NaNoWriMo and More

What is that? Are you making up words?

Happy NaNoWriMo and what am I talking about?

November is National Novel Writing Month in which people attempt to write fifty thousand words in a month. Thanks to my friend, Annie, who let me know about this. We’ve been friends/writing buddies ever since going to Nerdcon in high school.  I am currently writing a novel and the resources and goals in NaNoWriMo have given me some stretch goals. Because it takes me longer to write, I am going to be writing 20,000 words this month – am shooting for about 5 hours of writing a day! Also learning more about writing tips and craft from NaNoWriMo.

So, writers – go get inspired and check out NaNoWriMo!

My accessibility @ musical venues update

Went to a benefit at Hook and Ladder last night. All very accessible and looking forward to seeing Trevor, my main daytime staff guy, play there in January. You can valet park right at the door, drop a wheelchair lift and unload. That’ll be great in the winter!

This week I got tickets to go to a concert at the Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis in a couple weeks. For ADA seating, you need to buy general admission tickets and then contact the Fine Line to let them know you’ll be coming to the show, so they reserve some space for your wheelchair. They don’t have any of this in the FAQs, so had to send an email to ask about ADA seating. It would be great if all of our music venues had some info on their websites about accessibility at their venues. Makes it easier for us to know what we’re rolling into.

If you missed it, you can watch Mary Lucia’s interview of me about accessibility at live music venues. Check my last Talking Accessibility @ The Current post for links to the interview.

Back to writing

Got to get back to my novel (a YA romantic mystery about a young woman who has Cerebral Palsy, uses communication device, power wheelchair and she is awesome!) Time for more main characters who have CP in literature, movies, everywhere.

“Writing, or at least good writing, is an outgrowth of that urge to use language to communicate complex ideas and experiences between people. That’s true whether you’re reading Shakespeare or bad vampire fiction — Reading is always an act of empathy. It’s always an imagining of what it’s like to be someone else.” John Green, How and Why We Read, Crash Course English Literature #1

Justin and Annie in front of poster with John Green quote
Annie and Justin at NerdCon in 2015 with poster of John Green quote behind them.

Talking Accessibility @ The Current

Wait, what?

Ok, this was a big awesome week! Unbelievably big and awesome!

Who knew when I wrote my last post about seeing Maggie Rogers and accessibility at the Armory, that Mary Lucia from Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current would reach out and ask to interview me? Of course, I said yes – anything to raise awareness of inclusion and accessibility in everyday life, which includes going to see live music.

If you haven’t already, Listen to Looch and share with your friends, family, and music lovers! Next time you go to listen to live-music, check out ADA options and see if you’d want to sit there.  As I mentioned in the interview, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) a quarter of our population has a disability – accessibility and inclusion for all matters!

Feel free to share your experiences of accessibility in live-music venues and keep the conversation going. Big thanks to Mary Lucia and Luke Taylor for reaching out and bringing light to this issue.

Listen to Looch: talking with Justin Smith, music fan and accessibility advocate post on The Current website

Listen to Looch Interview with Justin Facebook post

Listen to Looch Interview with Justin on YouTube

Lastly, change up from my regular red Converse. These are awesomeness. Just an all around awesome week!

Black and white checked Van tennies

Maggie Rogers at the Armory: Accessibility Check

Ok, that question that everyone is asking about: how accessible was the Armory and how was the music?

First part of the question is definitely what I want to talk about, but starting with the music – amazing. NowNow was the opening band. I’ve been listening to their music and interviews so was familiar with their music and story. They were awesome and hope to see them more in the Twin Cities since they’re a Minnesota band.

Maggie Rogers was everything I expected. She has an amazing voice, lyrics that were bringing people around me to tears, and the dancing!  There was so much energy in the room.

