Welcome

Donna and Hunter Look Out from an icy igloo by Rich HillThis space will soon brim with reviews and recommendations, reader feedback, articles on everything from music and chocolate to accessibility and knitting … and who knows what!

If, after you’ve read The Heart of Applebutter Hill by Donna W. Hill, you would like to share your thoughts with the world, you have several options. Just fill out the “So, What Do You Think?” form or (for more elaborate reviews, use the same form to request a guest blog. Comments are not automatically published. They are monitored. We will contact you privately with an e-mail address to send your book review — don’t forget to include a plug for yourself and your URL. Then, we will post your review to this blog.

Accessibility Issues for People Using Screen Readers

Screen reader users, there are significant issues with Word Press’s “Leave a Reply” form – which is labeled on this site “So, What Do You Think?” If you are not signed in, you should still be able to post comments, but even if you can access the edit fields and fill them out, the “Submit” button doesn’t work most of the time.

I have advised Word Press Support of this issue. The reply was, “I reported the issues you described, and they may get addressed in a future revision of comments on WordPress.com.”

Meanwhile, here’s a “temporary” solution. Every page and post now has a link labeled “Accessible Comment Form for Screen Reader Users.” It is accessible, but does not link directly to the automated comments system. It will be sent to me, however, and I will find someone to post it on your behalf. Word Press won’t do it, even though I am a paying customer. The URL is: https://donnawhill.com/accessible-comment-form-for-screen-reader-users-3

Posted in Accessibility, Education, Wrighting | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Retiring Guide Dogs: No One-Size-Fits-All Solution

Weeks before Hunter's 13th birthday, he and Donna walk along Trail Loop; shows Greening Moss: photo by Rich Hill.
Weeks before Hunter’s 13th birthday on March 7, 2016, he and Donna walk along their favorite Trail; shows Greening Moss: photo by Rich Hill.

Despite the many wonderful things guide dogs can do for their blind handlers, they share a common flaw. Though they can find the post office, a seat on a train or deftly navigate a construction zone, they can’t live as long as we’d prefer.

Hunter, Donna's black Lab guide dog,  on Hill's Pond-Berm Trail with  blooming yellow Birdsfoot Trefoil, Showing his Gray in Summer of 2013: photo by Rich Hill.
Hunter, Donna’s black Lab guide dog, on Hill’s Pond-Berm Trail with blooming yellow Birdsfoot Trefoil, Showing his Gray in Summer of 2013: photo by Rich Hill.

Hunter got sick a year and a half ago, and was ultimately diagnosed with Lymphocytic-Plasmacytic Enteritis (LPE, a form of canine Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Since then, people have been asking me when I would be getting a new guide dog. The issue comes up even more now that he’s thirteen.

Guide Dogs, Ownership & Retirement

Donna & Hunter rest by a lake in South Dakota several years ago: photo by Rich Hill.
Donna & Hunter rest by a lake in South Dakota several years ago: photo by Rich Hill.

The Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind (Smithtown, NY), where I received all four of my furry helpers, is one of only a few schools which offer guide dog handlers full ownership of their dogs. Like many GDF students, I always opt in.

Despite having transferred all of the legal responsibility for the dogs to the blind owners, however, GDF is there with help and support throughout the life of the team. They, of course, help in the retirement process. The transition from one guide dog to the next is replete with many questions, unforeseen circumstances, and difficult decisions.

When Should a Guide Dog Retire?

Safety is the most important consideration. If a guide dog is, for any reason, no longer able to perform his duties, and it’s not a matter that veterinary care or further training can rectify, it’s time.

The dog’s health isn’t the only factor. Sometimes, the dog just slows down with age or shows signs that work is becoming too stressful. Since opportunities for independent living and employment for blind Americans are primarily in urban areas, many blind people live in cities, use public transportation and live in apartment complexes. This presents more and different challenges than living in a small town or — as we do — in the country.

Many handlers choose to retire their dogs in middle age. This is done for several reasons. Handlers need to take time off from work to train with a new guide dog. Having the flexibility to schedule something that works for the employer and GDF is preferable to being stuck in the city with no guide dog, waiting for a place on class and using alternate methods to go about one’s life. Furthermore, many people want their beloved canine friends to have a happy retirement while they are still healthy enough to enjoy it.

What Happens to Retired Guide Dogs?

Some guide dogs suddenly become ill and pass away. Most guide dogs, however, are retired in relatively good health. The blind person can keep the retired guide dog and get a new one at the same time. When we lived in Glenside, I knew a couple who each had a working guide dog. They also had a retired guide dog and a cat. They all slept together in a king-sized water bed.

