FSCast #207

November,  2021

GLEN GORDON:  On FSCast 207, I’d say we’ll take a deep dive into Windows 11 except it’s a pretty shallow pool.  If you’re a screen reader user, not much has changed from Windows 10.  I’ll show you some of the things that have to help make the decision as to whether or not you want to switch.  Then we’ll meet Cassandra McNabb-McKinney and find out what it’s like to be low vision and working as a licensed funeral director and embalmer.

Hello, everybody.  Glen Gordon with you for another month of FSCast.  If you listened last month to Episode 206, I mentioned that on November 18th we’d be doing the next FSOpenLine.  And then suddenly, mysteriously, it got changed to December 2nd, which confounded a bunch of folks.  In fact, it confounded us, too, and we were a little bit embarrassed because we had scheduled FSOpenLine on the same night as the ACB Audio Description Awards event.  And that was an important thing, and we didn’t want to in any way dilute the people who would attend it.

So we moved FSOpenLine to December 2nd.  That’s the current date.  It’ll be happening at 8 p.m. Eastern on both Zoom and Clubhouse.  So whatever your platform of choice is, assuming it’s one of those two, by all means join us, and you’ll have the opportunity to call in and mention something you’d like to see in our products, or a challenge you’ve been facing with using one, or just wish us Happy Holidays.  All things welcome with Eric Damery, Rachel Buchanan, Matt Ater, and myself on December 2nd, 8 p.m. Eastern.

When Eric was on the podcast a couple months back, we talked about new multilingual braille features available in JAWS, and mentioned the fact that there would be a webinar talking about those features in detail.  It has since happened, and quite honestly was just amazingly carried off by Adi Kushner.  My name was, you know, on the byline for it.  But all I did was say, “Hi, everybody.  Adi knows a lot about braille.  Here he is.”  And he held forth for about an hour, talking about the details of these new braille features and exactly how to use them.

So if you want to use braille in multiple languages with JAWS, and you don’t know a whole lot yet about the new features we’ve added in 2022, that’s the webinar to consult.  Best way to find it is by going to FreedomScientific.com/training.  Under there you’ll find webinars on demand, and then search for new braille features for multilingual users.

Something else I want to call to your attention, especially if you’re a JAWS Tandem user.  We have made some security updates in Tandem for JAWS 2022.  There have not been any security issues, but we just spent some time this past year looking at security and found that much of what we had done in Tandem, though it was the latest thing back in 2008 when Tandem got introduced, the quality of encryption has increased dramatically as computer hardware speeds have increased, and the theoretical possibility of cracking encryption has gone up.

So JAWS 2022 has these new security features.  Essentially we’re using the same encryption technology that web connections do now, TLS to be more specific.  That’s in 2022.  It’s also in updates we’ve recently released for JAWS 2021 and 2020.  In 2021 you’ll be offered the update, including this security change for Tandem and a few other changes that we’ve brought back from 2022.  In JAWS 2020 you’ll need to go to the website and download the latest version because the only change there was for Tandem, and there are a lot of folks not using Tandem, and we didn’t want to foist the update upon them just for that.

So if you want it, go to the website.  Download JAWS 2020.  If you’re not running at least that version we want to work with you to make sure that you’re not put in a difficult position because we made this security improvement.  If you live in the U.S., contact our local customer service department.  If you live outside the U.S., contact your local dealer.  And either way we’ll do our best to work with you to get to a version of Tandem that still continues to work into 2022.

Some of you may have heard me talk about this on the Mosen at Large podcast a few weeks ago.  One of the things Jonathan asked me was what do people use Tandem for?  And the thing that jumped out at me was training.  People now who are training folks to use JAWS can do it remotely, thanks to Tandem.  I had assumed that there’s some one-on-one helping going on, as well, but I didn’t know specifics.

And as luck would have it, we heard about an interesting story of one user making it easier for another user to get things done, and how Voice Assistant is helping in that process.  And I heard this story from Richard Kuzma, thought it would be good to bring him on the podcast for a couple of minutes to share it with all of you.

Interview with Richard Kuzma

GLEN:  Richard, welcome.

RICHARD KUZMA:  Hello, thank you.

