New Device Can Help Blind People in a Way Canes and Guide Dogs Can’t


A new device is adding an extra layer of protection against accidental injury for blind people.

Canes and guide dogs are useful tools, but they’re often unable to protect blind people from hazards that come from higher up, such as tree branches or low-hanging construction.

Bin Liu and  Arjun Mali, two University of Toronto graduates, have come up with a device that can alert users to high objects a cane or guide dog can’t warn against. Called BuzzClip, the device clips onto a lapel or collar and vibrates when it detects objects nearby, according to an IndieGoGo page. Users can set the device to spot objects as far away as 6 feet.

Screen Shot 2015-12-23 at 12.04.55 PM
Diagram of the BuzzClip via iMerciv Inc. YouTube channel.

It uses ultrasound to detect obstacles in front of it at head level, a similar technology used in car reverse systems. When fully charged, the device should last up to 10 hours.

Despite its intended purpose of preventing accidental injury, users have discovered new uses, including searching for lost items and gauging when the person in front of them is moving while waiting in a line.

See the BuzzClip in action in the video below:

Liu, a civil engineer, came up with the device to help his father, who has glaucoma, CTV News reported.

“He has a lot of vision left, but he’s over 50 years old so it’s only going to get worse,” Liu told the outlet. “My intention was to create something he could use.”

Mali got on board with the project quickly because he’s spent may years volunteering with his family at an orphanage for blind children in India. Mali and Liu have been able to allow the children at the orphanage to test out a prototype of the device.

Screen Shot 2015-12-23 at 12.09.23 PM
Image of the BuzzClip prototype being tested at an orphanage in India via iMerciv Inc. YouTube channel.

The business partners created a company called iMerciv to sell the device and have raised more than $61,000 through their IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign.

Get more on the BuzzClip from the video below: 


What You Should Never, Ever Say When You Meet Someone With a Disability


When you meet someone with a disability, never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever say “I’m sorry you have a disability.”


Don’t do it.

It drives us crazy.

Let me take a step back for a second.

To me, as well as many others, disability is a huge part of my identity. Just as much as I am a woman and Caucasian and a law student, I am also blind. It’s a facet of my personhood.

So now going back — if you say you are sorry I have a disability, it’s equivalent to telling me you are sorry that I am white, or that I am a woman. I don’t know about you, but I find that really offensive. I would never tell Taylor Swift I’m sorry she is a white woman. (Although I might say I’m sorry for her for other reasons…)

Now, you may be saying, “Claire, I would never say such a thing.” But I’m writing this because it happens more often than you would think. I’ve had people, in the strangest circumstances, tell me they were sorry. I have had strangers on the street or at the bus stop apologize; I have had pizza delivery guys and baristas apologize. You name it and it’s probably happened.

I’m proud to be a member of the disabled community. So please, please, please do not pity me for having a disability. The journalist Joseph Shapiro wrote a book called “No Pity” that I strongly encourage everyone to check out. It walks through the history of the disability rights movement and explains the frustration with the word “pity” far more eloquently than I am.

While I’m writing this post, I feel obligated to emphasize that most of us equally abhor being called inspirational. Don’t do it. Please, please, please, just don’t do it.

We find it especially condescending. We have learned to do things differently. We have adapted. So when you tell me that I am inspirational because I can live on my own with a disability, it’s offensive. I’m almost 27 years old. Yes, of course I am capable of living on my own. One of my closest friends, Cristina, who is also blind, and I used to tease each other about our “inspirational status.”

“Claire, you are so inspirational.  You can eat all by yourself!”

“Cristina, you are so inspirational because you can get dressed all by yourself!”

“Claire, you are so inspirational because you can go out in public!”

“Cristina, you are so inspirational because you can breathe all by yourself!”

I wish there was a way to adequately convey in words the sarcastic and mocking tone of our voices during such conversations.

Cristina and I call it the “I” word, and Carrie Griffin Basas, a successful disability rights attorney and someone I look up to, calls it inspirational porn.

