Half and Half

So we have reached the end of the first half of 2024. The beginning of fiscal year 2025. And it has been and continues to be a year like no other I’ve ever experienced.

The first thing that tells us in which part of the year we are is the heat. And it has been, for most of us East coasters, extreme. If you know me though, then you know it’s hard to keep me inside when it’s not raining. Note I do know to listen to my body and seek shelter/water when told to by my various systems to do so. But understanding my need for heat, my wife got me this cool Neck Fan. Up until a couple weeks ago, I didn’t know such a thing existed. Weighing about as much as a headset band, it fits comfortably around the neck and blows air out through upward-facing slats. I’m actually curious how it works, since obviously there are no blades to generate the air. But you can set it at three speeds, and I’ve found that at the middle speed it’s quite effective in keeping me cool and minizing sweat, which of course helps me retain said water. So that thing is going to make my summer a lot more enjoyable.

The second thing that tells me where I am in the year is the amount of books I have consumed. (Side note: do you said you’ve “read” an audiobook? Because my wife and I are having a little discussion about that as well. I guess as a practical matter you are listening to someone read to you, but assuming it’s still a standard book and not something that tilts more toward an audio drama I argue that you are still using many of the same brain components that are involved in textual reading.) Any way you slice it, I have taken in more books (45) than I ever had at this time of year. I think that stems from my low tolerance for stories that aren’t grabbing me, which means I sometimes flick through three titles before settling on one. Lots of historical fiction, as that’s what people seem to be producing in spades these days. I especially love travel and adventure, currently into one called The Uncharted Flight of Olivia West by Sara Ackerman in which a woman enters an air race from San Francisco to Hawaii in 1927. It has some of the same elements of a Lisa Wingate book, as there is a character in 1987 Hawaii who discovers that she will inherit an estate from her great aunt. I’m not sure yet how the stories are going to tie together, but I’m also enjoying these increasingly popular dual-timeline novels.

And the final thoughts I have regarding the first half of 2024 involve my job. I spent nearly these entire six months working with two individuals in particular. I taught one how to perform some actions required in customer service and to do some basic work in Excel. This was rewarding, as he grasped many of the concepts we worked on. But what I found even more rewarding is the work I’ve done with a woman who wished to start learning some JAWS skills. I’ve learned the art of repetition, and of coming up with strategies to try and make the material more memorable. When I informed her that our sessions would be ending, or rather transitioning into a larger course that I will lead on using JAWS with web browsers, she said “Aww, I want more!” This made me feel good, as admittedly I had hoped she was even enjoying any of it or at least feeling like our work was useful. It is still nice to do work that truly matters, and that I hope will help someone achieve their career goals someday.

and that’s what I got for you as we prepare to embark on the rest of this year and our lives. We shall see what kind of fun awaits us on the other side. How was your first half?

IN CASE OF BREAKAGE: A Needed Accessory for My Mantis

First, I shall note that I’m not getting anything for promoting this website because… I’m not that big of a deal. Yet! Ha ha. I’m just writing about it because the product I acquired is something I’ve been needing for a long time and I figure that someone else may need or just want it too.

I listen to a biweekly podcast called Mystic Access. It’s run by a blind couple who also oversees a company that makes tutorials on blindness technology products. On their show, they do demonstrations of some of these products, along with many mainstream solutions, and talk about some of the challenges and opportunities that come with living as blind individuals.

As I listened a couple weeks ago, I heard them mention having acquired a case for the Mantis Q40 from a company called Turtleback Low Vision. As an assistive technology training specialist, I have to carry my Mantis up and down my hallway at work. To this point I had been holding it against my body in its default case, which is little more than a plastic shell affixed to the back, and hoping not to drop it. I also like to take it with me on impromptu car rides and would prefer not to have to lug my backpack on these often short journeys. So intrigued, I took a look.

This case does cost a pretty penny, $145 worth of them in fact. But as you may remember in my post about the NLS display, I dropped the Mantis in my office, broke it, and had to shell out a cool grand to have it repaired. So my calculation is that having a case that adequately protects the unit and allows me to move around easily with it was worth the investment.