GLEN:  Tell me about your friend who I get the idea she’s a little less tech savvy than you are.

RICHARD:  She is.  How I came into contact with her is probably a little over a year ago a counselor, a blindness counselor that I keep in contact with called me and asked me to help her.  She was having trouble putting money into her ACCESS account or ePurse for her transportation.  So I connected with her, got her computer going, and I started doing a JAWS script to log her onto the website to put her username and password in, and then she can go from there.  So in doing that, she only has use of her one hand.

So the newer recent version of JAWS we did a Tandem, and I’ll connect to her computer and help her.  But with the newest versions, it has the Voice Assistant with – we all know his name.  So just last week I got her a microphone, showed her how to open a Tandem session with her voice, and it works beautifully, she says.  JAWS opened Tandem, and it pops right into it and asks for the code.  Whereas before she had to use her one hand to fumble through the menu tree to get to it.  So it saves her so many keystrokes it’s unbelievable.

GLEN:  Well, it’s great.  And it’s nice that you’re able to log in and put money on her account with her credit card.

RICHARD:  Once I get her logged onto the site, she knows what to do.  And I’ve been helping her just, you know, maintain her computer, update her Windows 10, and help her with emails and her address book and things like that.

GLEN:  You know, there are a couple of features that she probably knows about, but I’ll mention them to you just in case.  And they may make sense for other people who are trying to do this stuff one-handed.  In addition to the Sticky Keys that Windows has built in, we have something called Sticky Insert Key.  And we’ve not made this work for the CAPS LOCK yet.  But if you have a desktop keyboard with an insert key, you can go into Settings Center with INSERT+6 on the number row, search for “Sticky Insert,” and turn that on.  And that means that whenever you hit the INSERT key as the JAWS key, it’ll stay down until you next press, you know, an arrow key or a letter or whatever you want to combine with the INSERT key.  So that and Sticky Keys might make it easy for folks who are using JAWS one-handed.

RICHARD:  Right, yeah.  I didn’t know about the Sticky Insert.  I’ll have to play with that.  That might be good for her.

GLEN:  So you said you’re writing a script for your friend.  So this script is going to do what, exactly?

RICHARD:  Well, it started out with putting in her username and password to get onto the website because she couldn’t ever remember username and password.  But since then the wonderful website, they’ve decided on their credit card screen to put in a CAPTCHA, where you have to check the check mark, the box that says I’m not a robot.  Well, I can do it because I know what it needs to do.  But what I’m in the middle of doing is writing a script that will actually log onto her site, enter $100, type in her credit card information, put the checkbox in the CAPTCHA, and then submit it.  And I’m 90% there.  I can do each screen independently.  But my problem is now, when it changes from web page to web page, how to control that.  So it’s a work in progress.

GLEN:  Well, it gives you something to fiddle with.  And being a programmer, that probably brings you some pleasure.  It certainly brings pleasure to me.

RICHARD:  Yeah, it sure does.  I enjoy it.  It’s great.  I just enjoy helping people like this so much, it’s crazy.  I, since I have such good computer skills, which thank God I do, I get other computers given to me or donated to me, and I refurbish and put Windows 10 on it, and then I give them out to other blind people that can’t get help from the state for one reason or another.

GLEN:  Well, thank you for being with us, and thanks for telling the story about how you and your friend are making use of Tandem.

RICHARD:  Thank you so much.  Have a wonderful day.  Thanks again.

Windows 11

GLEN:  Windows 11 came out on the 5th of October, and since then several people have written to me and asked for a demo of some of what’s new in Win11, when it comes to using it with a screen reader.  Quite honestly, my reluctance to do this segment is the fact that, as a screen reader user, if you woke up one morning and found that Windows 11 had mysteriously been put on your computer, you might not even notice for a while.  To me, it’s largely a non-event.  In many ways, Windows 11 is a visual makeover, so I’m told, that the interface looks a bit more sparse.  Which means that in many ways it’s an aesthetic release rather than a feature release.  There are some small things that have changed, and that’s what we’re going to be talking about in the next few minutes.

