NaNo Novel Excerpt: Moving To College

So there is technically no rule against resurrecting last year’s NaNoWriMo novel and just adding to it, right? I’d ultimately gotten to Chapter 9 and the thing was looking pretty good, but I just couldn’t decide how to proceed. I’m going to let you read the first chapter, but here’s a brief synnopsis of what it’s about so far.
Two blind brothers, both with Norrie Disease (explained in Chapter 1). One opts for college while the other works at the local Ability One Facility for the blind. College boy must contend with a long-distance relationship, and girlfriend gets a lil’ too tight with brother. Written from a first-person perspective, those three main characters each get their own chapters. And here is Tony, college boy.ONE
Tony the Tiger, really? That’s the best she could come up with?” I thought as I stood in the crowded dorm lobby. I wondered what kind of response I would get from the ladies when I got here, but didn’t anticipate the first seeing me as something of a five-year-old. Really though, I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised.
I reached out and pressed the elevator call button again, unnecessarily, because it was something to do with my nervous hands. The fact that I could hear the machine rattling in its shaft as it made its way down didn’t necessarily inspire confidence, but I didn’t have the desire to trek up seven floors of stairs either. So, I waited.
Yup, it was my first day as a college student, and I was already enjoying all of the pluses and minuses of being in this new and exciting environment. There were girls everywhere! I knew I needed to just talk though and not flirt, since my heart was about 120 miles away. I loved her, but did wonder if we would survive the distance and all, but when I proposed we take some time apart she cried so hard that I couldn’t bring myself to end it. Shayna is everything to me, though.
The cage or death trap or whatever you wanna call it finally arrived, and an older couple with their arriving resident squeezed by with emptied carts to go down for another load.
“Hey man,” the guy said as they moved by, “nice to meet ya. We can chat soon as I get this last stuff out of our truck, I’m looking to get to know somebody as quick as I can.”
“Ok,” I replied “I’m cool with that.” What can I say, I’m easygoing. My laid-back personality has always helped me when it comes to meeting others and surviving pretty much anywhere I find myself.
Let me explain some things about myself first, just because my crazy story will make more sense then. I am and have always been totally blind, due to a rare at least it is said to be rare, condition called Norrie Disease. Along with this loss of sight, my hearing is slowly getting worse too. That for me is the harder thing to deal with. What all of this means of course is that things are more interesting for me when it comes to finding my way in life, both in a literal and a figurative sense.
So I spent a few hours with an orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor so that I might learn a little about this gargantuan campus. First challenge? Try to remember how to get to my room. I knew to exit the elevator and get out of the alcove, hang a right and trail the railing that lined the common area on the floor below, then go through the door straight ahead to enter my wing. From there, my room was the second on the left. I opened the door, slid inside, and flopped down on the little twin bed they give us that also makes me feel like a big kid. But hey, I was just happy to have a single, as I’d heard enough horror stories about life with a roommate, and I’ve never particularly enjoyed spending the night with people I don’t know, let alone an entire year.
Sleep took me on that Saturday afternoon, and I didn’t re-awaken until my cell phone nearly launched me from the bed as it vibrated in my pocket.
“Hello” I said groggily as I tried to remember where I was or even the time of day. “Mom? Everything alright?”
“Yes,” she said through tears I could hear in her voice. “I am just so proud of you and what you’re achieving that my heart is full. I remember dreams of going to college myself, and will probably always regret that they never came true. But that’s not why I’m calling. Get your behind down here and help me bring in the groceries me and your daddy got to stock your fridge.”
“Ok,” I said as a laugh escaped my lips “just as soon as I figure out how to get back out of here.”
I met my parents in the entry foyer and took a couple bags from their hands to make my way back up to the room. “So why are you already crawling into bed and not out there at the cookout,” my ever-so-nosy dad asked.
“What? There’s a cookout?” I replied. “I’m probably not out there because nobody told me it was going on.”
“Well kinda hard for them to do that if you’re sleepin’ like a lil’ baby,” my mom retorted.
“Ok ok, point taken,” I replied. “I’ll go check it out soon as we put this stuff up. What y’all get me anyway?”
“Oh just the four food groups,” my dad said “soda, chips, bologna, and pizza.”
“Sounds good to me, I replied chuckling. “But how am I gonna make the pizza?”
“We’ll take you downstairs and show you how the dorm ovens work. Already asked and had them marked up so you can use them” mom told me. “Now if only these thug kids don’t take them off. Also set up the washer and dryers for you, because we ain’t gonna be doing your clothes either. You’re quite capable of doing that stuff yourself.”
“Oh I know,” I replied, inwardly sighing as mom was starting to wind up in her familiar way when it came to matters of my pending independence and how important it was that I be able to function around and in the household, and yadda yadda yadda. Not saying I didn’t agree, just that it was covered territory, and she had already done plenty to prepare me. But hey, I guess it was better than what I heard from most parents about their kids with disabilities, which was an almost aggressive need to overprotect.
