Monday, February 24, 2020

From Beginning to End

In January, the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired Writer’s Circle discussion group began a two part program on blogging.  Participants were asked why they started a blog.  The answers varied.  Some people wanted to share information.  Others wanted to showcase their creative writing skills and projects.  There were as many different answers as their were contributors.  My schedule did not allow me to participate during the January and February meetings, so I have decided to write about my blog’s unusual and humble beginning in 2012.

I had been an unemployed university lecturer since 2005 when the recession hit my department and all lecturers were let go.  For the next three years as I looked for another job, I also cared for my aging mother as she endured three major operations and was on hospice twice.  Since I had been a stay-at-home wife and mother for almost 22 years before divorcing and returning to college, my caregiver skills were strong.  Holding my mother’s hand while she died peacefully in her sleep while we listened to variations of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” is one of my favorite memories.

For the next four years as I continued my job search, experienced discrimination, and struggled to stay one step above homeless, a Catholic job coach took a look at my resume, asked me a few questions, and said, “Your verbal skills are as good as your writing skills.  Why don’t you have a call-in radio program for people with disabilities?”

I assured this man that I could not possibly have my own radio program because any idea that came into my brain had to be edited before it came out of my mouth.  Nevertheless, I visited the studio of Ave Maria Radio.  After I introduced myself, I was asked, “Do you want 30 seconds?  One minute? An hour?  Daily?  Weekly?”  I was speechless.  Didn’t these people know that I was not qualified?  That I had NO experience?  Only one man had a question.  Since I am legally blind, he wanted to know how he would signal me when the microphone was on.

What was wrong with these people?  I discussed this with a colleague who worked with blind students in the disability office at The University of Michigan.  He said, “They can tie a string to your arm and pull on it when they want to send you a signal.”

I still was not convinced, so I attended my one and only Toastmasters’ meeting.  I was sure that this would be the end of it, but I received the Newcomer Award for the best impromptu speech.  I have to admit that I felt like a natural in front of the group, but that is because I had “Played to” classes of college students, captive audiences, before they were rating professors.  As an English teacher who wrote things like “So what?” in the margins of composition papers, I was not expecting applause.  I did, however, learn that Toastmasters has something that looks like a traffic light.  The green light indicates that it is OK to talk.  The yellow light tells you that your time is almost up.  The red light tells you not to talk.

I still was not convinced that I should have my own radio program and discussed this with a neighbor who does have her own 15 minute spot, five days a week, as she reads Catholic Classics, but SHE has a theatre background, a beautiful voice, and reads what someone else has written.  Her advice:  “Write a blog to see if you have anything to say.”  My response was, “What’s a blog?”

Dave Ramsey often tells his listeners that you don’t know what you don’t know.  For the past seven years, I’ve been learning what I don’t know about blogging, social media, and living with low vision.  I did learn that I have many experiences that I wanted to share in hopes that others would not repeat my mistakes.  I learned that I am an advocate for the blind and visually impaired and only want to work on behalf of this special and underserved population that is growing as more senior citizens are diagnosed with macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts.  I recently listened to a radio program where a man called in an described himself as “blind” until he was able to obtain the contact lenses that Medicare does not pay for.  He called getting his contacts that restored his vision “a miracle.”  Clearly, people who are experiencing vision loss need to be heard.  As the movies, Lean on Me and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, show, you can learn what you don’t know.

My community college only had one journalism class back in the 1960s.  If I had been able to afford and attend a university, I would have gone for a degree in journalism.  Instead, I became an English major and teacher.  I’ve been listening to talk radio programs for many years because I enjoy listening to the hosts and callers as much as I enjoyed reading student essays and currently enjoy listening to political speeches and debates.  I cannot write in the margins, but I do comment to the air waves or TV screen about the quality of the logic in an argument and the value of the presentation.  “What is it with all those hand motions?  You are going to make your audience motion sick.”

It finally occurred to me that I do have what it takes to be in broadcast journalism, just not behind a mike or in front of a camera.  I am more of a behind-the-scenes person.  I learned that by having a blog, a website, and a self-published book that needed social media marketing.  Like three of my favorite authors, Emily Dickinson, W. Somerset Maugham, and Beatrix Potter, I learned that when publishing stops being fun, it is time to go do something else or stop sharing what you write with the public.

