Electric Scooters

For the past six months, as I walked my guide dog along Forbes Avenue, a main Pittsburgh thoroughfare, I heard the talk, laughter, even singing of people gliding past in the middle of the busy street. My guide, Dave, turned to watch as the people passed.

“What’s going on?” I wondered. The passersby didn’t sound enclosed. No bicycle swishing pedals, spinning wheels; certainly, no rumbling skateboards or roaring, backfiring motorcycles. Finally, I put it together—that very new technology—electric scooters. I’d read about them, the hottest recreational item in the city.

“What fun!” I thought, remembering how, before I was blind, I’d ridden people-powered scooters as a kid through my rural Pennsylvania town. How I wished now that Dave could guide me while I swooped down Forbes on one of them! But alas. Not possible. Still, how good for the environment! Yay for Pittsburgh!

But recently, I’ve discovered a big down side to the scooters, at least for me and others with disabilities. People who have ridden them Park the scooters upright in the middle of the sidewalk or toss them unceremoniously to the concrete. This creates barriers for those of us who cannot see or cannot walk.

During Thanksgiving weekend, I encountered a group of unoccupied scooters near the corner of Forbes and Wightman Avenues. My dog stopped abruptly, and I thought he was illegally sniffing. Fortunately, before scolding him, I felt the handle of a scooter a few inches from my face.

I turned right to “scoot” around and found three of them, side by side. But to go around them, I would have had to step into the whipping traffic of Wightman Avenue.

I turned left and asked Dave to move left, then forward. He stopped. A resident’s concrete wall was too close to a scooter to give us enough space.

Finally, I dropped Dave’s harness and walked ahead of him, squeezing between the wall and offending scooter. This was a risk—walking forward without my dog. A gaping hole or other hazard could have been present.

Back home, my adult children told me they’d driven past another Squirrel Hill intersection with several scooters strewn over a curb cut. No person in a wheelchair could have crossed that street.

So, no animosity necessary. Scooter riders and disabled people can occupy common places in harmony. Parking requirements could easily be arranged to accommodate both scooter enthusiasts and those of us with disabilities. Please consider calling your city council representative to address this problem.

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Pay for those with disabilities

When I became blind 50 years ago, I learned the term “sheltered workshop,” a workplace designed to provide a safe environment for disabled people. Many rehab agencies housed such a facility on their premises. I grew most familiar with one offered by the former Pittsburgh Blind Association which made and sold brooms. Today, through the Blindness and Visual Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh, anyone can still buy brooms produced by workers with visual impairments.

Sheltered workshops developed in the U.S. during the late 1800s. At first, schools to educate blind children appeared—1829: Boston, 1831: New York City, and 1832: Philadelphia. Most of these schools focused on educating blind and visually impaired youths for paid work. Students were taught chair caning, basket-weaving, rug-weaving, and other skills in hopes that they’d be self-supporting as adults. But few of these graduates became financially independent.

As a result, sheltered workshops developed to employ them. After WWI, the government   tried to rehabilitate returning veterans whose injuries resulted in various physical handicaps. However, blind people were excluded; the government deemed them unemployable.

But in 1935, Congress extended its help to blind people, employing them to run vending stands on government property. These venders offered mostly sugary beverages, candy, chips, and baked goods, though a few sold a small percentage of fruit, vegetables, and nuts. In 1943, this law was strengthened to accommodate WWII blinded vets. In 1973, Congress enacted Title V of the Rehabilitation Act, giving the disabled protection against bias. The 19990 Americans with Disabilities Act seemed to free people with physical impairments from past prejudice for good.

But not so. Workers with disability still face discrimination financially.  Today, they lawfully can earn less than half the federal minimum wage, $3.34 an hour. As of April 5, 2021, there is still no wage floor in sheltered workshops. Employees can, and often do, earn under $1 a day! Frankly, these are prison wages, which are themselves disgraceful. Result: people with disabilities often experience the highest rate of poverty.

Fortunately, the House of Representatives just passed, and the Senate is facing a bill that includes a remedy to this outrageous, near-200-year inequity. The “Build Back Better” bill will require that those with disabilities be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour like their able-bodied counterparts. Please urge your senators to pass this important measure and provide long overdue financial equality to all citizens.

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Wolf Music Concert

Recently, the NPR program, “Science Friday,” ended with a soundscape of Iberian wolf songs. At first, I thought it was an orchestra imitating the melodies, but realized the howls, yips, yowls weren’t strings or woodwinds, but live wolves. Though I concluded that it was tongue-in-cheek or a joke on the radio audience, my German shepherd guide, Dave, recognized the real thing—immediately. He trotted into our kitchen and moved toward the Alexa, producing the sound.

