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Disabled Voices Online: Interview with Angie from the Blog Deaf Blind and Determined

Aidis Trust logo with the words "Disabled Voices Online" beneath it.Braille means a lot to me. I love it very dearly and it makes much of what I do considerably easier. But for this week’s Disabled Voices Online participant, it is her main method of communication and without it she very literally wouldn’t be able to run her blog.

Angela is an American Deafblind blogger who shares her experiences of the world through her blog Deaf Blind and Determined. You can find her blog at:

www.dotbug3.blogspot.com

What inspired you to start your blog?

I had a powerful story to tell, in terms of leaving my abusive husband and winning sole custody of my young son. I wrote a long article that was chopped to bits and published in a DeafBlind related newsletter. Later, the entire article was included in a Deaf e-zine.

I was surprised by the strong, positive reaction. My husband had made me feel stupid, as if I could do nothing right. But people were moved by my writing and wanted to know more about my life, not just the big, sensational court story, but about everyday things. Many people were encouraging me. One day I decided to just go ahead and start blogging.

How did you find the accessibility of the initial set up of the blog?

I couldn’t do it. I picked BlogSpot because another Deafblind writer used it. She was Deaf with low vision and used enlarged print. I’m fully deaf and blind and read using braille. Setup was not accessible to my technology. I had a friend do it for me.

How do you find the accessibility of regularly running the blog?

I still have issues with accessing the website and managing the blog. Some parts aren’t accessible. Others are partially accessible. I can’t do what I want on my own. I always have to ask my friend for help, and I feel guilty. I want to be in charge of my own page.

What I like about Blogspot, however, is that I can write my blogs offline and then upload via email. If it wasn’t for the post through email feature, I would be unable to have this blog.

How do you promote the blog?

It’s in my signature file for email. When I post a new blog, I put up a notice on both my private and public Facebook pages.

What assistive technology do you use to help you run your blog?

I use an old device called a BrailleNote Apex. It is a note taker made by Humanware. I am most comfortable writing and revising on that device, plus setting up the layout.

The downside is that the web program is very limited. This is why my friend helps as needed.

What do you feel your blog has achieved?

My blog has reached out to other people who are DeafBlind and shows them that they are not alone. Others have the same problems and the same issues. People with other types of disabilities and even non-disabled people have told me they relate to my stories. At the same time, my blog demonstrates that, yes, I have severe disabilities, but I’m still a typical person with the same kinds of fears, dreams, love and experiences. My way might be different, but it’s not wrong.

What problems have you faced with the blog and how have you overcome them?

The first problem, after set up, was that I was afraid my ex-husband would find my blog and use things against me in court. I was afraid of him knowing anything about my life. For the first few years, my blog was anonymous and I used fake names. Later, I realized there was nothing wrong with what I was posting, that I had nothing to be afraid of, so I finally added my name to the page. I still use fake names for my ex-husband and some other people.

Another problem was that I couldn’t read full comments and needed my friend to approve them for me. She also has to remove spam.

For a while, I also blogged for Kent Patch. There were a few flamers there who insisted I didn’t exist or that my story couldn’t be real. I mostly let my friends and family write comments to set them straight. The controversy seemed to get more people reading my blog and only a few were nasty. Patch closed down around five years ago. I have not experienced that kind of conflict on BlogSpot.

Which of your posts is your favourite and why?

My favourites are the different versions of “Meaning of Disability” and the more recent “Deaf, Blind and Determined: Meaning of Disability.” These are “scripts” I write to prepare for an annual presentation for medical students at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. The new one was for a presentation for students at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine.

I answer the questions in writing and then practice reading out loud. As I do that, I find ways to improve my answers. I work on the writing and reading aloud together. The end result is a well-written, inclusive story of many aspects of my life. Each year that I do this, I improve what I wrote and make changes as needed. The blogs represent much growth in both writing and my life as a whole.

What advice would you give to other Deafblind people who want to start a blog?

Write from the heart and tell your experiences as they happen, as if you are telling a story. Add dialogue, humour and characteristics that make it about you. People want to be engaged and learn, but they don’t want to read a bland lecture. Make it lively and fun, but also emotional and real.

How do you think the internet helps Deafblind people?

The internet brings us together and gives us a voice that wasn’t available long ago. Through the web, I’ve made many friends who are DeafBlind, first through email lists and now on Facebook. We have a way to get involved with the world because of the internet. In a lot of ways, disabilities don’t matter, unless it’s an accessibility issue. The internet provides a way to access information, whether you are looking for job information or shopping or seeking support or looking for something to read.

I lived an entire year of my life, in 2002, fully DeafBlind and unable to feel my hands. People communicated by printing letters on my face. I knew absolutely no idea what was going on in the world. My husband used strange words like SARS, blog and MOAB, and I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. My hands finally healed and I learned braille, but there aren’t many braille resources out there today. It’s mostly audio for hearing blind people. Once I got on the internet with my first BrailleNote product, I felt my life return to me. I could read books, write emails to friends and read newspapers. I wrote an essay about this that won first prize in an international braille writing contest.

How do you think the internet could be improved for Deafblind people?

There’s always room for improvement. For example, people who are Deaf with low vision can read print or enlarged print. Colour contrast is an important issue. On many websites, they can’t control the size of text or the colours.

My issue is braille accessibility. Just because a company announces that their site is “Jaws accessible,” does not mean it’s braille accessible. Most people who are blind listen to voice. Voice is more accessible than braille. BlackBoard is a popular software system used by universities for online classes. It’s supposed to be accessible to people who are blind. I went through grad school and never could access it.

Also, braille technology is super expensive. Maybe I can’t afford the top technology, so I’m using out-of-date tech which makes much of the internet inaccessible. It’s fantastic what technology can do today, but with the price of braille equipment, I can’t keep up. More and more doors are being shut to me. There are so few DeafBlind individuals. It’s not cost-efficient for a company to think of us when developing their website or product. They still claim they are accessible and maybe they are for hearing blind. It’s totally different for braille readers.

Do you do anything else online? If so, where else can we find you online?

I’m most active on Facebook.

I run several groups and pages on Facebook that I invite people to join or like.
** Angie C. Orlando: DeafBlind and Determined (public page)
** Northeast Ohio DeafBlind Association (public page for the organization)
** Deaf-Blind Parents (closed group for individuals who are DB and have children… Parents of DB children are also welcome)
** PHARC Support (closed group)
** Kent RHS Band Geeks (Now and Forever) (closed group relating to anyone involved in band, orchestra, flags, etc. at Theodore Roosevelt High School)
** Deaf Night Out: Northeast Ohio (public group related to deaf social night at Summit Mall)

Thanks to Angela for taking part. You can visit her blog here:

www.dotbug3.2logspot.com

What have been your experiences of braille? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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