When I Figure Out the Ballot, Will I be Too Old to Care?

Last Saturday, we were honored to have a guest speaker at our NFB Denver chapter meeting. She was a rep from the League of Women Voters. She seemed like a kindly, gentle soul who was very genuine. She reminded me a lot of my friend Deb, sans the squash soup.

She was there to outline the many different proposed amendments, propositions and other items that will appear in our local ballot in three weeks. This is a tradition that has occurred for many years between the local NFB and the League of Women Voters.

She began her speech by saying, “I was here once before and I made a boo-boo. I used the word, see.”

Immediately, a dozen members tried to console her, But our assurances did not seem to assuage her fears. Several times throughout her presentation, she tripped over the word, “see,” pausing self-consciously to say, “Oops! I did it again.”

I figured that someone with more gravitas would buttonhole her after the meeting and have a friendly, enlightening chat with her.

As it happened, I was leaving and she held the door for me. I thanked her for sacrificing her Saturday, told her I enjoyed her presentation very much and then I asked her, “Has anyone talked to you about the word, see, yet?”

“No,” she said, sounding genuinely confused.

Batter up!

I proceeded to explain to her that most blind people don’t have a problem with words like, “See,” “Look,” or “Sight.” I told her that the word, “See,” doesn’t merely mean to view something with one’s eyes. It also connotes a general perception or understanding of a concept or point. “I see what you’re saying,” or “Look at the facts.”

I further explained that most blind people would notice her awkward attempts to steer around the terms more than they would take note of her use of them as part of a smooth presentation.
I told her that none of us were offended in the least by her use of such words and I wanted to make sure she did not leave thinking she had ruffled any feathers. She seemed to see my point.

Then she said, “Look at the sky. It’s so blue today. Oh gosh! I’m sorry! I did it again!”

*sigh*

Oh well. She has decades of misconceptions to overcome.

So for all of our sighted friends, please don’t police your speech around blind people. Most of us don’t give a damn and the ones who do are the ones who have the real problem.

Stick to the important issues, like banning Halloween costumes from college campuses because they signify cultural appropriation. Next year, I’m gonna go as a sighted person and see if anyone gets offended.

Burned Out

The following is excerpted from my Facebook page. It is self-explanatory, so I will do very little editorializing throughout, save to occasionally expound on the credentials of a certain poster. I will include my original remarks, then selected comments that were left in response to what I said. I will save further editorial remarks until the end.

Original Remarks:

There are some things that blind people just can’t do. I hate to say it and I know it will anger many of my NFB friends, but it does no good when we ignore the hard facts.
One of the things we can’t do is adequately grill meat.
I was working the CCB summer program two years ago and I asked a coworker who was known for his boastful nature if he would show me how to grill burgers.
“Sho thang! Sho thang!” he retorted in his usual pompous, loquacious manner. “I’m the only guy who can show you how to do it without vision.” I hasten to add here that said coworker was a high partial, which means that he had a fair amount of useable vision.
So the appointed time came when he and I stood over the propane grill with a plate of raw burger patties. He showed me how to turn on the gas, light the burners and arrange the burgers on the grill.
He kept going on and on about using the sound of the sizzling meat to know when it was time to flip the burgers. Then he suddenly grabbed the spatula out of my hand saying, “H’oh! Whoa! Ya got a fire under one a dose! Le’me get it.”
I pause in my narrative to add that my esteemed coworker was not wearing sleep shades.
Anyway, he handed me the spatula back and showed me how to flip the rest of the burgers and remove them from the grill when cooked. But what would’ve happened if he had been blind and had not seen the grease fire? I guess the smell of charred meat would’ve eventually clued us into the fact that there was a serious problem.
I do have a friend who is almost totally blind and he does grill, but he doesn’t have any control over the temperature of the meat. It’s a crap shoot as to whether or not you’re going to get your burger rare, medium or well-charred.
Look, I don’t enjoy saying this. There is a long tradition of grilling in my family. My dad is an expert in grilling steaks, burgers, hot dogs, chicken breasts, salmon and many other kinds of meat over charcoal, propane and wood pellets. I want to follow in that tradition, but as Dirty Harry always said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
Now that I’m depressed, I guess I’ll go to Burger King and get a flame-broiled Whopper. It’s better than nothing. *sniffle*

Note: The following comments were just some that were left in response and, in my view, represent a fair cross-section of the discussion. I am leaving only their first names out of regard for their anonymity.

