Braille Monitor                         April 2021

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Raising Expectations: That's What We Do in the National Federation of the Blind

by Curtis Chong

Curtis ChongFrom the Editor: Curtis Chong is a man blessed with many talents. He is most known for his technical knowledge, but those who dig deeper understand that he runs on principles, philosophy, and striking the right balance between taking and giving back. In this article, the man we turn to for tech shows that there is an art in giving and an art in receiving and being grateful to participate in both. Here is what he says:

In the National Federation of the Blind, we say that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. We say that every day we raise the expectations of blind people and that low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. This notion is featured on the home page of the National Federation of the Blind, and, as I see it, the idea of raising expectations which inspire blind people to do more than what the general society expects of them is central to what we do in the Federation. We raise expectations when we help a newly-blind person to gain confidence while learning to travel independently. We raise expectations when we help someone with alternative nonvisual techniques used to mark an oven or a stove. We raise expectations when we teach something new about technology which increases one’s ability to get at online sources of information. We raise expectations when we demonstrate the power of collective action we gain by working together in the National Federation of the Blind.

I have been active in the Federation since I was a teenager in high school and have worked with hundreds of blind people in different states to raise their expectations about themselves and help them to understand that their ability to live and thrive does not have to be hampered because they happen to be blind. More often than not, I am the person who is encouraging somebody else to expect more from life. Oftentimes, I am the person who pushes individuals to learn more about how to use the computer or smartphone they have by building their confidence in their ability to learn to use something new. But recently, the tables were turned, and somebody else in the Federation raised my own personal expectations about what I could do with a new piece of technology I had just acquired.

A few weeks ago, the demons of technology possessed me, and I decided to buy myself an iPhone 12 mini. Yes, I know that the iPhone SE 2020 would have been a far less expensive road to travel, but I had this idea that I wanted to learn how to operate an iPhone with Face ID and no Home button—hoping that I would have an opportunity to use my practical experience to pass this knowledge on to other people. Hence, I chose the iPhone 12 mini (since the larger screen is of little value to me, a totally blind person).

When the iPhone 10 was released in the fall of 2017, Apple implemented two major design changes. The Home Button (easily located by touch) was removed, and facial recognition (Face ID) replaced Touch ID (fingerprint recognition). Through podcasts, blogs, and a little personal experience, I knew intellectually that there were gestures that would take you to the Home Screen or invoke the App Switcher; and I understood that the Face ID feature would work for blind users. But on the first day I received the iPhone, when I started working with Face ID, I was (more often than not) not recognized and thus forced to enter my pass code instead. Figuring this to be a no-win situation, I simply turned the Face ID feature off.

Now comes the part about raising expectations—in this case, mine. While conversing with one of my Federation friends over the phone, I casually mentioned that I had just acquired a new iPhone, and I expressed some frustration that I could not get the Face ID feature to work.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that this Federation friend is a person I have known for more than twenty years, and while he is adept with technology, he sometimes calls me (and others) for help when his technology does not behave as he wants it to.

After I finished recounting my problems with Face ID, this Federation friend of mine said that he had been using this feature for a few years and that, at the beginning, he had experienced the same challenges as I had. He advised me to keep working at it and not to give up. He said that after a while, my use of Face ID would become automatic and that my muscle memory would do the trick. Honestly, I felt both chastised and inspired. I felt chastised because I, a person who should know better, have often advised new iPhone users to keep trying a difficult operation until it works; I should have listened to my own advice. I felt inspired because I figured that if my friend had beaten Face ID, I should certainly be able to. I was truly grateful that my friend felt confident enough in his own abilities to offer the advice and encouragement I needed to keep plugging away at Face ID.

Each and every one of us in the National Federation of the Blind has the power and the ability to help somebody else to expect more of him or herself. In fact, I believe that it is essential for all of us to inspire our fellow Federationists to expect more than what society generally expects of the blind. As a rule, people in our society with whom we come into contact think of the blind as either exceptionally amazing or more than a little incompetent. Rarely are we perceived as what we are: ordinary average human beings—neither exceptionally blessed nor exceptionally cursed—who, just like everybody else, are trying to live the best lives we can. We who have chosen to give of our time, energy, and resources to help the organized blind movement to succeed through the National Federation of the Blind are, through what we do, raising expectations every day—in ourselves, in other blind people, and in our society.

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