On letting go of my visual life

A few years ago, I was offered a writing tip from a friend who was trying to advise me as to how to overcome writer’s block.  At the time, I was strung as tight as piano wire, unable to come up with a single creative word.  To add self-flagellation to injury, I was furious with myself for becoming the cliche of a writer who sat staring, paralyzed, at a blank computer screen.

Of course, in my case, "blank" is a relative term.  But I digress.

Anyway, my friend advised me that he used a technique that helped him when he found himself floundering.  He suggested that I forget about composing an introduction, working through the salient points and concluding with a profound thought or compelling call to action.  Instead, he advised, "Just begin writing, even if you begin in mid-sentence.  Write as if the thoughts had already been flowing for pages and pages.  Start in the middle of the document, and work your way back, or forward, it doesn’t matter.  This can trick your mind into believing that you have simply dropped into a continuum of free-flowing ideas, and before you know it, you’ll be able to begin at the beginning."

I was skeptical.  Frustrated, yet skeptical.

As it turns out, it is a trick I’ve used for awhile now.  Most of the time, it works well for me. 
it takes the pressure off of trying to come up with an attention-grabbing opening line, and I give myself permission to write in a more stream-of-consciousness manner, knowing that I can always go back and ruthlessly edit later.  another trick that has helped has been to keep a running open file of words, phrases, topic ideas and inspirational text from which I can draw when needed.

I say all of the above to set up the manner in which I approached this essay.  I tend to be very private, and I rarely write about anything personal.  When first deciding to set up this blog, I was determined to write only about issues that pertained to accessibility and assistive technology, and not to write about personal feelings related to my own vision loss.  My thinking was that there are plenty of others who write about their trials and tribulations with their disability, why add to the chatter?  I didn’t feel that I could write about it in a way that was valuable.  I thought I could be of greater service to others if I kept my feelings out of my writing.

Still, there are a few posts here describing various adverse circumstances in which I’ve found myself on occasion, and to my surprise, all who have read my rants, missives and manifestos have been incredibly supportive.

It is understandable that my readers might, at least, every once in a while, like to hear from the human being behind the blog.  With the hope that this is the case, and I’m not aggrandizing myself, I thought I’d write about something a little more personal today.

I’ve only been living in the house I’m in now for about a year and a half.  A couple of weeks ago I found myself in spring cleaning mode, and decided it was time to unpack more of the boxes stacked up in the garage.  At the rate I’m going, I thought, I might as well just leave it all packed for when they come to move me into the senior living facility.  it will make it so much easier when they bring it all to the thrift store.

So, determined to be the master of my own donation destiny, I began going through boxes that hadn’t seen the light of day in years.  Most of us have had to suffer the madness of moving from one dwelling to another, and in the process, we’ve learned that we have too much stuff.  In fact, I wondered, as I pulled open a box that contained trinkets from my childhood, how many of us have boxes that we NEVER open, we just haul them from place to place, thinking we’ll get to it at some undetermined point in the future, only to realize that we have no place to put any of it?  Here I’m reminded of the comedy routine performed by  the brilliant George Carlin, who railed against the accumulation of belongings we move from one residence to another throughout our lives.  Remember the routine he did about the extinction of humanity, leaving behind "the Earth, plus plastic?"

Bent over one particular box, I could feel it was crumbling, the cardboard wrinkled, the tape peeling, the corners frayed.  This one must be a really old one, I thought.  Wonder what’s in it.

The box was full of photographs.  Loose photos, still in the envelopes with the negatives tucked inside (have you wrapped your mind around the fact that we’ll never have photo negatives again?), albums, and even school yearbooks.  Photographs taken over a lifetime of milestones…milestones that ceased to be recorded when I began to really lose my eyesight.

