Roll the bones


 

KateyMy interview with Katey Duppong, an entrepreneur who “sees” the humorous side of vision impairment.

Recently, I have become more active in Facebook Groups. It is a great way to create awareness about an issue or cause — in my case that’s a rare condition called Retinitis Pigmentasa (RP).

RP is an inherited, degenerative eye disease that can lead to severe vision impairment and even blindness. Through a group dedicated to RP, I met a woman named Katey Duppong from Kuna, Idaho. Like me, Katey has RP. I was instantly intrigued by Katey because she makes and sells funny t-shirts that shed light and humor on RP.

Katey is a busy woman. She is finishing up college and starting an early childhood learning center. She also has a small business selling products to support RP. She was kind enough to answer some questions for me. She deals with her condition head on; nothing scares her… well, so long as she cannot see it.

When were you diagnosed with RP?

All my life we’ve known that I’ve had RP, but I was “officially” diagnosed at age 15 (I’m 21 now). My mom and dad (who also has RP) first noticed that I showed signs of RP while waiting for a ride in Disneyland. I think I  had just turned 5. He had asked me to go throw something away, and I couldn’t see where the trash can was (it was very dim lighting.) From that moment on we knew it was most likely RP.

 What was that moment like?

“Officially” finding out that it was for sure RP was rough. At 15, all you can think about is “How am I supposed to go to dark school dances?” “How am I supposed to drive at night/drive in general?” “How am I going to see in class when the instructor turns out the lights?” “How am I supposed to go to parties with friends if I can’t see very well in their house?” Of course you can find alternate ways of handling these things, but it was a huge upset.

What stage are you at? Can you drive? Do you use a cane?

I’m honestly not sure what degree of vision I have left. I still drive periodically, but it’s only to places that have very few people around, and during the day. I have never driven at night. I live out in the country, so this is a plus! Very open, empty roads. If I lived in the city, it would be a completely different story, that’s for sure. As for the cane, I have one. Do I use it? No. I felt like it was a big step just purchasing one and having it in my possession. Baby steps :)

What inspired you to make the RP Truths t-shirts?

I was sitting on the couch one night, thinking “it’d be nice if I didn’t have to explain why I didn’t see someone’s hand to shake it … Like if they somehow would just know… ” I then created the idea of the t-shirt. Have a phrase (sarcastic or not), that would simply explain my vision. And then the seed was planted :)10270652_238969162967349_1370414747496799201_n

Where do you get the phrases?

The phrases were all made up by my experiences (and my dad’s) with people around us. I remember one time in particular, my mom, dad and I were at a car lot. The salesman was probably the rudest man I’ve ever met. My dad had his cane out, and was talking to the guy. After leaving us for a brief time, he comes back, looks at my dad, and goes “so… you’re really blind?” I was shocked. Is this man serious? Is he really that negligent? Needless to say, he helped fuel my fire :)

 10390165_238972649633667_8119573361550784651_nWhich phrases are the top sellers for all “RP Truths” items?

 

“It’s right there.” Doesn’t help.

I am visually impaired. No, I’m not faking it.

Do not walk in front of me, you will be run over.

“Are you blind?” Nope. I just like carrying this stick around.

Wet floor signs are, and will always be, the enemy.

How has the response been to the shirts?

The response has been outstanding! :) It’s great to see that so many people can relate!

 What inspired you to give part of the proceeds to the Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB)?

My parents have always given back to FFB, so it was a no-brainer. I strongly believe in the research that they do, and support finding a cure.

Who is someone with vision loss that inspires you?

Definitely my dad. I remember growing up, and not once questioning why he had “bad eyes” (as he says). I truly believe, the way my dad and my mom brought me up has helped me tremendously with the way I look at life. RP has never been a bad or horrible thing, it was just a conRush_roll_the_bonesdition in our family, and that was that. My dad always sung me a song from the band “Rush” called “Roll The Bones” and it’s main lyrics are:

Why are we here? Because we’re here, Roll the bones.

Why does it happen? Because it happens, Roll the bones.

Meaning, life gives you the cards you’re dealt. You can either take them and make the best of the hand you’ve got, or you can throw them on the table and quit. My dad is my superhero, and I don’t know what I would do without him. He is such a role model and one of the biggest influences in my life.

