Cha-cha-changes

Welcome to the first official post of 2015! Yeah I know, some of the Louisiana entries were made during 2015, but they were referring to an event that happened way back in ancient times of the year previous. So, here ya go.

Man, has this year gotten off to a rockin’ start! It is setting up to challenge me in ways I’ve never really been challenged, but that will help me get closer to where I want to be pretty quickly. These changes are happening on both a professional and personal level.

First, excitedly, I have been named President of the Norrie Disease Association. This was necessitated by our previous president having to step down due to some unfortunate circumstances that have made it difficult for him to continue in that role. While the reasons make me sad, I am still appreciative of having this opportunity and hope I can make the most of it. I got a strong vote of confidence from my fellow board members, though I honestly am not entirely certain why. Me? One who is sometimes too shy to make a simple phone call? Who definitely has a ways to go before he is as assertive as he would like to be? But, I hope I have made and am making progress in this area, and it will help to have such knowledgeable people to assist me as I do so. We’ll see if this August’s conference goes off fairly well.

RELATED: Five Years of the NDA

Second, this city and the Triangle Transit system have decided to pull a bit of a switcheroo on me. They’ve altered some of the routes that I take, especially that which I use to get home from work. I hadn’t known this initially, I suppose because I wasn’t smart enough to check the service changes page they posted shortly after the year began. This meant I got stuck at Durham Station downtown for 30 minutes, in the cold wind! I have since been trying to learn how to get from my old bus to the new one, and a cool thing is that BlindSquare GPS, an app on my iPhone, can actually tell me where the buses are within the station. Well it probably has some set database that doesn’t change often, as some of the numbers are transposed a bit. For example, the 700 now stops where the 400 used to, so it still calls that the 400. But as long as I know this, I can easily still use it to track my location. Hopefully I will know it by rote soon enough.

The final change I will talk about at this point is in my reading habits. Check out my 2014 Booklist, which you should find in the “Pages” section of this site. There, I note that I consumed 34 titles last year, a record for me. Many of these titles were by so-called “indie” authors, as I’ve befriended them on Twitter and wanted then to check out their works. As local writer Monica Byrne noted in an article that discussed her book, 2014 was actually the year of the indie author in many respects. One of its best reads, The Martian, had been put out by an unknown guy named Andy Weir. The thing I most liked about this book is that, while he clearly knows his stuff regarding what the planet is like, how one might experience a mission there, etc.; he does a good job of making things understandable to those of us who maybe don’t have such advanced knowledge.

I also took in more nonfiction than I ever have before. I’m thus starting off this year in the same way, currently reading a very popular title called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks about a black woman who’s cancer cells were scooped in the 50s, implanted in a dish, and have gone on to aid in lots of research, medications, and the like. It’s an interesting read.

I have it as a goal this year to reach fifty (5-0!) books. That’s a lot for me, as I normally don’t have a whole lot of time to sit and read. I’m doing them two at a time though, and already about a third of the way through both books three and four.

I have them all in my iPhone these days, using the Audible, BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) mobile, iBooks, and Kindle Apps. All of these apps have their pros and cons, but as far as functionality goes I think Audible tops the list. In Kindle, if I happen to get a notification it shoots me to the top of the page I was currently reading. In iBooks, I am slowed by having to wait for the page-changing announcement to disappear, though I suppose I do like this announcement since I can keep track of my progress. And in BARD, the audio books work fine, but I wish the Braille books would be automatically marked when you stop. If I forget to set a mark before closing the app, it’ll jump back to the beginning of the book and I must then find my place again. Depending on how far I’ve read in, this can take a while!

Anyway, that’s a quick scan of 2015 as it has unfolded thus far. It looks to be an entertaining year, full of unexpected occurrences. I just hope most of those are favorable for me and for us all. More soon.

Christmas Vacation 2: The Party

Because I am completely unimaginative, I will use the same subject line I did at this time last year. As I had then, this year I also venture to Lumberton NC to attend the now-Annual Christmas party this past Saturday.

First, the departure. I am excited to learn that Megabus has now made available a route straight from Durham to Fayetteville. This means that, unlike last year when I had to get a neighbor to drive me to Raleigh where I connected with Greyhound, I am able to launch straight from home.

I almost don’t even manage to get out of here in the first place, though. Uber, I still love you as a service, but I have to wonder about the drivers you’ve hired of late. I know that the Megabus is scheduled to leave at 11:25, and I would have to stand in the near-freezing rain to wait, so I admittedly opt to push it about as close as I can and leave at 11. The Uber driver I get though is unable to understand English or, I gather, follow the GPS. I try in vain a couple of times to explain the somewhat complex instructions for locating my apartment and finally hang up. Pondering what to do and prepared to call Durham’s Best Taxi, another taxi happens to pull up in front of me and ask if I need a ride. I’ve seen this guy before as he regularly cruises the neighborhood, and so I don’t hesitate to jump in and hope I still have time to get to that Megabus stop. And because I was unable to properly cancel my Uber, they still billed me $4, I guess their base fare.

