Casual Listening

“If you don’t know where you are going any road will take you there…”  – Alice In Wonderland.

I have had the misfortune of  having had to spend most of the past week sick at home with a very nasty bit of digestive illness.  I have kept myself occupied in a variety of manners but, as I have felt weak and tired for most of the time, I have tried to address my boredom with a bit of passive   listening to cable news channels.  This excursion into the intellectual wilds of mainstream American culture has provided me with an anthropological view of the fear and loathing to which our once and perhaps future great nation has fallen.  Maybe Hunter saw all of this coming and felt unable to take yet another savage journey in search of the country’s lost dream.

In this blog yesterday, I described some of the total sense of weirdness that had washed over me – the early symptomsof an  excessive bout of  Marshalla  McLuhan style casual cable news viewing .  This morning the curious and curiouser, the weird and weirder  all seem to remain on the normal side of the looking glass and I  have definitely fallen into a whole new  psychotropic rabbit  hole in the  fabric  of bizarre.

I’ve followed politics as sport for much of my life.  I enjoyed the great political maneuvers by campaigns like Reagan 1980 in which Lee Atwater took a guy associated   with the lunatic fringe and  convinced us all that he was really the grand pop we all loved.  An equal level of skill goes to the brilliant Clinton machine in 1992 who took every imaginable scandal and made it look like kids pulling the hidden ball trick in little league – now you see it, now you don’t.  Both of these guys drew comparisons with teflon and managed to spend two terms of abuse hurled at them without crumbling.

On the other side of the scoresheet,  the 1996 Michael Dukakis and 2000 Al Gore campaigns could probably not have been executed more poorly – or at least I thought this until I spent a week listening to white people shouting at each other about election 2008 and the McCain organization.

The Dukakis campaign got derailed  by Willy Horton race baiting and their own LSD inspired  images of the Massachusetts Governor  playing soldier with a Pee Wee Herman inspired helmet on his undersized frame.   Can anyone remember how many violent felons got parole from the Federal system during the Reagan/Bush years?  Of course not, John Sasso let the punch land without a counter  – game, set, match Atwater.

On Thursday afternoon, the Drudge (it rhymes with sludge) Report broke the harrowing story of a young white woman who had allegedly  suffered a horid assault by a “six foot, four inch black man” who beat her, sexually abused  her, gave her a black eye and, most strangely of all, “carved a backwards letter B on her face.”  My loyal readers, in my most gonzo moods I cannot even start to imagine anything as disturbing as this item repeated over and over on cable news.  By yesterday evening, though, the woman apologized for inventing the story (in the reality of 2008, it wasn’t actually obvious on the outset that shit of this quality weirdness doesn’t actually occur in the  stream of possibilities) and Pittsburg news channels reported that the McCain Pennsylvania communications director had shopped the story all over town before the police had released the original report.  The Obama campaign didn’t even need to respond to this one as it fell right into the bag like a soccer goalie accidentally kicking the ball into his own net.

The Al Gore campaign in 2000 did its best to distance itself from the very popular horndog William Jefferson Clinton.  Clearly, the Gore people forgot that Slick Willy still held the hearts of a nation of screw-ups and conceded  the quickie sex vote to the weed whacking Bushniks.  While W. remains massively unpopular,  Senator McCain has decided, after voting to support the president 90% of the time over the past eight years to suddenly attack the guy.  Again, the Obama people need only sit back and grin on the television while the Arizona Senator places the pistol in his mouth and counts down the final ten days until the actual election.

Even worse than the miserable campaign efforts by Dukakis and Gore, the McCain team rises to new heights in public incompetence .  While Clinton dealt with a scandal per week or so back in ’92, Team McCain/Palin now appears to manage a new one on an hourly basis and critics said there wouldn’t be enough content for the 24 hour news cycle.

