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Happiness Comes In Small, Poignant Moments of Accomplishment

February 4, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

It has been another rough week for me with all the usual accessibility challenges and ongoing efforts to get the staff of our paratransit service to understand the seriousness of the consequences some of their actions or inactions bring to their customers with disabilities. It culminated this morning in a knock-down-drag-out incident in which I was inappropriately and unnecessarily late to work! Often, life just seems like one constant struggle with only a very few small bright spots.

I am thus quite happy to report that the work week is ending on a very positive, upbeat note. Today we all participated in a “tailgate” party to celebrate the upcoming Superbowl football game on Sunday, February 6. Hambergers and hot dogs were grilled and other lunch items were provided. The bright spot was the Ping Pong Tournament. I learned and participated in this game right alongside my sighted coworkers, with slightly modified circumstances and rules. One of my colleagues acted as my partner during each game, guiding my hand to the ball as it moved. I also successfully served the ball a couple of times in the first game and five times in the second. The game was also “handicapped” such that I earned two points for each successful turn rather than just one. Despite these changes, I felt completely included in all the action. In my first game, I defeated one of my coworkers with a score of 22 to 18, advancing to a top ten spot for a second round! In that round, another coworker defeated me 29 to 24. Playing this game was so exciting on several levels. I felt included. This was important, since I am missing out on many excellent opportunities here at work due to my constant struggles with technology inaccessibility. I felt a sense of accomplishment, especially when I realized I was able to successfully and independently serve the ball on a consistent basis! Overall, this has represented a fun event that has served to increase my confidence and hope in the future.

Before today, I had never played Ping Pong in my entire life. I tried doing something new and accomplished it with success. Try something new and post a comment on what happens!

Categories: Uncategorized

Stop Complaining: Dawn Your Glad Rags!

February 3, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Karen and I usually wake up to a prominent morning radio show and listen while we get ready to take on the new day. This show features a middle aged man and woman who mix contemporary soft rock music with their own commentary, callers and guests. The show is usually a family oriented, witty blend of music and entertainment.

The woman lives 15 to 20 miles away from the studio. This morning she was whining and complaining about all the traffic on the freeways. She does this on a fairly regular basis. Each time she does this, it makes me think about my own situation as a blind person. While she has access to independent, reliable automobile transportation on demand, I must wait for the city bus, Dial-A-Ride or a taxicab! Sometimes, I have to be concerned about whether or not I am going to arrive at work, class or a doctor’s appointment on time. I feel that, when this woman complains about the traffic on the freeways, she just doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about. It would be interesting to see how she would feel if she found herself unable to drive her car!

The lesson to be learned? If you don’t have a disability, don’t complain! Dawn your glad rags and realize that you take your ability to get around independently for granted! Take just a moment to think about how it must be for those of us without complete control over our transportation before you whine about how it took you ten more minutes to drive to work this morning! You have it easy. It is all up to you. For you, life is largely a meritocracy. Your life is ultimately all about the effort you are willing to expend in order to be successful. The world is designed for you! It is sometimes slightly different for those of us with disabilities. As a blind person, I must concern myself with the ability of the city bus or the paratransit service to get me to work on time. I lose out on excellent job opportunities due only to the fact that a lot of software still doesn’t work with the screen reader I use to gain access to a computer.

I fully understand that this article may hurt some feelings. Nevertheless, this just has to be said. If you’re not disabled, we just want you to understand that you often take all your capabilities for granted and don’t usually give them a second thought. It is very difficult for some of us to hear people without disabilities complaining about areas of their lives where they have it much easier than us. So, next time you’re frustrated with the slow pace of the traffic on the freeway or your slow computer, stop! Don’t complain! Think about how it must be for those of us who are blind or have other disabilities! Despite our challenges, we continue to work hard, to strive for a better life. When you’re frustrated with your small issues, consider channeling that energy into helping us improve our socioeconomic status! Volunteer to read to a blind adult or child. Write your software in a way that is accessible to JAWS and other screen readers and access technology. Please, take the time to think about us once in awhile!

