My Sorta Kinda Maybe (in)Accessible Life: A Lot to Unpack…

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It’s been a while… I know. There’s been a lot to unpack, both literally and figuratively (more on that in another blog post). But I had some pretty interesting experiences in the month of April, culminating in racing my most recent half marathon. And, in an emotionally complicated twist… I received something for free because of an inaccessible system.

Work: Nothing New to Report

I spent the second half of April back in the office. It felt both exciting and surreal, and with the benefit of hindsight it still does. I did, however, have to outsource use of GWS #2 ($50); to be honest it’s getting really old. Apart from that, I’m getting annoyed with the changes they made to GWS #3 – finding anything on there is like a technological maze! (you need THIS information? click on this button and then that link and then maybe you can have it). But, as much as I can shout about intuitiveness being part of accessibility, I can honestly say I could do everything I needed to.

1 outsource: $50

Let’s go Shopping!

I was super excited to attend a local rock and gem show at the end of April. It wasn’t far from my house, and wouldn’t be hard to get to…

Except…

The address for the venue could easily lead one to thinking it was on the street. But there was a big sandwich-board sign directing traffic through a parking lot, behind another building, and facing the street half a block east. There was nothing on the event web site or web page indicating this, and there would be absolutely no way to get your friend who uses a wheelchair into the building…

At the show, I found some amazing stones. I bought a stone I planned to use for a project I’ve been unable to complete for the past several months, was able to touch carved stone statues (I almost brought home a carved jaguar that was AMAZING but would’ve been really heavy to carry home!), and bought a strand of beads that I still maintain will work perfectly with some of the new awesome presents that came in a care package my Mom sent me when we were stuck inside. People engaged me in respectful conversation, pointed out all kinds of neat tactile things, and seemed happy to be out at the show.

At one vendor table (the one with a carved German Shepherd-type dog), I had a lovely conversation with the couple staffing the table. There were stones that I liked, and some that did nothing for me. I had several stones in a bag, and went to pay… And the tap on the credit card reader wasn’t working (apparently it was a thing for most of the weekend). The man behind the counter handed me the machine…

And it was a fully touch screen machine.

Fully touch screens are not accessible for a blind person. Unless the credit or debit card reader interacts with a cell phone, there is no audio feedback telling you what’s on the screen, and no way to enter your pin number without providing it to someone else. I put my would-be purchases back down on the table, apologized, and was about to turn and walk away.

The couple wouldn’t hear of it.

“It’s our machine that’s the problem,” the man said. “The tap feature has been annoying all weekend, and it’s not like you should be telling anyone your pin.” he handed me the stones, and even when I offered to see if my debit card would work with the machine, he refused to take payment for them.

I’ve been on this planet for more than thirty years. I’d like to think that I can tell a “pity present” apart from a small gesture of generosity born of a unique combination of circumstance. I read this situation as the latter. I thanked the couple profusely, put the stones in my bag, and continued enjoying the show.

10 minutes of aimless wandering: $2.50 MINUS gifting of stones = a debit of $22.50

Traveling: I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane…

I was telling my partner recently that I have traveled more in the past six months than I had in the past two years. I visited my family over Christmas, and then, in late April, I flew to Vancouver for my first in-person race since 2019 (Hypo kinda counts… but it’s not a racing race… there is a difference!).

I got a ride to the airport, and was able to find security with no problem. Unfortunately, there was another passenger with a small dog that took a lunge at Jenny while we were waiting in line. I was so startled, and couldn’t breathe. Security was kind, and let me know what had gone on (in short, the small dog came at my dog out of nowhere, and my dog was trying to evade it). They offered me a chair and a glass of water, and once I calmed down I was able to go through security.

I don’t know if anyone else experiences this… but I’ve been asked a lot recently if security can “take my phone” so they can scan my boarding pass. I’m not comfortable with this – I don’t know who they are, and I like knowing exactly where my phone is. unfortunately, one agent tried to argue this point with me – “I’ll take your phone” and “How about you give me directions to where to swipe” to “But it would be easier if…”

Because I travel with a service dog, my hands get swabbed every time I go through the airport. This time, something on my hands triggered the censors, so my bag to put through secondary security screening. The agent was describing everything she was taking out of my bag, and putting it back right where it was. I still don’t know what triggered the censors, but let me tell you I was very glad to get on that plane (though less so when I realized the little dog from the security line was five rows in front of me).

10 minute Security screening delay ($2.50) + 5 minutes arguing why handing over my cell phone to a random person in the security line is a bad idea ($2.08 – that’s it?) = $4.58

Health and Fitness: Back to the Start Line

I’ve written before about running my first half marathon, so I won’t rehash that here (seriously, go read that post!) But it honestly felt like Vancouver was another first half-marathon for me. I had no idea what to expect, since I was putting my body through a whole new stress since recovering from COVID/not COVID. But I was ecstatic!

But before you can get to the start line, you need to get your race package. Depending on the size of the race you register for, you could be picking up your package at a local shop, a community centre, or (in the case of Vancouver) a convention hall. The hall was big, crowded, and was designed to make you go ALL the way around every single exhibit to get the pieces of your kit: Race bib (100% required) at one table, gloves (which I didn’t realize until I got home hadn’t come in the bag with my bib and other odds and ends) at another, race T-shirt (optional, depending on how many races you’ve run) at a tent at the far end, and (because I just like to be difficult) my Run Happy singlet at another table. I’m glad I didn’t go alone, because that was… not easy!