For the accessibility portion, well, the Armory was absolutely nothing like the Varsity or Palace. I think they can do better and here’s how:

  • Have dedicated ADA seating closer to the stage. Paying the same price for a ticket and having the dedicated seating in the back of the balcony sucks. This seating is a half a block away from the stage. Why not have some reserved ADA seating closer to the stage in the balcony and also closer to the stage on the main floor? I did decide I wanted to be on the main floor and of course, the tallest guy stood right in front of me. My chair does raise up, but I’m not able to move around for a better view on a packed floor. I liked being on the main floor but it would be nice to have a little bit of a protected area for people with mobility needs. The images below show what I would have seen from a distance in the ADA seating in the balcony, my driving to the main floor and my view of the concert stage from closer up on the main floor.
    • Tip for concert goers who use wheelchairs: Get there as soon as the doors open to try to get standing room places closer to the stage in the balcony or on the floor.
  • Train your staff better. I’ve been so impressed with staff at the Palace and Varsity because all of them go out of their way to make sure you find the ADA seating and that you have what you need to have a great experience. The Armory was good at noticing us in line and leading us over to the elevators where they checked our bags and tickets. That was good. The difficult part was that each person leading us led us to another person who would then lead us to another person. We got on the elevator and the elevator guy saw we didn’t have wristbands. So, had to go back down so we could get wristbands. Waited for the elevator again, and rode up to the balcony and the elevator guy said ADA seating was right there at the back and told the other people there’s a chair on the side, which there wasn’t. He did eventually bring a chair back up, but it was confusing and no one was there to help the other group or us. We tried to walk closer to the stage to see if there was any room that would work to see better, but it was already pretty packed on the stage end of the balcony.
    • I repeat – Tip for concert goers who use wheelchairs: Get there as soon as the doors open to try to get standing room places closer to the stage in the balcony or on the floor.
  • Elevator wait times were excessive. At the end of the concert, we waited in a line for the elevator and the elevator didn’t seem to be coming. After probably about 10 minutes, we gave up and went to see if there was another elevator. There was another elevator on the other side which came more quickly. Made us think about what would have happened during an emergency or fire. No one is going to pick up my 300-pound wheelchair and carry it down the stairs… You have to use the elevator to get on the main floor or balcony levels from the street level.
    • Justin and man waiting for elevatorTip for wheelchair users: There is a 2nd set of elevators at the back left facing away from the stage. They seemed to faster than the ones on the right, which is where they’ll take you for the ADA seating in the balcony and also go to the parking.
    • Tip for people who don’t need to take elevators and take them anyway: Take the stairs if you are able to take stairs. When you don’t, that means we get to wait even longer. I shouldn’t need to say it, but think!

I will go to future concerts at the Armory because I love going to concerts, but I know that accessibility isn’t the greatest for me here. I will plan on getting there earlier and carve out some space on the main floor knowing that I’ll be stuck there until the end of the concert because there won’t be a way to get out. That’s probably not terribly safe, may damage my wheelchair, but, I’m paying for an experience and don’t want to be relegated to the back of the room.

Justin dancing with othersJustin and his dad in the crowd

Appearances may be deceiving OR how something might appear accessible but in reality…

Here’s a quick story of what was to be a short walk with my mom, on a lovely sunny day,  to the new accessible little park down by the lake. And when I say accessible, I mean NOT really at all accessible for me or probably any other wheelchair user. In fact, they probably could have left the curb cut out because people are only going to get more stuck the further they go.

Part 1 – “Lovely day for a walk to the lake”

Says my mom, all the time! It’s a holiday in the U.S. so I went along. I drove my chair while my mom tried to keep up. I wasn’t even on the fastest speed.

Part 2 – Look the newly redone little park even has a nice curb cut

Says my mom. One car and bike go past and the next car stops to let us cross the street to the park. Mom takes a couple pictures because really, it’s nice that our township redid this park and tried to make it more accessible. Right? We should post and tweet about that, it’s a good thing.

Justin in wheelchair on curb cut with path to lake ahead

Part 3 – ZZZ WRONG!

We start our way down the black, rocky path which is wide enough for a wheelchair. So, that’s good. My wheels begin to sink as we near the bench. We maybe should have stopped here. But, thought it would be easier to turn around if we went down to the turns or to the bottom of the path. Again, WRONG! We got to the lower turn on the path, and my drivewheel was spinning deeper and deeper. I was spectacularly stuck.