And thus far it definitely has been. I ordered the case on a Wednesday and was told via the auto-generated email that it would arrive the following Wednesday. It actually got there by that week’s Saturday, only 3 days later. It’s a sturdy-looking leather case with a rubberized bottom that keeps it from shifting when on a table or even on my lap. But what makes me happiest is there is a good-sized zipper pocket on top of the case into which I can fit my iPhone and even my hearing aid batteries. So I no longer need to take the backpack everywhere I go to make sure I have my most critical items. I only wish the USB port area were a little more enclosed, as I worry that in a significant downpour the ports might be in danger. But this isn’t a really big deal as I could just bring along a waterproof bag in the hopefully rare cases I find myself in soakers.

And finally, I like the magnetic clips that hold the case shut. Older cases often used Velcro, which wears down rather quickly. With the magnetic option, this isn’t a worry. I would say overall that I have been very happy with this purchase.

#GAAD: On CAPTCHA

Today, May 16, is Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Its purpose is to increase awareness of and understanding around why sites and components of sites need to be accessible. Of course complete accessibility refers to much more, ensuring that all areas of life are available to persons with disabilities. But I think this day has a primary focus of digital and web accessibility. In that spirit, I want to show what can happen when the various accessibility issues have not fully been addressed.

I made a post way back in 2006 in Live Journal, (remember that? Almost 20 years ago now!) In this post, I railed against CAPTCHA, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing Test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (Taken from This site.) First, that’s a mouthful. And second, it has been the vain of my existence since its inception. In those days, those of us who were totally blind were pretty much left out of the experience entirely. This meant that, for example, we could often not sign into websites that had put CAPTCHA in place, because we couldn’t “type the characters you see on the screen.”

Eventually, and I’m sure with a lot of elbow grease and advocacy, web developers began to understand that there were a significant number of individuals who were being barred from accessing their products because of this spam-fighting tool. So they answered the call by creating audio CAPTCHA, where words or numbers are spoken aloud, often with some kind of noise in the background to make it harder for computers to pick up what is being said. The voice is also usually not completely clear. And this works for a lot of totally blind people, meaning they are able to “pass the test” and get done whatever it is they are trying to accomplish.

The problem? What happens if you have little or no hearing and partial or total blindness. I am totally blind and significantly hard of hearing, so even the clearest spoken language can be hard for me to follow. If they deliberately make it hard to understand what is being said, I will be lucky to get, say, two of the five words they say correct.

I had this happen just yesterday. While trying to complete a recovery of my Microsoft Outlook account (I locked myself out because I couldn’t remember the password, another issue about which I could write an entire entry,) I encountered one of these lovely CAPTCHA. I switched from visual to audio and must have tried eight different sets of words before I gave up in frustration. I’ll have to get that sorted eventually, but at least I’m still receiving email to my account. I assume it will be lost if for some reason I log out of my Outlook.

Ovviously, this can cause much bigger issues if one cannot access a site that uses either visual or audio CAPTCHA, and as far as I know deafblind individuals don’t really have a way to get past it without sighted assistance. I did try to have some of the various AI solutions locate and read the characters on the screen, but I don’t think they are easy enough to discern.

I guess I’m wondering why we even use these methods, in the age of two-factor authentication. Maybe a code could be texted to a user’s phone? I know this would not be a complete solution as some folks do not have phones that can read text, but it would allow many more to have easy access.

Alternatively, I’ve seen some sites that ask relatively easy math questions for the person to solve to prove their humanity. Whatever the case, I hope people continue to be aware of this issue and the very real stumbling block it puts in some people’s path.

