Kelsey M. Young
ADVOCATE FOR ACCESSIBILITY
Hello, nice to meet you! My name is Ash Rider. I live in Keller, land of the deaf-blind. Do you want to know more about why you should support accessibility? Come on, have a seat over here and sight-listen…
On most of this deaf and sight-obsessed planet called Eyeth, it isn't easy being partially sighted. In Keller, I have no issues. I've helped many friends navigate in public since I have more sight. Right now, I work in the public relations department for a transcription software company, and I do well at my job since I rely less on transcription software than everyone else. Ironic, huh? While I have accessibility at home, I don't have as much whenever I have to travel to other countries for work.
I need you to support accessibility because it's shocking how many countries here don't support it. The majority, led by the country Clerc, have decided that since all the deaf-blind people are here in Keller, they don't really need to provide anything. I'm telling you right now that "all the deaf-blind people" is a lie. What about deaf-blind people who have sighted families they don't want to leave behind? They're in those sighted countries with them, not here in Keller!
Because "everyone" is here, that causes issues with outsiders. Many Eyeth companies outside of Keller won't enable their programs and Network sites to be compatible with our transcription software. This software transmits information in either written English or written Ameslan to a Braille pad for our users to feel and receive information from. Our programmers are working on finding a way to force those programs and Network sites to be accessible.
Back to what I do. I said before that I travel for work. My job involves talking to people over the Network and in person, like I'm doing with you right now, about accessibility and supporting our software so we don't have to fight yours. Because I see better compared to everyone else, my company sends me on trips to talk with people in person about our software and cause. Let's take one of my recent trips for example… Fence, because that country is more accommodating but slightly less headache-inducing than Clerc.
I fly in. Since I have limited peripheral vision, I use a cane to tell me about obstacles I might miss that would otherwise be marked clearly in Keller. Everyone gives me a wide berth, not sure what to do about the strange Lerite (meaning me, the man from Keller) with the shin-whacker. I search for the company representative who's here for me. But before I can make it clear what to do- you know, tap me, ask me for permission, the whole deal- the rep sneaks up on me and touches me on the shoulder, making me jump and flinch. Before I can explain that it's not a good idea to startle a deaf-blind person, that I've known people in Keller who will punch out a sighted person for doing that, the rep has me by the elbow and leads me to the shuttle for my work hotel.
The hotel isn't too bad, since this is in an international port city and they're used to people like me. They put me in a special room that has obstacles marked and bright colors denoting what is where. That night, when it comes to sorting out the shuttle that will take me to the company building for the meeting the next day, I run into problems. The staff there seem afraid to touch my hands for tactile signing, so I have to revert to using a mini-tablet along with my portable Braille pad. They write and I sign back. After they call the company, I have my shuttle sorted and I won't be late for the meeting. I order room service for dinner from the Braille menu, which they've been thoughtful enough to provide, so I don't have to worry about food until after I wake up.
With my cane, I pick my way downstairs for breakfast the next morning. My room was accessible, but the dining room isn't. I'm poking around the steam tables, trying to figure out from the signs with small print which ones have eggs, when someone gently taps me on the shoulder. It's one of the hotel staff, who has a deaf-blind brother. She offers to tell me what everything is. I ask if they have eggs, toast and coffee. She says yes. I tell her to lead me to each and she helps me take my breakfast dishes to my table.
Keeping your needs simple helps with accessibility issues when it comes to eating. I once knew a Lerite man who was brave enough to ask for local cuisine whenever he traveled, which I couldn't fathom. What if he ran into a local jerk who decided to serve him crap? Scrambled eggs, buttered toast and black coffee are the same the continent over. I finish breakfast and check my watch. Twenty minutes until my shuttle is scheduled to arrive. I leave my breakfast dishes on the table, and pick my way out of the dining room. I'm sure there's some kind of protocol here about putting away dishes, but the staff who helped me didn't mention it.
I ask the front desk where to go, and they point out the door, saying there's a sign. I give them my best "really now?" look and patiently explain that I need someone to take me by the elbow and park me by the sign for the shuttle. They send one of the staff out with me. Then the shuttle arrives and I get on.
The shuttle stops and the driver comes up to tell me that we're at my destination. I thank him and get off the shuttle. A company representative is there, waiting for me, but this one is smarter than the one at the airport. He comes up to me, taps me on the arm, and then asks if he can take my elbow. I thank him for asking and let him lead the way.
In the meeting room, with people from the various tech departments sitting in a circle, I open by explaining how I'm going to make this meeting more accessible for myself. I hand out electrode arrays to everyone at the table, and then I demonstrate how to put them on the top of your hands, arranging five electrodes on the bottom joints of your fingers and one on the center of your wrist. The arrays come on and off easily enough, using small suction pads. Each array picks up the signing from nerve impulses and spatial analyses and then translates it into Braille for the Braille pad that I keep under the pads of my fingers during this meeting. This way, it's easier to look in someone's direction than have to rely on a tactile interpreter and be thought of rude because I'm "avoiding" eye contact.It's annoying how many sighted people are so obsessed with eye contact. I have an okay field of vision, but focusing on people and deciphering their signing far enough away from me gives me a headache. So that's why I've brought my Braille pad and enough electrode arrays for everyone at the table.
Usually, meetings go off without a hitch, with everyone remembering to speak one at a time. Except this time. There's one idiot who put his array on wrong- one of the pads is centered on his finger bone, not the bottom joint like I demonstrated. So my Braille pad is picking up weird spellings and misinterpreting some of his signs. As my luck would have it, this idiot is one of the department bosses here. I have to somehow pound it into his head that yes, people like me in his country do need accessibility and hope his skull isn't too thick to absorb this information. If he can't even follow simple directions for a simple electrode array, then what hope do I have?
I grit my teeth and take a deep breath. I explain the accessibility tools my company offers, keeping my focus on the other people and away from the idiot. I have to ask people to repeat themselves when they talk at the same time I'm signing and my hand isn't on the Braille pad. I keep eye contact with the people around the table as I talk to them.
I used to have a co-worker, poor thing, who tried my job and had to be demoted. Her vision was much, much worse than mine- she could only manage to see blobs. When she tried to make eye contact, she focused on the blobs that she thought were signing with little luck. With me onboard, our success rate went up. See what I mean about sighted people being so obsessed with eye contact? I'm doing what I can to go up to their level, in hopes they'll come down to mine.
But today's meeting is promising. I'm getting the impression the other people around the table agree with me about this idiot being an idiot. Plus my presentation, which is packed full of graphics, is winning them over. I ask them to please consider our software and equipment for their accessibility needs, collect all the arrays and thank them as they leave, pack up all my equipment, and then pick my way back to the shuttle with help from the representative who helped me earlier. He tells me not to worry about the idiot and that the company will seriously consider supporting us.
After packing up my things at the hotel and checking out, I take the shuttle to the airport. Then I fly back home, to the land of railings and people tactile signing. My shoulders droop once I walk out into the Keller airport. I hadn't realized how much tension they held.
Do you see how one little trip outside this country is difficult and exhausting for someone like me? Yes? Then support our company's efforts for accessibility… please.