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Importance of Participating and Staying Informed

January 19, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Karen, one of our esteemed correspondents, contributes the following urgent call to participation and positive action. You are strongly urged to follow her excellent example!

As blind people we need to be involved & informed of what is

happening around us. Since we lack eyesight to perform tasks

visually, we need to compensate by utilizing our other senses to make

sense of our surroundings.

We need to keep up to speed with what is happening around the world

as well as at home in our neighborhoods and communities.

Most information is not in an accessible format that we as blind people can read. It is in print and, thus, isn’t available to us. We need to devise reasonable methods of receiving that information. There are a number of ways that we can gain access to this

information: audio recording, Braille, and accessible electronic format.

In addition to these methods one can utilize Newsline, TV, radio as

well as access information on their computer.

The net is a wonderful vehicle to locate information on just about

everything. As blind people we need to find the tools & be more

resourceful. It’s very helpful to become computer literate & have

access to such services as the Internet, bookshare and the talking

book library.

This will enable us to be more informed and more on a par with our

sighted counterparts.

The Internet is an extremely valuable

outlet to gain access to printed information. As many of you know,

google is an excellent search engine. On hundreds of occasions, I have used this tool to do research. as Darrell has documented in the pages of Blind Access Journal and elsewhere, it is critically important for us to have access to information and technology. The significance of this need will be more and more apparent for us now and in the future. It is vital for all blind people to be informed, get training in computers, attend classes, and demonstrate our skills and abilities on the job. We must demonstrate initiative in finding a job and participating in our communities.

It is important to speak out & let our voices be heard in such forums as blogs.

Darrell has written several articles on issues that continue to

affect us individually but also as a minority group in this society.

We have noticed that no one has posted any comments or otherwise submitted any material on any of these subjects. I am sure someone has something to say, a point to add,

or a comment of his/her experience on any one of these topics!.

Please, respond! Speak your mind; allow your voice to be heard. If we truly want to “change what it means to be blind”, we need to work together, to unite as one, to shape others attitudes and improve the lives for all blind people. If we sit back & wait for someone else to speak up, then it will be someone else’s actions and words, not yours, that could change society’s attitudes and beliefs about us & ultimately effect our world.

If one does not vocalize their opinion and make their vote known, then he or she does not have the right to complain about the results. We have received correspondence and positive feedback from sighted individuals who have read the articles in Blind Access Journal, but participation has been minimal in the blind community. So, come on! Participate! Get involved! Let’s truly make a difference and “change what it means to be blind”!

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Facing the Consequences of Disorganization

January 19, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

It was once said that the best laid plans often do not survive first contact with the enemy. Yesterday was, for myself and my coworkers, an excellent example of this concept in the real world.

On my lunch break, I placed a 6:00 PM timed cab order to leave work. My plans were to pick up some dinner on the way to my Mayor’s Commission on Disability Concerns meeting, where I am a commissioner. As I am an advocate for greater accessibility, increased transportation options and improving social attitudes toward the blind in my community and in society as a whole, participation in this commission is extremely important to me. The commission can be an excellent vehicle for positive change at the local level.

Sadly, things just didn’t work out quite as planned. At approximately 5:40, I began preparing to leave the office. That included determining who would be answering the phones for one of our customers between 6:00 and 9:00 PM. The engineer covering this on Monday was not present. My investigation determined that we had been asleep at the switch on this matter. There was no one available to cover this three hour block of time. Leaving the phones unanswered is never an option. Availability is a critical element of our service for which our customers pay. We apparently assumed the same engineer who handled our phones on Monday would be doing so on Tuesday evening, without double checking the correctness of that assumption. We also did not devise a backup plan in case that engineer was ill or otherwise could not come to work on any particular day.

