Road to Home Ownership: A Dream (Possibly) Deferred

Happy New Year, y’all! We made it through 2021, with its particular trials and tribulations, and it is my greatest hope that we will finally round some kind of corner and see happier, more prosperous times ahead. It is time to get that journey started, whatever it will look like for you. I certainly no longer bother making specific resolutions, but I know what kind of work I need to do to get there.
As discussed a couple of entries ago, we had hoped to accomplish a major life marker and land ourselves a house. But… reality is already starting to set in. The dream has not ended, but it might be put off for a while.
Between our first viewing and my second, which happened on January 1, my wife and her sisters had looked at a few other town and single-family homes. The thing that happens every time though is that someone is already ready to bid, and they can pay top dollar immediately. We are, after all, in a buyer’s market where there are tons of buyers but few sellers. So people rush any property that becomes available.
So on this Saturday, we had located a home that was excellently priced, but with the understanding that the new owner would make some mostly cosmetic but needed fixes. It was located in Durham, north of downtown, and because we had already made an unsuccessful run to a property just off Roxboro Road, an unfortunately distressed section, we were a little nervous going in. This place was also fairly close to Roxboro Road, but not on the same end. The neighborhood as we drove in looked like a nice place to live, with homes that clearly go for the top end of the price scale and groceries within a half mile. Stores are to me an important metric of how others view the area and its money-generating potential, a sad truth but one that is consistent in this society.
As we pulled up to the place around 10 AM, other would-be buyers and their realtors arrived as well. Our realtor was about 20 minutes late, so my wife and her sister cased the outside of the house, noting obvious issues that would need working on such as the deck and other parts made of wood. Shortly thereafter, we stepped inside.
First, I was blown away by the Southern-style front porch, a wooden structure that would make one feel great sitting on a rocking chair and reading way back in that quiet. (And that was sort of the only possible issue, it was a good ways back from the main thoroughfare which would make me wonder about the ease of getting transportation. I’m pretty sure that it could have been done though, as we were within a four-minute drive of the nearest bus stop).
Immediately past the front door and to the left is the Master bedroom. It was about the size of our current Master, which is to say not super large but big enough to fit our king-sized bed and two nightstands. It also contained a bathroom. My wife loves the idea of having that room on the bottom floor.
From there, we strolled through the ample living room, which contained a fireplace, and kitchen and up the stairs to the three rooms above. The only thing that would really need fixing other than said issues with the wood was the carpet, which was very deep but probably not that great looking. In our dreams at least, we would work on these projects, including a repainting of the walls, over time as we enjoyed living in this luxurious space.
Outdoors, there is a spacious two-car garage and the deck, which was rotting in some places. I loved again that one didn’t hear the constant roar of AC as we do in our current spot, or traffic as one might in many others. In short, this place was absolutely ideal for both of us given what we are really seeking in a home. And it’s a rare place these days that has character, not just feeling “cookie-cutter”.
But alas, it was not meant to be. Our realtor poured water on our dream as soon as we rolled out in the car, saying that if we were to acquire it, we would have to pay to repair the deck prior to closing as required by our loan. More than that though, and not surprising, the place had pretty much already been snapped up by a construction-type company that will renovate it and sell at a significant profit. Ah well, such is things with this. I guess what I will try and do now, especially as travel is largely off the table anyway, is to just try and keep the ol’ bank account rising and try to be prepared for all of what one must do to acquire a place. This experience has definitely been… educational. We shall see.