If any of the following didn’t actually happen, please write to me as I may have slipped into some kind of paranoid flashback and perhaps my twisted mind is generating false memories again:

Last night, MSNBC played a tape of Joe “Not the Plumber” McCain calling 911 in Northern Virginia to complain about traffic.  When the emergency operator suggested this didn’t rise to the level of an actual emergency he told them to “fuck off.”  As it is a crime to abuse the 911 system, the operator returned the call and left a voice mail for Joe “The Serious Dumb Ass”  McCain warning him of this little fact.  To prove that he can outdistance even Billy Carter or Bubba Clinton in idiotic sibling statements, Joe returned the call to scold the 911 people.  Again, even Lewis Carroll couldn’t make this kind of stuff up no matter how much opium he had sprinkled into his oatmeal.

We learned yesterday that the McCain /Palin campaign  paid the Alaska governor’s hair stylist more than twice the compensation received by their top foreign affairs  advisor.  They are relly the gang that can’t find a priority when it, like say the stock market, comes crashing down on them.

Rush Limbaugh, the big fat idiot of a conservative commentator yesterday announced that he didn’t actually believe that Senator Obama was visiting his sick grandmother on her death bed in Hawaii but, rather, had traveled to the Sensamilla State for some secret and nefarious reason.  With friends like these, can McCain afford an enemy?  Even Sy T. Greenbacks has more of a heart than the obese junky over in Miami.

Typical of himself, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly fell into a paranoid ranting about the Neilson ratings, the New York Times, General Electric and the Obama campaign all conspiring to make his show seem less popular than it really is.  Huh?  While I know there is an international conspiracy against my own personal happiness, I have never grown as delusional as Mr. Fair and Siriously Unbalanced or Off of His Meds Again. 

Keep in mind my friends, all of this happened yesterday.  Dukakis and Gore had bad campaigns, Reagan and Clinton had bad weeks, these guys can’t go more than a few hours without planting a designer Italian pump straight into a bucket of pre-digested liquid protein.

On the other side of the ticket, Congressman John Mirtha, elected 17 times by the people of Western Pennsylvania  pronounced that the people in that region tended to be racists.  Not to miss a chance at a blunder, Senator McCain stood before a large crowd and said, “The Democrats are saying bad things about the people of Western Pennsylvania and I couldn’t agree with them more,” I think I heard him unclick the safety on the pistol in his pie hole.

Senator Joe “Not the Plumber” Biden couldn’t keep his hooves out of his mouth and decided to announce to anyone listening that an Obama election would probably bring on an international event  of Cuban Missile Crisis proportions.  His statement, without editing or much augmentation is now running as a McCain campaign commercial.

Meanwhile, Governor Palin was deposed by a Special Prosecutor in the “Troopergate” investigation she ordered on herself.  At least Clinton could blame AG Reno for his special prosecutors but inviting an investigation of oneself while in the heat of a national campaign is unprecedented.  Then again, James Michael Curly was once reelected as mayor of Boston while in jail for graft so, who knows, maybe a bit of nostalgia for criminal despotism has come into fashion.

Upon rereading this piece, I still struggle to believe all of it.  Hell, believing any but the historical references is nearly impossible.  Could it, did it all happen in a single week on cable news?  To paraphrase George “THe Real President” Clinton, have they made thinking illegal yet?


Another thing that popped out as I reread this piece is the real clever sort of rhyme I attempted near the start of the item  between the name McLuhan and the word viewing will be lost on people reading this essay with a speech synthesizer or at least the Alex voice on a Macintosh.  For thos who do not know him, Marshall McLuhan was the father of “media science,” the person who coined the term “global village” and provided us with the most important criticism of television in his 1960s masterpiece, “Casual Viewing.”  His last name  is pronounced mick clue in  which would rhyme with a slurred “view in” version of viewing.  I had found a really cute intellectual nerd bit of word play and, sadly, it will be lost on the majority of BC readers.