The equivalent audio-wise of new visual look is new sounds.  And there is a new sound scheme.  I would liken it to talking in an open area versus talking in a library.  So if Windows 10 is talking in an open area, things are a little bit loud, more pronounced.  And Windows 11 is talking very quietly to a neighbor sitting in the stacks.  Either that or talking at a golf game where you’ve supposed to be equally quiet when doing commentary.  So the new sounds are more subdued.  Here’s the Windows startup sound which, if you’ve enabled it, you’ll hear when you boot Windows 10 [chime].  And here’s the equivalent when you boot Windows 11 [chime].  Similarly, when you launch a program that requires the UAC elevation prompt, here’s what you’ll hear on Windows 10 [chime].  And on Windows 11 you’ll hear this [chime].  So the sounds are a bit more subdued. 

The decision about whether or not to upgrade to Windows 11 may be made for you by Microsoft if your computer isn’t automatically in the list of machines that are considered “Windows 11 ready.”  There is a way around it.  There are registry entries and other tweaks you can make.  Microsoft documents that on their site.  There are third-party sites that talk about it.  But my question to you is do you really need to?  There isn’t really much in my mind that’s going to make Windows 11 compelling for a screen reader user.

If you do make the change, I think you’ll find it very much like Windows 10 except for a few things I’ll call out in the next few minutes.  The first of those is Internet Explorer.  If you have been one who has been a little slow to switch to Brave, Chrome, Firefox, the new Microsoft Edge as your browser, if you upgrade to Windows 11, you will be postponing no longer because Internet Explorer is gone.  So that might be a reason to stay on Windows 10.

But I do encourage you to start using a modern browser if IE is still what you’re using.  You will have a much better browsing experience.  It will work on many sites much better than IE works, if it continues to work at all.  And essentially it’s the way forward.  So I recommend switching to a new browser from IE, even if you’re staying on Windows 10.  In the next little while, I’m going to be jumping between Windows 10 and Windows 11 to show you how some things have changed.  To help with that, I’ve summoned Vocalizer Expressive Daniel to represent Windows 10.

JAWS VOICE:  Glad to be with you.

GLEN:  And Ava to represent Windows 11.

JAWS VOICE:  Thanks for having me.

GLEN:  My personal pick for the best new Windows 11 feature is voice dictation.  Over the years Microsoft has had a confusing array of dictation options built into the OS.  Going back as far as Windows 7, they had a dictation feature that did not require an Internet connection.  I think that’s still around, maybe even in Windows 11.  But that technology has not been updated for years.  And the quality of voice recognition has gone up significantly since then.  Voice typing is in Windows 11, and it does work for me.  I’m told it’s there in Windows 10, as well, but I’ve never been able to get it to work.  This essentially lets you bring up any program that allows text entry, turning on voice typing by pressing WINDOWS Key and H, and talking your heart out.  And most of the time it seems to work pretty well.  So I’m going to switch to WordPad, just because I can.

JAWS VOICE:  Document – WordPad.  Edit.

GLEN:  And I’m going to press WINDOWS Key+H.  This is a test of voice typing, period.  Sometimes when I’m dictating, comma, it inserts punctuation marks as words, period.  Not really sure when this happens, period.  And I’m going to ARROW UP and read what got inserted.

JAWS VOICE:  This is a test of voice typing.  Sometimes when I’m dictating, it inserts punctuation marks as words.  Not really sure when this happens.

GLEN:  So this time it inserted punctuation marks and not the words.  But in preparing for this demo, about half the time I got the words “comma” and “period” inserted.  So your mileage may vary on voice typing.

Now, even if you’re not updating to Windows 11, you have another really good dictation option for Word and Outlook.  It’s in Office 365 and was sort of a sleeper feature.  They introduced it probably a year ago now.  If you’re in a Word document or, as I am, in an Outlook message, I can press ALT and the grave accent key.  This is a test of dictating text into Microsoft Outlook, period.  I find it very quick and easy, comma, and it even gets most things right, period.  So I pressed ALT+GRAVE ACCENT again to stop dictating.  And now I can go back and reread what I’ve entered.

JAWS VOICE:  This is a test of dictating text into Microsoft Outlook.  I find it very quick and easy, and it even gets most things right.

