Commenting On Comments;

Just a couple hours ago, I saw this article posted to an Email list I’m on. I’m happy to see that local police departments aren’t always turning a blind eye, so to speak, toward these issues of blatant discrimination. Of course, I also understand that the outcome of this story isn’t always what happens, and there are still far too many instances where the police will tell a victim of such discrimination that it’s “a civil matter”, or “they can’t really do anything”, or, worse, “Really, you should just leave.”

Whenever I read these stories, I also read the comments. They are often more enlightening (and, in some cases, saddening) than the actual story. That’s certainly the case with a couple of the comments posted after this story. Unfortunately, I was unable to figure out how to post comments myself, so I guess I’ll post them here, where nearly nobody will see them.

Nicole: you say that this guy that works at the restaurant in question should have been alerted that he violated someone’s rights, but hauling him off to jail was wrong. So, are you saying that his breaking of our country’s laws is unimportant? Or is it that you believe the laws that protect people with disabilities are somehow less relevant than other laws, and their enforcement isn’t as important? Please enlighten me. Maybe there are more important things for the police to deal with? Or maybe you really don’t believe any laws were really broken, and we people with disabilities are only allowed to travel and enjoy an evening out of our homes at the pleasure of, and with the blessing of, others?

Personally, I’m happy to see that someone’s putting some teeth into the laws. Unfortunately, fines and jail time are the only thing some people understand.

As for “dog hair flying around”, thank you, first of all, for your apology. As a guide dog owner myself, our dogs are often cleaner and better groomed than some of the so-called humans that are allowed in public. Moreover, the most you’ll ever see of my dog is as he walks by, and after that, perhaps, his head or tail, as he stays quietly tucked under my chair or table, well out of your space.

I stress here that with rights come responsibilities, such as the responsibility of keeping my dog clean, unobtrusive, and out of the way. Fortunately for all, these responsibilities are also built into the laws that protect us, which is to say, our right to be accompanied by a service dog is not absolute. A person with a disability may be asked to remove his service animal if that animal is disruptive, poorly behaved, and so forth. This is as it should be.

I’ve said that the comments are sometimes sadder, and certainly more enlightening, than the story being commented upon. In such comments, we will sometimes see what a person really thinks or believes. It saddens me that some who would read this story and other stories like it would believe, and even express, that they find that our rights to freedom of movement are less valuable than are their rights. Perhaps, I suppose, it would be better if we just stayed at home, out of the way, and let the rest of the world carry on. It saddens me that even in our “enlightened” age, some would hold such views. Just remember, there isn’t so much difference between you and me. I don’t mean this as a threat, or even a wish, merely a statement of fact. There isn’t a lot of difference between you and me.

This puts me in mind of another story, this one in the UK. This fellow and his girlfriend, who is a guide dog owner, went one afternoon to have lunch at an Indian restaurant. The prson who was waiting on them proceeded to deny him service. An argument ensued, and another diner then told the guy (who was doing the arguing for his girlfriend) to go home, to leave so they could enjoy their lunch, and to get a proper job. This, more than the actual refusal, shocked, angered, and saddened me. Do some out there really hold us with so much contempt? Are there really those who seem to believe that we are no more than an inconvenience to them, an annoying bit of their lives that should just go somewhere else so that they don’t have to deal with us? Are there really those out there who believe that our humanity is less than theirs, and that somehow, things would just be better if we’d go home, go away, and leave them in peace?

For those of you who feel this way, I have only this to say. Too bad. I’m not going home to spare you the discomfort of having to look at me. I’m not going away. I won’t intrude upon your life, but neither will I apologize for my existence in your ordered little world. I live, I love, I have a family and friends and, yes, a proper job. My world is larger than myself, and it extends beyond the four walls of my home. So get used to it, I’m here to stay, and so are the rest of my disabled brothers and sisters. Look upon us well; there is little difference between you and me.