I can only imagine how much effort and organization it takes to put together a race of this size – I felt overwhelmed figuring out how my parents would connect with each other and with me and my guide on race day morning. Since I don’t drive and don’t know Vancouver well, I wanted out of piggy-in-the-middle – I just held my phone while everyone coordinated their wheels. And I am eternally grateful that everything there went off without a hitch.

Once we got to the start line… that was another story. The race was started an hour late due to a suspicious package found on the race course. Because of the delay, my guide and I thought we could make one more trip to the porta potties before we took off running. No sooner had we reached the line than we heard that the race would start in three minutes. The Canadian national anthem was sung, and the elite runners took off, as we wrangled our way into the crowd. We weren’t in our starting corral anymore (where you start the race based on your optimistic finish time), but we just decided to enjoy the journey… what else could we do?

It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t fast. It wasn’t even particularly consistent. But we met runners on the route – the woman from the Netherlands who asked if she could take our picture and share it with the blind running group there (yes!) and the runner we traded places with five or six times on the route, to the dozen people who called me inspirational as they ran past me (for the record, that feels weird).

And I gutted it out. I think COVID/not COVID affected things. I think the late start affected things. I think – and know – I can do more. But I am proud of that race in a way I don’t know that I would be proud of my fastest Half.

But once you complete the race… you have to get your stuff. At the start line, you find a table based on your bib number, and your stuff gets put on a bus to the finish line. So while you’re exhausted and hot and wanting to drink a gallon of water and eat a massive bag of chips (just me?), you get to navigate a throng of runners and supporters and find the table with your stuff on it – again, not a thing you can do without sight. Thankfully, the bags are all see-through, so it’s very easy to describe the bag’s contents in the event that your bib number falls off the handles.

I’m coming back to the “you’re so inspirational” comments I received on the race course, because, while they have always sat funny with me, they’ve never sat that heavy and awkward as they did on May 1. It’s not like you can have a long philosophical conversation about how inspiration porn is icky and gross, but my lack of sight doesn’t make me inspirational. It really REALLY doesn’t. It does contribute in some unique ways to how successfully I can run – sometimes finding guides for training runs and races is a challenge, the location of training runs can make transportation an issue – but I had to fight a lot more than blindness to get to that start line. COVID-not COVID was terrible, and took every ounce of energy I had. I’d been dealing with burnout for a very long time (if I am being honest, I think I’d tried to outrun it when I was running flat out in 2019). But we all have our stories of why we run, and what gets us out there; and maybe I’m just frustrated that all people see is woman who can’t see goes running. For the record, that’s boring. And because I couldn’t say that a dozen times on the race… I’m saying it here.

How do you put a dollar value on this? Honestly… you can’t.

The Bottom Line

The end of April (and beginning of May) saw me stronger than I thought I was. but I did experience some hiccups along the way. I’m respectfully submitting an invoice in the amount of…. $32.08.

A comment was left on a previous post that maybe I am undercharging for work I have to “outsource” because I should be able to do it myself but cannot. I think I agree. If anything, this exercise has taught me that we can (and should) put a value on our emotional labour, and the time and loss of dignity we experience based on societal perceptions and inaccessible design. But we can’t really put a dollar value on it… can we?

Oh, and in a happy coincidence? The day this post was published, I got an email from my mortgage provider – the one whose inaccessible web site started this experiment. They have overhauled their web site, fixed the issues with screen reader access, and plan on rolling out a full update next week. As of this publishing, I was able to access all the features of my mortgage.

Sometimes, if you speak up, someone somewhere is listening.

My sorta Kinda Maybe (in)accessible Life: The More Things Change, the More they Stay the Same

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It’s been two weeks since I last checked in here. So much has stayed the same, but things are starting to pick up, especially now that I have the energy to actually do anything more than the absolute bare necessities (thank you very much, covid/not covid!)

Getting out There

Once I was legally permitted to leave my house – in addition to actually having the mental and physical capacity to do so – I couldn’t wait to get out and do things. Exciting things… like going to the pharmacy to fill a prescription, or the bakery the last possible day they were open before closing for Passover. But heading out to pick up a couple things from our local Buy Nothing group proved to be less intuitive and more frustrating than anticipated.

My first “gift” from the Buy Nothing page was a microwave chip maker. It came in its box – practically brand new! – with two trays and a slicer. My Buy Nothing group is in a fairly small area – I can technically walk anywhere to pick things up. However, this area is very easy to get lost in. An avenue suddenly curved slightly and became a street. There was no simple way to tell where along the block the house was located, as the “block” was broken up by multiple avenues (1 Ave, 1A Ave, 1B Avenue). Thankfully, I was able to text the giver, who came out and met me on her sidewalk. I’ll do anything for chips – even get myself lost in a neighborhood that’s supposed to be on a grid pattern!

