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The Importance Of Leisure Activities

January 30, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Karen reminds us that there are times when we need to stop being so serious, taking a break to enjoy accessible recreational activities.

Recreation is an important aspect of life. We all need to find time to

relax and unwind after a long day’s work. We live in such a fast paced society. Most of us seem to not have enough time to do all the things we need or want to do during the day. Not only are we expected to work outside the home, to be productive and active members of our communities, we are also expected to manage our homes competently. We must be organized, manage our time well, and act as responsible adults by successfully completing such tasks as paying our bills and running errands. These are the expectations of a mature, responsible adult. If one is feeling overwhelmed with too much stress and pressure, he will not be able to cope very well in the world. These factors make it extremely important for all of us to find time for leisure.

As blind people we encounter more obstacles due to our limitations, fewer opportunities and lack of social support. Needless to say, it is crucial that we get involved in recreation by finding activities that we as blind people can do independently or participate in a group equally with our sighted peers. For example, most people enjoy watching movies, where we often miss out on critical elements such as action, scenery, and facial expressions. This can be frustrating and even depressing, taking the enjoyment from something that should be fun and relaxing.

We are fortunate to have a service called Descriptive Video Service (DVS) that will enable blind and visually impaired people to enjoy such an activity without missing these key elements or needing a sighted person to describe the visual aspects. DVS is affiliated with WGBH, a PBS station in Boston. This service has been available for over a decade. Their selection of movies is extremely limited in comparison to video stores like blockbuster. Despite this fact, they do carry over two hundred movies available in a wide variety of genres. The Staff at DVS work diligently to produce high quality videos for the blind. They view each and every film, dozens of times, taking notes and incorporating a verbal description by choosing language carefully, using as few words as possible so as not to interfere with the dialogue. If you have not experienced something like this, check out the Descriptive Video Service web site for details. Not only can you buy these described videos at the DVS web site, but you may also be able to borrow them from your local library. Most public libraries have a talking book department. Contact

your local Library to get more information and a listing of the descriptive movies that might be available. Darrell and I have purchased DVS videos for a few years now and have an excellent collection. I enjoy mostly the comedies, mysteries and dramas, whereas Darrell finds pleasure watching the action and Science fiction. This is one activity that we can enjoy without sighted assistance.

Of course, there’s much more to recreational activities for the blind than just watching DVS videos. Examples of other great activities might include playing board games, participating in sports, journaling, ceramics, dance, karate and rock climbing.

These are just a few things we have done to cope with every day stress.

There are some board games that are accessible, available in both Braille and large print. One can find these games and other similar accessible products such as playing cards at such companies as Beyond Sight and Independent Living Aids.

In addition to the above mentioned activities, one can also become involved in classes at their local recreation center. This is exactly what Darrell and I did this past year. Like many couples, we have different interests. I am more in to the fine arts while Darrell is interested in more physically active activities such as karate and rock climbing.

I like to journal, expressing my thoughts. I have always been better at communicating and expressing my ideas and perspectives through the written word. Before losing my sight, I would write using pen and paper; however, now that I am totally blind, I utilize the computer. Journaling is another constructive way in which one can cope with stress or depression, especially for the blind or disabled who often feel isolated and alone, not being able to relate to others or feeling uncomfortable talking with a professional counselor. Ceramics is an excellent outlet for self expression and enables one to use their right brain to create and relieve stress.

Darrell took another approach to deal with his stress. Karate was a way for him to get more exercise and clear his head. The same was true for rock climbing, though this activity was much more physically challenging.

If you find yourself feeling anxious, depressed and extremely stressed,

consider participating in recreational activities such as those we have described. It will alleviate your stress, increase your energy and enable you to focus on work and other issues that bombard us in our daily lives.

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Achieving Our Ultimate Objective

January 29, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Karen and I write to inspire everyone to think outside the box for the achievement of our full participation in society.

What is our ultimate objective? What do we as blind people want to achieve? How do we reach our goals? These are just a few questions we as blind individuals, as a minority group should be asking.

We need and want to be accepted in society as full and equal participants. Like other minorities, we are not always granted the same opportunities as the sighted, thus we are not currently equal, fully productive members of society through no fault of our own. We should not be complacent, just accepting the “way things are”.