2021 Wrap: On Achievements, TikTok, and Books

What a year, folks. As I reflect on the happenings of 2021, I find it hard to believe that it is already close to wrapping up. It is, in many respects, yet another year lost to COVID. Let’s just pray that it will be the last such.
I guess I should focus most of my energy in this post on locating whatever nuggets of positivity that existed this year. Still looking… Nah, of course something worthwhile had to happen. I guess my elevation within my employer to a sort of assistive technology tutor is a major one. I say “sort of,” because I don’t know if one would feel entirely comfortable with what I’ve instructed. I can say though that I worked hard, did my research, paid close attention to the students’ needs, and tried to make sure that what I taught them was relevant.
I’d spent this past year doing JAWS for Windows tutoring, which as longtime readers would know also led me to purchase my current Windows computer and return to this platform from the Mac. Next year’s challenge, and a much more immediate and difficult one in some ways, will be to help probably those entirely new to the computer to learn some basic keyboarding skills. We’re going to use a program called Talking Typer, which helps people learn to type by speaking the letters aloud and informing of such metrics as Words per Minute and errors. I’ll need to brush up on this myself, and do hope that something I learn can help others unlock the vast power of computing.
I should also work to unlock my own power by digging back into this writing thing. I fell off of blogging over the last three months, but hey I’ve been reviewing books on Goodreads like crazy since May. Given that Book Reviewer still remains my career dream, the constant practice couldn’t have hurt.
To that end, and inspired by an NPR story on the rapid rise and influence of “BookTok,” I created a TikTok account. This, I guess social media, site allows for short three-minute videos and people, especially young ones, post on just about everything under the sun. Not surprisingly this is a very visual medium, but I did find some posts where book reviewers actually listed their titles aloud. I may (or may not) take a shot at recording my five-star reads there at some point, but am not impressed with the overall accessibility of the app. For instance, I find it difficult to follow those I am interested in with VoiceOver on the iPhone, and just navigating between videos is a real challenge. I hope some of these things can be fixed, so that a totally blind person could derive at least minimal enjoyment from the app, and perhaps more importantly tap into this vast crowd to gain exposure and other kinds of opportunities.
Just in case I never do post those reads in such a way, I’ll list them here. Note that not all books were released in 2021, just read by me herein. And just in case you do not choose to read my list below, I’ll close by wishing you and all of us a happy, healthy, and safe 2022.
2021 Five Star Titles: A listing of all the books I awarded this designation on Goodreads.

  1. Clap When You Land, Elizabeth Acebedo
  2. The Actual Star, Monica Byrne
  3. The Meaning of Mariah Carey, Mariah Carey
  4. The Last Train to Key West, Chanel Cleeton
  5. The President is Missing, Bill Clinton
  6. Return to Palm Court, Stephanie Edwards
  7. The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich
  8. A Good Neighborhood, Therese Anne Fowler
  9. Mother May I, Joshilyn Jackson
  10. The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
  11. How The One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House, Cherie Jones
  12. Lies That Bind, Amanda Lamb
  13. Dear Edward, Ann Napolitano
  14. Eternal, Lisa Scottoline
  15. Great Circle, Maggie Shipstead
  16. Nerves of Steel, Tammie Shults
  17. Will, Will Smith
  18. Concrete Rose, Angie Thomas
  19. The Turn of the Key, Ruth Ware
  20. Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir
  21. The Book of Lost Friends, Lisa Wingate
  22. The Sea keeper’s Daughter, Lisa Wingate

Road To Home Ownership: First Viewing

There are, in my opinion anyway, three major pillars of adulthood: marriage, childbirth, and buying a home. Any or all of these may or may not happen, but whenever they do they tend to be markers of memory as well as potential sources of stress and change.
We’ve done the first, will probably never do the second, and… we’re just beginning our journey toward the third. That’s right, my wife and I are considering purchasing a house! After a while, one realizes that apartment rental is less and less attractive as that charge rises exponentially every year, and there is no return on investment. More fundamentally though, of course, is that the place just isn’t ours. So it can’t be customize to our liking as much as otherwise.
The challenge, as we’re already seeing in real color, is the startup costs. Down payments, Earnest money (whatever that means,) due diligence fees, inspection, appraisal… we’re going to be slowly nickel and dimed until we run screaming, and it’s likely going to take longer than we wished to get it all sorted. As such, this post will be first in an ongoing series, the last of which I hope to write from wherever out new abode is.
Speaking of, we got to check out our first possibility today. Getting to that point has already been a process that has taken nearly a month (a month? Wow, that time has flown). Paperwork had to be gathered and income verified before our lenders determined the amount of mortgage for which we could be pre-approved. I’m surprised that many don’t do it this way, choosing to find a home first then see if they can get the money they need to purchase it. With our pre-approval in hand, we could get a sense of what would be realistic if indeed we ever do clear all these pesky startup costs.
Anyhow, we arrived at the Southeast Raleigh property at 11 AM Saturday, early but not too bad I suppose. Her sister came along for the viewing as well as our real estate agent, given to us by the Teacher Next Door program my wife is using to spearhead this process. We entered a two-story townhome that was freezing, because it was empty and had no power. The bottom floor is not carpeted, which my wife very much preferred. The main issues were a lack of adequate storage and kitchen space, and on the second floor a carpet that needs replacing and some knicks and knacks that made the place look less appealing. Also, the master bedroom is likely too small to fit our fairly sizable bedroom set. Finally we were concerned about possible flooding in back based on the shape of that land in a large storm.
So no, we will probably not be getting that property. It was informative to take a look though, and I found our agent to be very good at really assessing what is going on in a place and relying it to us in an easy-to-understand way. We’ll just see if and when this all plays out.

