The Little Things: On a Relaxing July 4 Vacation and Work

Happy late Independence Day to all of us Americans who celebrate. Understanding many of the nuances of this nation’s history gives me much to ponder on that day, but I suppose I can get down with good food and family fun, as well as knowing that I’m fortunate that people have worked hard so that I have what I do have.

And what I did have on this July 4th was mostly blessed quiet, the calm before the storm one might say. My wife just had one of her sisters over, and she threw some steaks, dogs, burgers, and even chicken on the grill. I ate till bursting, then topped the night off with some of her homemade butter pecan ice cream. That takes me back to my childhood, when we so often ate the boxes of that stuff my mom would get as it was her favorite. “Eat the strawberry I got for y’all” she would say. But such is life when you have kids I guess, as many times someone would not only eat all of her butter pecan, but also put the empty box back into the freezer.

Ah, the glory days. That piece of waxing nostalgic done, I return you to your regularly scheduled programming, already in progress. Friday was more of the same, as I opted to take it off and not have to return to the office immediately after the holiday. I spent much of the day in a groggy fugue, as I had awakened kind of early. And I spent most of it indoors, as we topped out with heat indeces in the low 110s. That’s smokin’!

As that heat finally, sort of, broke over these parts on Saturday, my wife put up the summerish swinging bench she got for the back porch. That thing is pretty cool too, another piece of childhood though they don’t make them like they used to. My grandma had a bit metal swing chair thingy on her porch that I loved to sit on for hours, listening to the world go by. This one is more plastic, with a cloth canopy overhead and tables to either side that can hold cups or phones.

And as the heat continued to mostly hold off on Sunday, we took a stroll through Raleigh’s Dorthea Dixx Park so she could see and I could put my hands on the sunflowers. As we did so, a light, warm rain fell that actually felt good walking through. And, I got to feel and sit in a hammock, which I’ve often tried to visualize but could not quite understand. I love when I get to discover how things I’ve only read about actually work. That rope is kind of tricky to get into, and I could quickly understand how you could easily lie in or sit down on one. Cool.

So all of that had me relaxed and ready to enter what I knew would be a fast-paced week. My work is picking up, as we begin the training I alluded to in the previous post. Turns out I’m going to help someone at least acquire the basics of braille, and I will work with another on Customer Service stuff. I think the most enjoyable part of this is getting to express and expand my creativity as I work with others. It was a good day, just long and ending with a rewarding sense of exhaustion (there are multiple kinds of exhaustion). So just remember to ake heed of and be thankful for those little things that make up a life.

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?

SHIFTING SANDS:My Much-needed Trip to Myrtle Beach Part 3

Friday, May 3. I awake a little after 8 AM, because I love listening to a local radio morning show as this is one of the best ways to get a feel for the area. I can kind of simulate this on my phone with apps like OoTunes, although it’s not quite the same given that I just go in and select the city I want and find a station. And it can be hard to tell if the station is actually in Myrtle Beach and not, say, Wilmington North Carolina. Ah, sometimes I miss my good ol’ analog walkman. I suppose I need to poke around and see if I can find something that simulates that closely enough.

Anyhow, I find a station, Mix 97, that I think is local to Myrtle Beach. The only thing they really talking about was the latest celebrity gossip, but this probably stems from the fact that I didn’t find it till nearly 9. The earlier you catch the show, the better.

We head out of our hotel room just after 10 to one of our Myrtle Beach favorites, Hot Stacks. It’s an area chain of breakfast restaurants that, as far as I can tell, only operate in Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach. On this trip, I go with the sausage omelet and plain grits, eschewing something they have called Trash Grits. I would get these grits on Saturday, and they were actually much better than the plain grits as they had sausage gravy and flecks of some kind of meat in them. I joke with my wife that if they’d shredded napkins and straw wrappers into the grits, we the customers couldn’t really be surprised. We have that weird sense of humor. Hot Stacks also has delicious coffee, nearly on par with that found at Waffle House.

