The first audio described movie I saw was Mary Poppins. I LOVE Mary Poppins, probably more than is warranted. I have never claimed to be a good judge of entertainment. “Let’s go Fly a Kite!”, anyone? Anyone?

Anyway, that movie, (on VHS no less), was a great sick day companion for me from the time I was about 8. I had a few other sporadic opportunities to see audio described movies, mostly at blind summer camp and occasionally when my parents would rent one for me from a far-off national library catering to blind people. I think I saw the first Harry Potter movie with descriptive video about ten times.

Between all the Harry Potter viewings, I sat through movies in theaters and in people’s houses, more or less confused. Rom coms were ok: lots of dialogue, predictable, if mostly forgettable and uninspiring. Musicals at least had singing to break up my monotonous confusion over what might be happening visually. But my friends, being mostly nerd types, wanted to watch sci-fi and superheroes and battle movies. Stuff that often has hugely visual components. The Lord of the Rings score is painfully embedded in my brain, because I saw it ten thousand times and the battle scenes are nothing but sylvan screaming and soaring violins.

Three years ago or so, I began noticing more opportunities to view audio described movies. In particular, my dear Minneapolis friend Teresa, (who never reads this blog, though she knows she should!), started inviting me over with the enticing trio of pierogis, a cat to snuggle, and an audio described Disney movie. I have recently watched several movies from my childhood that now have audio descriptions, and have discovered so many new things I never understood before!

A few years ago, I also attended a puppet show that was audio described by a live human. A puppet show, you all! I never thought I could enjoy something so visual, revel in that particular artistry and movement, wonder and speculate about what it all means or doesn’t. I have this dream that someday blind folks will get to experience all sorts of visual media via spoken word: art exhibits, ballet and other forms of dance, opera, amateur film festivals, all the things!

I have gotten spoiled. I have discovered a new zest for watching movies in theaters, but at this point, I don’t think I would shell out the money for one that isn’t audio described. I want to go back and watch all those battle scenes with a voice in my ear telling me exactly what everyone’s fighting for. And I really want to know if the new Mary Poppins has similar descriptions to the one that got me through decades ago.

I assisted another blind person yesterday. I was sitting on a patio at a coffee shop, which has steps leading down to the street. He approached my table and asked how to get back to the street. It took me a minute to realize that he was blind and using a cane. I must admit I almost ignored him because my self-preservation brain kicked in with, “Man. Right next to you, way too close to your face, saying something you can’t make out. Pretend busyness, invisibility, do not engage.” Once I realized what was happening, though, I knew I had been given an opportunity.

Rather than trying to give him verbal directions, I explained to him that he was on a coffee shop patio and offered to accompany him down the stairs. I stood up, in one place, and continued to talk to him until he reached me. I said, “Is it ok if I touch you?”, and when given consent, I put my hand briefly on his shoulder to let him know my proximity. I offered him my elbow and we walked the few paces to the steps together. I asked if he’d like me to accompany him down the steps. He declined, I did not push, I had no agenda here. I assumed he was saying no because he meant no and was perfectly capable of walking down himself. I told him that there were four steps down to 45th Street, and that at the bottom, he would be facing 45th with Midvale Place on the right and Stone Way on the left. He said, “Thank you.” I said, “Of course.” We parted ways. The end.

Why am I relating this in meticulous detail? I don’t consider myself a saint or incredibly woke, nor do I think I made a significant difference in his day. But, I had the privilege to give him a positive interaction receiving assistance from another human: one that I would like to receive, without agenda, desperation to be a do-gooder, or a white knight complex.

I can’t save anyone, least of all myself, from shitty interactions with unaware sighted people. But I hope I can do my part to reverse some of that for others. One positive interaction can, sometimes, renew my faith, reinvigorate my desire to be an ally to others, and rekindle my belief in solidarity. You might think one small two-minute act of good faith and dignity can’t restore a soul, but it can. I know.

When I was hired by a tech company a few years ago to work on software accessibility, I was thrust into a world of acronyms. It was alarming because every time I asked, “What does that stand for?”, (and believe me, I always asked because I am relentless, people), I’d get some variation of a blank stare and a, “Huh, I’m not sure. Maybe …” Sometimes the person would try to save face: “I used to know, but …” I know every field has their jargon, but it seemed to be nonstop there. And it appalled me how it seemed that my colleagues had literally forgotten that people on the “outside” have no idea what they are saying most of the time.