3 Lazy Boys  & 1 Lazy Girl: shows Donna, black Lab guide dog Hunter & rescued orange tabby Goofus in a Lazy Boy recliner: photo by Rich Hill.
3 Lazy Boys & 1 Lazy Girl: shows Donna, black Lab guide dog Hunter & rescued orange tabby Goofus in a Lazy Boy recliner: photo by Rich Hill.

Not everyone can, or wishes to, keep their retired dogs, however. Some people give them to their parents, other family members or friends that the dog already knows. Others prefer finding a country environment, where the dog has more freedom.

For those who need another option, GDF has a retirement program. The family who raised the dog as a puppy is usually given the option to take the dog back, and many do. If that doesn’t work, there is a long list of volunteer families ready to adopt retired guide dogs.

My Experience with Retiring My Guide Dogs: a Different Path

Donnna - with her black Lab guide dog, Hunter - donates The Heart of Applebutter Hill to Dir. Jesse Johnson of the Towanda Public Library: photo by Rich Hill.
Donnna – with her black Lab guide dog, Hunter – donates The Heart of Applebutter Hill to Dir. Jesse Johnson of the Towanda Public Library: photo by Rich Hill.

I’ve never gotten a new guide until after the one I was with passed away. None of my dogs have ever left our home or my care. I understand why people have to do this and consider myself profoundly blessed that I have not had to, though it comes with its own challenges. It was less of a well-thought-out decision on my part than just the way things happened that got me started down this path.

Simba

Donna Sitting with her first guide dog Simba (a black Lab) in Great Smokies National Park in '81: photo by Rich Hill
Donna Sitting with her first guide dog Simba (a black Lab) in Tennessee’s Great Smokies National Park in ’81: photo by Rich Hill.

My first guide, Simba, was 13 and working well when he was diagnosed with lympho-sarcoma. I was a street performer in Philadelphia’s center-city train terminal Suburban Station. At the time of Simba’s diagnosis, there was a system-wide strike by SEPTA (the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority). Even if I could have gotten to center city, no one else would have been there. It was very liberating, and I never had to think of Simba’s condition as interfering with my livelihood.

At the time, the treatment, which our local vet warned us had more side effects than the specialists would acknowledge, offered a fifty percent chance of a remission lasting up to six months. Without it, they estimated that he’d have six weeks.

He had about two. Our vet put him to sleep in our back yard with Rich and I comforting him and a tape of Segovia playing.

“The best for the best,” as Rich said.

Curly Connor

Donna & Curly Connor in opening of stone wall at Grey Towers National Historical Site (Milford, PA), mid '90s: photo by Rich Hill.
Donna & Curly Connor in opening of stone wall at Grey Towers National Historical Site (Milford, PA), mid ’90s: photo by Rich Hill.

The real Curly Connor, the half black Lab and half Golden Retriever upon whom Abigail’s guide dog in The Heart of Applebutter Hill is based, had sudden back end paralysis from a vaccination reaction at age 12. The vet thought it was arthritis, but I asked him to humor me and do an x-ray. He stood there clicking his pen and finally said that Connor had the hips of a 6-year-old.

With the help of Dr. Jean Dodds, a veterinary epidemiologist referred to us by Emily Biegel, our GDF trainer, along with a local neurologist, we got him passed that so that he worked for 2 more years.

When I retired him, Curly Connor would still go for walks with me. I didn’t work him; I was using my white cane. We’d get rides to school-assembly presentations from Rich, who had been laid off by then. This allowed Curly Connor to dress up like a guide dog and walk around for the kids, which he loved.

We were in Glenside by then and no longer street singing. Curly Connor died in our Living room at the ripe old age of 15. The vet who put him to sleep said it had been an honor to know and treat him.

MoMo

I deeply regret not having a picture of my eighty-pound black Lab/Golden Retriever tough guy, MoMo. Rich hasn’t yet digitized that part of his photography archives.

MoMo died suddenly at age 9, and we were living here in the mountains. I hadn’t yet transferred my school assembly skills to this area and was using him primarily for long walks. We knew he was aging rapidly, but tests weren’t showing anything. One day we woke up to an emergency. We rushed him to the vet’s, and he died while they were examining him. Later we learned that he had angio-sarcoma.

Hunter

Hunter, Donna's black Lab guide dog, has found a new way to carry his red rubber Ring. It's in his mouth but flipped up over his face: photo by Rich Hill.
At 12.5, Hunter, Donna’s black Lab guide dog, found a new way to carry his red rubber Ring. It’s in his mouth but flipped up over his face: photo by Rich Hill.