I do not remember the precise point at which I stopped taking pictures, but it was years ago.  Decades of my life have now passed without the cheery chastisement to "say cheese!" as I snapped a photo of some timeless moment.  I hadn’t even thought of it until right then, staring down into a box full of those memories imprinted on hundreds and hundreds of paper squares that I will never see again.  When is the last time I even looked at them?  Surely, there must be packages of photographs in here, picked up from the drugstore rack of developed rolls of film that I’ve never even opened.  Intending to place them lovingly in a photo album, I just assumed I’d get to it one day, but one day came and I could no longer recognize anything in a picture.  I just left the envelopes, unopened.  Now, I would never know what had been picture-worthy at the time.  There must be events recorded there that I’ve long forgotten.  That’s what the photos are for…to jog our memories, to refresh our recollection of an event, a celebration, that Christmas when…

But it’s all gone to me now.  I felt, standing over the box in my garage that day, as though I had a sort of Alzheimer’s disease, only instead of the blissful ignorance of memories lost, the past slips away while you stand by and experience every moment missed, conscious of the loss like the sensation of the sand pulling away from beneath your feet as the ocean waves rush to retreat from the shore.  What do I do with the photos now?

I have no one to give them to.  Who would care?  I cannot describe them to future generations, and what was significant to me at the time is surely meaningless to someone else.  There will be no reminiscing, no laughter over the dated hairdos, the outrageous outfits, the long-lost friends whose names just won’t come to mind.  Yet, throwing away all of my old photos, albums, yearbooks, school portraits, unopened envelopes emblazoned with that bright yellow Kodak logo seems like an act of assisted suicide.

I wonder what to do now.  This has me feeling uneasy.  I’ve long since let go of my visual life, yet disposing of a lifetime of happy birthdays, spectacular sunsets, foreign travel, forested trails, and rolling road trips would be a kind of amputation of the soul.  What should I do?  What would you do?  What have you done?  Tell me about a time when you let go of your visual life.




Anatomy of a Kickstarter project: Preliminary examination

If you are not a regular reader of the Accessible Insights blog, it will not require much poking around here to discover that, along with my pet topics of inclusion, accessibility, disability awareness and assistive technology, I often write about entrepreneurship.  In the spirit of "necessity breeds invention," I have been a solopreneur for years.  Recently, I’ve undertaken a new venture.


It is this new venture about which I write today.  Actually, I’m going to write about the process of getting my little project off the ground, with the assistance of Kickstarter.  If you’ve been curious about Kickstarter and how it works, if it would be right for you, or if you are just delighted to have the opportunity to watch a business go down in flames, like the ghoulish fixation people have with another person’s tragedy, then  you’ll get your fill here.  I’ll either be the hero or the goat, and if you like the idea of rooting for the underdog, you just can’t beat the odds that are stacked up against me.


My little startup venture is called Elegant Insights Braille Creations.  It is a line of jewelry and accessories that are embossed in Braille.   So far, the business barely qualifies as a hobby.  Still, my plan is to make a go of it, and that’s why I turned to Kickstarter.


In  case you don’t know, Kickstarter is the largest of the new "crowdfunding"  platforms growing like wildfire today.  The upshot is that you create a project profile, upload all the relevant info, create a video, post product descriptions, ask for people to "kick in" some cash, promise them a reward for doing so, and hope your project can attract "backers" before the expiration date you’ve set for your project completion.  Piece of cake, right?


According to the Kickstarter web site, www.kickstarter.com, just under half of all projects are successful, meaning that they’ve met or exceeded their funding goals in the allotted timeframe.  That’s a bit intimidating.  For those entrepreneurs who have found success, however, many of them have far exceeded their fundraising goals, and have gone on to take up and complete other projects.


The catch with Kickstarter is that you cannot post a project that is open-ended.  All projects must propose a finite goal, with a specific end point.  In other words, just saying that "I need money to start my business" is inconsistent with the Kickstarter guidelines, and your project will not be approved.  All projects are reviewed by the Kickstarter staff before they go live on the site.  You must also create and upload a video, wherein you can demonstrate your passion for your project  so as to convince  your hoped-for backers to contribute.  This is where Kickstarter loses me.  Without going into depth regarding my pathos about being seen in any sort of video, suffice it to say I’ll need to undergo some desensitization therapy before I tackle that particular aspect of the task.  Furthermore, this feels just a bit like begging to me.  I guess this is a personal weakness.  I’ve never been  good at asking for money.


