Braille, Relevance of Literacy, And Double Standards

I just Emailed the following to Perkins in response to their question: “Is braille still relevant in a high tech world”? I think it speaks for itself. Would love your comments, so keep those cards and letters coming.


First, do I love my Perkins brailler? Of course I do.

I don’t really want to talk about that, though. Rather, I want to address the question you ask: is braille still relevant in a technological world? Of course you got the answer, and, in my view, the correct one, but what disturbs me is that the question was even asked in thee first place. It is, I think, the wrong question. In short, what happens if you replace the word “Braille” with the word “Print”? Does the question change? Does the relevance of the medium change? Does the answer change? What about the perceptions of the question–do those change?

A couple weeks ago, I was a fill-in host on the Serotalk podcast, where we discussed an article about the decline in spelling skills among today’s youth. However, I didn’t take away what was probably the intended message of the article. I took away a double standard. Now that it’s sighted children who use print and are losing the ability to spell, form proper sentences, and so on, we have a tragedy, and our electronics-centric lifestyle is to blame. Think of texting as the most often blamed culprit. Yet, where was this outcry for our blind kids 20 years ago, when, as now, we are told that talking computers and recorded textbooks are good enough? Double standard much? Why is it, do you suppose, that learning to read print and having access to print is essential to teach sighted children the fundamentals of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but such skills are adequately taught to our blind kids with talking computers and recorded textbooks? Or, is it that our blind kids and their skills and abilities in these areas just aren’t important enough to give the same amount of attention or priority? Why is, pulling a number out of the air here, a 10% illiteracy rate among the sighted a national tragedy, yet a 10% literacy rate among the blind acceptable?

If you get that I’m angry, you’re right. I am absolutely livid. This is only one example of this double standard where blind and sighted people are concerned. The thing is, it’s a huge example, and it doesn’t even seem as though we ourselves always recognize it for what it is, because we ask things like, “Is braille still relevant”. So long as literacy is relevant to gainful employment, career advancement, educational opportunities, and all the other things life has to offer, the answer should be obvious.

So, as I said, you’re asking the wrong question. There are probably a lot of “right” questions, but the one that comes to my mind, putting aside the “Why is this double standard acceptable” question, is, “How do we get braille into the hands of more kids and get more of our kids learning it, and more of our teachers teaching it”? Let’s start there; there’s much, much more that we should be asking as follow-ups to that.

Parenthetically, I note that the word “brailler” was flagged by my spell checker. Moreover, it was autocorrected to “broiler”. That speaks volumes.

Of Analogies, Politically Correct Language, Freedom, and Inaccurate Metaphor

Today, the following brief conversation came across on Twitter. While the first comment was disturbing to me, the follow-up reply really has me bothered on a couple of levels. I don’t think 140 characters (or several lines of 140 characters) are enough to really address my feelings on this, so I’ll take this space to do so instead.

Laura: I think every #Obama supporter should be given a wheelchair since they are #deaf #blind #dem (dem is the new dumb).
Buddy: @thatquirkylaura Wow. I don’t even know how to react to this. Esp as a PWD.
Laura: @bbrannan “PC” lies in Cultural Marxism. I believe in free speech, creative thought & if ur overly sensitive, u shouldn’t follow me.
“Betsy Ross”: . @thatquirkylaura @bbrannan political correctness is leftist censorship – tyrannical systems demand it #tcot

This probably shouldn’t bug me nearly as much as it does, but people are funny like that, I guess.

So let’s start at the beginning.

Every Obama supporter should be given a wheelchair since they are deaf, blind, and den (den is the new dumb).


Last I checked, wheelchairs went to people whose legs didn’t work. Last I knew, there was no connection between ears, eyes, and speech centers, and legs. Moreover, “dumb” only meant “stupid” in recent years, where its original meaning was more like an inability to speak. “Deaf and dumb” meant someone could not hear nor could that person speak. I’m not quite sure how this morphed into a loss of mental faculties, but it did. In any case, to equate disability with inability or lack of intelligence or discernment is so last century, besides being inaccurate. Such comparisons have always bugged me; as a blind person, having my blindness equated with mental slowness has always bugged me. I’m certain that deaf people who cannot speak feel this even more acutely. Even putting that aside, how did wheelchairs get into this anyway? It’s just a very bad metaphor, and in no ways accurate.

Now to the replies. Those probably bothered me even more than the original post. Oh, sure, I have real problems with the original very flawed metaphor. Were the politician a different one, the flawed metaphor would have been equally offensive. That’s OK though, this is America, and here, we absolutely have a right to be boorish, offensive, bigoted, and, above all, we have an absolute right to make idiots of ourselves. I’d be the last person to take that right from anyone. But the veiled (or perhaps, not so veiled) accusation that I was attempting to abridge anyone’s right to free speech isn’t what I take issue with, and it isn’t what really bothers me about the replies. OK, it bothers me a little, but it isn’t the biggest problem I have here.

