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Washington D.C.: Let the Adventure Begin!

August 10, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Early in the morning of Sunday, August 9, I departed Phoenix for Washington D.C. on a week-long trip visiting my friend Milica (Mimi).

Flying the Relatively Friendly Skies

I left home at 4:30 AM for a 6:00 flight to New York City. Delta Airlines charges $15 for the first checked bag, which is unfortunately rather typical of today’s market. The security check-in process was no worse than the usual hassle. Everyone involved was very helpful. I got a window seat with noone sitting immediately to my left. Audrey, one of the flight attendants, was especially accommodating. I enjoyed good conversation with an American Airlines pilot completing the last leg of his flight home to New York from Thailand, slept intermittently and read for an hour or so. I’m reading There’s No Place Like Home by Mary Higgins Clark.

The three-hour layover at New York’s JFK airport was certainly not the most exciting portion of the day’s travels. The terminal had no free Wi-Fi, and I could not get my MSI Wind netbook to synchronize with my Motorola Q9H phone, so accessing the Internet was completely out of the question. I spent over an hour troubleshooting the problem, all to no avail. Finally, I gave up and finished some additional reading.

Finally, the flight from New York to Reagan National was pretty bad, featuring a crowded plane, isle seat, two big guys sitting in the middle and window seats next to me and a rough takeoff capped by a rougher landing. Bernadette, one of the flight attendants, was very accommodating, doing her best to smooth some of the roughest edges.
Though the flight got off the ground late due to heavy traffic and a stalled tractor used to push the plane from the gate, we made up most of the time in the air and I was on the ground by 7:05.

Reunion and End of the Day’s Journey

Milica met me at the baggage claim section of the airport. As expected, it was very nice to see her again. As we walked outside, I was stunned by the hot, humid weather conditions. Reading a weather forecast is nothing like actually experiencing the weather firsthand. I had forgotten exactly how it felt to be outside in 90 plus degree heat with humidity percentages in the double digits. We rode the Metro subway, ate dinner at a nice little Chinese restaurant called Mr. Chang’s (where all the staff were Chinese who spoke minimal English) and connected with Mimi’s friends where I would be staying.

First Full Day

Monday’s activities began with breakfast followed by a tour of the Newseum, a museum covering the past five centuries of journalism. Our tour guide, Ryan, did a great job, making this an enjoyable, mostly accessible experience. While there were many disappointing exhibits behind cases and walls we could not touch, we were able to experience several exhibits, including touching a piece of the Berlin Wall, a guard tower from the wall, a piece of a damaged wall from the Pentagon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the journalist’s memorial wall and several more. We were even able to tour George Stephanopoulos’ broadcast studio!

In the evening, we went to the M&S Grill to hang out with Jamal Mazrui, Mikah Pyyhkala, Mark, Anne, Sam, Sarah and many others from the DC Night Out gang, a group of blind people who live in the Washington D.C. area and meet on a regular basis. Mimi and I had a great time with this wonderful group of folks! We’re even hoping to arrange a going-away party for Saturday night!

I know I’ve barely touched the surface, but I hope all of you have at least gotten a flavor of what I’ve been up to here in Washington D.C. Stay tuned for more as the week speeds along. If you’re in the D.C. area and you would like to arrange a meeting with us, please e-mail editor@blindaccessjournal.com or dial my cell phone at 480-652-3813.

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ILA Responds to Accessibility Concerns

June 12, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Wednesday’s article generated responses from Independent Living Aids and the members of the connected online blind community.

ILA’s account manager, Frank Boyden, posted a public comment Thursday morning. “ILA appreciates the feedback. We are always trying to improve and be accessible to our customer base. If you have a question or your not sure about something please ask, we always try to go the extra length and accommodate. Our customer service team is well trained and has been with ILA for a long time as many of our customers know. Although Marryann could have phrased her words differently it sounds to me like she was trying to help. If you have suggestions on how we can improve please feel free to send me an email,” Boyden said.

Boyden removed his comment three hours later despite its lack of controversy. “It was pulled because he was not authorized to give you any answer,” said office manager Barbara Chernosky. “I don’t want somebody posting anything good or bad if they’re not authorized.”