The second gift was a smart plug – ironically located only a handful of blocks from the chip maker. Knowing the avenue curves and turns into a street, I thought I was prepared for being able to locate the house easily. Not so much… GPS said I was at the house a full two blocks – at the far end of an avenue and a street and around a corner – before I made it there. I loaded Aira to provide visual information since GPS proved useless. After ten minutes of angling, trying to read house numbers ($2.50), a smart plug was in my hand. Unfortunately for me, I still haven’t been able to get my phone to recognize it, and it sits unused, waiting for a time when I have the patience and energy to find some obscure solution I haven’t tried half a dozen times yet.

10 minutes of house locating: $2.50

Work

My second week of working from home felt more like putting one foot in front of the other, and just doing the best I could with what I had. However, what I did learn was that Government Web Site (GWS) #1 – which is mostly accessible, still has that hiccup when certain conditions are met. I was over the moon when I got an email about those conditions that normally means someone else has to click stuff for me, and found I was able to use a touch screen to access information that is not accessible with a keyboard. However, this is definitely not a truly accessible solution – it feels like I have to stand on my head and click my heels three times; without a touch screen, every now and again someone else has to drop everything to help me out.

GWS #2 is still not accessible. Unfortunately, I have twice needed to use it (read: ask someone else to access it for me). I have even spent ten minutes trying to use GWS #2 with the touch screen on my computer (the one that made GWS #1 usable), and even my phone… No dice.

GWS #3 has always been a fully accessible system. It is not overly intuitive – which I honestly believe is part of accessibility – but I have the ability to input and access all the information I need. I used this web site twice over the past two weeks, and ran into zero issues at all.

When my colleague and I set up our accounts on GWS #4 earlier this week, I was told that it had a blue button, and did not look dissimilar to GWS #2 – even the login and setup process was similar. The dread I felt was so powerfully intense… as was the relief I felt when I was able to access all edit fields and buttons completely independently. I guess you can’t really put a price on anxiety, can you?

2 X “outsourcing” = $100; 10 minutes trouble shooting $2.50

Health and Fitness

I am running a half marathon in ten days. Covid/not Covid put a damper on my training, so I have no clue what the race will be like. But my main social outlet is running and runners. Depending on the day, the distance, and the ability and willingness of humans to guide, I can either run independently with Jenny (who is still willing to run!) or I run with a friend guiding me by using a tether. My main running tracker is an app whose android app finally – six years after I started using it – labeled the buttons on its tracking screen. I had previously labeled the buttons myself, but new app updates or resets always reset the labels, too! Being able to just tap a button has taken a load off I hadn’t realize I had been carrying.

Another app I am excited to try is the Revision Fitness app. It’s been developed by a visually impaired Paralympian, and at first glance all of the workouts are fully described – something that’s generally missing from most workout apps on the market. I had planned to use my free trial during the first week of April… and we all know how that went.

Home and Personal Care

Last week, one of my favorite bath and body shops (L’Occitane) had a huge sale on their entire store. I scooped up some old favourite products, and decided to try a few new ones. When my box arrived, I was happy to receive my pampering items, but a part of me was disappointed, too. L’Occitane’s foundation has proclaimed that they are committed to labeling as many of their products as possible in braille. For years, I have purchased products, knowing that I could read the label on the bottles of shower gel or cardboard sleeves around a perfume without even having to use my sense of smell at all. Even their travel bottles had their full product name (“Cherry shower gel”, “Lavender Foaming bath”) on the bottles. My new products just said “shower gel” without any other identifier. I think it might be a blip – I’ll probably treat myself around my birthday this summer – but having something that’s so accessible be changed in such a way felt like something had been taken from me. Imagine going through your pantry, and your boxes of crackers – instead of saying “Ritz” or “Wheat Thins” or “Triscuit” – every box in your pantry just says “crackers”. Could you open your box and smell the crackers? Sure! Could you shake the box to determine your choice by weight? Of course. But the simplest way to tell your items apart is to read the label on the packaging. As it stands, I placed an elastic band around one “shower gel” to tell it apart from the other “Shower gel.” Now I just have to remember which one has the elastic!

I finally got the hang of the Covid test thing. I got to the point where over a 4-day period, I only needed fifteen minutes of Aira (read: working eyeballs!) to read my Covid test results. Still all negative, thankfully!

I’ve also chosen to not do business with a local business because their web sites are not accessible. One web site had a contact form that wouldn’t let me select anything in a drop-down menu – keyboard, touch screen, it didn’t matter. I spent fifteen minutes trying both, in case I missed a mandatory field. But nope… if there was a drop-down menu, I had no access to it. I seriously debated contacting the business/web site provider, but it was in the middle of Covid/not Covid, and I just didn’t have the mental energy to explain that I was really just trying to get in touch with them, and by the way I was having challenges accessing their web site, so would they mind fixing it so I could give them my business? I decided against this approach for two reasons: (1) I have other options out there for that particular service; and (2) the company mentioned a heavy reliance on technology, so I wasn’t confident that accessibility wouldn’t be an issue during our entire business relationship.

15 minutes of test result reading ($3.75) + 15 minutes of inaccessible web site navigation ($3.75) = $7.50

The Bottom Line

If it looks like I am throwing a pity party, I’m not convinced I’m not. I thought this exercise – quantifying the “little things” in my day that make this blind life harder – would be interesting and informative. Instead, while I am grateful for the things that put me on an equal playing field, I’m seeing how very very far we have to go.

I am respectfully submitting an “invoice” in the amount of $112.50 + a box of elastics.

