working on this. Like, you know, this is a case where a little white lie doesn't actually hurt anybody. , but you know, putting it like that takes out any sting of accusing them of anything. It kind of neutralizes the whole, “oh, well, sorry for trying to help you.” And, you know, it makes it clear that you're, you're standing for this, that this is a skill that you need to practice.

Marissa: But with that, we're getting towards the end of the episode. Do you have anything else you would like to add or share before we head out? Like how people can reach you if they'd like to learn more?

Lia: Yeah. People can absolutely find me on Facebook though. Admittedly, I don't check terribly often. My email address is very long because it's my full name, but I'm also easily accessed by email, and just use the internet as another good resource. Blind people have been writing and blogging and making videos about this for years. The National Federation of the blind braille monitor archives, which is the official publication of the NFB has tons and tons of articles from the past 80 years with all kinds of tips.

Marissa: So I feel like every episode I make, I always end up across a braille monitor article. Any topic, you can find it.

Lia: Yeah. Absolutely. And, consider a training program because it is really truly the one super life-changing thing that you can do, especially if you are a young person who has not yet entered full-time employment. It is the best gift you can give yourself.

Marissa: Well, everyone, I hope you enjoyed today's episode. I really enjoyed speaking with Lia. I think she had so many wonderful tips and tricks to share things I had honestly never thought of before. I think this really speaks to the power of learning from other blind adults, people who really understand your reality. People who don't just put on a blindfold for an hour as a part of O&M training, but live it every day.

Anyways, if you enjoyed today's episode and you want to hear more, make sure to subscribe to Legally Blonde & Blind on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or anywhere else you get your shows. You can also follow my social media pages @legallybb_ on Instagram and my Facebook page to stay updated. Thank you again for listening and I hope to SEE you soon


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