The ADA At 30: On Employment Challenges and Freelancing Opportunities

Today, the Americans with Disabilities Act turns 30! Just under 11 years younger than I am, and having been there for me in some capacity for the whole seventeen years I have fought and pounded for some kind of employment. Without question, this document has made things better for those of us with disabilities, and from my perspective especially for us blind and low-vision folks. But I would probably get little argument in saying that things are nowhere near where they need to be.

For starters, most of us blind individuals are not employed at all. I think the number is still something like 70%, a staggering figure that those without disabilities would never fathom. Among those of us who do work though, most are either in Ability One manufacturing facilities such as my current employer LCI, state rehabilitation agencies like the North Carolina Division of Services for the Blind, or with local, state, or federal government. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those positions of course. I only wish that we had full access to the depth and breadth of the job market.

Unfortunately though, attempts to penetrate the private sector are still too often met with barriers like an unwillingness to accommodate, or even placing requirements, like usable vision and a driver’s license, in descriptions who’s essential functions would not indicate a need for them. After all, technology and apps that make it easier than ever to summon a driver even in many rural places abound, and even if these are not available I still think that the would-be employee should only need to prove that he or she has an adequate and reliable way to get from point A to point B in any position where driving is not the primary job objective to be given a chance.

The good news for those of us who are blind, and I suppose to some extent for those with any disabilities, is that the job landscape is rapidly changing. As this opinion piece on NBC points out, the ADA does not specifically mandate digital accessibility. What I believe it has done though is to make everyone, even up to large tech companies like Apple and Google more aware of its necessity. Thanks to that technology, we are finding it easier than ever to become freelancers. Remember my discussion some time ago about becoming a book reviewer and following my passion? Well I’m truly starting down that road, as I have been accepted to and am now writing reviews for a site called Reedsy Discovery. My first review, for which I had to crash through a 500-page book in a week with VoiceOver, the iPhone’s screen reader, set to a speech rate of 70%, is live! You’re supposed to be able to read it, and if you enjoyed it to leave a small tip of $1, $3, or $5. For some reason, my tip button is not yet working. Also, if you think you would like to review books for this site just go through my referral link to apply, and I’ll receive a nice kickback from the site. I’m pretty excited by this development, as if nothing else it should really allow me to build a name for myself while bolstering indie authors, a group whose careers I am always willing to promote.

So yes we with disabilities have futures that some of those who put their lives and bodies on the line for 30 years ago to get the ADA, our Civil Rights act, passed could hardly imagine. My hope though is that in the next 30 years, a much larger slice of this community will be able to partake, with the creation of policies that give us a better chance of breaking free of poverty and exploring our true potential without fear of losing whatever benefits and services we need to thrive (and that topic could be a whole post, believe me). In the meantime, Happy 30 to the ADA.

At Home Post 2: On Finally Discovering My Passion

It’s the last day of April y’all, and by putting in a little elbow grease to end the month I’m still remaining on pace to make my crazy blog goal! Yay. With the world being in a relative state of turmoil, one must take victories where one can get them.

So aside from my extensive book review, the reasons for which I will get into later in this post, I have written an unfolding series of stories about my (our) response to Covid-19. Hey, maybe this kind of stuff will be important for the historical archives someday, when someone in 2050 is unable to imagine what this time and the time before it was like. “Wait, you mean people used to have to get in these things called cars to go to work? Weird.” Well I don’t know if we’ll go quite that far, but…

So I keep alluding to her, but I want to talk in this post more about what it’s been like being around my wonderful wife for the vast majority of these now forty-one (41!) days. I’ll tell you, if you want to discover whether you are compatible with and can enjoy the presence of someone, take away nearly all choice to do anything else but be with them and find out. Actually though, we’ve been having a great time. We sit on the couch and do things that make us laugh a lot, which at least to me is a key part of my survival. We also have read a couple of books together, because there suddenly is nothing else but time.

One of these was Unorthodox, by Deborah Feldman. You may have seen the documentary series on Netflix, but she is a previously Hasidic (don’t know if I spelled that correctly) Jewish woman who felt the need to depart that community after some tough experiences while married to her arranged husband in New York. I am told that the book departs quite significantly from the series, especially as it concerns what happened after they married.

The other of our reads, I said I would not admit allowed because it sounds silly. It’s Playboy Pilots, by Penelope Ward and Vi Keeland. It’s their third in a “series of stand-alones,” and we had read the first of these, Hate Notes. It’s a typical, fairly cheesy, love story with a lot of sex, but it also explores the challenges of forming a new relationship when someone has things in his or her past of which he or she is less proud. Oh and it has a lot of travel, which I can only dream about these days. I ultimately did like the book.