Days in this beautiful Southern city, especially in mid August, are just about as hot as it gets. And nights? Well they aren’t much better. The sticky factor gets ramped up by 10 though. This made no difference to all the wild college students strutting around the yard while loud music thumped in our heads.
I took my plate of food, which someone helped me gather, and made my way to an empty spot on the wall just in front of the building. I was kind of hoping one of the ladies would find me there, even though I knew that didn’t need to happen, darn you Shayna. But instead, the dude who spoke to me at the elevator finally caught up to me and sat down, putting a cold drink of some kind against my leg.
“Hey man,” he said, brought you a Sprite. If that don’t work, just let me know.”
“Oh nah, that’s good. I appreciate it,” I replied.
“Cool. What’s your name, man. I’m Nick.”
“Tony, nice to meet you,” I said popping my hand out for a shake… where it hung awkwardly in midair until Nick finally got the idea.
“Oh sorry,” he said chuckling and briefly grasping my hand. “I wasn’t sure what to do.”
“You weren’t sure whether to shake my hand?” I asked, a smile on my face.
“Well… I mean… uh…,” he stammered.
“It’s all good man, I’m joking. I get it, nothin’ to worry about. But, I’m cool. You can call me whatever you want: blind guy, weirdo, whatever. Don’t be afraid of offending me.”
“Ok, that works. Puts me a little more at ease, man. So, what are you planning to study here?” He asked as he crunched into something.
“I have no idea, really. Probably Psych, because isn’t that what most people do if they can’t come up with anything original? I can learn how to mess with my girl’s head even more than I already do.”
“Wait, you have a girlfriend?” He said. I could hear the incredulity creeping into his voice with the question, as if the thought had not and would not have occurred to him.
“Yup, back home. She’s taking a year off after graduating, or so she says, so we’re gonna try the distance thing. That wouldn’t have been my first choice, but I do love her. Just need her here.”
“I understand,” he said. “I think I couldn’t do that personally, especially not as a college freshman swimming in a sea of smart and really attractive women. But to each his own.”
After this disclosure, we just sat for about five minutes chowing down on some good grilled food while the DJ took us “back in time” with some songs as old as my momma. I’ve always enjoyed that stuff more than what they put out nowadays, if I were to admit to it. Guess it’s because that’s all I heard around the house.
“Hey man, it was nice to meet you,” Nick said. “Can I put my number in your cell, so you can call if you need anything?”
“Oh yeah,” I said as I tried to wipe mustard off of my hands so I could fish in my pocket for the iPhone. “I’d appreciate that.”
Finally Monday, the big First Day Of Class, arrive. And predictably, I got lost. The dorm lobby was teeming with other students talking over each other and clacking by in heels, sandals, and every other imaginable footwear. I followed them outside, down the long ramp to ground level, and hung the right I was to take to head to my building
“Sir, can I help you,” a woman said as she whisked alongside me bringing an overpowering perfume mist along. “No, I got it,” I returned, “but thanks.” Pride? What pride. Well ok it was kind of that, but I also wanted the adventure of seeing if I could actually make it without requiring assistance.
And I contend that I would have, if it weren’t for the gaggle of girls standing at the breezeway exit, from which point the sidewalk opens up in all four directions and a grassy shoreline is nowhere to be seen. By the time I managed to break loose of the surging mass of bodies, I wasn’t sure if I’d gone left, right, or managed somehow to stay center.
After fifteen minutes of puttering around in a general circle and assuring myself that this would be my last day at this gargantuan university, I whipped out the phone and hit Nick up.
“Ok man, stay put” he said. “Just so happens I’m getting out of my first class. I can find you there and get you back on track, no biggy.”
Red-faced and already deflated, I walked into the lecture hall about 10 minutes late, but I don’t think anyone even noticed. I grabbed a seat on the back row so as not to careen through all those who were already seated, though I new this was a bad idea with my bad hearing. Mom kept saying I had to get hearing aids, butt really who wants to wear that in college, especially when you’re already blind? Anyway, I pulled out the laptop, located the PowerPoint for this class and settled in.
“..The point of history” the professor’s voice droned, “is to discover WHO YOU ARE!” With this last unexpected intonation, I heard audible gasps from those around me. Someone dropped a writing product, pencil or pen, and I think someone else practically fell out of their chair. “I did that to snap you all out of your stupor,” the instructor said with a chuckle. “Now listen to me, this class is meant to represent all of the people and groups of people that exist in the US. And it just so happens that the US has individuals from all over the world. So while this is technically called US History 1, it is in fact a world history. From colonies and enslavement to a powerful, thriving modern economy, all of the pieces have come together in varying ways for each one of us to create who we are”. I gotta admit, this guy kinda had my attention. This would probably be my favorite class.

