Blindness Skills, Uncategorized

When Santa Lost His Eyesight

When I attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, LA, (the best blindness training center in the country in my humble opinion) I remember seeing a presentation of a short humourous play at one of our Christmas parties there in which Santa goes blind and comes to the LCB for training. I’d forgotten about it until I saw this post in a blog written by a friend of mine. I thought this was a fun read and have reposted it here for you. Some of your blind children out there might enjoy hearing about a Santa with whom they can identify. Just to give you a little background, the original play about Santa losing his eyesight was written by Jerry Whittle, the former Braille teacher at the LCB. Mr. Whittle is known for his plays in which he always shares some kind of story of an individual’s journey to overcome his/her blindness through training and gaining of a positive attitude towards blindness. These plays are usually performed at local and national conventions of the National Federation of the Blind. This post came from a post in the blog “Slate and Stylish”,found on blogspot, and one of my favorite blogs I follow which is written by a friend of mine, Deja Powell. I hope she won’t mind me sharing this. I hope you enjoy reading it too and that it brings you a little Christmas joy.


Posted: 18 Dec 2012 10:03 AM PST

*This is a cute little story written by my good friend Alex Castillo adapted froma play from one of my heroes, Jerry Whittle. Enjoy!

When Santa Lost His Eyesight

Santa winking/

By: Alex Castillo

Most people know about Santa Claus. He’s the Jolly old fellow who along with a team of flying reindeer and tireless elves, work year round so that on one night out of every year, they can bring presents to children and adults all over the world. What many people are not aware of, is that one year, Santa began noticing that his vision was not what it used to be. Of course, he did not want to admit it to himself, but driving that sleigh at night, and being up there in the sky with all of those airplanes zooming by, made him feel quite unsafe.

It was no surprise when news started being gossiped about in the North Pole that Santa had gone blind, and that he was quitting the holidays. He became depressed, and without his work, he lost his sense of purpose in life. The man was a real sad mess. On one of those special Holiday nights, everything started going downhill and Just got worse and worse. The naughty and good lists were becoming a blur, and he handed out the wrong toys to more than 1 billion people. I know what you might be thinking at this moment, If Santa had gone blind, you would have surely heard about it. I’m not saying this is all true, but was there one year in which you received absolutely the most unlikely gift ever? Well, if the answer is yes, then this story might make a little sense.

After getting home that night, Santa could do little more than lock himself up in his office at the toy factory, and no matter how hard anyone tried to cheer him up, he could do absolutely nothing for a very long time. This is the story I heard last year when I was visiting friends in Ruston, Louisiana. They say that one year after he had lost his vision; Santa came down there to receive training at their blindness center. “He could barely even see Rudolph’s nose,” they said, “He had lost about 75 pounds when he had first arrived, and wouldn’t even touch a cookie.” “he’d get real close to ya when he was talking,” they would all whisper, “Couldn’t tell north from south even if he was holding a compass: bless his heart.” And apparently the entire town knew about this phenomenon. So well-known was the story down there that a writer by the name of Jerry Whittle wrote a play about the whole ordeal, and everyone in town came to see the production.

When I asked how come Santa didn’t choose Nebraska to come and train, after all, we have an awesome center right here, and it would seem the familiar choice with all the snow we get, howling winds, and freezing weather, the answer I received was: “well, Nebraska? With all that snow up there? He’d be recognized in a heartbeat if he stepped outside dressed in all red in his Husker gear. “They said: “Down here, he’s just another blind guy with a beard.” The more I thought about the story, about this blind and depressed Santa Claus, the more sense it made. Often when people start to lose their eyesight, they feel ashamed, and even worthless. People find themselves almost transforming from a productive and contributing member of their family, or community, to just sitting passively, watching life and everyone else pass them by.