GLEN:  There is the ability to automatically insert punctuation.  Once you’ve dictated in a message once, you can press F6.

JAWS VOICE:  Menu.  Dictation settings submenu.

GLEN:  And if I press ENTER here...

JAWS VOICE:  Enable auto-punctuation.  O.

GLEN:  I have it turned off.  I had it turned on for about a second and a half and found it to be terribly inaccurate.  It didn’t use the right punctuation, and it put punctuation in places where I didn’t want it, simply because I paused.  Which is why I spoke the symbol names when doing the dictation just now.  Office dictation is equally likely to insert the actual symbols or the names thereof, depending upon the day of the week or the phase of the moon or other factor that I don’t yet understand.  There is a similar option in voice typing on Windows 11 for automatically inserting punctuation.  But I’ve not found an accessible way to get there, despite the fact that the official Microsoft documentation says you press ALT+WINDOWS Key+H.

You undoubtedly noticed in the demos I did that nothing was spoken automatically.  Once dictation came on, JAWS was silent until you stopped and explicitly went back and read the text that you’ve entered.  We may be able to improve that a little bit, providing spoken feedback at just the right time.  But we have no intention of writing a full-feature dictation app.  The assumption is that any kind of voice input is auxiliary to the keyboard, and that you’re talking simply because it’s faster to insert text than typing, but that you’re going to use the keyboard for doing fine-grade control, reading things back, and making corrections.

Want to talk a bit about changes to the system tray on Windows 11.  In Windows 10 there’s an option that allows you to show all icons there.  Once you have things configured that way, pressing JAWS Key+F11...

JAWS VOICE:  Select a system tray icon dialog.  Select a system tray icon list box.  Everything.  One of 20.

GLEN:  You can ARROW DOWN here.

JAWS VOICE:  JAWS for Windows.  Sync (2 Dropbox 136 1Password.  Five of 20.

GLEN:  That works really well as long as you have the option on to show all system tray items on Windows 10.  But since that option is missing on Windows 11, for the items that you care about, you need to go and configure them one by one to be shown in the system tray.  And as a result of being in the system tray, they’ll also appear in the JAWS Key+F11 dialog.  You can get to the settings for changing this by going into settings by pressing Windows Key+I, finding personalization, and then going through the options.  I actually find it easier to go to the system tray by pressing WINDOWS Key+B.

JAWS VOICE:  Notification chevron button.

GLEN:  If I press ALT+ENTER here...

JAWS VOICE:  Settings.  Settings.  Personalization button.  Taskbar items.  Show all settings button expanded.

GLEN:  So this taskbar item’s thing is really broken up into three different sections.  So let me tab through here, and you can see how I’ve configured it.

JAWS VOICE:  Search button off.  Task view button off.  Widgets button off.

GLEN:  Widgets are something new to Windows 11, which for someone visual is a quick way to allow you to check your stocks or check the weather easily at the bottom of the screen and expand it simply by clicking on the key point if you want more details.  The accessibility story for widgets is not complete yet.  And for those of us who have tried it, it’s probably not the most accessible way of getting information these days.  If you’re using a screen reader, I’d hold off for a future update before exploring those.  So I’ve turned off widgets in the taskbar and system tray.

JAWS VOICE:  Chat button off.  Taskbar corner icons.  Show all settings button expanded.

GLEN:  I happen to know that these are useless.  This is for activating the virtual keyboard or the virtual touchpad and so forth.  Since this is expanded, if I TAB here, I’m going to move through all of them.  But if I hit SPACE to collapse it...

JAWS VOICE:  Collapsed.

GLEN:  Now when I TAB, I will move on to the next interesting section.

JAWS VOICE:  Taskbar corner overflow.  Show all settings button collapsed.

GLEN:  And in order to go through this one, I have to do the reverse because that starts out being collapsed.

JAWS VOICE:  Expanded.

GLEN:  By pressing SPACE.  Now when I tab...

JAWS VOICE:  List box.  Windows Explorer.  One of 10.

GLEN:  So I’m in a list of 10 items.  And for whichever item is focused in the list, tabbing one more spot will allow you to enable or disable it or check to see what the current setting is.  When you enable the Explorer item, what that really does is put the Safely Eject Hardware item in the system tray.  It may do some other things, too.  But that’s the most obvious one.  So I’m on Explorer.  I press TAB.

