Audio, Rambling, Guide Dogs, Etc.

Back in high school, I followed hi-fi equipment as a hobby the way other people follow sports or stock tickers.  I had subscriptions to magazines like Stereo Review and Audiophile, I knew names like Bob Carver and those of other then famous (to we stereo geeks) engineers at the high end companies.  I would visit the high end stereo store in my home town of Westfield, NJ just to check out the latest stuff.  My boys and I would show off our new additions with pride similar to the way motorheads would show off their new bitchin’ Camaro.  Somewhere, I found my way out of stereo geekdom and realized that the music, the art had a far greater importance than the delivery system.

Today, I still appreciate the sound of really high end audio. I found that listening to John Coltrane’s “Live at Birdland” album on Mike Pedersen’s $30,000 system to approach a truly religious experience.  I suppose the people in the club that night might have heard it sound better but I doubt by much.  Although I really enjoyed listening to Mike’s system, we bought a BOSE Lifestyles stereo for the house because, while I can tell that something from Balanced Audio Design would sound better, I don’t value the difference at over $25,000.  

I like the BOSE products because their design makes them easy to live with.  My wife set it up in a few hours, including tuning the balance and such with the software that comes with the unit.  The entire Lifestyles system takes up little space, has tiny speakers and sounds really good.  Sure, for the same number of dollars, we could buy something that sounds better but without the ergonomics that make BOSE such a nice item to have in one’s house.

Thus, I haven’t followed the world of audio equipment seriously since the seventies and, today, I find all of it quite baffling.  I feel fairly confident with component stereo products as they haven’t really changed that much – most are black and stacked up like the monolith in 2001 and clearly designed to appeal to men.  I do, however, find the myriad new digital devices nearly completely baffling as few have an interface a blink can explore and all seem designed to appeal to people 30 years younger than me.  I find the pricing of these items surprisingly approachable and, when I have listened to them, I’ve found the audio quality very acceptable.  Nonetheless, the lack of accessibility to most of these products turns me off to them as I would prefer using more than one or two of their features.

This brings us to computer audio programs and peripherals which, other than the most minimal, tend to puzzle me.  When they work, these devices tend to work well; when they don’t, the cause never seems to be a loose cable but, rather, something that requires a trip back to Circuit City to return the item.

Yesterday, I bought a Logitech USB headset, it was on sale for $30 and my other headset had stopped sending a signal to my left ear and was starting to fall apart.  This morning, I installed the headset by plugging it into a USB port and using the automatic installer for the three separate drivers that this device seems to require.  Each of the drivers caused the error that they had not passed Windows XP logo testing (pretty cheesy for a company as huge as Logitech I thought) and I installed them anyway.  Everything worked right away, except the volume control on the cable.  

Like any good consumer awake at 5:00 am, four hours before the Logitech technical support line wakes up, I went to their web site to find an answer.  Searching on “USB headset volume control” found something like 630 results and none in the top 20 had anything to do with my actual problem.  A search of their user forum, however, resulted in a thread which started with “My Logitech 350 USB Headset Volume Control Doesn’t Work.”  The thread had a number of entries, all from people who said, “me too” and only one guy had an actual solution which had something to do with some weird desktop extension he was running that, when turned off, fixed the problem.  Everyone in the thread agreed that they could change the volume setting in Control Panel and that, coincidentally, the microphone mute button worked fine.

So, having exhausted the easy to find stuff, I went to the “contact us” link on the Logitech site.  There, it asks, what do you need help with?  The first option says “customer support” so I clicked on the link.  This brought me back to the search page where I had just come from.  Hitting the “contact us” link brought me back.  I could have looped infinitely had I felt like it but, alas, it had come to the time when I feed the dogs so I stopped and performed the morning feeding ritual.

As this problem has been nicely documented in the Logitech user forum for over a month, why doesn’t it show up in a technical support notice?  The answer, my frustrated friend, must blow in the wind as it seems that Logitech finds it all too confusing to address.

Here’s a bet for you all to ponder and comment upon if you like:  when Logitech technical support does open and I phone them, will the call center person who answers my call blame the problem on my using JAWS?  Personally, I wouldn’t rule out a screen reader as the cause of an audio problem, it has been known to occur in the past but, given all of the other variables, will the mainstream company try to wash its hands of the matter and send me to FS to try to sort out the issue?  Then, if the FS technical support team (in my slanted opinion the best in the blindness biz) hasn’t encountered the issue, escalates it to the test lab where a tester proves that it works with JAWS 7.10 on the computers in their lab and I get a call back, having wasted my own time and Freedom Scientific’s time and money, and I call Logitech back and forward them any email I might get from FS on the matter, will they then actually try to address my problem?

Which company holds the responsibility for testing hardware compatibility with AT?  As I’ve written here before, I feel strongly that the onus falls on the hugely wealthy mainstream companies more than on the AT vendors.  Even the richest organizations in the blindness biz (presumably FS and Humanware) have an estimated total annual revenue that is profoundly smaller than a company the size of Logitech pays for marketing its least popular product.  The population of screen readers grows each year.  Every time a new copy of JAWS or Window-Eyes gets shipped out, more often than not, it is going to a new user as the currently installed base has an SMA.  Thus, one would think Logitech would get an increasingly large number of complaints from blinks and it would behoove them to do compatibility testing to save on calls from angry blind customers.  Then again, maybe not.

I just want to go to a store, buy something and have a high degree of confidence that it will work with my computer as configured as soon as I get home.  Certainly, the screen reader vendors can do more to improve application support but, as we’ve also explored in these pages, small companies that try to support as much as possible have incredible difficulties keeping up with new releases of mainstream programs.  JAWS 7.10, for instance, announced as one of its “new” features, support for Windows Media 10 a month or two after Microsoft started shipping Windows Media 11 which fortunately works pretty well with JAWS right out of the box if you don’t mind poking around with the JAWS cursor from time to time.

I can hear our friend Gabe, a Macintosh and GNU/Linux hacker (link to his blog above) saying that I should switch to an Apple product and all my fears will go away.  Gabe has terrific technical savvy but I feel certain that he would agree that all of the programs I need to use to do my job do not exist in an accessible manner on a Mac.  So, I plod forward using JAWS, in my slanted opinion, still the best solution out there if, for no other reason, than I can, with a little help from my friends in the community, usually customize it to work with the program I need.

Freedom Scientific has some very good business reasons for not distributing third party scripts.  They cannot guarantee the quality of programs they did not build and test themselves.  So, users should remember to check a variety of other places for customizations written by people like Doug Lee, Jim Snowbarger and so many others as they will often do the trick.  I have found lots of very useful stuff out there that makes a lot of obscure to popular programs work nicely with JAWS and I contend that this remains one of the most important reasons that JAWS stays far out in front of all of its competitors.

I’m really rambling this morning.  This item started out to be about stereo stuff, morphed into computer peripherals and ended up in my repeating my standard speech about why user customizability is the most important feature that a screen reader can have.  I’ve had full my full compliment of coffee so maybe the heat of the Florida summer has melted the brain a bit.  


I’ve received a lot of email commentary on my series of Guide Dog School chronicles and, for a change, virtually all of it has been positive.  I think there will be two more in the series, one on the staff and another on coming home.  I might do a follow up in six months or so but I don’t plan anything involving this blog that far in advance.