6:00 PM came and went. The cab driver showed up on time. He was nice enough to wait about 10 minutes while I worked with the project’s team lead to devise a solution to the coverage issue. Determining that I would need to wait for the arrival of the project lead, I let the cab driver go. I was relieved at 6:35 and a cab was, very fortunately, able to pick me up at 6:45. I was five minutes late to the commission meeting; the chairman and my fellow commissioners were waiting for me before getting started! I find it very embarrassing to be late to a meeting of this nature. Things could have been worse. The first cab driver could have compelled me to pay for that ten minutes of waiting. I had to wait two and a half extra hours before eating dinner. I could have arrived to the meeting even later.

Despite blindness and the artificial accessibility barriers that limit my ability to work with many of our customers, there is a reason my employer keeps me around! It has to do with my character. I am accountable, dedicated and professional. I will step up to the plate when others will not. These traits can set us apart in a positive way. Let’s make sure we’re always putting our best feet forward!

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Call the Number on Your Screen

January 17, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I don’t personally shop by television. I prefer to be a bit more deliberate in my purchasing decisions rather than just impulsively picking up the telephone and calling the indicated telephone number to buy some neat gadget or some CD collection from Time Life. There is apparently enough impulse buying from television advertising to make this a profitable venture for many businesses. Sadly, these companies are probably missing out on a sizeable amount of revenue due to the inaccessible format of some of their commercials.

While watching television, I notice that about half of all television commercials for mail order products provide no verbal information concerning how to place an order. The company’s mailing address, telephone number and web site are shown “on your screen” with none of this information being spoken for nonvisual access. A sighted person who happens to be looking at the screen at the time the commercial is played will be able to read this information, while the blind, those with other print reading disabilities, the illiterate and those who happen not to be in a good position to see the screen will miss out on a potential buying opportunity. Vision loss is a common condition for the aging baby boomer generation, who are in a strong position to purchase these products. When a consumer wants to make a purchase and is denied that opportunity, the seller isn’t doing their job. This results in lost income for the seller.

The solution to inaccessible television advertising is remarkably simple. Verbally provide at least the telephone number and web site address for customers to place an order. Speak the telephone number twice or even three times so that your customers have a chance to memorize it or write it down. Taking these simple steps toward greater accessibility will enable advertisers to gain more blind and sighted customers. What can we do to urge advertisers to provide this basic information verbally? As always, all thoughts are welcome. Please post a comment.

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Amateur Radio: Excellent Hobby for the Blind

January 16, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

In 1984, an older blind school student riding with me on the school bus demonstrated amateur radio. He had a small handheld radio he could use to talk with other people all over Southern Arizona. This same friend was also heavily interested in computer technology. After learning about and seeing for myself all the other things I could do with amateur radio, I was hooked, earned my amateur radio licenses and my life changed forever! I passed my Novice Class amateur radio exam on my birthday (August 11) in 1985, and passed my Extra Class exam in March of 1986! In less than eight months I had made it to the top of the amateur radio licensing structure, passing four written theory exams and demonstrating my abilities to comprehend the Morse Code at twenty words per minute. I was also launching myself in to an ongoing life adventure!

The hard work involved in studying and passing the Morse Code and written theory exams served to build my character and add discipline and organization to my mind. It also cultivated my interests in current events, geography, politics and science. My father spent several hours each day reading the study manual to me, asking me the questions found at the end of each chapter in the book and checking my answers for correctness, reading the supplied explanation when I gave an incorrect answer. Participation in local amateur radio classes, radio clubs and public service events enabled me to interact with others, almost exclusively adults, on a regular basis, thus serving to further develop my social skills.

As I conversed with ham radio operators around the world, I became interested in geography, history and politics. As I contacted someone in a new country, mom and I would research that country’s climate, culture, government, location, religion and more. It caused me to ask more questions and thus acquire more knowledge. I logged all my contacts on cassette and later using a computer program. This cycle of talking (using Morse Code or voice) and logging enhanced my abilities to act efficiently, multitask and organize information. Copying Morse Code by ear served to enhance my listening skills.

