Kim is doing really fine now

Being officially recognized as a disabled person in Flanders, I can travel around with public transport for free. With my special ticket I travelled by bus from Antwerp to Turnhout and from there to Beerse by bus. In Beerse I met Kim Bols, the woman behind the website kimbols.be While we were enjoying our cakes, I got to know Kim better.

On her website, which has been online for more than ten years and which is still being expanded, Kim tells about her visual disability extendedly. Since I didn't think it wise to ask her the standard questions of which the answers can be found on her website as well, I asked her my first direct question: wasn't it frustrating having been able to see something until the age of 12 and then getting fully blind? 'I indeed did see something until that age, but I didn't experience that period very intensely. When I was a teenager, my sight detoriated again. I didn't speak about my emotions this caused. I didn't wish to bother my parents with it. I was shy, had not many friends with whom I could talk about my emotions. At the age of 18/19 years old, I got very ill. All emotions came to surface all at once. Since then, I've started to talk about them. With a psychologist, employees of the recovery center, my parents. Finally, I had to give them a place in my life. To accept them.'

Acceptation not easy

Acceptation of her disability was not easy for Kim. During a long time she refused to recognize she had to use devices such like the blind stick. 'I've hated the white stick for years. I absolutely didn't want to use it. Because of this refusal, I almost didn't go outside, my mobility was too limited. I didn't understand how all the traffic was working and had no intention to try to understand it. I had a black and white vision with regard to my disability. Had no interest in solutions to tackle the problems it caused.

 ‘One eye doctor in the recovery center proposed me to take an eye-seeing dog. I refused at first. Later, I asked for it officially all the same. It took another five years before I had Olly. Meanwhile, I had been going to use the blind stick too. I still need it nowadays. Not when my second eye-dog Xpencer is working for me, but when he is not at work or when I'm walking with pensioned Olly. I took the decision to say yes to a dog, because I wanted to be as independent as much as possible and to lead a social life. I didn't had the courage to go outside on my own. With the help of a dog I had to.

‘It sounds strange, but I am glad I have been through this difficult period. I now know what it is like to be in a difficult position. I want to help others with my knowledge. That's a positive result of it. I wasn't facing emotional difficulties only. Also physically, I had hard times. I was very skinny, had a bad night rest and problems with my heart.

How did your parents and sister cope with your disability and the connected problems? 

‘Both my parents had difficulties with it, but in their own way. My mother never showed her feelings and let me free. My father, to the contrary, showed his feelings openly. He was crying, suffered from stress and was very concerned the times I went outside on my own. He even chased me to be sure nothing would happen to me. My sister helps me wherever she can. We've always had a good relationship. Nowadays, we live close together.'

No equal dogs
 
When I entered the living room of Kim, Xpencer, her new eye-seeing dog, greeted me enthusiastically. Also during the interview he kept asking for my attention from time to time. Olly, to the contrary, slept quietly in her basket. Of course, there's the difference in age. Xpencer is 2 1/2, Olly is 9 1/2, but that isn't the only reason. 'Xpencer himself is a powerful, energetic English dog. He loves to work. He's also soft and sensible. Olly has always been more quiet. She has grown with me. For instance, it took half a year before I had the courage to go on the train and bus with her. She opened my world.'

I know one is not allowed to hug an eye-seeing dog. Are there more things you have to take in mind as a non-blind person? 
 
‘One isn't allowed to hug the dog when he's at work. In other situations it's okay, as long as the owner and the dog agree to it. One mustn't talk against a dog either or try to test him. It's unnecessary to help a blind with an eye-seeing dog by taking over the control. Nowadays, many more people with an eye-seeing dog can be seen on the streets. People are learning about these dogs more and more by that.’

Fascination for the medical

During her highschool period, Kim was very good in languages, especially French. After school she worked as a translator from home. First, almost five years for a software company that went broke after that period. Her next job was translating for a supplier of aid devices. Since 2010, Kim has been unemployed, but she's studying part time to become a ‘Medical Management Assistent’. I ask her what attracks her in this study.

‘I wanted to do this study very much. It is directed to both your IQ and EQ. I've always had interest in the medical sector. Translating never gave me full satisfaction. My current study isn't always easy because of my disability. Some assignments are too visual. I then get replacement assignments which are certainly not less. At the moment, I'm looking for a place to do my practiceship from September. That isn't easy. Medical software packages are not always suited to the visual impaired. I'm therefore looking for an administrative job. I do have the skills for that. It doesn't have to be in a hospital or with a doctor. A job in the general medical sector is very well possible too.'

The computer, and especially the internet, plays an important role in the life of Kim. Her circle of friends has become much bigger by it. Furthermore she uses the internet to learn other people about how it is to be blind. 'Thanks to the internet I built a good social circle. People whom I also meet privately. Other people with a visual impairment, but also people without. I need those contacts with normal society. I hope to gather much more information through my website and to transfer it to other visual impaired. It takes a lot of time, the site is never finished.’

I'm happy
 
Kim is almost 35 and feels very happy in her own home in Beerse. ‘I grew up here and know my way around. Just like the people know me. When I go to the supermarket, I always get help. I think that will be different in a strange city. How would you do your shopping there? ‘I have a cleaning lady and I had to get things for her in Turnhout. In that case, Xpencer leads me to the counter through the command ‘find the counter’. There, I explain I'm blind and need help. I wouln't go shopping in a strange supermarket. It isn't necessary, because there are two supermarkets here in Beerse. Should I have to go to a strange supermarket one day, I will go and ask for assistance. I always walk in the shop myself too, so I know how long things can be kept fresh.

‘I'm glad with my current freedom. I don't think about a relationship at all. I don't have the feeling I miss something. I feel happy the way my life is now. Of course, there are moments of difficulty. I'm glad I don't exclude them anymore.’

By the way I talk with Kim for more than one hour, I'm convident she means it. Thanks to her dogs and aid devices for the computer (speech recognition and braille), Kim can function fully independently. She has even got a watch in braille and cooks for herself. ‘I do like to cook. Typical regional products. My father taught me where to pay attention to.’

When I finally ask her which song she likes to hear, she doubts for a moment. 'I doubted between a classic one that's always good and a more modern song. I finally chose a more recent song: "Set fire to the rain" by Adele. I love the good feeling it expresses. Good feeling is a word Kim used more often during our talk. Life must feel good. It surely does for Kim at the moment.