Categories: Uncategorized

Opportunity Lost to Technology Inaccessibility!

February 3, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I have recently learned of an exciting opportunity for promotion within my current employer. It is exactly the kind of interesting, rewarding, prestigious position I have always hoped to have the honor of filling. I haven’t submitted a resume. Why not? You ask? The answer is one simple word: INACCESSIBILITY! The customer’s “high interactivity” implementation of Siebel is completely useless to JAWS in its current form and their IT department has made the decision not to spend the insignificant amount of effort needed to make the necessary changes that would make a “standard interactivity” Siebel implementation available and accessible to me. Since we are doing business on an outsourcing basis with this customer, I am in absolutely no position to exert any pressure on our customer to make these changes. I am 100 percent confident that, were it not for this inaccessibility issue, I would hold a position as a level 3 engineer by this time.


A Technical Account Manager (TAM) is a Support Engineer dedicated to premier customers and partners with the key responsibility to deliver proactive and reactive technical support and customer service. The TAM manages all aspects of the post sales customer relationship, serving as the “Voice of the Customer” between the customer and all technical and operational areas. TAMS must be familiar with specific customer business and technical environments, and deliver 3rd tier support to technical contacts at the named enterprise accounts. TAMS are required to develop and maintain positive relationships through prolonged contacts with the customer and the assigned technical contacts.

The TAM is required to work proactively to identify, recommend and assure timely delivery of services and resolve customer issues through company and customer defined escalation processes. TAMS are responsible for working with their customers to integrate processes, troubleshoot and resolve issues, and communicate proactively on all active account issues. TAMs are accountable to schedule and run meetings as needed, update contacts on technical developments, complete Post Mortems on issues, and hold quarterly account reviews.

TAMs may be required to travel to some customer sites, if needed.


  • Deliver 3rd tier support to assigned enterprise accounts.
  • Serve as the single point of contact for all issues for assigned accounts.
  • Provide training to client as appropriate on new releases, updates, etc.
  • Document and record Case issues in Siebel.
  • Manage escalation of issues for assigned accounts.
  • Maintain current product knowledge and make appropriate recommendations to assigned customers.
  • Provide proactive and reactive communication with assigned accounts, including case updates, Service Bulletins, Patch notifications, and general updates that might have an effect on the customer’s ability to perform their business smoothly with the supported devices.
  • Develop and maintain positive relationships with named technical contacts at each assigned account.
  • Communicate proactively with Management to alert them on issues or potential for issues that would adversely impact the account.
  • Generate reports on a periodic basis, monthly, and quarterly to show case activity, history, trends, and product areas that need to be addressed.
  • Record all technical issues in detail in Siebel.

Many in the blind community wonder why I make such a big deal about the need for accessible technology. I hope I have now provided an example of the answer to the remaining skeptics. As always, comments are welcome!

Categories: Uncategorized

Distinguishing Ourselves From The Crowd: Transforming Perceived Weaknesses into Strengths

February 2, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

As blind people, our physical lack of eye sight can often result in perceived weaknesses wehn it comes to our ability to perform in the workplace. Realistically, our inherent inabilities to drive and to independently read print text and graphics do present challenges not encountered by our sighted peers. We can choose to emphasize these factors to the world as the weaknesses they can certainly represent, or we can turn the techniques we use to deal with them in to assets that can benefit a potential employer. I will explain how Karen and I turn our supposed weaknesses in to assets.