Hunter has been essentially retired for a year and a half. He recovered from LPE, regained the twelve pounds he had lost and returned to what we called “modified assignment.” we took short walks on our trails here on the property, and Rich threw Hunter’s beloved red rubber ring to build up his strength. Until a couple of months ago, When we went out, he accompanied us and was still up to working in stores.

Recently, however, things have changed. Though he sees and hears as well as ever and his appetite remains as respectable as his breed demands, his strength is evaporating before our eyes. We have to lift him into our car, and when he plays with his red rubber ring, it’s more of a prance than a run.

Donna W. Hill, author of the educator-recommended novel The Heart of Applebutter Hill, & her guide dog Hunter walk along path in California Redwoods in Sept. 2009. There's a glowing mist: Photo by Rich Hill.
Donna & her guide dog Hunter walk along path in California Redwoods in September 2009. There’s a glowing mist: Photo by Rich Hill.

Yes, I miss our long walks. Nevertheless, I feel blessed that we are in a position to allow Hunter to spend his waning days or weeks or whatever it is with us, working when he’s up to it. Just as there will never be another Simba, another Curly Connor or another MoMo, I know that I can never replace Hunter either. I am, however, still blind. So, when Hunter is gone, I will get another guide dog, and we will give him all of our love.

Resources

Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind – providing guide dogs at no cost to qualified students

http://www.guidedog.org/

Dr. Jean Dodds

Dr. Jean Dodds’ Pet Health Resource Blog: Considered one of the foremost experts in pet healthcare, Dr. Dodds focuses on vaccination protocols, thyroid issues and nutrition. http://drjeandoddspethealthresource.tumblr.com/

More Information from Dr. Dodds

http://Hemopet.org http://Nutriscan.org

Posted in Blindness, Dogs, Guide dogs, Uncategorized, Visually Impaired | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Labrador or Writer: Who’s the Smart One?

Working with guide dogs is, among other wonders, a frequently humbling experience. Even after 45 years and four canine helpers, I occasionally realize that I haven’t learned all that much. All of my dogs regularly must endure my obstinate nature, which they accomplish with patience, grace and — if you can imagine it — a minimum of disgust. A walk six weeks ago on one of our grassy trails was a case in point.

Donna & Hunter rest by a lake in South Dakota several years ago: photo by Rich Hill.
Donna & Hunter rest by a lake in South Dakota several years ago: photo by Rich Hill.

Our Favorite Trail

Hunter, Donna's black Lab guide dog, has found a new way to carry his red rubber Ring. It's in his mouth but flipped up over his face: photo by Rich Hill
Hunter finds a new way to carry his red rubber ring — flipped up over his face: photo by Rich Hill.

I’m currently paired with my fourth guide dog, a male black Lab,. All were trained by the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind in Smithtown, New York. Hunter is almost thirteen and is semi-retired. Semi-retirement for Hunter is dressing up like a guide dog and accompanying his Daddy and me to restaurants, stores and parks, as well as taking me for modest rural walks, when he wants to.

To get to our favorite trail, we start by walking to the opening in an ancient stone wall. We cross between stone pillars into an area which belongs partly to us and partly to our neighbor. It loops up and down gentle hills, passing another neighbor’s fence and a steeper trail leading to the stream and woods. It’s a sanctuary, a sacred place to me.

Blue Butterfly on Milkweed: photo by Rich Hill WL
Blue butterfly on milkweed: photo by Rich Hill.

My husband, Rich, developed and now maintains this trail, which I can walk in eight minutes, if I don’t stop to appreciate it. It’s a wide mowed swath through a jungle of berry thickets, bergamot, native grasses, wild flowers and enough trees to provide a cooling canopy in summer and a sea of dried leaves in the fall.

Butterfly on Bergamott in Pennsylvania's Endless Mountains: photo by Rich Hill.
Butterfly on Bergamott along our trail: photo by Rich Hill

At the time, we were enduring our warmest December ever. Since the leaves had long since fallen and the last mowing pulverized most of them into dust, the slowly dying grass was about the only thing under foot.

Something Hampers Our Journey

Hunter loves this trail as much as I do. He had been fervently lobbying me to allow him to escort me along it ever since I had placed a moratorium on these walks in November. The reason for the moratorium? Deer ticks. These tiny demons carry Lyme disease and have wreaked havoc on our family. Both Rich and Hunter have been treated for it multiple times.