JAWS VOICE:  Windows Explorer.  Windows Explorer button on.

GLEN:  Which means that it’ll appear in the system tray.  So I’m going to SHIFT+TAB to go back to the list.

JAWS VOICE:  Windows Explorer.


JAWS VOICE:  iCloud for Windows.  Two of 10.  Windows security notification icon.  Three of 10.

GLEN:  Well, that might be useful.  I’ll TAB.

JAWS VOICE:  Windows security notification icon.  Windows security notification icon button off.

GLEN:  Press SPACE to turn it on. 


GLEN:  So I can go through the remaining items in this list, turn on the ones that I care about, and then both the JAWS+F11 key to bring up the system tray icons.  And also WINDOWS Key+B to get you to the system tray will show you these icons without taking any special effort.  Now, when I press WINDOWS Key+B...

JAWS VOICE:  Notification chevron button.

GLEN:  That chevron button is the thing that allows you to show the icons that you’ve not always enabled in the system tray.  Essentially it’s the first thing that you get to when you press WINDOWS Key+B.  If any of the icons aren’t on, you can hit SPACE on it, ARROW LEFT, and ARROW through those otherwise hidden icons.  You’ll know when you’ve enabled all of them because suddenly when you press WINDOWS+B, the chevron will be gone, and you’ll be on the first of the enabled system tray icons.

Many of us who’ve been using Windows 10 have developed a bit of muscle memory for Windows A.  That gets you to the Action Center.  On Windows 10 it’s a combination of notifications.  I think that’s what most of us use it for.  But it also has Windows’ version of Quick Settings, the things that they think people will want to change regularly.  On Windows 11, Windows A still brings up the Action Center.  But notifications are gone from it.  It’s just the Quick Settings with a little bit more customization than was there in Windows 10.  To get to notifications, you now press WINDOWS Key+N.  That’s a combination of notifications which I think most of us will continue to use, and Calendar, which may or may not be valuable to us.  I think the reason that Calendar may be there now is because of the version of Microsoft Teams that’s built into Windows 11.  They call it Teams for Your Life.

And I think the goal is for it to pick up where they’re hoping Skype will leave off.  Because I know one of the first things you get asked is, here, please tell us the name of your Skype account so we can mine friends for you to invite to Teams.  So it does seem like that’s what Microsoft is heading towards.  It’s Teams primarily for personal chats, group meetings, and so forth, but not for work.  If you are using Teams for work on a Windows 11 computer, you’ll actually be installing a second version of Teams.  And depending upon which one you launch, and  who you’re logged in as, you’ll get one of two experiences.

And there you have it, to the best of my ability, the things in Windows 11 different from Windows 10 that actually matter.  If you have items that I left out that you think should have been talked about, or items that I’ve explained here that are a little confusing, by all means write to me, and I’ll cover it in a future FSCast.  The address of course, fscast@vispero.com.

Interview with Cassandra McNabb-McKinney

GLEN:  A couple of months ago when Cory Jackson was on the podcast he said that, if he had not been blind, he likely would have become either a medical examiner or a funeral director and embalmer.  And at the time, I was sure that there’s someone who’s blind or low vision already in this profession.  And a little bit of googling, and confirmation from Susan Jones, who knows this person, I found Cassandra McNabb-McKinney.  She’s a licensed funeral director and embalmer at Yarbrough Mortuary Services in Tennessee, and fortunately for all of us is on the line with me now.  Cassandra, welcome to FSCast.


GLEN:  Good to have you here.  Going to mortuary school and going into the funeral profession does not seem like something that kids typically grow up wanting to do.  What was your path to this?

CASSANDRA:  Well, I always wanted to have a job, and it not just be a job.  I wanted it to be something that, when I look back on a year or a week or a day, I would know that I had impacted someone’s life, that I had made a difference in the world.

GLEN:  But what caused you to even think about this as a profession?