It is possible and necessary to have more access to information, increase our transportation options and improve Societies attitudes about blindness and our capabilities. Meeting this challenge is not possible until each and every one of us stands together, united and on the same page as to our ultimate objectives. Full productive participation in society will not truly be a reality until we all come to an agreement on the identification of the critical specific barriers we face, how to resolve each one and what steps we will take to reach our goals. Until we can do this, we will remain divided and largely ineffective as a blind community. United we stand, divided we fall! Instead of passing judgment, being critical of another, STOP! LOOK and LISTEN! We all need to be more open minded, to attempt to understand another fellow human being’s perspective. Do not assume that, because you are not experiencing something, whatever it may be, that it is not reality for someone else. As they say, don’t judge until you have walked a mile in the other person’s shoes.

Although it is helpful to understand another’s experiences and perceptions of the world, it is most important to do what is right. If, for example, 75 percent of the Blind are unemployed while our sighted peers experience only a 6 percent unemployment rate, then, this low socioeconomic status for the blind is unacceptable and we must take serious steps to make it right. If the sighted have access to all available information, whether it be in print, on a computer screen, the internet, on television or anywhere else in the world and we are limited as to what is available to us, then, this too is not acceptable! We live in the information age where knowledge is power. We must do everything possible to insure our ability to obtain and use all available information the sighted take for granted. If one has mastered all the alternative techniques of blindness, she still does not ultimately have true and complete independence if she must frequently depend on a sighted reader to perform critical tasks on the job, use inaccessible digital home appliances to perform basic tasks such as cook dinner, read personal mail or read and find products in a store. We remain limited, usually not due to our physical lack of eye sight but due to needless artificial barriers, and, therefore, have fewer opportunities compared to the sighted. Needless to say, we, then, are not equal. We live in the 21 st century! Though we have made significant progress in many areas, we have a long road ahead before we will reach our ultimate objective of full and complete participation in society with our blindness representing an absolute minimum impact on our lives.

Thanks to the work of the National Federation of the Blind, social attitudes about blindness are improving. Many opportunities now exist that were totally out of the question for a blind person just 65 years ago. Many employers are actually interested in considering us as serious candidates to fill critical positions within their agencies, companies and organizations. The internet and other technologies are wonderful avenues to gain knowledge, skills and opportunities. Assistive technology products such as JAWS screen reading software, PAC Mates, Alva Braille displays, talking microwaves, talking caller id’s, DVS videos, Newsline and bookshare are just a small sample of the technologies that help to enable us to participate in education, employment, home management and leisure activities. Let’s not stop here! Our current progress must represent stepping stones to do much better now and in the future, to give us hope and determination to continue to raise awareness within the majority sighted world of the need for accessibility, to develop and produce more functional, high quality assistive technology products and services that will interact with mainstream technology, enabling us to have even more opportunities and fewer limitations.

As stated in Take A Risk, take a chance to make things better! If you have an idea that might make it possible for us all to achieve our goal of greater accessibility, increased transportation options or overall improved social attitudes about blindness, then, speak out! Express your thoughts here or anywhere else in the blind community. This is America, the land of opportunity; we have the freedom to speak our minds. Exercise your first amendment rights! AS Thomas Edison said, its “99 percent inspiration and 1 percent perspiration”. Without people like Edison, Bell, and Marconi, it would not be possible for us all to be writing in this forum. It takes an individual whom is inquisitive, has inspiration and a willingness to improve the world. So, do not step on the toes of a fellow blind person; do not let him stand alone in the dark and isolated. Instead, let’s march together, united in mind and purpose. For if we do this, we will, one day, achieve our ultimate objective!

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Online Shopping: Practical and Fun for the Blind

January 28, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Karen informs and inspires us all to enjoy the accessibility and convenience of shopping online.

Shopping is something we all have to do. Some like to shop more

than others. Women especially like to shop, browse, do lunch and spend

a lot of money. I have never been one to spend the day shopping from store to store. In fact, it is one of my least favorite things to do! Shopping is one of those life activities we all have to do on a

regular basis. Whether it be Grocery shopping, buying products for the

home, or gifts for friends or Family. , Its something that needs to be

done. Some of us enjoy it more than others.