Participating in face to face settings such as club meetings, emergency communications drills, Field Days, hamfests and public service events enhanced my social skills by exposing me to a diverse group of people from all walks of life. I learned how to get along with others and how to act courteously and professionally. My involvement with amateur radio at an early age helped to show me that, despite blindness, I can contribute to and fully participate in society.

During my twenty years of participation in amateur radio, I have enjoyed the following adventures:

  • Camping out in the mountains with fellow hams to participate in annual Amateur Radio Field Day operations.
  • Helping a fellow ham during a contest with the setup of an antenna in rainy and windy conditions.
  • Running in to a 3 foot tall yellow pole at the bottom of a pedestrian bridge while talking to a ham friend across town on the radio.
  • Hanging out at a friend’s house contacting hundreds of other ham operators around the world in a 48 hour contest.
  • Riding along with a bicycle maintenance crew assisting with communications during a bike-a-thon.
  • Attending breakfasts, radio club meetings and other events, meeting lots of interesting people in the process.

Amateur radio has been a huge contributor to the success I now enjoy and to that I hope to enjoy in the future. It was part of the foundation of experience and knowledge I gained while growing up. I highly recommend this hobby for all blind people, even those who do not have a technical background and just want to talk on the radio and meet people. Please comment or write a personal message if I can help with additional information about amateur radio and how you can become involved.

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Microsoft Outlook Web Access Is Not…

January 14, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Microsoft Outlook Web Access is a web based interface to the features of the popular Outlook component of the Microsoft Office software suite. It provides a secure method for a company’s sighted employees to perform tasks such as exchanging e-mail, managing contacts and scheduling. Sadly, this appears to exclude the blind, as this web application presents huge barriers to those of us who rely on screen reading software to use our computers.

My employer would like to tap me to provide some backup coverage for one of our customers. I am only able to act in a backup role since the customer’s Siebel implementation is already known to be inaccessible. The customer uses Outlook Web Access to provide secure front end access to their Microsoft Exchange server without exposing their internal network to undue outside risk. Gaining access to the company’s Exchange server to enable me to use the full Microsoft Outlook client software is out of the question, as the customer is not going to provide us with access to a VPN tunnel in to their internal network. Since we are on an outsourcing basis, we are in absolutely no position to pressure our customer to cooperate.

I have checked out a number of Outlook Web Access implementations, finding them all to be similarly inaccessible. Though the web pages appear to be readable with JAWS, simple tasks such as selecting and reading a message simply do not work. Several blind colleagues verify that Outlook Web Access is currently not accessible to us. We are surprised and disappointed in Microsoft’s oversight in the design of this critical productivity application. I strongly urge everyone to read Microsoft’s “commitment” to accessibility, then send e-mail to Microsoft’s accessibility group and provide online feedback registering your concerns about the need for accessibility to Outlook Web Access and all other Microsoft products and services. Outlook Web Access is considered to be a secure enhancement to the Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Office products. It is being widely implemented in businesses and government agencies. Access to applications of this nature is absolutely critical to our current and future employability. We also believe it is mandated by the United States government under Section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act, which requires that the government purchase information technology products and services that are accessible over those that are not.

If you have devised a solution to gain access to Microsoft Outlook Web Access, please post a comment right away. Your answers will be critical to those of us who are struggling with this application. Please keep in mind that there is no way to gain access to the actual Exchange server, so suggesting use of the full Microsoft Outlook application is not a workable solution.

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Want a job? Take the initiative!

January 14, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I think many of us make the mistake of leaning too heavily on vocational rehabilitation agencies while failing to take our own initiative. I am enjoying a degree of employment success. My career in the technology industry is now ten years long. At no time did a vocational rehabilitation agency place me in a job.

