FSCast #222

October,  2022

GLEN GORDON:  On FSCast 222, I’ll show you how creating rules to manage notifications just got more powerful, thanks to the use of regular expressions.  It may sound a bit intimidating, but we’ll take it step by step, and you’ll see just how easy it really is.  Then we’ll meet M. Leona Godin and hear about her book “There Plant Eyes:  A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness.”

Hello, everybody.  Glen Gordon here.  Thanks for joining me for our October edition of FSCast.  This is a momentous occasion because we’ve released the  initial JAWS, ZoomText, and Fusion 2023.

In the past, if we released a new version, and it was a new major version, you had to go to our website to download it.  But this year, if you are running an English version of JAWS, ZoomText, or Fusion 2022, and it’s pretty much up to date, which means you have the April or the July update, you will automatically be offered 2023.  In addition to being offered it, you will be told at the time whether or not you’re authorized to run it or not.  You’ll be able to download it either way.  But if you’re not authorized, you’ll need to work to get that resolved, or otherwise run 2023 in 40-minute mode.

In terms of what’s new, Ryan Jones and I talked about new features in the 2023 versions.  This was back in August on FSCast 219.  So if you haven’t heard that episode, it’s a good place to get details.  And the other place to look is on our downloads page, on the What’s New page.  There’s information about everything that’s new in the software.

Enhancements to the Notification History Feature in JAWS 2023

GLEN:  With the release of JAWS 2023, we’ve made some enhancements to the Notification History feature.  I first demonstrated this back in June on FSCast 216.  And in particular, I showed how you could create rules to tame the large number of notifications we all get on our Windows computers each day.  I don’t have time to cover what I covered back then on today’s episode.  So if you’ve not experimented a bit with Notification History in the past, and you didn’t listen to either FSCast 216 or Jonathan Mosen’s excellent demo of the same feature on his Mosen At Large podcast, I recommend that you go back and listen to one of those because today’s coverage picks up where we left off there.

One of the things that people requested was support for regular expressions.  And the reason for this is the kinds of rules you could create prior to this release of JAWS 2023 were fairly simple ones.  And in fact I showed you a couple back in June, specifically how to change the announcement of page load starting and page load complete in Microsoft Edge to sounds.  Because in that case the messages that came in were always the same.  And all we needed to do was either shorten what was spoken or brailled, or play a sound in place of the longer notification.

But there are other notifications where the most interesting things are the parts that change from notification to notification.  For instance, who’s calling you in Teams, or who sent an email in Outlook.  And you want to shorten the message, but part of the shortened text includes some of that variable information.  That’s what our changes to Notification History in the JAWS 2023 release allow.  Specifically, using patterns or regular expressions to extract variable information and recompose it in a shortened message.  I’m here to prove to you that although you may have heard about regular expressions and think they’re really complicated, there’s a small subset that can be used to do very powerful things when creating notification rules.

So in the next few minutes, I’m going to show you how to create two of those, one in Microsoft Teams to trim down what’s spoken when you get a call.  And then we’ll do something similar with an incoming notification from Microsoft Outlook.  So let’s get to it.  Before I started recording, I pressed JAWS Key+SPACE, followed by N, to open notifications history; and I moved to a new notification of someone calling me on Teams.  And we’ll review that now by pressing JAWS Key+UP ARROW.

JAWS VOICE:  Steven Greeley is calling you.  Accept with video.  Press CTRL+SHIFT+ to accept video call.  Accept with audio.  Press CTRL+SHIFT+S to accept audio call.  Decline call, press CTRL+SHIFT+D to decline call.  Teams for 23:00 p.m. yesterday.  47 of 89.

GLEN:  So you probably do what I do when I get a message like that.  I hear “Steven Greeley is calling you,” if I’m lucky.  And then I pretty much move on, which interrupts JAWS, and I go about answering the call.  But if I’m doing something else, and I’m not right near the computer, I hear things babble on.  Or I hear things babble on if I’m on another call, and somebody new calls me.  So we’re going to tame this a little bit.  As I mentioned before, my favorite way of creating a new rule is hitting the context menu key.

JAWS VOICE:  Context menu.  Create rule...  One of two.

GLEN:  And then just press ENTER.

JAWS VOICE:  Leaving menus.  Create rule dialog.  Underline received notification.  Received notification.  Real type combo box contains.

GLEN:  Originally you could only create one kind of rule.  So the combo box was not necessary.  And that kind of rule was “contains.”  You searched for a string, and it could be found anywhere in the rule.  So let me show you the other new options now.

JAWS VOICE:  Begins with.  End with.  Matches pattern.

GLEN:  That’s shorthand for saying “matches a regular expression.”  I think I do need to take a little bit of a detour now and explain exactly what regular expressions are.  We’re all used to doing searches for text.  You search for a word or two, and that may or may not match a notification that’s coming in.  But sometimes the notification has certain text that’s sort of boilerplate, all that stuff in this case about answering an audio call, answering a video call and so forth.  But the really interesting part is the name of the person who’s calling, but that is unknown at the time you’re creating the rule unless you have a very small contact list and wanted to create one rule for each person.

So the trick now is to enter enough of a pattern so that you can actually recognize that this is a notification of an incoming call, and then pluck out the portions of that notification that are important and that you really want to have announced.  And that’s where regular expressions come to the rescue because although letters and digits match themselves in regular expressions, most of the other characters match one or more different characters.

The most general of these is the period.  And the period is like the Joker in a card game, where a Joker is wild, and it can take on the value of any other card in the deck.  In this case, period can take on the value of any character.  So that’s an important concept to know in regular expressions.  Period by itself means one.  And if you want to represent one or more characters, you can follow that period with a plus.  I will introduce some more concepts as we move along here.  But that’s enough to get us started.  So let’s go to the field where we match the incoming notification.  I’ll press TAB.

JAWS VOICE:  Edit.  Steven Greeley.

GLEN:  That’s actually the first line of several lines of text.  The incoming notification actually has embedded new line characters, so I’ll arrow down and let you hear the rest of this.

JAWS VOICE:  Is calling you.

GLEN:  That’s Line 2.

JAWS VOICE:  Accept with video.  Press CTRL+SHIFT+ to accept video call.

GLEN:  That’s Line 3.  And if we kept moving down, we’d hear the entire message.  So I’m going to do a CTRL+HOME to get back to the first line.

JAWS VOICE:  Top of file.  Edit Steven Greeley.

GLEN:  And I’ll do SHIFT+DOWN ARROW to select that line.

JAWS VOICE:  Selected.  Steven Greeley.

GLEN:  And DELETE to delete it.

JAWS VOICE:  Selection deleted.

GLEN:  So now we have “is calling you.”  And I’ll go down one line.

JAWS VOICE:  Accept with video.  Press CTRL+SHIFT+ to accept video call.

GLEN:  And I want to delete everything to the end of this notification.  So I’ll do CTRL+SHIFT and END.

JAWS VOICE:  Selected.  Accept with video, press CTRL+SHIFT.

GLEN:  And I’ll hit DELETE.

JAWS VOICE:  Selection deleted.

GLEN:  So now what we have left is just the “is calling you.”  We could search for that, and it would match.  But it wouldn’t allow us to actually know who was calling us and be able to shorten the message with their name as part of that.  And that’s where the regular expression comes in.  So let’s add something to the beginning of this because remember that’s where the name of the person appears.  So I’m going to type period and plus.  And now that will match one or more characters prior to the “is calling you.”  I’ll tab once.

JAWS VOICE:  Speech or sound action.  Speech action combo box.  Mute.

GLEN:  Let’s go down one.

JAWS VOICE:  Shorten.

GLEN:  And now after shorten.

JAWS VOICE:  Speech or sound action shorten text colon.  Shorten text colon edit.

GLEN:  I’m just typing in “hello” because the purpose is to test the rule for a moment.  I’ll tab again.

JAWS VOICE:  Preview results button.  Create rule.  Pattern does not match notification dialog.  The regular expression to match against does not match with the currently selected notification.  If you create this rule, it won’t apply to this notification.  Are you sure you want to proceed?  NO button.

GLEN:  That’s a new feature.  When you’re searching for a regular expression, they can be kind of tricky to create.  And so we wanted to make it easy for you to enter what you thought would be a regular expression that matches, but be able to quickly know if it actually does.  And in this case I seem to have gotten something wrong.

JAWS VOICE:  Notification History.

GLEN:  So I pressed ENTER to get out of that.  And it puts me back now in the edit field where I can refine my rule a little bit.  I lied to you a moment ago when I said period matches anything.  It does, but it does not match a new line character.  And as you might remember, in this notification that came in, there was a new line between Steven Greeley and “is calling you.”  And so what we need to add is a character to match a new line character or more generally a white space character, which is SPACE, TAB, or NEW LINE.  And you can do that by entering a backslash followed by the letter S.  So let me do that.  Let me move past the plus character.


GLEN:  So I’m on the I.  I’ll enter \S.  And that should fix things.  So let’s tab a couple of times, get back to preview and see what happens.

JAWS VOICE:  Speech shorten preview results button.

GLEN:  So if all goes well, when we preview, we’re going to match this pattern, and we’ll hear the word “Hello.”


GLEN:  So that worked.  Now, you may say why did I put “Hello” in there.  Because I haven’t talked about what I really want to put in there.  So let’s do that now.  I’ll SHIFT+TAB back to the field of the text to match.

JAWS VOICE:  Shorten speech receive notification.  Limit to notifications from Teams check, edit.

GLEN:  I’ll hit HOME to get back to the beginning here.  I’ll do a “say character.”

JAWS VOICE:  Period.

GLEN:  And arrow right a little bit.


GLEN:  So you’ll see that we have this pattern followed by “is calling you.”  Our goal is to announce “Call from Steven Greeley.”  Now, how do we do this?  And how do we take part of the pattern we matched, the part containing the person’s name, and actually include it in the shortened notification.  And the secret for doing this is what are called “capture groups” in regular expressions.  They’re called “capture groups” because you’re actually capturing part of what you match for in our case inserting in a shortened notification.

And the way you create one of those is with parentheses.  Parentheses are a pair of characters that also don’t take on their literal meaning in regular expressions.  So I’m going to enclose the period and the plus in a set of parentheses.  So I’ll hit HOME to get to the beginning.  I’ll enter a left parenthesis, arrow right till I hit the backslash of the \S.

JAWS VOICE:  Plus backslash.

GLEN:  And now enter right paren.  And I’ll arrow left just so you can hear what’s there.

JAWS VOICE:  Right paren plus period.  Left paren.

GLEN: So now that you’ve created a group, you can refer to that group in the shortened message.  And you refer to the first group with \1; the second group, in this case we don’t have one, but if you did have a second group of parentheses you could refer to it as \2 and so forth.

JAWS VOICE:  Limit to note.  Speech or sound.  Shortened text colon edit.  Hello.  Selected.  Hello.

GLEN:  And I will replace the hello with call from, and now \1.  And do a say line here.

JAWS VOICE:  Shortened text colon edit.  Call from \1.

GLEN:  And I will tab once.

JAWS VOICE:  Preview results button.

GLEN:  And press ENTER.

JAWS VOICE:  Call from Steven Greeley.

GLEN:  So this preview feature will save you tons of time.  And it makes it very easy to sort of iteratively change and make more complicated regular expressions as you’re trying to match more and more complex things.  The odds are pretty high that other notifications that you get that include person’s name is calling you will also be matched by this rule.

Sometimes when you create a rule, even though notification history will tell you that it matches, it’s possible that it’s too aggressive in what its matching.  So yes, it will match the notification that you’ve trying to configure a rule for.  But it’s possible that your rule is too general, and more things than what you expect will get matched.  Which may mean that you’ll need to go back and modify a rule sometime in the future.

And I’m going to show you now the next thing that we added to Notification History, which is the ability to name rules because especially now when we’re using regular expressions, just using the text of what you’re searching for may not make it clear anymore exactly what you’re finding.  I’ll tab all the way through to the OK button now.

JAWS VOICE:  Braille action.  Example.  Don’t show in hist.  OK button.

GLEN:  I’ll press ENTER.

JAWS VOICE:  Create rule.  Name your rule dialog.  Please enter a name for the rule.  Rule name colon edit.  Left paren plus right paren backslash “is calling you.”

GLEN:  You didn’t year the period in the rule just now because I have punctuation set to “most.”  So if you’re reviewing the contents of the rule, you obviously either need to set your punctuation to “all” or review character by character.  And what it uses as the default name is the text of the actual, in this case, regular expression.  But I can do a CTRL+A to select all.

JAWS VOICE:  Selected.

GLEN:  I can rename it instead “Incoming Teams Call.” 

JAWS VOICE:  Real name colon edit “Incoming Teams Call.”


JAWS VOICE:  Notification History.  Recent.

GLEN:  So that was probably the hardest one because we had to review a bunch of preliminaries before we could create a rule.  The next one is what to do about an incoming message in Outlook.  Well, the thing that I did about incoming messages in Outlook was to turn off the notifications because it was far too verbose.  And so I did ALT+F and T, which brought up the Outlook options, and then selected the mail entry in the list of possible pages and tabbed to where it said “Show Notification.”  And I had always turned that off.

So the first thing you’ll need to do, if you’re like me, is go back in and then turn notifications back on.  Otherwise what I’m about to talk to you about is going to make no sense.  But I did that a couple of days ago.  And through the magic of time-lapse audio, I’m now sitting on the notification that came in for an incoming message.

JAWS VOICE:  New notification from Outlook.  Robert Richardson, re: OCR problem latest 2023 release in Windows 11.  OCR is working in 2023, 2210.26 in Windows 11 release 2200.1098.

GLEN:  Okay.  I’m going to stop this now.  To my taste, that’s too much information to just automatically read out when I might be doing something else where I can’t silence JAWS.  It announces not only who the message is from and what the subject is, but it spews forth the first few lines of the message, as well.  Which sometimes is really convenient.  But more often than not, at least for me, it’s overkill.  So let’s tame this a little bit.  I’ll press the applications key.

JAWS VOICE:  Context menu.  Create rule...  Leaving menus.  Create rule dialog.  Underline received notification.  Receive notification.  Rule type combo box.  Contains.

GLEN:  So I’m going to hit END, which will get me down to “Matches Pattern.”

JAWS VOICE:  Matches pattern.

GLEN:  And I’m going to tab.

JAWS VOICE:  Edit.  New notification from Outlook, Robert Richardson, re: OCR problem latest 2023.

GLEN:  So the format is one line with new notification from Outlook, the sender’s name, and the subject.  And then all subsequent lines are the body of the message until the body gets truncated.  Let me go through this first line word by word because that will also point out the punctuation.  And the punctuation is useful here.  I’ll start out by doing a “say word.”



JAWS VOICE:  From Outlook, Robert Richardson, re: OCR problem  latest 2023 release.

GLEN:  So what this says is we have new notification from Outlook.  That’s literal text, and it’s always good to start out a regular expression rule with literal text, if at all possible.  It wasn’t possible in that Teams example just a minute ago.  After the new notification from Outlook, there’s a comma.  Then there is a space, the name of the sender, a comma, a space, and then the subject.  And that turns out to be a very easy pattern to match.  I’m going to go back to the beginning.

JAWS VOICE:  Top of file.


JAWS VOICE:  From Outlook comma.

GLEN:  And I want to keep the space just cuz.


GLEN:  So I’m on the R of Robert.  I’ll do CTRL+SHIFT+END to select to the END of the notification.

JAWS VOICE:  Selected.  Robert Richardson, re: OCR problem latest 2023 release.

GLEN:  And I’ll hit DELETE.

JAWS VOICE:  Selection deleted.

GLEN:  And now what we’re left with.

JAWS VOICE:  Edit new notification from Outlook.

GLEN:  I’ve gone to the end by hitting the END key, and I’ll arrow left.

JAWS VOICE:  Space comma.

GLEN:  Now that I’ve hit END again, I’m back past that space.  What we want to do now is create two different capture groups, one for the name of the sender, in this case Robert; and the second one for the subject.  And we’ll be able to say them in the opposite order, just to prove to you the kind of thing you can do.  I’ll enter a left parenthesis, period, plus right parenthesis, and then a comma because I want to match up to but not including the comma in what I’m capturing.  Then I’ll enter a space, and then another capture group, left paren period plus right paren.  Because I use the period as the wild card character, that will capture up to the next new line, but not further.  And this is how we’re getting the subject, but we’re not getting the body of the message.  So the pattern is new notification from Outlook comma space left paren period plus right paren comma space left paren period plus right paren.  So I’ll continue tabbing through here.

JAWS VOICE:  Limit to notifications from Outlook checkbox checked.  Speech or sound action.  Speech action combo box.  Mute.

GLEN:  And I’ll arrow down.

JAWS VOICE:  Shorten.  Speech or sound action shorten text colon.  Shorten text colon edit.

GLEN:  And I will enter \2 because the second set of parentheses is the subject, and we’re going to hear that first, a comma, a space, and \1.  And now we tab to...

JAWS VOICE:  Preview results button.

GLEN:  And hold our breath.

JAWS VOICE:  Re: OCR problem latest 2023 release in Windows 11.  Robert Richardson.

GLEN:  So there you have it, a way to capture two different things from an Outlook message and rearrange them.  So that’s kind of the whirlwind tour of what’s new in Notifications History.  I have glossed over most of the specifics of regular expressions.  And I’ve done that intentionally because they have a reputation of being really complicated.  And I wanted to show you that for something simple like pulling things out of a notification message, it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way.  You can obviously use the full power of regular expressions, and I’ll put a couple of links in the show notes for this episode if you want to look further into regular expressions.  And they are really powerful.

So I encourage you to learn as much as you can about them.  And there are various editors and other places where you can use it.  Notepad++ specifically allows you to do a search or a search-and-replace with regular expressions.  Programming languages use them.  So knowing them and having them in your tool box is a great thing to have.  And there’s lots of power to them, and all of that power is available to you when you’re crafting notification rules.  But you don’t need them to get a whole lot done.  And that’s what I hope I’ve proven here on this portion of the podcast.

Interview with Dr. M. Leona Godin

GLEN:  A few months ago I became aware of a book called “There Plant Eyes:  A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness.”  And this is by my guest for the next little bit, Dr. M. Leona Godin.  She is a writer, performer, and educator with a Ph.D. in English from New York University, where she also teaches literature and humanity courses.  She’s had her own journey with vision, and that’s blended into this book.

But what this book does that I’ve not seen anywhere else is to take personal stories like Leona’s and many other blind people and weave them in with sort of the cultural background of how so much of what our culture thinks about blindness evolved from, going back as far as Homer and Milton, and bringing things up to the present.  It’s a book in which I recognized many of my own life experiences and stories.  But it’s far more analytical than I have tended to be.  And it’s given me some new insights, and I expect it’ll do the same for you, if you read the book.  Leona, it’s a pleasure to have you, and congratulations on creating this book.

LEONA GODIN:  Oh, thank you so much.  What a fantastic introduction.  Thank you, Glen.

GLEN:  Even though your life is not the primary focus of the book, it seems particularly relevant because if you had not had a personal journey with vision loss, you probably wouldn’t have written it. 

LEONA:  That is very true.  That is very true.  I often tell people that I’ve lived on pretty much every notch of the sight blindness continuum.  So most of my life I would say I spent going blind, so somewhere in that kind of vast middle ground.  And so that was a perspective that was pretty important in this book, right, kind of breaking down that binary between sightedness and blindness.  I guess I felt a few things.  One, that I have not sort of achieved the great things that I think a memoir often call for.  Or, on the other hand, you know, a memoir often calls for these days your life being really terrible or really amazing.  And I didn’t feel like I kind of qualified in either direction.

Also I felt like sometimes blind and I think disabled people in general are urged to write our personal stories, and not really allowed to do anything else.  Like if we talk beyond our disability and our situation, then we have a really hard time publishing those books.  And so from the very beginning when I was talking with my agent about this book, I knew that I didn’t want it to be a memoir.  And obviously I love memoirs.  I quote many memoirs within the pages of “There Plant Eyes.”  But it seemed really important for me to have a book that incorporated some of these longstanding myths, as you alluded to, as well as the personal stories to see how those two things kind of collide and have conversations with each other.

GLEN:  You start out your book talking about Homer.  Whether or not Homer existed as a human or not is another question.  But you started with Homer, and then you moved on to Milton.  I think a lot of people would say those are really old dead guys.

LEONA:  Yes.

GLEN:  How are they still relevant?

LEONA:  Well, as I hope I make the point in the book, I feel like some of those tropes, dare I say in sort of a literary lingo, right, some of those concepts of what blindness is are still so alive for us today that it seemed like the natural place for me to begin because, as I say, it’s hard to read, say, a book of fantasy or science fiction without running into, say, a blind seer, right, a blind prophet.  And the idea of the blind poet, of course, is very much still with us today.  And I really wanted to get at this irony that we love the idea of the blind poet, for example.

But, man, we don’t make the world a very accessible place to actually be a blind writer.  And I really wanted to start with that kind of irony of the fact that the idea of the blind bard is very much a part of an oral culture.  And as soon as we started writing down our works, the blind were very much excluded from that process of writing.  So the idea was there; and yet, as we well know, accessibility is still something that we are fighting for as writers and everything else.

GLEN:  My favorite quote in the book is in the Milton chapter.  It just was really evocative for me, and not many things like this are.  You said that Milton would compose whatever he was composing in the dark of night, and need to wait for his amanuensis to come and write it down.

LEONA:  And so he would say that he was “waiting for his amanuensis to come and milk him.”  And people say that John Milton doesn’t have a sense of humor.

GLEN:  Yes.  It was just, I don’t know why, it just – and I told my wife this, and she said, “And you’ve never been milked.”  I said, “Yes, that’s true.  But it still makes sense.”

LEONA:  It totally makes sense.  It’s so lovely.  And a lot of people have picked up on that.  I think even my editor was like, man, this is one of my favorite anecdotes of all time.  Somehow it just really speaks to people.  And I love it, too, because it’s this beautiful moment of disability; right?  It’s a disability moment of him needing to wait for somebody to write down his poetry.  And yet I think it speaks to this process of relationship that can happen when disability is a factor.

And, you know, there’s another funny moment in Milton where he writes an acrostic, he writes Satan down the left-hand side of five lines, so S-A-T-A-N start the five lines, when Satan is in fact approaching Eve to get her to eat the fruit.  And I always joke, you know, did his amanuensis notice it?  Or did he have to sort of say, make sure you get those lines right; right?  This is sort of a joke on, I don’t know, sighted people?  You know, are you going to, with your fully working eyes, are you going to see Satan coming?  I don’t know.  And for apparently many, many years, people actually did not see it.  It took I think a number of decades before anybody even noticed it was there.  So there you go with your working eyes.  They don’t always see everything.

GLEN:  But there’s this dichotomy between blind people often being thought of as really smart, being spiritual, being prophets; and at the same time not being able to get up and get dressed.

LEONA:  That’s exactly right.  And that’s the major, I mean, you hit upon the main thread of this book, I like to say my humble project of blind culture, blind culture within the larger Western culture for almost 3,000 years, is that precise dichotomy, those extremes of the super blind on the one hand, which I would include not just our modern ideas of, say, Daredevil, but also the blind poet and prophet on the one hand and then the blind beggar and buffoon on the far other end of the spectrum.  And there’s not a lot of middle ground in terms of our representations in the media and novels and movies.  And because of that lack of representation, it’s very hard for, I think, the average sighted person to even think that being a normal blind person is even a possibility.

GLEN:  My uncle, who knew that I worked on JAWS, wrote to me in the final years of his life and said, “Oh, I’m sure Jan, your wife, is reading you my email.”  It’s like, how did you miss this?  And he was not alone.

LEONA:  I feel the same way.  A very dear friend of mine said something similar, you know, saying, “Oh, do you dictate?”  I was like, wait, but you’ve seen my computer.  You’ve seen me type.  How is this possible?  How did I not get the message out?  It’s mindboggling.  I think one of the big things that I try to revisit in a lot of different ways in the book is this idea of ocularcentrism, and that sighted people rely on their eyes so much that even when they sort of intellectually know that we’re doing things differently, they can’t quite wrap their brains around how that is.  And I think that maybe those dear people that we know and that should know better still get things wrong simply because they rely so heavily on their eyes.

GLEN:  What about in science?  I would think that in science ocularcentrism is less present because they’re trying to do analysis.

LEONA:  That is such an interesting thing.  I mean, I would say that science has been really difficult for blind people to break into.  You know, it seems like we’ve been sort of the specimens of science, the subject of science, rather than the people actually doing science.  I have a chapter, I don’t go into this very deeply, but it’s something that I think is so important to realize, that there are blind scientists out there, and that they are also dealing with a lot of the same discriminations that we find whenever we try and go out there and get job, you know, this feeling that like there’s no way that you could do this as a blind person.

And I quote a few people in that science chapter, fairly recent recipients of Ph.D.s in hard sciences, one in organic chemistry and the other one in genetics.  And I think that they’re beginning to have some success, but I’m thinking of actually Hoby Wedler, who was really discouraged.  You know, he went all the way through getting his Ph.D. in organic chemistry and then felt like there was no way that he was going to be able to have a career because the way that chemistry expresses itself, the way it exchanges ideas, is so heavily visual.  I think the way that he said it is, you know, “Getting my ideas into the world, into the literature, and getting the literature to me, they just rely on these visual models.”  And I think that that’s changing; but it’s been difficult, I think, for science-oriented blind people.

GLEN:  Yeah, and when I asked the question, I actually was thinking about the visual models and was sort of trying to give you an opening for the fact that, even though there are other senses that science should consider, they seem to still be visual.

LEONA:  The sighted world assumes that because we take in information through our eyes so readily, right, or as humans take in information through their eyes so readily, that they’re seeing all that there is to be seen, you know, that there’s this connection between sight and truth.  So sometimes forcing the sighted world to do things like image descriptions can actually convey a really interesting message, that two sighted people with perfectly working eyes are not actually seeing the same thing, and that language can actually help us to use our senses better.

GLEN:  I was born blind.  And so a lot of the allusions that are discussed in literature and that you talk about in your book just sort of go over my head because visual terms don’t mean a lot to me.

LEONA:  That’s interesting.  So when you talk about that, do you mean sort of things like these kind of strict binaries between light and dark and things like that?

GLEN:  Well, I mean, even starting with light and dark.  The only reason that dark connotes sort of the ominous to me is because I learned it.  I learned it by rote.  I did not learn it because I experienced dark and was able to viscerally experience it.

LEONA:  Yeah.  I’m so glad you brought that up because I go kind of deep into John Milton.  And granted, he is a poet extraordinaire, a blind poet extraordinaire from the 17th Century, and so it might feel a little old and tired.  But in that chapter I talk a lot about that, right, that idea of darkness as, yeah, something evil.  But also even just this idea that the negativity of darkness is not something that is, again, related to truth in any way.  It’s a cultural construct.

And I bring in a philosopher who’s a blind philosopher who’s having a conversation with a sighted philosopher about that very idea, about what it means to understand darkness.  And he felt maybe a little differently than you insofar as he felt like he could understand darkness because it is a cultural construct.  And then it’s less about the physical sensation of darkness and more about what darkness means.  And I really like his description of darkness can be ominous, but it can also indicate a kind of a comfort and a closeness; right?  The people that you spend darkness with are people that you’re probably kind of close with, intimate with.  So there’s a kind of a comfort and intimacy there, like maybe hiding in a closet or something.

GLEN:  Yeah.  Another theme that I notice in your book is there’s lots of writing about blind people.  And except for memoirs, the majority of it has been done by sighted people.

LEONA:  Yes.  Big problem; right?  I mean, this is a huge problem.  I speak about this in particular in the chapter about blind writers and how difficult it’s been for blind writers to write something other than memoir.  And I think that the only way that that’s going to change is, again, by having community and making sure that we are part of all aspects of cultural creation.  So that means that we need to be editors.  We need to be in the publishing world.  That we need to be the agents and recognize that cultural creation is something that happens not just by one singular amazing person who happens to break through.  We need blind journalists to be telling our stories, and we would certainly have a lot less of those kinds of sticky-sweet inspirational news stories out there.  And I tell you what, I think it really makes a difference.

Recently I interviewed Chris Downey, who’s a blind architect in the San Francisco Bay area.  I was really proud to be able to write an article about him for a magazine that had nothing to do with blindness, right, it was an architect-of-impact piece.  And I got to get into the nitty-gritty of like what he was actually doing and how he was doing it and what was inspiring to him and what was different and what was the same about him being a blind architect and being a sighted architect, and really getting into the interesting part of his having both of those experiences behind him and not worrying so much about like how amazing it was that he was just simply doing his job.

GLEN:  What was the process for you, day by day, and the ways that you began to function differently as vision went away?

LEONA:  I never had the experience of sudden vision loss.  It was always this incredibly slow incremental movement of saying, hmm.  Here’s a good example, a good nice Freedom Scientific example.  For years I used ZoomText in conjunction with JAWS, but I relied very heavily on ZoomText.  And I remember that there was a moment at which I thought, this is really hard and time-consuming.  You know, I had huge letters on my screen, and I would use that kind of half-screen that ZoomText could do.  And sighted people would look at it, and they’d be like, what in the world is going on on your screen?  Like this is completely incomprehensible.

And I remember very distinctly when I finally just said I need to relearn JAWS, and I need to use it exclusively.  And I just spent a few weeks going through the manual and saying, why did I not do this earlier?  You know, why was I relying on my vision for so long?  And I think that there’s been a lot of those moments throughout my life where it’s kind of been like, gosh, this is so much easier if I do it this way, for example picking up that white cane and saying, having the world know that I can’t see is an awfully useful thing.  Why did it take me so long to do this?  So, yeah.

And I’m still doing it, you know, I still am not really that great at braille.  I’m not that great at my white cane skills.  They need brush-ups all the time.  But there is something kind of youthful about learning to adapt your whole life; right?  And you’re moving into middle age, and I think it keeps the brain flexible, you know, this constant adapting.

GLEN:  You read your book for the audio version, but you didn’t really read it using braille.  You used it using JAWS as a prompter.  What was that process like?

LEONA:  So I developed this method when I started performing my writing out.  So first it was just a couple of poems.  And I felt like, man, I’m still not fast enough at braille.  I’m still struggling.  And I would cut my lines really short and kind of use the arrow key to move down the lines and just get little bits at a time so that I could really go at my own pace and ad lib and pause whenever I would need to.  Now, that wasn’t really possible with the audiobook because it was just too much; right?  I mean, there’s a big difference between reading for 10 minutes and reading for 12 hours.

So I talked to some visually impaired friends.  And one of them was James Tate Hill.  And he said that he used a different method and kind of slowed it down so that his speech synthesizer would kind of go slow, and he would just kind of let it roll.  And so I kind of used a combination of those two versions so that I didn’t have to every line, you know, go line by line, but I kind of let JAWS read.  And then the thing about audiobooks is that apparently even if you’re a really amazing reader, you still only get through about I guess a very top audiobook narrator reads maybe 17 pages an hour.

So there’s a lot of stopping and starting.  And I think part of the process was just learning you don’t want to talk about your flubs.  You simply stop, reset, and start that sentence wherever makes sense and do it over again.  But when I was trying to explain this all to the producers, they kind of said, well, why don’t we do some sort of a disclaimer and let people know how you’re reading this.  And it was really important for me to not just say that I’m using a screen reader, but also to say, you know, there’s all kinds of reading, and that reading by ear is also reading.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but in audiobooks there is a convention of when you say things like “Dear Reader”...

GLEN:  Yes.

LEONA:  ...in your writing, that you actually change it on the fly to “Dear Listener.”  And there was one that slipped in, I think one or two slipped in, into my audiobook.  But at some point in the recording I had a big long conversation with the director because I was trying to say, well, listen, we did this disclaimer because my whole point is that listening to an audiobook is reading, so I don’t want to change my Reader to Listener because what would I do if I knew that my book was going to be in braille?  Would I say “Dear Toucher”?

GLEN:  Yes.

LEONA:  Like, how far do we go in this; you know?  So I finally kind of – she wasn’t convinced.  But I was like, this is what I want to do, I want to keep it “Dear Reader.”  But a couple, anyway, a couple “Dear Listeners” slipped in.  And that’s my story.

GLEN:  Was it hard to sell this book?

LEONA:  It wasn’t hard to sell the book, interestingly.  But it’s hard to sell the books.  And I’m not sure which version you were talking about.  So the first selling was selling to a publisher.  But you might be talking about selling the book to people?

GLEN:  No, I meant the first one.  But both of them are...

LEONA:  The first one.  Yes.

GLEN:  Both of them are interesting.

LEONA:  I had an amazing agent.  He found me through writing in the style that is in the book for the most part.  I was writing a column called “A Blind Writer’s Notebook” that was an online column at Catapult.  And so the style really developed there.  And what I mean by “style” was basically this kind of melding of reporting, of a little bit academic, a little bit personal, a little bit talking to friends and friends’ anecdotes and things like that.  So the style was kind of in place.

And then I, with the help of the agent, wrote a proposal.  And the proposal for a nonfiction book is kind of a big document, like 80 pages that has a sample chapter and an introduction and the chapter summaries and things like that.  And we went out on submission, which basically means sending that proposal to potential publishers, potential editors.  And it happened pretty quickly that we got a bite from pretty much my dream publisher, Pantheon, which is a really amazing imprint of Penguin Random House.

Now, selling the book to actual people has been tough.  I mean, to be quite honest, I think that a lot of my potential readers are blind people, and I think that we had such a struggle for so long getting books from any kind of conventional means that we tend not to buy books, which creates a really interesting problem that is, I think that the blind authors that tend to be ingratiating to sighted readers do better.  This is a very unscientific hypothesis.  But I have found in myself that I’ve been like, wow, I need to support the writers that I love with my dollars; you know?  And I do tend to buy, like, Kindle books and things like that just because I think that’s a nice happy medium; right?  They’re accessible, and there’s money involved.  So I can put my monetary stamp on things that I appreciate.

Also I think that again there’s a tendency in sighted readership that feels like, oh, well, this doesn’t pertain to me.  And I feel like this book is really important to both blind and sighted readers.  They’ll get a little something different, both those constituencies will get something different out of the book.  But it was very important for me to point out on many occasions that we are all part of this sight blindness continuum.  And so the idea of sightedness and the idea of blindness feed off of each other, and that they are cultural constructions, not just about the physical abilities or disabilities.

GLEN:  What do you hope sighted people get out of the book, and what do you hope blind people get out of it?

LEONA:  I hope that sighted people begin to realize how integral to our dominant culture blindness has been, and to realize that in order for blindness to not just be a metaphor, but be allowed to have all the complexities of sightedness, there needs to be room for blind writers, for blind script writers, for blind producers, to create the nuanced stories that only somebody who has experience can give those stories.  We talk about authenticity quite a lot when it comes to race and gender experiences.  And I believe we’re beginning to have those conversations about disability; but we can only have more, I think, in order to have these more complex versions of blindness out there in the world.

For blind readers, it’s all about in my mind giving us a sense of our place in the larger dominant cultural history in our literature, and then also promoting the idea of blind pride, promoting the possibility of blind pride in an ocularcentric world that says that usually when you have the word “blind” before a word, when you use “blind” in that way, it tends to be quite negative.  And so that makes that idea of blind pride even more complex, I think, than it is for other pride movements.  And which is why I put a little bit more pressure, I think, than other blind people do on that need to maybe unravel that ubiquitous term of “blind” before everything from faith to evolution.  I think that when we share that adjective with all those negative connotations, it’s quite hard to have blind pride.

GLEN:  Well, that’s probably a good place to leave it.  And the book, although it is available on National Library Service for the Blind and Bookshare, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to go buy the Kindle book.  Pay for some dog food.

LEONA:  Or the Audible book.

GLEN:  Yes, that’s true.

LEONA:  That’s right.  That is right.  Excellent.  Yes, thank you for that final – we’ve got to eat.

GLEN:  Thank you very much.

LEONA:  You’re the best, Glen, thank you.

GLEN:  Thanks.  I look forward to talking to you again.

LEONA:  Next time.

GLEN:  Bye-bye.

LEONA:  Bye.

GLEN:  In addition to her book, “There Plant Eyes,” which is “T H E R E Plant Eyes,” in homage to a quote from Milton, Leona has a couple of blogs that may be of interest to you.  One of them is her main blog, which has an eclectic group of postings.  That’s D R M L G O D I N dot com (drmlgodin.com).  She also has a blog called Aromatica Poetica which explores the arts and science of taste and smell, which has a variety of postings.  She’s also looking for contributions to that blog.  And you can go to A R O M A T I C A P O E T I C A dot com (aromaticapoetica.com).  I’ll put links to both of those in the notes for Episode 222 at blog.freedomscientific.com/fscast.

JAWS Power Tip

GLEN:  And before we wrap things up today, how about a quick Power Tip.  It comes from Kim Kline, who says that he’s used the Dictionary Manager to speed his understanding of certain file extensions.  He writes lots of JAWS scripts, and so he needs to discern between .jsb for Jaws Script Binary and .jsd for Jaws Script Documentation.  And rather than listening character by character, he simply has created two dictionary rules, one that says .jsbravo and the other that says .jsdelta.  It’s unlikely that you have the same issue that Kim does, but there may be other things that you have trouble discerning.  And by creating a dictionary rule you may be able to save yourself some time because you’ll understand what something is when you’re hearing it in the context of reading a line or a sentence.

You get into Dictionary Manager by pressing JAWS Key+D.  You can save yourself a little bit of time by moving the PC or JAWS Cursor to the word for which you want to create a definition, and then press JAWS Key+D.  When Dictionary Manager opens, you’ll be on the ADD button.  Once you activate that, the word you were positioned on will be filled in in the actual text edit field.  All of this is documented in our JAWS Training DAISY books.  But you can also get to it by simply searching for JAWS Dictionary Manager in your favorite search engine, and it’ll bring up the page describing how to use it and offer some exercises for getting practice.

We thank Kim for his tip, but will also reward him with a year added on to his JAWS license.  If you know of something in JAWS that doesn’t seem to get a lot of love and that many people might not be aware of, let us know.  I realize it is a judgment call, but we try to cover a variety of different things in our Power Tips.  So if we don’t use yours right away, don’t despair.  It is still possible we’ll use it down the road.  Write to fscast@vispero.com, fscast@vispero.com.  That address also works for anything else about which you’d like to communicate.  I often say and will say again, it’s great to hear from you.

Signing Off on FSCast 222

GLEN:  Thanks for listening.  I’m Glen Gordon.  We’ll see you next month.


Transcript by elaine@edigitaltranscription.com



edigitaltranscription.com  •  10/25/2022  •  edigitaltranscription.com