For those of you who do not like to shop or just want to save time, Shop online! It is especially practical for the blind and actually can be a lot of fun. If you have access to a computer and know how to use the Internet, why not check out some of these online web sites? If you are not computer literate, this may be another incentive to begin to hop on the information highway and surf the net. Furthermore, you will avoid traffic, crowds and the need of a Customer Service clerk to assist you. This is one activity that you can do alone, with complete

independence! No one needs to describe the products for you, the items listed on well designed shopping sites have a description that enables the blind to know the specifications and other details of the products. Not only does one not need a clerk, but one does not have to worry about waiting for a bus or ride. One can shop in the privacy of their home, at any time day or night. This is extremely practical and efficient for anyone, especially for the blind and others whom are disabled.

Darrell and I do the majority of our shopping online. The holidays are the best time to shop online. There are dozens of sales and one does not have to deal with the crowds. Moreover, if you feel as if you do not have enough time on your hands to accomplish all the things that you want and need to do during the

day, think about shopping online. You could clean house or read a good book while you wait for your groceries to be delivered! You could also baby-sit and shop online at home. These are just a few ways to manage your time.

Take a minute and click that mouse, or press that key! Explore. You will see the world through another window! One that is accessible to the blind as well as the sighted. The following represent examples of accessible online shopping sites:

It is important to understand that, sadly, there remain a large number of businesses on the Internet that have not yet made the accessibility choice! The sites mentioned above are reasonably accessible for all. We are currently unable to endorse any specific web sites in this story as our ability to use them is based solely on personal experience rather than any objective review of their accessibility. Have fun and let me

know what you think!

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Take A Risk!

January 27, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Karen offers us an inspirational look at the need for us to be willing to take risks.

Taking Risks is part of life. We would not be truly living if we did not take chances and experience some level of stress. Every opportunity we take, every decision we make involves taking some kind of risk. We need to make choices, for if we do not, our choices will be made for us. Do not live passively, be an active participant. Get involved, do what you can to make a difference. Change the world in a small way if possible. We are all here to learn valuable lessons and to make some kind of difference in the lives we touch. There is a purpose for all that happens to us. Life is too short and time will pass you by. WE can learn from not only our successes but also our failures. As they say, ” one must sit down to failure before one can dine on success”. Don’t allow your failures or fears to paralyze you and keep you from really living!

We all need to be productive and become involved in our communities; whether we are employed, volunteer or take classes, we need to do something. Life is too short. It is very precious. Make the best of the time you have. ” Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift”.

For those of us whom have a disability, we often encounter obstacles that make it more difficult to achieve our goals. AS a result, our judgment is sometimes clouded, our perception of reality occasionally distorted. Don’t quit! Don’t give up on yourself and on life. Take charge! Live your life to the fullest. Otherwise, you will feel regret over all the lost opportunities and wonder what might have been, what changes you could have made , whom you could have inspired.

So, take that risk, whatever it is; Take that job, buy that home, travel. Take the chance!

If we all do our best and make the most of each day, we will, one day, really “change what it means to be blind”!

WE all need to focus on what is important, how to improve the lives of all of us who happen to be blind. Don’t criticize the efforts of another person unless you have some facts to constructively support your position. Instead, maximize your efforts. Work together to provide suggestions and enable all to have a better, more fulfilling life: to gain access to information, increase effective transportation options and improve social attitudes about blindness. It is counter productive to be critical or resistant to others whom are attempting to improve the quality of the lives of the blind. Let’s put forth our best effort, put our best foot forward and do all that we can to truly ” change what it means to be blind”. The choice is yours! Take the risk! Live and light the way, for anything is possible. Let’s Boldly go where the blind have never been before! It will be a brave and brighter new world for us all!

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Microsoft’s Latest Anti-Piracy Initiative Locks Out Blind Users

January 26, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

If you are blind, you may soon find yourself unable to fully maintain your computer!