I am not saying that you should not use the services provided by VR agencies. Get the assistive technology you will need to perform the duties of a job. At a bare minimum, this would probably be a screen reader such as JAWS. Try to get this assistive technology and associated training before you start seeking employment. Assistive technology is obviously essential in order for us to be employed. If you need something that VR won’t provide, go ahead and escalate the matter within VR but also try to find other sources of funding. You should also use the services of VR agencies to obtain training in blindness skills and the skills required to obtain and retain employment. You’ll need to be able to write exceptional cover letters and resumes. You’ll also need to learn and practice the skills required to conduct a successful interview. Of course, you must also be otherwise qualified to perform the duties of the jobs you seek. This might mean you need to attend college or a technical school.

Once you are all set with your blindness skills, education, job skills and some basic technology to make your world accessible, get to it! Don’t wait for your VR counselor. Write your resume. Ask family and friends to proofread it for you. If you have professional colleagues whom you trust, ask them to proofread your resume. Once you are satisfied with your master resume, get started in the job search. Network, network, network! Let your friends, family and other associates know that you are looking for a job and always emphasize your abilities and the reasons why you’re the best candidate for any opportunity! Utilize online job search resources such as Respond to any openings that meet your qualifications. Write those convincing cover letters and get those resumes out the door. When you start getting interview offers, do NOT mention your blindness on the telephone! Dress professionally and Get yourself to those interviews. Until you have obtained paid employment, volunteer, volunteer, and volunteer some more! Community service activities are a recognizable way of showing that you’re active and are not just sitting at home waiting for that phone to ring. Keep going with this cycle until you have achieved success!

There are, indeed, serious issues that impact us when we attempt to obtain or retain our employment. They involve accessibility, transportation and negative social attitudes about blindness. But, there are also people who see our value and will give us that opportunity. I have talked with lots of blind people over the years about employment. My findings? Most blind people don’t have a job because they don’t take most of the necessary steps to achieve success. They are sitting at home on Social Security and other public assistance waiting for their VR counselor to do something! When you take the initiative and act for yourself, you show the world that you have what it takes to effectively perform the duties of that job you seek!

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State CPS Agencies Abduct Babies From Their Blind Parents

January 13, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

There appears to be a new and dangerous trend afoot as “child protection” agencies across the country gain greater and greater levels of authority to interfere in the lives of average American citizens. We know of at least two cases in 2004 in which “child protection” agencies have abducted or attempted to abduct newborn babies from their blind parents for the sole reason that they happen to be blind. These cases are just two more examples of our need to be constantly vigilant to fight for what is right against that which is unequivocally wrong.

In early December 2004, shortly after the birth of their baby boy, Marco and Adelina Zepeda were visited by a hospital social worker and representatives from Child Protective Services. The social workers were concerned about how blindness might negatively impact the ability of the Zepeda’s to care for their child. Threats were made and the parents were forced to sign papers allowing Child Protective Services the right to take the baby away if it felt such action was warranted. The information on these documents was not provided to this blind couple in any accessible format. After strenuous advocacy from the blind community, this situation was ultimately reversed and the Zepeda’s are no longer being threatened with the removal of their child from their rightful custody.

In April of 2004, representatives of a Child Protective Service agency actually removed a baby daughter from the custody of her blind parents Tyrone and Pianne Jordan just two days after her birth! Safety issues concerning their blindness and the condition of their home were cited as the reason for this action. Agency social workers demanded that the Jordan’s retain round-the-clock sighted assistance as a condition of their child’s return to their custody. After six months of negotiation and exceeding to the agency’s unreasonable demands, their daughter was finally returned.

The issue is really twofold. First, the staff of “child protection” agencies represent a cross section of society. They bring their personal attitudes and misconceptions in to their work. Those harboring poor attitudes about blindness will be more likely, especially without strict policy directives to the contrary, to look for reasons to remove a child from the custody of blind parents. Second, “child protection” agencies have been given too much overall authority. Representatives of these agencies are empowered to remove children from their parents and take other actions without even the need to charge anyone with a criminal act! We hear about other cases, having nothing at all to do with disabilities, in which overzealous “child protection” workers take actions that interfere in the lives of otherwise relatively “normal” families.

