Accessibility. It’s a topic that many of us know well. We advikate for it. We find work arounds when it’s not what it should be, or doesn’t exist. We believe in it. At times, I’d like to say I expect it. I could go on and on.
I feel for me, mentally as a blind person, accessibility, or to be more exact, the lack of it, takes even another form. The form of being let down, to dile in a bit more, this really takes place for me, when accessibility has to do with the work place.
I’ve thought about writing about this publically for a long time, at least 10 years. I don’t yet know where this post will go, how much I’ll end up saying. The lack of accessibility in the work place, can be, for me, and a lot of the blindness comunity, a raw, sore topic. Let me tell you a couple, personal stories.
I went to college for a degree that I didn’t end up using, that’s all of us right? 🙂 When I was in my Jr. year, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be in radio. I didn’t know what that meant other than talking on air and playing music at the time, but that, more than anything else in my life up to that point, was making an empression at that exact time. It was to late in the game to change my major, I had grants etc. etc. I finished out schooling and then went into a blindness independents living program a year later. Guess what? I still wanted to do radio. After I finished the program, I moved to California. I got further into internet radio, which helped to solidify what I wanted my career to be in radio, a production/imaging director. In Internet radio, you had to do it all, setup the entire show. setup the prod if you wanted it, setup your playlists, find your topics, talk on air. No that’s not the entire terestrial radio game, there is a lot more, but Internet radio was really where I cut my teeth. I started honing my voice for imaging, no money to higher a voice guy 🙂 I started getting imaging fx freebe’s and purchasing cheep libraries, fast forward a few years, and I was imaging Internet radio around the world for a variety of blindness internet radio projects, different formats of shows, rock, CHR Adult cont, country, etc, in between 20-40 statoins. Everyone wanted my voice. Everyone wanted my copy/scripts. Everyone wanted my fx. Everyone wanted my mix, my master, everyone wanted me producing there shit. I was good, really good, but I wasn’t cocky. There was and is always more to learn, but I had the respect of the blindness comunity, and I had a lot of respect for that. I lived for it. I hears someone talk, or heard a clip off TV and I thought, you know what? I could do this, with that. It was like someone in the military always knowing how, and where to look. I knew how to listen in any envirement and make it pop. I made friends at local stations. I went through Broadcasting school with the help of further grants and Voc Rehab. I had it set at a local rock station, accept for one thing. Accessibility with there software. There was this Job opening at the station, and the PD put his neck out for my name, but there wasn’t accessibility. He didn’t know what to say to me, it was an awkward call to him. So hey bro, that Job, did you put my name in? You know I did! He said, and, do you think I’ll get it, have a chance? There was silence on the other end of the line, well, I don’t know man, was his response. To him, it was not at all his fault. He believed in me, a blind guy living in teh 2010’s wanting to do radio, he let me do radio with him in the studio, and if accessibility was present, I believe that would have been my first job in radio, at the rock station.
A year later, I was volunteering at a local CCM station voicetracking. Again, no accessibility in the studio, but this was a bit before Voicetrack remote softwares were super popular, so the PD would allow trackers to record VT’s and zip them up and send them to him and he would put them in the schedule. He would e-mail out PDF’s of the logs so we would know where to track. This worked pretty good, there was no ramps, so energy was pretty hard to match. I won’t go totally into this story, as it wasn’t for accessibility that I didn’t stay at the station. Accessibility came to the live assist Enco Systems softwares, because the devs worked with me. They had a remote IPAD app that would completely control the station, when I left the station, the demo of the app was completely accessible. It’s a pretty screwed up story in my opinion, and that’s not what this post is about. All I can say, even though I wasn’t getting paid, it was truly one of my greatest joys in life to tell a stranger where I worked, what I did. I could honestly truly say, I was in radio. Even though things were tough. I was living my dream. It was powerful.
There comes a time in life, where we all have to realise, that for the lack of accessibility in many cases, we can’t continue to live out our dream where a career is concerned. No, sighted and blind people alike, most of us don’t have a dream job. I fully realise that. What I do believe though, is generally speaking, sighted people have a chance to do so. If I were sighted, I would no doubt be working in radio. There came a time for me, that I had to really realize that. I had to look towards a different kind of career. Who will higher the blind? Not many companies in the privat sector. And why? There is no accessibility. No company knows what accessibility even is. I spent thousands of $ in Lyft rides, going to, litterly, a hundred + interviews. People liked me. I interviewed well. Time and time again, I was turned down. Why? Not because I was blind, in a lot of cases. Because there was no accessibility with the softwares the companies were using. I had one manager give me the phone number of his compitition. I want to higher you, he said. I know you would further my company. I remember the words just like they were yesterday. He said, I’ll be right back. He came back witht he number of his companies competitor. He said, I don’t want my competitor to higher you, but if they can, if there software works, you will do good for his company, and yu deserve that. I interviewed with his competitor. The software wasn’t accessible. I no doubht didn’t get the job.