Blind and visually impaired job seekers who have experienced discrimination in record numbers and often try to open their own businesses will have many opportunities (as I did) to be appointed to counsels and commissions.  They will receive many invitations to give presentations and speeches.  They will be asked to run for local offices, or perform for local organizations.  Be advised that very few of these activities will come with a salary or honorarium.  Having your own program on a nonprofit radio or TV station will require that you bring in donations or advertisers.  Such activities might look good on a resume to anyone who is unfamiliar with how the games are played, but you will want to avoid these ego boosters unless you are self-supporting.  Networking with the people and organizations affiliated with your career goals might be more beneficial. 

As I end this blog and return to my job search a lot older and, I hope, a bit wiser, I am reading Sound Reporting:  The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production.  Jobs that require more talking and team work than computers and software are beginning to sound appealing.   I wish you all the very best as I begin to “Nibble the new cheese.”

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

"If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them" has not Worked for the Blind and Visually Impaired

The Americans with Disabilities Act has been around for 30 years.  Why haven’t the employment figures for the job seekers who live with various levels of blindness increased significantly?  One of the answers to this question can be found in the January issue of The Braille Monitor that is published by the National Federation of the Blind.  An article, “Screening out Blind applicants because Software is Deemed Inaccessible,” tells of a current lawsuit against a corporation that knows that its software is not compatible with screen-reading software and refuses to make changes.  This will be one of the most important court cases ever fought by the disability community because it will decide if making software compatible is a reasonable or unreasonable accommodation.

There was a time when I would recommend to visually impaired students and the parents of visually impaired children that they embrace technology and even become experts.  Those goals are no longer possible.  I learned this as I decided to join “them” by watching a Great Course lecture series on Computer Programming and Python.  I believed up to that point that I was the problem.  People like me just needed to be more technologically savvy.  The article in the January issue of The Braille Monitor saved me a lot of time and frustration.  I’ve complained in this blog about the problems I’ve encountered since buying a state-of-the-art Windows 10 laptop.  I’ve also discussed my disgust with the inaccessibility of Facebook and other social media websites.  I now know that the problem is much bigger than I ever imagined.  It is not a technology problem; it is an attitude problem.  The new attitude in high tech is that THEY are entitled to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and to whomever they want.  The attitude problem that first showed up in the showrooms and customer service areas of telephone and cable companies has now gone to the top levels where software is being developed.

What are people who are living with blindness and low vision and attempting to work supposed to do when they can’t beat “them” or join “them”?  Read and follow the examples and advice in Who Moved My Cheese? And then move with the cheese.  Reading a history of the blind and visually impaired to learn just how bad things can get if history starts to repeat itself would also be a good use of one’s time while waiting for courts to make their decisions about discrimination cases that have been on hold for too many years.

Monday, January 20, 2020

From GREEN BOOK back to Dream Book

As I watched the movie, Green Book that is about a book that told African-Americans where they could travel in America during many decades of the last century, tears were a release of so much of the pain I have experienced due to discrimination because I am a senior citizen, woman, granddaughter of immigrants, cradle Catholic, and person who is living with a visual disability.  Don Shirley, a highly educated African-American classical and jazz musician who has not enjoyed interacting with his own cultural roots has a serious identity crisis and asks, “What am I?”  No other scene in a movie has portrayed the kind of identity crisis that is felt by a person living between sight and blindness.  As gross as it was in concept, at least African-Americans were provided with a Green Book that let them know where they were not wanted.  The discrimination experienced by the blind and visually impaired is much more subtle, especially when traveling in cyberspace and on  the Internet.

In the past week, I have closed my accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.  They were easy to use years ago, but upgrades and added features have made them less accessible.  Facebook and Linkedin send notifications that I have messages and then don’t allow the messages to be opened without the help of a sighted assistant.  Using a Facebook app on an old iPhone that I only use as a Talking Book reader and a newer iPhone required a trip to the Apple store because the voice-over sped up on one phone and slowed down on the other.  In order to change settings on an iPhone, voice-over must be turned off, settings must be opened, and a sighted technician must make the corrections.  The sighted friends and librarians who tried to help before I went to the Apple store and the technician said they had never seen this happen before.  I love the Apple store because they always make me feel welcome, encourage me to come back at any time, and never charge for their services; however, if time is money, such trips are a waste of my time and money.

