Category Archives: Blindness

Southwest Preboarding

Southwest Preboarding

Some of you may have seen my tweet the other day asking Southwest Airlines about their policy regarding placing passengers with visible disabilities on the preboard list for a flight if there hadn’t been a discussion with an agent about it first. Obviously, Twitter’s character limit necessitated a little more brevity, which may have come across as anger; it was not intended as such. I was quickly contacted by Customer Service Representative Nicole (and several others with their positive experiences) who offered to check into what had happened.

The Story: Karen and I were traveling from Omaha to Baltimore with a connection in chicago. We got out of omaha a little late necessitating hauling a little tail from MDW’s B12 to A4B. As an aside, anyone who has been the the “new gate” knows it’s faster to walk to Indiana. As we were walking the last quarter mile, we heard our names being paged to preboard the flight. We kind of wondered what it was all about, since we hadn’t requested to preboard, and since we didn’t need to preboard we just got in line with our boarding group, in numerical order. (as a second aside, the way the boarding line was set up, it would have been more inconvenient to us and others had we jumped the line)

Neither one of us thought much more about it until we were at the gate Wednesday (having finally secured the world’s best hot cocoa, that from Dunkin Doughnuts), and we got paged to preboard again. Again, we declined to do so, but it was at this point when I decided to engage Southwest and figure out why we were being put on the preboard list.

The Explanation: Nicole did follow up with an e-mail explaining what she found out. The gist of it is the agent at OMA was trying to be helpful when he saw the connection was so tight. I’m not sure if he thought attaching the SSR would trigger someone to meet us and get us to the gate more quickly, or if he thought at least the Ops Agent at MDW would keep an extra eye out for us so we wouldn’t miss the flight. IN any event, his intentions obviously weren’t malicious (nor had we ever really thought they were) and BWI was proactively acting on that SSR.

why did it matter to us? A lot of people probably think, “hey, you had the chance to get on before anyone else and get whatever seat you want. Why on Earth would you not take it?” As it is generally explained, the intent of preboarding is to allow people who need extra time or assistance getting down the jetway and to their seats to get that extra time or assistance. As a generally competant blind traveler* I don’t tend to need either of these accomodations. finding the right spot to stand in the boarding line isn’t difficult, one simply orients oneself the the location of the agent/boarding door, asks a passenger in line what their number is, and moves forward or backward accordingly. Following the group through the jetbridge is likewise not generally dificult. As for finding a seat, it’s pretty easy to either ask a flight attendant, should they offer, if there are empty seats nearby, or simply use the cane to determine if you find legs instead of empty floor space. A possibly daunting task to someone who has never conceptualized or experienced how they would do this as a blind person, but to us this is daily reality.

Anyone who has ever traveled with me on Southwest knows I am incredibly anal about trying to check in as close to that 24 hour pre-flight mark as possible. If I’m traveling alone, I like to sit by the window so I can easily stash my white cane along the bulkhead (it often confuses people when I have to ask them to slide it down there, don’t ask me why), and I’ve never had a problem finding a window seat when I’m in the A or lower numbered B groups. Same thing applies if I’m traveling with someone, we can board early and find seats together. I’m also generally confident that whomever I’m with is not going to get confused by the fact that my cane doesn’t collapse :).

There’s also another reason than not needing the asistance/time. it’s also sometimes a matter of ending up fighting public assumptions about the capabilities of the blind. Sometimes, people do things for you on the assumption that they think you can’t do it any other way. accepting a service you might not need may lead to the subconscious reinforcement of that assumption in someone’s mind. Maybe this doesn’t make any sense to anyone who hasn’t had to dispell numerous public misconceptions about what the blind can and cannot do, (I cite the crock of ridiculousary that is The BrailleWise Aircraft Toilet as a prime example**) but we do live in a world where many people still don’t believe the blind are as capable as sighted people and sometimes the assumption that we need to preboard is just one manifestation of that belief. When asserting that we are as capable as sighted folks, it hurts that assertion to take advantage of something we don’t need. Whether you yourself would think, the next time you are interviewing a blind person to work in a fast-paced environment, “hmmm, the last time I was on a plane, I saw that blind guy preboard. Maybe this guy is going to need more time to do things too,” but some people do hold that opinion. I completely understand how readers may not draw a connection from act A to thought B, but the human brain is a weird place, and my goal is to blend into the rest of you as much as possible.

