Op Ed with Bob Branco

Op Ed with Bob Branco – The Moby Dick Marathon

During the first weekend after New Year’s Day, Moby Dick, the famous novel by Herman Melville, is read in its entirety at the Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The reading lasts approximately 25 hours, while dozens of volunteers read different sections of the book. Anyone can sign up to participate in this marathon, including city councilors, the Mayor, business executives, police officers, and anyone else who wants to read aloud before an audience.

Last year, I was asked to read a portion of Moby Dick at the 2013 Marathon. I gladly accepted the offer, and became the first blind person ever to participate. I read part of Chapter 10 in front of a podium, using a braille copy of Moby Dick that was obtained for me. I felt honored that city officials asked me to be part of this annual community event. Though I was the first blind person to get involved, I was satisfied just to be there at all, and not because of my blindness.

Yesterday, I read at the Moby Dick marathon once again, and the experience was just as rewarding.

As I left the Whaling Museum yesterday, I was stopped by a newspaper reporter who asked me many questions about blindness and braille. Although this reporter was there to cover the Marathon, he immediately changed his focus with me when he discovered that I am blind. This does not surprise me. Whether we like it or not, we make sighted people curious.

I hope that my experience as a blind person contributing to a municipal event will inspire other blind people to get involved with their own community. I know that some of you already do that, but there may be others who need a little incentive.

Your thoughts are welcome in the Reader’s Forum.

Op Ed with Bob Branco – We Can’t Even Show Affection

Recently, in a Colorado school system, a 6 year old boy was suspended from school because he kissed a little girl’s hand. At first, they wanted to charge the boy with sexual harassment, but later they downgraded it to inappropriate behavior. Imagine that; a poor little boy charged with sexual harassment.

Even if a 6 year old knows that his behavior is inappropriate, he is supposed to have parents who can talk with him about it. In this case, I don’t think that this child behaved inappropriately at all. I think he kissed the girl’s hand because it was a friendly, affectionate act of kindness. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being kind and showing affection. In fact, I think this world needs more of it.

There are times when I don’t understand school suspensions. Is school a privilege that should be taken away? I thought punishment meant that you couldn’t watch television, play sports or hang around with your friends. Since when is taking away your education a form of punishment when a principal punishes kids for skipping school on purpose?

To get back to the original subject, I have witnessed several incidents in my life where people kissed someone else’s hand. Sometimes it happens in hospitals or during religious events. This does not constitute sexual harassment. These are affectionate gestures. In a hospital, a loved one may be trying to nurture a patient back to health spiritually by kissing his hand.

In second grade, I kissed a little girl on the cheek once. I don’t know; it might have been her birthday or the beginning of a long vacation when I wouldn’t be seeing her for a while. I knew why I did it; she knew why I did it; my teacher knew why I did it and my mother knew why I did it. It was a form of affection, not sexual harassment. If I did something wrong in school, and if my teacher told my parents about it, my parents would talk to me, and the matter would be done with.

Today, I sometimes hug little children because they need a hug or because it makes them happy. There is no underlying reason for this; it is something I was brought up to do, and I know my parents always had the best of intentions when raising me to do the right thing. So as a result of some individuals who practice bad sexual behavior, we, the moral ones, have to be deprived of our character. School principals, psychologists, the police, and other authority figures have enough to worry about where the bad behavior is concerned without looking for it in people who don’t intend to do it, especially little, innocent boys who can’t even comprehend what I just wrote about.

Op Ed with Bob Branco – How the Blind and Sighted are Perceived

As many of you know, there is a percentage of the population who think that the blind can’t get out of their own way. This opinion, which, fortunately, changes after we prove it not to be true, puts us under a social spotlight. We have to be clean-shaven, well-dressed, have proper table manners, be as polite as possible, etc. The sighted must also meet these requirements, but wouldn’t you say that if a blind person makes a social mistake, it is thought of differently than if a sighted person makes that same mistake?