Now let me clarify. I’m not saying you should never recognize the obstacles people with disabilities face. On the contrary, I do appreciate when people respect some of the barriers I face as a person with a disability. Our society still has a long way to go to be fully accessible. I appreciate when someone recognizes that. I appreciate when people stand behind me when my rights are violated and acknowledge it’s unjust. Additionally, I’m happy to be an encouragement to others who have recently acquired a disability and see me as a mentor. All of those kinds of situations are completely understandable.

But there is a big difference between that and feeling bad for me and thinking I’m a superhero for being able to brush my teeth on my own. Respect people with disabilities for things they should be respected for. Just don’t pity us.

Follow this journey on An Unseen Perspective.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability and/or disease, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Claire and her service dog

What I Want You to Understand About the 'Supercrip' Stereotype


I’ve been wanting to write on this topic for awhile now. It’s an intriguing concept in the disability world. But it is also something that has been salient in my own life as of late.

Let me back up. I took the Pennsylvania bar this summer. Well, I found out last month that I unfortunately did not pass. Understandably, I was upset. I worked so hard. But more than being upset, I felt, or rather, still feel embarrassed. I felt like a failure. Why didn’t I pass.

But why?

Why should I feel like a failure? I graduated from law school. And not passing the bar is a perfectly normal thing. John F. Kennedy Jr. didn’t pass the bar the first time. True story.

So what does this have to do with disability culture?

I think a large reason for my shame comes from the idea of being a “supercrip.”

Supercrip is this stereotype that has formed around many people with disabilities. People look at us as these inspirational models. Wow, look at Claire, she is blind but she still went to law school. That’s amazing! One of the bar prep professors this summer announced in front of everyone that she was impressed that I had went to law school and was studying for the bar. People see us as these inspirational stories to gawk at.

Also, people see the supercrip as superhuman. If you have a disability in one area, then you more than make up for it in all other ways. If you are blind, you have superhuman hearing and can hear a pin drop from a mile away. In high school, I often felt pressure to be the supercrip. Because I was the only blind student in my honors classes, I felt like I had to work super hard to prove that blind students could do well in school too.

But let me tell you. It’s exhausting. Why should I have to be superhuman? Why must I prove that beyond my disability I am some superhero. I mean, I like Daredevil and all, but there is a reason Matt Murdock is found in comic books, not in real life.

But let’s get real. Yes, persons with disabilities can do anything persons without disabilities can do. If you know me, you know I believe that with all my heart. I have a friend who is also blind who is working on his PhD in chemistry.

But don’t look at him as a supercrip. He has faced numerous obstacles in the pursuit of that PhD, both as a result of his disability and a result of society.

Having a disability still presents obstacles. I read Braille, and no matter how well I read Braille, it will always take me longer to read then my sighted peers. So when I took the bar in Braille, I was always going to face that challenge.

Being blind presents its challenges. I’m not saying this to elicit pity. If you know me, you know that is the last thing I would ever want to do.

No, I’m just trying to debunk the supercrip stereotype. Sometimes in life, I am just going to face some challenges that are unique to my disability. Many blind attorneys I know had to take the bar more than once because in reality, it’s just harder for us, it just is.

I didn’t pass the bar, and I’m fairly certain my blindness played a large role. It’s just the reality. But I shouldn’t be embarrassed about that.

But I don’t have to put on my supercrip cape and overcome every obstacle just to prove that having a disability doesn’t make some things in life a little bit more difficult.

Am I making sense? Please let me know if I’m not making sense.

So let me summarize the moral of the post. Stop thinking that people with disabilities need to be these inspirational icons who can overcome anything and everything. Yes, people with disabilities do some pretty bad-ass things all the time. But we also face obstacles. Lets stop thinking it’s either or, that you either can’t do anything or you can do everything.

Signing Off,

  An Unseen Perspective

Follow this journey on An Unseen Perspective.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability and/or disease, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


To Santa, From the Mom Whose Child Asked You to ‘Fix Mommy’s Eyes’


Dear Santa,

I’m writing this letter on behalf of my daughter, who’s almost 3 years old. Christmas has taken on a new meaning since this tiny blessing came into my life. Being the daughter of a blind mom isn’t easy for her, Santa. She may be young, but she already knows her mommy is “different” from other mommies.

