Our Trip to Hadley School for the Blind and fun in Chicago with Blindsquare
I (Lisa) was honored to be acknowledged by Hadley School for the Blind as a student award recipient this year. I was awarded the Richard Kinney Challenge of Living Award, and was invited to speak at Hadley’s Women’s Board Tribute Luncheon and their Annual Trustees Meeting. Nik attended with me and we were able to meet a lot of the Hadley staff and donors and take a tour of the school. I also was able to meet one of my teachers, Sharon Howerton, who nominated me for the award, so that was nice. It was especially fun to meet and get to know five of the other award winners and their guests. (Hadley 2015 Student Award Winner bios)
Hadley provides distance learning opportunities for blind and visually impaired high school students and adults free of charge. One thing that I wanted to convey to Hadley was how important it is for individuals that need disability services to have choice, and to thank them for providing one more option for me. I took small business courses in their Forsythe Center for Employment and Entrepreneurship and also continue to work on my Braille. I will be transitioning from using American Braille to Unified Braille Code and also improving my skills with a refreshable Braille display. At MAST, we also hope that our services offer more opportunities for people to get the kind of services they want in the way that they want them. It is very important for all people to be able to choose and direct their own services and path into the future.
I did not have a lot of free time in Chicago, but one highlight was that Nik and I were able to visit the Chicago Botanic Garden, a beautiful 385 acre garden that sits on a number of small islands within lakes. What is amazing about this for me was that I got an O&M lesson from my husband that was quite impressive. As you can imagine, this garden was a orientation and mobility challenge, with the pure size of it, the different elements like bridges, steps and terraces, and lots of distractions for the guide dogs. We did it ourselves–quite nicely, I might add–with the help of the dogs, our own O&M brain power, and the Blindsquare App. I have used Blindsquare around Portland, but I don’t think I ever really got the full impact of it until the gardens. This is partly because I know Portland so well, it was hard to really know if I could depend on Blindsquare, or was I just depending on myself? Also, I have not used it a lot within this type of “freeform” setting, where there are not clearly marked streets and curbs.
We took Uber to the Garden, and were dropped of at a designated drop off lane. We then marked this point on Blindsquare, so no matter what, we could make our way back to it to get picked up and be able to text our driver and tell them where we are. Thankfully, other Foursquare/Blindsquare users have marked up the gardens highlights and features. So we just used the app to orient ourselves around. Alongside this, we used the Chicago Botanic Garden app (with some accessibility awkwardness, alas) to get additional audio information about what we were seeing, smelling, hearing and touching. Because the garden is on several islands, we soon found out that we could not totally trust Blindsquare. It might say that the Japanese Garden is 175 meters at 12:00, but that would only work if we wanted to swim there! Of course we absolutely took some wrong turns, but it is just more garden, so you can’t really go wrong. Overall, the directions from the Garden app, our own sense of cardinal directions and the dogs had to come together, too. But Blindsquare was especially helpful to keep us on track.
We also used Blindsqure to help us find restaurants around our hotel. Our Northbrook suburb was a sea of pedestrian unfriendly parking lots. (THIS is why I don’t live in the midwest anymore!) But again, blind square helped us to find new places to eat so we weren’t stuck with hotel food the whole time. So, if I do say so myself, my partner is a great O&M instructor who can combine high tech with low tech and a good attitude to teach solid, real life O&M. We had a lot of fun finding our way around the northern ‘burbs of Chicago. I’ll post a few pictures below.