Karen and I both ride our local paratransit service, East Valley Dial-A-Ride, to and from work. Since we are unable to drive an automobile due to our lack of eye sight and since other injuries severely curtail our ability to use the public city bus system, our transportation options tend to be quite limited. Our lack of independent transportation is clearly perceived as a serious weakness. But, this is not entirely the end of the story. Dial-A-Ride tends to work quite well when you set up your trips several days in advance. For our rides to and from work, we have established standing reservations to be picked up at home and returned at specific predetermined times. This arrangement works out quite reliably. It is probably just about as dependable as a sighted person’s automobile. Sighted coworkers are sometimes late to work due to their automobiles breaking down. Our strength in this situation lies in our highly developed skills of organization, planning and scheduling.

We are also both unable to read print or see graphics of any kind. Again, this is simply due to our physical lack of eye sight. It is another clearly perceived weakness. There are ways to turn this one in to a strength as well. Sometimes, the need to gain access to otherwise unreadable information involves our ability to work with our sighted peers. We agree to exchange favors with them or swap portions of the duties of our jobs so that the job gets done and everyone is satisfied with the result. We are thus encouraged to forge working relationships with our peers, fostering a team spirit that is welcome in the vast majority of companies. In other cases, we must work with other companies, such as content creators and publishers, to secure information in accessible formats. This requirement often serves to exercise our assertiveness, diplomacy and negotiating skills.

We are also a member of a subsection of society that endures a 75 percent unemployment rate! Even when employers with positive attitudes about us understand the value we can bring to their organization, we may remain unable to take on the job due to the ongoing inaccessibility of a significant amount of mainstream technology. We are thus often very happy to be able to locate a job where we are able to perform the required duties. We tend to take pride in our jobs, always striving to do better. We are highly dedicated, often possessing the strongest work ethic. We are thus most likely to embody all the right characteristics any employer could ever want in an employee: accountability, attendance, attention to detail, dedication, precision and an overall sense of ethical and moral values that are most compatible to continued employment.

Let’s count up some of the strengths and weaknesses and see how we rate!


  1. Unable to drive an automobile – lack of independent transportation.
  2. Inability to read print or interpret graphics or pictures – some issues of inaccessibility to print and information technology.


  1. Exceptional planning and scheduling abilities.
  2. Strong organizational skills.
  3. Exceptional work ethics.
  4. Team oriented.
  5. Strong emphasis on precision and attention to details.
  6. Assertive, taking the initiative to serve the customer.
  7. Highly skilled at diplomacy and negotiation.

We thus have two inherent weaknesses of blindness matched against seven strengths! I happen to know blind people who are even more capable than either Karen or myself. I also know that I haven’t counted all the strengths we bring to our employers and others. As always, your comments are quite welcome!

Categories: Uncategorized

Dialogue in the Blind Community on the Need for Accessibility

February 2, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

While most of us in the blind community agree that accessibility is an important issue, there is widespread disagreement on priorities and underlying principles. There also remains a lack of practical solutions to some accessibility challenges. The following transcript of a dialogue between two advanced blind users of information technology illustrates just part of the complexities involved in our quest for equal access to information and participation in society. You now have the opportunity to contribute to this dialogue by posting your own comments. Let’s find ways to break down current and future accessibility barriers to insure our ability to remain productively involved in our world.

JH: One leader in the blind community argues that if we ask for everything, it will just cause confusion. Most negotiators would say the first thing you do is ask for the world and then if you have to back down a little, you’re still way ahead. I don’t see any reason to believe that the blind community has had a whole lot of trouble asking for too much? Do you think that’s been a problem? If so why?

GW: I cannot cite an example where someone has actually said, “now, if you hadn’t asked for this thing, I’d have given you this other thing,” but I certainly have been in a place where I wanted so much that busy people cut me off after a time and said, “Of all these things, tell me what you really need.” When we meet with the congress, we are lucky to get 15 minutes with a staffer and maybe 5 with the official. Maybe if we had more money and our demands were accompanied by large contributions our list could be bigger, but when you get right down to it, what kind of stick do we carry. We have a few laws and they help, but ill-conceived suits are costly both monetarily and in the precedents they set. Though I’m reluctant to say it, I also think our laws are vulnerable to modification when push comes to shove because, whether we want to say it out loud or not, we don’t get what we get

because of the inward conviction held by the elected representative that we have inalienable rights which are being violated. He or she does what they do because they perceive not only that it is something good for which we ask, but that it won’t cost very much. For evidence, consider recent reversals of the ADA in the courts and also suggestions in congress that it be revisited to refine its scope. Refine, in this context, doesn’t mean to clarify and expand, but to limit. I perceive the climate today as much more interested in business and global competition than in the environment, the rights of racial minorities and the rights of the disabled.