This deer tick, shown with straight pin, dime and ballpoint Pen, is huge compared to some we've found: photo by Rich Hill.
This deer tick, shown with a straight pin, a dime and a ballpoint Pen, is huge compared to some we’ve found: photo by Rich Hill

Late fall is one of the worst times for them. Once we’ve had nighttime temps below freezing, they are motivated to find a host before the hard frost puts an end to their looking. That hard frost, however, was very late in coming this year. But, Hunter hadn’t had a tick in a couple of weeks, so I decided to chance it.

Hunter Stops, But Why?

The walk was a welcomed break from my endless hours of tedious work on the computer, trying to find teachers interested in using The Heart of Applebutter Hill, my educator-recommended novel in their classrooms to promote diversity and inclusion. Chico Dees, nuthatches and crows broke the silence, as we breathed in the sweet air.

About half way around the trail, Hunter pulled hard to the left and stopped. I, of course, stopped as well. This is often a sign that he needs to relieve himself, but that wasn’t it. It’s also possible that he just wanted to indulge his “God-given right to sniff.”

After eleven-plus years of loyal service and considering the tough year he’s been through with his recently diagnosed LPE (Lymphocytic-Plasmacytic Enteritis), I’ve become rather lenient about this diversion from his job. But, he wasn’t sniffing … at least not until I just stood there for a while. Even then, it was half-hearted, as was his move forward when I gave the command. In fact, it was actually a move sideways in front of me.

The Revelation

This silent but unmistakable message got my attention. He was blocking me. At long last, I considered the possibility that he might be trying to tell me something. What a concept. I finally did what every guide dog user is taught to do, what I should have done to begin with … I checked.

This process starts with the foot and then, if nothing is obvious at ground level, the arm joins the fun, searching for low-hanging branches or — in town — street signs. As my right foot swept the area, it encountered what I immediately recognized as wood.

“Good boy!”

Picking Up the Pieces

Several storms had blown through since we’d last walked the trail, and they generally leave a scattering of broken limbs in their wake. After over fifteen years, I apparently haven’t plugged that in. Stooping to investigate, I lifted the unwieldy branches, along with a gaggle of shorter sticks and tossed them off the trail.

Hills' strawberry blond tabby cat Goofus, as he surveys his domain from his perch outside the new cat door in Hills' closed-in back porch: photo by Rich Hill.

As we resumed our walk, Hunter responded to my continued praise with a hearty wag and an exasperated sigh. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Goofus marvels, “Humans … honestly.”

Posted in authors, Blindness, Dogs, Guide dogs, nature, Pennsylvania, Rural Life, Uncategorized, Visually Impaired, Wrighting | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Web Accessibility for Blind Americans: Obama’s Broken Promise

Most Americans take the internet for granted. Banking, accessing medical records, making reservations, shopping and school/work-related research are routinely done online. Blind Americans, however, who rely on text-to-speech software (aka screen readers) are being left behind. And, why? The technology to fix this problem has been here for years. Inaccessibility even prevents them from raising their voices about it.

Web Accessibility: Academic Research Illuminates the Problem

Graphic created by Stephanie V. McCoy @BoldBlindBeauty from a quote from Donna W. Hill. (Image - quoted text in white against a black background with a blurred image of the word WEB). The quote is: “The technology to make websites, software and digital interfaces accessible to blind people is here. ...designers use it or fail to do so at their own discretion. This leaves blind people at a significant disadvantage at school, in the job market and in the marketplace.”

In 2011, Dr. Brian Wentz (Professor of Management Information Systems at Shippensburg University), published an academic study concluding that fully 80% of the internet is inaccessible. In Wentz’s 2016 study on banking/financial sites and apps, he discovered that the problem is so bad that alarming numbers of blind people pay hefty sums for help. Find his published research at: http://www.bwentz.com/

Web inaccessibility comes in many forms. Some sites simply don’t work, often crashing screen reader software and requiring a system re-boot.

Other times, islands of inaccessibility make it impossible to interact with a site. A “Send” button won’t work, checking a checkbox will cause the screen reader to be thrown out of focus, leaving the checkbox unchecked. Sites using linked graphics don’t have alt tags explaining what they are, so the screen reader reads gibberish. Often, crucial features aren’t labeled at all. Even government sites and representatives’ “Contact” forms present problems.

Digital Access vs. Physical Access: an Analogy

Digital accessibility is to blind people what access to brick and mortar buildings is to people with physical disabilities. When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, however, the internet was in its infancy. There was no Amazon, no Facebook and no Google.

When someone wishes to build a shopping mall, hospital, library or apartment complex, they must include wheelchair ramps, elevators and accessible bathrooms. Plans not addressing these issues don’t make it off the drawing board.