The removal of Boyden’s public comment brought on ethics concerns. Consulting members of the blind community, everyone we asked seemed to be in favor of reposting it for all to see. ” Wow I can’t believe they deleted their own comment,” said an anonymous source.

Chernosky said in a Friday telephone conversation that the Franklin English and Spanish Talking Translator is no longer sold by ILA and that more effort will be expended to identify products that may not be accessible to all customers. “We’re going through every product with a fine tooth comb to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Chernosky. “I’m not saying we don’t make mistakes, but we’re correcting them immediately.”

Chernosky further indicated that the company’s representatives are specifically trained to imagine what it would be like to be blind or visually impaired so they will accommodate ILA’s customers and treat them with respect. She also pointed out that Stephen Guerra, a totally blind person and active member of the connected online blind community, heads the company’s technical support team. “Technical support is available all day to help,” Chernosky said.

The company is proud of its web site. “We’re adding sound to our watches and our other speaking products,” said Chernosky. “We’re one of the few companies in the nation with NFB web accessibility certification.”

Product documentation is another area where Chernosky said the company is improving. “Many of our products have instructions that are posted on the web site,” Chernosky said, indicating that Guerra and his team are spearheading this effort.

We thank ILA representatives for their willingness to do the right thing. Upon receipt of the inaccessible product, Chernosky said ILA will refund not only the purchase price but also the shipping costs to Karen, so this situation has a positive ending for us. We can take an important lesson from this story. Even when ordering from a company selling products for the blind and visually impaired, carefully read the product’s description and/or ask a customer service representative lots of good questions to make sure the product will meet the needs of the person who will be receiving it.

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Be Careful What You Purchase from Independent Living Aids!

June 10, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I’ll be doing some more targeted journalism on this issue in the near future, so all of you may consider this article to be a rant. ILA continues to have some real problems with selling inaccessible products with inaccessible documentation to blind people, then trying to deliver customer service that’s inappropriate for blind customers.

On Monday, June 8, I received a couple of anniversary gifts from Karen. They were purchased from ILA. One was a Franklin English and Spanish Talking Translator. Karen thought this might help me learn and practice Spanish. There were a number of problems with this gift that, in my opinion, shouldn’t have existed when ordering from a business in the disabilities field. First, it was packaged in one of those hard plastic containers that’s almost impossible to open. Second, the product was accompanied only by a small print booklet. Its documentation was not supplied in any accessible alternative format. Third, and worst of all, the product itself was completely inaccessible for a blind person! Karen’s boss helped her figure out how to use the product. There’s no feedback as you press its keys. Only after typing a word can you press another key to hear it translated in Spanish. That’s the only talking this product does; everything else is displayed on a small LCD.

This morning, I contacted ILA’s customer service department and got Maryann on the phone. I mentioned the three issues above, but she wasn’t at all interested in hearing what I had to say. She was willing to process an RMA to return the product. After giving me the RMA number, she reminded me to fill out the form included in the box. After telling her I was blind, she asked me if I could have a sighted person assist. Frustrated at this point, I said no and indicated that I felt it was inappropriate for her to ask given the field in which ILA does business. I reminded her that blind people are not able to see and, thus, we are not able to directly read or write print without personal or technological assistance. Of course, we can do so easily when information and technology is delivered in a way that’s accessible to us. Apparently, ILA does not have an accessible copy of the RMA form on hand. She gave me the RMA number and ILA’s mailing address without requiring me to complete the form. Fortunately, I am going to be able to return the inaccessible product, but we’re going to get stuck with the shipping cost! Yeah, that’s right. It’s “company policy…”

I am very disappointed with ILA. Their people continue to sell inaccessible products or products without appropriate documentation to blind customers. At this point, I would like to see ILA do the following things to improve the situation:

  • Review all products being offered to ensure they are appropriate for ILA’s customer base.
  • When a product is not fully accessible, provide relevant information in the printed catalog and on the web site.
  • Train everyone answering the phone on how to communicate with customers in such a way so that they are fully aware of which products are accessible to which types of users. For instance, tell the customer if a product requires some sight.
  • Ensure that appropriate documentation is supplied in an accessible format for each product sold.