Oh man is it cold at this stop! The wind is cutting, and the rain isn’t absolutely pouring but it’s certainly hard enough to make even checking my iPhone impractical. A couple of other families stand nearby, kids milling around and probably trying to keep themselves warm as well. The vehicle mercifully arrives, and a woman lets me stand with her so that I will know when we can board.

I guess the vehicles can be designed differently, as this one has virtually no seat pitch. I sit with my knees almost under my chin, well ok maybe not quite that drastic but close, and try to figure out a way to balance my Braille display on my lap so I can read.

“Excuse me, sir” I hear a voice ask: “where are you getting off?”

I tell her, and discover that she is an older woman from Connecticut who is coming to visit her mom for a month. She has some kind of physical issue who’s origins she is not even certain of, and thus is unable to walk easily.

“I usually use an electric wheelchair,” she tells me: “but they’ve taken it and put it somewhere else. Having to use my walker now, which kind of hurts me.”

We talk about potential careers, and she says she once worked in customer service, but wants now to use her cooking abilities to start a food truck. MMM!

She has offered to help me sort things in Fayetteville in the event that I arrive and my pick-up ride isn’t there, but as it turns out, my ride is indeed waiting. She, as well as the woman on the bus, expresses some concern about the area of town in which the bus disembarks, noting that it’s “real ghetto”. I am just relieved to not have to wait in the cold again.

We speed toward Lumberton as I make conversation with the driver and a front-seat passenger who is also a friend. Both of us blind folks opt to remain in the car during the quick grocery stop, sitting for only about 7 minutes while some additional supplies are acquired.

The party is much the same as it had been the year before and the one before that. I meet my cousin and his wife there, as well as another couple from smalltown NC not far away from Charlotte, who had also been there the previous two years. But, a friend from my university days has made an appearance for the first time in a while. And the most exciting find: my other long-lost “cousin” also shows up with his very kind girlfriend, who impresses us all by her willingness to just jump right in and make herself at home among this disparate, sometimes crazy group.

I am given two tins of cookies, as well as a gift that I still have wrapped because I want something to tear into on Christmas. Just a little of that childhood sentimentality, for old time’s sakes.

The evening’s highlight is the gift exchange. I brought an umbrella, easy to tell what it is even though wrapped, but hey a useful device! Especially considering that we’ve turned into Seattle lately. I don’t know who takes it, but it is plucked near last. I initially get a $25 Starbucks gift card (OO, nice!) but am not surprised in the least when someone opts to “steal” it. On my next draw, I got some sort of ringholder. Funny.

We also consume delicious nachos with cheese and meat, pasta sallad, and the requisite sausage ball that I have every time I go to this particular residence. We laugh as the NFL’s Washington Redskins amazingly knock off the Philadelphia Eagles, ending the Eagles’ hopes of making the playoffs.

After more chattering and ingestion of punch mixed with OJ, lemonade, Southern Comfort, and perhaps something else, I slunk off to bed.

And that’s pretty much the crux of the happenings at this year’s party. Most everyone had already departed long before I do, but I stay with my friend and watch our Carolina Panthers keep their playoff chances, which should by rights have been long gone, alive with a win over the Cleveland Browns 17-13. We have to defeat the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday starting at 4:25 in order to win the woeful NFC South, and extend our season with the worst record in NFL history of any team that has managed to do so.

I guess I’ll check in on that one while down in Louisiana, as I will be from this Friday till next Tuesday. Those will of course be my next series of posts. I’m guessing more will happen than I can even contain in two entries. We shall see, though. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, and happy holidays.

EDIT: Oh, and I also don’t have to await a ride when I arrive on the Megabus in Durham, as the individual I’ve designated as my favorite cabbie happens to be there. I guess she positions herself near arriving transit vehicles like that and Amtrak to see if she can get a fare. Makes me happy, again.

#TransitThursday : On Uplifting Passengers and Drivers

This post inspired by the most recent on GoTriangle’s blog entitled A Shout out to Operator George Walker, in which we were asked to recount our good experiences aboard Triangle Transit buses.

It never takes long for a routine to develop. Both in coming to and leaving work, I have encountered individuals who do surprisingly small things that make a big difference in the day’s direction. I suppose they are aware of the effect they have, but it never hurts to acknowledge in a formal way.

At 6 AM, I arrive at the Durham Station transportation center, where I await the usually timely 700 bus. This will take me to the Regional Transportation Center, (RTC), which is right across the lot from my employer. Usually I have my iPhone in hand, headset on, and some interesting programming to try and keep myself awake.

I think maybe a month and a half ago, I heard something unique as we approached the dropoff point. The driver, I guess an older woman but don’t know for sure, began talking to us on the PA. Ever since, she usually offers some word of encouragement, and makes a point of saying hi and bye to each passenger as we board and disembark.

She also has a pretty good singing voice. I admit I got a bit nervous when she began singing “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands” while navigating the winding roads near RTC. Fortunately though, she left the “clap”ping to us. We were all highly amused though, stomping and cheering by the time we arrived. The smile I had on my face after that, and after so many of her fun interventions, caused me to easily sail through at least the first half of the day before my head began to bob on a stick. I know she probably feels pretty tired herself, and so think it’s great that she takes the time to inject that little bit of life into her regular passengers.