There are ultimately two courses of action that must be taken to prevent future cases of unnecessary interference in the lives of children and parents on the part of these so called “child protection” agencies. The first, shorter term, action is to improve the attitudes and knowledge about the abilities of the disabled on the part of “child protection” agency staff. The second involves a longer term strategy to control the timing and the severity of the actions such agencies may take against children and their parents.

Organizations such as the American Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind are already increasing their efforts to educate the staff of “child protection” agencies concerning the ability of blind parents to care for their children. We in the blind community are also proposing legislation to insure that disability, in and of itself, is not a factor when “child protection” workers consider taking action.

The empowerment of these “child protection” agencies goes far beyond their actions with respect to the blind. The solution would seem simple enough. Reduce their authority to interfere. Force these agencies to operate within the good old American standard of “innocent until proven guilty” and within the justice system. Place the following restrictions on the actions these agencies may take:

  • CPS agencies should be allowed to take action only when the parents have been charged with a crime by the police department.
  • Approval to continue taking action must then be saught from a judge within 48 hours or a similar time frame as dictated for other criminal acts.
  • Any permanent action taken by the state against the parents of one or more children should be permitted only after the parents have been convicted of a criminal act in a court of law.

Placing restrictions on CPS agencies should serve to stop some of their Gestapo tactics and to focus their attention on real cases of child abuse or neglect.

Only the following basic education is really necessary concerning blindness:

  • We are centient, fully living and breathing human beings deserving of the same rights and responsibilities as sighted human beings.
  • Some blind parents do a great job raising their children while others do not. It is the same with us as it is with the sighted.
  • All actions being considered must be taken without factoring blindness in to the equation.

I’d like to make a couple of quick clarifications. I place my references to CPS agencies in quotes because I believe they often do not actually protect the best interests of children. Anyone who would rip a baby out of the arms of loving blind parents in favor of placing that child in to the state’s foster care system bares this out quite clearly. My reference to “abduction” in the title of this article is appropriate, since the child is being taken by government agents without cause and without the consent of the parents.

We in the blind community will not continue to stand by while attrocities such as those committed against the Jordan’s and Zepeda’s continue. We must challenge these actions at every possible opportunity!

For more information, read Social Services Agencies May Be A New Danger to Blind Parents as published in Voice of the Nation’s Blind, an online publication of the National Federation of the Blind.

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Tucson Adventure

January 13, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

This article is, in part, a follow up to “The Opthomologist’s Office” posted on January 10. It should not be necessary to have read that article in order to understand this one.

Yesterday, my sister Michelle took the entire day out of her busy schedule to drive me to Tucson for my appointment with Dr. Brick. I thank her for doing this. I am also very glad that I was accompanied by my mom and my niece Wendy. These circumstances help to turn a potentially negative, upsetting day in to a nice family outing. The only downside was that Karen had to work and was thus unable to join me on this adventure.

We left my house shortly before 8:00. The trip to Dr. Brick’s office was uneventful, arriving at around 10:30. Seeing Dr. Brick’s office after nine years brought back many old memories. It was nice to see Dr. Brick and Esther, the only one of his staff who was working for him back when I used to be one of his regular patients.

I have been a patient of Dr. Brick’s since shortly after moving to Tucson in 1980. I was seven years old. Dr. Brick always took the time needed to treat my eye conditions thoroughly, was always available in emergencies and would perform unorthodox procedures to save my right eye. An example of such procedures took place in 1984, a year or two after the first cornea transplant in my right eye. I saw Dr. Brick at University Hospital on a Sunday morning! I was experiencing excruciating pain and mom noticed that my eye didn’t look right. On that same Sunday night, Dr. Brick performed surgery to essentially glue the surface of my cornea back on to my eye! Dr. Brick performed three cornea transplants over the years. I sure wish I would have visited him before I underwent this last surgery in November!

