Needing Change, Wanting Work

Adulthood. Stress. The inevitability of expectations becoming reality. This seems to be my story.
Well, I’m not sure it’s quite reality yet, but it’s beginning to seem scarily close.
Remember the entry I posted near the end of April in which I detailed my pending plans for a summer trip or two? And how I talked about needing to hold back just in case I get bounced, at least for a time, from this job?
Well, I went to work today and was immediately concerned, because there was little to nothing to do. I spent nearly the entire eight hours, well ok I didn’t actually clock in till 9 due to another set of problems that I’ll get to later, in mind-numbing boredom. It seems no new orders have come in for the product we put out in my section, locks, in quite a bit, and thus all of the material has been used.
So to pass the time, I was given a tub with two different types of nails that I was to sort into piles in a different bin. It was busywork in the extreme. I’d grab one nail, drop it into its pile, deliberately count off either a minute or a minute and a half, and then grab another.
On top of that, it slowly warmed back there, as I suppose they’ve not really turned on the AC yet. While I am a big fan of warm weather, I either like to be outside in it or in a building with some degree of climate control. Its lacking, along with the generally aggravating nature of the work, made me a bit grumpier than maybe I would normally be toward anyone who attempted to talk to me.
I know there’s no way we could possibly continue to perform in that way for probably even a week. I’m really disturbed now and hoping that somehow some way we get some sort of order to work on.
I can’t afford to have this happen right now, as I suddenly find myself having to spend a lot of dough just to keep these hearing aids on. On Friday, shortly after having had my left-side aid shipped off for repair and a loaner installed, my right-side aid decided to die. I was thus stuck inside for the whole of the holiday weekend, which didn’t turn out so badly because the weather was fantastic. I just ate pizza and enjoyed some favorite movies from childhood to take my mind off of all the craziness and responsibility.
I have to pay $65 to cover repairs to my left-side aid, and will likely fork out another 70 or so in order to obtain a dry aid kit to hopefully avoid having this problem constantly in the future. So that’s the reason why I definitely need to keep some cash flowing in.
I guess this all is keeping me motivated to continue pursuing more meaningful career opportunities. As I reiterate, my dream is to work for either NPR or one of its local stations, perhaps as a social media person. They’re posting a lot of descriptions in an attempt to fill such positions, meaning that I may well be onto something. As it stands, I don’t really qualify for most of these positions. However, I’ve learned to view the descriptions as a sort of road map that tells me how to arrive at my destination instead of a roadblock that prevents me from getting there. This is an important shift in thinking.
One thing nearly all of the openings specified is a desire for the candidate to have some basic ability to design websites. To that end, I’m going to try and take a course this August that will cover a lot of the important components of web design. Offered by the Cisco Academy for the Vision Impaired (CAVI), they clearly place an emphasis on working with persons who are blind. They will teach such things as HTML, PHP, and CSS. Do I know what all of that is yet? No, but that’s why I’m taking it! They say you can come in on the ground floor and they’ll work with you to learn. It sounds intensive, but I’m excited to hopefully take a concrete step to opening the doors I need for advancement.
And that’s just a little of what’s been going on in my topsy turvy life. No wonder I’m exhausted already. Thank goodness for a shortened week.

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Bugs Are Back?