Independent Living Aids, being a company that does business in the blindness field and sells to the blind community and those who care about us, really should know better! The company should be a leader! We really shouldn’t need to have this unfortunate discussion in the connected online blind community about inaccessibility within the companies that do business with us. Come on, ILA and other offending companies, get with the program already!

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Code of Ethics

June 5, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

One of the courses I took last semester was Journalism Ethics and Diversity. Our final assignment involved writing a personal code of ethics accompanied by an explanation of how we arrived at the conclusions in that code. I have decided to share this with all of you, my dedicated readers, in hopes that you may find it helpful in your own lives. As with everything else on this blog, all constructive feedback is appreciated.

Ethical Development Overview

“Living in a way that is transparent. It means allowing light to pass through with little or no interruption or distortion so that objects on the other side can be clearly seen, to be completely open and frank about things.” (Gilligan 236)

Ethical development in my life seems to focus primarily on an evolution from a rights based approach to Carol Gilligan’s ethics of caring theory combined with Sissela Bok’s concept of consulting one’s conscience and engaging in discussion with experts prior to making decisions. Louis Hodges’ circles of intimacy theory on privacy and trust also factor heavily in the way I form and maintain relationships.

Many aspects of my life as a person with a disability have compelled me to focus on protecting my rights to equality of opportunity in endeavors such as education and employment. Staunch accessibility evangelism has, from time to time, caused me to insist on enforcement of existing disability rights laws and to show a willingness to bend established rules in order to reach a desired, fair outcome. In this regard, especially when interacting with unknown individuals or those I deem to be on the wrong side of an issue, I have employed a strictly rights based ethical approach much like that suggested by Lawrence Kohlberg. (Patterson and Wilkins 343) In this way, correct results are my primary aim, there are times when the ends justify the means and making friends is definitely not high on the list of priorities.

When it comes to close friends and relatives, those in my second and third circles of intimacy, (Patterson and Wilkins 154) my approaches are much different. I focus on maintaining strong connections with those closest to me. In many cases, I place their needs and desires above my own when making important decisions. The relationship holds the highest priority over all other considerations. Despite a tough, no-holds-barred public exterior, I am actually a person who craves acceptance and approval, especially from those about whom I care the most.

“We sat watching the candles burn down. Stars spinning in their distant constellations. Maybe love is the revolutionary emotion, the true freedom, because it releases something in ourselves…” (Gilligan 153)

The justice oriented approach has, thus far, served me quite well most of the time in professional and public life. My parents won the right for me to attend public high school in 1987 after winning a settlement in Federal court. I have successfully employed similar approaches in order to retain employment, save my wife’s job and bring accessibility advocacy efforts to a positive conclusion. In the public sphere, the way I have done business has largely equated to Kohlberg’s scenario in which a husband justifies stealing a lifesaving drug from the pharmacist in order to care for his terminally ill wife. My struggle has always been how to merge the caring ways in which I interact with those closest to me with the harsher rights based manner by which I have dealt with the rest of the world.

“A good listener will refrain from judgment, respect the narrator, and be willing to experience some of the terror, grief, and rage.” (Cote & Simpson 234)

In Carol Gilligan’s work leading to the theory of the ethics of caring, women were questioned about Kohlberg’s pharmacist scenario. (Patterson and Wilkins 344) By and large, their answer was to form a connection with the pharmacist in order to make a mutually beneficial arrangement that would enable him to justify handing over the drug. Many in my inner circle have suggested, and I believe they are right, that I ought to place a greater effort in demonstrating my caring nature to the wider world. Combined with the advocacy experience I have already established, they contend the results obtained would be even better. I would not only have accessibility and greater opportunities but I would also have new friends in my corner.

In class, I have learned about an ethical theorist whose model may represent a useful bridge between Kohlberg’s and Gilligan’s theories. Sissela Bok (Patterson and Wilkins 5) suggests a three-step ethics model in which we consult our conscience, seek advice from experts and conduct a public discussion of an issue prior to making an informed ethical decision. This is something I realize I already do on a frequent basis when I informally consult my closest friends and, sometimes, engage in wider discussions on the Internet as I move forward with my advocacy work.

