Reid My Mind Radio: Chancey Fleet Assisting with More than Technology

Returning from a medical leave (see the last episode and post for an update) we resume where we last left off…

We were looking at employment of people with disabilities. Continuing with the theme, today’s episode explores one person’s experience with lessons that are applicable to everyone not only people with disabilities.

Chancey Fleet is the Assistive Technology Coordinator for the Andrew Heiskel Talking Book Library in New York City. We hear all about how she landed that position and how she continues to expand her role while aiding the community.

When you’re done listening make sure you subscribe to the podcast and tell a friend to do the same!

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Today, I’m further exploring the topic of employment of people with disabilities through the experience of one young ladies career. We find out how she made her way into her current position and how she continues to expand it and grow benefiting not only herself and her employer, but the community which she serves.

As usual, I believe there are lessons that go beyond disability, but that’s really up to you the listener to decide.

Before we get into it, you know what I need to do…

[Scratch]
Drop it!
[Reid My mind Radio Theme Music]

TR:
[City Sounds]

If you walk across 20th street In New York City, between 5th and 6th Ave tucked in among the various commercial buildings is a library

TR in conversation with CF:
Andrew Haskell? Heiskel?

CF:
Andrew Haskell.
So here’s the thing . The technically correct pronunciation is Andrew Heiskel, but when you say it correctly you suddenly have a ton of people looking for the high school.

TR in conversation with CF:
[Laughs…]

CF:
So there’s just this wave of convenient wrongness where we all kind of say Andrew Haskell now, but you can avoid all of that by just remembering our web address which is talkingbooks.nypl.org, nice and easy.

We’re kind of two libraries in one. We are a full brand of the NYPL which means this is a place where all types of members of the community come to pick up their holds pick up their books and DVD’s. Use the Wi-Fi get some studying done take advantage of our computer labs and gather together.

We got story time for kids, we got programs for teens and adults. Opera concerts creative writing you name it.

The one things that you won’t find in this building that you find in most public libraries is a whole lot of print because as well as being part of the NYPL, we are a sub-regional location for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. And what that means is that we’re also an operations that sends out tons of Braille and audio books by mail and folks could come in and pick those up as well.

TR:
Meet Chancey Fleet. She’s the Assistive Technology Coordinator at that library.

Chancey says to her knowledge she is the first Assistive Technology Coordinator for the library.

While working as an Assistive Technology Trainer in a Vocational Rehabilitation Agency she became frustrated when she was unable to assist those who weren’t eligible for services.
CF:
sometimes the consumer would have a question about Twitter or Facebook or taking pictures outside and I would be dying to answer it but I would know that that was just outside of my scope of work. and it would need to just stay that way. And at the same time folks would come up to me knowing me from activism from outside of the place where I worked and they’d need help with computers and technology and if they were undocumented or they were homemakers or retired or happily employed or had vision issues or print issues that didn’t add up to legal blindness they wouldn’t be eligible to come see me. And all of that started to feel a little limiting and a little frustrating and I guess I started to think about why we have the structures that we have. And I think the structures that we have are great a lot of the time and I would never want to see them replaced but sometimes we need more than one way to do things.

TR:
In 2010 Chancey found that other way at the library. She approached the leadership at the Andrew Heiskel library and asked if she and some friends could offer a free computer clinic on Saturdays. And by free she meant F R E E, free…

CF:
Free one on one instruction. Free of eligibility, requirements, free of paperwork and free of charge at the library.

And we started out with just three or four volunteers. I was one of them,
my friend Nihal my friend Walei and lots of other folks joined us over the years.

we got the information into the library newsletter and quietly , slowly it started to take off.

What we do is totally peer supported, informal learning. So we’ll never replace comprehensive training right. Just like you wouldn’t go to the library to take a Chemistry class, but you might come to the library to get help on some specific Chemistry problem or finding a study group or finding the right resources. We do kind of the same thing.

TR:
The assistance includes some real world challenges related to vision loss.

CF:

I think one of the scariest or daunting things about losing your vision or about being blind without access to information is people are telling you things that might be good for you or not all the time and if you have a way to write things down and if you don’t have a way to refer back to things and decide on your schedule when you can sit down and figure out what’s important for you, it can be really overwhelming.

We’re here at the library so we have the digital talking book machines that are totally free of charge and we have flash drives and if nothing else,

if someone is super new to technology and they don’t have a way to write in Braille or write in print we can just record what we do here on a flash drive and they can play it back on the free players at any time. And that’s how we can scaffold them until they can get to that point where they can use their personal technology to take notes.

TR:
What started out in 2010 as a volunteer position offering 3 hours a week grew to the library providing about 150 hours of training a month in 2014.

That volunteer position, became a full time paid position that Chancey was perfectly suited to fill.

CF:
A job posting showed up at the end of 2013 and I was happy to see it. My Saturday’s at the library had become the highlight of my week and I saw an increasing number of volunteers and patrons coming to learn gathering at the library and really getting important work done in kind of a low key informal setting.

