On The Work Front: A New Experience With The Day Job

What! A! Week! That’s about all I can say after having an at-work experience unlike any other. I was selected, due to my on-and-off tutoring of employees on Jaws for Windows and basic PC skills, to participate in a company-wide training. We’re working to expose everyone to UKG Pro, the HR Management Solution our company adopted nearly 2 years ago but of which many blind and low-vision workers there had yet to avail themselves. I have to admit that at first accessibility for this platform was limited, but it has made leaps and bounds in recent months. So they’re mostly hoping to take advantage of that fact to make Open Enrollment into our insurance and benefits plan, which starts next week, perhaps a little easier on HR.
I was told that I would be a part of this effort with only a day’s notice, as we initiated a soft rollout last Thursday before turning on the juice this week. Once full sessions were underway, I worked back in what we call the Workforce Innovation Center (WIC) which is really just a room full of computers, from Monday through Thursday with five sessions: 8-845, 9-945, 12-12:45, 1-1:45, and 2-2:45. Each of these days two of these sessions were conducted over Zoom, so that we could reach all of the other facilities affiliated with my company.
It probably surprises no one that I and we had a few glitches. My main task was to demonstrate how to log onto the system and proceed through the various link groups to locate sought-after information such as pay stubs and a list of current benefits. The main challenge was probably getting one’s password entered before the system times out or locks you out. Last Thursday was a complete bust for me for this reason, because I had unknowingly turned on the Caps lock and tried three times to enter my password, thus prompting a need for password reset. I had to suspend my attempts to show the individual with whom I was working how to log in, but luckily he seemed as computer savvy as I was so I feel confident he was able to figure it out on his own. They’re tight on security, understandably, requiring that said passwords be changed every 90 days no matter how often one logs in. We definitely had fun explaining this to the masses.
I also had issues getting the sound to a comfortable level for listeners on the other end. I hadn’t been made aware of this until the second-to-last conference though, so I feel bad for the folks who were forced to endure a blaring Jaws in their ears. But hey, one can’t know unless one is told.
Those difficulties aside, I mostly enjoyed the week. It took a little while to get used to the mental heavy-lifting required to do these presentations over and over again, adjusting as needed to different questions. But I was able to work sort of successfully with at least one individual, not quite getting him to login because he’s still learning the keyboard, but at least boosting his confidence in the ability to do so. Also, on Wednesday and Thursday she had the other tutor and I do more of the talk, only reading off the brief introduction. My voice got a little tired, but I think I sounded pretty good and was able to deliver a relatively stable speech by the end. The challenge of course is to make it as lively the 30th time as it was the 2nd, because each is done with a new audience. And I have to, I think, do a few more of them this coming week as well.
It was a real honor to be asked to take on such a task. I’ve had a few people come up and thank me personally, saying I’d done a great job and seemed to know the computer well. And while I am not necessarily expecting external reward, I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t make me feel good. More than anything, this presents a real chance to advance my career. And that’s the part to which I am looking forward most. We shall see.

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.

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.