Starting on an unspecified date in mid-2005, Microsoft will initiate Windows Genuine Advantage, a new anti-piracy measure, by requiring Windows users to enter their product key in order to gain access to such services as Download Center and Windows Update. This product key is printed either on the Windows CD-ROM or on a sticker located on the side of a computer with Windows installed at the factory. The physical inability to read print will instantly barr legitimate Windows users who happen to be blind from accessing Download Center and Windows Update. This loss will represent a huge inconvenience for blind users of home computers, while it could result in the possible loss of jobs for information technology professionals who happen to be blind.

It is clear that the people at Microsoft were not thinking about accessibility when implementing this new anti-piracy program. For legitimate blind users of Windows, this product key requirement is nothing more than a test for eye sight before permitting entry in to the promised land! We must absolutely and unequivocally insist that Microsoft find a way to work with the blind community to insure the accessibility of the Windows Genuine Advantage program for everyone who has already paid for the right to use Windows!

Please read Microsoft’s Commitment to Accessibility. Send e-mail to Microsoft’s Accessibility Group and provide online feedback insisting that Microsoft take steps to insure that Windows Genuine Advantage is accessible for everyone.

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Bicycling Blind?

January 24, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

We know our ability to drive an automobile remains in the distant future. Aside from restoration of eye sight, a highly technologically complex vehicle featuring artificial intelligence and thousands of sensors will be required. In the meantime, why not try adapting bicycles for faster independent travel? As a child with extremely low vision, I rode one for several years until I drove it off a six foot cliff!

There are many aspects to riding a bicycle that lend themselves to adaptation for independent use by the blind. Since the bicycle travels much more slowly than the automobile, the consequences of an accident can be greatly reduced. A bicycle can be legally and safely ridden on the side walks of many communities. Traveling by bicycle is thus more like walking than driving. Since the bicycle is open, the blind user could use their hearing, orientation and mobility skills and other alternative blindness techniques to cross streets. Riding a bicycle would be faster than walking, and many bikes can enable the rider to carry packages that are heavier and larger than those an average walker could handle.

There are certainly a number of challenges that must be considered and resolved before it would ever be safe for a totally blind or severely visually impaired person to attempt riding a bicycle. These challenges include collision avoidance, navigation and obstacle detection. I strongly believe that these challenges can be overcome using current technology. No complex artificial intelligence or other highly advanced computer technologies should be required.

Collision avoidance and obstacle detection are absolutely critical in order for us to be able to ride a bicycle in a manner that is safe not only for ourselves but also for the general public. We must avoid colliding with cars and pedestrians. We must also avoid hazards such as falling off cliffs and running in to objects like poles and trees. The concept of obstacle avoidance using ultrasonic sensors has been studied for more than thirty years. Unfortunately, this research has been conducted from the perspective of the traditional blind walker. The guide dog and the long white cane, tried and true alternative blindness techniques for safe and effective walking, rightly resulted in the failure of such products as the Sonic Guide. In 1999 and 2000, I worked with a student at Arizona State University on a research project using auditory signals and ultrasonic detectors to aide blind walkers in avoiding potentially dangerous obstacles. I ultimately lost interest in the project. I couldn’t see an application where the device would sufficiently benefit the average blind person to justify the allocation of limited resources in another probably unsuccessful assistive technology product. I am now beginning to understand that this technology may be applicable to the blind after all. A bicycle might be fitted with tens or hundreds of ultrasonic detectors. These detectors could then be connected to a device that would process the information and convey it to the blind rider in the form of auditory signals, vibrations or a combination of both modalities. Such a system would need to enable the blind rider’s ability to safely perform at least the following tasks:

  • Detect the oncoming presence of automobiles, pedestrians and other bicyclists, allowing the blind rider sufficient time to avoid a collision.
  • Avoid falling off cliffs, ledges and other sudden downward terrain changes while providing sufficient time to take evasive action.
  • Avoid running in to poles, low hanging branches and other similar hazards, allowing sufficient time to stop or take other appropriate action.

Navigation is the third critical element to the ability of a blind person to ride a bicycle. After all, the purpose of riding is to transport yourself to an ultimate destination. The navigation issue can be tackled from two conceptual levels: micro and macro. The micro aspects of navigation involve such basic but absolutely essential tasks as determining the boundary between the street and the sidewalk, detecting driveways and enabling the rider to travel in a straight line. Again, the ultrasonic detectors used for collision avoidance and obstacle detection might be useful in these tasks. On the macro level, you want to be able to travel longer distances than those you can achieve through walking. A talking GPS navigation device would certainly come in very handy. Those are already on the market in the form of such products as BrailleNote GPS, Trekker and the soon to be released StreetTalk solution for the PAC Mate.

