ACCESS: It’s More Than a Device

As I go about my day-to-day existence with this great new tech that continues to come out and change things for me and so many other blind folks, a disturbing thing is starting to occur to me. Many of our older members are rapidly being left out, and if they actually get something it’s either poorly designed or they receive inadequate training in its operation.

Take for example an individual at my workplace. I don’t know her whole story when it comes to blindness, but I assume she’s been blind for an extended period. Or maybe not, who’s to say.

If so, it would be kind of odd for these things to continue to happen to her. It seems that she keeps getting stuff that she finds hard to work, for whatever reason, and when I go to help her, I’m not at all surprised that she struggles to take advantage of her tools.

First, she has this really tiny cell phone. Oh, it does speak a bit when opened, I think maybe one of those that you can kind of issue commands to. But, the buttons to dial, start, and end calls are so tiny that even I and my fairly nimble fingers can barely distinguish where one stops and the other starts. She will in many cases summon someone at break time who then helps her to place needed phone calls.

Then today, she asked me if I would set her watch. Ok, sure. The watch tells the time, but only really beeps when put into the settings mode. I wish it at least said “Entering Settings,” or something to that effect. And when learning which buttons to press, I initially caused some sort of song to play. I guess it was an alarm? I did get the thing set eventually, but yeah it would be tremendously frustrating for a person who maybe doesn’t have as much of a handle on tech to figure out.

See, stuff like this is why I had thought about going into Rehab Counseling back a few years ago. Too bad I’m not really cut out for that, but I digress. Now, I grant that some of these issues may be due to the consumer, and how much he/she is willing to learn. But I also know that many of the folks who are charged with ensuring that blind and low vision people have what they need to lead as independent a life as possible just slap something into their hand and say “here” without evaluating the fitness of device and person. If this is done, then in many respects the person may as well not even have the piece of equipment for all the good it’ll do them.

I guess there isn’t a whole heck of a lot I can do about this situation, except to bring it to the attention of the five people who read these words. I also hope that device manufacturers keep this stuff in mind, and make their information more readily available to even the most low-end user.

Truth be told, these days I’m starting to become more concerned even for those of us blind folks who are more proficient and can navigate iPhones and other smart mobile technology. As some have pointed out, and I can see this becoming a bigger and bigger problem, as these little machines become more computer-like, application developers are creating “prettier” apps without regard to whether they still maintain functionality with the onboard screen-readers. I’m looking at you, Twitter official iOS app which just lost Braille display support as the edit screen can no longer be easily accessed via swipe with VoiceOver when inputting a new tweet.

So, I hope we as individuals, as well as large consumer advocacy organizations such as the National Federation for the Blind and American Council of the Blind continue to apply pressure to these guys. Because just as quickly as we’ve gained access to all this revolutionary tech, we could lose it.

The Real Deal 5: Show Over, What Next

For many, the show doesn’t end till Saturday, July 19. But my time is up on Wednesday the 16, a day I haven’t been looking forward to.

I have to think that I have come up with the most ingenius packing solution ever. I’d just taken all of my clothes out on arrival, and put each outfit back into the bag once I was done wearing it. Thus, really nothing to do prior to departure but make sure I’ve collected all newly acquired goods and found somewhere to squeeze them in. It wouldn’t do to forget my $50 Bluetooth speaker!

I’d set the alarm as a precautionary measure, but don’t need it. I am awake by 6:15, and out of the door in an hour. In the elevator vestibule back on the main floor, I meet two of the most well-known individuals in the ACB who assist me to the check-out desk. We take an outdoor shortcut that I wish I’d known about earlier.

As soon as I turn in my keys, I step outside to find that my super shuttle vehicle is already there. It is only 7:40 and they aren’t actually due to pick me up till 8. I think a couple of others join us as well, and so it takes a minute to get everything stowed and all inside. Soon enough though, we bid the Riviera Hotel adieu and head back towards McCarran International Airport.