NBA? Oh no ya don’t. Y’all can’t do this to me! My heart break is only now starting to heal.
I’m old enough to remember when the Queen City was first granted its own pro basketball team. Actually because I’m no historian, I’m not sure if it was the first pro team Charlotte had ever had. I know there was a team called the Carolina Cougars, but I think they played in Greensboro.
Anyway, the excitement was palpable. Charlotte, on the national map!
We had, have, and always will love our fine tradition of college basketball in the great state of North Carolina.
But somehow this was different. It confirmed our up-and-coming status as a real urban center and made us feel more competitive with our archrival Atlanta.
In those blissful early days, we didn’t really care if our team went 27-55. The building, the 23,000-seat Charlotte Coliseum, was filled to capacity and jumping every night. That building’s natural nickname was the hive, and it sure sounded like swarms had taken over.
Remember short Mugsy, full of heart? The flamboyant Larry Johnson (LJ!) and Alonzo Morning?
I happened to be in the building where Morning is said to have made his Charlotte debut, the Milton Road Boys and Girls Club. The soda man had just stocked that machine inside of the chock full gym, and within 5 minutes we all had still warm drinks in our hands as we listened to ‘Zo speak.
As my cousin and I fully embraced sports, we’d initially listen to entire Hornets radio broadcasts starting perhaps an hour before the game and going till an hour or so after it.
If they happened to lose, we’d mope around for the rest of the evening. People would say “Snap out of it!” to which we’d reply “you just don’t understand”. And how could they?
The early 90s passed on by, and as we entered the middle of that decade some of the shine began to fade. Not that we in the city of Charlotte weren’t still big fans, but by this time we’d began to want a winner. It’s funny how quickly a playoff trip can spoil a fan base, isn’t it?
I moved on to a small town called Southern Pines North Carolina, and in an era before smartphones and ubiquitous Internet, I was forced to take in my beloved Hornets on an intermittent AM signal while attempting to avoid smashing myself repeatedly in the head with the Walkman I waved around. I still faithfully listened to every game, though.
Then came college and its myriad responsibilities. We joined the on-campus choir, and I was always a little sad when rehearsal occurred during a Hornets game. Never fear, that’s what the trusty recorder was for. If I could somehow avoid the score long enough, I’d just run back to my dorm room, hit rewind, and chill while the game replayed. The nice part about that was I could easily just skip the commercials.
And finally there was 2001. The once near-knighted George Shin and his chum Ray Woolridge, (probably not how his name is spelled but I don’t care) announced their intentions to relocate our team (OUR TEAM!) from the Queen City due to sagging interest. I’m sure it had more to do with them wanting to pad their bottom line, but then where is that not true in this world I suppose?
Players on that team stated that they fervently hoped they would not in fact leave Charlotte, and they played hard in order to try and make that happen. We advanced farther into the playoffs than any time before, sweeping the Miami Heat out of the first round and taking the Milwaukee Bucks all the way to the edge before going down in 7.
Oh man, that game six still makes me sad. We had a 10-point lead with like 5 minutes to go, and all we could do was watch helplessly as it slipped through our fingers. I remember ESPN Sport Center showing a kid in the lower rows crying his eyes out.
And that, in many ways, was the end of the Hornets’ tenure in our fine city. I think Charlotte was as eager to shirk the team as the team was to leave, as the city staged a vote to build a new arena that they knew would not pass. Then as soon as the team departed, they announced that they were building the arena anyway, and thus the league quickly granted us another team.
I went to that Bobcats season opener in 2004, with two of my cousins on a paratransit bus. It was kind of fun, as they opted to sit us down on the floor rather than in the way high up seats we had actually purchased. We ordered a pizza, placed the box down beside ourselves, took big cups of soda, and had fun making little old ladies nervous about our safety as we pranced around near the railings.
Unfortunately, the Cats have definitely not been able to capture that magic. I don’t really blame them though. Naturally, they’re dealing with an apathetic fan base and a lack of any really good players. Ok I kind of blame the ownership for that second issue, but, well.
Today, we at least put in a request to rename our team the Hornets, as New Orleans has abandoned it for the Pelicans (Pelicans?) It seems that if we are allowed the name change, it would not take effect until the 14-15 season.
Can a name really make a difference? I suppose not in and of itself it won’t. We’ll have to make a real go at building a team. But an example to which I have referred a lot is the Tampa Bay baseball team. They changed their name from the Devil Rays to just the Rays, and seemingly vaulted from being the butt of all jokes into the World Series overnight. So hey, who knows?