Freeing Refreshable Braille for More Access

Many in this era worry that the advent of digital audio technology will mean the end of braille as we know it. And there is already some truth to this, as very few totally blind people know or read braille as it is. But and I’ve seen this frequently in my training, those who depend heavily on audio to consume written content often are less able to spell correctly, which may well affect their ability to gain employment. Given the degree to which the cards are already stacked against us when it comes to getting jobs even without this challenge, we need to gain every advantage we can in any area.
These days, the answer to being more able to read materials in braille without having to produce the paper and take up the space this medium requires is to use a refreshable braille display. I’ve had a few of these devices, from the Braille Lite I got way back in the late 90s during my college career to the Brailliant BI 40 received from the I Can Connect program for deafblind individuals. And in 2020, I of course got the Mantis Q40 display I’ve written about a few times in this journal. And each of those devices opened up more of the written word in ways I could not have imagined.
The problem with these displays is and has been their expense. Most of us blind folks can hardly afford $2, 3, or $4,000 to get even a low-end display. Happily though, at least in the U.S, the National Library Service for the Blind (NLS) is making refreshable braille available for any eligible blind individuals. You have to be enrolled in the library for services, as I am, and call your regional library to request one.
There are two models of NLS Ereaders, as they are known: one provided through Humanware and another through Zoomax. I think you get the brand of reader that your library has available, so I received the Zoomax machine.
These models contain 20 braille cells, which is as much space as I had on my Braille Lite but only half the 40 cells on my other units. Reading with 20 cells is certainly doable, but it requires a lot more pressing of the panning buttons to advance through a single braille line. I’ve found though that as I practice I’m already getting better at it. My Mantis is currently on the fritz and I don’t know when or if I’ll ever see it again, so having this option so quickly available is vital to me being able to continue my work. I also like that it has a handy carrying case with magnetic snaps that keep it closed, which is kinda cool!
This reader is primarily designed to download and read NLS BARD books. However, it can connect via Bluetooth to your smartphone, and USB to the PC. It’s got an SD Card reader, and USB C port for the PC and a USB A port for a flash drive. I love that such a small unit contains so many ports.
It’s a pretty good device on the whole. The only issue I really notice, and this may be only in my unit, is that the battery gauge is unreliable. It says I have 50% charge, then 77%, then 19%, then 54%, so I can’t really tell how much juice it actually has. This is not a big deal though, as I’m usually close enough to a charging port at all times. I even have a portable battery I can plug in.
I am happy such a program exists. If you would like to take advantage of it, again just call your regional library and ask if they have an NLS Ereader. There was a slow roll-out, but they were at least hoping that all states would have units by the end of 2023. And happy reading!

A Year of Work Pays Off: I got a new job!

I’ve worked with the Workforce Development Specialist for nearly 2 years in some capacity, but over the past year in particular I’ve helped with tutoring and training different people on the JAWS screen-reader, basic keyboarding, and smartphone use. These efforts have, excitingly for me, culminated in a job offer from my employer for Training Specialist. In this role, I will continue much of what I have been doing, as well as act as an ambassador to drum up interest in the program among the workers and with company leadership. I think I will occasionally produce copy for the company, their newsletter, blogs and social media feeds.
It has been a whirlwind month (my birthday month too, as I turned 43 on the 13th) of applications, interviews, and even something of a trial, and now I’m due to start officially on Monday.
The “trial” probably happened because the supervisor of my current department became aware of my knowledge in smartphone operation from a blindness perspective. So yesterday he called me off of the floor to come and help an employee to get his email set up on the iPhone.
Then today, I encountered another blind woman in the Go Cary Door-to-Door vehicle that usually takes me home. I happened to place a phone call, and she asked me how I had done that. Turns out she has an iPhone but apparently no one has shown her how to use it. I explained the concept of double tapping on things when VoiceOver is on, as she said she couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t work if she single-tapped and so put the phone away in frustration. She also told me she has a computer with Narrator, the built-in Windows screen-reader, which she doesn’t find very useful. I told her about JAWS, and also a lower-cost, well free if you need it to be but they ask for donations if you can, Non-visual Desktop Access (NVDA) reader. It does much of what JAWS does, and even outperforms it in some areas. Anyhow, she said that coming across me was “such a blessing,” and I hope that she is able to use what I told her. She had been sighted previously and so is more used to functioning in that world.
I feel like these happenings are a little confidence booster from somewhere as I prepare for this new endeavor. It will be my first working experience not tied to a manufacturing floor, after nearly 20 years of trying to reach such an achievement. I am pleased to see that many Ability One facilities, the places that generally employ people who are blind and/or have other disabilities, are starting to promote upward mobility, and are bringing in the people to make it happen. The Workforce Development Specialist began shaping me for this sort of thing really from the moment she set foot on our company grounds, and finding that you have someone who believes in your potential can take you to places you couldn’t previously imagine. I know the work will be rigorous, especially as we get things going, but I look forward to working as hard as I can to benefit myself and ultimately so many others.