In the main, I agree with the sentiment. Political correctness has perhaps built more walls between us than it has torn down. While I don’t believe that “words are just words and don’t mean anything”, neither do I believe that saying the right words will change what is in somebody’s heart. Yes, words mean things, and the right words, or the wrong ones, can be very destructive, but not saying something for fear of being offensive where no offense is meant can be equally harmful. Both ways can lead to misunderstanding and to a place where a meeting of minds cannot possibly occur.

So then, what’s my problem, beyond the use of a flawed and inaccurate metaphor? Do I really want to silence speech that I find disagreeable?

To the contrary, I believe that freedom of speech is vital to a growing, hanging, thriving, and vibrant society. Like Voltaire, I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Whether I think that flawed metaphors that call into question the intelligence of a whole class of people is “creative” is irrelevant, though for the record, I really don’t think it is very creative at all. Having seen other work from Laura, I know she is capable of much more creative thought. That isn’t the point though. What bothers me about these responses is that the thinking here appears to be that freedom of speech also means freedom from criticism. It does not. Freedom of speech works both ways. If you are free to say a thing, I am free to refute it, to be offended by it, to disagree with it, or to call you out on it. I am also free to agree with it, praise it, or expound upon its virtues if I so choose. You are free to react to my reaction. It’s a wonderful thing. By such a free exchange of thought, perhaps we all grow and change and become better human beings. But to suppose that freedom of speech also means freedom from the consequences of that speech is pure folly. All freedoms, and all rights, come with equal responsibilities attached to those freedoms. Remember that freedom of speech also means freedom of speech that you don’t happen to like, or for that matter, that I don’t happen to like. But it also means that ifI don’t like some speech, I am free to express that opinion and what I find disagreeable about it. Does it mean you’ll agree? Of course it doesn’t.

Laura, all I said was that I didn’t know how to react to your statement. Rather than asking what I meant, you automatically assumed I wished you to be silenced. I do not. I think I understand what you were going for, but it just didn’t work. It really didn’t. You are capable of so much more. Equating one disability with several other unrelated ones really doesn’t take a lot of creativity or time. What ever happened to Eight Storms Brewing, anyway? I really enjoyed that, although I think I enjoyed it in its first eight brother and sister daemons incarnation a bit more. (I understand how that’d be hard to pull off though.)

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.

An Idea For the 2012 FDIM Buildathon

Hi y’all,

I just received the following Email from Wayne, N6KR, at Elecraft. FDIM stands for “Four Days In May”, a sort of convention within the Dayton Hamvention, sponsored by QRP International. The Buildathon is an event where a bunch of people get together and build a kit from a bunch of parts. What Wayne suggests here is very exciting. Speaking as a long-time blind ham, I for one would be very excited to be able to build something and take part in an aspect of the hobby that I have to this point not been able to enjoy.

I can already see some objections by some blind hams to some of the stipulations Wayne has listed. I would be interested, personally, in your thoughts on this. I, for one, am totally in.

Here’s Wayne’s Email, which I was copied on:

Hi Ken,

Hope things are going well for you this year. I’m really busy with the KX3 and other products, as you can imagine.

We have a number of blind customers using K3s, etc. I was discussing with one of them (Buddy, copied on this) the fact that there are no radio or electronic kits (that we know of) that could be constructed entirely by a blind hobbyist. I then mentioned that I’d think about how to do this 🙂

Then I realized this would be a novel theme for the FDIM building contest in 2012, assuming it hasn’t already been tried. It would be a challenge for both the kit designers and target builders. For best results, they’d need to work together.

The most important thing about such a kit is the sense of empowerment it would provide the blind builder. From all my conversations with blind hams, it’s clear they feel left out being unable to participate in some basic hands-on aspect of the hobby. I’m sure that’s true of would-be blind builders in other genres as well. (Buddy may have thoughts on this.)

Even a simple kit would be a challenge. Here are some potential constraints (again, Buddy will know better than I):

– probably no soldering (safety concern)
– suggest twisting component leads, or use spring terminals
– no high voltages
– all components that have the same size/shape must be carefully tagged or bagged
or have a tactile label
– all components with more than two leads (e.g., a transistor) must have
an asymmetrical package so leads can be clearly identified; better yet,
one lead can be extended beyond the others
– no use of color codes (obvious!)
– nothing sharper than a component lead
– hardware should be large (#4 or larger)
– if a PCB or other substrate is provided, it should be asymmetrical or have
tactile guides
– if knobs are used, they should have tactile pointers
– manual either in Braille or in accessible electronic format (use with a PC screen reader)

With care, one could build a simple transceiver that satisfies all of these constraints.