As I learn the Kickstarter process, I’ll keep you updated.  You can ogle to your heart’s content, especially if you’re one of those fascinated at being witness to a car crash in progress.  Or, you can be in my corner and cheer me on as I blindly (literally and figuratively)feel my way through the minefield of funding a new business.  I’ll also point out any accessibility pitfalls about which to be aware if you are a screen reader user and considering Kickstarter.  Wish me luck, or pennies from heaven, or something. 





Word Press v3.3.2 dashboard access issue

Let this blog post serve as a cautionary tale for all of my readers, but most especially for those of you who use screen readers.  So as to avoid losing you to mind-numbing boredom, I’ll just cut right to the chase:  Never update your Word Press blog until well after a million others have already done so.


Skipping…skipping…welcome to my nightmare.


The latest version of Word Press offers a super-cool new flyout style dashboard that is not accessible.  According to WP support (see the comment thread here), the flyout menus "are accessible & do meet access guidelines if you are using the latest version of JAWS (or at least that’s what the last round of testing appeared to indicate) but that may not be the case with other screen reader software."


Can we all just ponder that a moment?  Ahem.  Not everyone uses Jaws.  Just for laughs, and to toss in my two cents, my own testing “appears to indicate” it does not work with the latest version of ZoomText, or the latest version of NVDA, both of which I use.  Hey, I ought to try it with Narrator, see what happens.

So that you know, and so that I can save you from grief, the recommended plugin mentioned in the support thread does not work with my configuration, either.  I’m running Win 7 on a PC with IE 8.  Quit laughing.


I’ve actually tried two different plugins that purport to make the WP dashboard more accessible, but no luck.  If you find a solution to this latest access annoyance, besides schooling me on the benefits of being an Apple user, please comment and share.  So many will be so grateful, most of all me.  By the way, don’t bother asking just any random WP “guru” about this.  Believe me, they’ll treat you like you’re insane.  Just don’t go there, it’s a pathway to madness.  Only a screen reader user is going to understand this problem, not someone who claims to know about web accessibility and Word Press.  Let’s start writing to the good folks at WP, or appeal to the many genius plugin developers out there. 

I’m growing tired of playing “menu roulette.”  Come on, code cowboys (and cowgirls), drop a few lines of those mysterious symbols, letters and numbers that look to me as if you slammed your fist down on the keyboard, and I’ll be the first to promote it for you.  That is, if I can manage to install it with the magical invisible dashboard. 



Try this accessible tool to increase blog readership: Subscribe To plugin

Anyone who wants to build a regular blog readership, or who wants to start their own blog site, knows that attracting and holding onto the restless and fickle eyeballs of the information-seeking public is a challenge.  The content needs to be interesting, of course, but all the experts say that you should probably post updates several times a week.  Further, offering customers a reason to come back, providing some interactivity, as well as some "sticky" content that keeps your readers on your site for more than a split second, also helps.  I suppose the purpose of this last is to encourage those impatient eyeballs to rest upon the ads you have sprinkled around your site.


In the case of this blog, however, I have no such ads, and if you are one of my regular visitors, you drop by to absorb the occasional pithy little wisdom pellet dispensed here.  Today I want to alert you to a Word Press plugin I’ve just installed to make that a bit easier.  Why it has taken me this long to offer this feature is beyond me, but if you want to subscribe to alerts about new posts, you can now click on the "Subscribe" link on the page and sign up to get my aforementioned wisdom pellets dropped into your email inbox.  I’m like a one-woman digital Pez dispenser.


While the "Subscribe To" Word Press plugin is one of the most popular in the sharing plugin category, I didn’t find it to be the most intuitive I’ve ever installed.  I’ll say this, though, it was mostly accessible, with some decent menu options that allow for some nice flexibility.  I cannot urge you strongly enough, however, to read the readme.txt file included with the download files.  On another of my blog sites, I used one of the suggestions made by the developer to create a "dummy" blog user, set as an administrator.  Give the dummy user a dedicated email account just for sending out new post alerts.  Since most web hosts allow you to create a gazillion email addresses, just set one up that you only use for this purpose.