NaNo Novel Excerpt: Moving To College

So there is technically no rule against resurrecting last year’s NaNoWriMo novel and just adding to it, right? I’d ultimately gotten to Chapter 9 and the thing was looking pretty good, but I just couldn’t decide how to proceed. I’m going to let you read the first chapter, but here’s a brief synnopsis of what it’s about so far.
Two blind brothers, both with Norrie Disease (explained in Chapter 1). One opts for college while the other works at the local Ability One Facility for the blind. College boy must contend with a long-distance relationship, and girlfriend gets a lil’ too tight with brother. Written from a first-person perspective, those three main characters each get their own chapters. And here is Tony, college boy.ONE
Tony the Tiger, really? That’s the best she could come up with?” I thought as I stood in the crowded dorm lobby. I wondered what kind of response I would get from the ladies when I got here, but didn’t anticipate the first seeing me as something of a five-year-old. Really though, I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised.
I reached out and pressed the elevator call button again, unnecessarily, because it was something to do with my nervous hands. The fact that I could hear the machine rattling in its shaft as it made its way down didn’t necessarily inspire confidence, but I didn’t have the desire to trek up seven floors of stairs either. So, I waited.
Yup, it was my first day as a college student, and I was already enjoying all of the pluses and minuses of being in this new and exciting environment. There were girls everywhere! I knew I needed to just talk though and not flirt, since my heart was about 120 miles away. I loved her, but did wonder if we would survive the distance and all, but when I proposed we take some time apart she cried so hard that I couldn’t bring myself to end it. Shayna is everything to me, though.
The cage or death trap or whatever you wanna call it finally arrived, and an older couple with their arriving resident squeezed by with emptied carts to go down for another load.
“Hey man,” the guy said as they moved by, “nice to meet ya. We can chat soon as I get this last stuff out of our truck, I’m looking to get to know somebody as quick as I can.”
“Ok,” I replied “I’m cool with that.” What can I say, I’m easygoing. My laid-back personality has always helped me when it comes to meeting others and surviving pretty much anywhere I find myself.
Let me explain some things about myself first, just because my crazy story will make more sense then. I am and have always been totally blind, due to a rare at least it is said to be rare, condition called Norrie Disease. Along with this loss of sight, my hearing is slowly getting worse too. That for me is the harder thing to deal with. What all of this means of course is that things are more interesting for me when it comes to finding my way in life, both in a literal and a figurative sense.
So I spent a few hours with an orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor so that I might learn a little about this gargantuan campus. First challenge? Try to remember how to get to my room. I knew to exit the elevator and get out of the alcove, hang a right and trail the railing that lined the common area on the floor below, then go through the door straight ahead to enter my wing. From there, my room was the second on the left. I opened the door, slid inside, and flopped down on the little twin bed they give us that also makes me feel like a big kid. But hey, I was just happy to have a single, as I’d heard enough horror stories about life with a roommate, and I’ve never particularly enjoyed spending the night with people I don’t know, let alone an entire year.
Sleep took me on that Saturday afternoon, and I didn’t re-awaken until my cell phone nearly launched me from the bed as it vibrated in my pocket.
“Hello” I said groggily as I tried to remember where I was or even the time of day. “Mom? Everything alright?”
“Yes,” she said through tears I could hear in her voice. “I am just so proud of you and what you’re achieving that my heart is full. I remember dreams of going to college myself, and will probably always regret that they never came true. But that’s not why I’m calling. Get your behind down here and help me bring in the groceries me and your daddy got to stock your fridge.”
“Ok,” I said as a laugh escaped my lips “just as soon as I figure out how to get back out of here.”
I met my parents in the entry foyer and took a couple bags from their hands to make my way back up to the room. “So why are you already crawling into bed and not out there at the cookout,” my ever-so-nosy dad asked.
“What? There’s a cookout?” I replied. “I’m probably not out there because nobody told me it was going on.”
“Well kinda hard for them to do that if you’re sleepin’ like a lil’ baby,” my mom retorted.
“Ok ok, point taken,” I replied. “I’ll go check it out soon as we put this stuff up. What y’all get me anyway?”
“Oh just the four food groups,” my dad said “soda, chips, bologna, and pizza.”
“Sounds good to me, I replied chuckling. “But how am I gonna make the pizza?”
“We’ll take you downstairs and show you how the dorm ovens work. Already asked and had them marked up so you can use them” mom told me. “Now if only these thug kids don’t take them off. Also set up the washer and dryers for you, because we ain’t gonna be doing your clothes either. You’re quite capable of doing that stuff yourself.”
“Oh I know,” I replied, inwardly sighing as mom was starting to wind up in her familiar way when it came to matters of my pending independence and how important it was that I be able to function around and in the household, and yadda yadda yadda. Not saying I didn’t agree, just that it was covered territory, and she had already done plenty to prepare me. But hey, I guess it was better than what I heard from most parents about their kids with disabilities, which was an almost aggressive need to overprotect.