— End

Subscribe to the Blind Confidential RSS Feed at: Blindconfidential

Too Weird – Even For Me

After reading the Hunter S. Thompson classic, “Fear and Loathing on Campaign Trail ’72,” South Dakota Senator George McGovern (the Democratic candidate that year for those of you too young or too ignorant to remember) described the book as “the least factual but most truthful piece ever written about a political campaign.”  I didn’t fact check this quote and heard it from a medical doctor friend of mine in the Bronx so it may not actually have been McGovern who said it but someone else from his organization and it is at best paraphrased but the sentiment remains honest.


George McGovern and Hunter Thompson are two of my lifelong heroes.  McGovern is still alive and kicking and made a terrifically funny guest on NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” a month or two back.  Very sadly, Doctor Thompson is not with us to help guide America through Election 2008 and the absolutely bizarre events surrounding it.


If you, my loyal readers hadn’t noticed, I have spent a lot of my life diving into the weird and weirder.  This election, the cable channels, the events and nearly everything surrounding it makes me feel like I’ve been on a serious acid binge since this year started.  Is the shit we hear on Fox, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, PBS, ESPN actually true?  Could it possibly be true?


Back in the spring of this year, we Floridians learned that we had elected half delegates to the Democratic convention and no one quite knew what the Republicans had decided to do with the sunset state.  This god forsaken sandbar had found itself in the limbo of democracy’s purgatory when it generally cares much more about limbo dancing than current events.  We knew the recount disaster in 2000 had tossed us into permanent ridicule but what exactly is a half delegate?  Did we send midgets or did we slice them vertically?


Has the McCain campaign selected “God Dress America” as its new campaign song? I enjoy shopping with my girlfriends as much as the next metrosexual and probably could figure out how to spend $150,000 of someone else’s money on clothing in a couple of months if I fell into an espresso driven manic buying binge but did the RNC think they could turn around our entire economy by injecting such a pile of cash into the retail sector?


On a serious note, the ADA Restoration Act came to a vote in the US Congress.  Senators Obama, McCain and Biden neglected to show up to vote on it.  Governor Palin probably never heard of it.


Maybe hanging out with domestic terrorists gives Obama a leg up on dealing with those abroad as he probably used the experience to learn how such people think.  Also, can anyone tell me that Senator McCain and the sexy Alaskan governor aren’t being supported by those who blow up abortion clinics and hang around with the KKK?  I’m not asserting that right wing nutcases are any more messed up than a bunch of college kids who blew as many of themselves up as they did their targets but the seriously fucked up span the political spectrum in this great nation.


Where are the Hell’s Angels on all of this?


Did anyone else realize that the last time the Republicans won a presidential election without a member of the Bush family or Nixon on the ticket was in 1928 the lead in year to the last great depression?


How much chronic had Alan Greenspan smoked before testifying this week?  Did he sound stoned or was it just me?


Where do real Americans live?  Based upon the comments of various political operatives, I want to avoid these places at all costs.


I really need old Raoul Duke to sort all of this out for me.


— End

Subscribe to the Blind Confidential RSS Feed at: Blindconfidential

Death of a Lightweight

I had planned on doing a few more articles in the Eating an Elephant series by now but, although the second entry is mostly complete, I’m holding back so I can better vet the article and fact check a number of things I say on which I am slightly uncertain.  “Oh no,” cries the reader, “BlindChristian actually practicing journalistic integrity?”


Since I started BC more than two and a half years ago, I have maintained a very high level of intellectual honesty using the creative non-fiction format.  Like some of my literary heroes, Thompson, Didion, Breslin, Sheehey, Capote and other practitioners of the “new journalism” who don’t let the facts get in the way of the truth, I would write my entries off the top of my head, post them mostly without edits or fact checks and post corrections when they are brought to my attention.  I think I’ve gotten most things right in the non-fiction essays but, as I haven’t checked, I’m not certain how accurate all of the details within this blog may or may not be.


