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The Story of Kim, Tulia, and Gia

I've been blind since birth and have lived in a world dominated by the sense
of vision. For those who are sighted, think about it as you go about your
day. Street signs, restaurant menus, traffic, print materials, etc. etc.
Being blind is normal and natural to me. Moving around my world is natural.
Experiencing it the way I do is natural and normal. And so, from an early
age, I've had to learn to adapt to activities because there was no way I was
letting my blindness stop me from participating fully in life. Adapting
games. Putting rice in a beach ball so I could hear it to play an adapted
game of volley ball. Finding ways to label jars, cans, print materials.
Using all of my senses when out and about. If I get turned around in a big
open space for example, what can I hear? Oh yes the traffic in a certain
direction, the hum of a building air conditioner in the distance. What can I
feel under my feet? What can I smell, touch etc? If there is something I
really want to do, I'll think of a way to do it. So, a few years ago, this
adaptability was the thing that got me through a rough time with a secondary
disability.
About five years ago now, I fell on an icy patch and hurt my knee quite
badly. I could hardly walk and I had always walked far and fast.
I learned to use a support cane in my right hand and walk with my guide dog
at my left side.
She adapted beautifully too. Slowing down her pace. Stopping at uneven
terrain. Not minding the cane I held in my other hand. She would stand in
front of me and let me lean my hands on her back to steady myself. She would
find ramps instead of stairs. I marveled at her. People asked how I had
taught her to do those things. I hadn't. She just adapted. Things did not
get better with me. They got worse. I began to have pain in my ankles and
feet. Pain in my hands and wrists. It turned out, I had and have rheumatoid
arthritis. Once I knew what it was, I was very sad and outraged. What, I
already have a disability? Well, yes but that doesn't mean we can't get and
adapt to others. Once I got medical help and some tips and tricks, I started
using my mind to adapt to this too. I haven't had a bad flare up since the
initial one. Still, when I am very tired, stressed, or in certain weather
conditions, my joints can bother me and I can't hike on very uneven terrain
anymore. But, as I started to work my way back to more activity, I had to
think about how to adapt things. One hand and wrist were sore. It was the
hand I held my guide dog's harness in and it was hard to grip. I asked the
occupational therapist if she could bulk up the handle for me. We put some
thick foam around it so it was easier for me to hold. Gia still stopped at
uneven surfaces and Tulia has picked this up too. I need to go down stairs
slowly one step at a time. Both dogs adapted to this. I don't usually use a
support cane anymore but know I could if I need to again. When I first
started using it, one of my friends said, "Oh you don't want to use one of
those canes do you? People will stare at you." And I said, "And you don't
think they stare at me now?" Smile. When I went back to get Gia's successor
(Tulia) I said I needed a calm dog that was easy to handle, adaptable, able
to walk for ages or stay inside, not a hard puller. I got it all. I ride my
stationary bike about an hour per day, walk a lot, am back to swimming (I
was a competitive swimmer once) and do much of what I did before the
arthritis. I do need to pace myself though. I'm grateful to my blindness for
teaching me how to adapt when needed and not to give up.
I am currently the secretary of an alumni chapter at my guide dog school
(guide dogs for the blind)
www.guidedogs.com
The chapter is called guide dog handlers all ways and is for graduates who
have additional disabilities besides blindness.
If anyone wants to find out more about this, e-mail me at
kimjkilpatrick@gmail.com

Kim Kilpatrick