Days in this beautiful Southern city, especially in mid August, are just about as hot as it gets. And nights? Well they aren’t much better. The sticky factor gets ramped up by 10 though. This made no difference to all the wild college students strutting around the yard while loud music thumped in our heads.
I took my plate of food, which someone helped me gather, and made my way to an empty spot on the wall just in front of the building. I was kind of hoping one of the ladies would find me there, even though I knew that didn’t need to happen, darn you Shayna. But instead, the dude who spoke to me at the elevator finally caught up to me and sat down, putting a cold drink of some kind against my leg.
“Hey man,” he said, brought you a Sprite. If that don’t work, just let me know.”
“Oh nah, that’s good. I appreciate it,” I replied.
“Cool. What’s your name, man. I’m Nick.”
“Tony, nice to meet you,” I said popping my hand out for a shake… where it hung awkwardly in midair until Nick finally got the idea.
“Oh sorry,” he said chuckling and briefly grasping my hand. “I wasn’t sure what to do.”
“You weren’t sure whether to shake my hand?” I asked, a smile on my face.
“Well… I mean… uh…,” he stammered.
“It’s all good man, I’m joking. I get it, nothin’ to worry about. But, I’m cool. You can call me whatever you want: blind guy, weirdo, whatever. Don’t be afraid of offending me.”
“Ok, that works. Puts me a little more at ease, man. So, what are you planning to study here?” He asked as he crunched into something.
“I have no idea, really. Probably Psych, because isn’t that what most people do if they can’t come up with anything original? I can learn how to mess with my girl’s head even more than I already do.”
“Wait, you have a girlfriend?” He said. I could hear the incredulity creeping into his voice with the question, as if the thought had not and would not have occurred to him.
“Yup, back home. She’s taking a year off after graduating, or so she says, so we’re gonna try the distance thing. That wouldn’t have been my first choice, but I do love her. Just need her here.”
“I understand,” he said. “I think I couldn’t do that personally, especially not as a college freshman swimming in a sea of smart and really attractive women. But to each his own.”
After this disclosure, we just sat for about five minutes chowing down on some good grilled food while the DJ took us “back in time” with some songs as old as my momma. I’ve always enjoyed that stuff more than what they put out nowadays, if I were to admit to it. Guess it’s because that’s all I heard around the house.
“Hey man, it was nice to meet you,” Nick said. “Can I put my number in your cell, so you can call if you need anything?”
“Oh yeah,” I said as I tried to wipe mustard off of my hands so I could fish in my pocket for the iPhone. “I’d appreciate that.”
Finally Monday, the big First Day Of Class, arrive. And predictably, I got lost. The dorm lobby was teeming with other students talking over each other and clacking by in heels, sandals, and every other imaginable footwear. I followed them outside, down the long ramp to ground level, and hung the right I was to take to head to my building
“Sir, can I help you,” a woman said as she whisked alongside me bringing an overpowering perfume mist along. “No, I got it,” I returned, “but thanks.” Pride? What pride. Well ok it was kind of that, but I also wanted the adventure of seeing if I could actually make it without requiring assistance.
And I contend that I would have, if it weren’t for the gaggle of girls standing at the breezeway exit, from which point the sidewalk opens up in all four directions and a grassy shoreline is nowhere to be seen. By the time I managed to break loose of the surging mass of bodies, I wasn’t sure if I’d gone left, right, or managed somehow to stay center.
After fifteen minutes of puttering around in a general circle and assuring myself that this would be my last day at this gargantuan university, I whipped out the phone and hit Nick up.
“Ok man, stay put” he said. “Just so happens I’m getting out of my first class. I can find you there and get you back on track, no biggy.”
Red-faced and already deflated, I walked into the lecture hall about 10 minutes late, but I don’t think anyone even noticed. I grabbed a seat on the back row so as not to careen through all those who were already seated, though I new this was a bad idea with my bad hearing. Mom kept saying I had to get hearing aids, butt really who wants to wear that in college, especially when you’re already blind? Anyway, I pulled out the laptop, located the PowerPoint for this class and settled in.
“..The point of history” the professor’s voice droned, “is to discover WHO YOU ARE!” With this last unexpected intonation, I heard audible gasps from those around me. Someone dropped a writing product, pencil or pen, and I think someone else practically fell out of their chair. “I did that to snap you all out of your stupor,” the instructor said with a chuckle. “Now listen to me, this class is meant to represent all of the people and groups of people that exist in the US. And it just so happens that the US has individuals from all over the world. So while this is technically called US History 1, it is in fact a world history. From colonies and enslavement to a powerful, thriving modern economy, all of the pieces have come together in varying ways for each one of us to create who we are”. I gotta admit, this guy kinda had my attention. This would probably be my favorite class.

