Leaning back in my chair, I start the preparations for a productive workday. Disconnecting my trusty headphones from my phone with a few practiced taps and flicks on the touch screen, I wince as the mechanical voice of the phone blasts through the office.
"Whoops..." I mutter, rapidly clicking down the volume. Tapping keys with my right hand, reading the braille output with my left, I locate the option on my laptop to connect my headphones to it instead. A familiar beep, followed by the rapid-fire chatter of my screen reader starts coming through the headphones.
Nodding slightly to myself I invoke what I call my magic trick. Blurring through several keystrokes that are almost second nature, I quickly connect my screen reader up to a copy running at the computer at home. A chirp in my headphones signifies that I can now send keys to that machine, and hear it's screen reader output on my headphones at work.
Instant ability to do whatever I want that has nothing to do with work ...at work! Without anything showing on the display of my work machine. Sometimes it is good to be blind.
Rapidly tapping more keys I locate my Spotify instance and start a playlist, making sure to drop the volume below that of my screen reader to still be able to see what I am doing. Turning on the noise-canceling feature again, my office turns into a cubicle where nobody interrupts or disturbs me, the murmur of voices and click-clacking of programmers at work fading into an almost inaudible murmur at the edge of my awareness.
The vibrations through the desktop greet my arms leaning on it's edge more than the sound registers as someone knocks firmly on the desk to get my attention.
When I first started working here, I was put in a room with some of the higher-ups and had to basically explain that I really am a human being like them and that I won't call down the wrath of Thor and Odin if a colleague addresses me in the wrong way or forgets to take my blindness into account. It's always a bit of a riddle how much of a thing companies I work at will make of this, but this happens to be one where it's a major thing.
Questions like " Do we need to say our name every time we address you?", please don't, and "How can we get your attention when you are wearing your headphones?" were covered. I always need to keep my inner snark at bay for tedious as they can be, they are legitimate questions. We decided that tapping on the desk would work well as an answer to the second question.
'Well ...so much for nobody disturbing me ...' my ever-present inner monologue comments wryly as I plaster on a proper full-toothed smile and take my headphones off halfway. "Yes?"
"Hi! It's Joanne here!" Joanne's unmistakable voice comes to my left. " I am on your left!"
'You don't say ...' I inwardly snark but dutifully look to my left. "Hi! What can I do for you?"
Beside me, Ruff, the guide dog, snorts as if he is laughing at the silly human and I absent-mindedly scratch him behind the ear as I listen to my colleague, the soft fuzz of his soft fur tickling my fingertips.
"We have a new colleague starting today and George was wondering if you can explain to him how you do your work? You will likely have to collaborate with him in the future and he thought it'd be a good idea to get it out of the way so you won't be bothered with questions all the time" Joanne explains.
"OH ...sure! That makes sense. I'm a little swamped this morning though, is after lunch alright?" I respond, meanwhile opening various programs, my hand on the braille display moving from left to right rapidly to keep up with the output, using my other hand to input various keystrokes, the tactile markings on the F and J-keys acting as landmarks as I touch-type.
"That should be ok, yes! I will let George know you're on board!"
I can't help but shrug. "Sure. I'm assuming he will make sure we have room to do this in?"
George is the CEO of this company and he is incredibly stoked to have a blind person working for him. I am very much in two minds about that, but circumstances being as they were I couldn't make too much noise about it at the time. It just means that now, I need to walk the fine line between educating people and becoming inspiration porn, a game I know all too well by now.
"Yeah, leave that up to him and me. Thanks again, good luck!" Joanne says, the subtle change in the sound of her voice indicating to me she's in the process of turning away from me.
"Sure!" I say again, turning back to my desk again as well. Replacing my headphones, I regain my oasis of quiet and music as I arrow through the emails waiting for me.
Tapping a key, I redirect my keyboard to the computer at home again. Opening a browser window, I key on a website that has become rather familiar to me over the last few weeks. It's time to check the board.
Filling in the login details, I assume the identity of BlindLeap as I scroll through the new topics, opening a few new ones in separate tabs to have a look at later.
Switching to the first new tab, I tap a key to jump to the quick reply edit field, then tapping another key to jump up a few headings.
Web browsing as a blind person is an experience in itself. All visuals being stripped away from a website can have any number of consequences, from things becoming unclear to things becoming utterly unusable.
Finding the information you need is almost a treasure hunt at times, using parts of the page as landmarks the way you would in a city you know well. Turn left at Uncle Joe's Vinyard, up the hill next to the playground, X marks the spot.
Reading through the new posts, I decided to add my two cents and jump back down to the quick reply field to put down some thoughts of my own.
Somewhat irritably, I take off my headphones again. "Yes?" I ask, making sure to sound friendly at least, unsure about the expression on my face.
"Your coffee is on the right of your keyboard," Steve says, putting it down on my desk, the thump of the cup hitting wood telling me exactly where. My right hand subconsciously confirming the spot anyway, carefully gliding across the wood to not knock the cup over until my fingertips encounter the hot China of the cup.
"Thanks a lot," I say, genuinely grateful as I look in the voice's general direction. " No problem. Hey, could you have a look at my PR? I'm a little stuck, I think my logic isn't quite working out the way I expect, but I can't seem to see the problem. Could use a pair of fresh eyes to take a look, do you have time?"
Did I already mention I like Steve? He is one of those people that just get it. Both the fact that I'm a human who's blind rather than the other way around and the fact that programmers have a rather particular way of working are familiar to him, which makes him very refreshing to interact with.
" Yeah ...take a seat?" I say, indicating the spot to my left with a vague hand gesture as I bring up what he's been working on.
" Oh ...I will open your screen up a bit and increase the brightness, alright?" he says, doing so at a nod from me as I leaf through his code.
I always forget to do that for people, my laptop's screen tends to be mostly closed as I don't use it anyway.
As Steve explains what he was trying to do, my screen reader rattles off lines of code in my other ear. "if lacket user isNot loggedIn racket lace return blip race"
I turn off the speech, preferring to work with braille at this point. With a key, I position the mouse on the offending line.
"I think you may have missed a thing here, this doesn't match up with what you're telling me," I tell him, the passive soundscape around me changing very slightly as he leans forward.
Even without echolocating, sounds around me ping-pong and bounce off everything around me. Almost like a passive sonar, this allows me to walk along walls using the sound of my footsteps and even just the subtle rustle of wind blowing past to know where the wall in question is at any given point.
"Ugh ... yeah, that logic is the wrong way around. Thanks, I will play with it some more" he says, getting up off his chair. "Good luck ..." I respond, closing the page, dimming my screen and lowering it back down to where it was as I can hear him making his way back to his desk.
I switch back to my home machine and start typing the post I was going to type. "I mean my nickname on here is a silly pun on blindness..."
Over the next few hours, I alternate between working and browsing social media on my home machine, left in peace until a call from the cafeteria area pierces the veil of silence around me. "LUNCH!"
Oh no! Still no answer about the Dutch lunch habits! And what happened to the mysterious partner, where'd she go?
I mean ...I have to keep you guys coming back for more somehow, don't I? Enjoy ;)