The main thing my wife has helped me with though, using her incredible coaching skills and a willingness to talk deep into the night, is that battle I’ve been fighting for the last 17 years: trying to figure out WHAT DO I WANT TO DO. Every go I have with the different career and life coaches hits basically this same snag, and so I knew that it was time for me to figure out that thing lurking in my brain and wishing to escape. And what have I often said to myself but not really acknowledged? I want to find a career that allows me to center myself around reading. So, the emergence of the book review! I will, over the next few months, be using this space to practice different types of review and styles of writing until I truly find my voice, then I hope to make my way into some freelance outlets. I am excited to finally embark on this journey, and perhaps it will even have a satisfactory ending for me. So if, like me, you are struggling to find your way in this confusing world, just stop and listen to yourself to hear what you’re already saying. Therein might lie the answer.

Preparatory Thoughts

In pondering the next few days, I am inspired by a couple of my good blogger friends. I will mention them when referring to what they have said that so inspires me.

So here we are yet again, having arrived at that time of year when things either will or won’t change. Grad school? Some new way into my desired career? I’m still not entirely sure, but I do think long and hard about it as I jam light sticks into the packs each day.

Last week, I had a job evaluation. The supervisor concluded that I have indeed improved in nearly every area, and especially in speed of packaging and quality of the final product. These areas of growth didn’t necessarily occur passively, but rather I had to generate some active strategies to cut down on wasted time and still maintain or increase efficiency. I believe that these strategies will be useful for me wherever I end up.

I posted about this on Facebook, and some suggested that I should just make sure not to settle or even be too entirely pleased with my current situation. Well there is some truth to that, but I believe that in order to get what we want, we have to work hard on taking a more positive inclination to our lives. I’m telling myself this more than anyone else, because I’ve never been particularly good at doing so. I can gain something useful from this little job, if only that I can pay rent, travel, and get the stuff, especially iPhone and accessory-related, that continue to enhance my independence.

I’ve been pondering this since reading Amy Juicebox’s post What I’m Thankful For after their Canadian Thanksgiving celebration. Thanksgiving, MMM food! Anyway, I’ll try not to think about that just yet, as while it will mean bountiful food, it will also portend the beginning of the real cold months.

Second, I dove-tail a bit off of Natasha Ramsey’s post entitled Passion? Do I know what it is? Do you? Boy am I ever trying to figure this out! I posed this question to my Twitter followers once: does everyone have at least one thing that they’re good at? If so, how do we find it. I’m not really sure if I can move on until I do, but then how will I find it if I don’t actually move on. It’s the old chicken and egg problem.

I’m hoping to get some kind of momentum by attending the Thorpe-Mitchell Diversity Scholarship dinner this Thursday. I had won this scholarship while in grad school, which then led me to meet Dr. Brenda Mitchell, the person I considered my mentor. It’s been far too long since I last spoke with her, mainly because I have so little time outside of employment to venture over to the University of North Carolina. So, it will be nice to catch up with her and the rest of those folks, and I’ll try not to get too down on myself based on my current situation.

The thing is, they want us to speak to the audience about where we’re going and how the scholarship may have ultimately helped us get there. I know what people have to say regarding my possibly returning to grad school and largely agree. Have I thoroughly considered other options? Will I be financially prepared. Well, I hope so. Very tentatively starting conversations with people about Master’s programs in either Communication Studies or Journalism. As far as I know, grad school is still my best chance to make more happen. And the thing for which I feel the gratest passion is this thing I’m doing right now: writing/blogging. So, I’d like to take a shot at making something happen with that. As I learned last time, you may as well not even mess with grad school unless you’re going to be able to find that drive! So, we’ll see. Still a long way to go before I know what will happen.

I suspect I will post a bit about my experience at this scholarship dinner. I think it’s pretty cool that I was even still invited. How do you feel about your current job/career? Is it anywhere near your passion, assuming you’ve figured out what that is?