Thinking Of Attending Grad School? Some advice

Dove-tailing off of last week’s Grad week posts and still quite relevant as people are walking the stage this week too, I thought I’d give some, unsolicited, advice on entering grad school. If you’re planning to go this fall, I’d hope you’ve completed many of these suggestions by now. Even so, they can be used as a sort of checklist. If, like me, you’re mulling over the idea of getting it going in the fall of 2014 or later, then you’ll want to consider these along the way.
I speak from experience. I also speak knowing that it’s pretty difficult to understand how to implement some of this unless you’ve actually walked through the fire, as much of what people tried to tell me went into one ear and out of the other. There were some aspects though that I’d not been made aware of at all, so perhaps what I have to say will help at least one person to obtain a Master’s or Ph.D. in one go, rather than having to suffer the humiliation of being dropped as I was and trying to figure out a way to get things restarted. So, let’s go.
My first recommendation is probably the hardest for most folks of my generation: try to enter with a clear goal. Sit down with yourself and ask: “What am I trying to do with my life? Is there anything I think I can stand going through the fire for, sacrificing social life, sleep, and the like to attain?”
I don’t know if I grasped the necessity of this thought process until it was far too late. I came in with the same mentality I had as an undergrad: I don’t really know why I’m here but I’ll figure it out as I go.
The big problem with that is you may find it more of a challenge to direct your research. And if you can’t direct your research, you may never get your major project, (in my case it was just the literature review that was meant to begin my major project) to a level that departmental advisors would consider defensible.
So I think that what I’m going to do this time, once I decide on the general degree I wish to pursue, is to begin talking to as many current and incoming students and professors about work they’ve done. It also pays of course to chat with program alumni about actual jobs they’ve managed to get as a result of receiving this degree.
In my previous program, projects and requirements rarely changed unless new professors were brought in. This means that, generally speaking, you may be able to take a look at past syllabi and actually get a bit of a jump on some of the projects that must be completed. Goodness knows I’d have benefited from trying that! All of the initial reading and writing of several papers that were suddenly thrust on me meant pretty much instant overwhelmedness from which, it can be argued, I never really recovered.
Following on that, and this is very important, know the style of writing (e.g.) APA, MLA, that your program uses. And if you don’t know how to write in that style, please! Make an attempt to learn before arriving on that first day. They will likely test your abilities in this area immediately by making you compose a small essay wherein you cite sources, use formatting, and the like.
I was directed to see if perhaps the good folks at my university’s writing center might be able to help me out, but I believe they provide most of their services to undergraduates. Perhaps this shouldn’t be too unexpected, as an individual on the graduate level is expected to have a basic understanding of paper composition. There are various reasons why some of us may not have that understanding, and so I’d just suggest that you keep it in mind that you should work on sharpening it before getting started.
Given that I’m totally blind and largely deaf, many of my suggestions are aimed at persons with disabilities. Still, I think it benefits anyone to be aware of the kinds of technology that will be necessary to stay on top of in-class assignments. For example, I got bonked by my inability to use PowerPoint in organizing two major presentations in that fateful first semester. Not that the presentations were all that great even without them, but especially for the treatment manual I had to write for a Diagnosis class, I may have managed at least a P or pass, (B by most grading systems) rather than the L or low pass C, I actually got. That grade forced me to retake the course the following year.
Especially for others with disabilities that require materials to be made accessible, I’d recommend sitting down with all of the professors as well as staff from the campus Disability Services office to discuss how each project will be made doable. Try to avoid surprises if at all possible. I found myself surprised a few times, and was usually too intimidated by the time that I realized I hadn’t a clue how to get something done that I failed to notify everyone in a timely manner.
Finally, and speaking of surprises, make sure you have enough money to get through that first semester without there being too much financial stress. Seriously, by November I was drawing dirt from my bank account and praying that somehow I’d get it accepted as payment of rent and other expenses. This meant that as the major papers of that semester ratcheted up, I had also to worry about cobbling together enough pennies to avoid being tossed out onto the streets. I think even this issue could have been mitigated by making small changes to my budgeting habits.
That’s just a little advice that I write here more for my own memory than anything else. If if helps you to experience more success, then that’ll be a pleasant byproduct. If you are planning to start that journey some time soon, I certainly wish you well.