Teacher Troubles: On My Most Recent Growth Experience

I’ve been quiet since just before July, because I’ve been bombarded by personal issues that I may or may not get into based on their outcome. Suffice to say I feel like I’ve been treading water and things are in an interesting place. I’m trying not to stress too much, but then again I suppose stress is the name of the game in adulthood, right?
As summer winds down though (ah it makes me sad to write that!) I guess I’m doing as well as I could hope. I just recently passed a year of tutoring co-workers in the use of the JAWS For Windows screen-reader. I can honestly say that my ability to work one-on-one has markedly improved. I’ve learned a thing or two about pacing, and am just more able to communicate complex concepts to my clients.
To that end and with growth in mind I suppose, the Workforce Development Specialist had recently asked me to try my hand at teaching the entire class. We’ve for the last month or so been instructing individuals in the general use of the keyboard, including how to type with the home row at center and what all of the keys do. To do this, we took advantage of a program called Talking Typer that allows one to press any key and get feedback, as well as to complete various drills designed to speed typing up incrementally. The main challenge we have is that, since the program has not been purchased, we must log off and back on every fifteen minutes. This is not a huge deal though, and it has also given our newbie typers plenty of opportunity to practice.
Anyhow, so I tried my hand at teaching this Tuesday. And because I believe in transparency and will report how things go no matter the outcome, I will say that I did not do nearly as well as I would have liked. Most of the difficulty stems from my hearing loss, as in order to do the job effectively I would have needed to be able to monitor what was going on at each station or at least establish some kind of call and response system so that I would know how each person was doing. I found it hard to even get everyone’s attention when preparing to start, and thus kind of gave in eventually and just worked with the person I’d had for the entire course. My bumblings were saved by the other tutor in the class, a pretty talented guy who quickly figured out how to redirect the students and managed to walk them through a few word and typing drills.
I’m trying not to beat myself up about it too badly though, as it was a learning opportunity and not everyone is going to be sharp at everything. I think that naturally I will be better in one-on-one settings, or perhaps working remotely with multiple individuals since maintaining awareness of what all are doing will be less challenging. We shall see though, of course, and in any event the most important thing I can do for myself is to expand my skill set.
So that’s the most interesting piece of my current, chaotic existence on which I can report. It certainly reiterates my oft-stated respect for the teaching profession. What y’all teachers do is not easy! And you need more love for it. I do hope to continue my career-advancing moves by getting a JAWS certification from Freedom Scientific, continuing to work with my cousin in learning how to effectively tutor as I have been for some time, and oh yeah work on polishing my writing skills. It’s sadly still an uphill slog in employment for those of us with disabilities, but I figure that by noting my path through this process I make it a little easier for anyone who comes behind me.