If you knew you were going to lose all of your sight, what would you want to see that you have not seen already?

The world. I dream of traveling to many places around the globe. I feel like there is so much to see, and so little time. RP is like a ticking time bomb… you never know when it’s going to go off. I never want to regret not seeing the world when I had the vision to.

How does your condition help you? Is there something you do exceptionally well because you have RP?  

It’s funny. I actually have 50% hearing loss in my right ear, but can hear better than most people I know! I think having RP definitely heightens your other senses (even your intuition). RP has also allowed me to go with the flow of things. I can’t change what happens to my eyes, I can only adjust. Just keep swimming :)

What is the funniest moment you have had because of RP?

There are sooooo many. I’d have to say one of the funniest would be when I went to a haunted corn maze in high school. It was night time, and I clearly couldn’t see. We were all huddled together in a huge group walking. Everyone was screaming and saying “ahh he’s right next to you!!” Yeah… the most boring night of my life lol. I couldn’t see anything at all, so nothing scared me! As we were approaching a tunnel, one of the scary voices said “Are you scared yet?” Jokingly I said “Actually no… I can’t see anything…” He then lit up his face mask and screamed “How ‘bout now?!” I jumped like no other. Everyone started laughing, because I was finally scared.

What advice do you have for others who are dealing with RP?

It’s not easy to deal with. One minute you’re fine, and the next you feel like you can’t go on. But you have to. Life doesn’t stop. People don’t stop. Only you do. Keep going. You were given this condition for a reason. In my opinion it’s to teach others that life is a valuable thing, and it’s not to be taken for granted. We all have the power to change the world, so get to it :)

Thank you, Katey, for taking the time to answer these questions. Anyone who wants to check out and/or purchase “RP Truths” T-shirts, may go to the “RP Truths” Facebook Page. To see more RP items, visit Katey’s Unique Boutique.

Also, to help me choose which shirt I should buy from Katey, go to my Facebook Page.

To see myself in a wedding dress.



I recently visited Dallas, Texas. I was there to support my hometown Wisconsin Badgers who were in the Final Four. We left empty handed, but it was a great experience. I also had the chance to sit down and chat with a couple of great people from the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Jenny Lynn and Maria Cartagena work at the southwest chapter for the foundation.

I asked, “What is the Foundation Fighting Blindness“:imgres-4

Lynn stated, “Basically, the Foundation Fighting Blindness is an organization that exists to find treatments and cures for retinal degenerative diseases. That’s the blanket answer, but I think if you talked to our members, you would get a lot of different answers. Some of them [would say] the Foundation Fighting Blindness is my family… where I get support… where I met the doctor who finally clicked with me who knows what is going on with me. It’s a fun way to get involved, raise money and give back to a cause. There’s a lot of ways to answer that question.”

Maria is a great story. She was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa a couple of years ago. She is at a point where she can drive during the day and “secretly at night”. She bumps into things and constantly has a new bruise on her legs. Immediately upon diagnosis, she started researching and came across the Foundation Fighting Blindness. She began volunteering with the local chapter in Tampa, Florida. With a desire to be more involved and “see everything firsthand” she interviewed and took a job with the foundation. Eight months after her diagnosis she moved 1,100 miles to Plano, Texas to work for the largest retinal research organization in the country.

I asked them about challenges specific to people in the Dallas/Forth Worth area. One of the big challenges for those with vision issues in the area is how spread out it is. When they can’t drive they rely heavily on public transportation. The DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) system does not offer an easy connection to the various communities in the area. Google recently gave an update to their self-driving car. For those that can’t drive, this can’t come soon enough.

They also shared with me the latest news about the Argus II, which was recently approved by the FDA. It is a chip that is implanted on the retina. It then communicates to special glasses that the person wears. It is able to restore some visual function for people that are completely blind, which is a huge improvement.