Finding accessible plugins has not been easy.  For me, "accessible" means that I as the administrator must be able to install and configure it myself, without sighted assistance, and that my blog users must also be able to use the features.  Subscribe To, for example, allows you to enable an Ajax style subscribe form, or for visitors that do not have javascript enabled, a choice to use a widget or not.  On most blog sites, many plugins get a test run, then are deactivated and deleted.  Here on the Accessible Insights Blog, you can check out a list of the plugins I’ve used, some of which are currently deactivated.  I had to uninstall a popular sharing button because as of the latest version, it became inaccessible for my screen reader users.  I wrote to the developers of this sharing plugin to ask if they provided an accessible alternative, and I was told that the button does not support screen readers as of the current release, and there are no plans to make the button accessible in the future.  Out    it went.  To see a list of plugins used on this site, just click on the "plugins used" link at the top of the page.  Plugins Used is actually the name of a plugin that creates a page, then deposits on it a list of all the plugins you are running.  All those that I have installed and are currently active should be accessible for all users.


So, please subscribe to my blog.  Yes, new posts are tweeted out, thanks to Twitterfeed, but if you aren’t following me (@Accessible_Info), you don’t always know I’ve posted something new.  The Subscribe To plugin makes acquiring content more convenient, because readers need not frequently check for new posts.  Also, a site visitor does not have to register, although if you do, you can make some adjustments to your preferences as to how you want the content delivered.  I’ve selected the text-only option for the email updates I’ll send, since this blog isn’t exactly a multimedia production, anyway.  Subscribing is a simple, opt-in sequence that takes seconds.  You’ll only get an email when I post something new, so fret not that you will be inundated with messages.  My purpose here is to inform, not harass.


Click here to go to the Subscribe To plugin page.


Thank you, as always, for your eyeballs, text-to-speech engine, or whatever you use to consume my content.



Blogging against disablism 2012 post: Your Ingenious Life

Poet and playwright Neil Marcus said:  “Disability is not a brave struggle, or courage in the face of adversity.  Disability is an art.  It’s an ingenious way to live.”
When we support the concepts embodied by phrases such as “civil rights” and “independent living”, we are often defining them each in our own way.  To me, living an ingenious life means fully embracing three principles of independent living. Those principles are autonomy, accessibility and advocacy.


Autonomy can be characterized as living life on your own terms.  It is more than a mere geographical separation from oppression.  Centuries ago, when the pilgrims abandoned the Old World, they did more than simply move from one patch of ground to another, they established a new standard, based upon their own values and ideals.  Autonomy can be about giving yourself  permission to have higher expectations.   Whether you choose to live your ingenious life furthering the education of others by beating back ignorance,  or focusing your energy on raising a family, you have the right to realize  the same life, the good and the not so good, as anyone else. 

This is living your life with dignity.


When most of us consider the meaning of independent living, what often comes to mind is accessibility.  In my view, accessibility means more than wheelchair ramps and Braille dots.  It is as much about attitude as it is about architecture.  After all, what difference does it make to have access to an establishment, only to be ignored once we’re there?  We may as well conduct our business shouting from the sidewalk.

True accessibility is more than a mandate, it’s a mind set.


Finally, living an ingenious life includes advocacy.  Whether you belong to a service agency or organization, are launching grass-roots efforts to raise awareness or you  actively participate in a political action committee, become part of the process  to ensure your rights are protected.  To whom much is given, much is required.     Raise your voice on your own behalf, or lend your voice to those who have no voice of their own.  Advocacy must include education. We must do more than lament the darkness, as the old proverb goes, we must light a candle.


These three principles of civil rights and independent living are like the legs of a stool.  Remove one and the seat tips over.   
We must continue to be vigilant in our watch over the foundation laid by those who came before us. Peter Drucker is credited with  suggesting  that the best way to predict the future is to create it.     
Use your own circumstances artfully, to realize  autonomy, reach for greater accessibility, and      raise awareness through advocacy.   Live your ingenious life.



Previous  Blogging Against Disablism Day entries:

Click here to read my 2011 post, It’s on Aisle 5.

Click here to read my 2010 post, You Don’t Look Blind.