Charlotte Trip and School Thoughts

Now that my cousin’s birthday has already come and gone, as of this Thursday in fact, I consider the summer on the decline. Man is it trucking by or what.
Remember all those fancy trips I’d pondered earlier on? Well, I don’t think any of them are really going to happen, for one reason or another. So, I’ve just had to make the best I can out of my little staycation.
I just returned from my third trip to Charlotte this year, this time to visit my cousin and his wife in their new digs. They live in a nice little place not far from where I spent some of my formative childhood years. There isn’t a whole lot in the way of restaurants or retail over there, but I suppose as a residential area it’s pretty decent. It’ll also give them the best chance to get off to a solid financial start.
I decided I’d take Friday and today off, since I would have done so if I’d actually gone to Washington DC as planned. On Friday I headed to Charlotte, having an entertaining train trip in which I got to talk to a nice woman all the way down to Greensboro. She said she’s 20 years of age, attending UNC Greensboro, and working a full-time and part time job. The full time is at Burlington Coat Factory and often can encompass 5 and a half days per week. The part time is babysitting children closer to her home town of Fuquave Marina. Right off of that train, she would go to work at the store from 7-10 that night, and by 9 AM Saturday morning.
“Wow, you’re a hard worker!” I said.
“I have no choice,” she responded.
And in a demonstration of how out of control our education costs are these days, she will still have to take the Fall semester off in order to save some money before continuing. This makes me sad, as one must have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, and really more than that, if one wishes to have a decent career.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and especially as I try to decide what kind of path will get me to where I’m going. As I prepare to begin this HTML course, (last day to enroll, by the way), I of course know and hope that others who are taking it are aware as well, that it alone will not result in some sort of magical employment opportunity. In fact, I hope that my experiences in the job market haven’t pushed my idealism/realism meter too far to the other side, to the point where I’m not really sure anything will quite work. I do hope this course will get me thinking about how I can use my newly acquired skills, along with ones I already have, to start the hard work of building credentials and experience. And as I discover that some of my long-time friends will also be taking this course, I grow even more excited by the possibility of firming up professional relationships.
Will I find a graduate school program to attend? Well, I’m not sure. As I said earlier, education expenses are increasing exponentially. And those points were in reference to undergraduate students. On this past Friday alone, I met three (3!) individuals who said they either were taking this semester off or had taken the previous semester off in order to scrounge up enough dough. While I hope I can get something to work out with my idea to become a professional blogger or social media manager, I know there are no guarantees. I’d like to avoid a $200,000 student loan debt that I’d never be able to repay with my workshop salary. So the tough adult choices continue to spin through my head, with no one to give me definite answers on which are correct.
My Charlotte trip did give me some respite from all of these worries, even if only for a couple of days. I ate, slept, enjoyed chatting and listening to baseball games with my cousin, and had my regular Charlotte lunch dates with a good friend I met online. On Saturday night, I even helped to make delicious fudge brownies that we enjoyed with almond milk, after having consumed garlic bread that my cousin made, and a couple of plates of delicious spaghetti with meat sauce and parmesan cheese.
So all in all, it was a great weekend. When I returned to Durham, I met the kind cab driver who has often assisted me these days in grocery shopping, going so far as to accompany me up and down the aisles and thus making it a lot less irksome a process. She quite regularly works with many of the area’s blind folk, and started telling me about all sorts of places near my apartment that I might want to know about as well. Things like that make Durham feel to me less like just a place to stay and more a bit of home.
More soon, probably on what I think after experiencing my first couple of HTML classes. I hope you’ve enjoyed this summer.

