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Thursday, March 27, 2008

CrankyBlindPerson.com

Recently, St. Petersburg, Florida has added a small number of cross walk buttons that make it much easier to cross major streets without causing the burden of a stop light which would most certainly be a minor inconvenience for motorists. The buttons on either side of 22 Ave. (a very busy and fairly high speed thoroughfare) and 7 St (a relatively low traffic road) work great and have speech synthesizers built in (they work about half of the time) which provide the pedestrian with moderately useful information.


The first thing the device says, “You have pressed a button,” overstates the obvious as, if I hadn’t pressed a button, it wouldn’t have started talking. The second bit tells the person who pressed the button that he or she is about to cross 22 Ave. at 7 St. which is slightly valuable in the event that the pedestrian thinks they might be at 5th St. and 22 Ave. which has a similar configuration. Finally, the voice says, “Remember to wave to thank the motorists for stopping.”

I enjoy shopping for fishing gear at Bill Jackson’s, a real terrific store here in St. Pete which sells mostly outdoor gear for fishing, hunting and other sports of that sort. Never in my many visits to this store have I waved to the guy in the gun department for not killing me; why then should I thank motorists for not smashing me and my guide dog on to a one way trip to the hereafter? I find the idea of thanking someone for not killing or severely injuring my dog and me a bit silly, I thought that, in our culture, not killing or maiming people comes as part of the social contract one signs at birth in this great nation.

So, what can we do to remind the sighties that providing thanks for a common courtesy (not killing us) is ridiculous? Enter CrankyBlindPerson.com (a fictional web page), the place for blinks to buy items that tell the world what we really think.

Product number one will come in the form of a “crossing guard” orange. The front of the shirt will have a cartoon of an SUV squishing a blink and his dog. The back, in large and bold black letters will say, “THANK YOU FOR NOT KILLING ME!” I think this statement is apropos to many situations and especially so to crossing streets.

The second idea for items to sell on the “Cranky” site actually requires a minor level of what many people may consider vandalism. This idea, presented to me by Dena, will be a bumper sticker that says, “I Endangered the Life of a Person With a Disability Today.” We expect people with disabilities to use these stickers to come when an motorist parks her car across a sidewalk, crosswalk or, my personal favorite, the case in which a pick-up truck parks in a driveway but has boards or some other hard object sticking out at head level into a sidewalk. In all three of these situations, the blind pedestrian can find the car’s bumper, peel off the back of the sticker and slap it on so other motorists will know that the offending driver has done something that most people might not think about.

The last idea we’ve thought of so far is a bit controversial and one of our friends thinks it goes too far. This item, a sign for one’s guide dog handle, rather than coming in a typical dark color with white lettering and saying something like, “Please don’t pet me, I’m working,” is far less polite. If we do decide to have some of these made, they will come in bright, warning signal orange and say, “Very Friendly Dog, Violent Owner, Touch neither!” And will have a small Uzi stenciled on the bottom As so many sighted people simply do not notice the polite, albeit in understated colors sign on my dog and, after they start petting X-Celerator and I point to the sign while asking them not to touch the animal while he’s working causes reactions ranging from polite apologies to snippy remarks about said sighty’s love for dogs and, occasionally, even a statement that by working my animal, I have crossed some line into abusing the guy which really makes my blood boil. I think that a bright orange sign with a less polite statement would serve us better.

Maybe the Blind Panther Party can help us with distribution?

There seems to be a common feeling among most sighties that we blinks should act excessively politely and be thankful of anything the city, county, state, Federal government, AT companies and any other organization or individual does for us. In his CSUN keynote address, Jim Fruchterman stated that “accessibility is a basic human right,” this statement is contained in the text of the treaty that grew out of the UN Convention on Human Rights and People With Disabilities, a UN initiative to which the United States is the only major nation not to participate. Mike Calvo’s bold move to allow the Accessibility Is a Right (AIR) Foundation distribute System Access To Go (SATOGO) without cost to any user on Earth seems to be the first major move by an AT company to acknowledge that the work they do is different from mainstream technology and that, above all, their duty is to their users first and their investors second.

According to UN data, there are 600 million people with disabilities in the global population. According to another statement out of the UN, people with disabilities are the most oppressed minority on the planet but the community has no real leaders on the political front. Who will be the Martin, the Mandela, the Gandhi of our cause? Who is willing to jeopardize their career by pointing out flaws in AT products? Who is willing to take on city governments about the needs of pedestrian rights when many of us already know that the likelihood of change is poor? Who is willing to take on the FCC for doing little or nothing to act on 255 complaints years after the bill came into effect?