Blind activist, AFB employee and all around well respected individual, Crista Earl has gone missing and has last been sighted in Morristown, New Jersey, home of another very famous compound where adult blinks are segregated by gender, forced to live together and are constantly surrounded by highly trained animals.  She and Gonz don’t know each other so I don’t think he’ll be mounting a rescue attempt and, as Samhara is still on her island vacation, he probably won’t be leaving the city for a while.

Seriously, though, Crista has been writing articles on the AFB blog which start with Getting a Dog, Day 1 and have continued on a near daily basis since she arrived at Seeing Eye, a few miles from the town in which I grew up.  Crista writes from the heart and mind, has a readable writing style that contains far more detail about one’s work at a guide dog school than my “Chronicles” pieces.  If you find the topic interesting, I recommend checking into her posts, they contain humor, pride, personality and come from the perspective of someone who has lived in the world of professional blinkhood far longer than me.


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Recently, I read an article about music download sites in AFB’s Access World.  I sent a note to its editor in Chief Jay Leventhal, a decent guy with a lot of journalistic credibility but a tendency to look for the good in everything and not always point out the worst aspects of an item he may be reviewing.  I generally like Jay’s articles but I believe he can definitely hit a little harder sometimes.  Jay did not write the article about music downloads, though, rather a woman named Janet, an outsider, did.  I sent Jay a note of support about the article as I enjoyed it quite a bit and I pointed out a few minor factual issues that, in my opinion, do not warrant repeating here as I couldn’t see someone choosing a service based upon the little corrections I sent along.

I did find that the author only tested the site with Window-Eyes, a screen reader used by a minority of the population, kind of disturbing but Jay reminded me that AccessWorld doesn’t require outside authors to test with every credible screen reader which, today, would include JAWS, Window-Eyes, HAL, Freedom Box and for those who use a portable device, Mobile Speak, PAC Mate and a handful of different Humanware devices.  I agreed that the onus on a freelance writer, especially one who works for what Access World pays, would not be worth their while and accepted that such could use a single screen reader for their tests.

I enjoyed Janet’s article and urge my readers to go to the Access World page (pointer above) to check out the original.  I wanted to use this space today to talk specifically about emusic, one of the sites reviewed in the AW article.

I first started using because my new Toshiba came with a shortcut that said, “50 Free Music Downloads,” on its desktop.  I clicked on the link, signed up with the intention of canceling within my free two weeks and started downloading.

I enjoy classical music and jazz a real lot.  I also enjoy “trad” country, bluegrass, blues, indie rock, hip hop and most anything that steers away from the vanilla of the mainstream.  Thus, I found the emusic site, where one cannot find songs by the Rolling Stones (a band I enjoy a lot) but features Pumpkinhead, Peaches, Benny Goodman, Arnold Shoenberg, John Coltran and Margaret Cho something to explore.

I have purchased their highest level subscription which gives me something like 100 downloads for $20 per month.  I don’t expect to find the Beatles or Prince here but nor do I expect the other sites to sell me their songs for twenty cents a pop.  I do, however, enjoy downloading the entire five CD set that includes all three hours of the legendary Benny Goodman 1938 carnegie Hall performance plus the classic hits of “the small band” from 1943 – 47 (the first truly integrated jazz act to perform without swapping out members for “whites only” clubs and concert halls) for about $13.  At the same time, I enjoy the serious positivism of the NY underground rap scene with guys like Pumpkinhead and Mystic, indie rockers who bring sexual politics to new heights like Peaches does on “Impeach My Bush,” and, of course, the hilarious stand up works that Margart Cho brings to the stage and now my collection of media files.

So, if you’re looking for an alternative to the mainstream download sites where you can spend a fair amount to download the same crap you can hear anywhere else, go to Urge (an MTV product) or the Real Networks site, if you’re looking for a reasonably accessible but no where perfect download site where you can discover some very cool alternative artists, head for and enjoy.


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Guide Dog Chronicles III: The Students

I didn’t live in a dormitory for very long while in college.  I preferred the life of off-campus housing and the liberty to select my own roommates.  While I had a private room at guide dog school, I did share a dormitory with ten other people from a wide variety of backgrounds, with a variety of belief systems, educational levels, likes and dislikes, accents and habits.  I learned a lot from the experience of sharing fairly close quarters with such a truly diverse group.

As you all know, I strongly advocate diversity and tolerance.  I had believed that my world outside of guide dog school, my population of friends and acquaintances, represent a highly diverse group of people.  My month at guide dog school taught me that I held some beliefs about my circle of friends and associates that didn’t hold water when compared to a broader collection of people.

On the outside, I count people from what I believed to represent nearly every group possible.  I must admit, I have no friends or acquaintances in the KKK or other far right wing hate groups.  I don’t really tolerate intolerance very well.  My friends include university professors, Noam Chomsky, the world’s most respected scholar (according to a survey of university professors around the world) has become one of my pen pals,, I have friends who had been homeless, one friend who still collects spare change to make her living, Viet Nam veterans, day laborers who enjoy fishing, people of virtually all races and ethnic backgrounds (I don’t think I actually know any Inuit or Eskimo people), I know medical doctors, hackers, police officers, firemen, criminals, radicals, housewives, Democrats, Republicans Greens, anarchists, communists and nearly any group you can identify.  A lot of this results from living in Harvard Square, Cambridge which celebrates diversity at all times.  

I learned at guide dog school, though, that I knew very few “typical” people.  Nearly everyone in my highly diverse crowd has some oddity that removes them from the mainstream of our culture.  They either travel extensively, study extensively, have a deep expertise in some field, have invented very important things, have written songs, poems, books, plays, software that made a huge impact, they came from a part of the world few Americans have any contact with or hold some belief that stands apart from anything labeled as “normal.”  Obviously, the people with the more extreme lifestyles, the fetish freaks, the people who beg for a living, the criminals, the drug addicts and those clearly on the outside rarely come into contact with “middle America.”  I didn’t realize just how weird the rest of my crew, the people with such an intense passion for fishing that they gave up good jobs to work cash in hand and spend most of their time in a kayak.  I didn’t realize that everyone didn’t have access to scholars, hackers and people like my friend Richard Stallman who drives the development of free software with such total passion that he differs profoundly from the other hackers around the world.

“Normal” people don’t live with the extreme intensity that my collection of curiosities (including me) do.  When they have a vacation from work, they don’t call the office every day to keep up on what might happen in their absence.  They don’t write long blog entries about the weird stuff that crosses my mind and that of others.  They don’t feel compelled to fight civil rights battles when they suffer the discrimination prevalent in the world of people with disabilities.  In short, they go through life without all of the intense fears and doubts that those of us extremists do.  In my month sharing living space with these people, I learned a lot from them and hope I can incorporate some of the serenity that they have that I have spent so long searching for.