Despite having had several flights without being tagged due to an expired ID, I am not surprised when they call me asaide for this issue again as they had in Raleigh. It seems like once that cat is out of the bag, it won’t be put back in. So, I must in fact do something about it now, a truth that is proving harder to rectify than it should. The darn DMV isn’t really open in a way that accommodates working people! All of the other three-letter acronymed government agencies probably don’t like me either. It will be dealt with eventually, somehow.

In any event, I am far less rattled this time by being subjected to a more aggressive security apparatus. I am mostly relieved that I will indeed get to depart Las Vegas. I had started to contemplate how I would get an apartment, job, etc there. Kidding, I think.

My flight departs at 9:30, and so by the time all of that is done I have only to stand at my gate for 10 minutes while waiting for a flight attendant to run over from a just-landed plane so we can have a full crew. I should’ve recorded the silliness of those attendants. I think her name is Sally, and she has us all laughing from the second she starts talking.

I also talk to my seat mate, an older woman who says she had been a real estate broker, but retired since 1980 to travel the world. Can I get that job? She also states that her husband wears hearing aids as wel, having lost his hearing due to age. They live in a small town outside of San Francisco, and have traveled from SFO to RDU, where they will then be driven to an NC town called Reidsville to meet family. I’ve heard of this place, but never been there.

Once airborne, I have three bags of peanuts, a pack of cheese crackers, two bags of chocolate chip cookies, and some kind of delicious chips. Fear not though, I don’t actually eat all of that while onboard. I just stash some of it in my tote for consumption later. I opt to purchase WiFi, because it is a 4 and a half hour flight and my phone is at 99% charge. I was most wanting to hear the NLS Talking Books narrator speak during ACB General Session, so I scrambled to get the WiFi set up and hoped perhaps they’d be slightly delayed as they usually are. Only this time, she seems to have spoken on time! Bah, I missed it.

Not much else of substance happens.
After flying around some “weather” we arrive more or less on time.

“In the airline industry,” Sally begins as soon as we touch down: “many say that landings are like a box of chocolates. Ya never know what you’re gonna get. Wouldn’t you say that one was coconut cream?” This drew clapping from the cabin.

Bladder mercifully emptied inside of the airport restroom, I head downstairs to await the unnerving bag reclamation process. I really start to fear that mine will not arrive, as it is just about the last to come trundling through, but finally it does show up.

At this point, the time change already begins to descend upon me like a wave. Still, I choose to catch the bus back home and save more dough. While waiting, I meet an individual who says he has flown in from Seattle and is barely remaining upright too.

And that is pretty much the meat of my trip. I’ve spent most of my summer counting down to it, and now that it has come and gone I’m not sure how else to remain motivated. The first couple of working days back, Thursday and Friday, were excruciating, especially as we’d run out of our normal work and were doing some other blah task. I finally started to adapt on Friday afternoon though, and did better with it today. Still it has me feeling, lonely? somewhat depressed? I just don’t know. Needing to move on! But trying desperately to figure out where to. We shall see. More whenever there are new developments.

I definitely enjoyed my time at convention and the people I hung out with, friends new and old. Thank you for a nice time.

Writing 101-4: Trust

Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more.

Over the last few months, I’m really making an effort to become less of an antisocial and hopefully more of a prosocial person. I figured one of the first areas I needed to work on in accomplishing this is to decrease my level of sself-centeredness. I don’t think, at least I hope, I’m not a horrible person. But I can admit to a tendency toward having a hard time seeing things beyond my perspective. I think this shortcoming, if not at least brought down a few notches, will mean that I will not get close to many if anyone.

So, I met someone in this neighborhood, a seemingly nice individual who had been spending time chatting with me and buttering me up as I sat outside. This person comes from a different, more aggressive region of the country, and as such may have been more primed to noticed my attempts at kindness and position herself to take advantage of them.

Remember how I wrote in a recent entry about the difficulties inherent in a blind person really trusting another in extracting cash from an ATM? Well, I certainly have more fotter to worry after this incident.

She asked me if she could borrow $20, because she had some emergency payment or other to make.

“Sure,” I said: “we can just run up to this gas station and I can get some cash I need as well.”