HACKED: When The Dark Web Arrives At Your Door

A few weeks ago, I brought you a fun story about acquiring and setting up my new Windows PC. And I definitely still love this machine and all that I get with it. My feelings have however been tempered by the ugliness regarding technology and the Internet that none of us likes to talk about: data breaches, possibly sold information, and a life set on its head.
It all started innocently enough for me. I was walking around my room this Monday afternoon, doing my 15 minutes of exercise with the sleep timer set on my audio book. As I wore out the carpet, I felt a tapping on my wrist. This meant that the Apple Watch had received a text message. “Ah, it’s just my cousin and friends chatting on our iPhone sports group,” I thought. Then I got another message. “And now they’re starting a conversation,” I said. A third “wow, what are they talking about!” a fourth, a fifth sixth seventh. “Ok, what the heck is going on” I asked myself, finally ceasing motion and disabling my sleep timer to check.
“Thank you for subscribing to…” the current message said, and even as it did so the phone pinged another three times. “Your log-in code is…” another said. “Go here to download the app…” a third said.
Within minutes, the count had exceeded 100 messages, and they kept coming without abandon. I paced in circles, wondering what the heck to do. Then, I sat at my laptop to try and get some sense of where to even begin solving this problem. I opened my email inbox and saw “677 unread messages”. Let’s just say a couple of expletives may have slid past my lips as my heart rate ramped up and I felt sick.
Definitely flummoxed by this point, I sought my wife so that I would have someone with more ideas. We then spent the next hour scratching our heads, resetting passwords, and checking everything on the phone and computer. I was happy that just de-linking the Gmail from my iPhone at least killed the flood of texts, but the emails were still coming.
At my wit’s end and with no other choice that I could see, I finally went for the nuclear option, deleting my email account entirely. It’s funny, I’m reading Ready Player Two right now and had been wondering why they chose to take such a negative bent toward technology. The main character had mused on the very idea of having to press the “big red button” to delete the Oasis, their virtual universe where most people lived during that disaster-ridden time of 2045, and how such a mammoth decision might unravel their lives.
My choice wasn’t quite that drastic, but it’s up there for sure. I’ve had that email account for some twelve years, and nearly every important thing came to me through it. I am still working vigorously to clean up the mess that caused, aware that there may have been identity theft and having taken preliminary steps to deal with that very big problem. Our news a few days later said that someone had broken into my hospital health system’s internet portal and stolen a lot of people’s information. While I’m not absolutely certain this is what happened to me, I think it likely. And especially as some other purchases were made using my name, probably on some kind of credit card someone acquired. So, I’m following the steps my bank gives and hoping that this will all clear up eventually.
More than anything, I felt violated. My trust in the inherent security of these products has now been shaken, and I suddenly am more empathetic to those who do not want to interact so fully with this stuff, especially with all of their personal information. Unfortunately though, we really kind of have to in order to survive in this modern world. So we can just protect ourselves the best we can, and hope that we are able to come back from whatever nonsense is doled out to us.