My Sorta Kinda Maybe (in)Accessible Life: The COVID/not COVID Edition

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When I first conceptualized this experiment, the one thing I didn’t expect was life grinding to a screeching hault! I received word over the weekend that I had come into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. And, what do you know! I had symptoms! So… I got to go approximately nowhere, and see approximately no one.

But after a week of fatigue and brain mud… I still had a few hiccups along the way.

A Quick Adjustment to Calculations

In my initial post, I provided a monetary value for certain inaccessible systems/experiences of ableism/etc. The one thing I failed to consider was: What would I do in a situation where I had no choice but to ask someone to do something for me that I cannot do for myself… at all? Especially if it’s a thing I should – in any other instance – be able to do for myself. So, I have implemented a flat rate for those instances of $50. This is because I not only have a history of trying to work through something I should be able to do, but I need to take someone else away from their life because of it. $50 – no matter the complexity or duration of an activity – could “compensate” for my loss of dignity, as well as taking into account someone else’s time.

Social Life

Seriously, what social life? I’ve been stuck at home for nearly a week! I did attend a restaurant last Friday to celebrate my partner’s and my third anniversary. The menus were accessible online, and the staff was great (read: not patronizing or weird). No unpaid emotional stuff here!

Around the House

For someone who has lived for two years during a global pandemic, I’m surprised I haven’t had to take a COVID test before now. A friend dropped off two tests for me on Sunday. I found the instructions for the test confusing and clunky, though I could read the information online or on my phone. However, I was not able to read the test results myself.

Over the past six days, I have taken six COVID tests. For the record, they have all come back negative. Over the past six days, I have spent 80 minutes using a service called Aira (an online service that connects blind people with employees whose eyes work better than ours and who provide visual information that we cannot see). The fact that Aira has a free promotion for COVID-related tasks and information is hardly the point. I can’t access my test results independently and privately (the same is true for pregnancy tests, for the record).

80 minutes at $15/hour: $20

Work

I love being able to work from home, especially feeling like this! This makes me blessed and privileged, and I don’t take that lightly.

Did you know that PDF documents – particularly ones that are scanned – are often not accessible to screen reader users like myself? This is because they are usually scanned as images by default. In order to read any PDF that gets sent to me, that involves a – paid – upgraded license of Adobe. Wait… Someone needs to pay so that I can read standard document formats? Yup! If I wanted that same functionality at home, I would have to pay $20 per month. I’m adding this to my ledger because it’s absurd.

I regularly use government web sites (GWS) in order to do my job. GWS #1 is mostly accessible, except when certain criteria are met. I ran into such a situation with GWS #1, where I could not physically click a link myself and had to get someone else to do it for me ($50). Once that was done, I was ready to run, but still I couldn’t do this thing myself and had to “subcontract” someone else.

GWS #2 presented a whole other problem. A few months ago I had an extremely long conversation (a total of 2 hours – $30) with the developers of GWS #2. It came to light that because I use a screen reader, GWS #2 doesn’t play nice (with any screen reader); the presence alone of a screen reader means that I have no ability to use GWS #2 at all. Even after a minimum of two new releases, GWS #2 is still inaccessible. I was placed in a position this week where someone else had to use GWS #2 for me ($50). I am blessed to work with understanding people… but what if I didn’t? Thankfully, most of the rest of my work-based activities are intuitive and accesible.

2 outsourced tasks from GWS ($100) + 2 hours of troubleshooting with no results ($23) = $130

The Bottom Line

I made it through this week, and I am none the worse for wear. On the (in)accessibility/emotional labour front, I respectfully submit an invoice in the amount of $150.

My Sorta Kinda Maybe (in)Accessible Life: Unpaid Emotional Labour

For those who do not know me, welcome! I am visually impaired (or blind, if you prefer) and I navigate my corner of the world (northern Canada) with my guide dog, Jenny. My blindness is not a tragedy, but it can be a source of frustration sometimes. But I Live a full life, with a partner I love and a job I think I’m good at, and a house I’m still making my own even when I’m not chronicling that journey anymore, and friends who just get it. I am very blessed. But sometimes, I get very very tired. As society opens up, and more people are confronted with my visibility in public, I’m being re-confronted with limitations to access, invasions of personal boundaries, and overt discomfort around disability that I haven’t had to confront too frequently for the past two years. And I had little patience for it before the pandemic; I certainly don’t have much now. But recent experiences have made me think about all the extra steps I need to go through to live a productive and fulfilled life. Sure, technology like screen reading software, tactile or talking devices, visual interpreting services (both free and paid) are all available and make my current standard of living possible. However, there are barriers for me to fully participate in society on a truly equal playing field; those barriers can be structural or attitudinal, covert or overt, intentional or misinformed. But they do exist, and I make decisions every single day whether they are barriers I need to break down, or leave intact because I only have so much energy in a day. I recently wondered, what would happen if I got paid to do all that extra barrier breaking work?

What Started This Idea?