Yesterday, Dr. Brick told me I should probably have held off on this cornea transplant. Dr. Dao did a nice job on the surgery, but my cornea is clouding and there are problems with the healing of the outer surface. Dr. Brick changed my medications, giving me a new steroid ointment to apply at night in addition to the eye drops I am already taking. He told me about his associate, a doctor who previously worked in Boston. There is some very promising new research in to stem cell based cornea transplants. These are still a few years away, but they hold the greatest promise of significantly increasing my sight and making the improvements last. An appointment will soon be scheduled to visit with his associate. We are giving this new ointment about a month to see if the condition of my cornea improves. I can look forward to another trip to Tucson in the very near future. Now that I have visited with Dr. Brick, I feel a bit more positive about my current circumstances and about the future of potential improvement in my sight.

After my appointment with Dr. Brick, we decided to visit a museum. It features paintings from some artist who passed away recently. He was apparently a famous local painter of Southwest scenes. I don’t know. I’m not very interested in that sort of thing. I’m glad Wendy got to see it; it is something she has wanted to do for a long time now. I stayed in the car and talked with Gloria on the phone.

It is amazing, the things one can remember. I happen to have a good memory of telephone numbers. When I was a child, some thought I had a “photographic” memory. I know that is not the case. Adulthood and the attendant complexities of life have demonstrated that my memory is far from infallible. But, yes, I do still seem to have a nack for remembering details such as telephone numbers from twenty or more years in the past! This memory enabled my call to Gloria!

In the fall of 1987, I enrolled in public high school as a Freshman. Before that I had attended the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind. I refer to that institution as the “braille jail”. My numerous eye surgeries necessitated that I receive a large amount of my elementary education at home. This circumstance, along with my mother’s absolute insistance that I receive a proper education, enabled me to enjoy a level of success I would not have been able to achieve at ASDB without positive intervention. My local school district and ASDB staff resisted my attendance at public school, claiming that I wouldn’t be able to handle the high expectations and teasing from other students. I proved them all wrong and Gloria was a big part of that!

As my Freshman year began, I found that the claims of my detractors and the doubters were largely unfounded. Teasing was practically nonexistent and I excelled in all my classes, achieving and maintaining straight A’s in all subjects, including a public speaking class, where even some of my supporters doubted I could succeed. I succeeded on my own merits, but accessibility was also a key enabling factor. Gloria provided much of that accessibility to information!

One of the accomodations I received in high school was a teacher’s aide who would attend classes with me. The idea was to insure that I received access to the same information provided to my sighted peers. This often turned out to include additional tutoring in subjects such as geography, mathematics and science. Gloria began working with me in the second semester of my Freshman year and stayed with me throughout the rest of my secondary education. After my graduation, she continued working with blind students another ten years until her retirement four years ago. While in the beginning she attended all my classes, by the end of my time in high school, she attended only mathematics and worked with me exclusively during one hour of each day spent outside the mainstream classroom. This “resource room” hour was essential for me to be able to assimilate the information provided in my mainstream classes and to receive the additional tutoring and special blindness skills I have used every day of my life.

Though Gloria was hired as a teacher’s aide, she did more for me than any of my officially employed teachers. She read a lot of articles and books to me and made the worlds of geography, mathematics and science accessible! In my public speaking class, my mom and Gloria both spent many hours verbally reading the encyclopedia, magazine and newspaper articles I needed to conduct the research necessary to draft speeches and engage in debates. They also worked with me to improve my presentation of the speeches through hours of editing and rehearsals. In geography, Gloria and I talked about the locations of countries around the world, explaining and sometimes actually constructing tactile maps. In addition to working through thousands of algebra, geometry and trigonometry problems with me, making sure I thoroughly understood every concept being taught in class, Gloria and I constructed X-Y graphs and other diagrams as needed. The same thorough treatment was given to general science, biology and physics. I owe my current and future success to many people, but my mom and Gloria are most certainly at the top of that very long list!

Dear Gloria!