And, to those who come to our country to seek a better life, I welcome you. Ours is a land of opportunity. There is room for everyone who comes here legally. There is plenty of opportunity for those who wish to seize it. Come, and welcome. But know, understand, and obey our laws. We are a country of laws, and they apply to you as well. If you own a business, drive a taxicab, or work in some sort of job that causes you to come into contact with people, it is your responsibility to know the laws, including the ones that cover people with disabilities. Ignorance does not make you immune, and after 80 plus years, there’s no longer any excuse for you not to know better. This applies equally to my American-born kinsmen.

Anyway, I’m sure I could go on, and probably will some other time. I always welcome your thoughts, so keep those cards and letters coming.

Budcast #11: A Walk With Kapten Plus

In Budcast #11, join me and Leno on a walk with the Kapten Plus. I describe the unit (in my usual rambling fashion), and have Kapten Plus plan and follow a route. If you have other questions about the Kapten Plus, please feel free to get in touch by buddy@brannan.name or on Twitter. You can also see the previous entry for my brief initial impressions of the Kapten Plus, and see this review from AFB’s Access World Magazine for more details and another impression. I also discuss things to consider when thinking about a standalone GPS like this versus off-the-shelf apps for a smart phone. (I use both, and I like both for different reasons.)

BTW, all the jingling? That’s Leno. He has a bell on his collar. Some may find such things annoying, but I kind of like it, it sounds cheerful to me, so it stays on. It sounds like a little sleigh bell, which is kind of what it looks like, and it rings with very little movement from Leno, so he’s pretty easy to track. While they might seem a little pricey at $25 per pair (I have an extra one, I only put one on him), these are high quality, sturdy bells, and the two bells you get are of different pitches, so you can pick the one you like better. Or if you have two dogs in the house, put one on each and you’ll be able to tell which of them has just raided the trash can. If you want them, you can find them on Noble Falconry.

Budcast #4: Buddy Rants

We depart from the usual format (whatever that is) to free-form ranting. In this episode, Buddy gets angry about stupid people. Some strong language, and definitely strong opinions. This episode may just change your opinion of Buddy if you thought he was a level-headed and well together kind of guy. If you were under no such delusions, all the better. Comments and lively discussion are welcome.

Review: On The Go Sport Guide Dog Harness

Introduction

Back in February, I ordered an On The Go harness from Julie Johnson. As these are individually made and she had some backlog, it took some time to arrive, but arrive it did, and I’ve had my new harness for about three weeks now. That should be plenty of time to give it a fair evaluation, I thought.

First, if you didn’t already know, Julie has sold livingblind.com and, separately, her harness making business. These harnesses, now from Pawpower Creations, can be purchased from (interestingly enough) Pawpower Creations. Email pawpower@cox.net for latest info and pricing.

Find information on these at the LivingBlind.com guide dog harness page.

So what’s the deal with these harnesses, anyway?

First, to avoid confusion, I will henceforth refer to the harness company by its new name. Meaning no slight to Julie and her excellent work, naturally.

Pawpower Creations harnesses are a great alternative for the owner trainer or anyone who, for whatever reason, wants another harness than the one the school provides. Some people just want a generic harness with no school names on it. Others want features that their school harnesses do not provide. Others may want a harness that’s easy to clean and care for. In all these cases, the Pawpower Creations harnesses fill the bill nicely. Being made of nylon instead of leather, they are easy to clean (machine washable, I’m told), and lightweight. Take them to the beach and get them all wet and icky and it isn’t really a problem. Moreover, the harness is made to fit your dog with measurements you provide as instructed on the harness Web page. Also, and my main reason for buying, the handle is easily removable. No more wrenches! You see, I’ve been wanting an easy to remove handle for ages. It’s especially been a problem with Chet. I have two harnesses from my school, and both of them, from getting in and out of cars and getting stuck or bumped or whatever under the dash of too many cars, have the leather coming unstitched and raggedy lookin’. This is a problem, since the handle sticks out roughly another inch off Chet’s rear end. So I really wanted something I could pop off easily without removing the whole harness.