Now, I’m moving into a different part of my career and am currently in discussions with a publisher about writing a real book on some access technology issues.  So, to start practicing for writing a real work of non-fiction of real world publication quality, I’m going to vet all non-fiction BC articles that contain “factual” information after this one goes up.  Obviously, fiction, gonzo journalism and purely opinion pieces will not receive the same rigors as those that claim to be truthful.


This will also probably be the last BC article written on my trusty 2005, Windows XP Toshiba laptop currently running a number of different screen readers as serve my specific needs at any given moment or for any specific task.  Future BC items will be composed and posted from my Macintosh which has become my primary portable computer.  The next Elephant installment will contain lots about the Macintosh with VoiceOver and the vast majority of my opinions are very positive.


As a bit of sneak preview, I go all the way in the next Elephant piece to embrace Peter Korn’s long held belief that API driven AT will become superior to the screen scrapers of the past.  To wit, as I predicted, the first two Windows screen access utilities to support 64 bit Vista come from Serotek and NVDA – access utilities that gather most, if not all,  of their information through published API.  Also, it is a widely held belief that running a screen access program will insert a level of instability into a system.  Once again, Peter was correct in his assertion that a published API method of gathering information would make this go away and, what proved this to me, was that I was able to run my Macintosh for four and a half consecutive weeks without restarting or rebooting and it may still be running cleanly but I had to reboot to install some software updates from Apple which ended the valid portion of the stability streak.  I cannot recall running a Windows machine with a screen reader for much more than six or seven hours without needing to restart.  I cannot comment on Orca as I don’t run it often enough to gather either anecdotal or solid data.


Returning to the titular subject of this essay, I now must bid farewell to my trusty Toshiba laptop named Sea Trout on our home network.  This PC has served me well through thick and thin but it is definitely time to bring it to the vet and let it pass onto the next state of existence.  This laptop has been dropped, kicked, sat upon, traveled all around the world a few times and has seen about as much physical abuse that a PC can handle.  The power jack in the back of the laptop has gotten so bent out of shape that I need to use a bit of duct tape to keep the cord from falling out.  Two of the four USB ports have been crushed by having been dropped with things plugged into them so many times.  Even though I bought a new battery in July, for no reason I can explain, it still gets very poor battery life (this may be correctable with power settings in Windows).  Finally, it has cracks, chips and a video display which seems to lose its mind from time to time – screen readers work fine but Susan, my lovely wife of 21 years, tells me that the visuals get garbled.


I will be spending some time backing up files that reside on this machine that may not have been back up before to my Apple Time Capsule (a very cool device).  Then, I will have to decide what to do with this old clunker.  If anyone has a good reason for needing a mostly usable old laptop I’ll give it away for a $20 contribution to Southeastern Guide Dogs plus shipping.  It’s probably not worth $20 but SEGD is a really good charity and I would urge everyone to send them some money now and then.


I would recommend that the recipient of this old monster reformat and reinstall an OS (it will probably run a GNU/Linux distribution very well and it still works pretty well in XP) otherwise, it might make a good little box for a child as there is a good probability that it’s been broken enough that a kid can’t hurt it much more.


So, if you want the original home of BC, please send me a note telling me what you hope to do with it and I will use my highly subjective opinion on who should get it. 



Subscribe to the Blind Confidential RSS Feed at: Blindconfidential

Eating an Elephant – Part I

On some days I feel tremendously optimistic about the general state of accessibility as it relates to people with vision impairment.  Other times, I step back and take a broader view of the problem and feel that those of us who work to increase accessibility make up a very small group of people who, in the proverbial sense, team up to attempt to eat an entire elephant using only 7-Eleven issue plastic sporks.  From month to month and year to year many of us benefit from the incremental progress made to improve accessibility but, at some instances, it feels like we will never make it to the promised land of a fully equitable world for people with disabilities.