If a blind person spills his drink while eating at a restaurant, it is excused and expected. If a sighted person does it, it’s an accident. Though we have this stereotypical excuse, it reinforces this false belief about us.

Why can’t the blind get away with having an accident like the sighted can without being regarded as stumbling, bumbling fools? By the same token, why can’t some sighted people dress the way the blind dress. Let me point out an example. I know a blind teacher who comes to class every day wearing a suit, shirt, tie, and formal pants. He does this because it is expected of teachers, and he wants to show his students how proper that is. Though he is blind, he understands the full meaning of appearance. On the other hand, his sighted colleagues come to class wearing jeans and a sweat shirt. Why don’t these sighted teachers understand the nature of appearance the same way that the blind teacher does? Do these sighted teachers simply take life for granted as long as they educate the kids?

If we have to prove ourselves every day, whether it’s table manners, proper dress, appropriate behavior, cleanliness and kindness, then this applies to everybody in this world, and we should all be judged the same way no matter who makes a mistake. Our mistakes should not be based on our disability. They should be based on being human. For every blind person who isn’t taught properly, there is a sighted bum.

I welcome your thoughts in the Reader’s Forum.

Op Ed with Bob Branco – A Very Special and Accessible Professional Social Network

Have you ever heard of LinkedIn? It is the most popular professional social network for people in business. I have been taking a course with other blind professionals on how to navigate LinkedIn using speech software and the computer keyboard. Though some of the steps in the process are very tricky, I was able to learn several important aspects of LinkedIn, such as sharing posts with connections, inviting colleagues to connect with me, and joining existing LinkedIn discussion groups.

One of the major discussion groups is the Blind and Visually Impaired Professionals group. Do you know that there are over 14,000 people in that group? This indicates to me that there are obviously many more blind professionals who are neither in that group nor on LinkedIn itself.

My point is that, given my recent growth of experience with LinkedIn, and given the fact that there are over 14,000 blind and visually impaired professionals there, it follows that LinkedIn can be accessed quite easily by the blind. I encourage the blind, especially those in business, to think about LinkedIn. It really expands our networking abilities, and helps us spread the word about things we want the business community to know about, including our own skills. Just imagine getting a job because you are on LinkedIn.

When creating your LinkedIn profile, it is important to make it as professional as possible, almost like a resume. Many, many people, blind and sighted, will read your information. This week alone, nearly 50 business men and women read my profile, which talks about my editing, publishing, writing and public relations skills.

I welcome your comments in the Reader’s Forum.

Op Ed with Bob Branco – The Blind in the Sales Profession

Don’t let the title of this article fool you. Though I won’t be talking about professional blind sales representatives, my experience at a local bazaar would be similar if the professionals work with cash, as I did.

Yesterday, I worked six hours at a local school bazaar selling copies of the three books that I wrote. The books were laid out neatly across the table, along with a few snacks that I brought in order to attract customers. For the first three hours, I had no sighted help, but someone stopped by to help me later on.

While my sighted assistant was working with me, he overheard a few women talking at the table behind me while they were trying to sell their jewelry. One of the women voiced her concerns about a blind man selling books. My assistant told me that she should have been more concerned about her own jewelry sale, because she and her friends hadn’t sold any yet.

Though I get a bit irritated when someone questions the abilities of the blind, I have a feeling that I know what this woman’s concern was. If I sell items to the general public without a sighted assistant, people wonder if I am given the proper amount of cash for what I sell. Let’s face facts. There are many people out there who try to get the better of us, whether we like it or not. Fortunately, in my case, the profits I made were correct, but the concern was still there.

I know that the blind have an advantage when a sighted person keeps an eye on the profits just because some customers are very clever, but if we were actual professional sales people doing the same thing, we may not have a sighted person at our side. For one thing, the boss may not want to hire a sighted helper, thinking it’s not a reasonable accommodation. If a boss trusts a blind person to be a great salesman, then that’s good enough for all concerned. The question is, when is it appropriate to address the issue of sighted assistance, especially where money is concerned?

