To The Max: On HBO’s New App and Accessibility Challenges

Yay, Fresh Prince is finally available through streaming. This was my thought as soon as they rolled out HBO Max this past Wednesday, as I’d heard that this one of already so many streaming services would be the one to cary that show. So I knew I would immediately try to get it and see what, if anything, they have in the way of accessibility.

The short answer, at least at the time of this article’s writing as I know and hope that things can change quickly, is not a whole lot. The challenges began as soon as I downloaded and launched the HBO Max app. Fortunately you can connect the app to Apple TV and find shows that way, but in order to do that you must first subscribe.

At first, I swiped around on the screen and it just kept repeating the immediately viewable icon, until I had the bright idea of touching the screen in different places, a method called Explore by Touch. I eventually encountered a button labeled Subscribe Now and tapped it. I was able to enter my username, email and password, but when I tried to press “done” it wouldn’t take. I later deduced that this was because I had not checked the box accepting their terms, as I could not even find said box except on the HBO Max website. So I was forced to use that to sign up, after which I discovered that the web site worked little on the Mac and I could not actually sign in once the account had been created. So back to the phone, I guess somehow shutting and restarting the app made a usable sign-in button appear that I could press and enter my account info, and finally I was ready to go!

A subscription costs $14.95 a month, but it could be worth it as they have several good movies, documentaries, and series. In addition to the Fresh Prince, which I intend to watch in its entirety over the next few months because of the nostalgia (ah, simpler times, well not really but they always seem so when looking back right?) They have the series From the Earth to the Moon, which chronicles America’s Space race with the Soviets. I also saw The Big Bang Theory, which I didn’t watch when it initially came out but might catch now.

However, if the app does not make accessibility improvements in the coming months, honestly it boggles my mind that they would release it without these in the first place these days, then I probably will no longer fork over my dough. I am glad they have closed captioning for individuals who are deaf. I had hoped that, at least with HBO programming, they would include audio description for those of us who cannot see, but as far as I can tell this is not available. Also, because of the way one must interact with the screen, the app is completely inaccessible with a refreshable Braille display. If one could not connect it to Apple TV, then I would definitely have to hold out for some kind of improvements. Please take a look at your competitors, Amazon, Netflix and the like, and follow some of what they’ve done. After all there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. But we blind folks and others with disabilities want to be able to come along for the ride.

The short answer, at least at the time of this article’s writing as I know and hope that things can change quickly, is not a whole lot. The challenges began as soon as I downloaded and launched the HBO Max app. Fortunately you can connect the app to Apple TV and find shows that way, but in order to do that you must first subscribe.

At first, I swiped around on the screen and it just kept repeating the immediately viewable icon, until I had the bright idea of touching the screen in different places, a method called Explore by Touch. I eventually encountered a button labeled Subscribe Now and tapped it. I was able to enter my username, email and password, but when I tried to press “done” it wouldn’t take. I later deduced that this was because I had not checked the box accepting their terms, as I could not even find said box except on the HBO Max website. So I was forced to use that to sign up, after which I discovered that the web site worked little on the Mac and I could not actually sign in once the account had been created. So back to the phone, I guess somehow shutting and restarting the app made a usable sign-in button appear that I could press and enter my account info, and finally I was ready to go!

A subscription costs $14.95 a month, but it could be worth it as they have several good movies, documentaries, and series. In addition to the Fresh Prince, which I intend to watch in its entirety over the next few months because of the nostalgia (ah, simpler times, well not really but they always seem so when looking back right?) They have the series From the Earth to the Moon, which chronicles America’s Space race with the Soviets. I also saw The Big Bang Theory, which I didn’t watch when it initially came out but might catch now.

However, if the app does not make accessibility improvements in the coming months, honestly it boggles my mind that they would release it without these in the first place these days, then I probably will no longer fork over my dough. I am glad they have closed captioning for individuals who are deaf. I had hoped that, at least with HBO programming, they would include audio description for those of us who cannot see, but as far as I can tell this is not available. Also, because of the way one must interact with the screen, the app is completely inaccessible with a refreshable Braille display. If one could not connect it to Apple TV, then I would definitely have to hold out for some kind of improvements. Please take a look at your competitors, Amazon, Netflix, Apple, and the like, and follow some of what they’ve done. After all there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. But we blind folks and others with disabilities want to be able to come along for the ride.