“Principles are not less sacred because their duration cannot be guaranteed.” (Bok 67)

This statement from Bok nicely sums up my personal code of ethics. It is a merging of traditional, old-world Western Judeo-Christian values and new ideas about how we can all be more caring and inclusive of everyone in our decision making. The journalism ethics and diversity course has given me a more systematic understanding of the concepts behind the ethical decisions I make on a daily basis and has acquainted me with new ideas I can apply as I confront future challenges.

Code of Ethics

  • Always demonstrate the greatest loyalty to my closest friends and relatives through actions, feelings and words.
  • Protect the equality of opportunity and self-determination of everyone, regardless of their age, disability, gender, race and any other condition or circumstance outside their control.
  • Treat others as I would like to be treated.
  • Actively seek and tell the truth without omission unless full disclosure would harm an innocent person.
  • Whenever possible, seek advice from experts and close associates before making important decisions. Consult my “personal board of directors.”
  • Equally consider the relationships between all involved parties as well as their rights and obligations when making all decisions.
  • Hold myself and everyone else accountable, as appropriate, for the consequences of actions taken.
  • Respect the religious beliefs and political ideologies of everyone without prejudice.
  • Advocate for accessibility for people with disabilities to participate equally in society to those without disabilities. Accessibility is a right!
  • Always ensure that my life is an expression of traditional values such as caring, dedication, hard work, loyalty and trust.

Works Cited

  • Bok, Sissela. Common Values. University of Missouri Press; Columbia, MO. 1995, 2002
  • Cote, William & Simpson, Roger. Covering Violence: A Guide to Ethical Reporting about Victims & Trauma. Columbia University Press; New York, NY. 2006
  • Gilligan, Carol. Kyra. Random House; New York, NY. 2008
  • Patterson, Philip and Wilkins, Lee. Media Ethics: Issues and Cases. McGraw-Hill; Columbus, Oh. 2008
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The Desert Cafe Goes Live Tonight!

June 1, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker
Hello Everyone,
 
      Come in from the heat and be cool.   Join Darrell and I in the Desert Cafe.  We will  serve up some fun  tunes and  favorite beverages. If you haven’t heard 70’s music in awhile and  want to Celebrate Summer, be here with us.    You don’t need a mood ring or strobe lights.
 
We   will also be  celebrating our third wedding anniversary, which is June 3. You will have a chance to hear the audio from our Ceremony in Boston.
 
In addition to all this fun, Darrell will tell us all about what we can do to advocate for an international copyright exemption treaty that would enable the reproduction and exchange of books that have been converted into accessible formats for the blind and others with print reading disabilities.
 
The show can be heard on ACB Radio Interactive at 02:00 Universal time on Tuesday, that’s Monday evening in the United States at 7:00 Pacific (and Arizona), 8:00 Mountain, 9:00 Central and 10:00 Eastern. Visit http://interactive.acbradio.org to listen.
 
See you tonight,
 
Karen and Darrell in the Desert Cafe on ACB Radio Interactive
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I Don’t Live in a "Dark World"

May 21, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

A classmate in my journalism ethics and diversity course wrote this article about me. I said a lot of things in that interview, yet I feel the overall slant of this work portrays blindness in a negative way. Of course, maybe, it also had something to do with the fact I wasn’t having such a wonderful time. In any case, I clearly wasn’t on my game as a positive representative of the blind community on the day Theresa interviewed me for this feature story. I did like the quote from Lance Harrop at the end. As always, feel free to comment.

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The Desert Cafe Goes Live Tonight

March 23, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker
Hello Everyone,
 
Visit us in the Cafe,
Great music we will play,
It’s the last Monday in March, its now Spring,
No worries, I will not sing
But you we will entertain,
Here there is no rain  or snow
It does not matter where you live on the world map,
Let’s bridge the gap
Work together hand in hand,
Across the  land
From sea to shining Sea
Here on  ACB
In the  cafe, we’ll have most beverages and good things to munch,
It does not matter if its your breakfast,dinner or lunch
Come join us,my  friend,
Stay the  2 hours,till the end.
 