This Christmas is supposed to be extra special for us, because it’s the first year that my daughter actually “gets” it. You see, she knows who you are. She was absolutely elated when we met you at the mall. She is literally bursting with anticipation about your impending arrival on Christmas Eve. But the thing she wanted to do, more than anything else, was write you a letter.  And that’s where we have a problem. You see, Santa, we have a bit of a situation.

While decorating our front lawn last week, my daughter and I were approached by a neighbor who asked her what she wanted you to bring her for Christmas. Being the friendly little girl that she is, she immediately rambled off a least a dozen things she’d like to have under our tree on Christmas morning. Our neighbor kindly listened as she eagerly ran through her list. When my daughter had finished, he jokingly suggested that she should ask you, Santa, to fix her mommy’s eyes for Christmas.

You can imagine my shock when I heard such a suggestion from a grown adult to my child! I’m not usually the type to be at a loss for words, but this comment really caught me off guard. I quickly made an excuse about needing to take something out of the oven and took my little girl inside. At first, she seemed to have forgotten about the entire ordeal. She went about her afternoon, playing and watching cartoons, but then it happened.

My daughter asked to write you her letter.  We sat at out kitchen table and she handed me her favorite blue crayon.

Holly’s two children sitting with Santa

“Mommy, can you tell Santa I want:

1. The Paw Patroller

2. Doc McStuffin’s Pet Vet

3. Little Tikes Tumble Train.”

And just when I thought I was out of the woods, she paused and added:

“Oh, and fix Mommy’s eyes.”

Well, Santa, it broke my heart, but I had to explain to my little girl that on this particular request, you wouldn’t be able to deliver. I told my daughter that the type of magic you possess only allows you to bring things that can be wrapped in paper and tied with bows. I explained you were not a doctor and could not make her mommy’s eyes better. I told her you are not God. You can’t make me see. And no offense to the big guy upstairs, but when I pray, Santa, that’s not something I even ask for. Really, it’s not.

You see, it’s taken me a long time, but I’m happy with the person I have become. I’ve adjusted to life with my disability. I am extremely blessed to have the family I’ve got, especially my precious little girl. I understand that being blind is one small facet of the person I am. I don’t need to be “fixed,” Santa, because this mommy isn’t broken.

So, on behalf of my daughter, please grant her Christmas wish by bringing every toy on her list this year.

Holly’s daughter wearing a “sous chef” apron

As for me, Santa, I know you’re not real. However, you represent a piece of her childhood and an opportunity for me to create memories that she will take with her into adulthood. I want her to know there is magic in Christmas, just not the kind that involves medical miracles.

The greatest gift I can give my daughter is teaching her that even though her mommy may be blind, I still have vision. I “see” my little girl. Maybe not in the traditional sense of the word, but I “see” her. I know she is kind and good-hearted. I know she is extremely smart. I know she will leave her mark on this world, not because I can see it, but because as her mother, I can feel it.

I love her, Santa, to the North Pole and back! And whatever the future holds for her mommy’s health and eyesight, nothing in this world will ever change that.

Merry Christmas, Santa!


A Blind Mom

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness during the holiday season. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.


11 Wrong Ways to Respond to My Blindness


I’m probably one of the only blind people you know, if not the only one, and naturally, you’re curious about how I get around, get through school and live my life. I understand you have several questions you want to ask me, and that’s OK. I also know sometimes you don’t know what to say or how to act, so I wrote this to give you some ideas. I’m not trying to reject all your questions, but you do need to know that some things just aren’t OK.

1. Talking about/for me like I’m not there.

This is more of a scenario than a question, but it’s extremely hurtful. I am a person just like you, and I deserve to be treated as such. I am blind, but I can talk, and I need to be asked questions like if I need help, what I want to order at a restaurant and especially questions about my disability. Talking for me and about me like I’m not there is what you’d do to a pet or animal, but certainly not to another human being. It makes me feel less than human when people interact with me like this. You can avoid this by just asking me. Treat me like any other person. I can’t stress that enough.

