For several years, I have been the beneficiary of an organization called the Community Empowerment Fund. These folks, located in Chapel Hill and Durham, are primarily interested in helping people to either avoid or recover from homelessness, but they tend to do anything that will improve the community at large. As noted several times, I had been exposed to them during my rough transition from grad school at UNC to having to head back home while awaiting my next job position. The advocate (student volunteer) was so giving of her time and very friendly that it left me feeling like I needed to find a way to pay this service forward someday.
Well as it happens, that day has apparently come. I am not sure of the entire background, but at some point another blind individual ended up interacting with this organization because he wished to acquire computer skills so that he could continue searching for employment. The advocates, in attempting to figure out how to address this situation, asked the organization’s director, and she happened to remember my name. Emails and calls were made, and finally I arranged to meet this individual the past weekend to determine if I could render at least basic computer skills.
First, I had to find the energy to power me through such an endeavor. I had on Friday sat in front of my machine to write up a project for graduate school whose results I am still uncertain of. It was challenging, and took nearly 3 hours to complete. It may have been useful though, as I generated a Strategic Communication Plan that could help me in increasing membership in the Norrie Disease Association based on a theory from the text. We shall see how much of that I can actually implement, though, but the learning is ongoing. In any event, I hope to have maintained a good enough grade in the course.
After all that, I did manage to peal myself out of bed by 11 AM on Saturday for our 1 PM appointment. Fortified with breakfast, I “Lyft”ed across town to the apartment, a cozy dig on the second floor of a building in a retirement community. We made a little small talk, and I got down to business.
As far as instruction goes, I found I actually enjoyed it. Our first “lesson” was on how to get into Gmail, make it more accessible by switching it back to the basic interface, delete messages, and download and locate attachments. Because he has only the demo version of the Jaws screen-reader currently, I even installed NVDA, a free program that does much of the same, at least basic, things that the far more expensive Jaws does. The only issue is the ESpeak voices, so I’m pondering a solution to that dilemma.
I found that I was relatively patient, and could usually come up with alternative explanations when my initial wording didn’t make sense to him. I would let him hear me walk through the steps once, then pass the PC over to him so that he could try them as I observed. It was a bit of a task, but he seemed to get it by the time I prepared for departure. He is quite intelligent, I think possessing a Ph.D., but still very much in the process of adjusting to blindness which he acquired a few years ago.
“Can I return in two weeks?” I asked.
A weighted pause told me that he really wants me to come back sooner than that, so I scheduled next Saturday at 1. I am working on designing a cheaper way of getting to his residence, but should be able to bus to Franklin Street and then get a ride hailing service from there for less than being transported all the way from here. Needless to say, it is an honor to have been seen as doing so well to be asked back so soon, and boosts both my confidence and feelings of competence. I am looking forward to seeing just how creative and instructional I can be here, in an area I enjoy and know quite a bit about. It could be the beginnings of a great new idea for me. Who knows?