It all started with a visit to the website for my mortgage provider. I’ve been reading books on financial management lately, and I liked the simple idea of putting your “windfalls” (unexpected sources of extra funds, like a raise at work or a big tax rebate) into savings. But I have a mortgage to pay, and I wondered if I could split my “windfalls” into twos or threes – RRSP, RDSP, and mortgage. So I found myself visiting the web site for my mortgage provider to find out what pre-payment privileges I had. Imagine my surprise when all I could do was put my computer into “browse mode”, tab around to all the links, with the complete inability to read any non-linked text on the web site. In short, if the information wasn’t embedded in a link, there was no way for me to read it. At all. Since I don’t have any other screen readers on my computer, my options to try a different screen reader didn’t really exist. So I tried on my phone. Well, that was even more fruitless; not even the links were readable. All I knew was that I was on the right website, and nothing more.

I emailed my mortgage provider, explained the situation, and let them know that I would really like the particular information regarding my pre-payment privileges, but it would be a great idea if they could fix their web site so that all mortgage holders (even little miss screen reader user over here) could access all aspects of their mortgage.

The trouble-shooting – reloading the browser, reloading the screen reader, tabbing around, logging in on my phone, emailing the mortgage provider – took approximately 30 minutes in total. If I got paid to do the work I did, just to have equal access to information, based on minimum wage in Alberta, I would have been paid $7.50 (before tax). How often do I just jump in and do this work, without considering the monetary cost involved, not to mention the lost productivity?

What this will look Like

My plan is, for 30 days, to post a weekly “bill” on this blog, for all the emotional labour I engage in – from working around inaccessible software or systems ($15/hr), to re-addressing issues of exclusion or inaccessibility that I have previously addressed ($20/hr), to being a “teachable moment” to the general public ($25/hr). It will include things around my home, my work, and extracurricular activities. I will not post identifying information, and to that end some aspects of this blog may be composites of several events. But at the end of the month, I want to have a blog about life as a blind person in 2022.

What this Blog is NOT

I will not call out specific people, organizations or entities. This post is about the overarching concept of inaccessibility and attitudinal barriers to full inclusion for me, personally. Each person’s journey is unique, and how I work around my vision impairment – and others’ response to it – may not be how someone else does it. This is not a blog that intends on continuing the harmful idea “well, if I can do it this way, so can everyone.” The tools in my adaptive toolbox are varied, but I’m sure there’s a “wrench” or a “screwdriver” missing somewhere. This can not, and should not, negate the exercise on its face. It’s one of discovery, because – if nothing else – I’m curious. This blog will not include a “bill” for instances where I have made a conscious, informed, and prolonged choice to not do something (like sticking braille labels on an appliance I use regularly); prolonged lack of motivation is not what I’m going for here.

What do you Want to See?

I have a few things planned for the next thirty days. They will include ordinary things like shopping, eating out at restaurants, and spending time with friends. They will also include flying (something I’ve only rarely done since late 2019), and running an in-person race. I know I’ve blogged a lot here about various activities I’ve enjoyed , or frustrating experiences of discrimination, among other things; but I have 30 days, a few ideas of my own, and I’d love to hear yours.

Let’s explore this idea together.

An Open letter to Uber: Thanks for My Supper, But You can Do better

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Like many people who have access to smartphones, I’ve used Uber for years – sometimes frequently, sometimes sporadically – to get my groceries, order meals in, or receive a ride from Point A to Point B. Most of the time, I’ve had excellent drivers with clean vehicles. But a recent experience has caused me to seriously question – when is enough, enough?

It was a Wednesday morning in January. I’d recently returned home from a wonderful trip to visit my family in another province – for the first time in two years. The entire time I was gone – and for almost a week afterward – Alberta was caught in the grip of a deep freeze, with temperatures dipping well below -30 degrees Celsius.

Normally, my commute to work occurs on foot. But with the temperatures being that cold, and the very real risk of frostbite to myself and my guide dog, I decided to take an Uber to work. I booked the ride through the app, got notified of the driver and vehicle assigned to my trip, dressed myself and Jenny (my guide dog) in appropriate layers, put on my mask, and waited for the Uber to arrive.

I should’ve known something was wrong – or at least not quite right – when the driver pulled up across the street from my house. This happens about 50% of the time, because for some reason the GPS units put my house across the street. Normally, the drivers see me waiting, or see the house number, and turn around to get to the correct side of the street. This one did not. Jenny and I crossed the residential street and walked around the front of the Uber to the passenger side. Only then did the driver roll down the window.

*** Please note: The portions of conversation are recalled from the best of my recollections, and may not be exact word-for-word transcription; however, I have stayed true to the spirit of the discussion.

“Did you call an Uber?” the driver asked.

“Yes. Who are you here for?” I asked him.

He confirmed my first name. I moved to open the rear door.

“This isn’t UberPet. You need another vehicle.”

Jenny stood calmly at my side, in her highly visible guide dog harness, lifting her boot-and-baby-sock-covered feet in the cold. “This is a service animal. It is illegal to deny me access.”

*unclear mumbling from the driver*

“Service animal,” I said firmly, reaching to open the door again.

The driver mumbled something else, rolled up the window, and – to my astonishment – drove away, leaving me and my guide dog in the bitter cold.

Two neighbors saw what happened. One offered me a ride to work. It was only when I got into his truck that I saw in the Uber app that another vehicle had been assigned to me. I let the new driver know that I was getting a ride to work, but was having technical difficulties canceling his trip and that I was very sorry. Eventually, I was able to cancel the ride (and was charged $5.25), and made it to work only 90 seconds late.