Book Review: The Forgotten, by David Baldacci

I will begin by saying Happy Mother’s Day to all the women out there working hard and raising their children. Or, I guess by this point it’s more appropriate to say I hope you’ve had a great Mother’s Day.
Read a piece I wrote a few years ago entitled Reflections on My Mother about the great work she did in bringing up and caring for her family. There were definitely a lot of us!
As he often does, David Baldacci explores the ties among family members and the lengths one will go in order to ensure those members are treated fairly. This novel continues to follow John Puller, an officer in the US military who likes to chase down leads and conduct somewhat off-the-books investigations in different parts of the country. While it is a sort of sequel to Zero Day, I would say that one need not have read the former to enjoy this book. It might make things clearer though, as Puller constantly mulls over “the events of West Virginia” the context of which you wouldn’t understand without having read that.
Having been given time to convalesce from those events, Puller suddenly receives a letter from his Aunt in Florida. He’d not connected with her in years, but saw her as a valuable part of his upbringing and one who gave sound advice and was always there to talk to.
She writes that certain happenings in the town of Paradise are concerning her, and wonders if perhaps he could look into things. By the time he arrives on the scene, she has apparently met her demise due to suspicious causes.
The story is told from a third-person perspective but mostly from Puller’s point of view. As in Zero Day, Puller interacts with his father John Puller SR., who is dealing with increasing Alzheimer’s disease that leads him to believe he is still conducting battles as a high-ranking army general. The relationship between father and son is moving, although I think too much mention is given to the fact that Puller the son is just going along with this painful game because he doesn’t know how to break the real news to Puller father. The reader pretty much gets the point after the first two references.
Also as in zero Day, a dynamic that seems to be leading toward romantic connection is developing between Puller and the main female cop in Paradise: Cheryl Landry. I am not entirely certain if that will happen though, due to the fact that I’m only a little less than halfway through the novel.
I feel safe in recommending this book, as long as you can deal with a fair amount of violence and loss of life. It’s a good, easy read that I’ve mixed in among the myriad other books I’m working my way through as well. If only I could read while on the job!
I think I may have read more Baldacci than I have almost everyone else. I like his ability to so widely vary his styles, though I imagine that makes him hard to categorize as family-friendly vs. more adult-oriented. I suppose this challenge can be mitigated by doing what one should anyway: vetting the book before allowing young ones to be exposed to it. In any event, I’ve not been let down by any of his works that I have chosen to check out.

Graduation Weekend

I’m sitting on my porch as the wind blows lightly. There was, I suppose, a fairly significant storm as I slumbered an accidental 3 hours on this Saturday afternoon, but then I suppose that such slumbers are what weekends are for.
So, this is graduation weekend, the one on which I would have completed my studies at the University of North Carolina if I’d managed to survive. I’ve been reflecting some on that, even as I celebrated with others on making it to that milestone.
First, my cousin and his fiancé came up to attend her hooding ceremony. Hooding? Yep, that’s what one gets upon completing a Ph.D. Wow, I have a lot of respect for one who can actually follow through with that.
I hadn’t realized that the “hood” was kind of a robe-like thing that one drapes over the shoulders. When she put it on me, I joked that her power had been transferred to me. DR. Miller!
“No, I want that back,” she said.
Then, I have the pleasure of attending a party thrown for one of my friends who has just received her bachelor’s degree. One of the nicest people I’ve known, she as part of the Community Empowerment Fund, an agency that especially helps people in the Durham/Chapel Hill area avoid homelessness, worked with me for much of 2012. She taught me some basic job skills and helped to improve my confidence when conducting the search. When I considered volunteering at UNC Hospitals, an idea that never quite worked out due to financial constraints sadly, she walked me to and from the place I would need to go a few times in summer heat until I got it. She and another person pitched in to assist me in moving my heavy furniture from my previous apartment into storage right before I headed off to PineBluff in September. And finally, she’s just a great friend who cares. It’s kind of a shame I lost my entries on the 2012 experience, or else I’d link up to them.
Anyway, I meet some of her family at this party after having been transported there by another awesome CEF personality. The host house is in Chapel Hill, but I think in Chatham County. The setting is idyllic: a nice deck outside that allows us to be splashed in sunshine, a long, curving gravel driveway, and separation from other houses by some woods. I can’t help thinking to myself that this would be a wonderful place from which to read and write, although perhaps I could get a little lonely out there.
They have food, including turkey sausages, a mix of fruits, m&m’s, and coffeecake. We eat this while chattering and being entertained by some kids who put on an impromptu jump rope show. Ah, I remember the days of doing that sort of thing. I don’t even know if I can get this long, lanky body off of the ground now.
And so this has made for a nice weekend thus far. The best part of it is getting to hang out and spend time with family and friends, and I hope that continues. I’ve kind of felt that the writing well is dry regarding my personal life these days, thus a greater participation in entries dealing with a specific topic or observance. But I wanted now to let people in a bit on how I’m feeling and what’s going on here. There will be more soon, I’m sure.
To all of you receiving any kind of degree this weekend or in the coming months, I offer my congratulations. Go forth and shake the world!