I asked about misconceptions that people with vision issues deal with. Maria falls down and people think she is clumsy and/or impaired. She brought up a great point about how others have a hard time understanding those with vision issues: “It’s really hard for them to relate or understand when they can’t see it. If someone has a missing arm, they would probably be a little bit more sensitive versus they can’t see what you see, so they can’t relate.” Another common occurrence is when “someone goes to shake someone’s hand and their hand is below where their sight line is and they can’t see it”. This leads to people thinking they are being rude.photo (49)

A highlight from the conversation was learning about a gentlemen with very little sight who has a yearly Oscar party. He loves movies. He and his wife still watch movies together. He, of course, focuses on listening to them.

For my final question I asked, “If you knew you were going to lose all of your sight, where would you go in the world? What do you want to see?” Lauren settled on going to Patagonia. Maria said “if I knew I was going blind in a month, I would think I would want to see myself in a wedding dress, what I would look like if I were to get married.”

During the conversation, we came to the realization that we all love to dance. They invited me to their dance class a few days later. Unfortunately I was not able to make it. However, I will see them soon in Colorado for the VISIONS2014 conference and dancing will be involved!

To see the transcription of the full conversation go here.

 

Ethiopia: My Best Experience


The number one question people have asked about my travels is, “What was the best place you visited?” I have been to many great places, it is hard to say what was the “best”.  However, my visit to Ethiopia was the best experience.

Thanks to the following comment left on my Flight4Sight Facebook Page from a Madison, Wisconsin acquaintance who works with the State Department, I was offered a unique opportunity to visit Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:

qGfb1NmRhfvKSVzmZYnCdOwoJm5tj4_np__JQZKXrYYMy visit to Ethiopia’s capital involved a range of challenges. I experienced missing luggage, stomach pains, hearing issues, language barriers, and so forth. Regardless, what I learned and experienced in my first visit to Africa was incredible.

Before my Flight4Sight campaign started, I was strongly encouraged by a friend (thank you Carlos) to contact my doctor and load up on shots. The nurse asked me where I was going. It was not very clear at that point (a la Facebook was deciding). She did not want to give me a Yellow Fever shot if I was not going to places where I needed it. I did not argue. Sure enough, about three weeks later, I was in the Dubai International Airport about a half hour before boarding, debating whether I should use my nonrefundable ticket to travel to Ethiopia where I might need the Yellow Fever shot.

Dan and I were feverishly (no pun intended) messaging back and forth trying to figure out if I should come to Ethiopia. We could not determine if I would be able to leave Ethiopia had I not received the Yellow Fever shot. We were perplexed, because the CDC website indicated that I needed to have the vaccine in my system for ten days before I entered other countries after being in Ethiopia. My next destination was Spain. After exhausted online searches by multiple people, we decided I could go to Ethiopia without the shot. A key reason was that I was not going to be anywhere near where Yellow Fever was a problem.

Upon arrival, I was met by Dan at the airport. He was a very welcome sight after multiple arrivals at airports with little idea where I was going. It was a break from traveling alone. Dan has been a friend of the family for 15 years, so I was in good hands.

An important part of my mission was to learn about vision issues around the world. Ethiopia faces one of the world highest rates of blindness and low vision, affecting approximately 4% of the population. On my first day, I visited the Ethiopian National Association of the Deafblind. I met with a group of people, including its director, Roman Mesfin. I discussed my mission. They were eager to tell me about what they are accomplishing. They were excited to learn the US Embassy directed me to them. We talked about their focus which is to identify deaf/blind people, bring awareness to the Ethiopian community, and to help children with deaf/blind issues develop life skills. I met with some of the children. I listened to the story of one blind girl, who was unable to walk when she came to the center a few years ago. Today, she is walking on her own. The organization takes in children from various locations around the area. It’s facilities are rundown, however the people in charge are passionate and dedicated. They talked about their need for additional resources to expand their work. This was a prevailing theme during my stay in Addis Ababa.

On the second day, I visited Retrak. They are an organization that inspires street children to have a better life. This was a change from my vision related focus, yet still very interesting. Children leave their rural homes in search of work in the city. However, they are often faced with fewer opportunities than promised and are left to brave the streets begging and stealing to survive. Retrak takes children off the streets and teaches them skills to succeed in the real world. Along with Broads Abroad Addis Ababa (a group of expatriate women), I received a tour of the facilities and met some of the children. One child had been on the streets for 9 years before he came to the program. Once again, I was impressed with the administrator’s passion.