Anyone entering such a kit into the contest should pair up with a blind builder — or try building it blindfolded — to prove that it works.

Any interest in this idea?


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 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.

Kapten Plus: Preliminary Thoughts

Hi y’all,

I’m sure that some of y’all can probably correct some initial misconceptions if they exist, but here are my preliminary impressions of Kapten Plus.

1) Size: Wow, this thing really is tiny! And, for its size, the speaker really isn’t bad. I want to try it in noisy traffic situations, but I don’t anticipate it being a problem. It clips nicely to the GPS’ lanyard as someone here suggests, lose to your ears, or close enough anyway, to be clearly audible.

2) Wow, yes, that song is…interesting. I did a reset on it to see if I could, but it played for some reason some other times. Right after disconnecting from the computer once. I got the firmware update, but otherwise, the PC software doesn’t seem very accessible, more on software in a minute.

3) I’d really like to see ways to get more of the voice commands from the keypad, say, with a menu button. Sometimes, I would think a noisy environment would make voice recognition difficult. Say, a long press of the play button to bring up a status menu, for instance, or a long press of the FM or MP3 buttons. Maybe those would be a better choice.

4) It seems to me that the power of having points of interest in the device (those not associated with a K-tag, I mean) is under utilized. I’d like to see more verbose free navigation mode that tells you about POI’s as you pass them, or with a long button press, bring up a list of the several nearest POI’s. Even better if a route to one could be set up on the fly. While having upcoming intersections spoken is great, I think more could be done here with POI’s.

5) Satellite acqisition sometimes takes a while. On walking Alena to school, from turning it on in the house, I think it was a good five minutes before i got a signal. Which of course meant I was at Alena’s school. It also had me on the wrong sidewalk (right instead of left), and in one case tole me I was going down the wrong street, but after a couple minutes of that, it got itself straightened out and all was well the rest of the way home.

6) As I said, it’s tiny, and very light. No problem wearing it with the speaker. The voice commands seem to work nicely, but I’ve not been in noisy environs yet. And I can’t always remember the keywords.

7) Documentation: The Leader tutorial says it’s basic, but that they reckon it will take three days to go through the whole audio CD worth of tutorial and get the hang of everything. Three days? Really? A few hours, maybe, but not three days. The documentation, in either form, isn’t *that* exhaustive. Since they made an audio CD, I think read by a human would have been nice, but this version of Samantha isn’t half bad. She doesn’t sound nearly as grumpy as she usually does.

8) Software: the Windows software didn’t seem very accessible, just at first blush, but I didn’t take much time with it. The Mac software is a little weird. It seems very accessible, but some controls aren’t visible unless you tab to them, and in those cases, you can’t use Voiceover keys to read what surrounds them or anything like that. Also, I still only see maps for sale for European countries; I can’t seem to buy Canadian maps. Which reminds me. I’d probably better back up the US maps in case there’s a problem, because they aren’t available for download, far as I can tell, and the box didn’t come with them on any sort of backup media, i.e. DVD or CD.

9) OK, this is a dumb criticism, but… “Rise and shine”, and “I’m so tired”? I guess it’s supposed to be cute, but it just sounds kind of cutesy and, well, dorky to me. What’s the matter with “Ready” and “Shuting down” or something?

It may sound like I have nothing but complaints, but really, for $300, this is quite the buy. I really do like it over all, even though I see room for improvement. I do believe that at this price point, the Kapten Plus can do a lot for a lot of blind people, and I’m all for that.

I plan to take it for a real walk soon, as well as recording a review podcast about it. Watch this space.

Budcast #10: No More Cruises, And No Cruise Podcasts

I know I promised audio sound seeing tours from our cruise, but sorry to say, you’re not getting any. Two reasons, one technical and one not, both explained on a very emotional Sunday morning, the last full day at sea. This is raw, unpolished, unedited, and unashamedly tearful, so if that kind of thing bothers you, it won’t hurt my feelings if you skip it. Just don’t ask if I had a wonderful time on my vacation.

For those of you tuning in late, Melanie and I took a cruise with Royal Caribbean on Navigator Of the Seas for our tenth wedding anniversary. We figured we should really do something that we might not do every day, so we made arrangements for Alena, and we signed up for a four-night cruise. It was memorable, but not in any way you’d like much.