Yesterday I attempted to make contact with a publisher, but the website needed proof that I am not a robot.  Even after I listened to the words that I was supposed to type into their form, the edit box was not going to allow me to insert the information unless the voice-over was turned off.  I sent an email instead and let the publisher know in the subject line that their form is not accessible.

When I was a doctoral student in the College of Education at Michigan State University, I had to write a Dream Book.  My research interests were vision,literacy, and learning and children’s literature.  The Dream Book focused on improving the lives of people who are living with potentially blinding eye diseases.  Thanks to the writer and publisher, Robert Branco (Consumer Vision Magazine) and our book editor and graphic designer, Leonore and David Dvorkin, , I now have a dream that is bigger than any that I wrote about 20 years ago.  I am now dreaming about a Blind and Vision Impaired Studies program in higher education that would research and teach about this culture along with African-American Studies, Spanish-American Studies, etc.  When I first considered this idea, there were only six authors named online from the Blind and Vision Impaired community.  Now there are so many that I have stopped compiling a list or downloading books by them.  A former librarian who is living with blindness has been compiling a list and annotating it as well.  I am going to write a sample syllabus for a Blind and Visually Impaired Studies introductory course and a proposal for a textbook to go along with the course.   

In my dreams?  It is dreams that make it easier to love what is left while living with low vision.  Many thanks to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dr. Suzanne M. Wilson, my former doctoral advisor who is now the Neag Endowed Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Connecticut, who continue to keep dreams and hope alive.


Monday, January 13, 2020


 Dave Ramsey, author of The Total Money Makeover and other books that promise financial peace, found the perfect word to describe technology and the constant adjustments that all people must make in order to use it.  That word is “Yuck.”  In EntreLeadership he also describes the contemporary workspace that is supposed to be free of all paper, pens, and clutter.  What technology promises is theoretical idealism or Yuck on steroids for blind and visually impaired consumers and writers.

Here are the instructions I received when I could not access royalty statements (reports) on KDP:

“The graphic display is the default display, also called the Sales Dashboard. It shows all sales, both print and e-books. The words Sales Dashboard are just above the graphic. To the right of those words is a link labeled Month-to-Date. Click on that for the actual numbers. By default, it shows e-book numbers for the current month. You can select print books, and you can switch to the previous month.  Another way to see the numbers is to let the mouse cursor hover over the vertical bars in the graphic display, the bars showing the books sold that month. A popup appears with the numbers. There's also a link labeled Historical which shows a lot of older data, all in graphic form, and with that display you can also let the mouse cursor hover over a vertical bar and have the numbers displayed.”

 After I found the reports that were Excel spreadsheets, I called the help option by using my phone and talked to a real person.  “Can’t YOU just tell me the total number of books that sold?” I asked.  Of course he could—and did.  Because I am a professional, I assume that he was laughing and smirking at the title of my book and not at me.  (I enjoy these brief moments of delusion.”

 Two successful writers, Stephen King in On Writing and Dave Ramsey in EntreLeadership, cover all of the information fiction and nonfiction writers need to know.  The 2020 Writer’s Market has chapters about business plans, brands, and blogs.  A market list for grants and fellowships given in The Writer Magazine January issue indicates that self-published and E-books will not be considered for most awards.

This information is only yucky if you expect to make writing more than a hobby without building and possibly paying for a team that includes a proofreader, personal assistant, accountant, entertainment and tax lawyer, social media manager, graphic designer, editor, driver, and narrator if you did not marry someone who can wear all or most of these hats.  My book did well enough this year and finally earned enough in royalties to cover the investment I made in a professional editor, graphic designer, and marketing tools.  The Writer’s Circle at the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired keeps writing a fun activity while I search for job opportunities in my chosen field of higher education.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Celestial Light

Celestial Light

by Susan Bourrie

Why must we put away the tree this year
and pull the plug on its celestial light?
Why must we pack the tinsel and the cheer
that keep away the darkness of the night?
Why must the star whose glow is warm and mild
Be snuffed out on a designated day
and memories of that Most Holy Child
who lies beneath it ever fade away?
Why must the peace of this beloved season
be shelved like some discarded children's toy?
Why must good will defer to solemn reason
that says this world is not a place for joy?
The faith and love that we all hold so dear
are meant to last until this time next year.

