Welcome to Kristin's Newsletter: Advocacy, Athletics & Adventures
Welcome to my first newsletter! We are combining news from my advocacy work, #ZoesPack, and para cycling in one place. E-mails will go out each month and can be found on my website at www.kristinfleschner.com. We look forward to hearing your feedback.
Runway…or Run-a-WAY?!? I took over the Runway of Dreams social media account to raise awareness of how the blind community interacts with fashion. Runway of Dreams is an organization that promotes people with disabilities in the fashion industry and works to advance the future of adaptive design and innovation. My social media team and I planned 8 social media posts on a day I was traveling to NYC during fashion week, and we were super excited about all the fun things we had to share. The posts were intended to help followers see the tools I use to do all the things I want to do in a day.
I knew it was going to be a rough day when a man’s roller bag caught the edge of my Frye boot on the train and ripped the entire sole of my boot off. I looked really put together wearing a boot on one foot and a sock on the other when I stepped onto the snowy sidewalk of New York City. I was trying to represent the blind community during fashion week and this was not a good way to start! Unfortunately, the day posed many other challenges that were too difficult to post on social media due to a strict schedule! A bad experience with Amtrak caused me to miss my stop at Penn Station, and in the first few hours I had 3 Uber denials because they did not want Zoe in the car. Check out the video below from the social media takeover to hear more about our Amtrak experience:
Kristin on the Amtrak train describing what led her to miss her stop at Penn Station.
These are the real experiences that need to be shared during a social media takeover. Not just snip-its of the fun things we do or wear. That is not what blindness, guide dog handling, or disability life is like. No matter how hard we plan to avoid barriers, they are there. That is discrimination. That is the privilege of sight in an inaccessible society. We are planning a full day in the life of Kristin and Zoe to show everything we encounter.
We still had lots of fun in NYC. My friend, Zoe and I attended the Billy Joel concert in Madison Square Garden the first night, which was unforgettable. We were hassled getting through security with Zoe, but after the show they complemented her ability to sleep through the noise. (She wore noise protection for her ears). Her loud snoring even competed with ‘The Piano Man’! I also went to the Peloton cycling studio to meet lots of friends and ride several rides. Zoe was the first ever guide dog in the studio and staff were not aware that service dogs were allowed in places like spin studios! Making the Peloton bike and studio more accessible will enable many more blind people to experience the benefits of exercise and overcome many of the hurdles associated with getting getting to the gym, finding the equipment, etc.
The barriers I mentioned happened during the first 24 hours of the trip. I was only able to move forward with a positive attitude because I was surrounded by Zoe’s love and amazing friends. Without their love and all the new gluten and vegan food options in NYC, my mind might have closed rather than opened.
The following week, I had a wonderful time attending and speaking at the American Foundation of the Blind conference. The AFB is an impressive organization that promotes and engages in research on everything related to blindness. The presenters included Google, Amazon, indoor GPS navigation users, and last year’ first blind team to Ride Across America who spoke on teamwork. All of the conference information was accessible via an app that was made available to attendees. It included maps, bios, presentations, and even social media feeds. My presentation was titled: Ending Sight-Splaining: Discussing Systemic Barriers to Unemployment in the Blind Community. I was excited to have both visually impaired people in the room with corporate employers to discuss some of the attitudinal barriers that exist. We received great feedback on this new talk and made lots of new contacts. Please reach out to me if this is a topic you would like to explore at your workplace or at conference.
After the conference, I had a great meeting with Paul Schroeder who is the VP of public policy and strategic initiatives of Aira. Aira is a company that connects people who are blind or low vision to a trained professional agent who is dedicated to further enhancing their everyday experience. By using the camera on your iPhone or by wearing glasses with a camera, you can connect to a trained agent that describes what you ask them to, or what they are seeing through the camera. This can be anything from finding an elevator button, locating a gate at an airport, putting together Power Point slides, helping with bills, to exploring a museum.
Many blind users are successfully using Aira to travel and even in the workplace as an accommodation. Aira is partnered with many companies and organizations across the US to provide more access to society. For example, they are rolling out free access at all Smithsonians in Washington DC next week, and also have free services at chains like Walgreens. I met with Paul to discuss a few novel ideas I have about how Aira could be used with some companies I am working with. I hope to create these partnerships moving forward to make their products and buildings more accessible.
Keep on Spinning
At the beginning of February I traveled to Carson, CA to race in the Para Track Open. This was the final domestic track race of the season and my first time on a 250m track and on a new track bike. The bank of the Carson track was a bit daunting at first! I told Liesel, my pilot I felt like we were swimming in a circles in a fish bowl every time we made a turn. While we didn’t get the results we hoped for, our times improved, which is challenging to do on this track. After the race I learned that the new bike had different crank lengths and there were some other changes that could have made the race go more smoothly--literally. Learning about track cycling is like learning during the first year of law school. There is a huge curve. I am moving on to road season and ready for more challenges.
I’m also happy to be writing this first newsletter from Indiana where I will be getting a big delivery in a few days-- my first road tandem bike! Thanks to the fundraising efforts of #ZoesPack, I was able to buy a used Calfee tandem frame that is being built right now. I will get in some good training rides in Indiana before going back to DC. We launched a #ZoesPack bandana campaign to help spread our advocacy efforts and also fund more races and bike expenses. This campaign is still open and we would love to partner with you on ways to spread the word about #ZoesPack and raise awareness through the campaign. Here is the link to the campaign.
A few things on our schedule in the next few weeks:
Kristin and Zoe visit 1st graders at Kristin’s elementary school
Virginia Federation of Human Societies Annual Award Dinner
Washington, DC Delta Gamma Founders Day Alumnae Event
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