I begrudge no one, blind or otherwise, from taking the opportunity to preboard if they feel they need it. In the case of blind people, there are those who have not yet learned the skills of blindness, or are not confident in their abilities, and do need extra time and assistance. If boarding my aircraft requires walking out on a noisy tarmac, I have occasionally preboarded if I wasn’t with someone, or didn’t feel I could ask a fellow passenger if I could follow them. However, in most cases, I’m perfectly capable of boarding during my asigned time. My reason for asking the question was to understand the Southwest policy, and what the thinking of the agents was. It was never to get on anyone’s case, raise ruckis because someone violated a federal reg, or be “that passenger”. I simply wanted to bring attention to what had happened, and maybe do a little educating along the way.

I would like to thank Southwest Airlines, Nicole, and the CSR Supervisors and agents she talked to, for your prompt responses. I have long preferred to fly SWA whenever possible because of the excellent customer service I receive, and because the people I have met are genuinely friendly. to the OMA agent who almost always recognizes Karen and me (and who knows Karen’s name), I’m sorry I don’t know yours; that is an oversight I will correct the next time our paths cross. And there will be a next time, because I will still fly SWA first and foremost whenever I can.

  • Disclaimer: this description may not apply on days when I am doggedly sick, or have not slept in the past 24 hours.

** A famous NonyRant is forthcoming on this topic this weekend, I assure you.

Blindness (the Film)

Blindness (the Film)

On Friday the film Blindness will be released to general audiences. This film, which is an adaptation of the 1995 Jose Saramago novel of the same name. This film portrays a society afflicted by a sudden onset of blindness that instantly turns the residence into helpless animals. The National Federation of the Blind has released the following information in an attempt to clarify the alarming misconceptions this film may ingender in viewers. Please take a moment to read and consider this information before watching this… thing.

Read the NFB’s FAQ About the Movie

iTunes Accessibility and Other Updates

iTunes Accessibility and Other Updates

On Friday I went to Watertown, MA to participate in an exciting press conference announcing an agreement between Apple Inc., The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, and the National Federation of the Blind to make the iTunes software, store, and iTunes U accessible to blind people. It was the first time that I’ve participated in a press conference and I think it went pretty well. You can read the AP story announcing the agreement.

I did learn something from this flight. I should never try changing flights to get back early. I was originally scheduled for an 18:30 flight coming back to Baltimore. My colleague was on a 17:30 flight and I asked f I could change to get back a little faster. There was an open seat and I got on the flight. While we were going through security his wife called and said the 17:30 had been pushed to 19:00. Groan. Sure enough, the flight didn’t get off until 19:45. We ended up having to go through security twice too owing to the fact that the section of the airport we were in had almost no options for food.

Also, a quick update. I finally got the blogroll caught up with reality. Hopefully I haven’t missed anyone.

In other news. We endedup at the Cheesecake Factory Tuesday night since ESPN Zone was closed for a private event. I still need to get my skiball and airhockey game on. 🙂

Wednesday Wackiness

Wednesday Wackiness

I don’t care if today is one day closer to the weekend. I am declaring shenanigans and demanding a do over, or better yet fast forward.

Last night I got home at about 21:30 after working an extra few hours showing products at a technology fair in Columbia. The show was really well attended and we showed off the new KNFB Reader Mobile and a couple of other new products.

Having agreed to go to a congressional hearing today it was necessary to be at the office at 07:00. We loaded up the vans, drove to DC, and spent an hour standing around because the hearing room was locked. No big deal I got the chance to catch up with one of the summer interns who I hadn’t seen in a while and eavsedrop on the US Capitol Police radio traffic. We were let into the room at 09:55 after being informed the hearing would start 20 minutes late.

