Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New York State of Mind

This is going to be super, super long. It will also be posted in multiple places, so I'm just warning y'all. If you are interested in the trip, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and a snack and relax, it's gonna be a bumpy ride!

My SSP and I left MSY an hour and a half late. This meant that we arrived at LGA an hour and a half late. We found our driver waiting, and threw our suitcases into the back of his car. After some words about the dog (no, she doesn't bite), we headed to HKNC. New York was a lot greener than I Imagined it to be. It was about a 45 minute drive to the center.

We arrived and were shown to our room. My SSP, Laveau and I all shared a room. We quick freshened up and then ran to the pre-conference meeting.

First order of business was for Laveau, and the other guide dog, Walter to say hello. The other instructors were Bapin, and Scott Davert from HKNC and Bruce Visser from Seattle. We all chatted for a while and then got down to business, planning out the week and dividing up responsibilities.

I taught the Apple Mac portions of the program, and shared the Apple IOS section with Scott who, I might add, was a joy to work with. We got the interpreter situation mostly straightened out (so we thought) and broke up for the evening. I went and got dinner with my SSP, then it was back to the room where I fell into bed.

Monday started with more interpreter issues. We had five student trainers at this seminar, two were blind/hearing, one was sighted/hearing and two were Deafblind, in addition to the 4 Deafblind instructors using ASL either tactually or with close up tracking. Once we settled the interpreter situation, some people from HKNC talked about various things.

That afternoon, I worked with students, describing the keyboard layout of an Apple Mac, and using Apple mail. Once the classes were finished, we had a quick staff meeting where it was decided that we'd offer night labs for the rest of the week. After the meeting, Scott and I met in his office for a while and planned out the next day's sessions. And where I banged my head on his desk repeatedly and bemoaned my failure as a teacher.

Tuesday morning, I gave a presentation on the basics of using Apple Mac with the built-in screen reader, Voiceover, and braille support. I also talked about the differences between a screen reader for a PC and the Apple Voiceover. I introduced the finder, and screen layout, as well as the Voiceover keys and the Trackpad commander. I came away wanting a newer Mac, because mine doesn't have one of those nifty trackpad thingies.
That afternoon, I did more hands-on instruction-- watching as my student explored the finder.

That night, a few of us decided that all of the wholesome HKNC country living was making us crazy. We left the lab in the capable hands of Bapin and Bruce and went to a bar where we drank too much, laughed too much, and generally had a wonderful time, although we stayed out too late!

Wednesday morning, Scott and I presented on using Apple's iDevices with braille. I also did a demo of using IP Relay on an iPhone to make a phone call. We demonstrated other iOS apps such as Messages and Safari. Scott and I have the same sense of humor so made a good team.
That afternoon, I worked with students on using the rotor to change ways of navigating iDevices. That night I helped a student in the lab send her first email with a braille display and an iPod Touch. It is always my favorite part of teaching when my students accomplish a goal, which my student did, after some struggle. I also got to look at her Focus 40 Blue braille display. It was the newer model and I liked it.
Thursday was the Bruce Visser show, where he taught us all about screen magnification solutions for both Mac and PC. Bapin also showed us how to work with Window Eyes and Non Visual Desktop Access NVDA, which is a free screen reader for Windows machines.

By Thursday afternoon I was really dragging. I spent that time, working with hearing students. They each got to make a relay call, which was wonderful. It was also quite a bit of fun, as we kept finding things to laugh about during the session.

That evening, between afternoon and evening sessions, Scott, my SSP and I went into Port Washington where we met my friend Kerri for pizza. We had fun talking/texting across the table, and I got to try New York Pizza which was delicious. I was a good girl, and only had Coke.
That night's lab was more of the same working on making relay calls. After the lab was over, we had a bit of a gathering in my room which didn't break up until the early hours of the next day.

Friday was a killer day. I was really dragging. That morning, we learned more about NVDA and news apps for the iOS platform. I skipped lunch and instead went to my room and lay on my bed and tried not to fall into a deep sleep.

That afternoon was final tests, evaluations, and a funny incident involving another guide dog chewing on my chair and making it vibrate which startled me and made me laugh. It was probably made more humorous because I was very sleep deprived by that point.

That night turned into a big party. A bunch of us met at a bar in Port Washington. I decided that since I was on Long Island that I'd drink Long Island iced tea. I had about three of those, and then switched to a drink called the Motherfucker which had about seven different kinds of alcohol in it. I shared about five of those.

Now, since what happens in New York, stays in New York, I won't get into specifics. But I will say this. Some Deaf/Deafblind people may have gotten up and danced. And some Deaf/Deafblind people may have even sung kerioke. And some Deaf/Deafblind people may have even gotten pictures of them singing kerioke posted to Facebook. It was a very fun night, bruises and all! I wanted to be the designated driver, because alcohol improves my driving skill! However nobody believed me, and so I was bundled into a cab, and I staggered in around 2 ish.