They are inexpensive, costing around $100 for one with all the extras (extra padding and reflective tape).

Description

I chose the sport harness. I understand this is a more european design. Unlike the traditional American harness, the handle does not pass through loops on the back, instead moving freely. This can be a disadvantage if you’re not careful. The handle can literally swing over your dog’s nose! Not in the course of regular work you understand, but it really does have complete freedom of movement. You could, potentially, more easily overstep your dog, but by then you would notice your handle at a very odd angle. Anyway, the handle attaches pretty well right at the dog’s shoulders. Where the harness you’re used to has a strap that goes around your dog’s middle with another one going from there all the way around his chest and perhaps a martingale coming off that down between his front legs, this sport harness has the girth strap around the dog as you would expect, but then has two straps coming off the back strap, over the dog’s shoulders, meeting then in the middle of the dog’s chest with the martingale between his front legs, in the shape of a print letter Y. The handle attaches to these two straps by means of plastic backpck fasteners, the sort of thing that snaps together and that you squeeze to release. A similar fastener buckles the harness closed. If you want a more traditional American style harness, Pawpower Creations makes those as well, with or without a martingale. Actually, they can custom make something if you need. Rox’e (and Julie before her) will work with you to design the harness you need.

Going For A Walk

Putting the harness on goes about as you might expect, with one small bit of challenge. Since there are no loops to hold the handle down, you’d better keep ahold of it along with the back strap as you put the harness on, or you could turn it inside out! This isn’t a huge deal, since it just flips right way round again very easily, but it is something to be aware of. You put it on as one would expect, by putting your dog’s head through the open part of the Y, then threading the girth strap through the martingale and snapping shut on the right side of the dog. You’ll note that the shoulder straps fit nicely over your dog’s shoulders. Some adjustment of the martingale and girth straps may be necessary. Both are threaded through a buckle, and feel a bit stiff. That’s OK, though; once they’re adjusted, they’ll pretty much stay put. Remember that these buckles make the straps infinitely adjustable; there are no holes, so you really can make the adjustments very fine if you need to and they should stay put. The handle lays flat along your dog’s back. At least, right at first. You may find at times, depending on how your dog moves sometime or how it’s put down, that it lolls off to the side, a consequence of the total freedom of movement in the handle. I may sound like I don’t like this, but really I do. having that much freedom of movement also means your dog can really make a very tight turn without any real discomfort either to you or to him.

Now here’s what I really like about this harness. Chet is mostly very bored with my neighborhood. This means that, as he walks, he has almost no pull. With my school harness, the handle would feel just slack and as though we were crawling instead of walking. With this harness, you can really feel your dog’s shoulders moving as he walks, and even with a light pull, you feel a very steady pressure in the handle, and it’s very easy to detect even the smallest change in speed, whether it’s more pull or a slackening of speed. I felt that I was getting a quicker response and could more easily tell when a distraction was coming; feedback felt more immediate. The handle always felt “engaged”, even with the lightest of pull, instead of feeling slack. This was an unexpected and welcome surprise.

Is having a removable handle really that handy? I’d have to say that it is. There’s nothing like having a handle stick into your shins! Nuff said. Just pop the handle off and put it somewhere handy, then pop it back on when you get out of the car. No more re-threading martingales, and you only need to stick something over your dog’s head once.

Construction

These harnesses are very well made. I don’t feel like they’ll come unstitched any time soon. Seams are double stitched and sturdy. I got extra padding, which was very nicely stitchd in foam, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere soon. the handle is similarly stitched. It’s obvious that real care and time were taken to make sure these harnesses were put together right the first time. Also, high quality buckles and fasteners were used throughout. I don’t think we’ll be in danger of losing a handle clip or something like that, and I don’t think the adjustments of girth strap or martingale length will slip when you don’t want them to.

I give this harness a definite 11 out of 10. You really can’t go wrong with this one if you have a need for a new harness for your guide dog, or even just want one. I don’t think you’ll find one better.