We often confuse the inability to do, with the inability to see. And all that it would take for us to get back into our routine, or even find a more exciting and challenging one is to simply understand that with some blindness training, many doors can open up with the promise of opportunity. Training centers do not create Santa Claus’s. But they can help Santa figure out how he can do his job as a respectable blind person non-visually. As I recall, the play ended with Santa making the decision to keep the toy factories open and to stay in the Job as Santa Claus, and arriving at the North Pole to continue his yearly duties, with some new blindness skills and alternatives. It was a true happy ending. But the people in Ruston tell a different story. They say that he didn’t go back to the North Pole right away. “Oh, he had some trouble with the training,” they said. At first, he was always lifting those sleep shades. They said he would use the excuse of being overheated to lift them and peek during every class. He didn’t like travel very much, they said: “Oh, Santa, Santa, you would see him just hiding when it was time for travel class,” But what surprised me the most was when they told me: “the first time Santa stepped into the wood shop and heard those live blades running, he almost fainted.”

One would think that someone who has been working with factory machinery their whole lives would be able to handle an arm saw. As time went by, he settled into the center and became an excellent student. But, after training, he didn’t go back to the North Pole right away. He wanted to try out a new career. He went to work at this Cajun restaurant as a cook in the next town. During training, Santa had discovered that he had let Mrs. Claus do all the cooking their entire marriage, but he actually enjoyed working in the kitchen. “Could you imagine that?” they said, “Santa as a cook in a Cajun restaurant?” I suppose he just felt like he wanted some independence.

Like many people after they finish blindness training, he must have felt a bit rebellious and must have wanted to prove to anyone that he could go far beyond the common expectations for a blind person. It wasn’t until the Mrs. Threatened to come and get him that he decided to go back up north. Sometimes the path to independence isn’t obvious and clear. Sometimes, like Santa, we need to figure ourselves out for a little while. Sometimes, blindness gives us an opportunity to learn and make decisions which vary greatly from our past, and that we would have never thought possible if we had not lost our eyesight. And sometimes, we just get a stronger sense of who we are.

But, The first step toward independence, and starting your life, or getting it back is recognizing when it’s time to receive training, and then going through that training in a program that will allow you to fully realize yourself as a respectable blind person. After all, this is our life, and we live through our choices. As for Santa, You can decide to believe this story or not, but the children and grownups are still receiving presents on time and without any strange mix-ups. Polls show that he’s been doing a better job year after year. And just the other day, I read a review about some new restaurant opening up on the North Pole which specializes in southern cuisine. Note:

This Story was based on the play written by Jerry Whittle.


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Pages from the Hartle Playbook: Oh Christmas Tree

I recently saw a question on a listserv for blind parents asking how one decorates a Christmas tree as a blind person. A pretty reasonable question I thought. Sadly, she had never had the opportunity to help with this before, or been shown or figured out any alternative techniques for herself. She was concerned about safety issues as well as aesthetics. So, since this is something that we as blind people do, I shared with the list a reply to her post. I thought some excerpts from my post may be of interest here in showing some alternative techniques we’ve used in doing this.

WE actually have a pre-lit tree, just because they are so convenient whether you are blind or not. But, I used to have a regular tree and my husband who is also blind, and I would put the lights on ourselves. It’s really not that difficult to decorate the tree as it’s all hands-on. Usually, we can just feel the branches and decorations to make sure they are placed correctly. But, there are a few things I’ve found that can help.

Hanging Lights and Garland:

When we used to put lights on our tree, my husband and I would pass a coil of lights between ourselves with either of us on a side of the tree. You want to make sure the strands are evenly spaced out, which you can do by feeling where the strand is running. You can put the strands back deeper in the branches close to the trunk of the tree (or pole if it’s artificial) so that the strands aren’t showing that much. Before you put the lights on though, run you’re hands down the strands to make sure there are no bare wires exposed no fraying, and no broken bulbs. It is probably a good idea to have a sighted person check the strand before too if you can’t see the lights just to make sure the light bulbs are all working and that none have burned out. Sometimes you can run your hand across each bulb and feel if they are hot, but this takes a lot of time; or if they are small lights, sometimes the heat from the lights on either side can make a burnt out bulb still feel warm. It can also be a pain to keep the strands from becoming tangled during this process,(which even sighted people struggle with) so having someone look at the whole strand briefly to make sure it is working can be helpful.