Justin in wheelchair with wheel sinking into rocky path

Part 4 – Dad to the rescue

Mom can’t get me unstuck. Mom calls dad. Dad drives the several blocks to the park. Dad also thinks maybe we can get turned around on the larger rocks at the bottom of the path. Both mom and dad are able to help drive and push me to the bottom. I didn’t go into the lake. I swore. Dad swore. Mom maintained her calm, positive outlook on the situation. Dad gets me out of my chair and carries me back up the path where my mom holds me on the bench. Reminder for all, I use a wheelchair, because I am not able to sit independently, let alone walk. My dad wrestles, pushes, drives, swears his way up the path with my chair until he passes us on the bench and gets it back to the solid curb cut. Mom and dad carry me from the bench back to my chair. (Sorry, no pictures of dad pushing chair since mom was holding me on the bench and dad was pissed – imagine the pictures we could have taken!)

deep tire tracks in rocky path

Part 5 – MOM, YOU’RE INCORRIGIBLE and when designing for accessibility, perhaps someone should do some user testing to see that it’s actually accessible

Nothing more to say about adventures with mom part. Really, I do love my adventures with my mom. Even though we seem to get stuck at times…

Whoever designed this park and whoever from our township thought they were making a park that was wheelchair accessible were wrong. I doubt that anyone tested this out with an actual human being who actually uses a wheelchair. I use a power chair and the path failed horribly. I don’t even know how someone who is using a push chair would make it on this path. It’s not packed down solid enough.

The flowers are lovely… I just don’t get to see them up close, anymore.Justin smiling with park and lake behind

NEXT ACCESSIBILITY CHECK: Maggie Rogers concert at the Armory in Minneapolis later this month.

Pride, Prejudice & Accessibility

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that this blog must be in want of a classic accessibility check and a Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennett.

Jane Austen’s books are great, but Pride and Prejudice is one of the perfect examples of what is it that constitutes 19th century love. Take Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. They don’t even like each other and it takes several months and an insulting first proposal before they know enough about each other to overcome the pride of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s prejudices. I loved this book!

I also love Bookshare and wouldn’t be the reader I am without it, but the web reader’s pronunciations of abbreviations can be irritating. For example, instead of saying Mister Darcy, the web reader says M –  R and pauses like at the end of a sentence then says Darcy. There are 61 chapters in Pride and Prejudice and each has at least 10-30 Mr.’s and Mrs.’s in them. The mispronunciation of abbreviations kind of ruins the flow of the story. This doesn’t happen in every book I read, so I don’t know why sometimes it reads properly and other times the web reader doesn’t.

I sent a note to Bookshare asking if there was a way to have the web reader for Bookshare pronounce abbreviations like Mr. and Mrs. as Mister or Missus. But, there isn’t. So, if you’re looking for a good accessibility project, figure out how web readers can better read abbreviations. It’s 2019, time to figure this out. By the way, I read my draft of this post using Read Aloud in Microsoft Word before copying it to WordPress. Read Aloud reads the abbreviations correctly. Bookshare doesn’t work in Microsoft Edge although it’s supposed to be coming soon. Maybe that will work better?

Hang on a second, weren’t you at an outdoor concert?

Yes at Surly Festival Field. Accessibility was great and I thought that the music was ok. More of my parents’ nostalgia bands than the types of music I like best.

Accessibility report for Surly – get there early to get accessible parking. We got there by 5:30 and gates opened at 5:00 and did get a parking spot. We had to walk about a block and a half from ADA parking to where they were taking tickets. Not sure if they would have let us in at the exit gate which was closer to where we parked. We did exit from there and that was convenient. They had a ramp to a raised platform by the sound booth so were able to see over the crowd of people and didn’t have to drive on uneven ground. Pretty good seats although the platform also filled up pretty quickly with several of us using wheelchairs, a couple knee scooters and others who needed accessible seating. I would definitely go to concerts there again.

Busy week coming up

Can’t wait to see John and Hank Green on Sunday! Anyone who reads my blog knows just how big of a fan I am! I have tickets in the 7th row at the Pantages Theatre. I’m excited that they have wheelchair seating so close. Usually in theaters like this, I end up paying the same as everyone else but the only choice is to sit in the back row. That’s annoying! Especially, if you also have hearing loss like I do!

We’re also going to try to go see Elizabeth Warren at Macalester on Monday. I want to hear from as many presidential candidates as possible to see who I like best.

My brother leaves for college on Thursday… more on this later.

For my web accessibility friends out there, I was trying to find if using the WordPress Tiled Mosaic is accessible. I used the Tiled Mosaic for the grouped images like I have for the concert pictures and pictures above from John and Hank Green events. I just can’t tell if people using screen readers can hear the alt text for the individual images or if I should just add them as individual images. Let me know what you think works best. Thanks!