Trials and Travels: A Comparison of 3 Recent Reads

Isn’t it funny how, without intending to do so, one can end up selecting three books for simultaneous reading that seem to share the same underlying themes? Well truthfully of late, all of my chosen titles are alike in ways I couldn’t have anticipated. Examples are four straight books that featured persons with diabetes, and five (six?) With some kind of painter character.

Given that, I could randomly pick any grouping I wish and make them work as a collection. But the three I’m going with here are Big Lies in a Small Town, by Diane Chamberlain; Ghosts of Harvard, by Francesca Serritella; and Three Ways To Disappear, by Katy Yocom. Each of these stories is driven by the crazy things that can happen as a result of a mother’s love and/or her mistakes, mental illness, and big secrets. The secrets I shall not give away, at least to the best of my ability, because they represent big plot twists and might therefore be considered spoilers. I will, however, do a brief summary of each title and then talk about how they compare and contrast.

Chamberlain

This book caught my interest because it is set in North Carolina, as a quick perusal of this author’s catalog shows is common for her. The past meets the present as Anna Dale, born in the late 20s, is hired to paint a mural for the Edenton NC post office. (This is a real town, to which I’ve never been but I have heard of.) Being from the North, she encounters the kinds of racism and even outsider-ness that one would expect in a small Southern town of the day. She works with an African American named Jesse Williams who then becomes a major artist and makes as his last action a wish to have Morgan Christopher help to restore the Dale painting and to be released from the prison where she is held for supposedly causing a drunk driving accident. We are then bounced back and forth in time over alternating chapters until the story’s apex.

Serritella

Whereas Chamberlain’s book takes place in a lesser-known small-town environment, this story is set at Harvard: a place we’ve all heard of but know little about. The amount of insider information Serritella, who went to that school also, provides through her characters’ observations is fascinating. Cadence (Cady) Archer has chosen to attend this university despite, and maybe in some ways because of, her brother Eric’s having taken his life there in the prior semester after a protracted struggle with schizophrenia. This is similar to Chamberlain’s book, in that Anna was driven to follow her artistic dreams after her mother died, perhaps of suicide, while experiencing bipolar disorder. In Serritella’s story, Cady’s mother has a particularly visceral reaction to her daughter’s choosing to attend Harvard, going as far as to withhold assistance on move-in day and skip out on the drive from Pennsylvania where they live. Of course, mom comes to regret this decision later, and its initial upset probably drives Cady to make many questionable decisions throughout. Then Cady’s life and experiences there takes a strange and rather interesting turn. Let’s just say you’ll quickly understanding the meaning of the title.

Yocom

This is also a story built largely on a mother’s regret for hastily made decisions and the depression, disguised as coldness toward her children, that she feels as a result. Opening in 1970s India, twins Sarah and Marcus, along with their older sister Quinn, who will later become something of a painter and raise twins of her own, live a privileged life of big houses, servants, and the like as their father works as a doctor in a local hospital. A tragedy befalls them and the family, minus the father and Marcus, relocate to the US.

Told alternately through Sarah’s and Quinn’s perspective, we see Quinn and her mother especially struggle with the events that occurred over there and the incomplete information they both have on what actually went down. I like how Yocum shows Sarah and Quinn telling the story as they remember it and in so doing demonstrates the fallibility of memory and ways we can so easily reshape it.

Sarah, on the other hand, has difficulties in establishing her own identity. She is ultimately drawn back to India to work in tiger preservation after a long but dangerous career as a journalist. It takes time, but Quinn eventually accepts Sarah’s choice to relocate and their relationship, maintained through email and expensive calls, is strengthened. After all, this book’s “present” is the year 2000, so the technology is not yet as robust.

I hope you enjoy any or all of these three semi-related but also rather different reads as much as I do. They all feature such lush landscapes and travel that they make for good consumption as my Stay-At-Home continues.