Needing Change, Wanting Work

Adulthood. Stress. The inevitability of expectations becoming reality. This seems to be my story.
Well, I’m not sure it’s quite reality yet, but it’s beginning to seem scarily close.
Remember the entry I posted near the end of April in which I detailed my pending plans for a summer trip or two? And how I talked about needing to hold back just in case I get bounced, at least for a time, from this job?
Well, I went to work today and was immediately concerned, because there was little to nothing to do. I spent nearly the entire eight hours, well ok I didn’t actually clock in till 9 due to another set of problems that I’ll get to later, in mind-numbing boredom. It seems no new orders have come in for the product we put out in my section, locks, in quite a bit, and thus all of the material has been used.
So to pass the time, I was given a tub with two different types of nails that I was to sort into piles in a different bin. It was busywork in the extreme. I’d grab one nail, drop it into its pile, deliberately count off either a minute or a minute and a half, and then grab another.
On top of that, it slowly warmed back there, as I suppose they’ve not really turned on the AC yet. While I am a big fan of warm weather, I either like to be outside in it or in a building with some degree of climate control. Its lacking, along with the generally aggravating nature of the work, made me a bit grumpier than maybe I would normally be toward anyone who attempted to talk to me.
I know there’s no way we could possibly continue to perform in that way for probably even a week. I’m really disturbed now and hoping that somehow some way we get some sort of order to work on.
I can’t afford to have this happen right now, as I suddenly find myself having to spend a lot of dough just to keep these hearing aids on. On Friday, shortly after having had my left-side aid shipped off for repair and a loaner installed, my right-side aid decided to die. I was thus stuck inside for the whole of the holiday weekend, which didn’t turn out so badly because the weather was fantastic. I just ate pizza and enjoyed some favorite movies from childhood to take my mind off of all the craziness and responsibility.
I have to pay $65 to cover repairs to my left-side aid, and will likely fork out another 70 or so in order to obtain a dry aid kit to hopefully avoid having this problem constantly in the future. So that’s the reason why I definitely need to keep some cash flowing in.
I guess this all is keeping me motivated to continue pursuing more meaningful career opportunities. As I reiterate, my dream is to work for either NPR or one of its local stations, perhaps as a social media person. They’re posting a lot of descriptions in an attempt to fill such positions, meaning that I may well be onto something. As it stands, I don’t really qualify for most of these positions. However, I’ve learned to view the descriptions as a sort of road map that tells me how to arrive at my destination instead of a roadblock that prevents me from getting there. This is an important shift in thinking.
One thing nearly all of the openings specified is a desire for the candidate to have some basic ability to design websites. To that end, I’m going to try and take a course this August that will cover a lot of the important components of web design. Offered by the Cisco Academy for the Vision Impaired (CAVI), they clearly place an emphasis on working with persons who are blind. They will teach such things as HTML, PHP, and CSS. Do I know what all of that is yet? No, but that’s why I’m taking it! They say you can come in on the ground floor and they’ll work with you to learn. It sounds intensive, but I’m excited to hopefully take a concrete step to opening the doors I need for advancement.
And that’s just a little of what’s been going on in my topsy turvy life. No wonder I’m exhausted already. Thank goodness for a shortened week.

Summer Travels?

Ah, it’s that time of year again. High time to start planning my
summer trip. This year, I might take two of them.
Well first things first, I’m kind of nervous about scheduling the
excursions. I work at a place that is being effected by the
government’s sequestration policies, and so we’re being forced to cut
back significantly. I suppose my greatest fear is being furloughed for
a time, and thus having to have enough money to survive until I’m
picked up again. I know this isn’t an unrealistic possibility. Darn
adult decisions and having to hold back. Of course, if I’m to go
anywhere for a reasonable price, I can’t hold back for much longer. I
guess we shall see. Perhaps I should go and play the lottery.
The first trip I might take would be to Washington DC. Here, I could
do a number of things to further my career path, and have a little fun
while I’m at it.
The main thing I might get to do is to actually visit the headquarters
of the National Industries
for the Blind
in Alexandria. I’m hoping to talk to some higher-ups
about possible positions and what I’d need to do in order to get
there. This would be in conjunction with my starting the Contract
Management Support Training course, which I hope to do pretty soon
here. I just have to line up all of my references and get everything
submitted. This course would teach me some basic concepts in helping
NIB-affiliated agencies or other government entities in acquisition of
contracts and negotiating the best deals possible for those who would
benefit from them. It’s a potentially wide-ranging experiential gain
that could open many doors for me.
The next thing I’m looking into doing is visiting NPR headquarters, I guess
it’d be the new one into which they’ve just moved. I’ve been told by
insiders that it is possible for regular folks to do this, but I
haven’t yet made heads or tails of exactly how. I’ve been an NPR
junkie since late 2001, when my Sociology professor had us listen to
an excellent series on black codes and the Jim Crow South. In the age
of social media, I’ve actually enjoyed chatting and interacting with
many of their reporters and producers online. I “know” them so well
that I can often tell who’s covering a story just by that story’s
I’m not entirely ruling out some kind of career with that network, and
so I look at the job listings, taking note of the qualifications for
positions that are currently over my head so that I can get an idea of
where and how I might start. I hope that my experience as a volunteer
with a nonprofit, the Norrie Disease Association as well as some of the
other things I’m doing would come in handy should I attempt to make
that leap.
The final thing I want to do would be for fun. I want to visit the Smithsonian National
Air and Space Museum
. I’ve heard they have some blind-friendly
exhibits, or at least some way for me to get a good sense of what is
on display. This would feed my love for all things aviation and
space-related. Hey, I’m still planning to be the first blind man on
the moon!
Later, perhaps in late July or early August, I should get paid
vacation from my employer. Then, I’m thinking of heading to beautiful
Northern California to meet up with some friends I have out there.
I’ve hoped to check out that part of the country for a long time too.
I don’t know what the itinerary would look, other than I’d probably be
there for a week, but I know those folks would show me a good time.
Whatever the case, I sure hope I get to go somewhere. It’s not in my
nature to stay grounded for too long. Have you made any summer travel
plans yet?