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On the third day, I went to the Addis Hiwot Center of the Blind. I met a gentlemen named Ato Mekonnen. He has been completely blind since he was a child and spoke excellent english. We talked about all sorts of issues. It is a tremendous challenge for those who can see all of their life and suddenly lose this sense. Individuals can fall into a tailspin of psychological challenges and become family dependant. Some families may not be able to support them and people with sudden vision problems often end up on the street. This is especially difficult for those living in rural areas.

The idea of a family neglecting you because of blindness is difficult for me to understand. It is different from the support I received dealing with my challenges.

From the moment I was diagnosed my family has been supportive. Indeed, my
father has gone so far as to be an active board member of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, which is the nation’s largest organization supporting retinal disease research,

The visit with the Hiwot Center also involved individuals from the US Embassy, including my friend Dan. We discussed the history of the Hiwot Center and the USAid’s involvement. We talked about the challenges for Braille textbooks. Ethiopia has multiple languages and a limited power supply to run the Braille machines. Another interesting yet frustrating thing we talked about was that blind people have been denied access to music classes at a local school for over 40 years. He talked about the challenges to even protest this because they would be reprimanded. Organizations with more than 10% aid from the US are not allowed to protest.

On my fourth and final day in Ethiopia I visited the Sebeta School of the Blind. Between accents and language barriers, communication was tough. Moreover, I had been dealing with a busted hearing aid. I relied heavily on my iPhone recording app and for transcribers to be able to write out what was said. Nonetheless, my visit to this school was the experience that touched me the most.

 

I met a gentleman named Bultosa Hirko. Mr Hirko is the dean of the college for the Sebeto School of the Blind. We talked about the grade school (grades 1-8). It has over 300 students. Most of them are totally blind. They arrive from all over the country and some live on campus. While the school is publicly funded, it has a wide range of needs which exceeds what the government can provide.

The schools needs ranged from canes, tape recorders, braille stylus tools, new computers and updated software. They deal with computer viruses and out of date software. They use a program called Jaws, which reads what is on the computer screen.  They are currently running a very old version.

Because of the lack of efficient equipment, students have no access to learning math beyond a sixth grade level. This denies them access to certain professions. They are limited to vocations such as nursing, teaching, and the law.

I had the opportunity to talk to some of the students.  We discussed internet access. Access to the online world is a challenge for the students to both connect online and be able to get the information they need translated. I asked them, “what would happen if you have access to the internet and everything on there?” They responded saying that the internet could give them access to share their stories. They could access things for their own learning and communicate to get information.

One of the most surprising things to me was the lack of canes. The few that did have what they called a cane, had sticks that were usually too short. Mr. Hirko expressed the need for more canes, especially for the older children so they could explore life outside of campus.

1655644_597683713642529_1713759120_oMy time in Ethiopia was not full of meetings. I went to an authentic Ethiopian restaurant where I witnessed a wedding celebration, saw some great dancing, and drank Ambo! It is a sparkling water that comes directly from the ground. I drank it all week. Another highlight was a coffee ceremony. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. It was not a bad place to have my first ever cup of coffee.

On a trip to a historical Ethiopian church, I was having a difficult time seeing the paintings. It was very dark for me. To help see the paintings, I looked at them through the camera of my iPhone. I saw them better and clearer. I wonder if this is a sign of things to come? Will I be wearing terminator glasses that will give me a clear digital image of what is in front of me?

My time in Ethiopia was eye-opening. A massive thank you goes to the Swift family. Everything I did and everywhere I went was set up by them. Throughout my stay I had very interesting conversations with Dan and Tracy about their responsibilities with the US Embassy and around the world. They are incredibly passionate about the world and helping others.

I had a very early flight out. I almost didn’t make it. For whatever reason my alarm on my phone didn’t wake me. The cab driver woke me up (thankfully). Once I made it to the airport, my trip to Spain was smooth sailing. I made an Instagram video of the sunrise on the plane during the first leg of the trip from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Cairo, Egypt. I made it through Spain’s customs with no questions about a Yellow Fever shot.