There is a massive difference in cost between these real-world accessibility accommodations and the considerably cheaper implementation of the “virtual ramps” of 1s and 0s necessary to connect each website to the text-to-speech software that blind people need in order to use digital devices like computers and cellphones. Nonetheless, there is no similar set of regulations ensuring equal digital access.

Obama’s Broken Promise

In 2010, for the twentieth anniversary of the ADA, the US Department of Justice (DOJ), released an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM). It addressed the obligation of public accommodations to provide websites that are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Blind people and those with low vision are not the only ones impacted by this problem. Those with learning, sensory and physical disabilities that inhibit their use of the mouse and monitor, also rely on assistive technology and have similar access issues.

President Obama, who called these proposed rules, “the most important updates to the ADA since its original enactment,” promised to release the regulations necessary to achieve a level playing field by 2012. He didn’t. In fact, he recently pushed the date back to 2018. He has effectively washed his hands of the matter, leaving blind Americans to start from scratch with a new administration.

New Approach

In January, blind people decided to try yet another approach — a Whitehouse petition. Gabe Cazares, Government Affairs Specialist for the advocacy, training and research nonprofit National Federation of the Blind (NFB), posted the petition. As per the rules, if 100,000 people sign in a month, the President must address the issue. Until Feb. 11, it’s at: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/direct-us-department-justice-promptly-release-ada-internet-regulations

100,000 isn’t that many signatures for most of the major minorities, but for a low-incidence minority like blindness, it’s monumental. Add to that the fact that the petition is only marginally accessible to people using screen readers, and you can see that a Herculean effort has been necessary. Some, who have been advocating for accessibility for years, feel more like Sisyphus.

Press Coverage So Far is Limited

The effort has caught the attention of only a tiny group of mainstream publications. On Feb. 4, Washington, D.C.’s The Hill published an op ed by NFB President Mark Riccobono, “Inequality & Indifference.” http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/civil-rights/266943-inequality-and-indifference

On Feb. 2, in the print edition of the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader, features writer Mary Therese Biebel wrote an article “Web Changes Lose Sight of Some Users: The Visually Impaired Seek Change in Regulations.” A version appears online at : http://timesleader.com/features/508443/advocate-for-the-blind-donna-hill-of-meshoppen-asks-people-to-sign-petition-regarding-internet-access

On the same day, psychologist Dr. Nancy O’Reilly of Women Connect4Good published “Sign The Petition And Guarantee Access For All!” http://www.drnancyoreilly.com/sign-the-petition-and-guarantee-access-for-all/

Back on 1/22/16, I published “An Author’s Life Without Accessible Websites & an Easy Fix: Sign This Petition to Wake Up Obama” at: https://donnawhill.com/2016/01/22/life-without-accessible-websites-and-easy-fix-sign-petition-wake-up-obama/

Final Thoughts

I hate to be a pessimist, but with less than 4,000 signatures at this point, it’s hard to conceive of a situation developing in which we get the required 100,000 signatures. Nevertheless, to my fellow Americans, I encourage you to sign, write to, or call your federal representatives and share this information with your family, friends, co-workers and local papers. We are striving for independence, but we do need your help on this. Let the government know that you consider us equals. Sign now, if you haven’t already, and thank you. https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/direct-us-department-justice-promptly-release-ada-internet-regulations

Posted in Accessibility, ADA, Blindness, Disability, Print Disabilities, Uncategorized, Visually Impaired | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Challenger’s Challenge: 30 Years Later, a Street Performer turned Author Remembers

Challenger Debris field from PhotoPin

Six weeks before the Challenger catastrophe (1/28/86), I bought my first home. I moved from Philadelphia’s Germantown section, where I’d spent eleven years as an apartment-dweller, into the magically wonderful, Montgomery County neighborhood of Glenside. Rich, my soon-to-be-husband, and I had always been space program buffs. He had helped design batteries for space missions like the Jupiter probe. Even those who didn’t routinely follow the shuttle missions, however, were captivated by the idea of lessons from space.

A Streetsinger’s Day

Donna & Curly Connor: photo by Rich Hill.

This picture of me with Curly Connor, my black, Golden-Lab guide dog, was taken by Rich Hill at Grey Towers Historical Site in Milford, Pennsylvaniaa. I couldn’t find one of us performing downtown.

On the day of the mission, I did what I did at least three times a week. I donned my heavy back pack — filled with water, rugs and sweats for my dog and copies of my first recording, Rainbow Colors on LP and cassette. After a twelve minute walk, we boarded the train in Glenside and got off in Philadelphia’s Suburban Station. My guide dog, Curly Connor, guided me to Rizzo’s Pizza Restaurant in the below-street-level corridor between 15th and 16th and Market.