After eating, I get to explore again with my GPS apps as my wife heads over to the Carolina Pottery to check out some arts supplies. She’s made quite a business making rag wreaths, wooden signs and the like in particular and selling them via Etsy and Her website. If you’re into that sort of thing, check it out. At this location, she finds some hard-to-locate ribbons.

After a short jaunt back to the room to get ready, we head down to the beach with my cousin and his wife for the best part of the trip. The sun is dealt out in just the right measure, with clouds thrown in so we don’t become too toasty. My cousin and I sit on the shore and chat about our similar fields of employment. He is also an assistive technology training instructor, as many of us blind folks fortunate enough to have good jobs are. I just hope our work is starting to give people the skills to open more doors, though the larger change must happen at a societal level, as still too many think non-working eyes means incapable of work.

Anyhow, our wives frolic in the water as the tides roll in. Mine says she is nearly knocked down by a big wave and decides to migrate inland. I join her briefly in the surprisingly warm surf, heard the news say it’s unusually warm which portends a bad hurricane season. Let us hope not.

We wrap up our time waterside in a deliciously warm hot tub. Only I, genius that I am, neglect to take off my shirt as I enter the water. This made for a fairly cold, drippy walk back to the room. Y’all, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Beach time is chill time, so we sprawl on the couch a bit while watching the news before heading out for supper. We join our other couple for dinner, tonight at Giant Crab. They mainly have a buffet, which is kinda pricey at $48 a plate. But it is also pretty good. I have two crab cakes, two servings of mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and shrimp. As we eat, we all allow some of our unique marital inside language and jokes to come out. This is one of the joys of being with someone for a long time, the unusual way we come to understand the world and create our own world.

And finally, we head to my cousin’s room on the 16th floor, where we spend a little more time on their balcony and then inside of their much nicer suite. The balcony is up so high that the ocean is a little more muffled. And that cool breeze starts to get to me after a while, because yup, no long-sleeved shirt. But overall, the night and my trip were just the vacation I needed. They help to reset my perspective as I continue to try and help people broaden theirs.

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.

The Importance of Mindfulness

I’ll begin this post with a silly story, but stick with me here as it’s going somewhere. My wife and I always have fun with the Mindfulness app’s prompt “as your day winds down, take some time to reflect”. When listening to this spoken with VoiceOver on the Apple Watch, it tends to say “winds” more like that which blows than that which spins. So every time I hear this, I make a ridiculous descending whistle sound that is meant to signify my day “winding” down, and she usually makes some sort of silly comment about that happening as well. It’s become a fun inside joke, one of many we’ve developed over time. (And as a complete aside, that app seems to think my day starts at 10:09 PM and ends at 10:40 PM. With the same pay? I’d take that!)
What I am discovering though, if I hadn’t known it already, is that mindfulness and being aware of how one fits into a place or set of circumstances can really matter. At work, they seem to be enforcing their cell phone policy to a higher degree. Lately, they’ve even said that we are to keep all electronic communications devices in our bags while on the floor at all times, even during breaks. This may have always been the rule, but I think even the supervisors are only just working it out fully.
Anyhow, someone pointed this out to me as I sat checking notifications on my watch during break, which I had done many times with no discernable consequence. I’ll admit, that first confrontation didn’t go so well, especially as said individual is not actually a supervisor. I will grudgingly grant though that she is someone who always looks out for me and my interests, an older woman who knows my family from way before I can even remember. So even as I grumbled about it, I contemplated how I could make the changes and still be able to interact with my technology for at least as much time (15 minutes) as we get between work sessions.
And as it turns out, it was a good thing I rethought things. The biggest obstacle to my leaving the floor at break is the amount of time it takes to reach the break room. When you factor in the two minute walk (three if I get stuck behind the slow train of blind folks clacking along with their cane,) the additional minute or two to locate a seat, and the three minutes I’ll need to get back to my section, I’m only left with six minutes to do my bidding once seated. And the place is always crowded and exceedingly noisy.
But, I discovered that there is a much smaller break room that is really more like a nook, and it’s just around the corner from where I sit. There is carpeting, plush, comfortable chairs, and wooden tables should they be needed. All of the fabric and the room’s size (it only really holds four) make for an ideal, quiet space where I can truly de-compress. And there are usually two others inside at most, placing relatively subdued cell phone calls as I happily digest a passage of whatever book I am reading on my Braille display.
And why am I telling you this? Well because I have been doing it for just over a week, and it has made all the difference in the world! Now I almost look forward to going in, knowing that I’ll have those nuggets of time to get myself together for whatever comes next once that bell rings and I must return to my duties. With that thought change my attitude has begun to improve, which leads to greater productivity and a less uptight feeling by day’s end. So if you feel yourself struggling with similar things in your work setting, try making that small change. Maybe find somewhere away from your work desk (assuming you work in an office and not a manufacturing facility as I do). It doesn’t have to be quiet of course, because some want more chatter and socialization. I think the key is that it matches whatever your personality is. Just be mindful and aware of how small adjustments can have a massive impact.