Accessibility Ups And Downs

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, hash tagged #GAAD on Twitter. In so saying, we first attempt to get a handle on what “Accessibility” actually means.
I am in agreement with one of the panelists on the Serotalk Podcast that there really is no overarching definition of accessibility. It relates to the ability of an individual to interact with his or her environment in such a way that productivity is made easier. I would perhaps say that, if one views it as a sort of social construct, it is the opposite of disability. That is to say accessibility means that one is able to mitigate the limitations typically experienced as a result of a medical condition through the use of technology or the removal of physical and societal barriers.
When blind folks hear the term Accessibility, we most often think of ensuring that a website or app works well with our screen-reader of choice and/or in our browser of choice. This means not only being able to launch the site, but also to move around, make purchases, and interact with its content.
One of the more exciting developments in this area has certainly been the rise of the smartphone. Currently, the most prominent of these among our population is the iPhone, with its easy-to-use VoiceOver program. Some sighted individuals don’t realize it, but if you have an iOS device of any kind you can easily activate and play with VoiceOver yourself by simply clicking the home button three times in rapid succession. To deactivate it, just press that same button three times quickly again. When this is on, you’ll need to tap each icon twice in order to cause it to launch, but it’s pretty easy. As the founders of this day encourage everyone to try out some of these techniques to learn a little about our experiences, such as going mouseless and using keyboard commands, I’d encourage you to give VoiceOver a shot.
One of the most exciting recent developments in the iOS world is that Amazon has finally made its Kindle app usable with VoiceOver. This has been a long time in coming, and still I am pleased that yet another mainstream company has taken the time to dip its toes in the accessibility waters as well. They’ve actually done a pretty good job with it, at least in my opinion. I snagged a title from their site, admittedly a free one so that I could sample how things would work, and was able to read it with intuitive gestures that anyone who uses iOS with VoiceOver would quickly figure out. And they allow for more flexibility in book navigation, use of information contained therein, and the like. It’s a great start, and I salute you.
I have also found that iOS can come in handy when one is unable to get sites to work on a Windows PC. I had been trying to purchase Microsoft Office 2013 from their site, and whenever I entered my debit card information the page would refresh about halfway through putting the numbers in. I guess there are legitimate reasons for creating pages that do this, but I was still relieved that when I launched Safari on the iPhone I was able to enter all of my information without being removed from the proper edit fields.
There has been a lot of progress made with regards to access to technology for those with varying needs, but an area that remains a thorn in my side, as it has for at least seven years, is Captcha. You know what I’m talking about. The characters that, I’ve heard, are even a challenge for sighted people to interpret in many cases that must often be entered to complete sign-up for sites, obtain tickets, and other things.
There are specialized Captcha-solving programs for individuals who are blind or otherwise have real difficulty interpreting what’s on the screen, but my issue with those is I can’t get them to work very well on my machine. The programs are no longer actively updated, and much of the help information is no longer available to instruct one on how to use them anyway.
And audio captcha? Well, you may as well be listening to Chinese. I have a hearing problem, but again even people with normal hearing say that in most cases they can’t really understand what is being said.
“Accessibility” as we know it is such a vast topic that it is impossible for me to thoroughly cover every angle of it. What about for persons in wheelchairs: being able to get apartments that they can enter with relative ease. There is a real shortage of such units, sadly. And captioning for individuals who are deaf, so that they can enjoy TV programs like everyone else. I’m sure that some of these topics are covered in greater detail by other #GAAD participants, and invite you to go and check them out.