This summary is understandably very preliminary. More than anything else, the intent is to spark discussion on the possibility of bicycle riding for the blind. If this is a reasonable goal, we should be seeing research, prototyping and live demonstrations of this capability in the near future. Again, your participation is highly encouraged. Please comment on the possibility of blind bicycling from either a practical or technical perspective.

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Negative Fund Raising Campaigns: Blindness Misrepresented Through Simulation Activities

January 24, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I just read an article entitled Being Blind For A Day! posted today on PRNewswire regarding an event called “Kindness Beats Blindness”. I found it quite disturbing and upsetting as I learned that 496 more children are going to be taught the wrong things about blindness!

On Thursday, January 27, 496 middle school children will simulate blindness in a way that exemplifies thousands of years of misconceptions all in a single day. Half the children will wear blindfolds while the other half will act as “seeing eye kids” presumably to guide the “blind” children. The story emphasizes all the negative misconceptions about blindness as though they are truths. One of the children interviewed for this article tells us that he gets a “beautiful, indescribable feeling” from helping the needy. Sadly, unless he is made aware of the truth, this child may become a barrier to our progress in his adulthood.

Campaigns such as this should be conducted in a way that improves society’s attitudes about blindness and breaks down the negative misconceptions. If I were advising the planners of “Kindness Beats Blindness”, I would give them the following advice:

  • Cut out the “seeing eye kids”! They feed in to the misconception that the blind are completely helpless and dependent upon the sighted.
  • Invite confident, competent blind people from the community to work with the children, demonstrating how the alternative techniques of blindness (assistive technology, Braille, orientation and mobility skills) enable them to participate in society. Provide hands on examples of daily living skills such as cooking and preparing simple meals. Have the children walk around the school grounds with blind buddies using the long white cane. Show the children how assistive technologies such as Braille displays and screen readers enable blind people to communicate. Play a descriptive video.
  • Engage the children in their normal school activities while blind mentors show them how to successfully complete them as a blind person.

By focusing almost exclusively on the negative characteristics of blindness, The planners of this event have missed the opportunity to make life better for blind people everywhere. The stated goal of this campaign is to raise money for the Foundation Fighting Blindness, an organization working to implement prevention, treatment and cure of eye diseases. Some may feel that the only way to successfully raise funds for these medical organizations is to emphasize the negative, pitiful aspects of blindness. These negative campaigns are carried out solely at our expense. We are not inherently helpless or “needy” based on our physical lack of eye sight. Our 75 percent unemployment rate and overall poor socioeconomic status have nothing to do with blindness. They do have everything to do with the artificially imposed consequences of inaccessibility, lack of transportation options and negative social attitudes regarding our blindness.

It is important to note that Sovereign Bank, the primary sponsor of “Kindness Beats Blindness”, provides reasonable accomodations to its blind customers through such features as an accessible web site, automated telephone banking and talking ATM’s. We applaud all businesses that do the right thing by providing equal accessibility of their products and services to the blind.

This is yet another call to participation. What can we do to insure that blindness related fund raising campaigns avoid damaging the blind community? How can we convince event planners to emphasize the positive rather than the negative?

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Considering Attendance at CSUN

January 23, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

I am seriously considering the possibility of my attending CSUN’s Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference. I feel this would be an excellent way for me to experience hands on demonstrations of the latest and greatest assistive technology as well as to personally meet the players in the field. As one who intends to work toward mobilization of the blind community toward greater participation through accessibility, I believe it is absolutely vital that I become as informed and well connected as possible. Networking is essential in the assistive technology industry as it is everywhere else.

Since I live in Arizona, the location of this event in Los Angeles is rather convenient. Due to work obligations, I am only going to be able to reasonably request sufficient time off to attend from March 16 to 19. This would permit my participation in the conference, mandating that I skip the preconference workshops being offered on the 14th and 15th. It appears the registration fee is $400 and the hotel room will cost approximately $120 per night. I have applied for a first timer scholarship from CSUN’s scholarship committee to cover all or part of the registration cost. That still leaves the hotel room expenses. Since Karen will not be able to accompany me on this trip, I can’t justify spending a large amount of money to have a room all to myself. I am thus asking that anyone who is planning to attend this conference and who is in need of a roommate to split the lodging costs to send e-mail to me at so we can come to an agreement.