From there, I spent the weekend in Madrid visiting old friends and going to a Blind Museum, where they forgot I was in the museum and shut the lights out… Yup. That happened……details to follow.

For more pictures of my time in Ethiopia go the my Ethiopia Facebook Album.

Transcriptions of conversations:

Ethiopian National Federation of the deafblind

Hiwot Center for the Blind

Sebeta School for the Blind

Stars, Accessibility, Blind Writer, Mentorship, and more Stars at South by Southwest!


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When I launched the Flight4Sight campaign, I had one planned destination: South by Southwest (SXSW). I have heard about this conference for a few years. I am a big technology and social media nerd. SXSW combined Interactive, Film, and Music for 10 days from Friday, March 7th – Sunday, March 16th. There were over 5,000 events to choose from. It is the conference where Twitter blew up and Foursquare officially launched.

I planned on buying a badge for the Interactive portion of the conference. The rest of the conference looked like fun, but too expensive. One challenge was how I would travel to the conference every day. I was staying with a friend 30 minutes away. Renting a car was not an option and the bus would take up a lot of time. Then something happened that still boggles my mind. Thanks to someone (who will remain anonymous) who saw a comment I posted on Instagram, I received two platinum badge passes. These badges were worth over 3 thousand dollars. This individual wanted to do something nice to support my journey. I was flabbergasted.

Having two passes meant my friend, Chris Colletti, could join me and drive me around. He took three days off from his job at Apple (don’t ask him what he is working on) to go with me. Also, this meant I could stay for the whole conference!

I arrived in Austin, Texas late Friday night from Rome, Italy via Atlanta, Georgia. Despite two incredible Delta flights, I battled some serious jet lag the first few days. I finished most days with the seat back and my eyes shut as my friend drove us back.

Accessibility at the conference was phenomenal. There was a separate registration booth to deal with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) issues. I learned later that I could have a plus one with me. This is a person who does not need to purchase a pass as long as long as he or she stays with you. This will definitely encourage me to come in the future. The accessibility allowed me to sit front row at talks given by Lady Gaga, Nicolas Cage, and Robert Duvall. x-UtqszsmqSJpPCvaZGkz6AaT60NhwtzzC8gPGqeJjM-1The conference involved many other stars. I also listened to Sean “Diddy” Combs talk about his new tv station “Revolt”, Bill Cosby do standup and Tim Ferriss talk about challenging yourself. Tim Ferriss is the author of Four-Hour Workweek. It offers a thoughtful perspective on how to live your life. It focuses on your work life and whether it is right for you. Finally, the most sureal sighting was Edward Snowden. He was live (via Google Hangout) discussing all things privacy and NSA.

While waiting in the accessibility line to see Bill Cosby’s stand up, I met Will Lowry. He is a blind writer who was at SXSW for the second time. He is a super nice guy. We had the chance to sit down and interview each other. I will be reporting about this in a future blog.

The conf erence was not all about stars. I was primarily there for social media talks. I was reminded of certain principles. One: “Content is NOT king”. Social Media is “social”. At the end of the day, we should be most focused on engaging people. The second principle involved “authenticity”. Nobody can do Social Media better than the subject itself. I sat in on a few sessions about social media and music. If  you are a current or future rock star, your most effective social media strategy is to do it yourself. Fans want to see the real you. Likewise, this can be applied across many sectors, but who doesn’t want to be a rock star?

Another great experience that happened was the mentorship I received. A big challenge at SXSW is the sheer volume of events and choosing which to attend. Also, you need to make sure, for some events, you arrive enough to get in.

