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.

Book Review: Cruising Attitude, by Heather Poole

Right on the heels of my Audio Mo challenge success, well so-so that is, I’ve learned through a blogger I met on Twitter via AudioMo of another challenge that might well be more up my alley. This one, hash tagged #31WriteNow, dares its participants to write a blog post every day for the month of August. I have absolutely no idea if I can live up to that kind of commitment these days, and especially given that I’m starting class and have some kind of job, no matter how tenuous the latter may be at the moment. But, I can always use the stimulation of the attempt.
I’ve cashed it in on this week regarding the day job, opting to take tomorrow off and work on some more productive things. We did nearly nothing all of this week, but have some hope that things will begin to revive next Monday. We’re just having to pound through the summer doldrums.
My section partner didn’t show up today either, meaning I had no one to talk to. So I decided to start Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet, by Heather Poole.
A well-known flight attendant via Twitter and other social media forums, I’ve followed Poole for almost 4 years now. But upon already reading about a quarter of this book in one sitting, I can say that I hadn’t known as much as I thought about what her job really entailed.
Her tales begin with a couple of fairly recent stories about passengers experiencing medical issues onboard and the measures taken to assist them. Some were humorous, and others were sad. With these, Poole immediately establishes in the reader some of the wild emotional swings experienced by one who engages in this line of work.
In the following chapters, she takes us through her journey into being a flight attendant, noting that this was initially meant to be a short job while she awaited her bigger career as, well something. Just as so many of us young folk struggle with, Poole was having a hard time figuring out just what she’d wanna do.
After an adventure-filled stint with a small, very low budget carrier, she managed to make her jump to the big dogs of the sky. This involved a move to New York City that required quick adjustment to a life that she’d not anticipated and while building a friendship with a southerner who was also adjusting to the flight attendant role.
I obviously have a ways to go. But I’m sure that if her descriptions of intense training at a flight attendant academy, preparation for and survival of life in a chaotic Queens-area crashpad, and encounters with intimidating co-workers as she got started are any indication, her remaining stories will be a lot of fun.
I particularly enjoy Poole’s writing style. It gives the impression that one is sitting across the table and asking questions about how she got to this point. It’s all very conversational. As one who can’t get enough of travel stories, see my enjoyment of the Betty In the Sky with A Suitcase podcast, I unquestionably love this book. This book also brings home what I often hear attendants say: their job is about more than just serving drinks and pretzles. It’s about keeping us safe when we choose to be suspended far above the ground in a metal tube, and any attendant worth his or her salt really takes that seriously. If you check it out, you’ll see what I mean.

Bugs Are Back?

NBA? Oh no ya don’t. Y’all can’t do this to me! My heart break is only now starting to heal.
I’m old enough to remember when the Queen City was first granted its own pro basketball team. Actually because I’m no historian, I’m not sure if it was the first pro team Charlotte had ever had. I know there was a team called the Carolina Cougars, but I think they played in Greensboro.
Anyway, the excitement was palpable. Charlotte, on the national map!
We had, have, and always will love our fine tradition of college basketball in the great state of North Carolina.
But somehow this was different. It confirmed our up-and-coming status as a real urban center and made us feel more competitive with our archrival Atlanta.
In those blissful early days, we didn’t really care if our team went 27-55. The building, the 23,000-seat Charlotte Coliseum, was filled to capacity and jumping every night. That building’s natural nickname was the hive, and it sure sounded like swarms had taken over.
Remember short Mugsy, full of heart? The flamboyant Larry Johnson (LJ!) and Alonzo Morning?
I happened to be in the building where Morning is said to have made his Charlotte debut, the Milton Road Boys and Girls Club. The soda man had just stocked that machine inside of the chock full gym, and within 5 minutes we all had still warm drinks in our hands as we listened to ‘Zo speak.
As my cousin and I fully embraced sports, we’d initially listen to entire Hornets radio broadcasts starting perhaps an hour before the game and going till an hour or so after it.
If they happened to lose, we’d mope around for the rest of the evening. People would say “Snap out of it!” to which we’d reply “you just don’t understand”. And how could they?
The early 90s passed on by, and as we entered the middle of that decade some of the shine began to fade. Not that we in the city of Charlotte weren’t still big fans, but by this time we’d began to want a winner. It’s funny how quickly a playoff trip can spoil a fan base, isn’t it?
I moved on to a small town called Southern Pines North Carolina, and in an era before smartphones and ubiquitous Internet, I was forced to take in my beloved Hornets on an intermittent AM signal while attempting to avoid smashing myself repeatedly in the head with the Walkman I waved around. I still faithfully listened to every game, though.
Then came college and its myriad responsibilities. We joined the on-campus choir, and I was always a little sad when rehearsal occurred during a Hornets game. Never fear, that’s what the trusty recorder was for. If I could somehow avoid the score long enough, I’d just run back to my dorm room, hit rewind, and chill while the game replayed. The nice part about that was I could easily just skip the commercials.
And finally there was 2001. The once near-knighted George Shin and his chum Ray Woolridge, (probably not how his name is spelled but I don’t care) announced their intentions to relocate our team (OUR TEAM!) from the Queen City due to sagging interest. I’m sure it had more to do with them wanting to pad their bottom line, but then where is that not true in this world I suppose?
Players on that team stated that they fervently hoped they would not in fact leave Charlotte, and they played hard in order to try and make that happen. We advanced farther into the playoffs than any time before, sweeping the Miami Heat out of the first round and taking the Milwaukee Bucks all the way to the edge before going down in 7.
Oh man, that game six still makes me sad. We had a 10-point lead with like 5 minutes to go, and all we could do was watch helplessly as it slipped through our fingers. I remember ESPN Sport Center showing a kid in the lower rows crying his eyes out.
And that, in many ways, was the end of the Hornets’ tenure in our fine city. I think Charlotte was as eager to shirk the team as the team was to leave, as the city staged a vote to build a new arena that they knew would not pass. Then as soon as the team departed, they announced that they were building the arena anyway, and thus the league quickly granted us another team.
I went to that Bobcats season opener in 2004, with two of my cousins on a paratransit bus. It was kind of fun, as they opted to sit us down on the floor rather than in the way high up seats we had actually purchased. We ordered a pizza, placed the box down beside ourselves, took big cups of soda, and had fun making little old ladies nervous about our safety as we pranced around near the railings.
Unfortunately, the Cats have definitely not been able to capture that magic. I don’t really blame them though. Naturally, they’re dealing with an apathetic fan base and a lack of any really good players. Ok I kind of blame the ownership for that second issue, but, well.
Today, we at least put in a request to rename our team the Hornets, as New Orleans has abandoned it for the Pelicans (Pelicans?) It seems that if we are allowed the name change, it would not take effect until the 14-15 season.
Can a name really make a difference? I suppose not in and of itself it won’t. We’ll have to make a real go at building a team. But an example to which I have referred a lot is the Tampa Bay baseball team. They changed their name from the Devil Rays to just the Rays, and seemingly vaulted from being the butt of all jokes into the World Series overnight. So hey, who knows?