SMA, RIP: Significant To the AT Industry, Not a Huge Change For Serotek

Today at the ATIA Conference, Mike Calvo, CEO of Serotek, announced that, as of today, “the Software Maintenance Agreement (SMA) is dead.” Apparently, Serotek had tombstones at their exhibit to mark their passing.

So what’s the big deal, you ask?

For years, the major players in the AT space–the people who make the screen readers for, generally, Windows-based computers, have sold “software maintenance agreements” (SMA’s), to their customers who wish to keep their screen readers up to date with the latest updates, features, and operating system and software application changes. These agreements differ somewhat in how they’re constructed, whether lasting for a year or a certain number of major version upgrades, and they cost somewhere between $150 and $350. Users are encouraged to buy a new agreement shortly before the old one expires, and not doing so usually means one has to pay for all the intervening upgrades from the one he owns to the current one. This could cost several hundreds of dollars. In any case, the SMA has been a pain in the ass for many a user of assistive technology.

So, Serotek’s announcement that they have dropped their SMA is significant, if only symbolically significant. More on that in a minute. Mike Calvo stated in an interview on their new Internet radio station that other companies may see the SMA as their bread and butter, but Serotek does not. Serotek seeks to add value in other ways, in ways that they believe their users will find relevant, useful, or at least enough fun to keep paying for (my words, not his, but, generally, his idea as I understand it).

Had Serotek done this a year or two ago, it may not have had the impact that I believe it will have now. Serotek is doing innovative things an really catching up and in some cases surpassing the more established players. System Access worked on 64-bit Windows before the “big guns” did. And let’s not even talk about the free web-based version of System Access, System Access To Go.

Now, they’ve laid down the gauntlet. They’ve issued the challenge. What will the other players in this space do? Will they drop their SMA’s and seek to keep their customers’ loyalty (and buying dollars) in other ways? Or will they continue to do what they are doing now?

I said earlier this was a significant statement, if only a symbolic one. While it’s true that Serotek had a software maintenance fee ($60/year, if memory serves), it’s also true that owners of the System Access software got their upgrades free as long as they were also members of the System Access Mobile Network, a $129/year subscription. Also, the software as a service offerings included software upgrades at no additional cost (not to mention access to the network). So there were a couple ways to not pay a software maintenance fee, and I suspect the number of people who just owned the software and not the network was a very small number. So in real terms, I doubt the SMA was a very small issue in Serotek’s real world dealings. Taking it away completely was, I suspect, no huge loss to them. As they said, the SMA isn’t (and wasn’t) their bread and butter. Rather, offering compelling reasons to use their other offerings and pay for them is what keeps them going. It’s what we in the rest of the world call capitalism. And clearly, they’re offering compelling products and services: easy remote control of your home PC’s, a completely portable and non-disruptive screen reader that does what most people want to do with their computers, an easy service with all the stuff you want right at your fingertips (great for the computer neophite), and all pretty inexpensively. I find it noteworthy that there are Web sites that don’t work with the big name screen readers, yet they work fine with System Access. That’s worth something in itself.

I’ll say it again. The AT space is changing rapidly. It’s changing for the better, as far as the average blind consumer is concerned. New companies are doing interesting, innovative things, and the prices are falling. You can now get a fully functioning machine, with a screen reader that will do most of what most people want to do (Email, surf the web, talk to their friends, write a letter, and so on), for under $500 if you look hard, under $600 if you don’t but are OK with putting all the software in yourself (or know someone who is), or under $800 if you want it to just work when you turn it on. Considering that the big boys charge more just for the software, this is even more significant than the death of the SMA, and it’s been a reality now for a little bit longer. Sure, you could get Linux running with Orca, let’s say, using Ubuntu, or Windows with NVDA, but you’d better be pretty comfortable with computers already. The price breakthrough is as significant, in its way, as Voiceover making any Mac not only usable, but eyes-free installable, without modification. This is the kind of development that’s changing this space, and the established players had better stay on their toes.