Any person who steps up into these issues tends to receive harassment from other blinks who oppose what they consider “radicalism” and think we should just kiss asses and politely hope that kindness will catch more flies than vinegar (to mix metaphors).

I have made the decision to only work on free software that is distributed under GPL or a similar license. I’m making some interesting progress on some of what I think are very cool projects. I also see a number of other open source/free software programs that people throughout the world are working on. I think community developed software may take longer to create than well financed programs from the for profit AT companies but I think that the community based hackers will be more inclusive of changes requested by users and, as free software has been demonstrated to do, will get far more bugs fixed as there will be far more ears listening to the output.

Even non-hackers can take on very important roles in the world of free AT. The movement (as it is) needs users to help design features as they think they should work. We need a lot of people to volunteer to write documentation as free software docs tend to be a bit rough. There are free AT projects for Windows, GNU/Linux and Macintosh so I urge everyone to help out in some way (excepting those people who have a non-compete agreement with an AT company as I wouldn’t want to drag anyone else into the legal hell I’ve experienced).

So, tune in, hack on and yell out!

Afterward

I have a relatively old PAC Mate that has not been used since I got it back from the repair shop at FS which I would like to sell. I believe it qualifies for the upgrade to the Omni edition but I’m not sure on this. The unit is a QX 440 running Windows Mobile 2003, thus, it includes a 40 cell Braille display which, alone would cost far more than I will ask for this item.

I will start the bidding at $1500 plus shipping for the unit in an “as is” state. The highest bidder will, upon payment, get the PM. I’ve long ago lost the case and the strap on mine came from a proto PM relatively early in the development cycle of the product so is different from the shipping Pac Mates.

As I did with the Braille Blazer I sold a month or so ago, I will give half of the purchase price (in the case of the Blazer I gave the entire sum but it was only $150 and splitting it didn’t make sense) to be split evenly between Bookshare.org and Southeastern Guide Dogs. Also, I’m going to keep half of the purchase for myself as I’m feeling greedy these days.

Please send bids to me at the email in the “Contact Me” section of the BC blog.

Bidding on the PM will end on April 15, 2008.

Happy Hacking…

--End

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Chris,
Please understand that what I am about to say is not directed to you. It is directed at the blind community at large, and not specific individuals.
I really think that often times, we as blind people tend to take things way too personally. The street button is a perfect example. Granted, it sounds insulting when it asks you to wave, but think about it. Every other pedestrian would have to push that button too since there's no stop sign. So, its not just telling blind people to wave, but its sayinng that to anybody who walks on the street and needs to press the button. If you don't want to wave, simply don't do it. I cannot see (no pun intended) why this is so personally offensive to any inndividual.
Second, about the guide dog. I have one too, and I'll admit that its annoying when others pet him. The snippy comments can be irritating too, but I've realized long ago that nothing ever comes from them. The people making the comments go on their way, and you go on yours. Never in my four years of using a dog has anybody who made a nasty comment confronted me to continue their attack later.
They have their say and walk away. So what's the need to get bent out of shape?
to other blind people out there, I'm basically saying chill out a bit. The whole world is not against you.

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Deborah Norling said...