I’m glad I was able to remember your telephone number. I’ve thought about you often over the years. Visiting Tucson triggered many wonderful memories. I’m glad I called you and we talked for almost an hour and a half! You helped to make the world of education accessible to me and you did much more! You did more for me than you or I will ever realize. Though I don’t tend to explicitly use the algebra, geometry and trig skills you helped me attain, I know they are working in my life on a daily basis, as I troubleshoot and think through the solutions of all manner of situations at school, on the job and even in my personal life. I can’t thank you enough for all these things.

I also miss you! As I deal with issues of accessibility to technology here at work, I wish I was back in high school and that you were right here, next to me, so that you could read to me the information on the screen which JAWS doesn’t tell me, so I could have a real, interesting, successful career! If I had enough money, I’d hire you back, so you could again fill these needs in my life and so that we could again have our long talks about a wide variety of subjects spanning everything from girls to politics to your native Burma! I now depend mostly on a computer to help me make the world more accessible so I can conduct the business of my life and do my job. It falls far, far, far short of you!

I know you have retired. You no longer work with blind students in an official capacity. It sounds like your life is nice and calm now. You deserve that and so much more. I wish you and your family the very best and I am confident that we will now stay in touch.



Though the appointment with Dr. Brick was the reason for the trip to Tucson, the telephone conversation with Gloria was definitely the climax. Of course, the nicest part of all of this was that mom, Michelle (sis) and Wendy accompanied me and made all of this possible. We ate lunch at a nice Mexican food restaurant and drove past the house where I grew up and where Michelle and her children lived for several years with us, then I returned home shortly after 5:00 in the evening. I thank sis for treating me to breakfast and lunch and for driving and mom and Wendy for accompanying and supporting me on this trip. Though I offered several times to treat everyone breakfast and lunch, it was not accepted. I need to find a way to repay their kindness and moral support.

I am at work. I’m sitting here in the telephone queue by myself while my colleague is out to lunch and a doctor appointment. The phone hasn’t rang all this time. I’ve been watching my e-mail and our case management system for any new activity. Nothing is happening. That’s a very good thing as I have been silently crying over here by myself while thinking about and composing portions of this article. The tears are finally starting to dry and my colleague has just returned. I left my lunch on the table this morning so he picked up something for me on his way back to the office. It is thus time for me to eat lunch and freshen up so I can finish the rest of my shift.

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The Taxicab Blues: Excuses, Excuses, Excuses!

January 11, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I cancelled my normal trip home from work on Dial-A-Ride and decided to order a cab instead. I wanted to get a hair cut and some cash from the ATM before my trip to see Dr. Brick in Tucson tomorrow. It is practically impossible to complete multiple erands on Dial-A-Ride in anything approaching a timely manner.

I called one of our local cab companies at 2:00 in the afternoon to place a 6:00 time call. This has always resulted in a pick up right at or very shortly after the requested time. It should be safely assumed that four hours is a sufficient amount of time to make sure a cab is available and willing to take this call. Apparently, not so fast! 6:00 came and went. I was waiting for the cab after the end of my shift. Calling the cab company at 6:05, I am told that it’ll be another 5 to 30 minutes before I am picked up. An excuse is offered. Apparently, no cabs were in the area and thus there was no match for this call. I gave this company another ten minutes, then called back. There was absolutely no change; no cab was on the way. I spoke with a manager. She said she would do their best to get me picked up.

I ultimately resolved the issue. I contacted a competing cab company. They showed up within ten minutes at which time I promptly called the first company to cancel my order. I made it a point to explain how this order had not been fulfilled in a reasonable manner and how I was riding with their competitor.

So, what is this all about, you ask? It is about accountability, professionalism and avoiding silly excuses. If you represent or own a business and I am speaking with you as a customer regarding your poor service, ultimately, your problems are not mine. Your actions or lack of actions might inconvenience me or even cause me to suffer negative consequences as a result. I will never passively stand by and allow this to happen without challenge!

