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.