The manager, an amateur boxer named Ray, brought my guitar out from where they kindly stored it for me, and I trudged off to my “spot” in the concourse to set up for six hours of performing. It was what I did. From 1978 through 1990, I was a street performer.During the summer, I sang at Penn’s Landing, near the U.S.S. Olympia and the WWII sub, the Becuna.

It was a physically challenging way to make a living. I played and sang for about three hours, took a break for lunch and played for three more hours, dropped off my guitar at Rizzo’s and took the train home. I had given up sugar and caffeine and was probably in the best shape of my life.

How I Learned of the Challenger Disaster

Sometimes, I visited schools and did assemblies about my guide dog. This ongoing connection with the education profession and young people made me even more interested in Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire teacher who had won a nationwide contest to fly as a civilian, much to the delight of the kids around the country who would be allowed to watch the launch in school.

I, however, had to work, and didn’t have time to glue myself to the TV. So, I went downtown, as usual. But, it quickly became apparent that something was wrong. People were much too quiet.

I finally asked a woman who had stopped to drop a few coins in my guitar case, and she told me the Challenger had exploded. I packed up at once and went home, feeling guilty for standing there and singing and not having known.

Later that day, after listening to President Reagan’s speech to the nation, I wrote the following song. The Sound Cloud audio player is after the lyrics.

Lyrics: The Challenger’s Challenge – Words and Music by Donna (Weiss) Hill

Verse 1:
The skies were blue over Florida,
The shuttle had nicely cleared the tower
Our heartfelt pride, we couldn’t hide
so much was riding on that hour.

A school teacher from New Hampshire,
A Hawaiian engineer,
Lessons from space, the Spartan Halley comet-chaser,
Who could know the end was so near?

Bridge 1:
In a fiery blast, it happened so fast
In a harsh reality
We saw their lives and dreams, in fragments and streams
Scattered on the deep blue sea.

Chorus:
The future belongs to the brave,
The faint hearted fall by the way
With hard work and prayer
we’ll get there, we’ll get there,
Take the Challenger’s challenge every day.

Verse 2:
Our hearts are blue in America,
For our seven heroes and their kin,
We wonder why they had to die,
And dare we ever take that chance again?

Francis, Michael, Ellison,
Christa, J.R., Greg and Ron,
Captain and crew, we love all of you,
And your courage will help us go on.

Bridge 2:
Someone had to challenge the ocean, someone had to challenge the sky,
So we’ll cry our tears, but not allow our fears
To let the Spirit of the Challenger die.

Chorus:
The future belongs to the brave,
The faint hearted fall by the way
With hard work and prayer,
we’ll get there, we’ll get there,
Take the Challenger’s challenge every day.

Listen to The Challenger’s Challenge

For More Information About the Challenger

“Space shuttle Challenger’s final voyage is remembered, 30 years later” – CBS News
by veterin space program journalist William Harwood http://www.cbsnews.com/news/30-years-later-challengers-final-voyage-remembered/

Also, the December, 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics has a great article. I can’t find it free online, so go pester your favorite mechanic.

Challenger Photo Attribution

Challenger via photopin All rights reserved by the author

Posted in authors, memoir, songwriting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

An Author’s Life Without Accessible Websites and an Easy Fix: Sign This Petition to Wake Up Obama

I just spent two-plus hours composing the following tech-support email to LinkedIn Customer Experience Advocate, Carina. It demonstrates, if you can stand to read it, why blind people need President Obama to release regulations for web accessibility. These regulations are necessary because the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law three years too early to fully cover the major accessibility issue facing blind Americans today — digital access. BTW, this is my fourth letter to Linked In since December. As an example, it doesn’t even come close to representing the worst of the problems.

Donna's black Lab guide dog Hunter watches from his bed, as his Mom writes stuff like this instead of paying attention to him: photo by Rich Hill.

Hunter, my black Lab guide dog, spent this time wishing I’d pay attention to him instead of writing this stuff. This photo, by my hubby Rich Hill, shows him looking out from his bed.

The technology to make websites, software and digital interfaces accessible to blind people is here. It’s been here for decades. There are even free resources to help companies provide accessible websites. The problem is that designers use it or fail to do so at their own discretion. This leaves blind people at a significant disadvantage at school, in the job market and in the marketplace. Thus, unemployment, poverty and isolation persist for blind Americans. President Obama promised to release these regs by 2010. Make him keep that promise, even if it’s six years late.