CASSANDRA:  When I started college, I went into chemistry.  And I have always loved science.  Even as a little kid I loved making things light up.  Like my dad would teach me about circuits and how circuits worked, and we would make light bulbs light up from batteries, or a potato.  So I knew chemistry was going to be a good place to start.  And I got to college, and it was a whole new world.  It was not easy being a student on a university campus, and one of the only blind students on campus, and trying to cope with being away from my family and being in a new environment.  And I really struggled.

And so in my mind I started looking at other avenues and how I could still work in science, still help people, still be doing what I wanted to do.  And that’s when I really, really went ahead and followed my heart because I knew, in the back of my mind, knew I wanted to work in funeral service.  I just hadn’t accepted it because there’s no one else in my family in the business.

GLEN:  How much functional vision did you have at the time, and has it stayed pretty constant since then?

CASSANDRA:  So my vision, corrected, was around 20/100 to 20/200.  But the absence of peripheral vision and depth perception falls into that classification of legal blindness.  Since I’ve had my two boys, I lost a lot of vision.  I went to more around the 20/200 mark, corrected.

GLEN:  So how did the amount of vision that you had at the time you went to school impact the curriculum and how you worked through things?

CASSANDRA:  So when I was in school I took notes.  I took notes by ear.  I used just dark-lined paper, and I usually used a 20/20 pen.  But I also recorded the lectures.  The classes that were more hands-on, like anatomy, I spent a lot of time with the skeleton in the lab, just examining the bones and touching them and feeling them.  And so when we took our tests, the professor would have the bones laying out on the countertops in the lab, and he would let me pick them up and look at them.  I didn’t have to – a lot of the students just looked at them and, you know, identified things.  But I was more of a hands-on learner, which was really cool.

And the other class that was probably the most difficult class that I had to take in mortuary school was restorative art, which is a class where you would learn how to correct trauma that someone has endured prior to their passing.  So the contours of someone’s face, not being able to see that by depth, and having to do it by touch, was something I had to learn myself.  They don’t teach that in a textbook.  And then I’ve been able to apply that in my work over the past 15 years. 

GLEN:  Were you able to see, or are you able to see enough that you sort of had a broad idea, and then you could sort of translate that to what things felt like?

CASSANDRA:  Yes.  So I could look at a photograph and actually see a person’s face in a photograph.  Perhaps not as detailed as someone who is sighted can see it.  But I could see the basic shape and form of someone’s face.  When I was in class we had to actually create a face.  And so we took – it’s a Styrofoam form like you would place a wig on.  And we had to take photographs of an individual, and then we had to create their face out of wax on that Styrofoam form.  And so I did my mother’s face.  I spent quite a bit of time, especially when we were working on ears and the nose.  I’d be like, “I know, Mom, this might be kind of creepy, but I need to feel your ears.  I need to see what they feel like.”

GLEN:  It’s much better than all those blindness movies where there’s a face-feeling scene that makes no sense at all.


GLEN:  At least this one mattered.

CASSANDRA:  Right, right.  So, yeah, that’s everybody’s perception of blindness is you go on a date with a blind person and they have to feel your face to know what you look like.

GLEN:  Yes, exactly.  Anything else from your school experience that you think was interesting, things you had to adapt?

CASSANDRA:  When we were in school, they taught us about landmarks within the human body to locate vessels that we were going to need to identify to complete the embalming.  And so they taught us about muscles and ligaments and all that kind of stuff.  And I was more concerned with how they were going to feel.  So I focused more on how did an artery feel when I touched it, what did a vein feel like, and what did the tissue around them feel like, so I would know what to feel for.  And there are some embalmers that I know that do this same method, and they don’t have any issues with their vision.  It’s just easier because, you know, one slip of an instrument, and you nick a vein, and you can’t see anything in there anyway.  It’s covered, you know, with things you can’t see through.  So the ability to do it by touch is invaluable.

GLEN:  Am I correct that mortuary school, in addition to all of these physical- and medical-related processes, also has a completely disjoint aspect of it, which is being a funeral director and interacting with the loved ones?  Those feel like two very different sets of skills.