The other person from whom I regularly draw energy hops on to ride in the afternoons. I’ve searched this blog high and low, and am surprised to discover that I hadn’t yet written about her, at least not in a way that I can think to find. I guess I’ve just done so in other circles.

Our initial contact happened, because she was concerned that I might find it difficult to get home safely through a forecast storm, maybe in mid April. I ensured her that I would be fine, and unwittingly, a friendship was born.

We only get two minutes, if traffic causes us to slow up enough, so the getting-to-know-you has occurred in fits and starts. She is an older, wiser, person with whom I talk a lot about my employment goals. Doing so leaves me feeling more positive, and also helps me think things through.

I enjoy watching the camaraderie she has with her colleagues, as they all band together to help each other out when needed. She has also helped me run errands on occasion, and would have allowed me to join their group for a fun night out in Durham if I’d not been too slow on the uptake with regards to checking messages. I would say that if there’s anything I most enjoy about public transit, it would be this kind of community-building.

So thank you drivers and passengers for helping to add some spice to what would in many cases be drab workdays. As always, I hope that I give at least half as good as I get.

#WhiteCaneDay : A Big Piece of Freedom

Four cylindrical segments of aluminum, fitted together around a double elastic string. She, (because I want her to be a she), stands approximately 54 inches tall and comes to just below the second button on my comfortable sweater. She is the friend who is all good with me, as long as she doesn’t SNAP!

My beautiful, foldable, white cane. I often enjoy the stunned reaction I get when on public transit and I slide the holding string away and pop it open with a flourish.

“Wow, that stick is cool!

As an aside, I don’t have a great understanding of color, not surprisingly, so maybe you can explain why white is better than, say, red? Does red look too much like an emergency, and thus perhaps serve as a grater distraction rather than a signpost to just be aware? I’m curious.

In any event, today marks the 50th anniversary of National White Cane Safety Day, hashtagged on social media as #WhiteCaneDay. The National Federation of the Blind has published this article detailing the history and significance of this particular day. I immediately notice that it was born at the same time that equal civil rights for people of different racial/ethnic backgrounds were also being established. I doubt that this is entirely coincidental.

RELATED: Another great #WhiteCaneDay post: Don’t Fear The Cane

While I now consider her my friend, this “stick” and I were not always on such chummy terms. There are a few reasons for this, not the least of them being that my first metallic staff was a straight thing with curved top, like a candy cane. As a kid, I hated being further ostracized by this thing that I would have to slide under three chairs so as not to trip other children and teachers as they made their way around the class.

I knew the older blind kids had a folding cane, and that it would be a privilege afforded me if I got to a high enough level of Orientation and Mobility (O&M) to move around well and demonstrated a willingness to take care of the thing. Unfortunately, I did not always exercise sound judgement once I acquired that jointed object. For it also made a concealable weapon, ready to be whipped out as soon as I felt I was being insulted. Funny how quickly those halls cleared when it made that fantastic sound, like someone engaging in a sword fight. Get out of my way!

Into my high school and eventually college years, where I finally learned that she needed to stay on the ground, rising only high enough to make the taps that give me critical feedback about my environment. Are we nearing a curb? How far has the bus stopped from the sidewalk onto which I must step. And if I and my companion(s) in my blindness-oriented place of employment use proper skills, our extendable foldable friends will meet in the middle, instead of our heads! This is clearly a more desirable outcome.

As I practice these skills while out and about, I often wonder what some thoughts are that go through sighted people’s heads.

“No, ding dong, it’s not time to cross yet. You’re lucky I see you!”

RELATED: Travel By Leg: on my mobility abilities

“Aww, look at that amazing blind person who has dared to venture beyond his apartment and into the mean streets of town. I wonder where his attendant is?”

“Wait, is she really blind? She’s wearing glasses! Why the cane.

On this last point I’ll let a person with low vision explain more, but basically those who can see to some degree sometimes opt to carry canes in order to inform Joe or Jane Public that they might act in ways more consistent with individuals who are blind, due to an inability to take in a fuller picture of the environment. This can even include challenges in facial recognition, difficulties noticing where sidewalk turns to street, etc.

So if you see this person or any other using a cane, don’t make snap judgements regarding their visual acuity. Probably the best thing to do is clarity is really needed is to just ask, again as is always the case. And for my sake and all of those like me who wish to traverse our nation and world’s streets safely and in one piece, please use caution when operating a vehicle. Eyes on the road and your surroundings! Thank you.

I am grateful for those who have come before and worked hard and tirelessly to clear te way ahead for me. As the above-linked NFB article points out, as recently as 1930 most blind individuals didn’t dare venture beyond their home bounds alone. Now with a combination of fancy-shmancy technology and that good ol’ white cane, we range about as far and wide as we can dream. Here’s to 50 more years of safe, fun, informative, and ultimately life-affirming travel.

iTurn 2: and 12 Apps List

And now, I have had this wonderful piece of technology, the iPhone, for just over two years. The huge leaps and bounds in what it can do astound me, and give me plenty of reason for optimism going forward. I think we, those with disabilities, do have an obligation to stay on these folks and make sure that they continue to value accessibility though.