What do you believe? Should people like me have the right to live independently, without having to share our personal financial and medical information with strangers? Should we have the right to pursue our career and personal goals without having to take time out to compose letters like this one? If you believe we should, please sign this petition and get others to do so, ASAP. The deadline is February 11th.

You have to enter your first and last name, email and zip code, and then click on an email verification that they will send you. It, unlike composing this letter, really does just take a minute. https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/direct-us-department-justice-promptly-release-ada-internet-regulations

Background

Goofus, a strawberry blonde tabby gets cozy with a paperback copy of The Heart of Applebutter Hill by his Mom, Donna W. Hill. The cover shows a cave scene with a hand holding the blue Heartstone of Arden-Goth: photo by Rich Hill.

Another Rich Hill photo shows our strawberry-blond kitty Goofus with a copy of The Heart of Applebutter Hill.

I use LinkedIn to establish contacts with people who might have a special interest in my novel, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, which I am using to promote diversity, anti-bullying and the full inclusion of people with vision loss and other disabilities. I am blind and live in a rural area and using the computer is the easiest, cheapest and – considering that I can’t drive – most available way to further my goals. Linked In provides me access to professionals in the fields of education, rehabilitation and advocacy that I could spend days and still never find through Google searches. I have close to 2,000 connections, some of which have led to references, reviews, recommendations and even speaking engagements.

Donna W. Hill donates educator-recommended novel The Heart of Applebutter Hill to Wyalusing Library Dir. Cathy Brady: photo by Rich Hill.

This is me donating The Heart of Applebutter Hill to Wyalusing Library Dir. Cathy Brady: photo by Rich Hill.

LinkedIn is an example of one of the many sites that are partially accessible. I can do some things, but not others. It is important for me to try to get the most out of this professional networking site.

It was my need to keep track of all of those connections that started this whole conversation. I like to do that offline in my Outlook email program, organizing the acceptance emails by categories of professions and locations. This was going along great for years, until December, when I started noticing bulk acceptance emails. Sometimes ten people were mentioned in one email. This makes it difficult, to say the least, to continue with my organization of new connections. So, I wrote asking if there was a setting to change this back to individual emails.

Alas, there wasn’t, and it has nothing to do with accessibility, just an unfortunate whim of LinkedIn. However, I had mentioned other issues which are accessibility issues, and those are discussed below.

Letter to Linked In from Blind Writer

Hi Carina,

Thanks for getting back to me and for the explanation about the multiple acceptance emails. It seems like they just started doing it, because with all of the connections I have, I never received one of the bulk acceptance emails until a month or so ago. I hope they will change that sometime and send an individual email for each new connection like they did for years.

Here are the answers to the other issues you addressed. If I am not mistaken, they are all issues for your accessibility team and involve proper coding of LI pages to work accurately with text-to-speech technology (i.e. screen readers). Just because something is clear to the sighted mouse user, doesn’t mean the page will work for blind people and others using adaptive technology.

1.

Donna:

BTW, problems with the People You May Know page, which turns up when you accept an invitation via the notification email, still persist. My screen reader is unable to stop repeating that I am now connected with so & so, and the “Close” button under that message doesn’t work with Jaws 14 through 16. This makes it tedious to use the page, because what I am reading is interrupted so frequently with this announcement.

Carina:

To be sure I understand this issue, when you accept an invitation you’re still seeing a notification when you login in that you have an invite?

Explanation:
No. When I click on the “Accept” link in the email, the acceptance is confirmed online. There is no further “Invite” for that person online from that point. The message says, “You are now connected with so and so.”

The problem is that my screen reader, which speaks the words on the screen, repeats this message every 15 seconds or so, even when I am nowhere near the message on the page. I can be directing the screen reader to read something else entirely, and whatever I’m reading is automatically interrupted by this message, over and over again. I have to stop, refocus the screen reader and try again and again to get it straight. Also, it is very difficult to even find this message on the page, and when I do, I cannot close it. There is a “Close” button, but it does not work, ever. I believe this is an instance of incomplete accessibility coding by whomever sets up your site. Jaws recognizes that there is a button, but can’t interact with it.

2.
Donna:

Many of the suggestions I pass over keep re-appearing. Is there anything being done to correct this?

Carina:

I’m sorry for this issue, the next time you see a suggestion of someone you’ve already ‘x’-ed out please provide their first and last name and a link to their URL link.