The Rarity of Multi

I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading through some of the other posts for Blog against Disablism Day, hashtagged #BADD2013 on Twitter. I didn’t want to try and come up with my own entry unless I felt I could contribute a fairly unique perspective to the conversation. And I think I can.
Mine is not altogether unusual I know, but it is also not considered by many, even those with disabilities. That’s right, I have two obvious disabilities: blindness and progressive deafness. Ok, you’ve persuaded me to come to this party. I’m nervous, because I know going in that the room will be full of people bustling about and talking as loudly as possible. You assure me that you’ll keep this in mind and make sure that I in some way remain a part of things.
We get there, and I take a seat. Immediately, you squeeze my arm, say “I’ll be back in a minute!” and disappear.
I sit back in my chair and float away into my thoughts.
“Right?”
“Oh, what? You talking to me?”
“Yes, well sort of… never mind.”
Hmmm, ok.

Now on the job: I’ve gotten myself arranged in my little section and settled in for the tedious work that will make up my eight-hour day. Machines clatter to life, and I start adjusting my hearing aids to the extent that I can stand while hopefully being able to perceive if something is said to me.
You take your customary position across from me at the table and speak some words in greeting. Then we kind of drift off and do our own thing, as usual.
A new individual takes the seat immediately to my left.
“Oh, he can’t hear you,” I hear you tell him. This despite the fact that I’ve advised you that in such situations where I might not be aware of someone attempting to talk to me, it’s best to address me and inform me of that pending conversation.
“John, that person on your left is trying to talk to you.”
This gives me the chance to fully explain my hearing needs and actions the new individual can take if he or she wishes to have me understand more easily. And from an admittedly self-serving vantage point, it makes me come across as a little more competent.
Now please understand that I’m not attempting to down or attack anyone for these challenges. I know full well that it can be hard to remember that I or others like me have such struggles if you don’t share our perspective. I just want to help clarify why sometimes I might not appear to be as sociable or willing to “come along” as maybe you’d like.
Obviously if one only has one of these issues, then one can more smoothly compensate. A deaf person can watch lips, or a person who is blind might be able to hear her name being called over the crowd noise. But being a relative newcomer to the deafblind world, I’m not yet aware of all the coping strategies I could implement to help me in these and similar situations.
The biggest thing I do for myself, usually, is to notify repeatedly if I have to that I have a hard time hearing sometimes.
Also, to the extent possible, I try to be the asker of questions. Goodness knows it’s easier for me to follow along when I know what the discussion topic is. Of course that’s not always doable and would lead to social awkwardness, perceived egotism, and a bunch of other unpleasant occurrences. In those cases, I just have to hold on tight and enjoy the ride.
Luckily, these issues often only serve as amusements for me and don’t result in serious difficulties. However, I have no doubt that I’ve lost chances at deeper friendship or perhaps dating/romantic relationships because of my dual disability status. I’m not even aware of the extent to which these may have prevented or interfered with my being granted better employment opportunities as well. This is why I feel it is very important that we be willing to speak up for ourselves and hopefully allay some of the nerves that other people might experience when confronting us. Ultimately though, I can only do the best I can and hope that somehow that ends up being enough.
Read my other Blog Against Disablism Post from 2010, on whether all blind folks need guide dogs