On Job Changes, and What To Do Next

I’m suddenly finding myself in the same place that many have during this pandemic: with a rapidly changing job situation. Shipment and order slow-downs have led management to do something they hadn’t in the entire nearly eight years I’ve been there, downshift most departments to four days a week until further notice. Only one area is still working at 5 days, because they tend to have a lot of demand.

So as this new landscape unfurls, I am more than ever considering what other kinds of things I can do. The most likely answer, of course, is some kind of freelance writing But how to get paid for it?

I have been reviewing books for Reedsy Discovery for almost a year now, though admittedly my new selections from their catalog have dropped off of late. This is because I am putting more time into my GoodReads profile, in the hopes that I can get a site like NetGalley to allow me to review titles before they are published, the way a burgeoning reviewer really makes his mark. To that end, I have and will continue to review every book I read for the rest of 2021.

While I enjoy reviews, I know they’re not likely to be the true moneymaker I’ll need to generate enough income to at least supplement that which I get from the job. So I’ve tried to sign up for a big freelance site and app called Fiverr. I find it somewhat difficult to navigate though, and wonder if they just have layered-on accessibility without making sure that the underlying structure really works for blind folks. So I’m about to start googling around to see what if any other ideas might exist. Too bad my music site gig from a couple years ago no longer works, as that was as easy as pumping out 1000-word narratives and getting the 50 bucks on the other end.

I guess not all has been iffy on the job front though, as I am participating in what we call Employee Resource Groups (ERG’s). My group is LC (I)mpact (cute name, right?) Anyway, our job is to help LCI connect with its internal and external communities more effectively. For me, this means I’m getting to flex my writing muscle a bit as I generated the campaign that I presented throughout the plant to drum up interest and try to get people to tell their stories of volunteerism through written and audio interviews. I would like this aspect to continue, as I need the experience in both of those areas.

Have you made any significant job changes during this pandemic? What kind of side hustle do you have going, and is it proving to be lucrative. I saw somewhere that a record of new startups were created last year, as people are moving into other areas either because they are forced to or just having been locked in made them see things in a different light.