As I had last year, I thought it would be fun to list my 12 favorite, (i.e) most used, apps of this past year of the iPhone. I think they clearly demonstrate my love for travel, learning about the area around me, and gaining access to so much more information than I have ever been able to have before. The list is long, and so I’d recommend you use the headers to skim and look for ones you would like to read more about. Also, the ones with stars have received their second recommendation. So, let’s go, shall we?

Ariadne GPS:

I know that most blind folks have fallen in love with BlindSquare lately, I’m sure with good reason. I haven’t yet purchased this one though, and still enjoy Ariadne for its feelable onscreen maps.

I can click to explore around where I actually am, or put in another city to peruse its layout. This has actually proven helpful in some cases, as I would know which streets were nearby as the bus or other form of transportation approached where I needed to exit.

I have also discovered some interesting sites that I might want to visit someday, like the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago? That sounds cool.

Finally, I enjoy the sounds it makes to indicate water, kind of relaxing, a park or green area, the highway, and even someone walking. It’s fun, and the price, about $5, can’t be beat!

*At Bat:

The official app of Major League Baseball, I love this one because it is so wonderfully accessible. They are the only sports league that even seems to get it, ahem NFL Mobile and NBA Gametime. I especially wish the NFL would step up to the plate and fix that thing! a fact about which I have complained a few times on Twitter. I’d listed theirs as one of my favorites last year, but they definitely broke things even harder this season sadly.

Anyway back to baseball. I can so easily view the schedules, standings, scores, and flip from game to game and team network to team network if I wish. I am glad that this app has basically remained the same as it was last season.

Audible:

Need I say more? One of several reading apps I use actually, I like it because usually the books are well marked up and I can stop at chapter’s end with the sleep timer. I say usually, because there have been some cases where the timing was off for whatever reason. This once led to an amusing case where I kept on reading past the bell while at work, having gotten so into the section without the timer stopping it appropriately. I had to run full tilt back to my work section after that lunch!

I began using this app to read a novel by Veronica Scott, one of my favorite authors on Twitter, at about this time last year. Since, I have consumed approximately 15 other titles. I like how quickly they can get new audio books up there, often very close to the same time the printed version is dropped.

Downcast:

A podcast-grabbing app, I’ve gotten more into this one over the last couple months as I aim to consume less cellular data. It will download and store content while I am on a WiFi connection, and I can listen to that content when on the move or at work on break. I love that the WiFi aboard Triangle Transit buses has improved so drastically as well, often allowing me to acquire new shows more quickly than I can even at home.

I don’t listen to a whole lot of shows, yet. Thus far, I subscribe to Airplane Geeks, Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase, On Being, and Serotalk. This usually gives me enough to listen to during the week.

Google Maps:

Well, I still love this app because it can show me where the nearest restaurants are located, as well as menus, numbers to call, and their website. The only thing is, in the last month or so I’m noticing that the menus seem a lot less accessible, as I noted on my birthday. They keep refreshing, and don’t allow me to finish checking all of the options before I am put back at the beginning. I hope they fix this.

I think overall though that this app now works a lot better than it used to. I haven’t really played with the Public Transit directions in a while, but believe that now even that information is more viewable with VoiceOver than it had been in previous iterations.

KNFB Reader:

I acquired this app only yesterday, and already it has risen to the top of my favorites list. It makes possible excellent object character recognition (OCR) on the iPhone. Heck, I would argue that I’ve seen some of the best OCR with that thing that I’ve ever known.

It’s technically not even supported on my current hardware, the iPhone 4S, but given that I’m due to get my 6 next Wednesday and I suddenly can’t find my mail-checking older neighbor, I figured I would go ahead and try it out. Once I came up with a method of holding the phone in the most optimal level position that involved placing both elbows on the table, putting both thumbs on the bottom edges of the phone and both middle fingers on the top edges, it read my text nearly flawlessly.

I often experience anxiety until I can find out what a letter says, and so finally having the freedom to view it immediately is a huge deal. Plus, one never knows in what other situations good OCR may well be needed. I should note that the app costs $99, but in my opinion it is money well spent.

NPR News:

Ah, I’m still and will probably always be an NPR junkie. This app allows me to listen to Morning Edition and All Things Considered wherever I am, as long as I can get an Internet connection. I also enjoy conducting random searches on topics that interest me and listening to audio and blog posts concerning them.

The app is reasonably accessible, though I wish they would only important the current day’s Morning Edition or ATC shows to the playlist when I click “Add All” as they once did. Now, it brings in the last 30. It can be difficult to tell when a show has actually ended.

Pandora:

This is the app that wakes me up in the morning and propels me out the door! I usually select from a varying list of stations. Sometimes I wanna bounce to some 70’s funk. Others, I mellow out to some early REAL! jzz. Or, I might open up my thinking pipes with some Mozart or Bethoven on the Classical Music for Studying Channel. All music is all good to me.

There was a bit of an accessibility kerfuffle when the names of stations suddenly became viewable only by enabling VoiceOver hints. I will credit the developers in eventually responding to and fixing this issue, though.