JH: I was shocked to hear some blind people argue that the disabled are no different than other people who lose their jobs because they lack the skills to perform them. Assuming blind people aren’t any less intelligent or ambitious than the general population, it would seem the reason they can’t do their jobs is lack of accessibility. Is 75% unemployment just the way the world works? Or is it an example of complacency?

GW: I submit the root cause of inaccessibility is much more complicated than complacency. It begins as an issue of being unaware, but after awareness through education there are other issues. Economically we’re in a poor position to press for change by offering the carat of grater sales. The changes we want in software cost money and if you can’t at least expect to recoup that money then what lever do blind people use? The laws we’ve passed such as Section 508 are there, but their impact is limited, for again no one really wants to deprive their employees of the productivity achievable using Microsoft Word, Access, etc. If they can jawbone, they will, but how many times have you seen an agency lose federal funds for education based on IDEA or Section 504 though the language is clearly there to support it.

People care about what we want and will accommodate it if they believe they reasonably can, but when you tell them we have problems with transportation and need more of it, and they find they are already spending $13 a trip to provide Para-transit service, they soon decide what we want is understandable but not currently doable.

JH: I was disappointed that so many people thought it was absurd to ask

Microsoft to Braille the license key. Is that more absurd than asking every city in the country to rip out street corners and put in wheelchair curb cuts? I grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin and they did that in the 1970s, 30 years ago, and I doubt they did it voluntarily. When new buildings are required to have wheelchair accessible bathrooms, why is it just plain absurd to require software companies to Braille their license keys? Or is the idea that that’s absurd an example of complacency?

GW: I think putting product keys in a form other than print is something companies could easily do, but I also think the problem these keys pose for us is so small relative to other issues that it isn’t worth giving companies the out of saying, “But look what we already do for the blind.” I can easily write down and file a key when I buy the latest version of Office, but if I can’t produce a quality document using Microsoft Word, I can’t afford the software and the key does me little good.

Your example about curb cuts and accessible buildings is a strong and

persuasive one and I only note that the numbers who benefit from these physical changes are much larger and the changes needed much more tangible. It is easier for elected officials and the owners of a business to conceive of their one day being wheelchair bound and needing a ramp than of being blind and needing the functionality of a complicated piece of software. It is easy to simulate the handicap of inaccessibility because of a curb or step, but let me try to demonstrate inaccessibility in a simple and dramatic way, and the first reaction once the computer starts to talk is “Well, isn’t that amazing.” “Can you really understand what he’s saying there?” “They can do so much now with computers: who would have thought?”

Not only is our problem harder to briefly articulate and its solution harder to see, but I’m not at all convinced that, in today’s climate, users of wheelchairs could bring about the passage of the laws now on the books. It isn’t even clear to me that on most issues we can offer a good technical solution to some of the access barriers we face. It’s relatively easy to say we want a word processor to let us read and write sentences and paragraphs, but what do we want from our computers when color is used to denote proposed changes in a document or when a map is displayed in a text to show how critical some port is in order to have access to the oil in the middle east. Do we want to ask that all ATM’S talk or that a universal device be developed we can use to read the display on the ATM, our cell phones, our satellite TV box and our microwave oven? Everybody knows we need access, but try getting a technical group to agree on which solution is the most versatile, the most user friendly, and the most likely to get from industry and government. I’d be significantly younger if I could buy back all the time we’ve spent going nowhere on these issues as people of good-will have tried finding solutions.