When putting the strands of lights on the tree, just make sure you space each strand out and move it up the tree a few inches at a time. You can do the same thing for garland. Just go back around after you’ve wrapped the tree either with lights or garland and make sure you weave the strands in and over and under the branches some with your hands so that it doesn’t look like you just tied the tree up. You want the lights and garland to look more draped or looped over the branches.

You may want to use your arm or hands to measure how far apart each of the strands of lights around the tree are separated from each other—so as to keep them more evenly spaced apart.

Hanging Ornaments:

These are a lot easier to put on the tree than the lights and garland in my opinion. With these, I usually divide the tree into sections and decorate a section at a time. This way you can make sure not to over decorate a part of the tree and make sure your ornaments are evenly spaced out. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but this seems to help keep our tree from looking really crowded in one place and bear in another. I tend to divide my tree into four sections like a front, back, right, and left side. I then work from the top to the bottom in each of the four sections. I’ve even divided up my ornaments so that I have the same (roughly) amount of ornaments in each section. WE tend to have bulbs and then some specialty ornaments, so by dividing the ornaments into piles or groups first, I then have better chances of distributing them evenly around the tree. I then decorate one section, like the front for example, with one of the groups of ornaments. I tend to put our favorite or most special ornaments that I want to be seen better into the pile that is going on the front of the tree–the part of the tree that is facing out to your living room the most, or wherever most people will see. If you are displaying your tree in a window where your neighbors will see it, you might want this to be your “front” section. Anyway, this strategy has seemed to work well for me. Then, as I’m decorating each section, I can feel where I hang ornaments and then place them a few inches apart. It’s not a perfect measurement, but I spread my hand out like as if I was making a hand print, and then touch one of my outside fingers to an ornament and then where the other outside finger is is where I place the next ornament. This way, I can kind of guide my placing of ornaments down the tree. I start at the top and work down to the bottom rather than just randomly hanging the ornaments so that I don’t miss a spot or put too many ornaments in one place. If it’s helpful, you can even place a chair or something around the tree to use as a border to mark off your sections while you are decorating so that you don’t go over a section while you are working on that section. AS you are also hanging the ornaments, you want to make sure that the ornament isn’t resting against a wire from the lights, or a light bulb so that you can minimize your risk of the ornament melting or causing a fire–worst case scenario. Same thing with garland. It’s pretty easy to check around to see if anything is touching your ornament before you finish hanging it. I hope that makes sense. I actually haven’t put garland on our tree for a few years—mostly because I haven’t found one I liked yet—so instead, I’ve been using this idea I got from a craft store display tree where they draped long ribbon down the tree instead. This design has also proven to be helpful in decorating our tree as it provides a marker or divider on the tree itself which I now use when decorating to divide the tree while I’m hanging ornaments. I have four curled strands of thick Christmas ribbon coming down from the top of the tree and cascading down the tree. Basically, it is two long strands of thick ribbon (the kind with the fine wire on the edges so you can shape it) which I divide in half. Where the fold in the middle is, I make a loop and place it around the tip of the top of the tree (where your tree topper/star/angel/etc. will later go. Then, I drape one side down the front, and one side down the back. I do the same thing with my second strand of ribbon and put it on the left and right sides. When I hang ornaments, I used these ribbons as my dividers. Then, when we put our tree topper on, the ribbon kind of looks like a bow on a package, except the bow is the tree topper. It looks pretty good apparently as I’ve had complements on using the Christmas ribbon instead of garland.

Since our tree is pre-lit, there are so many lights that I think the garland could look cluttery anyway if not done the right way. Using the ribbon is really easy too. It’s kind of hard to explain but I hope this makes sense. I just mentioned this as one way you could divide your tree. Again, I did this because visually it looks pretty, not to help me decorate though, or to get out of using garland which can be hard to space around a tree nonvisually. .

Since Christmas trees are supposed to be visually appealing, it may be helpful to have a trusted friend or family member check out your tree when you’re finished decorating it just to make sure things look visually pleasing –ornaments are spaced out well and wires are hidden, etc. I’ve even Skype called my mom before and showed her the tree to get her opinion and have her point out any things I need to fix to make it look better. AS far as safety issues, I think if you are proactive and checking where you place things as you go, you shouldn’t have any problems.