Intro Post: Old hats may wish to skip

So I realized that since I zapped that other blog, I no longer have an intro post. This means that I should try and come up with one, right? Well its as good a time as any to examine who I am, I guess. Those who’ve known me a long time might wish to skip this post, but maybe I can make it interesting for you, too.

I was born. I’m told the day dawned cold and rainy, but I’ve also been told that it was Friday, September 13, 1979. I know that last wasn’t possible, since the calendars say the 13th was on a Thursday that year. In any event, that kinda makes for a good story.

I have a rare genetic condition called Norrie disease, which results usually in total blindness from birth due to retinal detachment. It also causes progressive hearing loss, which has been the more adjustment requiring part of things for me. It’s all good though: I have not and will never let it stop me from doing the same crazy things I always do.

Hailing from the queen city of Charlotte, I grew up in a family of five sisters. For much of my early life, my only real male influence was my cousin who is about a year younger than my 33. My dad then came into my life during teen aged years, and he has certainly taught me a lot about what it means to be a good and honorable man. And anyone should know that one doesn’t have to donate sperm in order to be a good father.

I went to high school in a small town called Southern Pines NC, and while I complained at first about being out of the city, it was probably the best thing I had done to that point. It allowed me to find myself academically.

Eventually I returned to Charlotte to attend the major university there, going on to experience even greater academic success as a psychology major. What is it that they say about psych majors needing the most therapy?

After five aimless years just working in a sheltered workshop for blind folks in Charlotte and enjoying living with my cousin, I made the somewhat random decision to attend grad school. I did this at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where I attempted to complete an MS in rehabilitation counseling and psychology. Let’s just say all that academic prowess I thought I had pretty much went out of the window. The program was supposed to take two years to finish, but I clung to that raft as it got sucked down the raging river for almost three. It wasn’t a total waste, though. Is anything, it showed me how not to adequately prepare for such an expedition.

Is I do make another go of that, I know now that I need solid, definable goals. I’m still working those out, but part of me is longing to do something in a journalistic capacity, as I had started to consider shortly after undergrad ended. I’m not really sure how to begin taking that from dream to occurrence, though. Just doing a lot of thinking.

And now I reside in Durham NC, where I again work at a sheltered workshop. The nice thing about this one though is that there is real potential for promotion, should I choose to take that path. We shall see how it all plays out.

Of course, there’s more to me than I could easily capture in one post. If you continue to read, you’ll see lots of stuff about books I like, my favorite sports teams, (I’m all about North Carolina except for the duke Blue Devils), music I love, and not surprisingly, the places I go. Feel free to chime in with questions or suggestions whenever you like. And most of all, enjoy.