Do Unto Others..

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?

7 Responses to Do Unto Others..

  1. Hi there! Thanks for your blog. My son is 15 at the moment and has also accessed tech training with a fabulous blind man who was a wiz on technology. We have been so grateful to him as there is a distinct lack of help and availability in this area, yet it is as important as learning braille. I have since referred around 3-4 of my son’s blind friends to him for lessons as well. What is provided in the community falls very short of what is needed. I would love for him to set up a small business for himself on being able to do this through Skype or something similar as there would be many more people needing these services. By the way, we are in Australia and also use NVDA (great program!).

    • Yeah, I am already pondering if I could start such a business. Even our governmental agencies, while providing the tech, don’t often give much instruction in its use. It is quite important these days. Thanks for reading!

  2. How about technical instruction and troubleshooting for blind and visually impaired clients? Aging baby boomers could provide a clientele: people who have used computers, but have to adjust to computing without sight due to glaucoma, macular degeneration, etc.

  3. I should add that if such a service had been available, I would have signed my Dad up for it. He had functioned extremely well with computers for decades without sight, but aging and some memory issues made it way more complicated. My husband and I put in countless hours on tech support for Dad, but I would have paid someone to take over that function!

    • Yes, that’s why I’m enjoying working with this individual. I will first do the important work of helping him so he can look for a job, but also I can come up with something of a structure of how such classes might be taught. Of course I know that each person will need customized approaches as well, so I need other experiences to hone my idea.

  4. I love that you are embarking on this endeavor and I can only imagine how much help you have already been to this individual. It also seems like this might lead to a business idea for you as well which is exciting should you choose to develop it. You have overcome so many obstacles that I can not even begin to understand and I am very impressed with your ability and perseverance. Thanks for sharing your story. It was a wonderful way to start my Monday off reading such a positive post. Blessings!

    • Thanks for reading. I am considering where else this might go, but we’ll see how my follow-up experiences go. It is one of the more interesting opportunities I’ve had. I hope your week has continued to go well.

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