A few months ago, I got rehired at this company, and I was treated to a new acronym: “PWD.” I saw it first in an e-mail about me: “Lauren is a PWD and you can set up a one-on-one with her.” What the hell is that? I thought. If I’m an acronym, I’d sure like to know what it is that I stand for in Techlandia.

So I sat for a minute and pondered, and suddenly I had it: “person with a disability.” In this e-mail, being introduced to someone I did not know, I wasn’t a screenreader expert, skilled at providing constructive feedback, or knowledgable about accessibility best practices and testing standards because I have a web accessibility certification. Nope. I was merely a person with a disability.

And then, it seemed like “PWD’s” was everywhere. The acronym bounced around my workspace like a little kid with a secret. I have not had occasion to hear it used by another person with a disability, only by able-bodied folks, and I find myself flinching slightly every time it’s uttered.

I couldn’t figure out why I was having such a negative reaction. Certainly, I am a PWD. Presumably, the people using this acronym have good intentions. But it nags at me. I find myself drawing a comparison to the phrase “people of color” and its sometimes abbreviation to “POC.” An abbreviation that I have used on occasion for advocacy purposes, and because my fingers were apparently too lazy to type out all those words.

In the context of the e-mail mentioned above, I believe my chafing has to do with my unmentioned skills. For the most part, I don’t feel that my professional skills are taken seriously. They may be comparatively meager to most people who work in tech, but they still exist. I still add value, not just because of my disability but because of the knowledge I have worked to acquire, simply because of my innate curiosity, I might add, not because of any professional development offered to me. I know that I have value logically, but I do not see it reflected back at me in the world, so it’s hard to remember it day to day. Being summarized simply as a PWD makes me feel one-dimensional and overlooked, and reenforces my general feeling that that is all I was hired for. I wonder if “POC” leaves a similar bad taste for those who are reduced to those three letters, and I feel uncomfortable with that realization. Discomfort is how we learn, so ultimately, that is ok. I’m glad for the opportunity to rethink how we commodify people. My conclusion is that acronyms are simply not cutting it, and will never truly be enough.

I am picking up my first CSA delivery tomorrow. I got an email yesterday, saying that the boxes would be labeled with our names and that we would need to check off our names on a clipboard. The delivery is to a house, so there didn’t seem to be a guarantee that there would be anyone around to assist me. (the delivery hours are 2 to 9, so that’s a pretty big unknown window.)
I emailed back to see if there was any accommodation we could make with my box so I could find it. They got back to me right away, cheerfully said they would put a ribbon on the box, set it at the front of the stack, and could let me know when the driver dropped off the delivery so I could come meet him and get my box directly from him. As for the checking my name off, don’t worry about it.
No freaking out. No flailing. No “we don’t know how to deal with this.” No “you should have let us know sooner.”
In case anyone was wondering, this is how it should always, always be done. Treat people with mindfulness, dignity, and be willing to change your procedures and perspective. Change is good.
I know this is such a little thing, but I’ve been smiling about it for an hour. Think how happy I’d be if this were my life every day!

My friend Arlie has a t-shirt with a picture of an old-school computer and the phrase: “Computers use to suck” underneath. I would like to fight whoever decided on the “used to.” Because, I am about ready to throw my BrailleNote and my Iphone out the window.

This is a long tale, a veritable slog through the frustration of trying to make computers that supposedly only “used to” suck do the things that they supposedly are designed to do. It is a tale familiar to everyone who has ever tried to do this and failed, so that’s basically everyone, unless you’re the smartest person in the world. (You know who you are.)

This tale begins with my completely radical notion that I would like to be able to type faster than ten words per minute on my Iphone. I thought, hmm, I should get a bluetooth keyboard. Then I remembered way back in my brain that at some point before acquiring my Iphone, I’d read that you could pair it with a BrailleNote. Hark! I thought, (whatever that means), I shall see about doing that instead of spending money on a keyboard that will not only be expensive, but also I’ll have to carry it around and who wants that when I already carry my BrailleNote around everywhere?