Rider:

A great, real-time transit app, I appreciate that Transloc Rider has worked to improve the accuracy of predictions regarding bus arrivals. This app has helped me and my sighted companions several times, by letting us know where the nearest stop was and when a bus would arrive.

The only issue we experienced with it is that we were never sure if the bus that was being referenced was inbound or outbound. This was usually not a huge deal, but it did mean that sometimes we would end up standing there 15 minutes longer than we had expected.

As stated when I last wrote about this app, I’m not sure how widely available it is. I guess you can try downloading it though and check it out. It definitely works with Triangle Transit and all of its associated networks (DATA, C-tran, CAT, Chapel Hill Transit, etc).

*Sports Alerts:

This is by far and away the best way for me to check scores on the iPhone. It reminds me of my Yahoo Sports days on the computer. I like that they are adding more information particularly to NFL and MLB scores, such as the team’s down and distance in the former and who is batting and pitching in the latter.

There had been a bit of an issue with refreshing, where the app would suck me back to the beginning of the list before I finished checking scores. However, this has somehow smoothed out with time. I think these developers do take accessibility into account, and I appreciate that.

Twitter:

I know many prefer to use other apps for this social media client, such as Twitterrific and Tweetlist, but lately I’ve much more enjoyed the native iPhone Twitter app. I’m finding it to be more stable, and haven’t yet had the kinds of problems with repeated crashing or it just becoming very slow that I experienced with those other two programs. I also like the way that it organizes conversations, making it easier for me to jump over threads with hundreds of replies (and yes I’ve seen some of those).

I am however having an issue where I no longer receive push notifications. I think this problem will be corrected once I am able to update to iOS 8 next week, though. So in the meantime, I just have to remember to check in periodically.

Uber:

Well I’ve been talking about this one for the past couple of months at least. For those not in the know, Uber is a rideshare service that allows you to summon a car with the push of a button on your phone. I love it, because I can put in my intended destination and get a fare estimate before departure. It also shows me the estimated time of arrival, changing as the vehicle gets closer. This makes life way easier for me, because I know once that timer goes to 0, if I still don’t hear anyone I should place a call. I have yet to have a bad experience with them.

I would say that the only thing I do notice is that the fare is usually at least a dollar higher than that which is quoted. This probably has more to do with the times I choose to travel though, and their subsequent heavy traffic. Again, for the last time I promise! if you want to try it out and help me in the process, use my promo code at sign-up: johnm1014. We’ll then both get a free ride!

And that’s my exhaustive apps list. I hope you find one or more that you can use and enjoy. Here’s to the coming years of iPhone 6! Mine had better stay straight.

Post-Convention: Writer’s Block and Finding Me

So, I’ve been back from my fun trip to Las Vegas for a bit over two weeks now, and I’ve not been able to think of anything particularly interesting to write about. I feel a bit dry, just trying to keep going from day to day. But my goal is to make at least one entry per week, so let’s see if I can just capture a hodge podge of my thoughts.

One of the things that has made this period better is spending two consecutive weekends with my cousin: the previous down in Charlotte and this one here in Durham. This was especially nice, as I opted, after asking my supervisor if I had enough time to do so, to take off of work on Friday and chill at home. My cousin had arrived on Thursday night.

We just did a lot of talking, harkening back to long ago days when we would often stay awake into the early morning hours, watching sports and gnawing on pizza slices. As far as baseball goes, I guess I’m an Atlanta Braves fan, as much as I’m a fan of any team. I like the sport, but wish we could get our own major league team somewhere in North Carolina. This isn’t likely to happen anytime soon though, given the many minor league franchises we have speckled throughout the state. Anyway, we listened to the Braves lose to the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-1. They seemed unable to do much of anything.

On Friday, I figured we might want to get out of the apartment for a bit. So, I used Uber, the service I mentioned a few entries ago, to take us over to the Waffle House on Hillsboro Road, about 1.5 miles away. I’m starting to use this service more and more frequently, finding that it is regularly cheaper than cabs and probably more reliable as well. I had them take me over to the DMV to get that expired ID card renewed, and going straight from work it was probably about $7 less than I would have paid otherwise. I also took them back to the Amtrak station when leaving Charlotte last weekend, and sent my cousin to the Durham Amtrak when he left yesterday via Uber. This last after there was some miscommunication that occurred when my favorite cabbie hadn’t let me know she wouldn’t be available to pick him up and was sending another cab. When that cab arrived and told me I’d called for a cab, I insisted that I hadn’t. I mean, it’s a strange thing to have happen when one isn’t expecting it. My cousin had planned to catch the 2:33 train out, but because of that snafu he ended up having to wait for the 7:48 train.

If you’d like to try Uber, and it’s available in your area, why not get us both free rides by using my code at sign-up: johnm1014 . Thanks.

And, not much else. I hear tell that we may get at least one final burst of summer. I sure hope so! Right now, it doesn’t seem as if the sun has shone since at least Wednesday. Anyone who knows me knows I begin to feel deprived after such a long time without that warmth. On Friday, we had to brave heavy rains and gusts, and were lucky to emerge with our hearing aids in tact. It was definitely fun.