Good luck. !

So, there you have it. Not a perfect science, and I’m sure other blind people out there have other, even more effective techniques, but hopefully this at least illustrates that it can be done. . On a slightly related note, this year since it’s our first year in a house, we are thinking of hanging up outdoor lights in our yard and on our house. I have yet to figure out how to do this initially, let alone as with any alternative techniques (if necessary); but if we can find some for a reasonable cost, and if I can convince my husband that decorating is fun, and if I can just figure it all out, then I’ll hopefully have a post for you on that too.

Merry Christmas!


Pages from the Hartle Playbook: “Black Fridays!”

I will admit I am one of those “crazy” people who love shopping on “Black Friday.” I find the crowds and the stores around this time exillerating, love the rush of feeling like I’m getting some great bargains, collecting the free -give-aways, and let’s face it…just having an excuse to go shopping never hurts either. So, when “Black Friday” rolled around this past weekend, I was begging my husband to join me in the madness. I know my husband loves me, especially since the two things he literally hates most in this world are shopping and crowds. (I did also have to promise to watch an entire football game with him in return).

You might not realize it, but being blind does add a little bit of a challenge–or at least requires a little bit of creativity–to the whole “Black Friday” shopping experience. For example, going to a store at 4 a.m. is a bit of a challenge when public transportation doesn’t usually run that early. Then there is the whole aspect of not having a trunk or car to put all the great finds you find in so that you can continue shopping. Plus, if you want to hit multiple stores and aren’t going to a mall or something, it’s a little bit trickier to manage your time with public transportation or cabs so that you don’t cut into the shopping time too much. Maybe some blind individuals out there are fortunate to have a sighted friend or family member who is as insane as they are, but in my experience, these individuals are few and far between, or not around when you need them for whatever reason. AS result, I’ve had to learn some different ways of getting the job done. So, in honor of this past “Black Friday” and with today being “Cyber Monday” I thought I’d share with you some stories from my past “Black Friday” shopping trips. They always bring a smile to my face when I think back on some of the crazy things I’ve done.

This first story was probably my biggest, longest, and most expensive trip, but definitely one of the most fun and one that will live on as a legend in the “Black Friday” Hall of Fame. It was the year I moved to Baltimore. My friend who is also blind and a die-hard shopper and I decided to hit the stores really early and make a day of it. I took the bus across town to where she and her husband live sometime around 5:30 or 6 that morning. WE then took a cab another fifteen or twenty minutes to the mall out in the county (both she and her husband are blind too.). We made it to the mall by about 7 a.m. I remember we were at the mall and ate breakfast in the food court at the only place that was open that early capitalizing on the crowds. We then spent the bulk of the morning hitting various shops. AS you might expect, we began to acquire a lot of bags. most people would have taken their bags to the car, but this wasn’t an option for us, so we started asking the clerks if we could stash our bags behind the counter while we shopped. This worked great! After a few hours at the mall, we decided to leave there and walk up the street to the Pier 1 Imports store. WE had each been in Baltimore for only a few months, so we were still “setting up house” so we figured this was a great way to get some home furnishings. So, there we were, the three of us loaded up with shopping bags, bundled in our coats (it was pretty cold that day), and walking along the street with our canes. It turned out to be a little more of a hike (uphill about four blocks) to the Pier 1 Imports store than we anticipated, not to mention extremely cold, and we were carrying some heavy and awkward bags to boot. My friend, trying to lighten the situation, started talking about how we should write a story about our experience and said something like, “You have to be tough to be blind “,and how sighted shoppers were light weights. She then said she wished we had a shopping cart to at least help us carry our bags. Remember she is blind or this next part won’t be as funny. I’m seriously not kidding, but moments after she said this, we discovered a stray shopping cart on the side of the side walk (we learned months later that there was a grocery store across the street). It was like a little humorous answer to prayers. WE all broke out laughing hysterically and loaded up our bags into the cart. WE then proceeded up the hill to the Pier 1 Imports store. We ended up coming in through an upstairs back entrance shared by another business with Pier 1 which saw little traffic. The main store entrance was downstairs on another street level. I think we actually took the cart inside and unloaded our bags and then left it outside that entrance, but I honestly don’t remember. Maybe we left it in the foyer? WE then hauled our bags downstairs to the store. , Once again, the clerks let us stash our stash behind the counter there too. Several hours later (literally), my friend, her husband, and I sat outside of the store entrance with this huge pile of stuff waiting for our cab. The contents of our pile included two area rugs, three lamps, several throw pillows, a couch cover, small end table, and some bags of other odds and ends, not to mention about four consolidated bags each from the mall. WE were met with exclamations of “Awesome!”, or “Now that’s how you shop!” and even some applause as we waited on the porch for our cab.