#NDEAM, From Awareness to ACTION

Welcome to October! In a year where I guess I’ll do well to post once per month, because we’re still largely living under the COVID caution flag so not much is happening. I’m anxiously watching as numbers again begin their descent, and praying that maybe this time will be for real, but with the coming holidays one never knows.
But I’m going to talk mostly in this post about National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). Or more specifically, I’ll muse on how we can begin to take that awareness and move the needle more towards action. Certainly there are big systemic barriers that make it difficult for us to overcome, but those are to a greater or lesser extent out of our control. I’ll spend most of my time thinking about that which I can control, and use an acronym of the word ACTION that popped into my head late one night. I’m especially feeling reflective as I’ve just completed my first full Jaws tutoring course with a student, the last session of which we spent talking amongst ourselves about what went well and what could use some work. I was relieved to discover that I was not the only one of the three tutors having the kinds of issues I was having, most notably ensuring that people had a basic knowledge of keyboard layout and could thus follow our instructions. Anyhow, here’s what I’ve thought of as it pertains to actions we can take to move ourselves toward a better career.
Acclimate: The first thing we need to do is to get used to the various types of technology and/or physical settings that a given line of work might require. I am not knocking manufacturing work such as that which I do, because as I’ve said before I know I’m fortunate to have it and it keeps the bills paid for many of us with disabilities. I’ve just heard via the SourceAmerica Twitter feed, (that’s the company which ultimately oversees most of these agencies that employ people with disabilities) that the number of employed blind persons has risen from 30 to 44%, largely due to such agencies. Compared to the regular population, that’s still a staggeringly low number of course. But it does mean that more of us are getting at least a basic chance to feel productive. But if you never get to experience other things, such as how to operate computers as one might in an office setting, then basic is what you are likely to be limited to. As the environment changes rapidly these days, having and augmenting any skill sets becomes more important.
Create: To do this, one has to first create a plan. How will I get said experiences. What do I think I might wanna do? What can I already do. I hope that I’m helping others in my own workplace to do this by so-called tutoring them, and of course it has the byproduct of helping me also as I have to really learn the ins and outs of Jaws and commonly used programs as well.
Translate: Once the plan is created, you have to take the most important step of turning those ideas into concrete action steps. This is the part where I usually get lost, and it is helping me tremendously to have a sort of mentor (the Workplace Development Specialist) who is willing to withstand all of my uncertainties and continue to gently propel me in the right direction. I hope it’s starting to pay off, and especially as I now have my new laptop rockin’ and rollin’. Even my writing may not be entirely done for, as this past Saturday I blew the dust off of my NaNoWriMo manuscript and have gotten to work on editing it. I hope to continue the story once I’m caught up and can remember what all it was about. Hey, I guess I can do it for the next NaNo, which is about to start in November.
Initiative: Anyhow, one is most able to carry out the action steps if one can find that initiative to persist through whatever. I’m starting to, finally, as I’ve also restarted attempts to take the 508 Trusted Tester Certification course online so that I might attain an accessibility position. Clearly I’m not sure exactly what I am going to do, but I know that whatever I choose will require a lot of drive.
Opportunity/Networking: I’m going to combine the last two, because of course they are related. If ever I do figure out exactly what I want to do, then I must both seek opportunities and try to get to know some people in the field in order to make them happen. This is usually the most difficult part for those of us with disabilities, s it can be hard to just convince people that our own knowledge, along with reasonable accommodations and massive advances in technology, mean that we can now do a wide variety of jobs as well as anyone else. I would never say I can do “everything,” but of course none of us can realistically do everything. It takes all of us doing different things to make the world go round, after all, so that’s perfectly fine.
So those are my thoughts as we move through this month of trying to increase employment for those of us with disabilities. Awareness is important, but I think that taking tentative but true steps toward fulfilment is even more helpful. And hopefully we’ll reach a day when writing these kinds of posts won’t even be necessary, because everyone is easily able to gain access to whatever avenue best fits their talents and matches how they wish to spend their time.