I am doing a lot of reading and acquiring books with the Amazon gift card I was given for my participation in the Braille study at ACB. So far, I’ve gotten Earthbound, by my good online friend Elaine Calloway, the third in her Elemental Clan series. I also got one that sounds fascinating to me called Fasten Your Seatbelts: A Flight Attendant’s Adventures 36, 000 Feet and Below, by Christine Churchill. I read Heather Poole, another famous flight attendant’s book Cruising Attitude at about this time last year, and feel that it will help me continue my travels, if only in my mind.

Not that I have any idea when I’ll have time to read these books, on top of the stuff I’m already reading from Audible and/or the NLS, but we shall see. Certainly the iPhone does make that easier.

Let’s hope I have more fun stuff to write about in the near future. Till then, I’m off to enjoy what remains of my weekend, and perhaps catch a bit of tonight’s preseason NFL opener between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills. That’s right, it’s already time for American football again. Too fast does time go.

Follow-Up: My First Uber Experience

Ah, so I was quite fortunate and got my real hearing aid back sooner than I’d thought would happen. The call came in at around 11:20, just as my head began inching inexorably toward that sharp cutout that holds my light stick box as I fill it.

And fill them I was! I had to work quickly and keep thinking about any and everything in order to keep the brain working. And the harder I worked, the more aggressively they pumped material into the bins.

Anyway, at lunch time I knew I’d need to place a call to my supervisor and tell him I’d be exiting at 1 PM in order to retrieve the aids. Then, I made my way down that long, narrow corridor with its unusually textured floors to the front of the building.

In the receptionist’s office, I pulled out my iPhone to attempt summoning the ride via the Uber app. I hadn’t known how it would go, but I actually found it pretty cool. The app uses your GPS to give an approximate address, which you can either confirm or alter to read the actual address. I should have done the latter, but in the end it didn’t end up making much difference.

You can also get it to calculate your approximate fare. It said mine would be $16. Nice.

Once a driver is requested and confirmed, it gives you the driver’s name, license plate number, and make of automible, as well as an estimated time of arrival. I found that last to be the best part, for sure. Once it went to 0, the app sent a notification and the driver called to make sure he knew where I was. After a few seconds of sorting, he managed to find me. Oh, and because he didn’t know initially that I was blind, he’d just sat there for about two minutes before I tried calling his cell.

The vehicle was comfortable, and it felt and smelled up to standards. This guy was from Ethiopia, enjoying to talk about where I’d come from, what kind of schooling I’d had and the like. He said one of his favorite things about the US is that we get greater choice in which types of things we’ll study in school, whereas over there, according to him, the government dictates which topics you must learn about. “I don’t understand why more people don’t fully take advantage of this!” he said.

He located the building easily enough, and I hopped out and went inside. I launched the app, and it said I had been charged $21.45. That’s odd, as from what I’d understood, my first five rides were to be free. It isn’t a big deal though, as that is still cheaper than the amount a cab would usually cost. I also loved the convenience of the whole thing.

The return ride was also provided by a foreign person. I am uncertain from where he may have come, as he said little the entire way other than asking where I was going. He already knew where my apartment complex was and so I got home quickly and easily, also in a comfortable van. They didn’t in fact bill for this ride, which was nice.

So on the whole, I’d have to say I liked the service. It takes away a lot of the anxiety, again for me as a blind traveler, regarding when they might arrive and if I’ll miss them. I’ll have to use it a few more times to see if there’s always a noticeable difference between the quoted fare and what they actually charge, but even so I still liked not having to engage in any cash transactions. Finally, I appreciated that the app asks you to leave feedback on each trip you take. I suppose this could be used to weed out any bad actors, should there be any.

And those are some of my thoughts. Kudos to whomever came up with this idea. It is yet one more way that I can reap some major benefits from my third hand, the iPhone. And it is a potentially powerful tool to enhance independence, and decrease the need for me to try frantically to find drivers when I need to get somewhere quickly. I hope it continues to be successful.

Taxi Tales: Finding, Going, Paying

I’d come up with this idea after the previous weekend’s visit with my cousin, but couldn’t exactly decide how to encapsulate it. Then, I came across a great post by Tiffiny Carlson, about access or lack thereof to cabs for persons in wheelchairs. So thanks for the inspiration. I prosper from the world around me.

For blind folk, as least as far as I know, it’s never been all that practical to try and flag down a taxi. I suppose some can do it, depending on what level of sight they have, and maybe catching the closest available ride is a bit easier now as smartphone apps begin to come online that make this possible. I think though that there is some kickback to the general implementation of this idea, but hope it happens.

For now, I still use the old-fashioned method: place a call and wait. This is often nerve-racking, though.

I now live in an apartment with a difficult to discern address. Everyone from dispatch to the drivers, to heck, the pizza delivery folks and other passersby argue about exactly what it is. Even if I check with my phone’s GPS programs, I’m likely to get different results at different times. This means finding me can be a challenge.