From Katy:

So true. *sad puppy sniffles*

From Lauren:

The grill and all the noises it makes stresses me out too much. I feel you.

From Karly:

I am blind and a home management instructor teaching the structured discovery model. I grill, and teach my students how to grill all the time. Yes, I was very intimidated to use the grill at first, but I have learned it really is trial and error and figuring it out with patience and practice. I finlally was able to purchase my first grill earlier this summer and literally have not used my stove since. I use a meat thermometer at times, I also use my spatula and tongs to tell when the meat is done, as well as timing, which is very very important. You can also do what I like to call the tap method, (I dunno if that is a technical term) LOL, but if you tap your finger on the meat, or whatever you are grilling you can tell the texture of the food you are cooking to tell doneness as well. I have caught burgers on fire, and realized it by smell and sound, but I turned the grill off and the flames did subside. If you heat the grill on high before placing your food on it, cleaning the grill first, then turning it down to the required tempature to cook your food, you will not have as many flare-ups because you have already burned off any left over grease. I was taken -a-back by this post, because with proper instruction and lots of practice, I find grilling to be a very enjoyable and delicious way to cook. I have cooked many different types of food, (burgers, steak, tuna, pork chops, corn, portobella mushrooms, onions, squash, eggplant… I could go on and on. I hope that those who are apprehensive about grilling, will find this post helpful.

From Alicia:

While this may seem unrelated on the surface, bear with me. This comment thread reminds me of something that happened at CCB. I came to the Center knowing very well that a blind person could do things like rock climb, white-water raft, sky dive, and all manner of other thrill-seeking activities. I also knew I could learn the daily living skills the Center taught. It was mostly that I’d never had the opportunity to learn, but I knew once the opportunity was there, I could do it. However, when a pair of blind friends said to me, “Let’s go play air hockey,” I looked at them like they were nuts, and said, “No way can a blind person play air hockey.” they showed me differently. It was just kind of interesting that I knew a blind person could do all this other big stuff the sighted world doesn’t think we can, but I never thought we could play air hockey. Now there’s this thread. I’ve known we could do all manner of things, but like Ryan, didn’t think something like grilling burgers was one of them. It’s just curious how sometimes we know we’re capable in the big areas, but don’t think we are in the smaller ones. And then we start sharing tips and tricks, and sometimes figure out we are after all.

From Jeff, who is also an instructor:

Ryan, I do understand that it can be very challenging, but each of us has to resist the impulse to give in to the initial frustration, or the erge to believe that our personal experience is the only possible outcome for anyone that is blind. I have successfully grilled many times over the years, and once in a while, things have not gone as well as I would have liked, but these have become the exception, rather than the rule. in fact it was one of the saddest days of my life when our grill gave up the goast, and we were reduced to using a Forman grill. I am planning to buy a new one, that will run on house gas this time, so I don’t have to mess with those bottles that always manage to run out of fuel at the worst possible time. My first suggestion is to purchase a grill basket. This is perhaps one of the greatest inventions in human history, well there are a few better ones I suppose, but it is up there. This allows you to perfectly place the meat and keep it in place. It also allows you to flip the meat without the slightest difficulty. Now each grill cooks a little different, but as mentioned above, there are only a few things you need to have control over, and timing is the most important one. Once you have the knowledge of how long your grill takes to cook to the degree of doneness you want, you have become the master of your domain! So, hang in there my friend, each of us deserves to have the joy of grilling a burger or steak over a fire, and savering that smoky flavor with our friends.