Over the past few days, I have thought a lot about eating the elephant and certainly enjoy many of the bites we take but often feel overwhelmed by the task that faces us as we march into the future.  Years ago, when I worked at Freedom Scientific, Glen Gordon, one of the smartest technical minds in the AT biz, would listen to me complain about how something or another had poor accessibility and he would remind me that the overall situation has improved greatly over the past ten, fifteen, twenty years.  I would see the whole elephant and grow discouraged, Glen would enjoy the bites we had taken and, as he had much greater history in this area than me and could see the totality of the progress made in a historical framework which demonstrates that the difference between today and even the decade since I started looking at these issues is terrific and we people with vision impairment can enjoy quite a lot more than we could in 1998.  Thus, looking back, I feel the optimism and a little pride in the contributions I’ve made in these past ten years.


On the other hand, when I watch my wife perform tasks similar to those that I do on a daily basis, when I realize just how much faster and with a much higher degree of certainty she can do things, I find myself looking at the entire elephant and only see that we’ve finished eating a few toes and a little bit of the tail.


The elephant includes but is not restricted to technology and the accessibility thereto.  The entire problem certainly includes technology and that is the milieu in which I contribute but we need also include transportation, access to print materials, travel, dining, non-technical aspects of our homes and workplaces, general conveniences and many, many more subgroups where the notion of accessibility plays a role.


In today’s essay, I will discuss some areas where I feel tremendously optimistic, others where I feel encouraged by progress and still others that represent the enormous part of the elephant we haven’t even started cooking let alone eating.


In the twenty or so years in which I have used various talking book services, both those dedicated to people with print impairments and commercial ventures like, I have enjoyed watching availability to such materials increase dramatically and I also like the speed of which accessible books become available much more now than ever.


I find to represent one of the most exciting developments of this period.  Hundreds, maybe thousands of volunteers scan books, fix up the quality and place them into the BSO library while the terrific staff under the leadership of the frenetic genius of Jim Fruchterman adds more and more titles in an industrial manner.  Less popular books make it to the BSO library as it only takes one or two people with a scanner, OCR program and PCs to care to add it to the library to make it so.  Thus, dilettante members of the literati like me can enjoy volumes of literary criticism while others, for example, might prefer real hard core science fiction which rarely makes the popularity cut used by groups who use a more formal process to determine which items should be added to their library.  This combined staff and volunteer approach creates a tremendous balance between the nearly anarchistic tastes of the target audience while ensuring access to important instructional materials for students who need them.



Meanwhile, the digital download portion of NLS provides an an ever growing and excellent collection of titles with professional readers.  RFB&D continues to expand its already impressive library and other projects like Web Braille and Project Guttenberg continue to provide very cool materials in a consistently valuable  manner.


It also should be mentioned that many public libraries around the US and the rest of the world have computers available for their visitors and some systems have access technology on these machines and those that do not can be accessed with System Access to go by a person with vision impairment.  Thus, people who cannot afford their own PC or other bit of machinery to use to access accessible materials can do so in many of these libraries.  Most of the accessible library, Internet café and computing lounges around the world emerged in the past decade and, excepting fallout from the current economic crisis, I do not see this trend slowing at all.


Accessibility to computing machinery continues to improve each year but, sadly, does not always keep up with the pace of mainstream consumer electronics products.  For instance, our friend Jamal Mazrui recently posted to the blind programmer mailing list that he had trouble buying a new desktop at Best Buy.  Jamal, unquestionably one of the most advanced users in our community went to the big box store with a list of requirements that would work for a person with vision impairment.  If I remember correctly, he wanted a reasonably fast processor, a ton of RAM, a quick hard disk, a good audio system, wireless networking and a few other odds and ends.  Jamal didn’t care about a real kicking video adapter or other components that make gaming and more advanced multi-media functionality possible.  Jamal also chose to use the Best Buy Geek Squad service to bring his new machine to his home and install it and the wireless network.