The Mantis, My Updated Thoughts

I’ve owned a Mantis QX40 Braille display from the American Printing House for the Blind for almost ten months, and my viewership numbers at least suggest that there is still a lot of interest in what I make of this product. So I figured it was high time to capture some of the things I love about this device as well as those that I hope change in some way or would just like to see added. My overall impression though is that this is one of the best little machines I’ve ever had. I’ve written every blog post since its acquisition on this springy QWERTY keyboard. So that’s a good start, right?
And that would probably be my favorite element of the Mantis, its keyboard. I probably noted that in the original post, but it still holds true: having the easy ability to type and to see a Braille display at the bottom without carrying around 2 devices is a big plus. I can certainly type on a Perkins-style keyboard, but it just seems that in some way that can impede my thinking. I should note that for those who want what the Mantis offers (and a little more) on a display with the Perkins keyboard, HumanWare has just released the Brailliant BI 40X. It’s like the previous display I owned, but definitely improved. I know that some would just prefer that form factor, and it’s good to be in a world of choice where we have such options.
Anyway, my second favorite thing about the Mantis is it size. It feels good on my lap and allows me to read easily even in confined spaces, without too much fear of it sliding off of said lap and hitting the floor. The APH-provided case adds to its heft and also decreases the slidiness (that’s a word because I say so!) That Brailliant I had before was built like a tank, having flown from my hand more than a few times but only carrying slight dents and still functioning quite well. I suppose the Mantis is equally strong, but because of its purchasing price I have no desire to test that theory.
Stability and typing speed are all well and good, but my truly favorite thing about the Mantis is the reading services present therein. It connects to NFB Newsline and Bookshare, both of which I have now signed up for. The latter requires a $50 membership fee, but for all of the reading I do these days it’s well worth it.
And I suppose here I can get into some of the things I wish the Mantis had, noting that APH is already aware of some of these and have made significant updates to the unit since I acquired it. The first, and this is superficial to me and not overtly necessary, is that it would be cool if the Mantis allowed access to the NLS BARD Braille catalog, as I hear the Brailliant BI X will. This is not a big problem for me, as I’d guess that Bookshare already has many of the titles available on NLS, but for a true book junkie like me the browsing and adding to wish list never stops.
A more wished-for update whose implementation I do not know even is possible, is for the Mantis to maintain the Braille settings used on the device when it is connected via the Terminal. For example, I have reversed the thumb key configuration, because I have found it easier to advance forward through a document using my left hand. If I use my right hand, I tend to bounce a spot ahead of what I had intended too many times for my liking. It will not allow me to access this setting though when working on the iPhone, which affects my ability to read in Kindle or Apple Books.
Finally, I discovered recently that when charging the unit, it seems best to leave it powered off for the entire time to get the most accurate reading on battery status. For a while, I thought that the fast-rising percentage I’d seen if the Mantis had been turned on and then back off during charging was accurate, but I noticed that when the status reads say 60% it would suddenly plummet to 20% and need immediate recharging. This would often happen a day and a half after having refilled it. Now, when I let it go to full charge at power-off, I can get about 4 days before needing to recharge. I would find it beneficial if somehow the unit could be made to display a accurate battery status no matter its powered state.
Those are surly small potatoes though, and do not at all detract from my enjoyment of using this device nearly all the time. I would still recommend it, and especially as the connectivity has also improved a great deal with the latest update, along with a near vanquishing of the Terminal Stopped issue that would occasionally pop up requiring a force quit. I certainly hope to get many more years out of it.

On Becoming a Writer, and Alex Trebek

In a recent Writer’s Bone podcast, I heard Bethanne Patrick, whom I consider my mentor whether she knows it or not, speak about how she discovered she was a writer. It interested me for a few reasons. First, she noted that much of her writing desire came from listening to her mother’s reading to her as a kid. But she didn’t really make a true attempt at writing till late 30s/early 40s, dabbling first in book reviewing and slowly expanding her reach.

Obviously this had a great impact on me. I consider myself having walked a similar path, in many ways. Rather than my mom reading to me to get me started, I grew up listening to my sisters as they practiced reading aloud. I was so moved by the power of words to carry one to other places and paint pictures of things not previously imagined. From that, I’ve always had a little of a writer’s bone, if you will, as I wrote the letter that took some of my classmates and me to Washington DC in the sixth grade. And the year before, I’d tied with one of the teachers’ daughters for first place on an essay I wrote about Martin Luther King.

So while I’ve pondered for years really trying to get into the writing field, if you remember from an earlier post this year, this pandemic has caused me to go all in in a way I had not done before. I was watching Sister Act 2 the other day, and Whoopi Goldberg’s character quoted a Reina Maria Wilke (don’t know if that’s how her name is spelled, but…) quote to the then-angelic voiced Lauryn Hill’s character. She said Wilke had said something to the effect of If you wake up in the morning and the first thing you think of is writing, then you’re a writer. This was to me a revelation. Writing is not something for which I have to be hired to establish legitimacy, though I’d very much love if someone hired me to do it. It’s something I can make up my mind to “be.” Certainly looking up to people like Ms. Patrick helps a lot to spur me on.