Our representative was first on the agenda. I expected his testamony to take some time and be followed up by questioning from the committee. You know what I sat through? His 5 minute statement and 3 or 4 minutes of the committee chair saying our issue was basically not important and that we shouldn’t challenge the Librarian of Congress on his assertion that it was acceptable to phase the talking book program from cassette tape to digital books over 6 years instead of 4. Couple of quick facts here before I go on.

Seventeen thousand public libraries exist for sighted readers to obtain books from. Countless numbers of bookstores and websites exist for the same reason. Do you know how many libraries there are for the blind in this country? One. The National Library Service for the Blind. It serves 800,000 patrons throughout the entire country, producing talking and Braille books. Care to take a stab at how many recorded books are made available each year?

One percent.

Yes, a mere one percent of the available print material is made available to blind citizens. In a world where access to information and knowledge is a critical component of becoming educated and getting a job is it a wonder that 70 percent of working age blind adults are unemployed?

No, the NLS isn’t the *only* method for accessing books in alternative format, but it is the primary source for most of America’s blind. Services such as Audible and Bookshare do exist, and are good for what they offer (I use Bookshare heavily and Audible occasionally), but many blind citizens don’t have the funds, skills, or technology to utilize these services.

If the United States Congress does not make the 19.1 million dollar appropriation we are seeking it may be 3 years before some blind Americans have access to new books. That’s three fourths of a teenager’s highschool career. Imagine you walk into your local library or bookstore and see that their once massive collection has been reduced to one percent of what it was. Further imagine the librarian or store manager informs you that no new books will be coming in for another three years. How well would that go over?

Wow. That descended into a diatribe I wasn’t originally planning on writing, but I think I finally put my finger on why I was so annoyed today. It wasn’t that half my day was consumed with an eight minute meeting, or the fact that my sandwich vomited mustard all over my shirt and pants, nor the fact that my stomach almost rebelled on the way back to work from something I ate (TMI? Sorry.), or even the fact that I really can’t get any work done now because the Internets are broken. Really, what’s got me annoyed is the Committee chair acting as if we aren’t important. She commented that the blind are “not being left out.” and that a substantial portion of the budget being considered was going to programs that benefit blind Americans. That’s all well and good, but we are merely asking for a chance at accessing something many people take for granted.

Grrr!

Like I said. Shenanigans.

Oh, and I am now on hold with AT&T because they have, once again, deleted my voicemail account. This is still a holdover problem from the night the one support rep hosed one, and consequently the other, of our SIM cards. Cost me a $25 cab ride and two and a half hours on the phone with tech support to get new SIMs too. Yeah, I’m quite thrilled with them right now.

ooh, goodie. Voicemail is back, but I have to recreate my mailbox. Hope noone left me messages I will not get now.

NFB March for Independence

NFB March for Independence

I know I haven’t written in almost forever, but I have a huge post that I’m finishing up to make up for it. In the meantime I wanted to post this in case anyone is interested in sponsoring us for this exciting event.

As most of you know, Treva and I are active members of the National Federation of the blind and will be attending our annual convention in Atlanta in just a few short weeks. At our 2007 national convention the NFB is going to have a 5K walk to raise money for our Imagination Fund. Walkers must raise at least $250 to enter into this March for Independence. we’re not good at asking for money, but you know that we are firm believers in what the NFB stands for. Would you sponsor either of us by contributing towards our $500 goal? If so, we would be most grateful.

If you would like more information please reply to this email, or call one of us. Your sponsorship is fully tax deductible and a receipt will be provided. Online donations will receive automatic acknowledgements.

Since we are both marching, you can feel free to contribute to whichever of us you like best or just pick at random. We promise we won’t hold any grudges based on who you pick. 🙂

To make an online donation please visit one of the following addresses or give us a call if you have questions.