When Jamal’s new computer arrived, the kid from Geek Squad set it up, got the wireless network working and waited as Mr. Mazrui tried to install a Windows screen reader.  To his shock and dismay, Jamal learned that none of the major commercial Windows screen readers worked with his new box because it came with a 64 bit version of Vista preinstalled on it.  Trying to solve the problem, the Geek Squad guy called the store and found that the very middle of the road big box store no longer sold anything with a 32 bit OS included.


Over the past few months, we’ve heard a lot of pretty cool stuff from GW Micro, including its scripting facility, first to market with iTunes support and some other doo dads that impressed those of us who follow this stuff pretty closely.  FS has done some nifty things with its 10.0 release, including knocking off the System Access feature that provides the user with the ability to control a remote computer if it has JAWS installed on it and what I have heard but haven’t had time to try is a really excellent set of improvements to its support of Firefox, Aria, iAccessible2 and Web 2.0 content.  Meanwhile, the Serotek guys continue to make highly innovative improvements to System Access without charging their installed base for upgrades.  Unfortunately, none of these Windows screen readers work in the 64 bit version of Vista which seem like the only one sold off-the-shelf at the mainstream consumer electronics stores.


An excellent bit of news, however, comes from the guys who make NVDA as they have grown into the only Windows screen reader that runs under the 64 bit operating system.  So, while I’m encouraged by improved accessibility to Windows, I get grumpy over the lag between mainstream progress and that which we PWVI can access.



I am very optimistic about the progress I’ve seen in VoiceOver and Orca on Macintosh and GNU/Linux respectively.  VoiceOver worked immediately when Apple moved to the 64 bit version of OSX and continues to impress me on a daily basis with how well most OSX applications work with the newcomer to the screen reader market.  The same can be said for Orca which moves forward at a pace far more rapid than that of the more established screen readers on the Windows platforms.


I’ve also been happy to see companies like Apple with its latest iPod and Olympus with some of its digital recorders/media players start adding accessibility features to mainstream devices.  I expect to see much more of this from a much broader range of manufacturers in the recent future.  These developments are certainly very tasty bites of our elephant dinner.


Looking at the entire elephant, however, means we must explore accessibility outside of the pure technology arena.  As independent people with vision impairment, we need to deal with lots of low tech situations that cannot always be remedied with high tech solutions.  I’m writing this essay on an old Toshiba laptop plugged into the AC outlet on the dashboard on the Toyota Matrix we own.  I have JAWS running at the moment but, if I need or want to , I can switch to Window-Eyes or SA as I’ve both of them installed on this clunky old PC.  Thus, I can use Microsoft Word to compose an essay in the car but I cannot navigate the menus on our XM satellite radio or do terribly much to adjust the climate in the vehicle or, without launching one of the accessible GPS programs I have, get a good idea of where we are and how much further it will be until we reach Savannah where we will stay the night.


Traveling in general represents a whole bunch of accessibility challenges.  Few airports provide relief areas for service animals that do not require leaving the security area and being rescanned on the way back in.  If one is traveling far and has relatively short times to switch planes, one’s animal can grow very uncomfortable and, in some rare cases poop right in the terminal. .  [Note: X-Celerator has only crapped in one airport and I think he may have been making a statement on the overall experience of Atlanta/Hartsfield as it is, for man and beast alike, one of the least pleasant buildings on this continent.]


Most hotels provide rooms that they claim provide universal accessibility.  Unfortunately, lowering the bar on which one can hang clothing, putting in a roll in shower and roll under sink, adding flashing light fire alarms and a few other alterations that intend to accommodate people with mobility impairments and do a little for people who cannot hear provide nothing useful for blind people and, even more so, sometimes make the room less comfortable as it contains a lot of variation from the standard hotel room to which many of us have pretty well memorized.


