Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Marginalia and Other New Adventures

Finding information might become even more difficult for blind and low vision readers.  Not only do scholars and readers in general have to deal with the graphics and accessibility issues online, but print publishers have become more creative in their offerings.  In 2013, A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Connor was published in two parts.  The first part contained the journal as it was edited.  The second part is a copy of the journal as it was handwritten by the young author with any errors in spelling or grammar.  While I was curious about what prayers Flannery O'Connor wrote while she attended the MFA program at the University of Iowa, I did not have any interest in getting out my "red pen" and scrawling in the margins or playing "gotcha."  The writer in me wanted to give O'Connor respect and privacy and also gratitude for not throwing the journal away.  I am also grateful to the NLS Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped for making the print section of this book available in an audio version.

While I found the format of Flannery O’Connor’s journal , published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2013), interesting, what I found when I decided to read two books by Stephen Sondheim was frustrating on many levels.  Both “Finding the Hat” (2010) and "Look, I Made a Hat" (2011), published by Alfred A Knopf, provide more challenges for scholars and readers who are living with low vision and blindness and the readers who create audio books.  The Sondheim books are oversized like children's picture books.  In addition to containing many full-page photographs, the title pages inform the reader that both books contain "Collected Lyrics with Attendant Comments, Principles, Amplifications, Heresies, Dogmas, Grudges, Harangues, Whines, Digressions, Anecdotes and Miscellany."  And where do you put all that stuff?  Anywhere you want.  How do sighted people read all of this information?  Anybody's guess.

I tried reading the Sondheim books that are not available in audio with a scanner and reading software.  When my computer started whining and calling out to me in distress, I took the books to the local library for the blind and showed them to a helpful volunteer who informed me that the books contain HANDWRITING in addition to many and varied columns of print.  In fact, some of the most important information that I want to read is handwritten.

I am not going to scold computer engineers and programmers and try to bully them into creating software that reads handwriting and text along with any marginalia because they are probably already trying to do this.  I am not going to scold the National Library Service nor Learning Ally for not sparing my computer and me several wasted hours by putting these books in audio format because they might be taking on this challenge that will be heroic.  I am not even going to scold Stephen Sondheim and his publisher because these magnificent books provide a great service to aspiring songwriters.  I will just have a brief pity party and accept the fact that there are just some books that are off limits for me and move on to something else.

I expect that in the future even more books for young adults and adults will begin to look like online websites, cluttered with information that leads nowhere and has no links just because.  Creativity is not always functional or practical.  Coffee table books that only look good have been around for a very long time, but looks can be deceiving.  Sondheim’s books are treasures that deserve in-depth reading.

Since works for writers are the subject of this post, reference tools such as rhyming dictionaries can also be difficult for people living with low vision.  Online reference tools can be accessed easily, but print versions that can be used with a CCTV and other magnifiers require test runs.  One rhyming dictionary for songwriters is very small and uses words instead of sounds.  Readers who land on a word are given the instructions to go to another word where the sound and rhyming words will be found.  Other rhyming dictionaries are available in several sizes.  The smaller versions require higher magnification.  The best have a sound that is followed by a column of words that go from lower number syllable words to higher ones.  Bronner’s Rhyming Phrases Dictionary (2000) makes searching for a rhyme more thorough but not more efficient unless you are writing rap songs.  All reference tools whether online or in print are distracting during the creative process, so I avoid them until it is time to revise.

New adventures online and in print are old hat and only emphasize the need for sighted or paid readers.  The adventure is much more fun when the reader enjoys a subject as much as you do.    

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I've been between a rock and a hard place more than a few times in my life.  I'm actually there right now.  Nothing I do moves my life forward or backward.  When I try to move, I only seem to be hitting my head against another wall.  Being stuck between a rock and a hard place is just about the most frustrating place for an experienced problem solver to be.  I could blame the job market, the economy, my teachers, and my parents.  I could even blame myself and say that I was not being observant when my cheese was moving.  In the past I chose to be active rather than a passive victim to fate.  I am learning that being passive can be a sign of strength rather than victimhood and is sometimes interpreted as aggressive.

My initial response to landing between a rock and a hard place after being diagnosed with glaucoma and some sight loss when I graduated from college and became a newlywed was to decorate.  I had coasters that said, "Bloom where you are planted," and needlepointed "The Serenity Prayer."  Since I wasn't a plant and was rarely serene, the bloom on this solution quickly faded.

After leaving graduate school, I found other activities that moved me but not my life.  Instead of decorating, I was relocating, advocating, aggravating stimulating, and legislating.  Now I could hang out with other people who were also stuck between a rock and a hard place and be commiserating.

The most difficult strategy when you are between a rock and a hard place, and the one that will receive the most criticism, is waiting.  Where decorating permanently plants you in a place where you might not want to be, waiting leaves you with the hope that the rock and the hard place will one day be removed with or without effort on your part.  Waiting requires patience.  It requires letting go.  It requires time.

As you wait and develop more patience and persistence to meet your challenges, you will meet with criticism.  You will be tempted to do something, anything.  You learn by waiting and watching that movement is not always a sign of success because moving in the wrong direction is not better than staying where you are.  Waiting is the first step and the most important step according to the authors of Encore, a book for retirees who are changing careers.  Waiting gives you the time to discover what you want and what is best for you.  Once you have decided the direction you want to go in, waiting allows you the time to educate yourself and learn the new skills that will be required when you leave the valley.

People who are loving what is left while living with low vision and other chronic conditions can learn to appreciate the time between a rock and a hard place.  It is a safe place to grow, shed your old skin, and transform yourself.  It requires investigating options.  Many of these options such as decorating, relocating, advocating, aggravating, and legislating will stall if you waste time between the rock and the hard place by hating yourself, your doctors, agencies that are ignoring your needs, or God for “dealing you a bad hand” The best way to spend your time between a rock and a hard place is by creating a new and more interesting you.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Connecting the Dots

Now is the time to read the websites of the National Federation of the Blind and the American Council of the Blind who are meeting for their annual conferences.  As these organizations serve the blind and people with low vision, any innovations will be showcased including informative websites for special groups such as the American Association of Blind Teachers.

While every state has its own guidelines for services and visual rehabilitation, the Library of Congress National Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and its regional libraries still have the best list of resources.  The Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled at Ann Arbor District Library (WLBPD@AADL) received the prestigious National Award for Sub regional Library of the Year on Friday, June 19, 2015, during a luncheon ceremony at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.  Their website and blog are worth visiting.  Two resources used by this library to train their staff are the DVDs, What Do You Do When You See a Blind Person and The 10 Commandments of Communicating with People with Disabilities.

As more technology, including creative writing and music software, are graphically based and not accessible with screen readers, having cheerful and helpful librarians close by to help connect the dots and separate the chaff from the wheat is a blessing.  While some dots can be connected, there are still many blind spots and black holes that cannot.  Inequality and inaccessibility to services and training, along with inadequate training when it is available, keep people who have adapted to living with blindness and low vision from working and achieving their goals.

According to all organizations that work with the blind and vision impaired, the most important dots that a person needs to learn how to connect and use are the six dots in a Braille cell.  To access more information about Braille education, people living with low vision should contact their state rehabilitation service for the blind and the Hadley School for the Blind (