For instance, I once thought a guy had said he was on the way to the right place and would pick me up shortly, because he said the correct street and number. However, it turned out that he then sat waiting in front of some location a bit farther up for ten minutes, finally placing an irritated call asking “Aye man, are you still trying to get this cab!” For this reason, I often opt to just go somewhere else for pick-up.

Ok, so I’ve successfully gotten into the taxi and am on my way. Where are we trying to go? How best to get there. Now, it’s certainly easier as I can just use my phone to tell me. But not all cabbies take the most cost-effective way, and I guess I can’t really blame them.

Because I’m interested, I just looked at this, apparently not wholly reliable, Wikipedia article that suggests that the first metered taxi service began in Germany in 1897. It says the meter even ticked, now that sort of feature would actually be convenient for the blind passenger.

Failing that though, I’ve heard there are supposed to be solutions on the horizon that will allow us to know exactly how much the driver should in fact be charging, as it accumulates. Maybe the meters will speak? Or perhaps the info could also be sent through our phones someday. If I feel somewhat shaky about how much it might cost for me to get there, I’ll just ask dispatch to give me a projected fare quote before leaving. Of course, if traveling a great distance many companies require that you pay in advance anyway.

So I’ve arrived at my destination and been told how much it will cost. “Uh,” I say “do you accept cards?”

Awkward silence.

If I’m lucky, they’ll grudgingly get out the card machine and swipe it. Or, maybe they’ll call it in and read my card number out loudly enough for anyone standing by to overhear. Worst of all? “No, I only take cash!”

Having finally begun to tire of this, I’m trying to make myself start carrying more cash around again. This of course has its own risks, but asking the cabbie to take me to an ATM so that I can withdraw the needed funds is definitely flipping a coin. In their defense, I must say that most try hard to be honest and make sure that I know they’re so being. Some have me call my bank and check the statement immediately. One individual, who could barely speak English, just summoned a nearby police officer to assist me in getting the dough.

The only person whom I think has taken me for a ride was a woman I met via Craigslist, no not you Shannon if you happen to be reading this, who probably shorted me $20 and then vehemently denied doing so. “I’ll just come and give you 20!” she said when I attempted to call her out for that. She never did so though, and I never used her again. Was a shame too, because she’d actually seemed pretty nice. But, it’s always difficult to tell.

As they say, it’s usually best to find and stick to a particular driver when possible, so that a fuller trust can develop. I do have my favorite driver, but lately I’ve not been as able to get her when trying to call. I can’t say why this is. Amusingly, on my short trip from Durham’s bus station to the Amtrak, I did meet the woman my favorite driver had asked to pick me up in this entry. She said that in addition to my little $5, she’d only made 10 all day long. I can kind of see why, as she didn’t strike me as the friendliest person in the world. That’s the thing, the best, or probably most aggressively tipped, cabbies are also good talkers/psychologists. Hey, whole shows have been made about this phenomenon.

So, to my other blind readers out there, what have your cab experiences been like? I know that unfortunately, they’ve still not always been friendly to those with guide dogs. This definitely needs to change. Have heard horror stories of people being dragged down the street while clinging to the doorhandle, all while trying to secure a ride for which they’ve desperately been waiting. Let us know your thoughts on this and other aspects.

#BADD2014: Housing For All

For I think I saw, the 9th straight year, this May 1st was Blog Against Disablism Day. Hash tagged #BADD2014 on Twitter, it asked individuals to talk about an area where people with disabilities still experience significant challenges in image, access, or perception. I wrote a post for this last year entitled The Rarity of Multi, in which I discussed some of the unique things with which a deafblind individual, or really anyone with multiple disabilities, must deal. I’m late to the punch with this, but figured that the message was more important than timing.

As I write, I’m viewing a Twitter stream about individuals who are in Washington DC, participating in a rally by an organization called Adapt that is designed to highlight continued access needs for persons with disabilities in housing. I suppose these are most applicable to persons in wheelchairs, in that ramps, low thresholds, and the like should be available to anyone who needs them. But as they point out, creating housing that meets these standards would have the effect of making it easier for others to get in and out as well.

I can tell you from my experience that fully accessible housing is still very much a thing to be worked towards. In my area of the complex, for example, I can’t think of a way for someone using a wheelchair to easily get into my apartment. Well I guess there are two potential ways: either squeezing onto the porch from the right side, which would involve some scary ruts in which one might get stuck, or coming down a fairly slanted hill onto the area between C and D. I suppose the latter way would be best, but would I’m sure involve its own dangers.

And if they get to my door, they would have to somehow hoist themselves up over the high step in order to get inside. Again, I don’t know a whole lot about how wheelchairs work, but I assume this is possible to do? Someone can inform me.

As this grassroots movement points out, another big part of access is affordability. There is definitely a lack of affordable housing that is also in decent enough shape for a person to really feel comfortable therein. I guess that I am fortunate, in that all I really need to get by is four walls that generally hold up and a door I can lock. However, even these haven’t always been promised me in my current residence, as one day the front door’s lock inexplicably broke and my neighbor and I had to double team the maintenance people in order for them to comprehend the seriousness of the problem and come over.