So, we did that. I had told her repeatedly that I could check the statement, and would feel wary if her stated amount differed even slightly from what I heard when calling in. Unfortunately, when I checked, it appeared that she had indeed taken out an extra $10. Not much, of course, but then that’s how someone who wishes to get away with such a thing would operate.

But wait, there’s more! Shortly after she tottered off to make her purchase, she returned saying that she’d lost the money I’d just given her and needed it replaced. Clearly I wasn’t silly enough to fall into this trap.

“Well I’m sorry,” I replied “but I can’t help you with that. Plus, I indicated that my trust in this sort of endeavor is very fragile and could not easily be restored if shattered.”

She continued to beg, becoming more insistent until I had to tell her that if she didn’t leave me be immediately I was going to have to call the law. Finally, she relented.

I know what anyone who reads this will say. “O, how gullible you are.” “You just can’t be that way with people!” And perhaps they would be correct. But it is and always has been hard for me not to initially believe that a person will be as good as her word. I’m not sure if this ability is completely lost as a result of the noted occurrence, but it’s pretty doggon close! I might be kind of stupid sometimes, but my stupidity meter can only be pushed so far before it breaks.

I was just trying to be helpful, as one who has fallen on hard times myself and been helped by people who were willing to lend a hand to me as well. I sure hope I’ve never come across as trying to take advantage of their generosity though, and think that if I ever do I should be called on it as anyone else should.

Just Another Insane Workday

Because what weekend doesn’t end crazily? I’m certainly hoping things get to be a bit more to my liking as this week goes on.
My cousin and I sit in the four-bedroom house, chatting. One of our old, favorite country albums plays in the background.
“Wanna go swimming?” he asks suddenly.
“Yeah,” I reply.
The delicious scent of fried chicken and baked macaroni and cheese follows us as we make our way onto the back deck and maneuver around a collections of chairs irregularly placed. I slip out of my shirt and shoes, walk down the stairs, dive in, and!… lurch out of bed toward the restroom, as I suddenly realize the problem.
I was mostly relieved that my clock only read 2:15, instead of the 4:15 that would mean I must go ahead and shower. But I made the classic mistake of browsing the notifications that had poured into my phone while it rested in my pocket, Do Not Disturb setting activated so that only the vibrating alarm would rouse me.
I don’t know if any sleep was had after that, but in any event it was far too soon by the time I did in fact have to make my way toward that warm-to-hot water. I turned on the brain cells as best I could, hoping mostly to come up with some kind of topic in order to keep my writing challenge goal alive of pumping out an entry every day of this month.
You know, I’ve never really done that. Oh sure, I posted in my Live Journal continuously for a little over 2 years, but not all of those were actually written entries. Many were those silly Internet memes, polls, or low-quality telephone voice posts. So it remains to be seen if I can measure up to this high bar. I do enjoy your feedback, as that may well be the thing to keep me going.
Anyway, back to my day. I chose to dress nicely, not because I had to but because it sometimes boosts my confidence and mood as the week begins. On stepping outside, I was glad to have made such a choice. It seems fall is coming in with a vengeance, or perhaps my already low cold tolerance levels have fallen further. They said it was approximately 63 degrees, but I stood quaking in my Sunday shoes as cars streamed by and I awaited a slightly late Durham Area Transit Authority (DATA) Route 11 bus.
On boarding, I flashed my Disability Discount ID card, deposited my pass into the slot and waited for it to magically pop back up, and took my sideways-facing seat. I was nervous, because that vehicle had a disturbing rattle as we headed down the road. It sounded this way when I took it on Thursday as well. I suppose there isn’t anything really wrong with it, but still.
At the Durham Station transit center stop, I made small talk with the woman I’ve seen fairly regularly for almost 3 months. She has a complicated story, the likes of which I’ve not entirely figured out. But it seems she’s from Las Vegas, has two children, and is either in her 20’s or 40’s. I get somewhat different answers on different days! She’s really kind however, and always has an encouraging word even though she doesn’t seem to feel all that happy with circumstances much of the time.
The Triangle Transit Route 700 that takes me on my second leg to work was also significantly late, arriving at nearly 6:15 instead of 6:00. Maybe today was just a particularly bad traffic day or something. This meant I got to work at 6:45 AM, and had only 15 minutes to clock in, suck down my required coke, and tune in to some NPR.
By clicking on the work tab, you can get a sense of what I do, or at least used to do, at this location. Today though is spent as much of the rest of these last two months have been, just kind of passing time. They did say some sort of project should be ready for us by tomorrow or Wednesday, thank goodness.
At about 2:30 my supervisor brought over a collection of belt buckles that we were to sort into piles of 100. This held us for most of the rest of the day, until we finally ran out of boxes into which we could place the piles.
You know, I’m trying to have a better attitude about all of this. An intelligent woman on Twitter pointed out that this was essential in order to eventually rise above my current situation. But I’ve spent almost exactly 10 years, as one could argue that I began my job search on July 31 of 2003, trying to find something that would really be desirable.
I know the numbers: 70% of persons with disabilities unemployed, and those of us who are fortunate to be working are mostly in sheltered workshops such as the one in which I currently work. I am, more than anything, glad to be alive in an era when I can realistically hope to change that not only for myself, but also to give keys, information and insight to others so they can change it as well.