Your thoughts are welcome in the Reader’s Forum.

Op Ed with Bob Branco – Bring On the Christmas Music

About two weeks ago, I was very pleased to discover that two local radio stations in my community began playing Christmas music around the clock. Though this decision wasn’t met with full support by the general public, Christmas music brings more spirituality to my life when I listen to it, the same kind of spirituality that many of us in this society need.

For example, there seems to be a growing trend away from religious activities. Catholic masses aren’t as well attended as they used to be, and, in some cases, Churches either have to merge with one another or unfortunately close their doors. There also seems to be less personal contact because of the strong addiction to texting and other available visual resources that go with today’s modern technology.

Many of the Christmas songs that we hear offer a positive aura which, at the very least, puts our lives into perspective. This music reminds us of joy, happiness, family, giving to one another, and how we should pray, be grateful for all that we have, love one another, and appreciate who we are with. Other Christmas songs put smiles on the faces of young, impressionable children who, given today’s dirty music, need another resource to neutralize that influence. For those of you who think that it is too early in the season for Christmas music, don’t criticize it. Just change the station! There are many other radio stations, television stations, cable channels and satellite outlets which continue to offer non-spiritual, secular, and the filthy rap music that some people have come to love. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather hear songs about the birth of Jesus than songs about gangsters who serve as role models or those instructing us how to perform sexual acts. With all the school shootings, the Boston Marathon bombings, the brutal murders we hear about, the decreasing desire for Church, and the increased disrespect that some of us encounter, we should hear Christmas music year round.

Op Ed with Bob Branco – Are We Hooked on the Computer?

I wonder what would happen if, God forbid, a company’s entire computer system crashed, making it unusable for hours. Would any of the clerks, secretaries or customer service workers ever think to go back to using paper on a temporary basis just so that they can continue to earn their pay during this crisis?

The reason I am bringing this up is because I recently went to a facility that required me to pay a co-payment for services. I paid it in cash, and the clerk offered to give me a receipt. Because her computer was temporarily out of service, she told me that it would take a while before the receipt was printed. Wouldn’t she have been better off if she simply wrote the receipt with a pen, gave it to me, and moved on with her day? Why do we all have to wait for a computer to work even though we were all taught how to write? I’m sure that in one of her drawers she has a stack of paper and a bunch of pens. Problem solved!

I love computers, and I am glad that I own one. Computers make life a whole lot easier. However, if one breaks down on the job, the staff should be willing to revert to the old ways temporarily, just so that customers can be properly served. Why should I have waited 30 minutes for a printed receipt when I could have been given a handwritten one in 30 seconds? What’s wrong with that?

Your thoughts are welcome in the Reader’s Forum.

Op Ed with Bob Branco – Self-Driving Cars? Not For Me!

I keep hearing that very soon we will be riding in self-driven cars which will do whatever you want them to do. There is such a fascination about these cars because of their potential use by the blind. I can understand this fascination. After all, blind people can’t drive, so wouldn’t it be nice if they can get in a car, tell it where to go, and it goes there? A blind person could just sit down in the car, relax, and have complete faith that he will arrive at his destination safe and sound. After all, this is such an amazing vehicle!

Let’s try to focus on the entire picture here. You have a car with no driver which will take you anywhere you want to go. This car will more than likely be run by electrical circuitry which, like every other electronic item, is not perfect. Also, if this car is going to be directed by a computer program, how long will it be before something goes wrong with the program? If our own personal computers need maintenance, then why wouldn’t computers in self-driven cars need this same maintenance? Where is the guarantee that a computer in a self-driven car won’t break down while the car is traveling 50 miles an hour on a freeway? What if the program malfunctions and directs the car over a guardrail? Can you guarantee that will never happen? Our own computers have programs which occasionally go nuts, so why wouldn’t computer programs in self-driven cars go nuts?