Chris -- love your rants. Orange T-shirt is great. But the post inspires a rant of my own; related, only somewhat to yours.
Why is it that we dog users believe everything we hear! I've used guiding beasts for three decades and this idea that our dogs will get distracted if the public pets them is something most of us don't question. I did, and once I decided I didn't have to swallow every piece of dog training advice told me, I built a real relationship with my dog.
We got two reasons for using the furry express. Reason 1: we want to zoom from point A to point B efficiently. Reason 2: we love dogs.
The trainers figured out long ago that many users only subscribe to reason 1. Oh, they're humane to animals, but the real goal is mobility. They want as little interference to the navigation process as possible. And unfortunately, guide dog training is geared towards this lowest common denominator; the person who sees their service animal as just a tool and not a living, breathing creature that deserves to enjoy life as much as we do.
And of course we have the reason 2 folks as well. In guide dog school they say things to their doggies like "Oh sweetie, don't pull mommy so hard." and never learn to give a good correction or issue a firm command.
I believe myself to be one of those apparently rare individuals who both likes being on the move with the fuzzbutt, and enjoying the fuzzbutt himself. I work at a college and my dog knows how to politely ask if we can stop and say Hi to a favorite petter. He knows how to focus and ignore a petter when we are in a hurry as well. My guide is my partner, and if I can stop to chat with friends, why can't he.
Of course, it's imperative that he doesn't cross a street diagonally, run me in to a wall or fail to work because he's in search of a friendly petter. But I truly believe my dogs, even my current albeit goofy golden, are smart enough to make decisions. We expect our puppies to disobey commands intelligenly, yet we think they're too dumb to keep our safety upmost in their furry minds just because some stranger is offering a pet.
I'm a clicker trainer. I think a lot about what motivates my dog. I don't just use treats. I use surprises as well. For example, I might pull a furry squeaky rat out of my pocket and play with him when we succeed with a difficult intersection. I want to be the most exciting thing in his life. I want to be worth paying attention to. I use few corrections, but when I correct, that golden retriever isn't standing on his four fuzzy feet! I'm even-tempered so I've probably corrected my dog five times in seven years. Yet, I invite people to pet him. I want him to be distracted! When he works in spite of distractions, then I am a good handler. Let's stop worrying about whether the public pets our pooches and start improving our own handling skills. I maintain that if you're a good enough handler, the behavior of the public towards your guide will be irrelevant!stuff about

2:03 PM  
Anonymous Deborah Norling said...

Chris -- love your rants. Orange T-shirt is great. But the post inspires a rant of my own; related, only somewhat to yours.
Why is it that we dog users believe everything we hear! I've used guiding beasts for three decades and this idea that our dogs will get distracted if the public pets them is something most of us don't question. I did, and once I decided I didn't have to swallow every piece of dog training advice told me, I built a real relationship with my dog.
We got two reasons for using the furry express. Reason 1: we want to zoom from point A to point B efficiently. Reason 2: we love dogs.
The trainers figured out long ago that many users only subscribe to reason 1. Oh, they're humane to animals, but the real goal is mobility. They want as little interference to the navigation process as possible. And unfortunately, guide dog training is geared towards this lowest common denominator; the person who sees their service animal as just a tool and not a living, breathing creature that deserves to enjoy life as much as we do.
And of course we have the reason 2 folks as well. In guide dog school they say things to their doggies like "Oh sweetie, don't pull mommy so hard." and never learn to give a good correction or issue a firm command.
I believe myself to be one of those apparently rare individuals who both likes being on the move with the fuzzbutt, and enjoying the fuzzbutt himself. I work at a college and my dog knows how to politely ask if we can stop and say Hi to a favorite petter. He knows how to focus and ignore a petter when we are in a hurry as well. My guide is my partner, and if I can stop to chat with friends, why can't he.
Of course, it's imperative that he doesn't cross a street diagonally, run me in to a wall or fail to work because he's in search of a friendly petter. But I truly believe my dogs, even my current albeit goofy golden, are smart enough to make decisions. We expect our puppies to disobey commands intelligenly, yet we think they're too dumb to keep our safety upmost in their furry minds just because some stranger is offering a pet.
I'm a clicker trainer. I think a lot about what motivates my dog. I don't just use treats. I use surprises as well. For example, I might pull a furry squeaky rat out of my pocket and play with him when we succeed with a difficult intersection. I want to be the most exciting thing in his life. I want to be worth paying attention to. I use few corrections, but when I correct, that golden retriever isn't standing on his four fuzzy feet! I'm even-tempered so I've probably corrected my dog five times in seven years. Yet, I invite people to pet him. I want him to be distracted! When he works in spite of distractions, then I am a good handler. Let's stop worrying about whether the public pets our pooches and start improving our own handling skills. I maintain that if you're a good enough handler, the behavior of the public towards your guide will be irrelevant!stuff about

2:05 PM  
Blogger Chairman Mal said...

Howdy Comrades!
I agree with BC that the BPP should market some of the more scatological items. This reminds me of an old science fiction short story entitled, “Death at the Ped Walk.” The author’s name escapes me, but the story is a dystopic, libertarian vision of future traffic in urban areas. Written well before drive by shootings were commonplace, drivers make a sport of running down pedestrians. I recall that the elderly were legally entitled to carry automatic weapons as a defensive measure, and the blind were permitted to use grenades! The story doesn’t strike me as being so funny these days. My real life battles with Cap Metro, Democratic Party politics and family money distribution issues impeded my response to this post. Onward through the fog!
Regards,
Chairman Mal
Power to the Peeps!

4:34 PM  

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