I won’t name anyone but, rather, like the LMR (loud mouth redneck) I will use initials of a description to identify my classmates.  I will start with the Polish immigrant (PI).  I can only describe my short time in the company of the PI as an absolute blessing.  The PI has lived to 83 years old and has autobiographical stories that one rarely gets to hear first hand.  He described life in Nazi work/death camps, places where many of my distant relatives perished, with ease and anger.  He explained that, after the Nazis, all of life comes much easier.  His wife of many years had died two weeks before he came to guide dog school but, like nearly everything else, the PI took everything with grace and dignity.  He could talk to his dog in a manner that the animal understood and, in one major way, helped the rest of us bond in a very happy way.  The PI also had lost a lot of his hearing and would get a bit disoriented from time to time.  The rest of the class did our best to help him find things and, taking turns helping the PI, helped us grow closer together.  I will remain in contact with this lovely little man from Poland as he brought something into my life that I had never known before.

The PI’s roommate came to Florida by way of New England and his nasal, bean eating accent made me feel like I had returned to Boston.  The Boston Guy (BG) enjoys his retirement on the East Coast of the Sunshine state and has been a dog handler for a long time.  Thus, he could offer lots of little practical tips about working a dog that I think could only come from a blind person’s perspective.  I’ll call the BG soon as I have some photos of us together taken because our doggies came from the same litter.

I spent more time with my table mate ™ than anyone else.  She came from Virginia and had a great attitude.  Whenever I started getting too neurotic, she would tell me, “Shut up and deal with it.”  Her “tough love” approach worked pretty well.  She did an amazing job of getting me past the fears and she cut through my bullshit like a chainsaw through daisies.

Across the hall from me lived the Jersey Hippy (JH).  He grew up one town away from me back in the Garden State.  We had a lot of common experiences growing up and his interest in alternative medicine intrigued me.  While I cannot explain the science behind his work, I can say that he showed me ways of reducing the pains in my shoulders, forearms, hands and wrists to near zero with various breathing and stretching exercises.  I remain in contact with JH and TM via telephone as neither has a computer.

One of my favorite people, a deeply religious born again Christian from Georgia (BAGCG) like the PI, suffered from deaf blindness.  This woman has a tremendous intellect and such deeply held beliefs that I enjoyed listening to her very lovely southern accent talk about whatever interested her at the moment.  The BACG also, one night, said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten into trouble.  Let’s do something to get into trouble!”  So, as a team, we started working on practical jokes to install into the room occupied by the LMR and his roommate who had, conveniently, gone out to dinner.  We took a doody bag (those we use to clean up after the animals) and filled it with a mushed up candy bar.  We strategically placed it under his pillow.  A few hours later, when they got back and he went to lie down, he emerged with the bag asking what it was.  I took the bag from his hand and said, “Feels like shit.”  I tore the bag open, put a bit in my mouth and said, “Tastes like shit too.”  He went away.

The other tech head in the group came from Puerto Rico by way of New York and Miami (NYPR).  He and I could talk technology and had some fun when Mike Calvo came for a visit.  The NYPR certainly claimed title to the cutest male in the group and the babes seemed to dig him.  One night, someone found a tiny pair of women’s underwear in a drier.  She brought it out to us and asked, “Does this belong to either of you?”  We touched the undergarment and, realizing that it had less fabric than would be required to make a necktie, we both said that it wasn’t ours but agreed that we really wanted to meet the person to whom it did belong.  I had something of a Prince Charming fantasy but, instead of trying to find the person who fit into a glass slipper, well, you get the picture…

The single most cheerful and innocent student came from South Carolina and Starts College as a freshman this fall.  We’ll call her SCF.  The SCF arrived all bright eyed and ready to rock and roll.  She had a lot more energy than we older folks and demonstrated a love for life that, at breakfast time, scared me terribly as no one should feel that much joy at 6:30 am.  The rest of the day, though, her constant enthusiasm reminded us all of the joys in life and kept us smiling a lot.  When Mike Calvo visited, he gave her a Freedom Box and System Access demo and, for a few days afterward, this former JAWS user kept yelling, “This is so cool!”

The final student to whom you haven’t been introduced kept very quiet so I nicknamed her, “the ghost.”  We all had trouble knowing if she was present or not.  If we said her name, the ghost would respond, “I’m here,” in a timid sounding voice.  The ghost, when one could break through her shell, was a really interesting person and I found the conversations we had to be tremendously rewarding.  She also owned the thong but said no when I asked her for the Braille version of a modeling job.  Her “no” was accompanied by a giggle so at least I didn’t get slapped.

I introduced the last student, the LMR, to you in earlier posts.  At first, I tried to use my own pop psychology to explain his abso-fucking-lutely obnoxious behavior.  I thought and shared with other students that we all bring our own set of fears and insecurities with us to a place where we live with strangers and all have brand new dogs who we are supposed to learn to get along with.  Thus, we all, in our own ways, built shields between ourselves and the others.  I admitted quite readily that my scholarly vocabulary and constant talk of cool technologies, my know-it-all attitude and my insistence on adding to every conversation came directly from my fear center and that it was, for the most part, a bullshit way of keeping the real cdh (a panicked wimp who, at first, felt everyone hated him) psychologically distant from the others.  The ghost kept silent.  The JH would remain in the isolation of his room.  My TM would talk a lot about other people, helping bring them out a lot, but said little about herself.  The NYPR would, like me, cover using a lot of silly humor.  The SCF seemed most at home with herself because she would readily admit her fears to the rest of us and seek solace from our collective experiences.

The LMR never let down the constant loud talking.  If he had something to say to a staff member, he’d do so at the top of his lungs.  Other students were addressed with the volume knob set to eleven.  If he used his cell phone to call his wife or his business, the conversation remained so loud that we all know everything he ordered for his restaurant, the struggles he had with his wife and had to hear him beg his doctor for additional pain medication.  When he had nothing to say, he would just start talking about nothing, he’d recite nonsense from memory.  He never stopped and he didn’t seem to realize that he really made the rest of us angry.  I think everyone got on each other’s nerves from time to time but the other ten students moved from annoyance to dislike to, in one case, dropping out of the program due to the LMR’s constant loud voice.  He, of all of the people I met there, falls into a set of his own – the one person whom I hope never to hear from again.

So, I admit, I annoyed people.  My radical politics and know-it-all attitude certainly didn’t endear me to the gang.  After TM and JH and a few members of the staff talked me back in off the precipice and I felt less fear, I found I could tone down the bullshit and show a bit of cdh, the person, and found that it kind of feels good being honest with myself and others.


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Interview with President William Jefferson Clinton (Fiction)

By Gonz Blinko

After we rescued Blind Christian from the grip of Sy T. Greenbacks, he jumped straight back into his work, Samhara took a long island vacation with Brigitte (Moes former maid) and Heidi, a German friend of hers, the Angels, BPP, Chairman Mal returned to their normal activities and I negotiated a lucrative book deal about the story and we’ve already sold the movie rights.  I hope they can get Johnny Depp to play me.  I decided to move to a different part of Manhattan.  After getting home, I had the feeling someone had been poking around in my place.  With my movie money, I bought an entire building on Joey Ramone place in the Village and am having it tightly secured and redecorated before moving in.  In the meantime, I’m moving quietly from hotel to hotel under the cover of darkness.

BC called and told me he got me the story of a lifetime.

“Better than the rescue story?” I asked.

“Better than the Da Vinci Source Code,” he replied.

“Ok, what is it?”

“I’ve lined up an interview for you with former President Bill Clinton.”

“Slick Willy?”  I asked gleefully.

“One in the same.”