And sometimes the conversation would stray outside the boundaries of technology. and I’d walk in and somebody would be talking about how it is they sort their mail or sort their laundry or what it was like to take the subway for the first time instead of taking Access-A-Ride. And that peer to peer informal learning that might be about technology but touches all sorts of threads of importance in our lives. I thought that was really special and I wanted to see that continue to grow

TR:

It grew into more programming for the city’s blind and visually impaired community. In addition to providing individual help with Braille the, library offers some cool progressive programming. Like a class in photography and videography.
taught by Judy Dixon, Consumer Relations Officer of the NLS.

CF:

So folks learn about composing photos and videos . We learned about perspective and glare and how lighting conditions and distance affects things. And Judy shared with us a bunch of her favorite apps and strategies. We’ve done all sorts of social networking workshops. We’ve done an introduction to coding and electronics with Arduino.

TR:
We covered the Blind Arduino Project and its founder Josh Miele on a past episode which you should really check out.

CF:

So Arduinos are really small portable affordable computers that run essentially one program at a time and you can design your own super accessible tool.

because the components are so affordable and portable and because it’s so widely popular in kind of the mainstream community of makers and enthusiasts there’s a lot of great advice and code samples , kind of like recipes if you will that are out there so that even if you’re a total novice you can find all kinds of online instructions and code to work from and you can find components to do whatever you
may need.

TR:
Chancey and the library teamed up with DIY Ability a midtown Manhattan company offering workshops geared to serving people with disabilities, like
toy hacking workshops that help families retrofit or hack toys to become more accessible for people that have fine motor impairments
workshops teaching people with all different types of disabilities how to code and use electronics.

CF:
So our introductory Arduino workshops we call them “eyes free” or non visual Arduino workshops are a place to learn about the very basics of working with Arduino and working with code in a place where non visual techniques are well respected and well understood.

So it’s a safe space for starting out. It’s a community space for gathering and exchanging ideas and we hope it gives folks a foundation they can build on.

We’ve done that with both youth and adults. And we’re launching now into a program that teaches folks how to come in and use the tactile graphics embosser and tactile graphics design software as well as a 3D printer to create non visual spatial representations of the graphics and objects they need to understand. Things in their work school and leisure lives.

TR:
Chancey’s interest in the accessibility of graphical or visual information began with a request from a library patron.

CF:
Somebody called me and asked me where they could possibly get a map
that related the 5 boroughs of New York City to one another and their water ways. He just moved to New York City and he wanted to get the lay of the land sort of speak.

TR:
For a sighted person, this is an easy task, just launch Google maps or find an old fashioned printed map.
It’s much more challenging to access this information non visually.

Receiving grant funds, the library was able to purchase the necessary equipment. With this the Dimensions Project was off and running.

CF:

our premise is that we will teach community members sighted and Blind alike about some of the fundamental best practices around creating tactile images that are meaningful useful and legible. And then we’ll provide the equipment the space and mentorship that people need to create the images and the 3D objects that they’d like to experience.

TR:

The Dimension Project includes three workshops. Two specifically focusing on working with the equipment and the other on best practices for effective tactile graphics.

CF:

Tactile Tactics, taught by Annie Lease from the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Annie is an artist with low vision who also has a ton of museum education experience and she is no stranger to crafting meaningful and well-rounded tactile experiences for people.

she goes over the basics. For one thing if you’re creating a tactile graphic the first thing that you think about is purpose. Why does the person want it? What information are they hoping to have? So what needs to be on that map?

Annie also talks about scale. She talks about using labeling effectively and kind of introducing people to the graphic once it’s been created – creating the context for it.

It’s been exciting . I kind of designed and got funding for this project and started rolling out the workshops wondering if the community would really respond because at first I would tell library patrons coming in for computer instruction about it and I’d ask them if they would like to be able to make their own images and pictures and maps and they would throw it back at me and say for what? I would throw it back at them and say well what do sighted people use images for? What do sighted people care about? And they would kind of wrap their brains and come up with things.

TR:
One of the most challenging parts of this project is convincing people who didn’t grow up in image rich environments that tactile graphics have something to offer.

Real world examples can prove helpful.

CF:
One of our volunteers has a small business and he had to design a logo for his business. He had certain kind of Values or parameters that he gave to a sighted designer to have his logo designed. And first thing that he wanted to do when he came in and used the tactile graphic software was to find out what his logo actually looked like.

He had hoped that the letters would relate to each other in a certain way and it would kind of imply motion. So that was something that he was already really ready to connect to. I think part of what made that successful is that it was a tactile graphic that was expected.

I think street maps and floor maps are another place where we can start with something that’s familiar. So I think using something that someone already knows both for context and motivation is a powerful thing.

TR:

Available maps include;
* Tactile street maps
* Floor maps of the Heiskel branch – enabling customers to locate computer labs, training and community rooms and more.

* a prototype map of the five boroughs as requested so many years ago.