Given that so many of us with disabilities are un or underemployed, having the ability to keep that price down is tantamount to maintaining independence. I’ve talked with some who tell me that they have been unable to find anything less than $800 that also met their access needs, when really they need a place in the $5-600 price range. Some of these individuals have health issues that mean they can’t really be in situations that might disturb them, such as locations with loud music or rowdy neighbors. Others are blind or otherwise unable to power vehicles, and thus need to live along a bus line and as close to groceries, recreational areas and the like as possible. And yes, one might argue that these folks can use paratransit, a specialized door-to-door service for persons with disabilities, but even this requires that you be within 3/4 of a mile of a bus line in order to gain regular access. Slow change is happening, but currently housing in these areas, and especially affordable housing, is too often sketchy.

I am mainly hoping to contribute something to the thought process around this complicated issue, and the varied solutions that will have to be implemented in order to address it. I’m sure that there are many voices who can point these things out more eloquently than I can, but figure that by granting it some exposure here, perhaps I’ll get others to check those other voices out as well. For we all certainly have the right to live in communities that help us grow and use our potential to its fullest.

DC On Air 1: The Going

Wednesday:

A light rain falls as I disembark from the Triangle Transit 700 which, ironically, arrives at the Durham Station transportation center on time. This is the first time all week, as on both Monday and Tuesday the bus got there so late that I had been unable to make my connection to the DATA Route 6 bus that takes me home. Today, I don’t even need it.

I kind of hang out at that immediate location from 4 PM until almost 5, knowing there are still a couple of hours to kill. Then the bladder places its call to the brain, and so I stand and make my way toward the Greyhound station to meet that need.

People are milling around, babies crying, teens may as well be. Meanwhile, I put my hearing aids into the beautiful t-coil setting that largely isolates all sound and settle in with my audio books to complete the wait.

I don’t think I’ve talked about it yet, but I’m reading The Twelve by Justin Cronan. In order to really read this one though, you have to have read The Passage first as it’s a sequel. Both novels, of epic length, start out in modern times and quickly advance to a somewhat post-apocalyptic future where “virals,” previously human figures that have been taken over by an awful virus, attack and destroy the fabric of civilization. These resulted from an experiment on prisoners that went very wrong. It’s good stuff, if quite disturbing.

So once 5:45 rolls around, I know it is time to start finding my way out to where the Megabus departs. I meet a nice individual who says he knows where I should go, and walk with him out to the back as we chat. The rain is still coming down, but sun also shines, which actually feels pretty good other than the fact that my clothes are getting wet.

I’d tried to memorize the confirmation number for my reservation, but apparently get it wrong. iPhone to the rescue, as I just pull up the email so the driver can have a look. Ah, I love no longer having to find a way to print this stuff out. Then, off we go.

Tweet Signpost:

And with that, my trip to DC is underway. Sitting upstairs, which is cool. Helpful pax showed me electrical outlet

I think this may be only the second time I’ve ever ridden on a double-decker bus. The ride is quite comfortable, and I’m surprised that I can feel a little less engine rumble up here. People do turn on their music and play it aloud, which I’m sure the rules stipulate should not be done. I guess the driver doesn’t particularly care, though.

Tweet Signpost:

And the first county on the other side of the NC/VA line is Mecklenburg. Copy cats! Also a town called Norlina right at border

Yep, one of the things I especially enjoy about this trip is really taking Ariadne GPS, an iPhone app that is customized for VoiceOver, for a spin. I have my destination hotel saved to its favorites, and so I watch the milage count down as we get closer and closer. It makes me feel like I’m headed to another planet.

We take on passengers in Richmond, stopping for only about 15 minutes. At this station, a woman boards who manages to hold up a very loud cell phone conversation for the duration of the trip. She speaks in what sounds like a mix of English and perhaps some African language, alternately stomping eratically and laughing hysterically. I don’t have a problem with this per se, but I’m willing to bet that some passengers do.

Tweet Signpost:

Yikes! Right into the heart of some heavy rain.

And right at that moment, I become glad I hadn’t opted to take Amtrak. Of course if I had, I would’ve had to leave earlier anyway, so that likely is a moot point. But I remember what happened to me as I attempted to reach Charlotte and my cousin’s wedding through a dounpour.

I watch as we bounce onto a bridge and the GPS reports “Potomac River”. I think that’s the Woodrow Wilson Bridge? It takes us from Arlington into DC, depositing us, I think, on SW 14th Street. I also note the towns of Lorton, Springfield, and Alexandria as we close in on the city.

At Union Station, I am assisted to the level to grab a taxi by a young woman who says she’s from Chapel Hill and about to complete her MSW at Howard. Impressive, I say.

Tweet Signpost:

Here In DC (Audio)

Hunger has nearly crippled me by this point, so as I state in that audio post, I call up a place called New York Pizza. I listen to the belly rumblings and order a 12-inch cheeseburger sub, when I would definitely have been fine with only 8 inches. I end up only able to consume half of it, depositing the rest into the can untouched. This is why I wish all hotel rooms had refrigeration.

I think I will stop here and continue with Thursday’s happenings tomorrow.