It’s Like Pulling Teeth: My unexpected run-in with an Oral Surgeon

If one is me, one asks the question how many different things can one endure in one year. Ah the craziness of 2020 continues.

So first the backstory: for something like the last year, I’ve noticed a slight protuberance in my jaw. It was a minor aggravation, and while I knew I needed to nip it in the bud at some point I just never really took care of it. Well ok, I can admit that it has more to do with a lack of desire to tangle with our medical system, which while it has big problems, especially as relates to how we Americans are expected to finance care, is actually pretty good. I’ve become something of an unwitting veteran in the last few months, as you know.

Anyhow, in the last three weeks or so, this lump seemed to grow at an alarming pace. My wife and I finally concluded that something needed to be done immediately to ensure that nothing more sinister than a tooth infection was going on. With the Covid pandemic, finding a dentist that will see me on short notice is a challenge. After being rejected by the UNC system, I just put the word “Dentist” into Google Maps and called the first place that came up: Zen Triangle Dentistry.We entered on Saturday shortly before 12 PM into a fairly small operation with roaring air purifiers and our masks on. They gave me a couple of quick, complicated X-Rays where I was instructed to hold my head completely still with no head clamp and while biting down on the teeth part in front of me. Do you know how difficult this is?

After palpating the lump and feeling along my neck to see if others existed, the two individuals who were checking me recommended that I go somewhere else to have it thoroughly checked to rule out the possibility of cancer. While I had already been aware of such a possible conclusion, having it spoken aloud made the rest of that weekend fraught with emotion. I just tried to hold it together and survive till Monday when we were finally able to visit an oral surgeon at High House Oral Surgery.

Entering this office early Monday morning after fortunately having been worked in for an emergency visit, I was immediately put at ease with yet another x-ray, this time with a clamp and a bar onto which I could hold, both of which made the process measurably easier to bear. The oral surgeon told us that he believed it to be an abscess that he could drain, despite its having appeared so prominently on the outside of my gum. The catch is that the tooth on that side would need to be pulled, and oh yeah while we’re at it we may as well get the other two bottom teeth on the opposite side that have also grown in wrong. AAAHHH! When compared with what I thought would be the outcome though, suddenly an involved dental surgery didn’t seem so daunting.

So once we got the bill squared away, and it was of course high but not as high as I thought such procedures would be, we were ready to go. I was surprised that they were so quickly able to go ahead with the process. Everyone convinced me that, for various reasons, going under general anesthesia would be the best idea, and after the fact I have to say I am glad this choice was made. “The only real issue,” the surgeon said “is that sometimes you don’t wake up”. Well that’s scary, but it’s a risk you take I guess.

The feeling of getting ready for action was similar to what I had experienced in the Emergency room a little while ago with the heart thing. Cold EKG leads were stuck to various parts of my body, then an IV was inserted. I love my veins, as their easy visibility means a lot less pain for me. Then the automated blood pressure cuff was placed (my BP numbers are still good now which makes me happy), and the pulse monitor placed on my finger. I get nervous hearing the beep beep that indicates my heart beat, but then I also learned how to slow it down with my mind using bio feedback.

I reclined in the chair waiting, waiting, waiting… for things to start… and then I had gauze in my mouth and was being gingerly led to a waiting wheelchair to be rolled out. I, thankfully, have absolutely no memory of anything the was done. My wife says, though I counter that if it wasn’t recorded it didn’t happen, that my “high conversation” was hilarious. I let whatever thoughts popped into my brain slide right between my lips, which frightens me a little. That’s a big reason why I don’t like messing with control substances.

And so far so good. The only incident I almost had occurred Monday evening when, feeling normal while lying in bed, I thought I could head upstairs like normal and slurp down some mashed potatoes. And my body disagreed. I just kind of blacked out for ten seconds or so then headed back downstairs and into bed, where I needed to stay. I will find out tomorrow (Thursday) if all is as well as I hope, but I have been spending the week popping a variety of pills and trying to feel more and more like myself.