I recorded this, as I said, on the morning of the last full day at sea, less than a full day after the events portrayed here happened. Unfortunately, things didn’t get much better afterwards, apart from being able to function without bursting into tears at the drop of a hat. But I thought it was important to capture this moment without diluting its full effect. Besides, I think it will be much easier to tell people to listen here rather than telling the story a thousand times.


So, sorry this wasn’t better. Believe me, I wish it were.

Programming the Wouxun Dual Band Handheld Transceiver

I seem to have become the go-to guy for the Wouxun dual band radios. Not only have blind people found my “eyes-free” guide useful, but apparently, and surprisingly, so have sighted people. I’ve had a few people ask for a podcast walk through on this radio, setting it up, and programming procedures, and I’ve promised one for a while. Finally, in Budcast #9, because you asked for it, I get up off my lazy duff and walk you through unpacking, setting up, and programming one of these fantastic little radios. Follow along by downloading my Wouxun Eyes-Free document here As always, you can Email me at buddy (at) brannan (daught) name or by following me on Twitter.

For Palm: Please Help



If ever I’ve needed to cash in afavor with you, I’m calling it in today. If I’ve ever had any small influence on you at all, please read and take action.


Over the past couple days, I’ve seen articles about Palm, a guide dog, and her handler Iris, who were involved in a serious, devastating accident. Apparently, Palm was pushed off a commuter train in British Columbia. An automated commuter train that had no emergency stop. The doors closed on her leash, and Palm was dragged along by the train, until she hit a post and her leash snapped. She is now facing recovery and surgery for a broken muzzle, broken ribs, a punctured lung, and no doubt other injuries. The estimate I read puts the vet bill at around $15,000.


You can read more about the accident here:


And you can see the details of some of Palm’s surgery here:


I can only imagine what this must be like for Iris and for Palm, and it brings me nearly to tears.


As a guide dog handler myself, now working my third one, I know firsthand what these dogs bring to our lives. When they hurt, you hurt with them. It’s no exaggeration to say that there are few, if any, relationships between two beings that are any closer than the one shared between a person and his or her service dog. Over time, as my dogs and I have gotten to know each other, we have learned to read each other’s moods, not only to work together seamlessly, but these dogs really do become a part of you. They aren’t just a “mobility aid”, much as they are that. They aren’t our children either, though, and i don’t really want to sensationalize the relationship or make it something it is not. One thing it is, though, is complex. My dogs aren’t “my best friend”, but neither are they “disposable”. They are a part of me, but they are not me. A friend of mine once said, upon the retirement of my first dog Karl, that harnessing my dog and working with him must be as natural to me as putting on my shoes. And so it is, but it isn’t that either exactly. Guide dog handlers know exactly what I mean, and those who are not have an idea perhaps, but it really is hard to explain. For fans of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, (and this probably comes as close to the thing as anything else), working a guide dog is probably about as close as we will ever get to Impression.


But knowing this relationship as I do, I know Iris is just beside herself. Let me be blunt. I’m asking you to give to Palm’s recovery fund. Anything you can. As much or as little as you are able. I know that people are saying, “Well, Translink should pay.” And so they should. In an ideal world, they would have paid already, and Palm’s vet bills would be of no concern. But you know as well as I do how government bureaucracies work. You know that, even if they agree to pay her bills, that won’t come about for ages and ages, and that’s assuming they don’t figure out a way to weasel out of it and deny any culpability. And in the meantime, Iris still has vet bills, and Palm still needs vet care. So, again being very blunt, quit waiting for someone else to do the right thing and take responsibility. Step up to the plate and do somebody a kindness. We can’t take responsibility for the whole world, but we can make a difference in small parts of it. Those small parts add up to making a big difference. It’s like the story of the little boy throwing starfish back in the ocean. When someone told him that there were too many, and he wasn’t going to make a difference, he said, “I made a difference to that one”, and threw another one back in.


Unfortunately, they don’t have an online donation page, so please exercise your dialing finger.

(604) 473-4882


Just tell them when they answer the phone (between 7 AM and 8:30 PM Pacific time) that you want to contribute to Palm’s recovery fund. They will take your credit card information and send you a receipt if you want one. It probably took me three minutes to do this, and I talked about my dogs and my feelings about this. If you don’t feel the need to jabber as I did, it will take you less.


So that’s it, really. I’m asking you to do something for a complete stranger. And, i thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Budcast #8: Introducing The Pogoplug

There are three kinds of people in the world: those who can count, and those who can’t.

I accidentally called this #7 originally. Oops. It’s really #8.

In Budcast #8, we introduce you to the Pogoplug from Cloud Engines. One correction: apparently the default settings for MP3 on the Zoom H1 are 128KBps, not 48 KBps. Sorry. Find out more about the Pogoplug at