Dashin’ Round The World: My Food Delivery Ride Along

As a blind person I have enjoyed the rise of food delivery services such as Door Dash and Uber Eats, as they give me more options than pizza if I need a good mea and no one is available to transport me. I am aware of the controversy that surrounds such services, and particularly their somewhat fraught relationship with restaurants. I hope though that the paring is beneficial enough, as especially proven to be the case during this protracted pandemic period. I for one don’t even know how much money I have squirreled away grabbing things new and long enjoyed.
What I hadn’t really known is how the experience is for those who do the legwork for these businesses. Until my wife decided to become a Dasher. This is what Door Dash calls its food couriers, I guess trying to be humorous and, more importantly, to indicate the supposed speediness of the food’s transmission to its recipient. She initiated her run in this position yesterday, and I rode shotgun just to see what was what.
First, she rolled into a parking lot near one of the busiest areas of Cary, called Crossroads, powered down the engine and launched the app. Dashers use a special app that instructs them along the way as they make each delivery. The time then was shortly before 4:45 PM, and upon being asked how long she wished to continue she indicated that 6 would be her stop time. I do like that they allow you to set this, as it allows you to remain in control of your day and know when you might want to be done. It seems easy to get lost in delivering and have several hours go by before one knows it (well sort of, as dwindling supplies of expensive gas would also alert you, but that’s another post).
Anyway, the only thing she had to do then was await an order. And it didn’t take too long for the first one to roll in. A woman wanted three items from China King, which was less than two miles from our current location. This order was immediately available when she went inside, and so she snagged it and slid it inside her insulated bag. Then, she used the app’s built-in GPS to navigate to the customer’s apartment. The challenge here is that since it doesn’t allow you to use Google Maps, you can’t interface it with Android Auto. So she couldn’t view navigation instructions on the screen, and will thus need to get a phone jack. The apartment we needed to reach was also not far away and the delivery contactless, so she completed that and got another order right away.
The second person wanted six items from a Mediterranean restaurant called Kebab Skewer. Maybe he was having a party? There was a little more of a drive getting to this location and to the guy’s home, was very nice
with a couple of floors and a garage. She did wave to him through the kitchen window, but was able to leave the food there for pick-up.
It was already about 5:40, so we deduced that this third order would be the last one. It was to be from a place called Totopas. She had initially rejected it, but then determined that she was already relatively close to the location and chose to accept it. The only thing this customer, a woman who seemed to be a college student, wanted was a Vegan taco. This surprisingly took a little longer to be prepared, but she got it and we headed from Kildaire Farm Road in South Cary to her location not far from NC State University in Raleigh. This was a decent apartment that required a key fob to enter the building, but had no buzzer for would-be arrivals to press, so she had to call the person once she was there to make the exchange. This went without a hitch, and we were done.
On the whole I think she found the experience to be satisfying, and maybe even enjoyable. The income was decent, of course it would be better if the affore-mentioned gas weren’t through the roof. But I guess if one has the patience for it and doesn’t mind a little driving, it’s an acceptable way to hustle. You can turn down orders that you feel are too far away, and of course you can stop and start whenever you want. Now that I’ve seen how things look from that side, I feel a little better about utilizing these services, with the already noted caveat regarding how they might or might not benefit restaurants. Anyhow, that was a different experience for a Saturday in a time and period that has largely been monolithic. We’ll see what new fun I can get into in coming days.

Job Days No. 9: On Self-Development and Tutoring from the Other Side

Ah, my slightly late annual look at how things are changing or not on the job front has arrived. It’s the ninth (9th!) such post in this series, and my mind is boggled by how many there have been. How quickly does time fly.
Anyway, I guess things are slowly shifting as I move toward what I hope will be a fulfilling career as I bound along through middle age. Things are basically unchanged in the plant, as we call the manufacturing facility where I am employed. I’m still in Omni Glow, the name for the light sticks we package, as I have been since September of 2013. Ten sticks to a box, sling it onto the conveyor belt, grab the next handful, stuff, slide, and on and on and on. As with each year before I am faster than ever, because the rhythm when really established makes the day go by in a blink. I basically aim to stay awake, do the highest quality job possible, and head home at 3:20. I’m always amazed when I manage to catch faulty sticks even as they race through my fingers quickly enough to leave the occasional papercut. The past two weeks have been the best in months, because we’ve finally obtained enough product to really get going without being stuck and sent back to rework or worse, the pointless counting of buckles into already worn plastic bags as a time-killer.
Even as I work the “day job,” I am aspiring for more. As I’ve often discussed since it started, one of the main ways I’m planning to do this is through tutoring other blind individuals on assistive technology. I’ve now had three students at the plant, and with each I’ve gotten a little better. The last finally got me to open up more, and by the end I was talking to him before sessions started and after they ended. As others have told me, this not only makes the student more comfortable, it also puts me at ease and allows me to not stress as much about everything going perfectly with a lesson. After all, it’s about connecting with the other and finding out what a given student truly needs.
It’s been a couple months since I had my last student, so in that time I’ve been working to sharpen up. I did a couple of mock sessions with other tutors, which took me back to the days of grad school in the University of North Carolina’s then-named Rehab Counseling and Psychology Master’s program where we did these sorts of sessions for video tape. They do help though, as they show me how tight I had previously been and how smoothly I can teach if I let myself.
And even more recently, I’m being tutored by my cousin. He’s taking the online assistive technology program at World Services for the Blind, and thus has mastered many of the techniques involved in the delicate work of helping others. We’re working specifically on using Jaws for Windows with Outlook, but I think a lot of what I’m learning can be applied more broadly as I come to understand pacing, proper use of lesson and guides, and the like. I’m also grabbing a lot of material from the Freedom Scientific Training page so that I might use it in conjunction with these newly acquired techniques to actually help whomever I am assigned to next. Truthfully, working with him is instilling discipline as well, as I’m having to come home from work and shift gears twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays at 6 PM. This is a real challenge sometimes!
And that’s this year’s Job Days update. Things are getting really interesting around these quarters, and I hope to have even more exciting news to report to you soon.