I don’t know how we ever managed to get everything into the cab. Luckily it was a cab driver we’d used a lot and who liked us. Otherwise, I don’t think he would have wasted his time trying to pack the cab and take us home. We even convinced him to stop off at Wendy’s for dinner with us (we treated him to some as well.) He then drove all of us home which was about another forty-five minutes by the time he dropped me off from where we had been shopping. I think he even gave me a little discount as he spilled coffee on my area rug. (Thankfully it came out.) WE laughed for weeks about this trip and still brag about it today. .

The next story took place a year later. This time, we decided we wanted to hit up an outlet mall in Hagerstown, MD which is about an hour and a half from Baltimore. WE also wanted to get there early in the morning of course to get all the early-bird specials. We toyed with going at midnight, but decided a good night’s sleep would do us good after a long Thanksgiving Day. So, these same two friends, plus one more all stayed over at my house on Thanksgiving night. WE called up our cab driver friend from the year before (whom we used often) and asked him what he would charge to drive the four of us to the outlet mall. WE worked out a deal, arranged for him to pick us up at 5:30 a.m., and agreed to split the cost between the four of us. WE also determined we would take the Greyhound bus back that evening when we were finished as it would be a little cheaper and not lock us into a time with the cab driver. This time though, we were prepared with our own “trunks” (a.k.a.rolling suitcases) wherein we could put our shopping bags and make transporting our finds a bit easier. The shopping was great and I remember getting a lot of really good deals on some gifts for family members, clothes, and a couple of free-bees along the way. WE again stashed our suitcases behind counters as we shopped and prided ourselves on our ingenuity in thinking of bringing the suitcases along this time—a practice we used on subsequent shopping trips. But the real fun started after the shopping. Late that afternoon, we began the trek to the Greyhound bus station. It was about a mile from the outlet mall and required us to walk along the unpaved shoulder of this really busy frontage road to get to it. The bus stop was also on the opposite side of the road, which wasn’t that big of a deal except that the only place to cross was this really crazy-designed intersection with tons of traffic going through it. Think of the visual we must have made with all four of us tapping along with our long white canes, rolling suitcases in toe. . A half hour later, with sore arms and ringing ears, we found ourselves standing in a small bus depot, easily passable for something straight out of Mayberry, except less clean, and were met with the disappointing news that our bus had been delayed. So, we had no choice but to hang out and wait. At one point we had to wait outside for some reason (I guess when the bus was getting near) and there was an individual loitering outside the bus station who I believe transformed the outdoors into his own restroom facilities while we were waiting outside thus making the air “Not so fresh.” In the end, the bus ended up being something like two hours late by the time it rolled into the station. WE anxiously boarded the bus only to sit there for another forty-five mins. Or so. When we first got on the bus, we heard some commotion in the back about someone stinking and not wanting to sit next to them. About ten minutes later (all this was taking place while the driver was loading up and doing paperwork) the bus started to wreak of Ax cologne, (this really disgusting, cheap cologne). Apparently stinky man from the station had been sprayed by another passenger with the cologne to cover up his smell. When the driver got on the bus to leave, she immediately started freaking out and protesting that she couldn’t leave until the bus had aired out because she was a terrible asthmatic. So, we waited.

I was never so glad to get back to Baltimore as I was when we rolled into the Greyhound station at 10:30 that night. I caught a cab home and vowed I’d never take the Greyhound again. Now that I look back on that night, I realize how naive I was traipsing around the ghetto in Baltimore on a greyhound bus! Don’t think my mom ever knew about that one and it’s probably just as well.