The show can be heard on ACB Radio Interactive at 02:00 Universal time on Tuesday, that’s Monday evening in the United States at 7:00 Pacific (and Arizona), 8:00 Mountain, 9:00 Central and 10:00 Eastern. Visit http://interactive.acbradio.org to listen.
 
See you tomorrow night,
 
Karen and Darrell in the Desert Cafe on ACB Radio Interactive
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The Desert Cafe Opens for Business Tomorrow with a Slightly Irish Theme

March 15, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker
Hello Everyone,
 
Top of the morning Lads & Lasses,
Stop by the  Desert Cafe after your classes,
When you awake or at the end of your day,
we will entertain, great music we  will play.,
Bring your dancing shoes and  good cheer,
We will have no  green beer,
May have Irish Soda Bread and hot Tea,
point your browser to ACB.
You can do an Irish Jig  and bring your Harp or Irish flute,
Here is the route,
Travel on the information Highway, Destination Interactive.acbradio.org,
we wil  not assimilate you like the Borg,
If you don’t wear Green, you we wont pinch, willnot do this,
our show, you  don’t want to  miss,
You will feel good, when  its time to go
so do listen to our show
We will play the 60’s through today,
please Stay
so,  spend time with Darrell and I,
on ACB R I
 
The show can be heard on ACB Radio Interactive at 02:00 Universal time on Tuesday, that’s Monday evening in the United States at 7:00 Pacific (and Arizona), 8:00 Mountain, 9:00 Central and 10:00 Eastern. Visit http://interactive.acbradio.org to listen.
 
See you tomorrow night,
 
Karen and Darrell in the Desert Cafe on ACB Radio Interactive
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The Desert Cafe Opens in Eight Hours!

March 9, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker
Hello Everyone,
 
Take a gamble and join  us   in the Cafe,
As usual a variety of  music we will play,
We hope this blend will cleanse your heart and soul,
We’ll play songs about changing friendship from artists like Sarah McLachlan and Billy Joel.
From Asia to the Doobie Brothers,
and many others.
Mostly  70’s,80’s but also some Modern Stuff,
We will not play any Hilary Duff,
or Simply Red,
here in the U. S,  Remember, The Clocks for most are one hour ahead,
it will  still be at 2 to 4 UTC,
Fun it will be.
There will be  plenty of virtual Beverages and food to devour,
some healthy,tasty, some  sweet, or sour.
Darrell is the  Technical Master,
he will also tell you about the Mock Disaster,
the  Terrorist attack that will  occur Tomorrow morning at ASU,
if your   interested, listen, please  do!.
Be there,
or be square,
for now Take care.
 
The show can be heard on ACB Radio Interactive at 02:00 Universal time on Tuesday, that’s Monday evening in the United States at 7:00 Pacific (and Arizona), 8:00 Mountain, 9:00 Central and 10:00 Eastern. Visit http://interactive.acbradio.org to listen.
 
See you tonight,
 
Karen and Darrell in the Desert Cafe on ACB Radio Interactive
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The Desert Cafe Opens in Just Over Four Hours!

March 2, 2009 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker
Hello Everyone,
 
Come join Darrell and me,
 at  2 to 4 UTC.
On ACB Radio,
Think you will enjoy the  show.
Back East, there is a  major storm,
but,in the Cafe, you  can stay warm.
we will have  cool tunes and hot  beverages   to make you  smile,
so, stay awhile.
Out here, we are baking  in the sun,
forget about the  heat! have fun.
It doesn’t matter where you are, What   Continent ,
 your time in the  cafe will  be well spent.
playing mostly songs from 85,
 and other decades, too, so do arrive.
 be here in three hours, do attend,
  hope to see you friend.
 
The show can be heard on ACB Radio Interactive at 02:00 Universal time on Tuesday, that’s Monday evening in the United States at 6:00 Pacific, 7:00 Mountain (and Arizona), 8:00 Central and 9:00 Eastern. Visit http://interactive.acbradio.org to listen.
 
See you tonight,
 
Karen and Darrell in the Desert Cafe on ACB Radio Interactive
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