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

My 2020 Vote: The Joys of Voting Online

If there has been any silver lining to this pandemic, it would be that technology, which has existed for a good while now, is being used to its fullest potential. We all know this, with unending, some would say tiring Zoom meetings, schools that have been forced to shift online and alter their educational plan, and the like. The outcome for people with disabilities has been mixed, as while there are many instances of it helping us to gain access to events we would otherwise have had to miss, there are also times, and especially in education, when such tech can create significant barriers.

But I’m not really going into all that here. I wanted to note and hopefully have everyone consider the merits of an experiment here in NC that allowed those of us who are blind or low vision to conduct what is often said to be a basic civic task: that of voting. As this virus stretched on and on toward Election Day, I became increasingly concerned with just how I would conduct this activity. I didn’t want to deal with the myriad issues with absentee mail-in ballots, not to mention that I would not be able to complete one accessibly. I certainly trust my wife to fill out my form as I request, but isn’t that beside the point? Aren’t I entitled to an independent, private vote wherein I can select whichever candidates I wish no matter how others might feel about them?

Well of course there’s always in-person early or Election Day voting at your local polling place. I’ve done it six times with the auto mark machines, talking devices into which you feed your ballot and can then navigate with the arrows to make your selections. (Only once on the actual Election Day, and I vow never to do that again as the lines are too long and the people a bit out there!) But I just wasn’t sure if I would be comfortable going in there even for the, hopefully short, time it would take. So my most likely choice was going to be to have my wife fill it out at curbside.

Until I heard via our local news leader WRAL that a different option was available specifically to those who are blind: accessible online ballots. These ballots could be requested (unfortunately the deadline to do so passed yesterday) and completed entirely without the need for paper. So this past weekend, I put my request in, got the email back, and kept getting “Voter Not Found”. And into the bureaucracy we go! I fired an e-ail to the Wake County Board of Elections explaining my difficulty, and an I identified person wrote back that their attempt to enter my information netted a successful find and that I should try a different browser. Turns out though that the culprit was my ID number, which I had not needed to enter on the ballot itself but was for some reason required when I submitted the request. I only needed the last 4 digits of my social security number. I hadn’t thought I would have provided my ID when registering, but keeping all that government stuff straight is complicated.

So last night, I managed to log in and asked my wife to be the witness, as required. Only I had another would-be witness, in the body of a pesky 4-legged friend who always demands pets when I seat myself on the couch. I tried to tell her that daddy needed to work, but she didn’t understand, finally parking herself at my foot in the vain hopes that I might remember her and interact eventually.

That craziness aside, the process went mostly smoothly after that. I did wonder why they used checkboxes instead of radio buttons when we were to vote for only one option? There were 35 selections in total, and once I completed my choices I type-signed it and my wife filled out the witness form. And that was it! I voted in my pajamas from the couch. That’s a winning strategy in my opinion.

Seriously though, it could actually help those who are deafblind, as many who cannot perceive audio are also unable to vote independently. I think the auto mark does have some kind of Braille display, but I’ve never seen it work other than to say “Ready,” or something to that effect. Having the ability to set up one’s equipment how one truly needs it would be a huge benefit not only to us but to those with other things going on as well. I know of course that voting online introduces possible security issues, but really there are security issues no matter how you slice it. As with everything, we just have to put in what safeguards we can and allow the system to truly work for the people it is intended to serve and empower.