Nearby, my husband, Bob, said, “He hears his ancestors.”

Dave moved closer. He stood with his ears perked, his tail wagging, so expectant.

“His nose is twitching,” Bob said. “He’s trying to find his canine friends.”

And then, the recording of the wolves’ song ended, and Dave wandered back to his dog pillow and took up his soft, squeaking ball.

“Not nearly as beautiful, is it, Boy?” I asked, rubbing his big head, so like a wolf’s.

But the unmelodious squeak was all Dave had now, so he made it play and challenge me to a game of ball. Soon, he tired of the game and lay back on his big bed to dream of the wolf music.

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End of the Era of the Handshake

 

Dr. Fauci suggest that the covid-19 just might be ending the era of the handshake. Should this come to pass, I understand completely and will comply. But as someone totally blind, I will grieve the loss. Some might ask why I’d consider this a loss—handshaking is so formal, even nerdy. But I was nurtured to touch, to hug. My dad was a warm-hearted, charismatic guy without a single sleazy bone or impulse. Had he lived longer, he probably would have had to curb his exuberant greetings.

So, nature plus disability has fed my appreciation of touch. Through the sense, my guide dog communicates all sorts of messages. If he pulls harder, another dog is ahead. If his tail beats into my leg, my husband, kids, or grandkids are approaching. If I feel the harness dip down, Dave is committing the sniffing crime.

Touch not only gives me vital information as I walk independently, it grounds me in reality. If someone says hello, a hand clasp locates the person. My hearing loss doesn’t allow for solid directionality, so I may not face the person accurately. The touch of the hand tells me about size, height, weight, age, and strength, even a bit of personality. It ensures that a real human is before me, not a disembodied voice.

Touch has been so important to me over my life with blindness. I used it in every aspect of parenting, feeding, dressing, diapering, and transporting. Because I couldn’t see my children, I held, hugged, tickled them. I parented them in the manner of a mama chimp, with them in a front pack, backpack, encircled around my shoulders, dangling from one arm. It’s how I grandparent. My grandkids catapult into me. They leap into my lap, crawl onto my shoulders, and swing up to wrap their legs around me. After I leave, our daughter feels crowded, swamped by her kids. “Space,” she calls. “Give me space.”

You see, she can see the two cuties. She doesn’t need the total entanglement I crave. So, no handshakes? The end of this era translates into a wide litany of nos for me. But maybe masks, rubber gloves, protective gear will be ever-necessary. Through the gear, I can still keep track of them, all knotted together and intertwined. I can still fulfill that chimp in me.

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Harriet Tubman–banned?

 

 

About a year ago, I blogged about a nasty attack on an innocent Braille cell. Turns out that President Trump banned workers in the Trump tower from installing Braille numbers on the elevators. Now I’ve been known to attack a Braille cell, to go after it with a fingernail when the bumps clump together tighter than unstirred quinoa.

“But it’s required by law,” the workers protested, “the A.D.A.”

“I don’t care if it’s required by the A.D.D. or the I.U.D. or the U.t.i.” (He said something like that).

So, I shouldn’t have been surprised that there was a new ban, this time announced by the secretary of most cabinet posts in the Trump Administration, secretary of the treasury—Steve Mnuchin. “No Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill under Donald Trump’s watch.”

Harriet Tubman, banned? The most famous American slave escapee? The most famous “conductor” of the underground railroad? A Union spy during the Civil War?

Isn’t that like banning I don’t know—someone heroic, inspired, I mean, someone like, um, Moses?

But wait, Harriet was Moses!

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Ash Wednesday and Coal Ash

I just read that coal ash pollution is leaking into the ground water at nine power plants in Pennsylvania, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project. This pollution leaves arsenic and other chemicals behind. At one former coal plant near Pittsburgh, arsenic levels in the ground water are 372 times the PA’s safe drinking water standard. And this isn’t just happening in PA. More than 90% of the sites that store coal ash in the US have levels of contamination exceeding the EPA health standards. what is as horrifying, if not more horrifying, is that I find these stories adjacent to news reports exposing one senior official after another using their government positions for personal gain. How many Alabama tornadoes or continued ocean oil spills will it take to turn our leaders back to addressing the human-made climate change that so jeopardizes our children’s and grandchildren’s futures? On this day before Ash Wednesday, a day of repentance and remembrance in the western Christian church, Maybe we can awaken to more long term needs of our planet.