Come To My Window(s) On My Return to the Microsoft PC

After a little over 4 years and much thought, I have decided to return to my roots and re-acquire a Windows machine. I guess I am not, in fact, a Mac Daddy after all. For starters I’ve rarely used the Mac since completing grad school in 2017, though I credit it with helping me to survive that program and do pretty well with it. But especially as I’m working to tutor someone at work on Jaws for Windows, a screen-reading program from Freedom Scientific, I am realizing that I just am not productive on that platform.
Now, I am not one to “blame” the Mac per se. I am aware that a lot of my lack of productivity has to do with my own inadequate knowledge on how to get the most out of said computer. But I think that if I have something I am comfortable with, then perhaps I’ll get back to writing as well as learning some of the stuff regarding accessibility that could present me with real advancement opportunities within my employer. So I think this transition is worthwhile.
I received my new Dell Inspiron laptop this past Tuesday, after the post office ingloriously left it sitting right in front of our door in plain view. I was glad that it got there at 4:15 and I arrived only a couple minutes later. Excitedly I extracted it and its cables from the box, plugged the cable into the machine and whacked the on button. And… nothing. Do you see the problem here? Because I sure didn’t at first.
“Is this thing on?” I said as I fired up the Seeing AI app to try and gauge whether anything was displayed on the screen. Then I spent the next thirty minutes railing at Windows for not having made the installation process accessible, as I thought it would be by this point. I finally shut it down till Friday.
As I pulled it back out to review the issue, I first asked myself if the correct cord was plugged into the PC. How could it not be? But wait… is the other end of the plug in the surge protector! The answer to ath was no. I fixed that, whacked the power button again, and Cortana immediately began chattering at me. “…if you need screen-reader assistance, press Control+Windows Key+Enter.” I sheepishly did as told and was off for the races. Never forget, try the simplest thing when nothing else works.
And now I have most things set up as I want them. I’ve also gotten the Jaws Home Annual License, which I’m glad to see they offer in lieu of their $1,000 perpetual license. I just love having the feeling that I really know what I’m doing with this thing, and I can again have easy access to some of my favorite games and an easy-to-use Twitter app. I’ve also spent more time in the chair my wife got for me this past Christmas in the last two days than I had otherwise, combined. So I hope this thing takes me onward and upward, toward great places. More soon.

LABOR DAY: The Grind Continues

Happy Labor Day! As I like to say, this is the one holiday where you are supposed to relax and just take it off. Of course I say that knowing full well that not everyone gets to take it, as stores, restaurants, movie theaters and other businesses continue to operate. But hopefully many at least get off early or have a day of relatively light traffic.

I know that most of my posts of late have been jobs-related, but that aspect has been the most salient for me as uncertainty continues during this period.

Thankfully, I am still working at my job. I guess I didn’t write about it in my last such update, perhaps because it wasn’t happening yet, but now in addition to the afore-mentioned Employee Resource Group, I am tutoring an individual in JAWS for Windows, the computer program used by many blind and low vision people to hear on-screen text spoken aloud. I have sort of done this before, way back in 2016 when working with a blind individual to acquire basic email and internet skills, but as I’m not really a teacher it’s challenging for me. My “student” insists that he is learning something, and the Workforce Development Specialist at our employer keeps “kicking me in the butt” to keep me going. I know I need this, if I am ever going to really advance. I of course also need to get some real training and a certification in this area myself to really take it to the next level, which is what I think she very much has in mind.

Even as I work to advance myself in this area, I am exploring other possibilities which I will go more into should anything come of them. But let’s just say that I’ve learned a thing or two about persistence as I worked to file applications on sites that are, to greater and lesser extent, accessible. One of the reasons I’m being forced to rethink what I am doing and where is changing transportation needs. My wife had been taking me to and from work faithfully for the entire time I’ve been back during the pandemic. But her job has now changed. This means she definitely can’t take me home everyday, and fortunately the bus line I need to bring me back to the Cary bus depot is still available. It also means that taking me in the morning is tougher, as our schedules don’t exactly line up. Sadly, that morning bus no longer runs, and the door-to-door service I use says they do not have available drivers at the time I’d need, arriving by 7 A.M. Like everywhere else, they’re suffering from driver and other staffing shortages. So it’s a hard problem for me to solve without spending a truckload of cash each day. I do not yet know what the answer is.

On the whole though, life is trending upward in exciting ways. I’m enjoying what’s left of this summer and my 42nd year of life (I’m turning 42 next Monday but that means I will have completed 42 years). I’m happy and finally healthier, as I worked out that the biggest issue behind my heart rate acceleration was that I wasn’t consuming enough water. Since I’ve corrected that, blessed relief and much better sleep have occurred. Small changes, but ones that required me to listen fully to my body. I hope all is well in your corner too, and will be back with more soon.

IOS Game Review: Swordy Quest

When selecting games to play on my iPhone, I usually have a hard time either because they are too challenging or they rely heavily on sound for direction and orientation. Naturally, the latter is going to be the case in those that are designed at least to some degree with blind people in mind, but they tend not to work as well for those, like myself, with significant hearing loss. If I have to put on a pair of headphones to fully perceive what is happening for instance, well I may as well not bother.

On the other hand, games that are say Tex-based are usually too abstract for me to follow and/or don’t have as many cool sound effects. The effects are what really make things come alive for me. Or if they do get all of this stuff right, they lack some key accessibility components that make it difficult for all but the most expert blind player to execute.