My point is that I will never ride in a self-driven car, no matter what everyone else says about it. I would be scared out of my pants while this machine is on the loose with fallible hardware and software in it. I would need to put all my trust into something that has as much of a guarantee as any household product. I’m sorry, but I am not that confident, especially if my life depends on this car. If the car is approaching another car while the computer chip that notices this decides to malfunction, I would prefer to have a human at the wheel with more advanced notice.

While the concept of self-driven cars is interesting, and may be a reality soon, let’s remember the imperfection of everything we use, and hope that the imperfections in this car won’t put us in danger.

Your thoughts are welcome in the Reader’s Forum.

Op Ed with Bob Branco – Is It a Match?

I think we fully understand the main reasons why the unemployment rate of the blind is so high; discrimination, lack of advocacy, and in some cases, lack of motivation. However, what if an employer really believes in your abilities as a blind employee, yet his computer software does not adapt well with speech technology? How could you do the job under those circumstances?

How many employers, do you suppose, would be proactive enough to spend additional dollars changing their own computer software in order for a blind person to go to work? As much as many of us would rather not think about it, most employers don’t consider the blind when setting up their computer operations at their work places.

This situation happened to me, but that was partly my fault for having more faith in the process than I should have. In 2003, I was hired by a local company to do customer service and billing. When I was hired, my supporting agency promised to adapt this billing program with speech software, and then I would receive on-the-job training. After waiting two years while I simply answered the telephone and ordered a few car parts, it turned out that the supporting agency and Freedom Scientific were unable to find the appropriate technology to adapt the program, therefore, there was no training. If I had prior knowledge that this was going to happen, I would have waited for the training to be in place before I accepted the job, and when the training never happened, a sighted person had to do the job instead of me.

How does this help the unemployment rate of the blind? I realize that I remained at this company for two years without being trained, and was paid to sit at my desk all day, but in reality, that wasn’t the job I was originally hired to do. So despite all the steps we have to take in order to find gainful and productive employment, such as putting on a suit and tie, making sure our hair is combed, giving a positive first impression during an interview, writing thank-you letters afterward, etc., this process becomes irrelevant if the end result is that there is no match between adaptive technology and company software. Most successful blind people don’t have to worry about this issue, but the issue is real, and happens more often than we care to admit.

Your thoughts are welcome in the Reader’s Forum.

Op Ed with Bob Branco – Do the Blind Try Harder?

Since I graduated from college, I found myself having to use more of my inner energy throughout my life, especially while competing with the sighted for gainful and productive employment. For every job I applied for, I had to spend many more hours researching accommodations, meeting with my supporting agency about adaptive technology, explaining this technology to my potential boss, arranging rides to and from interviews, etc. In addition, with the constant rejection that we blind people face on a regular basis, we often find ourselves sending out more resumes and making more phone calls than a sighted job seeker.

Even in other aspects of our lives, such as independent living, housing, education and transportation, we feel the need to work twice as hard and spend much more time just to prove that we are entitled to these living situations. The sighted aren’t faced with these types of challenges, and they are not questioned about why they are entitled to life’s practicalities. They just go about their lives doing what they can, hoping for the best. I wish it was that simple for the blind.

While the sighted give 100 percent, the blind often have to give 200 percent.

I have also made an observation in an area where many sighted people take life for granted while we, the blind, continue to depend on our own resources to sustain ourselves. While we try our best to keep our doctors’ appointments and do everything in our power to see to it that we get there on time, I know sighted people who won’t hesitate to cancel their medical appointments the minute their cars break down. I’ve never driven, yet I learned the alternatives at a very young age. We grew accustomed to public transportation, door-to-door service, and the ability to accept all the challenges that go with this. I am not saying that the sighted do not, but many of the sighted are used to a certain life style, and never needed to go into the trenches the way the blind do.

So, are the blind forced to make more of an effort in life in order to compete for first class status? This is a question for the Reader’s Forum.