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“The Uninhabitable Earth”

The Uninhabitable Earth is a book to be published in April of this year and a book I’ll purchase in multiple copies, for multiple people. The author from the New Yorker Magazine, David Wallace-Wells writes that the goal of only 2% global warming is the floor, not the ceiling. At this point, we have put so much carbon in the air that warming less than that is impossible. This amount most likely means that 150 million people will die from air pollution, excessive heat, and multiple severe storms the like we haven’t experienced. Wallace-Wells says something so startling that one would think it would be seared into my memory forever, but in truth, the horror of the statement sent all my brain cells to combatting it. But I think he said that simply in the last 25 years, we’ve put more carbon into the atmosphere than was emitted in 15 million years. Now, please know to double-check that statistic, but what he said was so grim that I have felt desperate. By 2050 life, even in Scandinavia, will be impossible for periods of time because of extreme heat waves. And talk about an immigrant emergency as some are today—2050 will make that the truly “Trumped-up crisis many think it is. But sarcasm aside, how many of us will be alive in 2050? Not I, but my kids and grandkids, so many people I desperately love. How can we go on using the energy of the 19th and 20th centuries? China, even Saudi Arabia, are funding all sorts of solar and renewable projects, and we’re bringing back the energy that had gone bust in the 1950s. Help!

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Mary Oliver, RIP

“…Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.”

 

This is an excerpt from a poem by Mary Oliver who died yesterday in Florida at the age of 83. Years ago, I hosted a spiritual enrichment group early each Monday morning, and we spent a year just reading her poems, an exercise I never regretted.

During this time of divisiveness and conflict in our country, so many of us search for music or books or movies to uplift us; we want to be around affirming people and uplifting activity. We want antidotes to the whirling hate around us. Nature provides so many opportunities to dwell in the positive and the creative. Mary Oliver’s poems nurture us and cocoon us from all that combats love and truth and intelligence and kindness and wonder.

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Most Profound Pet Peeve

 

 

If I had to choose my fiercest pet peeve, I would select the literary, pervasive, erroneous stereotype that the blind are always desperate to touch another’s face to “see” what he looks like. No, sighted writers who do not do their research! Some of you I absolutely love, but you didn’t get your blind characters right. How many blind people did you query?

In this period of Own Voices, why do sighted authors think they can delineate characters who are blind accurately without research? Those of us who can’t see have multiple opinions and tastes, likes and dislikes. Only if people interact and interview many will they begin to portray someone blind authentically.

And trust me, most of us do not want to feel your face the minute we meet you. In fact, we may be best friends with you for decades and not want to touch your face–ever.

First, feeling the face is an intimate experience. It takes all the ppreliminaries that a kiss would take—conversation, sharing, connecting, relating.

Second, Feeling the face does not tell us what you look like; it tells us what your face feels like. It’s tactile, not visual.

And unless we’ve seen before and have a visual memory, we will not form a picture of you from feeling up your face, no matter how long we engage in the practice.

When I was becoming blind at 26, I wore occluders during many of my classes in the rehab program, so that I’d begin to trust my other senses and not rely on the partial sight I had. So, I experienced stores and all kinds of places tactilely and automatically formed a picture of them. When I removed the occluders, those places never resembled my image—not even close.

So, too, the experience of a face touched. After a teacher at the rehab facility asked me to touch his face, which I uncomfortably did, I caught sight of him, and he looked nothing like I’d imagined.

Yet, too many times, I’ve encountered the charge to “touch my face and see what I look like. I’ve encountered it one-on-one, and I’ve encountered it in groups, where the leader at a seminar draws attention to me, asking me to touch his face… Once, a friend who knew my aversion to this stereotype, whispered, “tell him you’d rather touch his penis to see what he looks like!”

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Publishers looking for Diverse Books

 

Two publishers, looking for books dealing with diverse characters and subjects, have sprung up. One is Versify, an imprint of Houghton-MifflinHarcourt, and now possibly the only one of that group to accept unagented submissions. Kwame Alexander, The Crossover and other poetic and fabulous books, is the founder. First books come out in 2019.

               Kokila is the second imprint I just learned about that focuses on books for diverse audiences that will also read unagented material. Ramata Tripathi is involved here, and I had an excellent and very thoughtful critique from her several years ago at the LA SCBWI conference. Writers and book lovers, check them out.

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