My writing, and all of its initials factors, was also brought to life by watching the quiz show Jeopardy! over the years. It’s funny, but I can’t really say when I started watching. I do remember it seemed the categories were a lot harder then. It caused me to pick up National Geographic and other magazines, along with the 1961 World Book Encyclopedia our school had in Braille at the time, badly out of date but still fascinating, to learn an out the world around me. I kept watching with my dad as I got older, and in college when homesickness hit. So it is with a heavy heart that I thank Alex Trebek for all that he brought to my life and so many of our lives. It is no exaggeration to say that I might not have the command of words and the understanding of geography I do if I had not consumed that show so regularly.

So whatever or whomever is your inspiration, I hope you can join me in dreaming big. Especially in this year where, and I’ve probably said this in other entries but it bears repeating, we have nothing but time on our hands. Be well and stay safe.

NaNoWriMo 2: On The Very Real Challenges of Writing a Book

So, my NaNoWriMo novel is well underway. But… I decided pretty quickly that there was no real way I’d get to 50000 words by the end of the month. I’ve got too many other things going on: still reviewing books on Reedsy Discovery (just got my first requested review which is exciting) and of course I still have the day job (not much going on there but I’m showing up every day at least). On the requested review, it’s on a book that is set in 1860s Texas, a type of Western but not like you think. While that’s not my usual fare, I am actually enjoying it. I will post a link to the review on my Review page once it goes live in the beginning of December.

Anyhow back to my NaNo book, I’m now aiming to average 500 words per day, which would put me at that magic 50,000 by February 8. I’m maintaining it with 4,000 committed to digital paper so far. As the story grinds on though, I’m starting to feel that imposter syndrome creeping in. It’s just hard to keep one’s confidence, especially as I’ve not written a book before. I really want this to happen though, so hopefully that determination alone will fuel me.

Here’s what I think the story will be about so far. First, it’s told from three perspectives: Antonio (Tony) Carter, an 18-year-old student at an as-et-unnamed university in an unnamed city. I’m not sure if I will name it, as I’m aware that could present some issues in itself. I know though that naming also gives things more personality, greater character. Perhaps that’ll be a thing to decide with my editors before I drop the bestselling, great American novel that will propel me to fame and fortune. Well ok I’m dreaming, but dreams drive us right?

The second main character, I suppose one might argues the antagonist, is Daniel (Danny) James Carter. He’s two years older than Tony and still living at home, working at the kind of facility that I do. Oh, and both of these characters have Norrie Disease, my disorder. I might be the first to feature such characters. He’s a budding rap star, and has a little issue with Tony’s going onto college and what he might do with that. I want two opposite characters to demonstrate not only the variability in life itself, but also that which exists in our disorder. It’s kind of fun writing very different individuals, but hard too.

The third main character, whom I’m going to start today, is Shayna. I think she will be the one around whom the conflict centered. Tony’s girlfriend, older by 2 years so Danny’s age, and still living in their hometown where Danny stays. And not surprisingly perhaps, she and Danny end up having some sort of fling which upsets Tony. I haven’t worked out exactly how we’re going to get there, but maybe I’ll let the characters tell me. Each of them tells their bit from a first-person point of view, because well that’s easier to write. It also lets the reader get all the way into their head. We shall see if I can pull this thing off!

Musings on NaNoWriMo and Creativity During COVID

So how are we doing, folks. I think it’s already been over a month since I did the last check-in regarding COVID. And, *sigh* Just when we thought we saw that light at the end of the tunnel, the numbers have skyrocketed to points higher than they were at the so-called peak. Here in North Carolina, for instance, we set two consecutive new case records last week and have just set a record for the most deaths in one day from this virus. Believe me, I know that behind every one of those numbers is a person, family, friend, co-worker or other connected individual who is hurting. I just keep praying that it stops soon enough.

As I continue to look out for my mental health during this time, I strive to at least thrive in the world of creativity. And as was the case when this started, my wife keeps driving me forward in that area. She’s doing her own impressive stuff (shameless plug) with a recently launched Etsy store she calls Carrol Creations. Therein, she makes decorative or inspirational wooden signs that can be hung on doors or walls, customized earrings, t-shirts, and most recently Christmas ornaments and “quarantine reindeer,” each with its accompanying facemask. Of course family and friends have been supportive in stimulating sales, but in this month alone she’s also received three outside orders. Cool stuff. If you’re into that sort of thing, hop on over there and check it out.

Seeing her put in the “elbow grease,” as I often tease, has motivated me to get back off the proverbial snide and attempt to re-launch an idea I initially conceived in 2018, to write a book about two brothers with Norrie Disease who face different variations and thus experience different outcomes. I’m thinking this time that it will be the basis for my NaNoWriMo novel. I’m not exactly sure for how long National Novel Writing Month has been going on, but my first real shot at producing a 50,000-word piece of fiction was back in 2006. I think I got up to approximately 25k words before the whole thing just dissolved into a puddle of goo, and I posted excerpt 1 and 2 in my old blog. I particularly liked the second one.

I made a nod in the direction of trying again in 2017, but that never got off the ground given that I was about to get married and also wrapping up grad school. Now that nearly all travel except that to work and home has stopped, maybe I can make myself sit here with some music on as I am right now and pound these Mantis Braille display keys. I’ll update as November progresses.

And, not a whole lot else. Just working on some cosmetic changes around this my blogging spot, mostly to make it easier for folks to find my book reviews and how they can contact me. I’m not done yet, but all that movement takes so long that it will be mostly reserved for the weekend. As far as I can tell, this viral wave is surging throughout much of the northern hemisphere at the same time, rather than the spikes we saw popping up in varying locations earlier. So wherever you are, I hope you are staying safe and keeping yourself up as best you can. And maybe do some creating of your own. If you have, how so? Has anything worked out?

The ADA At 30: On Employment Challenges and Freelancing Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

2345-125-15 12-15-1-136-2345-13456 135-124 12-1235-1-24-123-123-15

In its simplicity, it reveals the word(s) to so many on an 8-by-11 inch sheet of thick paper. At least this time-tested method had been the most common way to present written text to those who are blind for many years, taking me from the good ol’ days of primary school up through the proud moments of my high school graduation. Its existence ensured that I was able to get an equal education to that of my sighted peers.

It is not, in and of itself, a language, as so many think. Thus the question “is it harder to read this way than in English?” is an incorrect one. Rather, it is a medium: a means of transmission in the same way that print is.

“24-2345” 24-234 12-1235-1-24-123-123-15, and throughout this entry, I intend to pepper little bits of code that are to represent the dot presentations as we see them. View the Code Legend here, and try to figure out as many of the words as you can. Many can probably be ascertained by 14-135-1345-2345-15-1346-2345.

Braille is made up of different dot combinations that are centered around a six-dot cell. On the Perkins Braille Writer, the most regularly used device for hardcopy output, the dots are as follows: to the left of the space bar going right to left, dots 1, 2, and 3. To the right of the space bar, going left to right, dots 4, 5, and 6. The dots are pressed simultaneously to create whichever letter/number/symbol you wish to generate.

When viewing Braille characters on the paper, however, the dots are aligned so that dots 1, 2, and 3 are on the left side of the cell, while dots 4, 5, and 6 are on the right. I am not certain how challenging it would be to discern this visually, but know of many people who are able to sight-read Braille so suppose it can be done.

As I suspect many are aware, Braille was created, or more like modified, by the Frenchman Louie Braille, who had lost his sight due to an unfortunate accident involving an awl that stuck into his eye. This actually helped to give rise to the first method for writing in Braille: the slate and stylus.

1235-15-123-1-2345-15-145: Connecting the Dots: Braille in the Digital Age An excellent post recently written by one of my online friends.

While Braille is not a language, it does have the ability to shape thought. For example, take the oft-used phrase “knowledge is power”. Because Braille tends to take up so much space it also has a contracted form, called either Grade 2 or Contracted Braille. In this form, the word “knowledge” is represented by only the letter K. Oddly, this does seem to confer an unusual amount of power into that statement.

Well, I should say that Grade 2 Braille is what I grew up with, but that is now being phased out as attempts are being made to move to a single standard called United English Braille, or UEB. I don’t really know much about nor have I seen this type of Braille in action, but I hear that some of the symbols we’ve been used to are changed or removed. Hopefully, it doesn’t take us older folk too long to master this new incarnation, though.