Now, I will admit that from the very beginning, I messed up. This is where having a little knowledge is a bad thing. I had already paired many bluetooth devices with my BrailleNote, so I assumed this would be the exact same process. So, I paired from my BrailleNote; my Iphone popped right up. I typed in the stupid, stupid authentication code. Later, you will hear why this code is going to put me in an early grave. Everything seemed to be paired. The BrailleNote actually said, “Iphone, paired.” But nothing else was happening. Which was strange. If I’d done it right, the BrailleNote should now be displaying the apps from my phone.

So, I went to Google. The manufacturer of the BrailleNote, Humanware, provided me a tutorial. It said that I must turn the “braille terminal” from “USB” to “bluetooth.” Okey dokey, that made reasonable sense. So, I did that. Still nothing. I did more Googling. HUMANWare informed meof this: “The BrailleNote Apex and the Iphone, a winning combination!” I was still slightly hopeful, but was definitely anxious for the “winning part.

Oh, good, Here we have “trouble-shooting.” My first mistake was that I needed to set up the pairing through the Iphone, not through the BrailleNote. Oops. And, you don’t set it up through the “bluetooth” menu, which to me makes the most sense. No, you must go to “settings”, “general”, “accessibility”, “voice over”, and THEN “braille”, and hope that your Braille display will show up there. Mine did. When you double tap to pair it, you have about 10 seconds to type in the authentication code before it tells you the pairing is unsuccessful. You may think this is easy, but here’s the thing: the code is 0000. To type it, you must double tap on the 0.” This means you must find the 0 on the number pad, and tap it eight times. One more time than eight and you’re effed. My finger was extra tappy due to the coffee and my annoyance, so I ended up messing up a lot. If you manage to type in the four 0’s, you must then navigate back to the “pair” button which means swiping left through the numbers 1-9, out of the “PIN” box, and then to the “pair” button. Ok, maybe I am just incompetent, but doing this in 10 seconds was giving me all kinds of whiplash. Oh and I forgot, if you don’t succeed at this in three attempts, you must START OVER, which means going back to the bluetooth menu, telling the Iphone to “forget” the BrailleNote, and then go back into the “Braille” menu to search for it again.

I did this approximately 10 thousand times. Nothing. Just the same error message, “Unable to connect to Apex”, with an “ok” button. Or, a few times, “unable to connect to apex. Makes sure it is turned on and within range.” No shit. OR, once or twice, “unable to load Apex driver.” Omgomgomg.

So, now what? The trouble-shooting instructions mention that if you tried to pair with the BrailleNote first, it might still be trying to pair, so do a hard reset. (This effectively restores all factory defaults. The only thing more extreme is a different reset which deletes all your files, from what I can tell.) So, I did that, to no avail. Also, suggested: make sure your BrailleNote name is correct in the “computer name” menu or the Iphone won’t recognize it. All righty, did that. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Back to feverishly typing in the authentication code: (what in the Goddess’s name is this for, anyway? It’s not a password, because it’s pretty much universal for all bluetooth devices. Just, why?)

Agh, I might have to call tech support. I really, REALLY don’t want to. I have never had anything good happen while calling tech support, except:
a. they tell me I need to learn to follow directions.
B. They ask me if my computer is actually on.
C. They tell me to “send it in”, which takes three months and never costs under 1000 dollars.

All I have to say is, really? Could we make this more complicated and unintuitive? And we’re telling ourselves that computers “used to” suck?

OMG, Sarah, get out of my head. 1 through 3 are, like, the most annoyingthingsever. 4, even though I don’t have to deal with it, sounds like it would annoy me. And if you’ve ever spent time reading my blog, you know I would do anything for a dog-vomit sensor that isn’t my bare feet.
What it really comes down to is assumptions. We could all do well to keep them in check.

Ok, Molly’s is pretty good, too.

This is my new tiny corner of the Internet! If you’re worried that anything will change around here, rest assured: there will still be many rants, raves, and rampant navel-gazing. I’m also trying to get outside more.
If you’re hoping for something different, then you might want to go elsewhere. You’ve been warned.
I’m happy with my new, much more accessible home. I welcome any feedback on access, if it’s not working for you.
I’ll be sporadically posting the stuff from my old blog here, so I can have an archive, just in case I ever need it. Though I don’t know who really NEEDS a million Kiva posts and a liberal dose of kvetching.
Thanks to everyone who’s read this over the last few years. Here’s to a few more.