2. Asking, “Hi honey, do you need help?”

This question is usually asked by complete strangers, which is, well, strange. Honey, sweetie, dear and sweetheart are all words you would use with someone you have an affectionate relationship, a small child or an especially cute pet. Since I don’t have an affectionate relationship with most of the people who ask me this, it means you’re treating me like a small child. If you would talk to any other teenager like that, than go ahead, but I doubt that’s the case. Please just ask, “Hi, how are you? Do you need help?”

3. Not respecting me when I decline help.

When I decline help, it’s nothing personal, it’s just that I don’t need assistance at that time. So please respect that, go on about your day and don’t act wounded like a kicked puppy. I appreciate your offer, but when you act hurt after I decline, it makes me feel guilty for my independence. I’ve worked so hard to be as independent as I am, so please don’t take that away, and don’t make me feel guilty for it.

4. Taking advantage of me.

Yes, this has happened to me, but I’d rather not go into detail about the most embarrassing experience of my life. I’m thankful it only was an invasive touch, not something more severe, and that the guy was punished — but that does not make it OK! Under no condition is it ever acceptable to take advantage of a disabled person sexually and use the excuse that you were, “helping” me. Your unwelcome touch made me feel dirty, like something was taken from me. You saying that you were trying to help me makes it seem like I asked for it, like I needed it, like you were doing some kind of good, and worst of all, it made me hate my blindness for a long time. No one should hate part of themselves because of the actions of another. How to avoid this? Really, just don’t do it.

5. Asking, “Do you need help drinking that?”

This was an isolated incident where a guy asked me if I needed help drinking my milk at school, and he proceeded to lift the carton to my face as if he were going to put the straw in my mouth and give me the milk like a mother gives a baby its bottle. I know he was probably trying to be nice and helpful, but there is no need for that.

6. Asking 20 questions at once about blindness.

This is when people barely know me, and every question they ask is about my blindness and nothing about who I am as a person. I don’t care if you have questions, but ask respectfully, and also try to get to know my personality and not just the blindness.

7. Asking, “How do you kiss someone?”

This is awkward, embarrassing and just weird. Please don’t try to pry into my personal life like that. Please, just don’t ask; some things are better left unsaid. If you really want to know, I haven’t done a lot of kissing in my life, but it’s just like any normal person.

8. Asking, “How do you sleep?”

OK, I only have one response to this: creepy.

9. Asking, “What do you drive?” or “Do you drive?”

The closest I come to driving is using my cane. This is just insensitive.

10. Coming up unannounced and guiding me by pushing/pulling me in different directions.

This genuinely scares me when strangers come up and guide me like this without my knowledge. Please give me space, ask if i need help. If I say yes, let me take your arm, and we will have no issues.

11. Playing tricks on me.

This is just plain unacceptable! Even in high school, I am asked how many fingers someone is holding up, or someone will tell me they’re someone else to see if I can guess who they really are and to try to trick me for  their own amusement. That is selfish and cruel! I am a person, not a circus act.

What to do instead: Treat me like any other normal person.

This covers everything in this article. Please, just treat me like anyone else. If  you don’t act like there is something wrong with me, and you give me a chance, I could be a good friend to you.

To my friends and family who have stuck by me and who do accept me, I can’t thank you enough.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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5 Things I Wish People Understood About Being Legally Blind


When you encounter me going about my daily life, you probably notice two things right a way. I’m either traveling with the help of a canine or using a long white cane — and I can see.

I don’t fit most people’s image of a blind person. I look at things.

There are numerous terms to describe those of us who live between the worlds of the fully sighted and totally blind: low vision, visually impaired, legally blind and partially sighted.

Some who are partially sighted identify with the blind community. Others do not. Like our amount of residual sight, most of us are somewhere in between. We live in a gray area. It’s a confusing, ever-changing place where people can see some things, but not others. While what each of us can see can vary, we all have some things we’d like you to know:

1. Blindness doesn’t always mean total darkness.

Only about 15 percent of people who have a blindness diagnosis have no light perception, according to VisionAware. Most of us see something even if it’s just being able to tell the difference between light and dark. There are two types of impaired vision: acuity (how clear things are) and field of vision (how much of an environment you see at once without moving your eyes or head). Individuals can be legally blind based on either or both of these factors.