I’m writing this, because in theory at least, I will get a new refreshable Braille display, the Brailliant BI 40, next week. This designation means that it has 40 of the six-dot Braille cells I referred to earlier, making it 15-1-234-24-15-1235 to read an entire line. I am happy about this, as the previous display I had only contained 18 cells. This meant a lot more clicking, and was generally not all that 14-135-1345-1236-15-1345-24-15-1345-2345.

This equipment is being provided to me via the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP), a trial effort to help individuals who need this technology but cannot practically afford it. In order to obtain it, I have been working for the past year with my deafblind specialist at the North Carolina Division of Services for the Blind, who has handled much of the paperwork and coordination with the Division of Services for the Hard of Hearing. There are some income eligibility and hearing/vision requirements, and so if you are interested I would advise checking with your state’s equivalent department(s) to see if you meet these and can be assisted. I think in my case, the ear infection incident I suffered earlier this year definitely showed why I should get my hands on a display as soon as possible. Not to mention it will be pleasant to be able to read books and create my own ideas of how characters sound without the interference of 15-123-15-14-2345-1235-135-1345-24-14 or human voices.

Currently, the cost of these displays is quite high, I would guess no less than $1500, and well upwards of 10 G’s for a high-end model. Happily, there is an attempt by two orgs to bring that down to around $300. It looks like those models would have only 20 cells, but that would still revolutionize access for people who aren’t able to utilize government programs for whatever reason. It also would bring the price in line with most other mainstream pieces of technology. I have high hopes that this will happen. I do not think Braille will disappear as technology advances, but as my friend said in her piece, it will become more accessible and useful than ever before. 123-135-1345-1245 123-24-1236-15 12-1235-1-24-123-123-15!

#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.

Summer Wrap: Stream of Consciousness

Even writing those words makes me want to cry buckets of tears. Already, we have reached the last weekend of official summer. I’m taking it all in though, enjoying a stiff breeze outside as I type and planning to remain out here nearly all day.

Hey, at least I had fun. This summer was characterized by more travel than I’ve been able to do in a long time: highlighted by trips to Las Vegas, Atlanta, and the usual repeated visits to Charlotte. I didn’t really finish my Atlanta story, but think I can still remember it well enough to capture the rest. I may do that tomorrow. I just went through a particularly bad period where I hadn’t really felt motivated, but one thing I can say for the Fall is it does fill me with the idea that things may turn the corner. That has rarely actually happened, but one has to think that eventually it will.

One thing I especially enjoyed during the month of August, though it seems to have quieted down lately, is making a new friend in the area. She is the kind of person who reminds me of others in my family, such as my Aunt who sadly is no longer living, as she loves to walk.

We took a stroll to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, a couple miles away from here maybe, and listened to the animals and kids waddle by while taking in the aromas of almost every kind of plant imaginable.

Then we went to a wine tasting at our local grocery store, where I drank enough to feel it a bit but not anymore. It doesn’t take much for this lightweight, of course.

With her, I learned where our pool is, as she’s a huge fan of swimming, more about the bus system, and that there are even a couple more places around here that I need to visit for their menus. Plus, she helped me to acquire and consume my requisite summer watermelon, MMM! I guess it wasn’t as good as it could have been, but one should expect that from grocery store fruit in my opinion.

That kind of serendipitous encounter can bring so much richness to a person’s life, for sure. I appreciated the patience she had not only in assisting me, but doing so while managing her two young children as well.

And now, I must go back into a post-summer savings mode, to try and recover from the wild financial flins I took this year. Well hey, I worked all summer too, so had to have a bit of fun! The last big thing I’ve done is upgrade to the iPhone 6, because my 4S is giving me all kinds of trouble lately and it’s just time to move on from that thing anyway. The 6 won’t get here for probably another couple of weeks though, as it’s being shipped and they’re probably backed up all the way to the Pacific in orders. I think I can make it till then, though.

So, what was the most interesting thing you did this summer? Meet any new people?

And finally, I want to thank the owner of this blog for publishing a few of my older posts. It got me some recognition, which is cool. More soon, and go Panthers! Off to a 2-0 start, and we have a nationally televised game against the Pittsburgh Steelers tomorrow night. Football is one of the only things I do like about colder times.