CASSANDRA:  There are some people who go to mortuary school who have no desire to step foot in an operating room.  They have no desire to do embalming.  And there are other people who feel that they are better suited for the behind-the-scenes work.  And then there are those who do both.  And I was blessed because I worked at a funeral home where I had an opportunity to do both for over 13 years.  And I learned a lot about myself.  As a funeral director I learned how to deal with all kinds of people.  I learned how to be a moderator.  I learned how to walk into a room and feel the mood change because there’s a certain peace that comes when the funeral director enters a room.  And there’s also the gratification that comes when a family has told you that they were going to close the casket no matter what, and as the embalmer you feel very good when they come in for their first view, and they say, “We’re going to leave it open.”

GLEN:  You’re bringing dignity to their loved one.

CASSANDRA:  That’s right.  That’s right.  And so now at Yarbrough’s I am only an embalmer 99% of the time.  And I love that work because I might not get to be present when the family has their first view, but I know the value in them having the opportunity.  And it’s very meaningful to me that I get to give families that opportunity.

GLEN:  What was the process of getting your first job?

CASSANDRA:  I had been searching for a job for six weeks, and I was not able to get a job because no one wanted to hire a young woman, fresh out of mortuary school, who was legally blind and couldn’t drive a car because they felt like in order to be a funeral director you had to be able to drive the hearse.  And my perception of it now is that that grieving family doesn’t care what side of the hearse I get out of.  But that’s just, you know, the perception.

So when I graduated from mortuary school there was a gentleman named Steve Tidwell, and he owned a corporation of funeral homes.  And I called his office because he said at graduation, when he spoke at our graduation, he said, “If you ever need anything, just call.”  Well, his secretary was at lunch, and he answered the phone.  And that was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  It probably would not have worked out the way it did if he had not answered the phone that day.  And I told him my situation, that I was looking for a job where they would hire an apprentice.  He said, “Well, are you willing to relocate?”  And I said, “Well, I guess so.  You know, that would be fine.”  And so I sent him my résumé.  And that was on a Monday.

And the next Monday morning at 8:15 in the morning Mr. Robert DiLuzio called my mom’s house, and the first thing he said was, “Hi, I’m Robert DiLuzio, and I’d like to offer you a job.”  So I had a lot of firsts.  I got on an airplane.  I’d never flown in my life.  I’d never been in New Hampshire.  I didn’t even – I really didn’t know where it was.  And they took me in like the old stories you hear of funeral directors having an apprentice that comes and works and lives and becomes a part of their family.  And that’s how it was.

Bob taught me a lot.  And he was so supportive.  And he never, ever let the fact that I was legally blind influence anything that he did for me, or that he allowed me to do to serve families.  He didn’t hold back, either.  I had to learn how to shovel snow, and I had to learn how to wash cars, and I did everything.  I got the full experience.

GLEN:  Were there things that you found challenging when you were actually doing the work that didn’t come up when you were going through school?

CASSANDRA:  The first time a family gets up and has a fistfight while they’re making arrangements for their mother’s funeral, they don’t teach you that in mortuary school.  So you had to learn quick how to defuse situations.

GLEN:  You had a licensing exam.


GLEN:  How did that go?

CASSANDRA:  I actually had to take three exams.  I had to take the National Board, which is a national registry, where they basically make sure you learned everything in school that you were supposed to.  And I passed that first time.  That was no problem.  And then as an apprentice, because you have to serve the apprenticeship before you become a licensed funeral director and embalmer, most apprenticeships last about a year to a year and a half.  Mine lasted three years.  That was because it took me a little while to kind of get my feet wet, and I worked at a firm where our case volume was lower, and so it just took a little bit longer.

So during that apprenticeship I had to embalm 25 people assisted, and 25 cases on my own.  Then for my exam I had to take a written law exam.  But prior to that I had to do a practical exam where one of the board members from the Board of Funeral Service in New Hampshire actually came to the funeral home and watched me do an embalming.  The funny part of the exam, it took her long enough to get there that it was time to go to lunch.  And she was like, “Well, I understand you’re from Tennessee.  And so what’s your favorite dish that, you know, you all eat in Tennessee?”  And I said, “Well, I like chicken and dumplings.”  And she was like, “Oh, how do you make that?”