When I got in to work, I was fuming. Now that I was safe and warm and at work, the full implications of what happened finally hit me. Not only had I been denied service by an Uber driver – something which is well-documented in both the United States and Canada, and for which Uber has recently been ordered to pay one customer for repeated denials – but the driver saw absolutely nothing wrong with leaving someone outside on a day that was so bitterly cold. In very real terms, that driver would rather risk my life than provide me service to which I am legally entitled.

Over the coming days, I reported the issue to Uber, received my $5.25 cancellation fee back, spoke to an Uber representative, and received a small credit – which I decided to put toward my partner’s and my supper after a grueling work day. I figured it was done, a blip on the radar, and I could go about my regular millennial existence.

But now I’m not so sure.

My colleagues – when I told the story a couple of days later – were furious on my behalf. One of them said the driver should get fired. Before Uber came on the scene here, I wrote a blog post on this very topic – and I’m still not sure how I feel about this issue. Uber claims to notify drivers of their legal obligations to transport service animals, and yet I have many friends who frequently experience access denials with their guide and service dogs. Now, the common excuse I’ve heard is that Uber drivers are fraudulently claiming service dog handlers are not wearing masks (as per Uber policy and/or state, provincial, or municipal law). Someone else I know recently experienced an almost identical refusal to mine – claiming that they should have ordered an UberPet (which, by the way, is not available in all locations AND is more expensive). Is the message really and truly getting through? Whether the access denial is due to the perception that a dog is a pet, or drivers think they can lie about riders not wearing masks, the denial to a rider with a task-trained service dog who is well-behaved and under handler control is still illegal in many jurisdictions. Uber seems to think they can throw a few bucks at each rider they’ve denied access to, allow their algorithm to not match that driver with this rider, and they can go on their merry way because they “addressed the issue.”

I realize I’m coming from a place of extreme privilege; I can take my dollars elsewhere. And the more I think about it, the more I’m seriously considering getting out of the Ubersphere. Companies bear the responsibility of following laws, and ensuring those that work for – or are contracted to – them, do likewise. For now, I’m on the fence. But when is enough, enough?

My life is worth living, Uber; the fact that a driver believed otherwise is still chilling to me (no pun intended). I’m thankful the individuals I’ve spoken to about this – both in my local community and with Uber – have understood the seriousness of the situation and dealt with it with compassion and outrage. But Uber, as a company, needs to pay more than lip service and monetary compensation – large or small. Uber can and should do better. You know it, and the disability community knows it. Maybe you should actually do better.

2021: The Year I’d LIke to forget

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Most of my friends have been doing retrospectives on their 2021s. I’m no exception. This entry will be very short, but I’d rather reflect on the past year while it is still happening, rather than bring the theoretical baggage into the new.

And yes, I know this is only symbolic and tomorrow isn’t going to change anything just because a year on the calendar changed and whatever… but I’ve done retrospectives for the past several years and it didn’t seem right to not do another.

In 2021, I haven’t been the person I wanted to be. I haven’t been an overly reliable friend, checking in on those I love. I went inward a lot, both in my personal life, and on this blog. My running went to crap, due to a bunch of circumstances (some of which I could’ve changed, many of which I couldn’t have). I’d like the changing of the year to reflect a new commitment to myself and to others that I’m sorry, and I will do better.

I grieved a lot this year. I grieved for the loss of Annie, my first cat, who left us in April. I grieved the loss of a dear friend, even though she’s been gone for over a year. In quiet ways, I grieved the loss of some of the accomplishments I worked so hard for in 2018 and 2019. Maybe a piece of me grieves who I used to be and am not sure how to get her back?

But some interesting and fun things happened in 2021. I started a new job with people I like, and I’m growing and learning both personally and professionally. I’m getting back at the beading table, making pretty beaded things, and that makes me happy. I’m slowly but surely getting my running mojo back. I took up a challenge to write 31 blog posts in 31 days… AND I DID IT! I’m sure there’s more, but I think for now, it’s time to look ahead. I can take this past year, learn from its foibles and fumblings, and come back stronger in 2022.

However 2021 has treated you, I’m glad you’re here and have joined me on this journey. May 2022 bring you peace, joy, love, hope, growth, and sustinance.

In Memorium

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To my dearly departed friend:

I guess it’s time to say my final farewell. Or maybe I should say my only real farewell, since there was never an opportunity to say farewell in the first place.

I knew it was time when Google notified me that you were now on Duo. You were tech savvy, but weren’t super connected with all the technological platforms out there. There is no way in a million years your phone would have Duo if you could help it. Someone else clearly has your phone number now, and for some reason that felt like the last connection I had to you. The fact that we haven’t texted or called in a year and a half doesn’t seem to make a difference; we always did pick up right where we left off. The fact that I removed your contact from social media, or my bank to send etransfers, even that didn’t feel final. But this one? This really did in a way nothing ever has since the day in May, 2020, when my supervisor at work told me to call someone I’d never met and wouldn’t tell me why. That stranger is the one who told me you were gone…

About a month ago, a friend posted on Facebook that running errands with friends was a highly underrated activity. Remember that time we went to the local mall to mail a package and buy paper plates? We both commented how much fun we had, and wondered why more friends didn’t adult together. We always talked about bringing a deck of cards and a crib board to play in the food court, and I regret we never did. But we could adult with the best of them. The last time I saw you, we went to Home Depot so I could buy plants that I could (hopefully) keep alive. One of them is still here… I haven’t killed it yet!