(Bourrie, Susan.  “Celestial Light.”  Groundcover.  Ann Arbor, MI:  December, 2014, 10.)


Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Facebook Taught Me to Face Reality

I have limits and limitations.  Facebook taught me what these limits and limitations are as I attempted to communicate with family, friends, groups, colleagues, and potential business connections.  As I pointed out in earlier posts, it either cannot be done at all or efficiently by a person who is visually impaired and using screen-reading software.  I have been trying for 30 years to live up to the expectations of organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind, but I have failed.  I have exhausted my strength, my finances, and the drive to advocate for equality that such organizations continue to ignore.  My New Year’s Resolution is to bloom where I am planted.  Where at the end of other years, I would say, “Out with the old.  In with the new,” this time I said, “Out with the new.  In with the old.”

What are the “old” things that I will be embracing?  The Braille slate and stylus instead of large print and a CCTV or a laptop for essential items such as to-do-lists and emergency phone numbers.  Braille will also be used for labeling notebooks, file folders, and papers that go into them.  Business communications will be conducted in person or by phone.  Travel will include a human companion as needed rather than a GPS because people, I’ve learned make fewer mistakes than the GPS whether it is in a car or on a phone.  People are harder to lose and make interesting observations as you travel such as, “That dress would look just great on you.”  My obsession with “flying solo” ended yesterday when a neighborhood alert in my email said that a coyote was spotted in someone’s yard.  This is not the two-legged kind portrayed so well in the movie, The Secret of My Success, a favorite comedy.  The coyote in my neighborhood is one of the four-legged kind who is believed to have at least one companion.  A friend assures me that I am not at risk unless I walk outdoors at night or I am with a friend who has a service animal in the daytime.

 It looks like 2020 is going to be filled with more adventures and misadventures, but I will not be sharing them until I can afford to hire a social media manager, something a self-published and unemployed writer cannot do.  Embracing the old will require patience, especially when it comes to submitting manuscripts the old-fashioned way by querying literary agents and traditional publishers.  I am inspired and comforted by Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing.

 I appreciate the members of my 50th high school reunion group on Facebook who taught me that some of the functions that I could not perform on my computer could be done on my iPhone.  This is true some of the time.  It is still frustrating when, after I post a message, I am notified that someone responded and then cannot read the response.  Items disappear.  Facebook closes whenever IT wants to.  When I complain and a techie asks, “What version are you using?”, it is time to spend a few hours reading a talking book or going for a long walk.

 It looks like more copies of The Misadventures of Mistletoe Mouse sold this holiday season because I was able to do some social media marketing and had a lot of help from my friends on Facebook and at the Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired Writers’ Circle.  I was not, however, as able to do as much marketing as I would have liked.  I also have not been able to embrace other forms of social media networking because the costs are much larger than the learning curves. 

 While I am writing about out with the new and in with the old, there is a need to reinvent hospitals as places where patients receive after-surgery care.  I have met two men in the past three months, both seniors and one who is employed part-time.  They both need cataract surgery but are postponing it, as I am, because they can afford the procedure but not the after-surgery care that could take from a few days to a few months if there are complications.  Large families, nuclear and extended families, and stay-at-home wives and mothers and daughters are a thing of the past.  With an economy that requires two working parents, this lack of unpaid caregivers is something that doctors within our borders must address.

 I threw out the 2019 wall calendar.  The 2020 calendar has 365 days that can become either more inclusive or exclusive for people who are living with vision losses.  "God grant me the serenity to adjust to those things I cannot change, the patience to change the things I can, and the wisdom to just shut up and take care of myself as I enjoy the talent You have given me and bloom where I am planted.  May I never again have a year as challenging as this one where I start to think about the word, 'retire'.” 
I am still living with what is left and loving it.  So can you.