So this was all going on while I was doing the embalming.  And I know, you know, it wasn’t anything out of disrespect or anything to the person that I was embalming.  It was just she was trying to make the mood light so that I wasn’t nervous.  Because I was very nervous.

GLEN:  Of course.

CASSANDRA:  But it was funny.

GLEN:  When you decided that you wanted to move back to Tennessee, having had experience and a good track record, was it easier to find work?

CASSANDRA:  It was.  I actually didn’t go looking for work.  I was living in New Hampshire, working in New Hampshire.  We were getting ready to head into the year of the pandemic.  And I had called Yarbrough Mortuary for a death in my own family.  And I had known the Yarbrough family since I was in mortuary school.  So it wasn’t a stranger that I was calling.  I was calling a friend.  And by the end of that conversation Linda Yarbrough had offered that, if I wanted a job in Tennessee, that perhaps I should send her my résumé.  So that was in November of 2019.  And by April of 2020 we had made all the preparations that we needed to.  I had become licensed in Tennessee.  And we moved and never looked back.

GLEN:  Is working in the business in Tennessee fundamentally different in any way than working in New Hampshire?

CASSANDRA:  So you definitely have a cultural difference.  In New England, everybody wants everything right now.  They want it now.  And they’re very much more fast-paced in their decision-making.  And in the South everybody’s kind of laid back.  In New England they are accustomed to working with a female funeral director.  It isn’t something new to them or foreign to them.  And in the South it is still a new concept that there are female funeral directors who are doing business.  And in fact, the fact that the company I work for is owned by a woman is even more of a shock to some people.  I won’t say that people in Tennessee are not open to it.  It’s just new.

GLEN:  It’s a surprise.


GLEN:  Do you think someone who’s totally blind who wanted to do this would have different challenges than you had with a little bit of vision?

CASSANDRA:  Yes.  I think that there would be many things they would have to overcome, a lot of perceptions they would have to overcome.  And I would think that it would have to be someone who is really, really devoted and really knows that they want to do it for the embalming.  The funeral directing, no one can see with their heart.  And so if you do your work from your heart, then we’re all on the same playing field.  The funeral directing is very complex as far as different funeral homes have different paperwork.  But the root of it, caring for people who are hurting, is something anyone can do.

GLEN:  Is there anything that you think I should ask you before we wrap things up?

CASSANDRA:  In addition to being a funeral director and embalmer, I am also a mom.  I have two little boys.  One of our sons is legally blind, as well.  And so in the midst of having a career that is 24/7, and trying to balance that with being a mommy, you know, sometimes it’s like I wish I had my day stretcher, where I could make it have more than 24 hours.  But it’s, yeah, the rewards of the job and the rewards of being a parent, I feel like I live a very fulfilled life.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.  Mr. DiLuzio told me once, you know, that you’re doing the right job when you would go to work, do the same level of work, the same value taken in it, even if you didn’t get paid.

GLEN:  And that’s how you feel about it.

CASSANDRA:  That’s how I feel about it.

GLEN:  Cassandra, thank you very much for doing this.  I mean, it’s not a topic that I would otherwise have explored.  I never would have found you.  And this was a fascinating, fascinating discussion.

CASSANDRA:  Well, I’m so glad that you reached out.  I didn’t even know there was a podcast from Freedom Scientific.  But I am so glad to know that, and so glad to have an opportunity to talk with you.  And if there’s any questions, or anybody has – if they reach out to you, and they want to be in touch with me...

GLEN:  I’ll put you together.

CASSANDRA:  All right.

GLEN:  Thank you so much for doing this.  I will let you know.  I don’t know whether it’ll be on this month or next month, but I’ll keep you posted.

CASSANDRA:  Okay.  Well, October would be perfect because that’s Meet the Blind Month.

GLEN:  Yes.  But on our podcast, every month is Meet the Blind Month.

Signing Off on FSCast 207

GLEN:  Nothing pleases me more than seeing a message from one of you who listens to the podcast.  So feel free to write to me, if you have thoughts about the podcast, guests you’d like to hear, topics you’d like covered, all things fair game.  The email address:  fscast@vispero.com

Transcript by elaine@edigitaltranscription.com




edigitaltranscription.com  •  11/23/2021  •  edigitaltranscription.mobi