The next day we went into New York City. My SSP and I had all of these plans about when we'd leave, and lets just say that we missed that 7:30 AM train. However we were on the rode by 11. We arrived in Penn Station, and after fortifying ourselves with the universal hangover cure of Star bucks, we took a subway to the Majestic Theater for Phantom of the Opera. While in the subway, I tried to walk off of a train platform, but thankfully, Laveau put herself in front of me and shoved me backward. Good dog, I guess I'll keep her!

I had originally called the Majestic in late June, to ask about ASL interpreters for Phantom. Their reply was that Deafblind people didn't go to the theater so I'd have to bring my own. So I talked to my SSP who happens to also be a law intern, and she worked her way up the chain of command. Nobody wanted to give me interpreters. They wanted to give me the script, and they wanted to do braille CART, but finally! PAH! A demand letter was written, and signed by a lawyer, explaining the law and requesting that they comply. And they did, four days before we were scheduled to see the play, we got word that I'd have interpreters.

I ate a New York hotdog, and showed up to the theater. It was old and beautiful, with intricate ironwork. I walked up a long and winding flight of steps to find that we had gotten our own private box.

It was so cool! So, so sosososososo! neat! There were comfortable chairs, and a table, complete with pillow, for me to rest my arms upon.

The play was amazing! I really enjoyed it, and loved the difference between everyday signing and this which was much more stylized and just, expressive in a totally unique way.

And since you are all probably falling asleep, I'll end this entry here and write another one all about my day in Manhattan!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Start Spreadin' the News

This has been a crazy whirlwind few weeks. In May, I was asked to teach at a Train the Trainers seminar at the
<"Helen Keller National Center for Deafblind Youth and Adults">
I said yes, and the training starts Monday. This means that tomorrow, bright and way too early for any human being to be awake I will be on a plane flying to New York.

Today my SSP and I dropped Mill'E-Max off at my vets, and went to get some few last-minute things. I am home, trying to pack and not forget anything. Bristol is staying with a friend who is coming to get her tonight. Mister Pawpower left for Denver on Thursday with Baylee, so this house seems very quiet, even for me!

Now I have to put books on my iPhones and Braille note, finish packing and wait. I'm very excited to spend time in New York and will update as I have time!
Stay cool, y'all!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Urban Tug-of-War

If you ask any assistance dog handler, they will tell you that interference by the general public can be a huge problem. One of the biggest forms of interference is petting the dog while it is working. But for me, one of the biggest problems is when people touch me. I've noticed that most people seem to think that the accepted rules of personal contact don't seem to apply to people with disabilities. I have been grabbed, hugged, kissed, stroked, pushed from behind, pushed from the front, and toed along like luggage by people who don't bat an eyelash when they do these things to me. They would never tolerate this kind of treatment themselves, and they would never dream of doing this to someone if they didn't have a disability.
But because the person "means well" and is "only trying to help" I'm supposed to just suck it up and take it. But there is a problem, because in addition to being inappropriate, uncomfortable and demeaning, this kind of treatment is dangerous.

The inner ear disease which causes my deafness also causes vertigo and dizziness. Basically I have really horrible balance. I would probably be using a walker full-time if I didn't have an awesome dog who provided, amongst other things, mobility support. Laveau and I have developed a very particular way of walking. She knows what to do to keep me from doing an undignified face-plant on the sidewalk.

On Monday, I woke up and discovered that the "vertigo elves" had been hard at work during the night. The results were that I couldn't walk without holding on to a wall. I also didn't know where my body was in space. Upon discovering that I couldn't tell the ceiling from the floor, I promptly called in sick to work and took the "funny pills" which worked, pretty well, although they turned me into a drooling idiot for a day or so. The last two days have been spent recovering from this latest bout with the vertigo elves. I can walk and stand now, with the help of my dog. I am going to work, and doing all of the usual things, although more slowly and with long naps afterward.

Today, I went to the store with my husband. They are doing construction in my neighborhood, and the corner in front of the store was getting torn up. We found our way into the store, but when we left, a guy decided that he needed to "help" us. I was near the curb when the person grabbed my right arm, and with great force started yanking me behind him as he set off toward the corner. I started to fall into the busy road. Laveau, realizing that I was about to become road pizza, pulled left and got me upright once again. The "helpful" man, kept pulling. I told him, several times to let me go, and that I had balance problems and would fall if he didn't let me go. He either didn't speak English or he chose not to follow my instructions. He kept pulling me forward and to the right. Laveau pulled me back, and to the left so that I wouldn't fall. It was like urban tug-of-war, and I was the rope. Laveau really had no choice, if she had stopped pulling, I'd have ended up in the road. The man in question should be grateful for my need to hold tightly to Laveau's harness or I'd have punched him just so he'd let me go. I'm not usually prone to violence, but this was honestly terrifying.

Finally, my husband turned around and got the man to let me go. Laveau came up next to me and helped me get steady. We were finally able to cross the road in question and make it home safely.

I know many assistance dogs wear a patch on cape or harness which says something like "Do not pet me, I'm working." I want one for my shirt which says "Do not grab me, I'm walking." But just like most people don't respect the patches on the dog, they probably wouldn't respect mine, and while reading it, they'd grab on and start yanking away. Good thing I have a dog who can yank back.