My last “Black Friday” story took place the first Christmas my husband and I were married. We had received a number of gift cards to Target as wedding presents earlier that summer which we hadn’t used yet, so we decided to redeem them as well as hit a local furniture store on “Black Friday” in order to capitalize on some of the sales. So, we set out that morning on a very long bus ride from downtown Baltimore where we lived out to the county where the nearest Target was located, with a nice furniture store nearby. We decided to go to the furniture store first so we wouldn’t have to carry any shopping bags with us while looking at furniture. Unfortunately, the bus driver didn’t have the audio stop announcements turned on, so we were relying on him to let us know when we got to our stop. After a while, we began to worry we had gone too far, so my husband asked the driver where we were. Of course, the driver had forgotten and passed up our stop by about a dozen stops. But, this driver feeling so guilty that he’d passed up our stop, turned his bus around, deviated from the route, and took us back as close as he could get us to at least the street we needed. Kind of sounds like we hi-jacked the MTA doesn’t it? WE then walked several blocks through this subdivision to the intersecting street where the furniture store was located. WE managed to find some great items there and arrange for their deliveries and left there ready to set out for phase two of our shopping extravaganza. We knew that the Target was relatively close to the furniture store, so we decided to just walk as the bus to there was a bit out of the way. WE got better directions from the clerk who had helped us with our purchases. She assured us that the Target was only about ten minutes—just down the road through two stop lights in another shopping plaza. So, we set off walking. We learned a valuable lesson that day—when people who usually drive say something only takes about ten minutes to walk to, you’d better triple it. A half hour later we made it to Target.

WE had decided to use our Target gift cards to buy our Christmas tree that year. After finding the perfect tree, we went to pay for it. You can imagine how the next few minutes played out:

Us: “HI, we want to pay for our tree

Cashier: Great. That will be $XXX.

Us: Okay. (Transaction takes place.)

Cashier: Can I get someone to help you get this out to your car?

Us: (momentary pause)” um, well, actually, we can’t drive, so we are going to take the bus home. Do you think you can hold this somewhere for us while we go locate the bus stop?

Cashier: (Seeming a little stunned) “Sure. I can do that.”

I should probably point out a few things to you at this point. #1: My husband is the biggest cheap skate ever and refused to take a cab home as it would have cost about $40 to get from the Target to our apartment at the time. #2, the Target was located in this huge shopping center with mile-long parking lots. WE had never been there before so we didn’t know where the bus stop was and neither did the cashier, so we wanted to find it before hauling the tree outside with us.

About twenty minutes later, we were returning to the store when we ran into two employees carrying our tree on a flatbed cart. They said they had heard what we were doing and wanted to help us get our tree to the bus stop. The stop wasn’t far, actually pretty much straight across from the main entrance of the store, but there wasn’t really a direct path to get through the parking lot because of various obstructions, and there were four lanes of traffic to cross over as well unless you walked about a block up the parking lot to the driveway where the intersection with the crosswalk was located. So, we welcomed the use of the cart and the extra hands. After helping us carry our tree to the bus stop, we thanked the two guys and told them we could manage from there.

When the bus arrived, the bus driver laughed out loud and told us we’d really taken the shopping day seriously. The ride home was a bit amusing and I know we made quite the scene on the bus–confirmed by all the comments and smiles from other passengers–but everyone seemed to be good natured about it and didn’t seem to mind how much space we were taking up at the front of the bus. The driver even seemed tickled to think that she played a role in helping to “make our Christmas.” Thankfully, we only had to carry the tree about a block from the bus stop to our apartment. IN any

case, it makes for a fun story and we look forward to telling our children about how we drug the Christmas tree home on the bus one year.

Well, this brings me to the end of my “Black Friday” reminiscing, at least the funny blindness-related ones. I hope you’ve found some of our tales amusing and even a little helpful. The bottom line is that being blind doesn’t mean you can’t do all the same things others do. We just have to find another way to work things out. Remember, when God closes a door, he provides a shopping cart. And, lastly, just remember, you’ve gotta be tough to be blind because only the strong survive.

Happy Holidays!