One evening, I was unable to attend a certain event. You never want to waste opportunities at a conference where there are so many great events and people to meet. I noted from the SXSW conference schedule there were mentor sessions going on. I sought a mentor. I was super fortunate to talk to Ligaya Tichy. She is an Angel Investor and normally talks to people that are starting companies. I nervously approached her. I talked with her about my campaign and asked her how I could keep it going. She offered great advice. Her best advice was when I stop traveling, to sit down and start sharing what I have done and to seek out new contacts. I was interested in her previous involvement with Airbnb. I inquired with her about how I could get it involved as a partner on my journey. If I keep on my journey, I will need some financial help. I would LOVE to partner with Airbnb. During our discussion, the idea of putting sponsor stickers on my cane came up. My cane could be like a Nascar with sponsors. Stay tuned…

The stars just kept coming. This year, for the first time, Apple brought the iTunes Festival to SXSW. They hosted a series of concerts. I was lucky to win a lottery for free tickets to three of the five concerts they held. Highlights were seeing Pitbull, Lady Gaga, and Keith Urban perform. This was the cleanest concert experience I had ever been to. Everything was so nice. It was full, but didn’t feel crowded. Instead of people in yellow jackets running the event, there were Apple employees coordinating everything and even cheering when we left the final night of the festival. What more can you expect from something run by Apple?

The last night in Austin I went out with my friend and his family for dinner. I was exhausted and debated whether I should even go to Chile. SXSW was overwhelming, I learned so much. I was surprised to realize I was about to spend my tenth night at their place. The conference went by so fast. I happily paid.

THANK YOU South by Southwest for an INCREDIBLE experience!

To see more pictures go to my SXSW Facebook Album.

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My brother… @JohnnyWalsh!

249645_874313840947_4593673_nI share the same condition, Usher Syndrome Type 2, with my brother. That said, we are very different. Growing up almost five years apart and having separate interests led us to simply coexist. He was musical and I was a jock. He was never shy around women. They frightened me. He went to Notre Dame for four years and came back home. I went to multiple schools, graduated from the University of Colorado and lived in Colorado for close to 14 years. He followed our father and grandfather’s footsteps to become a lawyer. I became a professional mascot.

Ever since I moved back to Madison, my relationship with Johnny has become stronger. A big reason for this is stand-up comedy, which we both enjoy. In early 2011, Johnny started to work on comedy routines at the Comedy Club on State. He explores his disability as background for his routine. This, combined with his sharp dress and snarky lawyer humor have been a winning combination. He has had great success in the local scene. He also uses Twitter (@JohnnyWalsh) to humor the masses online. One of his tweets was even mentioned on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. I am happy for many reasons to see him do well with Comedy. He has always been a stand-up comedy fan and I am proud that he took the initiative to try it out. I have watched his act many times, and have often taped it for his review. His highlight to date was opening for Bob Saget in front of 2,000 fans.

On this trip, I wanted to dig deeper. I wanted to learn more about my brother and the condition we both share. I submitted some questions to him. These are his answers:

What was the moment like when you learned you had a genetic condition that may lead to blindness?
I remember that day well. The funny thing is, the day after this particular eye appointment I was scheduled to receive a tetanus shot so I was more afraid and worried about the shot than I was about the eye doctor. The other point I often make about that moment is at the time my eyesight had not degenerated all that much.  And, I already knew there was an issue so I was not surprised the doctor was giving it a name.  For instance, I already had difficulty seeing at night while my friends did not.  I was having a hard time locating items I dropped on the floor while others could spot them right away.  I fell off a pier and into the lake.  So like I said, I already knew something was up and had assumed it was something that could be easily remedied.

So the moment the doctor gave it a name – that exact moment – was not a big deal to me. However, as he started to explain what may happen to me, my mother, who was in the room with me, started to cry – that’s the moment I knew I was in trouble. No child ever wants to see his or her mother cry and to this day I still have a hard time thinking about the pain she felt during that moment. I wasn’t scared and frankly, I was a bit naive. But when she started to cry… a few minutes after the diagnoses either my mother or the doctor called my father and he immediately came to the doctor’s office to receive the news. I have no idea what fancy lawyer stuff he was doing that day but obviously he dropped everything and came to my side. So again, that was another sign that maybe the tetanus shot would be the least of my worries.

The other thing I remember about that day – after spending hours at the eye doctor mom took me to the record store on Monroe Street, Strictly Discs, and I bought 3 CDs – Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Eagles, and Soundgarden – after all these years I still remember the 3 CDs I bought – it’s funny the things one remembers.

Lastly, I also remember calling two of my best friends, Evan Goyke and Nic Adamany, and telling themabout the diagnoses.  Again, we were just kids – we really had no idea what we were talking about.  The only difference was we now had a name for it and an explanation as to why I was so bad at night games.