We met a half dozen years ago, when we were both going to other (crappier) jobs, and lived in the same neighborhood. You moved away, and then I got a new job in the same office building you worked in. For three years, we’d run into each other in the hall, or the cafeteria, or on messenger, and you would ask if I was going home and if I wanted a ride. When you moved again, far away, you always made it a point to say hi in the elevator or the lobby, and were always SO good about ignoring Jenny even though she really wanted to see you, because seeing you almost always meant CAR RIDES (her favourite thing!) When the pandemic hit, and the buses changed their schedules, I would take the bus from right in front of our office building. I was always surprised to get a phone call from you from the parking lot across the street – “Hey, want a ride?” And Jenny and I would cross the street and she’d always, without fail, find your car.

We talked a lot on those car rides. We talked about boundaries; I wanted to be more generous, like you, while you wanted to be more firm, like me. You told me more about what you were learning in school than what you were doing for work. You picked my brain about cat trees because it mattered to you to get your class project information correct. We talked about crafts and creativity. I made a tree of life ornament for you, which you not only insisted on paying my sticker price for, but purchased the materials and bought me lunch. Speaking of lunch…. after work, we’d sometimes go to Dairy Queen for their cheap combos ($7.50 for a burger, little fries, drink, and mini sundae). Remember that pop machine that wouldn’t dispense Dr. Pepper until I wanted it to stop? And then you threw your drink in the trash, rather than the rapper for your straw? We laughed until we cried!

You crocheted an afghan for me that stays on my couch; you dropped it off on a hard day, and I wish more than anything I had been the one to answer the door, because I didn’t know it was the last time you would walk up my steps. You texted me and asked if the colours were OK, because you vaguely remembered an offhand comment I made about my favourite colours. The tree ornament I made you got sent back to me, priority post, after you were gone; the grapevine knew that I had made it for you,

because the things people made with their hands mattered to you, and it mattered to you that others knew where the things that mattered to you came from.

The world is a less kind place without you in it. I wish I’d been a better friend. I wish I hadn’t texted you on that Monday in May, not knowing you had been gone for a whole day already. I selfishly wish you were still here and am also selfishly glad you haven’t lived the past eighteen months of the pandemic. I miss your graciousness, your joy in the little things in life, and the fire in you on the rare occasions you got really upset about something. You believed in love, in all of its forms, and were seriously the most generous person I’ve ever met.

It’s time I let you go now. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I feel like I have to now. Farewell, my friend. I truly believe there are angels on earth, and you were one of them. Fly high, dear friend, rest peacefully. May your legacy of love, grace, and generosity linger longer than the grief and the sorrow and the pain.\

Farewell, dear friend. You lived life well.

MLW – 1971-2020.

An Attitude of Gratitude

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It’s the second Monday in October, which means it’s Thanksgiving here in Canada. Despite the state of the world today – and the struggles and challenges in my little corner of it – I do have many things to be grateful for.

I am thankful for my rough and tumble house. It’s old, it needs a lot of work, and sometimes I seriously wonder what I was thinking wanting to keep a whole entire house in the first place… but this house has been my home for more than a decade. I know it well. I’ve made it my own – with a lot of help – and plan on continuing to do so. My winter project is to get it painted. I’m absolutely useless at this task, but I can tape baseboards and outlets and other things like a whiz, and delegate the painting itself to those who are considerably better than I. This house has trusted me with its care. Its ghost(s) have shown up. I’ve trusted these four walls with my secrets, as it has entrusted its care to me… and yes, I realize how strange that sounds…

I’m thankful for my new job, which is going well. I like the people I work with. There are many opportunities to learn, and I can even take a few opportunities to pass along information that I know. Jenny has settled in well – maybe too well, since she sneaks into my boss’ office to steal the bones that other office dogs have left behind – and looks forward to her weekly meets and greets with everyone.

Speaking of Jenny, I’m thankful for our eight (EIGHT?!?!?) years of partnership. Her intelligence, love, and sassy attitude make working with her a pure joy.

I’m thankful for my two quirky and funny kitties . Wolfie is coming into herself again, and has made great friends with Simone (AKA the Monkey). Simone, for her part, has grown up into a big kitten with impulse control (something I never saw coming!) They each make me laugh every single day.

I’m thankful for my parents, who have each in their own way raised me to be strong, kind, and self-sufficient

I’m thankful for my partner, who’s been with me through some of the darkest and loneliest periods of my life. This past year and a half has in no way gone as planned, but we’re standing together and actively doing whatever we can to make some of the hard things less terrible.

I’m thankful that my divorce is now final. It’s been over for a long time, and now a judge says it is! I’m thankful that, while things went slowly, for the most part they went smoothly, with enough time and space for us to truly part friendly and cleanly. I wish him nothing but love, success, and happiness; I would never begrudge him anything I’ve found for myself.

I’m thankful for my friends – the new, the constant companions, and the friends with whom I’ve recently reconnected. Throughout the past few days I’ve reconnected with old friends and long-time neighbors, enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner with longtime friends, and there are new people in my world that I am grateful to be building new friendships with.