JH: I seriously don’t know. these are honest questions. Maybe I’m just a nut. But right now I am thinking maybe the people who represent us need to be more like Darrell and less like most of the people on this list.

GW: It seems to me there is very little difference really between Darrell and some of the people who have responded on the list. Darrell gets angry when he hears about the role of attitude and alternative techniques because he thinks there is implied criticism of his techniques of blindness, doubt about his having a positive attitude, and minimizing of the problems he and others face while trying to do a real job in the real world while a bunch of armchair philosophers tell him to use someone’s vision he can’t afford for reasons he finds indefensible. Some on the list hear in Darrell’s criticism that if a thing can’t be done electronically it isn’t worth doing, that sight should be irrelevant to functioning in the world, that he is the only one courageous enough to stand against the forces which would shut us out of the 21st century, that the blind organizations live with their head in the sand, unwilling to accept that in this new reality the problem really isn’t about attitudes and alternative techniques but about the right blind people should have to information which, because it is in an electronic form, could be made accessible if only blind people would demand and sighted people would care. I won’t advertise those last two sentences as a model of clear writing or that they accurately reflect all the nuances in discussions I’ve read and contributed to over the last few years, but they do capture my overall impression about how we talk passed one another and then get mad when we’re not heard. People on the list could and should be kinder to Darrell and realize how hard it is not to get angry and frustrated when it takes more than one’s best to get ahead or just stay even. Darrell doesn’t need to take general comments personally and should realize that just as he does not want his work as a person primarily concerned with electronic accessibility to be challenged or dismissed, so too are people on the list upset when they hear that there comments are, for the most part, irrelevant and reflect an inability to perceive how it is in the information age. We all come to the accessibility issue feeling overworked and under-appreciated, whether that work is concerned exclusively with making software accessible or it’s raising the money to buy the plane tickets to send people to industry conferences, the campus of Microsoft or the halls of congress. All of us want to perform as well as our sighted neighbor does on the job, to receive the same promotions or better, and to go home at night and simply deal with family and good books and television. To the degree we invest time in electronic access and other issues, we have less of all those things, and maybe it’s only around each other we can really say how mad it makes us.


JH: One other thing I wanted to mention out of the context of the dialog being

published is that although I’m perfectly satisfied with the article coming

across as an interview, if I were to continue the debate it would be to say

that Gary’s answers were to me a call to arms. I mean that in the best

possible way, Gary.

In other words, to me, Gary’s answers were an indication of how much work

we have to do. I believe that problems don’t solve themselves. And if one

of the problems Gary sees is that legislators don’t feel that reasonable

accomodations are a basic human right, then we need to convince them of

that. I don’t mean Gary needs to convince them of that. I mean *we*, the

disabled do. If Congress means to limit the ADA when it says it is going

to revisit it, then we have to take action to make sure our needs are

respected. I don’t mean Gary needs to take action. I mean the blind

community does.

I don’t know exactly what we can do. I’m not an experienced political

activist. But the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation here in

Wisconsin is so under funded that you can’t get help until you actually

lose your job and even then, there’s a waiting list that can go up to 6

months. With unemployment among the disabled in Wisconsin running 80%

according to an activist I talked to (California officially estimates it’s

rate at 70-75%), I think that’s disgraceful.

Categories: Uncategorized

Opportunity Alert! Review Mainstream Software For Accessibility!

February 1, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Access Watch launches a new resource enabling the blind to read and post reviews of mainstream computer software. Blind computer users can check this resource before spending their hard earned time and money on a new piece of software. Blind experts in the use of a particular program may add reviews to the system to broaden the amount of information available to the entire community. As this resource grows, everyone will be able to gauge the accessibility and availability of mainstream software to users of access technology.

We strongly urge your participation in the new Access Watch Software Reviews service. Please send e-mail to Jamie Pauls giving him constructive feedback on this new resource.


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