Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs Opens Doors For Me

Wednesday. As my anxiety for the marathon turns to excitement with some recent developments, I pause to appreciate Mr. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, who passed away today at the age of fifty-six years old. While I never met the man, I have read a bit about him over the last few years and found his story to be fascinating. There are so many quotes of his which I could write here, but what I am most appreciative for is that he and his company have given me the opportunity to write this entry so that you may read it. Ever since I lost my eyesight twenty years ago, I have used computers. In fact, prior to losing my sight, I was always in awe of computers, but rarely had a chance to use them. I would have the chance every week or so in school, but not very many opportunities outside of school. I would look at computer store catalogues just dreaming of owning one and writing stories or typing random thoughts as in a journal. My parents could never afford one so I had to dream and hope one day I could buy one. Then I lost my sight. I was introduced to adaptive technology for the blind and visually impaired. Mainly, computers like the one you may have been using with the only difference being, the ones I used had screen reader software installed into them. I learned basic key commands to enable me to type assignments. The internet was still an unknown and not accessible. I was given a laptop with so much software on it that it was probably worth $50,000, but within a few years, it's value was probably less than $1,000. Eventually, with the help of state agencies, I received a desktop which I could not use. The agencies purchased the computer for me and paid an adaptive tech person to train me, but they only paid for a few hours worth of training so all I learned were very basic commands. I did not even learn how to search for information which would enable me to teach myself anything beyond what I was taught. I spent plenty of time asking others if a command existed so that I may do this or that. Otherwise, I just had to cope with the fact that maybe whatever I wanted to perform on my computer was in fact not accessible. Over time, I realized that in order to keep up with tech advancements, I had to constantly upgrade my system. Adaptive technology is very expensive. Whatever the cost for a computer, I would have to shell out that amount then spend to upgrade my screen reader which for PC means having to buy a third party software costing anywhere between $750 to $2,000. Just having this software on my machine did not mean that all aspects of MS Word, e-mail clients, or web sites would be accessible. In fact, I found them to not be more often than not. Even as friends kept insisting I should have a blog or join Facebook and Twitter, I could not. Just signing up or setting up initial profiles were difficult. One friend, Angela, insisted it was not as hard as I claimed so she came over and set up my Facebook account. After just one minute, she asked how to turn off my speech because not only was it annoying, but she noticed that most of the time, it was not reading what was on the screen. I did my best to use these social networking sites for which I had accounts, but I struggled mightily. For a year, I spoke to people, read online articles, and listened to podcasts about the advancements Apple Inc had made for people with disabilities. I recalled how a friend from college was a Mac nerd and insisted Mac would rule the world. We made fun of him so much. Yet, years later, I was looking into buying one. Then I read how screen reader software was built-in on every Mac. There was an Accessibility Department at Apple. Any of my family members or friends who had a Mac could turn on the screen reader on their machine and help me troubleshoot any issues. Pretty soon, Apple's MP3 players, phones, and other items would come with screen readers built-in for FREE! Instead of having to pay thousands of dollars and not know if I could even use MS Word, e-mail, or web sites, I could buy a Mac or any other Apple product and be confident that the company would work to ensure their products met my needs. I bought a Mac and instantly discovered that I could access Twitter, Facebook, and this blog in ways I never could before. The best part is going to my local Apple Store and testing out these products then buying them. The salesperson who sold me these products was in fact the friend from college of who we made fun for his "Apple love." By the way, he now works at Apple headquarters and is quite a star in the company. There are still some issues which I have with Apple products which I did not quite have using Windows, but for the most part, Apple products have been a life changing experience for me. There are so many events and people in my life as a result of me being more involved with social networking sites. In fact, I missed out on the Chicago Marathon registration prior to it being closed. Then a young woman, Adriana, who had recently begun to follow me on Twitter asked if I would run the marathon again this year. She then suggested a non profit for which I could run. I looked into the organization and posted a tweet about the new development. Another young woman, Jessica, then replied to my tweet suggesting Imerman Angels as a non profit to consider. Within days, I had spoken or contacted several people at Imerman Angels and I signed up to run for IA. I have met some amazing individuals via the internet before I ever met them in person and I credit Apple Inc for making products which allow me to be more connected to this world more than ever before. It was because of Twitter that I joined IA and as a result, learned about Njoy Racing and its CEO, Kimberly Shah who will be one of my sighted guides on Sunday. Through my friend, Rob, who I met in acting class seven years ago, I was introduced to one of his friends, Jennifer Pfaff who volunteered to guide me for half of the CARA 20 Miler in 2010 then stepped up to guide me for half of the marathon this coming Sunday. I have found friendships which have grown with authors, actors, triathletes, screenwriters, marathoners, and filmmakers all because of Steve Jobs and Apple. The amount of joy and richness which has entered my life in the last two years can not be measured. That is why I wish to share this speech from Mr. Jobs. I found it very inspiring and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

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