If you are an employee or otherwise represent any agency, company or organization, follow these rules when dealing with customers:

  • Always be courteous with the customer!
  • Empathize with the customer’s situation and make this apparent.
  • Acknowledge the inconvenience or consequences the customer is suffering and talk about the actions being taken to improve the situation.
  • Take positive action. Ask a manager or supervisor for help if necessary.
  • Don’t blame others! This is clearly unprofessional from any perspective.
  • Give explanations but never make excuses. There is a difference, even if that difference is only in how the situation is presented to the customer.

Accountability and professionalism is simply a matter of respect. We all must exercise it in every aspect of our lives. We must exemplify it when dealing with others and we have the right to expect it in return. It is a matter of one’s personal character. Accountability and overall professionalism ultimately comes down to this simple golden rule:

Show up on time and always do what you say you’re going to do.

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The Opthomologist’s Office

January 10, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

You’ll find this article to be written more on a personal note than my previous submissions. It is based more on feelings than on critical analysis of blindness issues. I hope it brings about some sharing of experiences as blind people dealing with our eye doctors. For many of us, constant follow up and occasional surgical procedures are just another fact of life.

The root cause of my blindness is congenital glaucoma. Glaucoma is essentially an excessive build up of fluid in the eye. This condition causes optic nerve damage along with other secondary eye conditions. I lost my left eye at age three after numerous surgical procedures. I retain a small, unmeasured amount of sight in my right eye. The tunnel vision enables me to see colors, shapes and some detail. I am usually able to visually match my clothes. Though I am unable to read print, I can see the color and shape of dialogue boxes and other windows that pop up on my computer’s screen.

A special valve in my right eye controls the pressure, stabilizing the glaucoma. The most obvious and correctable secondary condition has been cornea damage. On November 1, 2004, I finally decided to undergo my fourth cornea transplant on my right eye in hopes of gaining an increase in sight. A lens was also implanted to replace the cataract removed when I was a small child. This operation did result in a slight increase in sight, but I have noticed a slight reversal over the past month or so. I have also experienced a significant amount of pain that actually increased in the weeks after surgery. This morning, I had another of my bi-weekly appointments with the surgeon who performed this latest operation. The news was ultimately disappointing.

Shortly after surgery, we observed that the outer surface of the cornea was not healing properly. Reduction of the Pred Forte eye drops to four times per day has improved this healing process, but, alas, there’s another problem. My cornea is becoming cloudy again. The new cornea was crystal clear for at least a month to six weeks after surgery. My doctor is unable to explain to me why my new cornea is already clouding up. I have been fanatical about taking care of my eye after surgery. I haven’t missed any medications and I have been careful with my physical activity. The doctor just tells me that this is how these things go with eyes like mine. He still holds out some hope that this new cornea will clear up somewhat and that, in eight or nine months, I may notice significantly improved vision.

I still enjoy a slight visual improvement in some ways after surgery, though the lens has resulted in a minor reduction in distance vision. Some things I could see before surgery now show a little brighter and with a bit more detail. Sadly, as I have stated earlier, I do feel like there has been some reversal in my vision in the past two or three weeks, but I can’t really quantify it yet.

I think I got my hopes up on the potential of this latest cornea transplant. I was hoping that I might be able to do things like read large print or even ride a bicycle or one of those scooters. It would be a little more convenient and right down fun to be able to ride a bike or a scooter. Being able to read some print effectively would have really increased my ability to access information at home and at work. I guess I am destined to be as blind as I am right now, with little or no significant change. I guess I was really hoping and praying for something better. I hope this latest surgery was a good idea.

So, on Wednesday, January 12, I’ll be taking a trip back to Tucson to see the doctor who has treated my eye condition for most of my life. Over the years, my family and I grew to trust his judgment. I’m going for a second opinion, for more information on what is currently happening with my new cornea and for some idea as to what I can expect for the future. Karen has been instrumental in helping me get this appointment set up at such short notice. I thank her for all her work, and hope my sister will be able to drive me the hundred miles each way down to Tucson. If not, then I’m sure I’ll find some other way to get down there.

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