So imagine my surprise when I downloaded a fun game called Swordy Quest from the iOS App Store after hearing of it on the Blind Abilities podcast. (I guess it is only available on iOS, but do not know for sure). Before starting it, I figured it would be too involved for me to figure out what was going on and that I would quickly lose interest. But I’ve found that it very well walks the fine line between being too challenging and so simplistic that accomplishing anything offers little pleasure. The addition of a “spirit guide,” who tells you which moves you might want to consider next helps with that.

As best I can tell, you’re on this island in a world called Fonetazia (like Fantasia? Haha). You fight all sorts of strange animals and travel about the island gathering resources that you can use to build stuff and trade. The story behind what you’re doing slowly unfolds as you unearth clues by solving fun puzzles that involve matching pairs of items. The sound effects are rich, especially as you fight and defeat the animals. And I’ve found that turning the in-game music volume down to 10% allows me to hear VoiceOver speaking and yet leave said music on to enhance the game’s mood.

And on the subject of hearing, and accessibility in general, I do not know if this title was built specifically for individuals who are blind but the accessibility is top notch. You are even told how to best use VoiceOver’s features to navigate among items within the game, and there are buttons that allow you to quickly revert to the top of the list after skimming your inventory items, for instance. I would even say that, while it might be kind of clunky to do so, one who is deafblind and fully relies on a Braille display could play this game. All of the prompts appear in text, and you would only need to touch the screen to hold down the button for gathering stuff. You can feel the phone’s haptic engine causing it to vibrate in your hand, and if the alert duration was set high enough, say at 3 seconds, you could read in Braille which items and how many you’ve collected. I have encountered very few games of this complexity that also reach such a high level of access for everyone. For this reason, I am certainly inclined to support it financially to the extent that I can.

I started playing on Friday night, and well we probably shouldn’t talk about how much time I’ve already put into it. But it’s a great way to kill rainy summer days, and it makes me feel more motivated when I do sit down to do the work that needs doing. This is the best iOS game I’ve seen since the makers of Dice World began working with us some eight years ago to improve accessibility of that platform. If you like that sense of adventure, I would say you’ll love Swordy Quest.

The Heart Knows: On My Second ER Visit and Anxiety

The first thing I noticed in the hospital, as I lay at about a 45-degree angle in that bed, was the bells. As I listened, some in my room synchronized with others in other parts of the ER, drifting apart and coming together with a somewhat soothing regularity. I also had to contend with the calls on the intercom, often in code: “Cassidy, you have a call on 5 7 8 3 6.” And on and on. Sleep? Hardly, especially as the automatic blood pressure cuff squeezed at chosen intervals.

Yes that’s right, I made a second trip to the Emergency room in two years, this time mainly because on waking the morning of Saturday the 24th, my heart was just about pounding its way out of my chest. A rather vivid nightmare had launched me out of bed and towards the bathroom to relieve myself, and as I moved my rate jumped to frightening levels. I told myself, Just lay back down and it should begin to decelerate. But when it didn’t, a sort of panic feedback loop resulted that made me incredibly nervous, until I finally made the tough decision to wake my wife at 5:30 AM and head on in.

Of course by the time I arrived at Wake Med Hospital, things in my chest were back to relatively normal. Even so, I stayed in that cold Emergency department room (door closed by the doctor to protect against the frightening and surging Delta variant of COVID, for almost 6 hours. In addition to the blood pressure cuff, I had some 12 leads attached to my chest to measure whatever was happening in there, the pulse monitor on my finger, and a couple of blood draws done. The second was completed in my hand by an intern, and honestly it didn’t feel good. That spot still sort of hurts.

Thankfully, nothing unusual was found while in that setting. Still, I am going to visit a cardiologist (again) just to be sure that nothing is going on that should get treatment.

Why am I telling you this story? Because I, along with those at the hospital, believe that the primary reason I may have experienced this episode is mental health/anxiety. It builds so slowly and insidiously that one barely notices until physical health effects are felt. Ever since my heightened awareness, I have noticed that I tend to have fewer heart surges (noting that on Saturday night after my discharge I nearly had one again due to the anxiety over that morning’s trauma). As such, I have really started doing the deep-breathing exercises my Apple Watch recommends, which I’ve found can often help me relax whenever I find myself in stressful situations which is nearly constantly as an adult right?

Especially as we are still battling this seemingly endless pandemic, I implore you to be aware of how your own mental health, and by extension physical health, is being effected, and take time to take care of yourself. And as far as I go, keep me in mind next Wednesday as I go into the cardiology office and hope that there are no bigger issues afoot. I guess I am just glad that I can get these things looked at now, and while I think our medical system is good, I very much decry the costs with which one must contend while trying to simply stay alive.