From Briana:

Honestly Ryan, even sighted, I go based on the springiness of the meat. Rare is a squishy spring all the way to well done which has very little to no spring at all. I can usually tell how cooked it is by how my fork pierces the meat. You always want a clean grill and if you know how your grill cooks (the hottest and coolest parts of the grill ) you can rotate meats as needed. Keep practicing, and ask questions, I have faith you will do well.

From Dave, another sighted person:

Why I was always happy to man the grill at the annual cookout each year!!

From Martin, yet another instructor:

The 3 t’s of cooking for blind people
Time
Temperature
Touch
And taste if needed.

From Ryan O:

Martin, have you done it? How the hell do you touch a burger while it’s grilling without burning your fingers?

From Martin:

Oh, there will be scorched fingertips from time to time, but you have to ask yourself… Is this burger worth it? The answer is inevitably yes!

From Grace:

No, totally not worth it. Plenty of cook outs to go to put on by sighted friends where I can have a burger without the burns.

From Ryan O:

I remember a friend used a burger basket and it was very effective. I’ve never even seen a meat thermometer. Is it accessible?

From Martin:

Yes, Carina actually has one that talks.

In closing, let me say that I fell into a trap that I have avoided for years. About 15 years ago, I chose to discard my electric razor and start shaving with a safety razor. I was nervous about cuts and nicks, but now, I would never go back to the electric model.

About 10 years ago, I took up smoking cigars as a full time vice. Some sighted and blind friends expressed skepticism that I would be able to light the cigar without burning holes in my clothing or setting my apartment on fire. A decade later and I can boast of a few holes in clothing, but no fires.

My new goal is to grill myself and a friend or two a burger before the summer is over. I will let you know how it turns out.

We never stop learning.

Roll On, God’s Will

I’ve tried to hold my tongue on this because I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but the plot is spoiled out there, so let me address some of the hysteria surrounding “Me Before You,” from the disabled community.

For those of you who are guilty of being, “Ablest,” and may not recognize the reference, here’s a friendly nudge. “Me Before You,” was a romance novel written by Jojo Moyes, which has now been adapted into a movie. The story takes place in merry old England and follows an active rich guy (Will) who is paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. A young girl (Louisa) who is a bit of a dim bulb takes a job as his caretaker. Long story short…Will encourages Louisa to become more educated and learn more about the world. She tries to convince him that he can still live a full life, even though he’s confined to a wheelchair. After six months, he admits that he’s had a better life than he has ever known, but flies off to Switzerland, where a doctor helps him drift off into the big sleep. But he leaves Louisa a nice nest egg so she can continue her education.

First, this is not an anti-disability movie. It is a pro-right to die movie, just as “Million Dollar Baby,” was. Where was the outrage over that? Could it be that Clint Eastwood just makes euthanasia look much more sexy? For all of you disabled leftists out there who support individual choice in the right to die arena, congratulations. You got what you wanted. How do you like it?

Sidebar: Get ready for the time (it isn’t too far away) when the abortion of disabled fetuses becomes much more common. Same concept… Other end of the spectrum. But it’s about personal choice so it’s all good, right?

Second, many so-called disabled activists are outraged because Hollywood depicts other minorities in a favorable light, while still looking down on the disabled. People, are you really surprised that we are at the bottom of the pecking order? The game of identity politics burst onto the scene in the 1960s. It was elevated to an art form in the 1990s. Why do you suppose the disabled haven’t gotten very far in the entertainment arena? Think hard. This is not a rhetorical question.

Third, many disabled bloggers (who often traffic in sanctimony) trumpet The notion that Jojo Moyes had no business writing this novel in the first place. One blogger says, “This wasn’t her story to tell.” This is a spurious argument that smacks of more than a little arrogant condescension. Larry McMurtry wasn’t alive in the 19th century. Does that mean he should’ve foregone the writing of Lonesome Dove? Dennis Lehane has written several novels dealing with racism. Should we burn his novels and lambaste his credibility because he’s white? Of course not! You can argue that Moyes’ novel was poorly researched or poorly written, but in a free society, you don’t get to decide who should and shouldn’t write what.

