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…
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.