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.

On Music And Connection

Music. The great salve that sooths the soul. And nothing is better
than music, in my opinion, than old music that takes one back to his
glory days!
I’ve recently downloaded the Pandora app to my iPhone. I’d had access
to it before through a screen-reader-friendly program called Hope,
which I wrote about in another entry over two years ago.
It’s hard to believe it’s been that long!
The thing I love about having this program on my phone, and now the
premium version which means no ads, is that I can have it streaming
through my speakers across the room as I pound away on the keyboard.
I’m presently listening to the Michael Jackson station, where ABC by
the Jackson Five is playing. Of course Jackson’s station is going to
be one that’ll make you feel like dancing around the room, with songs
by Stevie Wonder, his sister Janet, whoever sang Brick House, and
others similar.
These songs remind me of being a kid, flying around the living room
with head just about touching the ceiling as I yelled in equal parts
fear and excitement. We’d sometimes stay in that living room with the
old stereo vibrating till well after 9, our pajamas on but bed clearly
forgotten.
I try so hard not to just get stuck in that past time, when I had
nothing to worry about but whether homework had been completed, a big
worry to a child mind you but nothing compared to the craziness of
which I am aware nowadays. Because of the sadness that happened in
Boston and the resultant, rampant, unfounded speculation about the
whys and hows, I’ve stuck to my music over news pretty much all week.
I suppose that at some point we’ll have a clearer understanding of
what went down, but until then I’ll just try to spread happiness
wherever I go, pray for us all to love each other and never forget the
song.
Like nearly everything else lately, I learned of this tragedy via
social media as I boarded the bus to head home from work. Recently,
upon being sidetracked from going to look at the personals ads on
Craigslist (for the entertainment value!, oh alright, maybe to see if
I could find someone to hang out with here too), I found a study being
conducted by folks at the University of Michigan that sought to
understand how our social media habits had changed over the past three
years or so, and to what extent this effects other kinds of
relationships. It came with some modest compensation for time, and
given that I’d have a lot to say on the subject anyway, I decided why
not participate?
I said that I’ve certainly become more a part of social media now that
I have a smartphone. Twitter and Facebook are some of the more
powerful innovations the Internet has seen. I love that people from
high school now know what’s happening with me, just as those from
former employers, college, and other current and former life circles.
Where I think it may be getting us in trouble, and I keep beating this
point home especially when we have sad things happen, is I think it
may be minimizing our desire to go out and talk to that person next to
us on the bus or park bench. In so doing, it makes easier the
perpetration of acts of violence against that same person. So as we
remember to sing that song, let us do so together.
Just a bit of my rambly thoughts as I continue to get older and try to
plod on through this life. I’m sure I think too much for my own good.