There are a number of things that a hotel can add at relatively low cost that will actually make a guest with vision impairment considerably more comfortable.  These include such simple things as a large print and Braille channel guide for the television.  A tactile map of the remote control would be nice too.  Maybe a tactile way to tell between the real and decaf coffee in the room.  There are lots of talking thermostats available and none cost too much.  A tactile/large print guide to the telephone would be nice too.  None of these items need be placed in a room in advance of of a blind person’s arrival, they can simply be handed to the blink when she checks in and it can be returned at check out time (I suppose this isn’t true for the thermostat but maybe that can be made in a modular enough manner that it can easily be swapped in or out as needed).


Hotel housekeeping personnel should learn that, if a guest self identifies as having a vision impairment, they should do their best to return objects to the place where they had been when the guest put them down.  At a Ritz Carlton in DC once, I had to call the front desk to send someone up to my room to find almost everything whose location I cared to know every time I came back to my suite.  After a couple of days and my repeated requests to the Ritz concierge they finally caught on that I didn’t want to go on a scavenger hunt to find my shampoo every time I wanted to take a shower.  The Ritz Carlton chain, with its $850 per night charges, can become very accommodating very quickly but standard Red Roof Inns or other low cost roadside attractions have far less careful employees who never seem to have a clue.


Some hotels have rooms that have windows that face into a courtyard or atrium.  When I enter such a room I pull the curtains shut as I can’t see out and I’d usually prefer that no one can see in and, even more so, I presume that few people on the outside want to look at me.  Inevitably, a hotel housekeeping person will reopen the curtains and I will forget to check their status when I take a shower.  Thus, I will reenter the main part of the room naked and cause people on the outside to see a nude dude when they didn’t care to.  I’d be most afraid of this if I stayed in a hotel like the one in Toronto that faces into the baseball stadium.  I can’t imagine that 60,000 Canadians want to see me in the raw.


Public transportation in the US is, in most places, too poor to even warrant discussing.  I am, however, on my way back from Boston to our home in Florida.  Hence, I’m leaving a public transit Mecca to return to a god forsaken sandbar which boasts a mediocre bus system that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere I want to be.


The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA called the T by locals) provides a tremendous level of accessibility to nearly every place in the immediate Boston metropolitan area.  X-Celerator and I traveled independently on three different subway lines, a handful of busses and enjoyed the pedestrian friendly environment at our destinations.  New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Portland and a few other forward thinking locales have systems that range from very good to excellent but the vast majority of our nation looks at pedestrians as freaks and feels that reducing greenhouse gasses by using mass transit is akin to converting their entire population into atheistic communists.


Even in pedestrian very friendly places like Cambridge, MA (across the river from Boston) much can be done to improve the accessibility of the sidewalks.  People who use wheeled mobility for transportation got blended sidewalks to provide better access for their use well before anyone realized that highly blended sidewalks are a hazard for blind people and also cause really bad puddles to form on rainy days.  So, to mitigate these problems, the city has started to install “foot Braille” but seemingly in random locations and blinks cannot count on their being everywhere.  Cambridge has also put in beeping traffic lights at some intersections but as this is also inconsistent one cannot count on their being present.


Brookline, Massachusetts has talking traffic lights which are just different enough to those that beep to cause confusion.  I would have hoped that the region could have gotten together to roll out a consistent set of these aids in the entire area covered by the MBTA.


It seems that an increasingly large number of restaurants, especially major chains like Ruby Tuesday’s, Hard Rock Café, Applebee’s, TGI Fridays and their equally mediocre analogues that line the roadsides of generica have started offering Braille menus.  A personal pet peeve is triggered when a server asks a sighted companion, “would he like a Braille menu?” which often causes me to blurt out, “I’m not fucking deaf!” which usually makes me feel bad for losing control but this trigger really hits a raw nerve in me. 

Unfortunately for me and more than 80% of other blind Americans, Braille literacy is too poor to use an embossed menu with any efficiency.  I can figure out what it says but so slowly that it is always better to have the menu read by a companion or a server if I am alone.