I am thankful for my running friends. This weekend was the Boston Marathon – both the physical and the virtual race. For a wide variety of reasons – inadequate training, mental brick walls, and really crappy running weather, among others – I had to sit this one out. I hated it. I don’t ever want to sit out a race again! My running family has been nothing short of supportive – encouraging me to keep going, while offering support, comfort and commiseration that things didn’t go as planned. Over the past few days, I’ve received several calls and texts – “So, what’s next for you?” in short, I gotta get off my duff and get moving again! And my running family will be there, whatever that process looks like.

I’m thankful that my beading room will soon be a place of creativity. When I started reclaiming this home as my own, I moved my beading table down into a small room that was used for other things. I wanted to create, to make pretty beaded things that could be seen and felt and enjoyed. But then the pandemic hit and that room turned into my home office – hardly a great creative space. I recently got gifted a new desk from our local Buy Nothing group, and I couldn’t have asked for a better one. My plan this week is to spread things out, find places for them, and get back to work. And that room is also getting its own coat of paint!

Today, October 11, is also National Coming Out day. I’m thankful that I live in a country where I can be myself, be proud, and find community. I’m thankful for all the support I’ve received over the past few years as I’ve come to terms with my identity as someone on the asexual spectrum. I’m so grateful for the conversations and writings and community of Ace folks all over the world, and all the ways I’ve been able to learn, share and grow. And I cannot say enough about my allies – those inside and outside of the Ace community – who’ve accepted this as part of who I am with no judgment, no condescension, and no erasure. This is (sadly) quite rare, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude that my little corner of the universe is full of kind and understanding people.

I generally have a hard time with the perky, don’t worry be happy, positive thinking stuff I see a lot online these days. But if I am being honest, this is truly where I am right now. So for this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for so very many things.

31 Days: Challenge Complete!

31 days ago, I started a journey of blogging every single day for the entire month of August. This has stretched me in interesting ways. I wrote when I had lots to say, and I wrote when I feared that no words would come out. My Ultimate Blog Challenge hs caused me to be introspective, to get personal, to laugh, to share experiences with finance apps and services and assistive technology. I even made some new connections.

Sadly, daily writing can’t continue forever, at least for this blogger. I have a new job to grow in, and a modified Boston Marathon to train for. But this Ultimate Blog Challenge has given me what I think I always wanted it to, without knowing that’s what I needed: the love and the willingness to write again. It’s been surreal, and I can’t believe I did it every single day for a whole month!

I won’t be back tomorrow, but I will be back soon. Until then, my dear readers, do something (safely) that scares you a little.

I just did! 🙂

“Who Peed in the Ice Cream?”: This Blind Girl’s Hilarious misadventures in the Land of Emojis

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Two years ago, my friend and guide runner asked me a question. It started with the careful pause he always uses when he’s not sure if what he’s asking is going to be offensive (if he’s reading this, it NEVER has been!) But he asked me if I had ever seen the poop emoji. In truth, I hadn’t. I don’t even think any of my friends had sent a text to me with the poop emoji in it. I at first thought I had prudish friends; turns out, my friends were polite enough to not send poop pictures to me, specifically (truly appreciated, guys!)

So I asked the vast social network I’ve created over the years… what is this poop emoji? I found it, no problem; my screen reader describes the 💩 as a “Pile of poo”… but what does it look like? And why in the world would anyone use it?

First off, it looks like chocolate ice cream. With big eyes… and a smile? So now it’s a smiling pile of poo? And you’d use it in places where only an image would suffice. not sure why it has to smile, but oooookay!

This sent me on an intermittent search for interesting emojis. I’ve received them in texts and on social media, but they baffle me. I mean… there’s a ⛄ (“snowman without snow”) which has been described as a floating snowman? Isn’t a floating snowman really creepy? Why not just use the regular snowman ☃️ instead? And I can’t possibly forget the hilarious conversation where we were talking about real ice cream (Fudgesicles, to be specific) where I asked (at the behest of my partner) why there was yellow stuff in the 🍨 (ice cream emoji). The response I got back really isn’t fit for printing. But can someone clarify for me if the 🍨 really looks like someone peed on it? And why someone would use it instead of the 🍦 (“Soft Ice Cream?”)

What about the facial expressions? “Sad but Relieved Face” 😥 mostly makes sense, but always seems to confuse me. Are you sad, or relieved? And is one more prevalent than the other? And why isn’t 🤯 (“exploding head”) described as something along the lines of “mind blown”? For the record, I once used it instead of 😤 (“Face with Steam from Nose”) to describe being furious about something… that really confused the recipient!

Then there are the ones I found completely by accident. One of the cats was doing something hilarious, and of course I had to message someone about it. The last word of my sentence was “cat” and then I dictated the words “Face with tears of Joy emoji. Instead of 😂 I wound up with a cat with tears of joy, 😹 which I have since learned looks really creepy!

But I needn’t fear! Coming to the rescue is Emojipedia, a vast database (rabbit hole) of emojis. Not only are they described – even in a sentence or two – but they give helpful tidbits of what they are supposed to convey. But while I do find this helpful, as emojis are a part of the technological world that we live in, I 100% agree with a dear, funny, friend of mine: “I thought we had moved beyond hieroglyphics.”

Apparently not.

And, to this day, I have still never used the poop emoji.