For most of my years growing up, I was legally blind due to severely restricted fields. Technically, my field of vision is less than 2 degrees. That’s roughly the size of a pinprick. If I could find it, I could see it. That meant I could read street signs, but I’d probably fall down a curb.

Now my acuity has also fallen into the legally blind territory. Because of my severely restricted field of vision, it’s difficult to even obtain an acuity reading. When I look at the big “E” on an eye doctor’s chart, I don’t see the whole letter at the same time. On a good day, I can put the puzzle together and see that it’s actually an “E.” On a bad day, I can see there’s something there, but I couldn’t tell you if it was a letter or lamppost. Most of the time, we settle and say my acuity is worse than 20/200 and call it a day.

Natasha in a park outdoors near water
Natasha in a park outdoors near water

2. There is no easy answer to the question, “So what can you see?”

Some people who are legally blind have experienced full sight. Then others, like me, have no concept of what it’s like to have “normal” vision. The answer to the question, “What can you see?” is a complicated one. Some people see colors or shadows. Others may see parts of things and spend their life figuratively putting together the pieces of a puzzle. Some people may be able to see a tiny speck of paper on the floor but will run into a chair that wasn’t pushed in.

For many people with reduced acuity, their sight may be dependent on both internal and external factors. The lighting in a room, the weather outside and how tired they are can all affect how well someone can see. I often joke that whether I can see something depends on the alignment of the sun, moon and stars and whether Mercury is in retrograde. Never knowing if I will be able to see something today that I could see yesterday is confusing for me and those around me. I’d rather you err on the side of me not seeing something. That way we can both be pleasantly surprised if I can.

3. We learn to use our residual sight.

I happen to be rather partial to the fact that I can see some things. I like to look at things. When I was learning to use a long white cane as a mobility aid, one of the things my instructor taught me was to let the cane do the work and let my sight compliment what I was feeling with my cane. She taught me to use my cane to locate objects and my vision to see them. Now that I primarily travel with a guide dog, I let my dog keep me moving in a straight line while I use my eyes to find the landmark I need to tell my dog where to go. The same thing applies indoors. I let my dog take me around people and displays to help me find the general location of items I purchase frequently. Then I use my residual sight to find the exact item I need. It’s a win-win.

Natasha's guide dog.
Natasha’s guide dog.

4. We benefit from accurate verbal directions and descriptions.

Yes, I can see something, but I don’t see more than I can actually see. Phrases like “over there” mean nothing to me other than it’s “not where I’m standing right now.” I may need your help even, or perhaps especially, when I’m traveling with the help of my guide dog. I might even get lost in a familiar area.

If I ask for directions or help locating something, please use words to describe where things are in relation to where I am and how I am oriented. Phrases like “behind you and to your right” tell me much more than “back there.” Likewise, telling me the store I’m looking for is still another block down, across the street and just past the train tracks provides me with excellent landmarks to help find my way. Just use clear adjectives and directional phrases, and I’ll be on my way.

5. We’re not faking.

Please don’t accuse someone who is partially sighted of faking their blindness. We aren’t a social experiment. The last thing we want is extra special attention. We are men and women, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons who have a condition where we live in the gray area of the world. We work hard with what we have. We get frustrated. We rejoice. We compensate and compromise. A medical professional has run tests. Maybe glasses or contacts help. Maybe they don’t. Maybe we use a long white cane just in unfamiliar areas and travel without a mobility aide in areas we know well. I regularly travel to my mailbox without the aid of dog or cane. I know the route well.

So when someone asks me, “Are you really blind?” I take a deep breath before I reply. I spend my life figuratively putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to get some visual semblance of my world. Have you ever tried to put together a jigsaw puzzle without having a picture of what you were putting together? That’s what every day is like for me, except I don’t even know if I have all the pieces.

The next time you encounter someone who is partially sighted and curiosity is getting the better of you, remember that blindness is a spectrum and an individual experience. If you ask about a person’s visual impairment, and I encourage you to, be open to an out-of-the-box answer because the person you asked is stepping outside of their box for your benefit.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability and/or disease, and what would you say to teach them? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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