Finally, you know what Internet petitions are good for? Nothing! If I was really feeling generous, I could print one out with all 56,000 signatures, wipe my bum with it, crumple it into a filth-smeared wad and leave it in the compost bucket at work as a token for my greenie-weenie coworkers. One petition author whines, “Hollywood! Why do you want me dead?” Another calls this movie, “a disability snuff film.”

Folks, a snuff film is a movie in which someone is actually murdered for the purpose of exploitation. Nobody died in this movie. I know it’s common to employ hyperbole to garner attention, but for god’s sake, at least be accurate!

Ok, I’m done. Rant over. I’ve worked out all my stress, as well as other things while composing this on the toilet. Can somebody grab me that petition from Change.org out of the printing tray? I just ran out of toilet paper.

P.S.: As I stated at the beginning of this entry, I’ve not read the book or seen the movie. I have no intention of doing so. I have a lot of Hardy Boys books to get to before I’ll get around to reading a romance novel. I also don’t know anything about the writing abilities of Jojo Moyes. That said, irony often escapes the masses and subtlety is often drowned out by the megaphone of social media.

That said, some disabilities are involuntary and some are self-imposed. That is very likely the over-arching theme of the novel, if not the movie. Will chooses to allow his disability to rule his life and ultimately, his death, but he gives Luisa the wisdom and the tools to make a different choice for herself. Life is about choices, no?

I originally wrote this rant on Facebook. No one shared it; not even Evaney From Miami. I did get called, “A confrontational dick,” by Kevin; a guy who doesn’t even follow me. Thanks, Kev. Love your passion. You must be a Trump supporter.

Yeah…Trump. There’s a real handicap right there. Who am I to judge Will Traynor? If The Donald wins in November, maybe I’ll fly off to Switzerland for a consultation with Dignitas.

Can You *See* What I’m Saying?

It is not my intention to turn this into another blog by a blind guy. That is to say, I don’t want my disability to become the central focus of my life and, by reflection, these writings. A lot of blind bloggers do that. Their posts, their social media expressions, their lives, are all wrapped up in their daily existence as a blind person. They write about technology, Braille, guide dogs, dating, accessibility, canes, politics…all from the perspective of someone who is disabled.

I don’t want to do that. My blindness represents only one facet of myself. We can debate how significant a facet (sometimes I vacillate on the question), but it’s only one part of a much greater whole.

That being said, I don’t want to ignore the issue altogether. I seriously considered it when I first created this blog. I thought about focusing solely on politics, entertainment and occasionally, my personal feelings, all the while ignoring the fact that I am blind. The omission of the discussion, a discussion that is central in the lives of other blind people, would, in and of itself, be a statement.

My friend Art changed my mind. Art has, to my knowledge, never met a blind person. Art has many questions and there are many things he doesn’t know. Why should I deny him the chance to become enlightened? Moreover, why am I above explaining my situation to another person who is willing to learn? Yes, I sometimes grow weary of being saddled with the role of a reluctant educator. I didn’t ask for it. I don’t want it. But I’ve got it.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

I was having a conversation with an intern at work yesterday and she claimed that we have an anti sighted bias here in the office. She said this because my boss, the founder of our company, is also blind. She was trying to explain a point about technology to him during a meeting and he didn’t seem to get it. Then I came in and, according to the intern, I explained the very same point to him and he agreed with it. In her mind, this constitutes an anti sighted bias.

Anyone reading this who is blind will scoff aloud. Any sighted person reading this may very well scratch their head and go, “Hmmm. I never thought about it.” And why should they? Blind people are such a statistically insignificant number in society compared to other “minorities,” that we don’t come up on the collective radar of the sighted. We as blind people get so comfortable living in our own skins and our own culture that we forget this very obvious fact. In the grand scheme of things, we are an infinitesimal number.