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.

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

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

Road To Home Ownership: Signed, Sealed…

Now all we await is the delivery (e. g. construction). That’s right, this time about a week ago we were told to make our deposit so that the contract could be drawn up.
As soon as my wife noticed that she had received the message, somewhere around 2 PM on Tuesday prior, she zipped out of her workplace and got to work shoring up the dollars needed to complete the transaction. As she worked on the form from home at about 4:30, I sat on the bed across from her computer desk in the small room that occupies the top floor of this apartment feeling a range of emotions. I think even the Pomeranian sensed that major change was afoot as she bounced back and forth between me and the desk, getting me to pet her as her tail wagged hard enough to generate wind. Dogs really can feel what we’re going through better than most humans can.
After checking and double checking that everything was as correct as she could get it she whacked the “Submit” button, and a good piece of dough along with our hopes and dreams raced down the wire. Confirmation came that all had been done on our end, and we just twiddled our thumbs waiting for the contract which arrived on Thursday evening. In it we learned our address, on a road that does not actually exist just yet but will soon. We will also be required to inhabit the residence for at least two years, but after making a decision of this magnitude I would bet that we will remain there for a good deal longer. We are already over four years in our current apartment anyway, so that should be no problem. I do not think there were any major hold-ups therein, other than a noting of the amount of time the company was giving itself to have the house constructed before we could be released from the agreement. As I’ve said before, that’s going to be the biggest “fingers-crossed” portion of this, as of course some of it—weather, supply chain issues — is out of their control. Anyhow, we did all the fun electronic stuff to put both of our signatures on the contract, and now we basically are just awaiting that distant closing sometime towards the end of the year and hoping to secure enough funds to clear that final hurtle. I guess the best news here is that we do avoid all that due diligence and outbidding madness, and thus will experience a lot less stress.
Meanwhile, we’re doing a few trips by the area and really familiarizing ourselves with it. Google tells you a lot, but just driving around and taking a look says a lot more. (And yes, we are avoiding that pesky alarm by staying far enough away from the actual residence). I guess the only real challenge I see so far will be that my work commute time will nearly double. But I’m ok with this, more so in the morning than in the evening when I wish to just get home, but we’ll just see how everything plays out. Transportation should be no problem at least, since though we are on Raleigh’s fringes, almost in Garner, we are at least still within Raleigh city limits. It’s hard to find something affordable and yet close enough to my current employer, but I can live with that sacrifice. More podcasts, books and the like will just be taken in on the ride.
I do not know when the next installment of this series will be posted, but probably shortly after building commences. Oh and that’s another thing, the contract says we must meet with our builders 3 times to discuss how things are being laid out and whatever tweaks we wish to make. We’ll be bringing along someone who kind of knows what they’re looking at with regards to construction to help us with this. More once all that fun gets started. Till then, continue to wish us luck.

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