Have you ever had any kind of surgical intervention? According to my very unscientific Twitter poll, 58% of respondents say they’ve had more than one, 29% said only one, and the remaining folks said not at all. I guess there is always a first time for everything.

50 Days of Solitude: When and How To Return To Work

And it goes on and on and on and…

Almost eight weeks of mostly poking around the crib, trying to stay awake more than I sleep, and wondering what it all means. As states, including my own, tentatively begin reopening, I know that it is time for me to start contemplating what the “outside” is going to look like. One thing is for sure, it will not be anywhere near what it was for the foreseeable future.

I got a little taste of what to expect this past Saturday. My in-laws, needing supplies not readily available in their rural town and tired of being boxed in, decided to make their way up to oversupplied Cary to collect the gathered items. We paid them a short, appropriately socially-distanced and masked visit, just to say hello and talk to others for a change. Our hands grazed as we met, and I felt my own air pushed back into my face.

Ugh wearing that mask is not going to be comfortable, that much I know. Two good things about it though, I guess: A. You sure know how your own breath smells, and B. Others (hopefully) aren’t able to smell it. My wife did find some that are, well better than many, as they have a slightly cupped middle that gives you at least a little breathing room. I will of course wear them, as I understand that they are more for those who encounter me than for myself, but marbles. The eight-hour workday and transit to and for will be very long.

Speaking of transit, I am now trying to sack the admittedly somewhat involved system I had of taking GoCary’s Door-To-Door vehicle to the Cary train station and boarding the bus in favor of having the former take me all the way in. There are two main reasons why I hadn’t done this a long time ago. The first and most pressing is money: it costs just $2.50 to have them drive me to the station, but $8 to go all the way in. I think though that they have some kind of program that provides low-income individuals with a discount, so I will try and sign up for that and see what happens.

The second reason is more about my own needs I guess? I will feel more isolated, having little to no interaction with the wider community. I had gotten to know the five people I saw on a regular basis pretty well, and always enjoyed talking to them and whomever else I came across while waiting about any and everything. But with all these measures being put into place for who knows how long, I’m sure that such spontaneous encounters will not occur for a long time, and I might find it difficult to get assistance from others who wish to stay socially distanced. (I prefer to think of it more as physically distanced, as the last thing I need is to not socialize with folks in some way).

RELATED: The Cary Characters

I am hesitant about returning to work and will wait for them to call me back in while keeping a metaphorical eye (I’m blind after all) on the Covid numbers in North Carolina. I do hope things can get going soon, but I hope we don’t end up doing things too soon. We shall see.

Hey, Kiddo, by Jarrett Krosoczka

Hey, Kiddo, by Jarrett Krosoczka

I suppose that one might call this a memoir, though it is one of the more unusual memoirs I have ever read. In it, a now-successful artist/author chronicles his difficult journey to this point, with special focus on challenges faced when dealing with his drug-addicted mother and, initially anyway, absent father. He did manage to carve out a fairly decent childhood growing up with his parents and relying on a few friends and relatives to help him get by.

This book is short, but full of things to which most of us can relate in one way or another. I strongly identify with the idea that many of the “characters” needed some kind of therapy, but that it wasn’t widely available or appreciated in those days. This meant that people often found less-than-ideal ways to cope with their struggles, and in my case and others I know have never really conquered some of those childhood difficulties.

For the author, the difficulties were perhaps more profound, and especially in the case of his mother. She keeps trying, but the drugs pull her back, causing what was mostly an irreparable tear in their relationship. And by the time his father decides to re-enter his life… well you’ll see.

I think he spices up the print version with pieces of artwork both taken from those times and created specifically for the book. The audio, which I consumed, is brought to life by voice actors and sound effects. Many of the actors were people he had actually grown up with, some of whom even read difficult parts as themselves. The story is thus funny and poignant all at once, having drawn me well in and causing me to finish in what is a short time for me of two days. But then, the total audio clocks in at less than three hours.

So if you’re looking for something that helps you explore what it is like to be human and the beauty of someone who nurtures instead of tries to snuff out your talent, I would recommend this book. Given what I’ve got going on in my own life of late, this one definitely hit the spot for me.