As an increasingly large number of restaurants have web sites and have started, in some cases, to offer Wi Fi to their customers, I have the wild idea of having said restaurants put their menu onto their local system and people with all sorts of disabilities can employ the user agent of their choice to access the information.  I could fire up IE on my mobile phone and the default page that comes up for customers can provide the menu which I can read using Mobile Speak Smartphone.  This is easy, low cost and will make a tremendous difference for all kinds of consumers at these eateries.


Shopping, in the traditional “brick and mortar” sense of the word remains a tremendously challenging activity for people with vision impairment.  While these places of public accommodation do little to prevent blind customers from entering, they also do very little to make the shopping experience convenient.  If I go to a super market on my own, I ask X-Celerator to find the customer service counter and, assuming it’s in a relatively standard place, we get there and ask the assistant manager to please assign us a person to help us shop.  Then we wait for said peon to arrive and start on our way.  I will then ask our companion if he knows what items are on sale which either evokes a shameful reply implying that due to his illiteracy we cannot go over the circular together or a response that suggests that this person can hardly speak English or Spanish or any other language that I might be able to stumble through food talk well enough to communicate.  Oddly, I’ve gone shopping in New Delhi and have always had better English speakers assigned to helping me than can be found in Florida or Boston.  I agree with Thomas Jefferson’s assertion in his debate with John Adams as they campaigned for the presidential election of 1800 that the US should not have an official language but I also believe that people in customer service jobs should not be selected from the lot of the least useful people at the shop but, rather, should be literate and speak the languages of the majority of their customers with reasonable fluency.


Once assigned a helper, we set off to purchase our groceries.  I always make a list so I do not forget anything but there seems no way for a shopper with a vision impairment to browse or do any impulse buying.  To wit: when I’m buying my staple fresh fruits (bananas and vine ripened tomatoes) I have no way to know that some seasonal fruits and vegetables are present, hence, I miss out on blueberries, peaches, red plums and other delights that aren’t always present.  If my companion had to recite every bit of fresh produce in the department, I’d have no time to get to the meat or peanut butter.  Other entirely impulse purchases, Marshmallow Fluff, Scooter Pies, pre-made kidney stew, etc. also seem out of reach as said companion would need to recite every product in the store as we pushed the cart past them which would make for a very long amount of time spent hearing mostly things I don’t want.


I do not have a good solution for the grocery shopping problem nor shopping for clothing or other items about which one might enjoy browsing.  I know some blind people who buy the exact same kinds of clothing all of the time.  They know precisely what to ask for and when they get home they know their white shirts will go with their khaki slacks, black socks and regular pair of shoes.  Frankly, I like to be a bit more expressive with my wardrobe and find that I must bring either a woman or gay friend to help me pick out nice outfits.


I could go on and on providing examples of the rest of the elephant that we still need to digest but I am feeling tired now but will write a part two and maybe three in this vein during the coming weeks as there is just so much I would like to cover.


— End

Subscribe to the Blind Confidential RSS Feed at: Blindconfidential

A Birth in the Family

On Monday, Dena Shumilla-Wainright, my dear friend and occasional contributing author to BlindConfidential gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.  Elise Jaden Wainright entered the world weighing in at seven pounds and 13 ounces and stretches a solid 19 inches long.  Both Dena and Elise are very healthy and happily back in their home near Minneapolis.


This is the first time since we started BC that we get to announce anything as joyful as the addition of a beautiful new baby to our extensive family.  Please join us in sending your best wishes, prayers and anything else you would like to add to celebrate this grand occasion to Dena and her husband Jason.


— End

__________ Information from ESET NOD32 Antivirus, version of virus signature database 3490 (20081002) __________

The message was checked by ESET NOD32 Antivirus.

Subscribe to the Blind Confidential RSS Feed at: Blindconfidential