Before I make any binding arrangements to attend CSUN, I’d very much appreciate those who have attended this conference in the past to post comments about their experience. What is your take regarding the quality of the sessions and exhibits? Do all or most of the blindness technology players attend? What was your experience with the accomodations provided by the Hilton or Marriott airport hotels? Overall, did you find attending this conference to be worthwhile? Will you be attending this year? Please do share your thoughts soon. You, the readers of this journal, get to provide your input on my decision making process.

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No Appointment Necessary

January 21, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Last week I heard a television commercial for Lab Express. This company provides discount lab services, such as blood testing, for people who do not have health insurance coverage. The announcer enthusiastically exclaimed “no appointment necessary” as if it were a benefit of using this service. Unfortunately, in many cases, “no appointment necessary” means you are not able to make any prior arrangements to receive service on a specific date or time. This is clearly not a benefit to the blind or anyone else who does not have independent control over their transportation. Fixed route public transportation runs on a schedule. Some city buses run only once per hour. Door to door shared ride services like Dial-A-Ride require prearrangement of both the departure and return trips. These trip times are usually not flexible and can’t be adjusted on the day of the trip.

Even in cases where appointments are not typically made nor reservations taken, we have often been able to make special arrangements with the company’s staff to meet our needs. In the case of laboratory work, we call the lab’s telephone number several days before we wish to set an appointment. We speak with a manager, who agrees to watch out for us at a prearranged time and to serve us as close to that time as possible, making sure we have received service by the time the driver is scheduled to pick us up for our return trip. If there is a line, we are taken to the front so that we can receive service at the agreed upon time.

Some in the blind community are firmly against our insistance on setting appointments and reservations when the opportunity is not granted to our sighted peers. They tell us that we are using our blindness to gain an advantage not enjoyed by others. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The reasons for our insistance on making prior arrangements have everything to do with minimizing the added negative consequences our blindness can cause us to suffer. After walking in and waiting in line to receive service, the typical sighted person will be able to drive away in their own automobile to carry on with the rest of their day. This won’t be the case for those of us who are unable to drive. If waiting an extended, unpredictable amount of time causes us to miss a bus or a return Dial-A-Ride trip, the consequences can be severe. At a minimum, the person who rides the city bus may have to wait an extra thirty minutes or hour to catch the next bus. An extreme consequence for a Dial-A-Ride subscriber missing their return trip might easily be the need to ride a cab ten to twenty miles, costing $30 or more!

If you are blind or are otherwise unable to drive an automobile, don’t be afraid to insist on the ability to make an appointment at a medical facility, a reservation at a restaurant that normally doesn’t require reservations, or to ask for other similar reasonable accomodations that will reduce the negative consequences of your not having access to independent, reliable transportation at a moment’s notice. You probably won’t achieve the desired results by speaking with the first person you reach on the telephone. Ask for a manager or supervisor. If that person is unwilling to reasonably accomodate your needs, continue up the chain of command. If you speak with a person who is empathetic with your situation, great, you’re all set. Make reasonable compromises. For example, we always have our blood work done at the lab when it first opens at 7:00 in the morning. If you have difficulty finding someone in the company who cares and understands your needs, continue escalating and speaking with more employees. Make several calls per day if necessary. The squeaky wheel usually gets oiled. If nothing else, you’ll take advantage of the fact that people are usually very busy at work. They’ll often accomodate you for the purpose of getting your issue off their plate so that they can attend to other important matters.

Please share your experiences with the need to schedule your life around available transportation options in a world that takes driving for granted.

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Possible New Audio Service Coming Soon

January 20, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker

Good evening. This is an experimental posting using the AudioBlogger service. Please don’t forget to click the additional link associated with this post. You will hear an audio message from me explaining this experiment. Please share your thoughts concerning the possible applications of this new capability here on Blind Access Journal.

this is an audio post - click to play
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