Tony: http://www.marchforindependence.org/site/TR?px=1055001&pg=personal&fr_id=1030
Treva: http://www.marchforindependence.org/site/TR?px=1055022&pg=personal&fr_id=1030

Thank you for supporting our efforts as part of the nations largest and oldest consumer organization of the blind.

I promise a post about my new job is forthcoming! Don’t yell at me SL 🙂

Unteachable?

Unteachable?

I have a question for my readers. Especially those of you who are teachers. Is it possible for someone to be incapable of learning something, or is it merely finding the way to teach it to them?

Example.

If I am paid by the state Vocational Rehabilitation agency to train someone in the use of software required for a job, including screen access and Microsoft Office products, and that person has absolutely no grasp of what I am teaching them how do I handle that? When I taought this person a specific task and they could not repeat the task mere minutes later I begin to wonder is it a problem with my teaching or their comprehention. I have also been told that this individual has already been taught everything I am reteaching her.

I’m kind of frustraited. I have an obligation to the state to teach the client the software they purchased for her. I have an obligation to the employer to teach the software required for the job. I also have an obligation to my student. Is there, however, a point at which I say, “hey. I’ve taught this task eleventy-billion times and there is absolutely no retension. This person is not trainable.” Or am I just giving up too soon.

I know the fundamentals of the screen reader are there. The person knows how to open programs, type, surf the web, so they are capable of learning new things, but why can’t I get them to understand how to switch folders in Outlook and remember that task 5 minutes later.

Maybe I just suck as a teacher.

I’ve got 2 more hours of traiing authorized before I have to ask for more if necessary. I’ll see on Tuesday if anything I have taught has sunk in.

Treva said that if it were a child she’d say repeat, and reinforce (or something like that). I don’t know that the state will pay for that, and I know the employer won’t be happy with that either. All the time I spend training is time taken away from productivity.

All right. Chime in. Please????? *pathetic wine* 🙂

Amusing

Amusing

Tom Reynolds from Random Acts of Reality had this to say today:

Only a short post today as I’m off filming for the Alan Yentob series ‘Imagine’.

I’m racing down the road on lights and sirens, there is a traffic light controlled pedestrian crossing so I have to slow down to avoid running over the
people who think that it is a good idea to run across the road in front of me.

Sitting, quite calmly, on the side of the road is a Guide dog for the blind. Amidst all these people running across the crossing, trusting that I’ll try
to miss them should they fall over in the middle of the road, the dog sits quietly and doesn’t make a move.

The dog has more sense than the people of Newham.

True as that may be, I kind of wonder where the dog’s owner was.

Also, in totally unrelated news, I forgot to sign the cover letter which went with the resume I turned into the City yesterday. I really, really, hope this is more of an “oops, kind of dumb thing” moment than a “this is going to completely kill your chance of ever getting this job” kind of mistake. I actually really want this IT job, not least of the reasons being I have been promised that should I obtain it I will never have to clean the house again. 🙂

Maryland Governer Chooses Blind Running Mate

Maryland Governer Chooses Blind Running Mate

Awesome! She’s a great lady too. She’s the former Assistant Director of Governmental Affairs for the NFB.

Md. governor chooses blind running mate
6/29/2006, 12:12 p.m. CT
The Associated Press

(AP) – ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Gov. Robert Ehrlich announced Thursday that Kristen Cox,
the state disabilities secretary, will be his new lieutenant governor running mate.

Cox said she agreed to join the ticket in part because the governor has stepped up for people with disabilities who, she said, “tend to be marginalized, overlooked, diminished.”

Cox praised Gov. Ehrlich for making Maryland the first state in the nation to have a cabinet-level Department of Disabilities. The state’s department was created under Ehrlich in 2004.

Before she joined the Ehrlich administration, she worked for the U.S. Department of Education and the National Federation of the Blind. She is legally blind. She will replace Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele on the ticket;
Steele is running for the U.S. Senate.