I re-read the message I just received and can't shake the feeling something's wrong.
Having spent a significant amount of time text-chatting with people in my life, I've picked up a bit of a knack for figuring out how someone is doing or feeling based on what text responses I get, or at times, which ones I don't get. These hunches rarely lead me wrong, so ask if everything's alright.
I am soon proven right when a slew of text messages tell me a story of a date gone wrong, a terrible weekend and a big heap of very mixed feelings. We talk about all this while I occasionally flick back to my work machine and get the admittedly little work I am planned for today done.
When both my work as well as the conversation with my friend near their conclusion I am interrupted by the now-familiar noise.
The sound of the knocks seems almost hesitant, someone who hasn't used this form of address before. I don't require being approached like this, but I seem to be unable to convince people of the fact that just tapping me on the shoulder isn't going to make me grow three heads and snarl at them, so I go with it.
"Hello Luke, what's up?" I say, taking off my headphones. "Wait ...how did you know it was me?" he responds, confusion practically oozing from his voice.
I chuckle inwardly as I turn my head to face him ...sort of. "Well ... looking at the clock, I see our meeting is coming up" I respond without missing a beat.
I decided that the wimpy knock-knock and the rather flowery detergent he uses tipping me off is probably something I shouldn't comment on right now.
"Oh right, of course..." he says in that slight self-incriminating tone I've come to hear so often already. "Need me to tell you how to get to the balcony?"
I get up from my chair, locking my machine with a quick keystroke and a finger across my braille display to confirm.
Ruff gets up next to me, shaking himself and causing another miniature snowstorm as he stretches before joining me on my left. "Nah, it is close and I've walked those 30 feet many times" I respond as I follow him towards the balcony doors.
We go outside the soft rustle of the wind through the obnoxiously big plant right next to the doors helping me to avoid giving it a hug as I find a place to sit.
An awkward pause follows as we both look for the right words to say.
"Right ..." I say, making the first move to break the stalemate. "So ...I am supposed to tell you about how I work. Do you have specific questions?"
I always feel I have to somehow make the fact people can ask me questions explicitly known before they do. Given how easy it is to offend someone these days, I suppose I can't blame anyone for that one.
True to form, the questions start up soon after and I answer them as best I can. I explain that I use a screen reader, which is a software package that reads textual content on the screen. I explain that it can generally only focus on one thing at a time, like one button or one line of text, and that the braille display shows that same line in braille characters as I move around the various programs I use.
I explain that CSS, the technology that makes websites look the way they do, almost completely falls away when I browse websites. I confirm that yes, images without a textual description might as well be on Mars where being useful for me is concerned.
I tell him I don't use a mouse, but that the buttons on my braille display can be used to "click" anywhere along the line I'm currently on. I explain I generally use hotkeys for a lot of tasks and teach him that windows+; brings up the Windows 10 emoji panel, something a lot of people don't seem to know about.
We continue in that vein for a while longer until his questions run out and we make our way back inside.
Quickly checking my phone, I hear a reminder I left myself to look into a mysterious bill I received in the post the other day.
Generally, I tend to ignore paper mail for the most part. It can be read using apps and assistive devices, but given those methods are prone to reading errors I'd rather not depend on those for reading a paper that says I need to pay a certain amount of money.
Most companies and facilities over here will handle such things digitally, which makes it all the more frustrating when I have to deal with the few rather big institutions that don't. Figuring I can hit two birds with one stone, I announce I will be back in 15 minutes while I go for a quick walk with Ruff.
I direct Ruff in the right direction and let him walk towards the door of the office. "No..." I admonish gently as I hear an opening to my right and feel his intention to turn right and walk into one of the focus rooms we pass on our way.
We walk towards, and finally out of, the door of the office, back down the stairs and through the front door. I tell Ruff to go right and find the nearest "pole", which in this case is a ticking traffic light.
Pressing the button, I wait for the audible signal to change before crossing the road. The relatively open soundscape of the city square soon makes way to that of a large park, the bright echo of stone being replaced by the muted reflection of the grass-covered ground and the occasional tree or bit of shrubbery. Ruff speeds up, knowing what comes next.
We walk to the middle of the park, while I look up a number on my phone and dial it. After navigating the frustrating menu tree, I am being put on hold as I take off Ruff's harness and have him sit down in front of me.
I pull out a bell from my back pocket and hook it to his collar, before unhooking it from his collar. "Go play," I tell him happily as I give him a very gentle push letting him know it's alright.
As he canters off, probably on the hunt fora stick of some variety, I hear the other end of the line pick up. "Hello?"
"Hi ...yeah ... I am not in a great mood right now. I received this bill from you guys, one a visitor had to tell me about. I have no idea what for"
Some frantic typing later I am being told I received too much disability allowance that needs to be paid back.
"So ...can you tell me why I received disability allowance?" I ask sweetly, as I listen for Ruff's bell ringing a good fifty feet in front of me.
"Because of your disability sir, it says here you are fully blind" comes the response.
"Ok ...and can you tell me what blind people tend to have a bit of trouble with where letters or snail mail is concerned?" I ask, voice dripping with innocent curiosity.
"I would say anything snail mail is a bit of an obstacle sir" she responds, hesitance creeping into the words. I can't help but grin.
"You would be right. So ...I would like to speak to the person who figured it was a good idea to ask for a blind person's disability allowance back in writing, please" I respond, done playing.
I hear some mutterings about this not being standard procedure and that this is an exception before I get transferred, only to have to explain the entire situation again.
"Oh ...well ..hmm ...don't you have someone who reads your post for you?" a somewhat older-sounding voice asks me. "Uhm ...no ...no I don't, do you?" I respond.
"Well ..no ...but ...we can't send these things digitally"
"No no no ...look ... I think you are slightly misusing that verb. I can't read, I don't have the ability to read, that is why I am a disabled person. You have the ability to send these letters digitally, you just don't because protocol prevents you. Kindly fix that" I say, shrugging my shoulders helplessly at the sheer futility of this entire conversation.
I get a non-committal response about taking it under advisement and tune the rep out, mentally done with the conversation.
"Yeah ..well we both know that isn't going to change anything, but thanks for the effort. Care to tell me the details I need to know to pay this back? Knowing how much needs to be paid would be a good start ..."
I note down the numbers she rattles off on my phone as I orient myself using my tongue clicks, carefully walking in Ruff's general direction to retrieve him.
"Have I satisfactorily helped you?" I hear as I end the conversation. I shrug again. "Sure ...for the record, my apologies for the snark. I have a bone to pick with the place you work for, not you specifically. Good day"
As I end the call, I call out for Ruff who comes galloping towards me and runs straight past me. Shaking himself behind me he comes back, slower this time. " Silly dog ..." I chuckle as I put his leash and harness back on him and direct him back to the office.
Getting back to my desk, I resume my work and check the board again. I see a response to a topic I myself started. A story ...hmm ...I wonder if I'd be any good at writing a story for PD ...
I wonder indeed :-) THat's it for this week. What will happen next week? Stay with me as we slowly creep towards the end of the workday. Travels, cookings and hobby fulfillment coming up, and who knows what else? ;)