We chatted a bit longer and, when I had taken enough notes to get the gist of what he wanted from the interview we hung up.  I immediately deleted the file with the assignment notes, “I’d rather improvise,” I thought, and called Samhara on her mobile.

“Sam,” came the familiar voice.

“Guess what?”

“You’re going to interview President Clinton.”

“How did you know?”

“BC called me first so I’d remind you not to bring any weapons.”



“Can I bring Teresa?”  One of the friends I had made in Bellagio had come to New York and she and I enjoyed exploring the different hotels the city has to offer.  It’s strange; you can live in a city most of your life and never really get a feel for its hotels.  I mean, you go to the restaurants and banquet halls but never the suites.

“Sure, bring the Itialina, Clinton likes girls,” Samhara interrupted my derailed train of thought.

“Will you join us?” I asked.

“And leave these sweeties?  No, I don’t think so.  I still am recovering from powder burns and tinnitus from the rescue, I need a long break and our little international triple feels so good.”

“You still think you’re in love?”

“With Brigitte, very much.  Heidi will never settle down.”

“Settle down?  Samhara Akuba settle down?”

“It can happen.”


Teresa and I had camped out at the Paramount, an unlabeled hotel near Chelsea.  The neighborhood remained funky but chic and, in spite of its nostalgic pull, I prefer cleanliness to the great Chelsea Hotel.  I brought her to visit it for historical perspective but couldn’t imagine sleeping there again.  I love the place and enjoy talking to its ghosts, Dylan Thomas, Sid Vicious, Tennessee Williams and so many of the greats who died there.  The art collection that the proprietors accepted as payment from Jackson Pollock, Edward Hopper and others when they couldn’t make rent.  The old blind couple who’ve been living their since the days when Joseph Heller wrote Catch 22 in his apartment next door.  Maybe Paris has something similar but New York has the history of poor artists, writers, poets and others who made it big who, when poor, lived at the Chelsea Hotel.

I arranged to have our bags sent to another suite of rooms in a different part of town.  We need to stay one step ahead of Greenbacks and the militia from Freeman Scientology.  My old friend Myrna told me they wouldn’t come after New York but I reminded her that the value of her Brooklyn Heights co-op dropped when the twin towers were suddenly removed from the skyline.  “I guess it’s possible but I think it’s not going to happen,” she admonished, “Those guys sell a lot of product through Chuck and I don’t think he’s in on the world domination thing.”

I thought about it for a moment and, remembering a memo secreted out of OATS Corporation, I said, “New York is full of glass and the combination of smashing windows and humans usually results in new sales of blindness products.”

“Well…  Maybe but I usually get the gossip from the biz and haven’t heard anything about an attack on you and New York.”

“Maybe the information flows more slowly into Humidware?”


Teresa and I walked to the 22 nd St Subway stop over on 8th Avenue and hopped on the A train.  I couldn’t remember if Billy had written lyrics to the Ellington song so I just started humming it.  Then I stopped and wondered, “Am I humming Duke’s ‘Take the A Train’ or his later ‘Take the Coltrane’?”  I realized it didn’t matter and found that a couple of people near me started humming along.  Teresa added a Johnny Hodges sounding horn sound to the humming and we jammed our way uptown.

We got off in Harlem, a block or so from Clinton’s offices.  Satan and Adam jammed outside of a building across the street and I yelled a greeting.  When their song, “My Baby Done Changed,” ended, Adam yelled something about a party/jam and I yelled that I’d call him.

Clinton’s building made me nervous.  Its tres hip but much of West Harlem has become that way.  All of the secret service guys spook me out.  I never know which team they work for.  They searched me and my lovely Italian companion about as thoroughly as possible without doing an anal probe and, I think a few of them took some extra gropes at Teresa.  They cleared us and we got on the elevator where the attendant asked, “Y’all here to see da president?”

“Sure thing,” I replied and we rose to the floor where William Jefferson Clinton keeps his offices.  When we stopped on his floor, the elevator operator took his time opening the door and I remember that this is New York and that I should take care of him.  I pulled a twenty from my pocket and the elevator dude thanked me with a smiling “Thank you very much Mr. Blinko.”

I wondered how he knew my name but chose not to ask questions.  One of the former President’s flunkies came and walked us into his office where he had been waiting for us.

I had the great fortune of meeting Nixon once, my parents owned the condo upstairs from him and we shared an elevator.  Clinton, however, was the first ex-president I actually got an invitation to meet.

“Welcome to my new digs,” said the former president.  “Make yourselves at home.  We have coffee and Dunkin’ Donuts, lots of them so feel free to help yourselves.”

“It’s an honor to meet you Mr. President,” I said, “This is my friend Teresa.”

“And quite a ‘friend’ she must be,” said Clinton with a bit of a whistle in his voice.

Teresa went to the table at the side of the room and poured us coffee as I set up my recording equipment.  “You don’t mind if I record our conversation,” I asked.  

“Not at all, I have no secrets, hell, most of the world has heard conversations about my penis so what’s left to hide?”  Replied Clinton laughing.

Our official interview commenced as I took a bite from a jelly donut and sipped the coffee.  Moes serves much better coffee than Clinton; I made a mental note and started my questioning.

Gonz:  The war in Iraq and on terrorism seems to dominate the news, if you could have kept the presidency, what would you have done different?

Clinton: The Bush family doesn’t understand Islamic fundamentalists.  As late as April 2001, after I specifically warned him not to, George W. Bush, Bush the Lesser I like to call him, sent forty or fifty million dollars to help the Taliban buy weapons so they could fight the war on drugs.  A couple of months later, Colin, a real classy guy who never should have gotten so caught up with those extremely white people, announced that opium traffic from Afghanistan had decreased.  I called the White House, sat on hold for a half hour so George could finish his stationary bike ride, listening to really bad music on hold, we had rock and roll during my administration and told him that the Taliban had slowed the opium supply because the price of heroin had dropped and they wanted to get the price back up – basic supply and demand.

Gonz:  How did you learn that?

Clinton:  I don’t want to reveal my sources but, suffice it to say, that living in Harlem can provide better intelligence than the NSA sometimes.  

Anyway, he disagreed and told me to keep my mouth shut so I sat quietly up here in the hood while he sent money to Ben Laden.  The last thing I sent Osama came on the tip of a rocket and took out some of his assets in both Afghanistan and Africa.  Bush sent him and his crony’s money to buy guns, dopey fellow.

Gonz:  You were accused by the press and republicans of “wagging the dog” when you did that.

Clinton:  I might have waxed the dolphin and flogged the bishop but I never included Buddy in anything other than photo opportunities.  I tried to convince Monica, well; we needn’t go there but, let’s just say that I didn’t wag any dogs during my presidency.

Gonz:  So, what made you different on terrorism from Bush?

Clinton:  I’m a southerner and proud of it.  Bush is a Texan.  I brought real southern values to the White House and American foreign policy and Bush brought Texan values to the Oval Office.

Gonz:  Is there a difference?

Clinton:  To begin with, true southerners, male and female alike, value tail above everything else.

Gonz:  Tail?

Clinton:  Yeah, tail, poon, ass, flesh, buns, tits, whatever you wanna call it, we value it.

Gonz:  Isn’t that a bit sexist?

Clinton:  Maybe up here in New York where all of this political correctness reigns supreme but, in Arkansas, both men and women whoop and holler when something they consider a fine sample of the human form bends over in a tight pair of jeans or whips his or her shirt off.  Hell, Larry Flint, he’s a great southerner, Bush is a Texan.

Gonz:  What is it that Texans value?

Clinton:  Oil.  They’ll sell their mothers, sisters, anything for oil.  A lot of Islamic fundamentalists sit atop oil.  So, Bush senior, a real good guy, and his dopy son send money to appease these people to make sure we get their oil.

Gonz:  Isn’t oil more important to our economy than tail?

Clinton:  You damn white New Yorkers.  Go out here and ask any red blooded American in Harlem what he or she thinks is more important and you will quickly learn that my people would take a bit of ass anytime.

Gonz:  What does tail have to do with Islamic fundamentalists?

Clinton:  The first thing these Taliban did when they got control was to wrap all of the women up in those sheets.  Now, you go to Kabul and you can’t tell a hottie from something they sell at the 4H pig auction.  It’s horrible; they closed down the whorehouses, beheaded the proprietors and covered all of those hot Central Asian babes.  Hell, the Soviet invasion was the best thing ever to happen to that country.

Gonz:  Didn’t fellow southerner Jimmy Carter object to the Soviet invasion, canceled the Olympics and all?

Clinton:  Jimmy is a gentleman southerner.  He is not representative of real southerners.  If his brother Billy had been president and learned that the Islamic people fighting the Russians banned beer, he’d of sent a pile of whoop-ass to fight alongside the Russians to stomp out fundamentalism.  Beer, you see, is another major southern value.  Billy Carter understands the need for a regular flow of beer and he understands that Osama could stand between him and a six pack.  Add the lack of beer to the lack of nudie bars and we’re looking at a severe constraint of civil rights.

Gonz:  President Bush doesn’t drink.

Clinton:  I respect recovering alcoholics but W. did go to Hunter Thompson’s legendary 1972 Super Bowl party so he should appreciate the Beastie Boys right to party.

Gonz:  Are there any other basics of Islamic fundamentalism that fly in the face of American southern traditions?

Clinton:  Yeah, they have some bizarre belief that God hates dogs.  Every southerner, even the gentlemen like Jimmy Carter, have dogs.  Dogs are part of being southern, part of hunting and, because dog is God spelled backward, they have a definite relationship to the divine.  

Gonz:  I think the Bush family has some dogs.

Clinton:  But, as I said, they are Texan so they put oil before breasts, beer and a big old yellow dog sitting out on the porch.

Gonz:  Are there any other Texan values that would lend them to support Islamic ideals that would have been stopped by your southern values?

Clinton:  Yeah, the eat beef barbeque, which is pretty damn good but, we real southern folks know that pork barbeque reigns supreme.  Islamists don’t eat pork and smoked, salted, fried and especially barbeque are all southern sacraments.  The Catholics got wine and wafers; we southerners got beer, poon, pork and yellow dogs.  Bush doesn’t feel strongly enough about these major values that he lets himself get real close to the Saudi royal family, the Taliban and such.  I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t believe in the American Trifecta of Rolling Rock, Ribs, Rock and Roll, Tush and hound dogs.

Gonz: Isn’t a Trifecta three things?

Clinton:  I trust Jews and they skip the pork unless it’s in Chinese food so I figure I can trust any group that takes three out of the four.

Gonz:  Thank you very much Mr. President.

Clinton:  Good to have you.  Want to bring your luscious lady friend to the soul food place up the street for lunch, my treat?  Its pork chop and greens day.

We enjoyed our lunch with the ex president and his entourage.  The little restaurant was fun and everyone in there really loved Bill and treated him like an old friend.  I really think he was our first black president.

On the subway back to our new hiding place, I sang ZZ Top’s “Tush” at the top of my lungs.  Teresa laughed with a bit of a blush and everyone else stared at us like we were nuts.


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Six Months of Blind Confidential

Well, my friends, Blind Confidential has reached six months old and, excepting the period that I spent in guide dog school, it has presented the public with an average of five new items per week.  I’ve filled the archives with articles about technology, human factors, discrimination, politics, book reviews, rants, musings, essays and fiction.  I’ve enjoyed writing almost every piece and have definitely had a lot of fun with all of the feedback I’ve received posted on the blog or sent directly to me via email.  I even enjoy the hate mail as it informs and, sometimes, amuses.

Looking back to the morning in January when I sent a small set of friends an email announcing that Blind Confidential would go online and discuss matters of technology and other things I find interesting, I never expected I would grow a number of alter egos or write as much fiction as I have.  I had expected to receive much more content from other people to include here but, except for a couple of things sent by friends, almost all of the content here has come as a stream of consciousness off the top of my head, early in the morning while drinking coffee.

The process I use to write these pieces includes thinking up a topic, typically this comes to me the night before a post, mulling it over a bit, thinking of a few choice lines and, when I wake up in the morning, after feeding and draining the dogs, I sit down, open MS Word and start at the top and write until I feel I’m done.  The only editing I do includes spell checking and fixing really broken sentences.  Everything else remains “as is” and I kind of like the raw feel the pieces often have.  I didn’t want to turn Blind Confidential into a hardcore journalistic vehicle as I really don’t want to spend a lot of time checking facts and such.  The commentary form, along with personal essay, expository, rant and fiction provides me with more fun than would more well researched items.  Of course, I know I can count on BC readers to correct any glaring factual errors as well as provide me with an “in my face” opinion if they disagree with my articles.

On or around December 1, I will kick off  It will serve as a web site with pointers to all kinds of stuff and some content that I cannot discuss publicly at this time.  As we already own the domain, I thought I might start putting content there to fill the empty page.  It will include the date I expect it to go live but I’m not sure what else to put there.  One idea has been to put pointers to the “Best of Blind Confidential.”

I have a few items of which I am particularly fond, the “1986,” George Orwell parody, various Gonz Blinko pieces, the items about the neo-nazi group who killed the wrong guy (which I plan on merging into a single piece), “A Snowbird’s Tale,” the Sy. T. Greenbacks note to his investors and a few others.  If you have any nominations for the “best of” collection please send them along so I can put links to them on

I would like to take this opportunity to thank some of the other people who have helped BC become such a popular blog.  First, my friend in Manila, Roselle, from Code Factory, who edits the html to add links and such and provides me with daily feedback on my articles, Will Pearson for his frequent and very intelligent comments, Chairman Mal for his odd, gonzo weird, wild lefty statements and the guys at the BPP who, just by sending me emails, remind me that the radical fringe lives in the blindness community too.  I’d like to thank Joe Clark for being the nastiest man in Canada and, as a result, for generating traffic to BC that includes people who find him annoying but have become regular readers and RSS subscribers to this blog.  I’d like to thank Apple Computer for continuing to find a way to make themselves an easy target for cheap shots.  Lastly, I’d like to thank all of the people who have written to me confidentially delivering secrets from within the industry and keeping me up to date on AT gossip.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these articles as much as I have enjoyed writing them and that you will continue to come back to BC in the future.


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Diversity, Islam and Tolerance

I believe that most Blind Confidential readers can tell from the first six months of articles I’ve written here that I feel that diversity is very important to our culture and that everyone’s rights to free expression, worship, assembly, gender identity, write, speak, sing and dance, among other things, are inalienable and that the protections of our constitution are downright sacred as they were, after all, endowed by our creator.  My spiritual beliefs fall into a highly complex web of ecumenicalism and I won’t discuss them here today.  I do, however, find it very disturbing when the beliefs of a single religion hinder the rights of another group or individual to participate freely in an open society.

Many beliefs that come from all kinds of religions fall into the category of “common sense” and, thus, as they joined our culture as mores, they also enter our legal system without the burden of accusations that the rule comes from a specific belief system.  Thus, the fact that the phrase “Thou shall not kill,” comes from the popular monotheist traditions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, doesn’t mean that the laws against homicide deserve a challenge under separation of church and state.  I know, there exist certain belief systems that enjoy human sacrifice and such but I believe the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness trump the religious rights to rites of killing people, if you disagree, sue me.

Thus, when I read a piece in Blind News this morning describing discrimination against guide dog users by Islamic taxi drivers in Oslo Norway, I felt a decent level of indignation.  Norway, after all, represents openness and freedom.  King Christian of Norway, during Hitler’s reign of tyranny, saved many Jewish people from the death chambers.  Norwegians today have a happy democracy and, excepting their cultural fixation with eating whale meat, they represent one of the most open and liberal cultures on the planet.

Many immigrants to Norway, however, bring their Islamic beliefs with them.  “How come all taxi drivers and convenience store clerks come from foreign countries?”

“Because those are entry level jobs, the same reason it was your grandparents who built the railroad, you xenophobic jerk!”

This joke works in Norway as well as in the US where many entry level jobs, like driving a hack or picking crops fall to immigrants as the longer term residents don’t care to take such positions.  According to an article in the Brussels Journal, “In the city of Oslo, Norway… Muslims make up such a high percentage of cab drivers that it can be hard to obtain a taxi during Islamic holidays. Blind people with their guide dogs are finding it increasingly difficult to get a taxi ride, as demonstrated by a lady in the city of Drammen outside Oslo.”

I knew that many people in the Middle East dislike dogs but didn’t realize that there existed a quote in the Koran that actually says that designated dogs as unholy.  The article continues, “Dogs are considered extremely dirty animals in Islam and only permitted for certain limited uses, such as guarding your property. Two hadith, traditions relating to the words and deeds of Muhammad, state that: “The Prophet said, ‘Angels do not enter a house in which there is a dog or there are pictures’ and ‘Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) ordered the killing of dogs and we would send (men) in Medina and its corners and we did not spare any dog that we did not kill.'”

Previously, I thought this was a cultural and not a religious issue but, as the article states, “Grethe Olsen, accompanied by her guide dog Isak, experienced being rejected by no less than 21 taxis before finally getting a ride. Olsen thought the taxi drivers said no for religious reasons. The Norwegian Blind Association confirmed that this is a well known problem all over the country, especially in cities with many immigrants.”

So, does the right to freedom of religion trump that of a blind person to reasonable accommodations?

By no means do I think this question has a simple answer.  In the US, we have pharmacists who refuse to dispense certain “morning after” pills and “RU 486” (which to me always sounded like a 90s vintage PC) abortion pill because their belief systems equate using these drugs with homicide, the most fundamental way in which one’s civil rights can end suddenly.  I don’t want to wade into the abortion debate but in the US we have other examples where a belief system can trump a law that applies to the majority.

One of my all time heroes, Muhammad Ali, gave up the boxing title and a few years at the pinnacle of his career to stand for his pacifist beliefs.  The US Supreme Court agreed that Ali held deep beliefs and that he could choose not to participate in the Viet Nam War due to his ideals.  This rule has applied to Quakers, Amish and other groups who hold religious beliefs that prohibit one from participating in war, harming others, etc.

Even in prisons, the dietary requirements of the Old Testament are followed for Jewish prisoners and people who choose not to eat meat are fed vegetarian diets.  This may sound frivolous but to the believers in such faiths, dietary restrictions are extremely important.  I don’t think I can judge which religious freedoms (short of homicide, child abuse and the really ugly stuff) that should or should not be accepted in a free and diverse society.

Then, of course, we come to the borderline cases where the religious beliefs of one group may put another group into danger.  Often, in New England, where the population of Christian Scientists is fairly large, a controversy over immunization programs will arise and the courts will need to get involved to decide whether people who believe that only Jesus can heal and shun medicine entirely should be forced to have their children immunized against common diseases.  If the children do not get the shots, the probability of an epidemic increases; if they do, the rights of Christian Scientists are superseded by a decision of the local government.  I’m really happy I needn’t make such decisions as my personal anarchist side really clashes with my public welfare side in such cases.

Islam has taken quite a beating in western nations since the tragic 911 bombings.  None of my Moslem friends or colleagues support the radical form of Islam and can’t find where in the Koran such acts are endorsed.  In the same vein, though, many of my Christian friends accept science, astronomy, evolution, geology, etc. as taught by the mainstream scientific community so fundamentalist beliefs do not seem to be a requirement of major religions.

Unfortunately, prior to 911, the Bush administration really liked fundamentalist governments and, in April 2001, sent the Taliban $40 million in military aid to fight the war on drugs.  Silly us, we actually sent the Taliban $40 million to fight a war against the US but we needn’t go into that here.  The now deposed but still fighting fundamentalist Taliban regime found that its religious beliefs trumped nearly every civil right we accept as a birth right in the west.  But, because they first fought the Soviets and later we thought they took our side in the drug war, the US funded Ben Laden and the Taliban and treated them as friends.  

In the US, certain fundamentalist sects work hard to keep the teaching of evolution out of our text books or, at the very least, work to include completely untested and untestable hypothesizes in our schools that fit their religious beliefs.  These same people often work against legislation that supports civil rights, diversity, women’s rights and all sorts of things that people like me accept as inalienable.  We live in a democracy and such is the way of a freely elected government.

I must state, though, that my fundamentalist Christian friends seem far less violent than many Islamic fundamentalists around the world.  Yes, I know of some nutcases who bomb abortion clinics and do other crazy acts of domestic terrorism but these whackos represent a tiny minority of Christians in the US as the fundamentalists Moslems probably represent a small minority of Islamists in the world but many of the fundamentalist Moslems have taken control of large population centers and governments.

When the Vatican denounced “The Da Vinci Code” nobody died in riots.  A few cartoons published in a Scandinavian newspaper and all of a sudden, embassies start exploding.  My belief is that if you don’t like the message in a film, newspaper, cartoon or whatever, write a letter to its author, maybe even peacefully picket outside a place that shows it but killing people, rioting and blowing up buildings is absolutely out of proportion to an item that depicts your religion unfavorably.

Well, I’ve wandered all over today.  Returning to the topic, does a taxi driver’s religious belief trump a blind person’s right to public accommodations?  Please send me your comments as I, for one, don’t have the answer to troublesome questions like this.  I won’t, however, blow up any buildings to demonstrate my outrage at guide dogs being refused cab rides.



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Rules, Enforcement, Etc.

I haven’t much time to write today as I have a major proposal due to reviewers by Friday.  I did want to make a few quick points in light of yesterday’s post and various comments that people sent both publicly and privately.

Southeastern Guide Dog School is, in my mind, an absolutely wonderful institution and, someday in the future, when it’s time for me to get another dog, I will return to Palmetto (if they’ll have me ) and stay in their dormitory – odd rules and all.  I resided and learned to work a guide dog at Southeastern for nearly a month.  If you read through the message I posted yesterday, I stated that someone scolded me about three times and improvised on the reasons and weirdness of the concepts that formed the rules.

I do not feel that, in any way, the rules that we lived by at Southeastern were either draconian or exceptionally difficult to follow.  The staff, as I’ve pointed out in both of the Guide Dog School Chronicle pieces are an amazing group of people who deserve nothing but praise.  The food is good and we learn to handle our dogs very well.  Like any institution, Southeastern has its own set of rules and regulations.  They have their reasons for maintaining some rules and not others that may exist in other schools.  These rules were not “oppressive” nor did they cause any of us even a slight distraction from the task at hand – namely, learning to live and work with a guide dog.

Blind Confidential represents my weird and often distorted, cynical view of the world.  Thus, if I choose to riff on rules, the article will come out in a manner that focuses on the peculiarities thereof and will not contain many of the truly joyful moments we students had while at the school.  Regular readers should see that this device appears in my writing, personal non-fiction, essay, expository and fictional.  Please do not take the item I posted yesterday as a statement on the entirety of the experience at Southeastern as I’m fairly confident that, no matter what school I had chosen, I would have found a way of creating a “summer camp” story out of it and, what kind of letter from camp does not include fascist counselors?

So, when shopping for a guide dog school, please, include Southeastern in your list.  I had some fun with rules and regulations in yesterday’s article and, while there is truth in everything we might say, the “Are We Not Adults?” item intended to amuse far more than inform.  I apologize to anyone who took it too seriously.

On other fronts, I would like to thank the people on the blind programming list for giving me a few quick tips on using Visual Studio 2005 with JAWS 7.10.  I had been hacking furiously using the Express edition of VS and doing so successfully but, when I moved to standard, in order to build programs for WM5 devices, things started getting strange.  I haven’t had the time nor inclination to explore the VS DOM but I have been pondering making a self-voicing plug in for it so our friends who use screen readers other than JAWS can also use my work.  Of course, I have about a million projects on my list so this one probably won’t get done either…

— End

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Guide Dog School Chronicles II: Are We Not Adults?

Throughout my life, I have attended a lot of events that required living in a dormitory or hotel like situation.  I resided in dormitories for a while during college, I’ve attended a few million conferences filled with loads of other blinks staying in the same hotel, I went to YMCA summer camp and have attended various retreats, conventions and other gatherings where a bunch of we blinks had to live together.  

Never, however, before attending guide dog school, had I ever found myself in such a strict and structured environment.  As I mentioned in the first entry in my guide dog school chronicles on my arrival there, I feel that I do not have the vocabulary to praise the staff at Southeastern enough.  The crew there is, in my book, a bunch of fucking saints and deserves all of the respect and gratitude that I contain for their tremendous efforts.  The current staff, though, is not responsible for some of the weird rules that we blinks get scolded for breaking from time to time.

Southeastern established itself some time more than 40 years ago and, perhaps, back then, the people who wrote the rules did so as, being well meaning sighted folk, they felt we blinks might need extra protection from ourselves and each other.  This was also the period when Seeing Eye, up in New Jersey, required blinks to wear coats and ties to meals so as to learn social graces.  I’m told by friends who have attended virtually all other guide dog schools in the US that these rules are common to most if not all doggie schools so Southeastern is not unique in this, to me, bizarre tradition of treating blinks like children.

My upbringing and education taught me to question everything.  This belief system comes from the core of the scientific method and rose out of the philosophy of the enlightenment.  Hence, I don’t accept authority for authority’s sake and have spent many years in classrooms challenging concepts presented by teachers, professors and such.  As a manager, I would scold any staff member for not challenging an idea I would present if they saw a hole in my logic.  I believe in deferring to the expert and that one’s title does not mean that they know more about a specific topic than the most junior person on a staff.  At FS, our team worked in a highly integrated manner and nearly every engineer had his or her fingers in everyone else’s projects as they all brought different things to the table.  Thus, my acceptance of self governance, self guided experiences and personal accountability is endemic to my personality.  I am and will always be a personal anarchist.

Thus, when I received my first scolding, for using profanity, I thought the experience was quaint but weird.  When I received my second, for discussing Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and the civil rights of blinks to ride busses with our dogs, I found myself thoroughly puzzled.  When someone explained that we were not allowed to discuss politics or topics of controversy, I was stunned.  Aren’t we adults?  

Shortly after my controversial statements on civil rights (note, I didn’t think Martin or Rosa were controversial but this class did have a lot of students from the American south), I figured out why this rule applied: the LMR (loudmouth redneck) decided to present us with a monologue on how much of a non-racist he actually is and did so by using relatively racist statements which certainly offended me and likely offended others.  I apologized to the staff member who had scolded me as I realized I had started a situation that might be hard to control.

On the other hand, I’ve had all sorts of political discussions with blinks from all points on the belief spectrum at ATIA, CSUN and other conferences without anyone scolding me or the others involved in the debate.  All of the students were adults and I found a bit of discomfort being forced to avoid controversy.  At the same time, I understood how “difficult” topics could cause friction and, therefore, make the jobs of the staff even harder than they were at the outset.  Thus, I found myself in an intellectual quandary: does maintaining order and good will among the students trump our freedom to free and open discourse?

As someone told me that religion should also not be discussed, I avoided the topic.  Of course, how many ecumenical polytheists could there be in a group of 11 people at a guide dog school?  Hell, how many other students would understand my rather rare belief system?  I found one and that conversation came in private and included all kinds of topics and we agreed to keep this communication secret so as not to bring down the wrath of the censors.

My next scolding came when a staff member determined that I had a woman in my room.  Now, if this woman and I had met at an NFB convention while drinking alcohol (also prohibited at the school) and returned to one of our rooms and, consensually engaged in completely unspeakable acts, there would not have been an organizational problem.  Such behavior might cause personal trouble as I’m not certain how my wife would have reacted if such activities occurred and she learned about them but, even though we were not allowed to discuss such acts at the school, the woman and I are both in our mid-forties and if adultery is what we want, adultery is what we should get.  We are, after all, adults, if we were accused of “childrenery” that would make us perverts and criminals.  We were, for the record, sitting on opposite sides of the room, fully clothed and listening to the DVS of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” stream from the Freedom Box Network.  This woman was the first student to whom I introduced my wife and was my table mate at all of our meals.  Finally, I won’t flatter myself by assuming that this woman would have held any romantic thoughts about a crusty old nerd like me anyway.

Nonetheless, the staffer informed us that such behavior was prohibited as people (other students) might start rumors about us.  My friend and I decided to ignore this rule and, presumably, the staff assumed we were incorrigible and there is probably some kind of permanent mark on my record that will follow me for the rest of my life, just like the one I got for kissing a girl named Lois in the second grade.

I actually remember the last time I received a scolding for being with a girl, in a bedroom at a time that the authority figure found inappropriate.  It happened in the summer of 1972 and my friend Linda’s mom suggested that we would have more fun in the pool than in the bedroom.  Thinking back on that day, we did have more fun in the pool than the room and, had Southeastern a pool or hot tub, we might have been there instead of my room in the dormitory.

Back to the core topic, though, I was 12 years old when Linda’s mom suggested we play Marco Polo instead of Truth or Dare.  I would turn 46 two weeks after being admonished for having a woman in my room at guide dog school.  Once again, though, I can see the logic to this rule (this is probably the nastiest thing about being me – I can often see both sides of everything and tear myself apart trying to decide which way I should fall).  In this case, nasty rumors might have made my guest uncomfortable or, more aptly, may have resulted in other students treating us poorly out of some kind of jealousy.  We certainly didn’t want to disrupt the dynamic between the students but hanging out with a friend to listen to a movie is probably an inalienable right, isn’t it?  We would have even have left the door open if it would have been possible to hear our movie over the constant drone of the LMR.

I guess this essay points to a weird aspect of my personality that I do not know exactly how to feel.  I find that a set of rules to maintain order among adults rather insulting to our ability to act like adults.  I also find that rules that only apply to blind students that get enforced entirely by sighted people to rub me poorly.  Such rules never applied in dormitories when I went to college, certainly do not apply at conferences and conventions and, to my knowledge, have not applied to me in any situation since that day in August 1972.

Thus, I find myself torn between ideals like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and the need to maintain order in the already difficult situation that is a guide dog school.  Deconstructing the situation, we have two trainers assigned full time per class, one house mother and a handful of other staffers.  These people are charged with the task of training, in our case, 11 blinks to use guide dogs.  Each of these 11 blinks comes packing their own pile of fears, doubts and insecurities.  The trainers also come with their own personalities which deserve the respect of the others.  We students can place tremendous demands on the staff which will certainly cause them a lot of stress.  At the same time, we blinks are confined to a dormitory with a bunch of people we don’t know, have just received a new animal who will become an integral part of our lives for years to come and, consequently, feel enough anxiety to blow the roof off the building.

So, I can’t say I know the right answer.  Should rules that seem appropriate for a cub scout camp apply to adult guide dog school students?  Quite frankly, I’m glad I don’t have to answer this question and that I don’t run a guide dog school.  Obviously, the anarchist in me says let blind adults live like adults.  The organizational behavior side of me says that such rules are necessary lest the stress, which already reaches peaks that bring many students to tears, completely overload everyone involved.


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New and Improved?

Constantly, the advertising world reminds us that some manufacturer has put out a “new and improved” version of their product.  Marketing firms and companies alike use this device to sell us everything from toothpaste to soap powder to automobiles to screwdrivers to software.  If I remember correctly, George Carlin once said something like, “Everything today is ‘new and improved,’ so, what were we using before, ‘old and shitty?’”

I’ve written in this blog about the SMA being the arbitrage of the AT industry.  As consumers, we buy an SMA because we choose to wager that the “new and improved” version of a product we use will actually do a better job than the one we have today.  I would like the readers of BC to comment if they think they have won this wager with recent releases of the products they use.  You can comment here anonymously or send me an email from which I will quote in the future.

I’ve recently found a number of upgrades disappointing.  The software upgrade to the Bose Lifestyles stereos no longer support the model I own so my “free” upgrade software DVD contains nothing of value to me.  Various “upgrades” to web sites I use have contained accessibility setbacks so, while they may work better for sighted people, I removed them from my list of favorites as I can’t use them as conveniently anymore.

As all of my readers know, I need to use AT to do my job.  Without providing specific details, suffice it to say that, the recent versions of programs I use professionally, MS Word, MS Outlook, MS Visual Studio .Net and others no longer work as well with the AT I own than they once did.  

I can hear the vendors of various AT products preparing their emails to me suggesting that I switch to their product.  I suppose that U. Florida, my employer, would make proper accommodations and buy me every AT product so I can switch back and forth depending upon which works best with the specific application I need to use at any given moment.  Of course, this means that I need to learn a pile of different user interfaces or customize the various accessibility tools to holy hell so I can feel comfortable in each.

Also, in previous Blind Confidential articles, I’ve written about how hard it is for an AT company to keep up with the constant flow of new releases from the mainstream.  Clearly, mainstream companies aren’t testing their new releases with AT as the new usability problems wouldn’t exist if they had.  Or, on the other hand, maybe the mainstream companies do test against AT and the AT vendors ignore the reports they get from such test frameworks.  As I’m no longer an insider and haven’t been for 19 months, I can’t really comment on this.

Frankly, I don’t know what to do.  I can, of course, use programs like Visual Studio in its command line mode and use a text editor that works better with AT.  Should this be considered a “reasonable” accommodation?  If I can’t use the debugger properly am I on a reasonable level playing field with my sighted colleagues?  

I will certainly find a work-around to get the tasks accomplished.  Can I send the bill to the AT vendors for the time I lose to fixing their broken software?  What about just for finding ways to avoid bugs and failures that weren’t there in previous versions of the products?

I’ve, in these pages, argued that AT should remain separate from the OS, I’ve put my neck on the line to say that the AT companies have the needs of its users in mind more so than do OS vendors.  I’ve used the examples of VoiceOver and the various blindness related products for gnome as examples of partial solutions and have applauded the Windows AT vendors for providing increasingly strong support for professional applications.  Today, however, I wonder if the AT biz has reached the point of diminishing returns where staying current with the mainstream applications AT users need in their jobs and studies has become impossible.  One recent screen reader announces in its new features list that it now supports Windows Media Player 10, which is nice except that MS has already been pushing the Windows Media 11 product.

Do the AT companies invest enough in remaining current?  As I am on the outside, I cannot answer this question either but there is something very wrong when an “update” contains more setbacks than advances.


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Walgreen’s, Jobs and People with Disabilities

Here’s an article from another blog about jobs and people with disabilities.  This is a good news story so I thought I should repost it here.  It also makes me happier about being a Walgreen’s customer.

The Fred’s Head Companion.

Walgreens has launched an innovative initiative to hire people with
disabilities at its distribution center in Anderson, S.C. and is recruiting
a specially-designed Website.
describes jobs available at the Walgreens distribution center and is
designed to be accessible by people with sensory, physical and cognitive
The center has begun pre-hire training and will open in 2007. Initially,
Walgreens will hire more than 200 employees with plans to ramp up to more
600 employees. Walgreens goal is to have at least one-third of the workforce
consist of employees with a variety of disabilities working in a
team. This “real work for real pay” environment will be competitive
employment in which performance standards must be maintained. Job openings
at the Anderson
distribution center include a number of management positions.
provides information to help potential employees understand what work will
be like at the distribution center. The site incorporates audio messages,
video and a large-print text option to depict jobs and worklife at Anderson.
The site also is designed to be accessible to blind and low vision
who use screen reader technology.

Knowing the difficult challenges faced by people with disabilities who want
to work, Walgreens designed the Web site to address concerns such as
housing and the impact of gainful employment on Medicaid, SSI or SSDI

Hopefully, this will be a start to Walgreens making their entire employment
areas accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. There are
jobs that we can do if given the chance. Walgreens are everywhere and so are
blind people. I’m hoping that Walgreens will expand this site to cover all
their stores and employment opportunities in the future.

For more information, contact:

Carol Hively
Walgreens Corporate Communications
Phone: 847-914-2923
More information on Walgreens is available at

posted by Michael McCarty

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