I went to this one interview with a company. It was phone support like most of the interviews I went to. I had come to grapple with, if I can’t use my voice in radio, I will use it some how, and the phones looks like the next best choice. It was for tech support. They asked me, so, what did you do last weekend? I explained how I setup servers on a home computer, and went into detailed. The gave me a job offer then and there. I was shocked. Uh. Wow. Thank you sir, I said. Do you guys have JAWS? We hadn’t even gotten there yet. Litterly, the conversation started with, how was your weekend what did you do, I talked about the servers and I had the job. They told me they didn’t know about JAWS. God Damn. I had a job!!!! My first job!!!! I spent tthe next 12 months convincing the company to get JAWS, they kept going back and forth, but this time, I had the offer, in writing. So I made them higher me. Luckally the software was web bassed, I figured it out. I wrote a 40 page guide on how to use the software with JAWS, the work arounds etc. Within a few months of being there, I was the number 2 ranked phone support agent with that company, across the united states. And we all lived happily ever after right? My peers were moving up, they were doing phone, and text chat support. The company wouldn’t let me try the text chat with JAWS. I kept on them, I want to move up the ranks like my peers. I wasn’t the #2 agent any longer. I got called into my managers office, Drew we got to talk, he said. Your not performing like you used to. Uh, what? I thought. The hell I’m not. We’ve got to cut your hours. Uh, cut my hours? WTF? I asked around the call site, are they cutting your hours? No one else was cut. A few months later I quit. I know it now, I should have took them to court. I didn’t. It is what it is. I wanted to change the face of employment. Here I was, a blind guy who got a job in a privat sector company. I was outspoken in a good way. Everyone liked me. I could have moved up the ranks and been hella good for the company if they would have let me.
What next? My girlfriend, now my fiance had a government job, phone support. Federal government is required to higher the blind. I got a job with the agency. It’s been a good move and you as a blind person are able to move up the ranks, so to speak. I am very thankful for the job, but it is mind bending and hell on earth for me. My mind doesn’t process numbers, like, does, not, process, numbers. The job is numbers. I try so very hard to do a good job. So, this agency highers the blind, so everything is accessible right? No. It’s not. I promise I’m getting to a point here and almost done with stories. I am currently in a detail which is less hella stress for me. It’s my second time in the detail and I am learning a lot. Last year, I was able to perform a task, so, it came up this year. Now? The software for me to perform the task isn’t accessible. I sat there today deflated. I just wrote this guy back, yeah I will do this for you, and I can’t do it. No, I can do it, but the computer can’t do it without mousing.
In todays age, in the year 2022, I find inaccessibility nauseating. I do not understand the lack of acccessibility in todays world. I’m not sitting here demanding it, rather, I don’t understand it. Again, we are the blind, in a sighted world, and I accept that, but, I can’t really accept that there is programming that isn’t accessible today. I’m also over the blaming game, it’s not the screen readers freakin fault. Is it then the fault of developers? I’ve worked with a number of iOS app developers, and they don’t know accessibility for a screen reader exists. Why not? Why can’t the code that the sighted person uses, just be accessible, or, universal. If a company, or agency highers screen reader users, why then, is there not testers, who test all software that goes out, to verify it’s accessibility? Why does the blind user find the lack of acccessibility, on a job, while performing job tasks, which makes them less productive. I think a lot needs to change in the world of employment. The only way, you as a sighted user reading this would understand, would be, for your mouse, suddenly to not opporate a software package. You click, it don’t work. Would that not fuckin piss you off? That in a small nutshell is the way it is for JAWS users. I wish I knew how to make the change. I wish JAWS had more machine learning or the code were more universal. Where will we be in the next 10 years? Will there still, be, this barier? God I hope not. I want to just live my employment life, like my sighted peers, no matter what job or field I’m in.
Writing this won’t make a change, I realize that, but maybe, someone reading this, will know how to make a change, or it will bring more realisation to the next Steve Jobs or Bill gates of the world. God I hope it does.And may God bless accessibility. Good night.