Explanation:
This is not quite what’s going on. When I say “passed over,” I mean that literally. As I mentioned in my initial inquiry, I am not able to dismiss most of the suggestions on the “People You May Know” page. Sometimes, there’s a button labeled “dismiss” but usually (at least 90 percent of the time, no such option is available … at least for screen reader users such as myself. If the option to dismiss is there for sighted readers for all suggested connections, you need to alert your webmaster to the fact that the buttons are apparently not properly labeled to work with screen readers such as Jaws.

3.
There is another labeling issue which is confusing with regard to some of the suggestions on the “People You May Know,” page, which you did not address in your reply. My original comments on this, which I think are what prompted you to suggest cancelling my invitations (something I do not want), were:

Donna:

I know I have accidentally invited people. I think whatever you’re doing when you have a secondary contact listed under a name is very confusing. I’m guessing that, in those cases, the invitation goes not to the person you are inviting but to the secondary contact to pass along or something? The button repeats the name you want to connect with, but after you enter on it, you hear the name of the other person listed first.

Explanation:

I want to clarify this point. For screen reader users, we hear the name of the person and whatever they’ve listed as their occupation. Below that (and that’s how it appears to us, even if it’s not lined up that way for sighted users), there are 3 buttons. Usually, the first two are labeled identically, and the third is “Invite.” For instance:

John Jones
Assistive technology specialist
43 connections in common with John Jones button
43 connections in common with John Jones button
Connect with John Jones button

I don’t know what the first two buttons do. Perhaps, they open something giving you the names of the connections. Why there are two identical buttons, I don’t know, and I’ve never had the nerve to “go exploring.”

When I press the Connect with button in this case, I hear a message, “Alert, an invitation has been sent to John Jones.”

This is fine and, despite the unclear nature of the two identical buttons, I get what I want.

Then, there are the other suggestions. These differ from the example above in two ways. First (and with my screen reader constantly repeating the message discussed in #1 it took me a while to notice this), the first two buttons are not the same. What I hear goes like this.

Jane Smith
Teacher of the Visually Impaired
40 connections in common with Albert Brown button
15 connections in common with Jane Smith button
Connect with Jane Smith button

In this case, if I click on Connect with Jane Smith, I receive the message, “Alert, invitation sent to Albert Brown.”

Why is the invitation going to Albert Brown and not Jane Smith? Is Albert supposed to forward it to her? I’m left wondering who has connections in common with whom here? Perhaps I don’t have any connections in common with Jane, but nowhere does it say.

4.
I also asked about your accessibility person Jennison Asuncion, who used to field questions about accessibility for blind people and others using adaptive technology. Webmasters must code their pages properly to make these adaptive technologies work, and it is important for someone who has some understanding of accessibility issues to be interacting with them. Is he still there? Has someone else replaced him?

5.
Also, on the LI Contact us form there is a drop-down to choose the subject of the inquiry. Accessibility is not one of the choices. That’s why I chose “Other.” Kindly request that LI include “Accessibility issues for people with disabilities” as a choice. I think this would make your job easier.
Thanks,
Donna

Thank You

Please, please sign the petition and share this with your friends and connections. Again, it’s https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/direct-us-department-justice-promptly-release-ada-internet-regulations

Posted in Accessibility, ADA, Blindness, Uncategorized, Wrighting | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Hunter with ring over his nose

Well, I didn’t mean to post this, just to add it to my library. But, now that it’s here … Hunter figured out a new way to carry his red rubber ring.

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Featured Book: The Heart of Applebutter Hill by Donna W. Hill

Many thanks to poet and author Denise N. Fyffe for featuring my YA novel on The Island Journal.

THE ISLAND JOURNAL

The Heart of Applebutter Hill

The Heart of Applebutter Hill book The Heart of Applebutter Hill book

14-year-old Adiaphoran refugees Baggy and Abigail are a bit cynical, as they are alone in a new country. Rounded up with other refugee kids, they live in Transition House at the Plumkettle Learning Center until they are placed with guardians. Photographer Baggy moves into a berm house containing a WWII periscope with the secretive Captain Sodpeg. Abigail, who is losing her sight, gets a guide dog and is finally invited to live in the carriage house behind Mrs. Plumkettle’s on Old Applebutter Hill Rd.

Join Baggy, Abigail and Curly Connor as they fly the Cloud Scooper, sneak around Bar Gundoom Castle and row across an underground lake. Their lives change instantly, when they uncover a secret. The powerful and dangerous Heartstone of Arden-Goth, a heart-shaped sapphire, is hidden in Applebutter Hill, and corporate giants place a spy at their…

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Posted in adventure-mystery, authors, Blindness, Disability, Dogs, Education, fantasy, Guide dogs, novel, Print Disabilities, Uncategorized, Visually Impaired, young adult | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments