Welcome to my home page. I became blind at birth. I started programming computers at a young age. I also earned my general class amateur radio license, KA3TTT, a hobby to which I have returned with great joy. I practice Qigong and consider myself a Taoist. I use Linux as my desktop and Android as my mobile OS. I eat gluten-free vegan meals. For the rest you'll have to read my blog.
I have loved radios as long as I can remember. This caused me to become interested in amateur radio, which caused me to learn morse code. Recently, I thought of trying to use morse code as an alternative to typing on my iPhone’s on-screen keyboard. What a great idea. I love technology!
I remember my first encounter with an alarm clock radio probably around age one or so. I hit a few buttons and it made a loud squealing noise. I worried I had broken the radio and that Mommy and Daddy would get mad. Even though I felt scared, I realized that pushing the buttons caused the noise to happen, and that intrigued me.
A number of years later, my family went to the Franklin Institute. At the time, they had a radio room. It doesn’t live there anymore. The nice people enthusiastically showed me their setup, and explained how I could use ham radio to talk around the world. I heard the strange sounds and beeps and voices. I felt amazed. Remember that all this happened probably in 1982-1983, long before the internet became popular. Back then, amateur radio offered a way to do something most would consider impossible: to talk around the world for free. That really began my interest in electronics.
Around age ten, I started studying to get my amateur radio license. A year later I passed my novice exam, and got my call of KA3TTT, which I have to this day. I could never part with a call like that!
At the time, the novice exam required a five word per minute morse code exam. I passed it, but didn’t really know code that well. You can’t do much at that slow speed anyway. I got an HT, like a walkie-talkie for ham radio, and began chatting on local repeaters, communication relays. Unfortunately, I became involved with an elitist clique, since I didn’t know the difference between fake cool people and real cool people at that young age. One time, they berated my code ability, so I decided to buckle down, just to show them and prove my coolness. The next year I had passed my thirteen words per minute general exam and at the same time my twenty words per minute extra code exam. I also took the tech and general theory exams, making me a general class operator. I don’t even know what that translates to today. They’ve totally redone the licensing scheme and eliminated the code tests.
Back in 1991, I had a good grasp of code and used it often to talk with people around the world. After breaking through the barrier at around eight words per minute, the brain can start hearing whole letters instead of individual dots and dashes, and things rapidly improve. Code became something instinctive, impossible to forget. Sadly, the elitist radio club of which I spoke acted in a very nasty way to a friend of mine, and that turned us both off to amateur radio. Neither of us have gone on air since. Thanks, guys. Keep wondering why your hobby dies.
After that I decided to fully get into computers. I didn’t need to deal with a bunch of fevered egos tainting my subconscious, and the PC had started really taking off, so I dove in. That brings us up to last summer, when I got an iPhone. What a beautiful machine. If only it had something easier to type with than the on-screen keyboard.
Then a few days ago it hit me. Why not use morse code as a text input? This would allow one to write messages in code, then copy and paste them. It turns out a few apps exist to do just this. I will first cover a solution which requires jailbreaking, then two apps which do not. I should also say that it does take some practice, so don’t feel frustrated if you can’t get it right away, even if you know code. You will.
For the most integrated solution, you will need to jailbreak your phone. Once you do, you can purchase iDitDahText from Cydia. When installed, you will see an SPSettings toggle. Turn it on and you will see a two-paddle keyboard come up instead of the standard text keyboard. VoiceOver users will notice a weird fusion of the default keyboard and the morse code paddles. Don’t worry. Just disable VoiceOver and tap away. Along the top of the keyboard you will find a row of special keys. It works better to toggle VoiceOver to activate one of these, except for backspace which you can find easily enough. From left to right they go backspace, shift, refresh, space, and return. This solution works wonderfully, and it works everywhere.
If you do not want to jailbreak your phone, you still have a few options. Morse2Text by HotPaw Productions does what it promises. It has straight key and iambic modes. At first I used the straight key, but have since begun to love the iambic mode. I enjoyed using an iambic keyer in my ham radio days. It works exactly as I’d expect. Just write the message in code. You have to turn VoiceOver off first, so set up your triple-click home to do that if you haven’t. While writing, you can swipe in the text field above the keying pad to the left to erase a character and to the right to insert a space. I turned off the option to suppress spaces because it would mess with my head too much, knowing the rhythm. Still, some will like it. The app outputs its letters in lowercase, so after you write your message you can always go back and clean it up. By the way, the buttons don’t have proper labels yet, so the “email edit” button lets you do things to the text, such as clearing it or copying it to your clipboard. You can also edit it with the on-screen keyboard to clean it up right in the program. Wonderful.
Since I wrote this article, Morse-It has also become accessible with VoiceOver. It offers the same features as Morse2Text and more. It has some great features to help you learn code as well. I would like to thank the developer for taking an interest in accessibility. I also want to thank the people on the viPhone mailing list.
I really enjoy coding instead of texting. As said, it takes some practice. I still find myself editing and cleaning up, and admittedly at this initial stage it can take me longer to send the message than with typing, but I see that changing with practice. I just need to get back into the rhythm. It offers a much more efficient way to input text. What hath Goddess wrought! By the way, that parodies the first message sent by Samuel Morse over telegraph: What hath God wrought! It turns out this comes from the Bible, specifically Numbers 23:23. Since Discordians consider 23 a sacred number, surely this seems like a sign from Goddess Herself to further investigate this idea.
My trusty and dusty Kenwood TS440E sits on a table in an unused room. My Kenwood triband HT sits uncharged nearby just in case. It does also work as a scanner. I suppose I should get someone to put up an antenna for the HF rig. I suppose I should also invest in a new keyer, as my iambic keyer fell apart years ago. Still, I feel scared to go back on air, due to my past bad experiences. Whatever, I won’t worry about it. I can type with morse code on my iPhone! I even have the Echolink app on my iPhone in case I really do want to take the plunge. I probably won’t. Why bother? I’ll probably only start caring about amateur radio again when they start trying to regulate the internet and – oh wait! I guess I’d better get back on air.
Now that I think about it, I had a lot of fun with ham radio. I talked all over the country and the world. I heard lots of cool sounds and languages. I went to some great radio camps. It also got me in the habit of not using profanity while on air, guarding myself and watching the words coming out of my mouth. This has paid off when doing internet broadcasts. In a way I feel sad I got out of ham radio, but given what happened I do not regret my decision or my choices since. However, I think the time has come to bring things full circle. I have loved radios as long as I can remember.
I have it! I have my iPad 2. Getting it proved one of the strangest experiences in recent days. Listen if you will to my tale.
When Apple announced the iPad 2, I felt intrigued, and wondered if I should buy one despite owning an iPad 1. I read and thought and read some more, and eventually decided to. I wanted to experience the dual core processor, and wondered if it would boost VoiceOver performance. The iPad 1 always seemed a little clunky to me. The new design sounded interesting as well, and I wondered if it would have better feel appeal. Apple always does such a wonderful job with making things that feel cool to hold. I also felt very excited when I learned of the glass display. I figured I wouldn’t have a problem finding a new owner for my iPad 1, I still consider it a beautiful piece of machinery, but I wanted to move forward.
I read that Apple would make it available at 04:00 A.M. eastern time on March 10th. I knew they would sell out fast, but as it happened, one of my favorite radio shows called Over the Edge, would play then anyway, so I knew I could successfully pull this off. By 04:30 I had used my iPad 1 to purchase my iPad 2, with an estimated shipping speed of 3-5 business days. Perfect. The night owl gets the iPad! I enjoyed the show and went to bed. When I woke up, Japan had suffered the earthquake and the world had changed.
Around 01:00 in the afternoon I checked the Twittersphere to find that shipment dates on the iPad 2 had moved back to 3-4 weeks. I felt glad about my clever plan. I received the proper confirmation emails from Apple, and within a few days its journey had started from China. The situation in Japan had worsened and people wondered if this would effect the production of the iPad 2. I wondered if mine would become radioactive. I felt bad for those afflicted, but read a touching article which said that Apple stores had become rallying points, describing people flocked outside them just so they could get an internet connection. They also let people charge their iDevices, and I pictured iPhone users like myself frantically doing so. I wondered if any blind Japanese iPhone users charged theirs. With these thoughts I waited.
My order said I would get my iPad 2 by March 18th. They also shipped my smart cover in a separate package with the same arrival date. As the date drew closer I tracked the package and saw that the iPad would arrive on the 17th, St. Patrick’s day, with the cover still scheduled for the 18th. This made me feel great, and I even came up with a witty title for my article: Top of the iPad 2 ya!
I love St. Patrick’s day, even though I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me. My friend Liz comes over and we listen to Irish music and live coverage on Live Ireland. I cook vegetarian stew and we have a good time. Neither of us drink. This year, I anticipated a special day indeed. Imagine my shock when my iPad didn’t show up.
I couldn’t believe it. I had tracked the package during the whole day. The package had gone out for delivery in the morning, and I sat in my recliner by the front door, anxiously awaiting the doorbell. Suddenly, it showed as delivered and signed for. My doorbell had not rung and I had not gotten it, let alone signed for it. I paced my porch and wondered.
I didn’t know what else to do, so continued my day’s plans. I started preparing vegetarian Guinness stew. As the name suggests it calls for a bottle of Guinness in the stew. Since I don’t drink I didn’t have any, and since you can’t buy alcohol in Swarthmore I couldn’t easily get any. Fortunately I got my mom to bring me some, which she picked up at Swarthmore Pizza. They technically reside in a neighboring town, so can serve alcohol. She also scanned my porch and confirmed that I had no package. With that knowledge and a bottle of Guinness I continued, unsure of what to think.
Liz came over, and we enjoyed the wonderful stew, which worked out perfectly. We even sent Live Ireland an email, and the two hosts, a vegetarian and a vegan, wanted the recipe. Very cool! Liz left with a bunch and gave me a cake she had spontaneously bought. I enjoyed the day immensely, but worried about my package.
The next day I waited outside in the pleasant almost nice afternoon with my MacBook Air. My other package with my smart cover still showed out for delivery, so I hoped that would come and I could snag the Fedex guy and ask him some questions. He finally showed up, and I signed for the package. If they make me sign for a $39 smart cover, then surely they would make me sign for a $599 iPad. I told him the story so far and he said that they have three guys, and that one of the others must have delivered the package. He suggested I call Fedex, so I did.
Nothing they said made sense. They showed the same thing I saw, delivered and signed for… by K Seraphin? My name starts with an A, and I have an illegible signature. I began to suspect the worst, that someone ripped off my iPad. They told me they would initiate a trace, but I wouldn’t hear anything until Monday. This bothered me, but what else could I do? I could celebrate the Equinox and watch the Lord of the Rings! Before the day ended though I did call Apple, who told me to wait to hear from Fedex, and if I could not get the package they would send me a replacement or a refund. They handled the whole thing very professionally. Once again Apple came through. Now I had a cover but no iPad.
I spent the weekend listening to some Tolkien material and taking care of any loose ends so I could relax for a few days. On Sunday the 20th I began my celebration at 07:20 PM eastern time. I enjoyed the movies but wondered what I’d hear on Monday. Monday came and I heard that they would have the delivery guy go back to exactly where he dropped it off and try to retrieve it, and that I would hear them on Tuesday. I didn’t know what else to do, so thanked them and continued watching the movies, contemplating the theme of uncertainty. The movies have less uncertainty than the books, since the movie starts with the backstory. In the books the reader only learns this information at the Council of Elrond, midway through the first book.
Tuesday came. Interestingly, this correlated with 1 Ahau in the Mayan calendar, the sacred day of Venus. I put on disc one of the Fellowship of the Ring and waited. Fedex called as the Council of Elrond gathered. The lady told me that they contacted the delivery man, and he felt absolutely confident that he dropped the package off. I told her I felt absolutely confident that he didn’t, and that I didn’t sign for it, and what’s this? You have a signature release that I didn’t agree to either? The more she talked, the less things made sense. The less things made sense, the angrier I became. I stepped outside to make sure I hadn’t gone absolutely insane and missed the package, but of course found nothing. She just sat there, as dumb and silent as a paperweight, and told me to contact Apple. I felt disgusted and thanked her. I hung up right as Frodo accepted his quest.
By this time five days had passed and I had to consider the possibility of theft. I did mention it on Twitter. Could someone have ripped it off? Did someone stalk me down and wait outside my house to intercept the delivery guy and forge my signature to rip off my iPad? It seemed too complicated. It would make more sense for a criminal to just rip off a package from Apple. And what of the signature? And what of the release that I didn’t agree to? Did this iPad stealing ring even reach into Fedex? They could collaborate with a Fedex worker with access to that information to alter computer records to make off with packages. I cursed all the god damn iPad spammers on Twitter, offering their free iPad 2’s that likely fell off the back of a delivery truck just like Mine. Curse them! Destroyers and usurpers! But what of the delivery guy who felt confident he delivered it? Did they get him in on it too? Who do you even mean by They? The Russians?
I talked the situation over with my family, and decided to file a police report. I had never done this before. I called the local police, and a guy took down my information in a matter of fact way. He didn’t seem too alarmed, but agreed that at the least Fedex did not follow proper procedure. Something clearly had gone wrong. He gave me the report number and also suggested I talk to Apple. All roads seemed to lead there anyway, so I called them back. I told them that I had heard from Fedex, who told me nothing and to call Apple. Apple understood, and told me they would launch an investigation within twenty-four hours. They also deducted the price of the smart cover for the inconvenience. How thoughtful. I decided to try to enjoy the rest of the movie.
I put on Disc two of the Fellowship of the Ring. The fellowship soon met Galadriel, the Lady of Light. Suddenly, my doorbell rang. I had a strange feeling. Would it really happen? Would I get my iPad 2 while celebrating the Equinox as well as 1 Ahau in the Mayan calendar, the sacred day of Venus, and right at the moment when the fellowship receives gifts from the Lady of Light?
A woman stood on my porch. “Hello. I have this package for you.” I could hardly believe it. “They delivered it to the house two doors down. I don’t know why people do this, but instead of just bringing it to you, they called us. When we went to retrieve it the first time, they weren’t home, and they finally called back again today and I just got it. It’s been sitting there since…. I don’t know when.” “Since Thursday.” I said elatedly. I felt awestruck. I signed for the package myself for real with my wacky signature and gratefully accepted it. I thanked this wonderful manifestation of Goddess profusely. She had done it. She had come through. After all my fears, it came back to the SNAFU principle as it usually does. Situation Normal: All Fucked Up. Hobbits have such a sense of family, but I can’t even get someone two doors down to bring a blind neighbor a package.
I brought the package inside as the movie played. “My gift to you, Legolas, is a bow of the Galadhrim, worthy of the skill of our woodland kin. (To MERRY and PIPPIN) These are the daggers of Noldorin. They have already seen service in war. Do not fear, young Peregrin Took. You will find your courage.” I got out my pocketknife. “And for you, Samwise Gamgee, Elven rope made of hithlain.” “Thank you, my lady. Have you run out of those nice shiny daggers?” I battled with the pocketknife to get a blade to open the package, then decided to resort to scissors. “And what gift would a dwarf ask of the Elves?” I began opening the box. “Nothing. Except to look upon the lady of the Galadhrim one last time. For she is more fair than all the jewels beneath the earth.” I got it open and started extracting the box containing the iPad. “Actually… there was one thing.. er.. no, no I couldn’t. It’s quite impossible. Stupid to ask.” “I removed the box and cast aside the packing materials. “I have nothing greater to give than the gift you already bear.” I started opening the cellophane. “You have your own choice to make, Aragorn. To rise above the height of all your fathers since the days of Elendil, or to fall into darkness with all that is left of your kin. Nam·riÎ”
Finally, at long last, I actually held the iPad 2 in my hands. “Farewell, Frodo Baggins. I give you the light of Earendil, our most beloved star.” “May it be a light for you in dark places, where all other lights go out.” I felt absolutely overcome by the beauty of the synchronicity, not to mention the beauty of the object I now held in my curious hands. I knew that I held a blessed item. It is precious to me.
Epilogue: I hooked it up to my iMac. iTunes automagically imported my settings from my old iPad, and the brand new iPad 2 came up talking immediately. Wonderful beautiful Apple! I called off the police investigation and told Apple as well. Everything worked out. It took a whole article just to tell the story of how I got it. Now I have to write my review of the actual device. By the way, I think I will give my iPad 1 to my Mom. iPads make perfect Mom devices.
I feel glad to report that we can now add light probes to the list of blind technology now made obsolete by the iPhone. Recently, I received an email from a blind user who worked with Everywhere Technologies to create the Light Detector app. It costs a dollar and behaves as advertised.
The app works very simply. It produces a constantly wavering tone. A higher tone means a more intense light source. It doesn’t even have any controls. Just start it and enjoy. Press the home button to end. Perfect.
Unlike the Color Identifier app which I previously demonstrated, this app measures the intensity of the light as opposed to its color. Often, this will tell you all you need to know. For example, when I used Earthlink, which I recently learned still exists, we had a little problem. My DSL went out as it would from time to time. Usually it didn’t matter, but once in a great while I would have to call in a ticket to get it resolved. At first this didn’t pose a problem, I would explain that I couldn’t tell them about the lights on the modem and they would understand and fill out the ticket and I would get my net back. Then one day this happened and I called in only to find that they had outsourced their tech support. I couldn’t believe it. I kept trying to explain to some guy in Goddess knows where that I could not see the lights on the modem. “That’s what blind means. I can’t see the lights.” I kept saying, but to no avail. Of course it happened when the rest of my family went on a vacation and I couldn’t summon a sighted person to immediately come and tell them about the stupid lights on the stupid modem. As a result I didn’t have my DSL for a week and that ended our relationship. I wish I would have had this app then.
It seems interesting to me that this app gives a different way to perceive light than the Color Identifier app. Some might wonder why one would just want to know the intensity, when you could know the color. The two things make up two properties of light. Color Identifier will pick up the color of objects, of light reflected off objects, and of light sources. The Light Detector app just picks up the intensity of a light source. It intrigues me to perceive vision in these two different modalities. Once again, technology makes it possible.
I feel inspired that the iPhone continues to make other specialized technology mainstream and obsolete. I feel inspired that a blind user worked with developers to make this wonderful app. As a programmer, I feel inspired by the app’s minimalist design. You never know what wonderful surprises life will bring next. Let there be light, and let there be light detectors. You can hear an audio demonstration here.
I previously detailed my purchase of the Asus RT-N16 router, on which I put DDWRT. At the time, that seemed like the right choice, but recently I have had reason to switch to Tomato. For a loving touch, I did it on Valentine’s night. How sweet.
Both firmwares offer a Linux-based open-source alternatives to the stock firmware which comes with a router, and which usually sucks. I originally went with DD-WRT, and for a while it seemed to work. Then, I started trying to configure VO/IP software, and started running into problems with SIP routing. I tried both Asterisk and Freeswitch, eventually settling on the latter. At this stage it didn’t matter though, as neither worked. I could make calls internally, but as soon as someone tried accessing from the outside it failed.
We banged our collective heads against a firewall until Bec the Tech read reviews on NewEgg which recommended Tomato. Sure enough, development seems to have fragmented with DD-WRT, especially when it comes to my specific router. Bec almost returned her router after installing dd-wrt, because it kept locking her out, not letting her enter an admin password. The web interface also acted very slowly and kept crashing with Firefox and Window-Eyes. She had much better luck with Tomato, and showed me the interface, which I liked even more, especially the port forwarding. It works spectacularly with Safari and VoiceOver on the Mac as well, which I use. I wondered if it would fix my SIP issues. No matter what, I would at least get a better interface. I decided to go for it.
I found very straightforward instructions for Linux. They seemed very doable. It took me a few times, but eventually I got it working just with tftp. Pretty nifty. I then switched back to Safari on my Mac for the web work. As said, the interface behaves wonderfully. I did find two unlabeled fields, but quickly figured out that they contain dns servers. A blind person who knows their way around a router could figure that out, though they should label the field. Other than that little thing, I’ve felt very satisfied. The countdown timer even works well, a neat effect to see it updating a timer while the router reboots.
After getting it configured the time came for the real test. I entered in all the SIP ports in the forwarding table, a very easy task by the way, the best port forwarding interface I’ve used. I tried calling internally. It worked. Then Bec tried calling. We could hear each other! It worked!
I did notice one thing, and I wonder if it has always happened and I just noticed it now while testing. It seems that my cordless phone interferes with my wireless network. When I use my iPhone and pick up my cordless, the iPhone switches to 3G. I found this out accidentally, but it makes sense. I tried switching channels but to no avail. I even tried Tomato’s cool channel scanner with the cordless phone active at several ranges. Nothing seems to make a difference. At first I wondered about Tomato, but now I kind of wonder if it just always happened and I only noticed now. I’ll let you all know when I know more.
So in summary, if you use DD-WRT and have started noticing weird routing problems, switch to Tomato. Don’t bang your head against a firewall for nothing. You still get all of the Linux goodness, and a cleaner interface. The development also seems more centralized and stable. As Bec said, “I trust teddybears more than crazy Russians.”
I just attended an adaptive sports expo put on by Loretta Cohen at the YMCA in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I met Loretta while skiing for the second time. She told me that I should attend her expo. I promised I would and I did. I feel very inspired by the whole thing. I prepared a special audio presentation which contains a bunch of the demonstrations and the main presentation. I hope you enjoy.
Adaptive sports refer to sports modified for those with special needs. This includes those blind like me, as well as those in wheelchairs or with artificial limbs, anything special like that. I pretty much specialize in my own disability, so it felt interesting to see others with issues I had never considered. They had wheelchair basketball and hockey, and even ballroom dancing. They had demonstrations of swimming, kayaking, and even scuba. In the room where I spent the most time, they had golf and the thing I came to see, karate.
I went with my Mom, who also has an interest in such things. We met Loretta, who recognized me immediately as her skiing buddy. She signed us in and told us about the different programs. We walked around, and quickly found the golf and karate room.
As soon as I entered, Ken greeted me: “Oh! My favorite disability to work with!” He greeted all of those interested with similar enthusiasm. He got right down to business. I like that.
I took karate as a kid, and some of it sort of came back to me. He jingled some keys to give me an audio cue, and had me block his hand. Next, he showed me how to use my other hand to engage their wrist to enter grappling mode. He then began showing me how to use my cane as a weapon. I have a graphite cane, a very light material, which I prefer. You can use anything as a weapon. This would become an amazing reoccurring theme. The whole time he showed me things, he also demonstrated to his assistant Chris. This guy really took a beating throughout the day.
We explored a few more uses of the cane. First he demonstrated using it to restrain. Then you can do lots of cool things, such as squeezing their throat. Next, he showed how to use it to strike. This does two things. It inflicts damage of course, but it also conveys information. The position of the strike on the cane tells the location of the attacker. Mobility skills transfer perfectly here, using the same skills one would ordinarily use for navigation. Cool class!
He then had to work with an amputee. he would take a different approach for each person, since every disability has unique challenges, and each person has unique needs. For this guy, he said that he would not have a challenge, since he ambulates well, and that they would concentrate on balance. He said to assume that he would end up on the ground, and to use that to his advantage. “Every able-bodied person will have to bend over to beat you up.” Man cannot fight if man cannot stand.
A girl came up to me, who introduced herself as Laura, a volunteer. Ken then came back to me and reinforced using the cane as a weapon. “If someone gets you on the ground, you start poking them with your cane. In their ribs, in their throat, in their head. These things will make people want to run away. Does this make sense?” “Yes.” “I can’t hear you!” “YEAH!” He demonstrated a few things on Chris. This included a clap to the ear, which would make someone deaf.
Next, one of his younger students came in, a girl probably around twelve or so in a wheelchair. “Chris, would you mind attacking her as you see fit?” SHe has a white belt, don’t worry. She successfully defended herself using some chops. “Hit him with the wheelchair.” encouraged Ken. He then showed me a move where you curl your fingers back and strike someone under the nose with the heel of your hand. Badass! “Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Claw the eyes out! Good girl.” It felt inspiring to see a white belt girl in a wheelchair defending herself, even in a controlled setting. “It’s cool to use whatever accessories you have.” I said. “Exactly. They are part of you.” said Ken.
Laura told me that they also had golfing in this room, so we decided to check it out. I played some golf as a kid as well, but neither of us knew enough to really do anything. Laura plays Rugby. “I could put a golf club in your hand, but I don’t even know how to size it up or anything.” she said. “I don’t even know what that means, so I guess we’re in the same boat. I guess we’ll both learn.” We would have a presentation in five minutes, so the golf instructor didn’t have much time. He referred me to the Middle Atlantic Blind Golf Association. I had heard about them. Maybe this year I’ll check them out. We had to go to go see ballroom dancing in wheelchairs.
We headed over to the gym and waited for the event to start. Mom and I talked about the karate demonstration. I asked her what belt I had, and she said she remembers a yellow belt in the wash. She also said the little girl student looked so cute, and about the same height as when I did karate. We discussed the range of disabilities. Mom saw a lot of wheelchairs and amputees. “You know the guy you were talking to about golf? No legs.” I found it interesting that since I can’t see the other people, I don’t know what disability they have. I wouldn’t have known. Mom reminded me of our trip to the Apple store, where I had a salesman with a prosthetic arm. Laura found me and helped me fill out a survey. Interested in golf and karate and skiing (which ironically they didn’t list) in the afternoon or evening.
Loretta came on and gave a speech thanking everyone and introducing the demonstrations to follow. Ken came up with his faithful assistant Chris. “All I have to say is that a lot of people believe or want to believe that people with disabilities are helpless and great targets, I am here to prove to you today that we are not.” He shut off the mic and began some thumping moves. At one point, he threw Chris to the ground with such a strong grip on his pants, that they ripped. The recording even picked it up! Everyone laughed. Poor guy, but you must admit, it would distract an attacker! After Chris got thrown to the hard gymnasium floor a few times, I think Mom started feeling a little freaked out. I assured her that black belts learn how to take falls. Chris progressed to using a stick, a knife, and with a final warning from Ken not to try this at home, a toy gun. Ken disarmed Chris each time. Everyone applauded, and gave another round for Chris.
Next, they brought up American Dance Wheels, who adapt the sport of dancing to those in wheelchairs. “Ken isn’t always a killer, he’s sometimes a lover.” He would later explain to me that a lot of the same moves he uses in martial arts he also uses in dancing – an interesting duality. I know nothing about dancing. I wondered if learning it would make me more of a gentleman or something. After Ken danced to oldies, the cute karate girl from earlier came up and danced to modern pop music. The instructor showed how dance steps map to the wheels on a wheelchair.
After that, Loretta introduced Scott Brown who demonstrated swimming. He works with the Pennsylvania Center for Adaptive Sports, the same group who has the skiing program. He wanted to do SCUBA too. I would have liked to see that, but unfortunately when we found the pool it had a sign warning us NO STREET SHOES. He also does rowing, a five-time world champion who competed in the para-olympics. He gave an inspirational speech. He didn’t do sports until after his accident, where they became a method of recovery. It got him up and doing things again. He calls adaptive sports the rehab after rehab. This makes good sense. They can only go so far in rehab organizations, then you have to go from there.
Loretta closed by thanking her sponsor, and said to get out and try something! That sounded good so we headed back to the karate room for more action. I saw Laura again, and asked her for the contact info for karate. This didn’t seem apparent, but then she spotted some surprisingly high quality promotional key rings with the name and number. Open Hands Karate. Ken and Chris came back in and we talked about his class. They don’t usually train disabled students separately, which I found interesting. I got private lessons when I took karate as a kid. I needed them. Ken asked about my interests. I mentioned this blog and this article and the fact that I want to start a business to help people with special needs use technology. I excitedly brought out my iPhone and showed him my home screen. Ken said this technology makes him feel more inclusive of people. “There’s a place for me now and in the future. I hate to think of it like this, but a hundred years ago I would have been allowed to die.” “And now we can do more.” I completed the thought. He wondered what we missed out on a hundred years ago. “There’s no telling what’s going to happen next. That’s why I am so excited about it.”
A girl came in, and authoritatively said she came here for martial arts. She introduced herself as Erin, and I learned through Ken’s questioning that she uses a wheelchair due to arthritis. Again, I would never have known, since I couldn’t see her. “We’re not going to worry about what you can’t do, we’re just going to find out what you can.” Ken assured her.
Ken included me by showing me moves, then having her follow me. “Power chairs are fun to maneuver.” she said cheerfully. So now we had a karate instructor in a wheelchair demonstrating moves to a blind person to show to another student in a wheelchair as well. This felt great. He also made comments to Chris about adapting karate to someone in a wheelchair. I always felt impressed how he would adapt the art to the person’s unique disability. He showed us upper, middle, and lower blocks. With me, he showed me my cane’s potential, and with Erin he showed her how her wheelchair acts as armor and can inflict damage. He said she should consider these things when getting her next chair. She said she also plays power hockey. He then showed me how to use my cane as an extension of my arm. This turns blocks into ranged strikes!
He made fun of able-bodies who say that someone with a disability couldn’t learn martial arts. The discussion doesn’t get very far talking to a black belt in a wheelchair. It reminds me of when sighted people complain that they can’t watch a movie because of how it looks. That excuse won’t go very far with me. Now go watch Pi already! “I an Rabbi Cohen. Cohen, like you.”
Ken then asked Erin where she lives. She said past Medford, which I presumed contained Medford Lake. I fell into Medford Lake when my family lived there for a short time. While in a canoe, my Dad thought his four-year-old blind son should feel a lilly pad. He leaned WAY over to try to retrieve one. You can take it from there. Erin came quite a ways just to find out about any adaptive karate in her area. Chris knew of someone, and I wish her the best.
Next, another girl in a wheelchair came in. She has cerebral palsy. He showed her the same thing he showed Erin: if someone messes with you, run their butt over! After dealing with her, he told us three good rules to keep in mind. Man can’t fight if man can’t stand. “We make a liar out of that.” he said to Erin. Man can’t fight if man can’t see. “You make a liar out of that one, but able-bodies believe it.” he said to me. Then, a universal one: Man can’t fight if man can’t breathe. Hit his throat. Cup his nose and mouth. He’ll want to get away from you real quick. Or run them over with a chair or hit them with a stick. Sounds right for me.
He does not advocate this as a philosophy for life, rather a philosophy for making sure his life extends. “Creating the ability to turn on the attitude of being aggressive, and understanding and saying to yourself: I have the right to be, I have the right to my space, and I have the right to live a nice easy life, and you shouldn’t interfere with that. And I have those beliefs in spades.” I pointed out how a lot of this stuff seemed very simple. I know it takes complexity and training, but he knew what I meant. The body can only move in a certain number of ways.
Erin asked him about his specific disability. He said he had polio in 1958. He remembers the night he got interested in martial arts. It happened on the first Friday in September 1966, the night the Green Hornet first aired, and the night he first saw Bruce Lee. It took him twenty-two years to find the right teacher. It took him seven years for him to get a black belt. Now he teaches others.
Another woman named Chris came in, also an amputee, and she also had a cane. We back into some cane combat. I asked if I should buy a heavier cane, and he said that he liked my cane. I have a folding cane, with four segments held together by an elastic band. He demonstrated how to hit someone, then while they recover, pull the cane apart and use the elastic band to choke them. Yes! Her cane has a hook on it, as walking canes do, and he showed her how to take advantage of that. Canes make good weapons, with metal harder than bone. “You don’t want to go to the door of success, you want to go through the door of success.”
After a few more demonstrations the time came to leave. I felt great about the whole thing. We said our good byes, and I went home. I’ve since learned that Loretta will conduct one of these expos on the second Sunday of each month. I have a feeling we will have more fun articles and presentations like this in the future. If you live in the Philadelphia suburbs, check this out! You won’t regret it, no matter your disability. Now I have to look into technology to help people in wheelchairs. I found these cool wheelchair mounts for the iPad, for example. It always feels illuminating to think about other disabilities. I also can’t escape the irony that I wouldn’t have known which disabilities others had because of my own disability. It really makes you think. Now get out and try something fun!