Let us talk then of biases.

The point my boss was asking about concerned technology. As the operations manager, my workspace is located in the control room; an area populated by computers, Behringer Boxes, speakers, KVM switches, a sound board, routers, a Perkins Braillewriter, breakout boxes, a tabletop microphone, telephones, an ATA Box, my Darth Vader’s head coffee mug, more computers and two cabinets full of dusty equipment circa 1990. We are a radio reading service for the blind who’s founder has a progressive view of the employment of blind people. To that end, our broadcast systems are all geared to be accessible with screen-reading software. Our websites are set up in a visually simplified format so as to be compatible with the same kinds of text-to-speech software. Blind people are well aware of programs such as JAWS, Voice-Over, the KNFB Reader, The Seeing Eye, Zoomtext and other programs that make the printed word accessible.

Every day, we try to discover ways to make our services more available to our audience, thus increasing listenership and bringing in new members. The easier we make it for blind people to listen, the more successful we are in our mission. There is no reason for a sighted intern who, up until she came to work here, probably never got to know a blind person in depth, should be aware of things like Speakup and Double Talk. David, my boss, is well aware of it, because he lives the life of a blind person every day. He is also well aware that I am blind and I therefore have an inherent knowledge of the products and methodology that can best be applied to the situation.

When the intern voiced her concerns to me, I told her that, in the realm of technology, the boss may very well have a bias toward my opinion as a blind person. But this is not born of contempt or dismissal of her merely because she has sight. It’s a matter of being knowledgeable on a particular issue that is gleaned from life experiences.

Though my boss does defer to my blind volunteer coworker and myself for advice on tech, we’re not the only ones. John is another volunteer who works in the tech area, but he is sighted. I don’t consider him to be smarter or dumber than the rest of us. He merely looks at a problem from a different angle. Moreover, the vast majority of the staff here at my workplace are fully sighted. The boss defers to their judgment when it is appropriate. He doesn’t ask for my opinion about grant writing or Spanish outreach any more than he would ask Bethany, our listener coordinator, about repairing a breeched firewall.

My coworker Curtis (nicknamed, The Evil Genius), takes a different view. He says, “Sighted people have been demonstrating a bias toward the blind for hundreds of thousands of years. We ought to have it the other way around.” You can probably surmise that Curtis is blind. He comes from a different generation when discrimination against the blind was more overt and political correctness was as fanciful as a Ray Bradbury novel.

It is sorely tempting to think this way. I’ve heard other minorities express this view. They did it to us, so let’s turn around and stick it to them. By that logic, women would castrate men, blacks would enslave whites, fat people would beat up skinny people and gay people would illegalize every straight marriage in America.

What do we want to accomplish by the ‘payback’s a bitch’ defense? The stark reality is that we live in a sighted world. If we adopted Curtis’s view and instituted an overt bias against sighted people here at work, what would it gain us? The answer is…nothing!!! I could go out tomorrow, find a random sighted person and gouge out his eyes with an ice pick. After he recovered from the physical trauma, he would have a lot more empathy for my situation. Aside from that, all I would achieve at the end of said venture is a jail term and a regular rectal dilation courtesy of my cellmate.

As angry as I get at the random sighted person who thinks it’s acceptable to put his hands on me without my permission; as frustrated as I get at sighted people who talk around me like I’m not there, or who condescend to me as if I’m a child or a pet; as tired as I get of being told that I can’t be accommodated because of a lack of proper equipment, I still believe that an informative dialogue with sighted people is the best means of striving toward equality. I wish more “minorities,” would take this view and relinquish the grievance game for a more good-willed, substantive approach to relations.

If you are able to read between the lines, you’ve probably already figured some things out about the intern. She is…eccentric. But then, I’m a Republican. I’m sure she feels the same way about me. The difference is that I am paid staff and she’s just a lowly intern. John, if you’re reading this, go tell her that for me, would ya?