Did you ever attempt to drive?  What was that like?
Yes.  Dumb.  Heck, I was terrible at Mario Cart – that should have been my first clue.

How much can you see today?
“I have a central visual field of approximately 5 degrees in each eye. To put that in perspective, when I attend the movie theatre and sit in the back row – I can see about 5 percent of the screen – though I still pay full price for the ticket.” (answer taken from previous interview)

How does your condition affect dating? Positive and negative.
It’s a negative. Women never describe their Prince Charming as someone with a handicap so as far as first impressions go, I am probably overlooked. Of course, as women get to know me, they realize that the handicap may not be a deal breaker after all.  In fact, my inflated ego usually causes the problems.

In all seriousness though, dating is difficult. It’s hard to ask someone you’ve just met to read off a menu for you or to have them drive everywhere.

What are the advantages of your condition?
Never the designated driver.

What do you know about being a car passenger that other people can learn from?
People are more willing to turn into traffic when cars are speeding toward the passenger side than they are when cars are speeding toward the driver’s side.

What are the things that really are tough that you constantly have issues with?
Eye fatigue.

What are the chances you will go completely blind?
I have no idea.

Are you afraid of this happening?
Terrified.  It’s something I think about every day.

When did you start using a cane daily?
2010.

What is it like using a cane everywhere you go?
It is like wearing a winter jacket when it is cold outside – a necessity.

What irritating statements do people say or ask about your use of the cane?
“You’re not blind, why do you use a cane?”  That is probably the most irritating thing a person can ask. It’s like asking someone who is hard of hearing “you’re not deaf, why do you wear hearing aids?”. Another example is asking a person with a broken leg “why the crutches?” It is certainly true that I am not blind – but using the cane notifies others that I am visually impaired. And believe me, when I accidentally cross a street without looking both ways (this happens more often than one would think), the cane notifies the cars to look out.

hY1qYeqiWhat made you give comedy a try?
The Comedy Club on State provides a great venue for folks to get on stage – I took advantage of the opportunity and have a wonderful time doing it. Moreover, I was looking for a creative outlet/hobby to pursue outside of my law practice and stand-up comedy was always an interest of mine. After work, some people play club soccer or hockey, I get on stage and tell jokes.

What is your process for coming up with jokes?
Go to an open mic and try them out.  It is that simple and difficult at the same time. You will never know if something is funny until you stand on a stage under a spotlight and try it out in front of a room full of strangers – you will bomb more often than not. It’s fun!

Where do you jokes come from?
User Syndrome, family, the law, and bachelorhood.

How has comedy helped you deal with your condition?
Comedy has forced me think about and examine the issue more than I would have otherwise.  It has forced me to be more open about some of the obstacles I face or will face in the future. But of course, more importantly, comedy has offered a reprieve from reality.

How has Twitter helped your comedy?
Twitter is a great venue to test out new material – especially one-liners. However, there is no substitute for the stage.

How do you use Facebook vs Twitter for Comedy?
I use Twitter to be creative and if something really hits on Twitter, I may post it on Facebook – though, I do not use Facebook all that much.

What if we were picked to be on the Amazing Race?
I have never seen the show. I think reality television is one of the lowest forms of entertainment out there and I would not feel comfortable allowing a director to determine how I am portrayed before a national audience. That said, if there were a compelling reason to do the show, I would consider it. A compelling reason, for instance, would be if the show offered me a billion dollars and promised that the Packers would win the Super Bowl every year from now on no matter what. Jay Cutler sucks.

Where in the world would you like to go and why?
Las Vegas every weekend forever. And maybe Ireland.

How is travel difficult for you?
When I look at a piece of art or a famous building, I can only see about 5% of it. For that reason, I have never been enamored with sight-seeing.

199_555414792243_732_nFinally, what advice do you have for me as I deal with this condition?
Learn as much as you can now. Develop skills and work as hard as you can now so that if and when the disability really does cause problems, you will have built a strong foundation of life skills that you will be able to use to overcome any future disadvantages.

To see Johnny Walsh in action, click here to see his routines YouTube!