CF:
I was so happy that we got our first real live request in the fall to reproduce a floor map for the NFB of New York state convention.

We enlisted a sighted volunteer who has graphic design but next to no tactile graphic experience. And we paired her up with a few blind volunteers who don’t have graphic design experience but who have lots of experience with Braille and tactile graphics.

TR:

The collaboration worked well. Chancey and the other volunteers provided valuable input and feedback making the end result a usable map that was distributed to about 30 people.

CF:

I think we are on the edge of a new golden age in tactile literacy. In the same way that two hundred years ago we were on the edge of something spectacular in terms of textual literacy.

Now although we still have trouble convincing folks that Braille’s important and sometimes affording the Brail technology that we need broadly we have better access to texts than ever before thanks to electronic conversion into Braille and even text to speech and we are in a better place with regard to textual literacy than we’ve ever been.

TR:

Chancey speaks of a benefit she has seen in her own life after beginning to think more spatially.

CF:

I’m a person that never took chemistry or physics or calculus and a person that never really engaged to actively with the arts or coding.

And it’s only now that I’m working in the community of support such awesome collaborators across the city and across the country that I feel free to explore

TR:

Creative exploration like origami. And Chancey is now bringing this paper art form to the Talking Book library patrons.

CF:

Origami is paper craft.

origami is using a single sheet of paper or maybe even building lots of different
modules together and using different folds and most to create.

Most of the Origami instructions say hey check out figure E or it’s a totally silent You Tube video that just shows somebody’s hands. And so our Origami club that we’re launching in collaboration with the Origami Therapy Association here in New York here is a chance for Blind folks and say to folks to get together and use really clear descriptive language to explain step by step what you need to do to get to a certain origami model. If you check out YouDescribe.org and search for origami you actually
see some students from San Francisco State Universities TVI Preparation program have put up quite a few Origami instructional videos that are accessible, they all have a descriptive track. So we’re lucky to have them as collaborators as well as a few blind folks around the country help us learn new models and get them into clear descriptive language.

TR:

In a sense, Chancey began preparing for her role at the library at an early age back in Mechanicsville Virginia.

CF:
I went to a mainstream school in the 80’s and my folks always made sure that I had basically equal access to information and one of the most important ways they did that is by pushing for the school system to incorporate technology into my life from an early age. I remember having a Toshiba laptop in the first grade.

I could play text adventure games and I could get my word processing done. And one of the most powerful things that I still remember is that people could write notes to me and I could read over them and I could write out my assignments and send them to a printer which meant that I could get feedback from my teacher without having to wait for the vision teacher to come around and transcribe things.

So I learned really early on that having technology at my fingertips, mainstream technology that everybody could use together was going to be a key that would let me interact directly and not wait on a third party to grant me the access that I need.

TR:
While attending William and Mary College Chancey had the opportunity to work as a peer Access Technology Trainer. Providing one on one training to other Blind and visually impaired individuals.

After graduating with degrees in Sociology and Psychology she felt more connected to Access Technology. A member of the National Federation of the Blind ever since receiving a student scholarship, Chancey began beta testing the first KNFB Reader – an early device to portably scan text to speech.

CF:
Little did I know that one of the times I was at a conference demonstrating , there was a recruiter in the audience from a place called Integration Technologies and the next thing I knew I was flying around the country training Federal employees with disabilities on how to use their tech and that’s kind of how I got my start.

It was fun to fly from office to office and see how lots of different types of people worked. I got to work with transcriptionists, IRS agents, judges, veterans and all kinds of people and it was a great first post college job.

TR:
technology isn’t just a 9 to 5 thing with Chancey.
She says it permeates her life.
Using apps to help her improve her ability to understand and speak Spanish, accessible ways of finding and cooking new recipes,
using GPS apps for travel
these are just examples of technology in her daily life.

She also thinks about the social implications of technology. Like Aira, the glasses and app that are connected to a live attendant who can serve as a blind users virtual eyes. Describing and assisting in navigation at any time. The service begins at about 90 dollars per month.

CF:

Aira is a premium product and it lets us get around a lot of accessibility problems and perhaps giving an accessibility workaround to the folks that are privileged enough to be able to pay for Aira, might not always be a good thing because if I have had my accessibility problem solved by Aira will I take the time to do the boring paper work and the advocacy follow up that’s required to make the bigger accessibility problem that I encounter go away or will I just hitch a ride with Aira and forget about it? I hope I won’t. I hope we can all have a conversation about how we can incorporate these tools into our
lives in a way that doesn’t keep us from being a good community advocates for accessibility that is for everyone.

##
Clearly, Chancey sees the bigger picture when it comes to the purpose of technology. It’s not what the tech does that makes it cool, it’s about how it can impact a person’s life.

CF:
One of my favorite stories is about a young lady that came from Syria and
when she first came to us she came because she wanted to learn to type. She didn’t really have much of a Goal beyond that. In addition to being blind and being newly new to technology she also has a speech impairment. She has a lot of trouble communicating especially with people with people that she doesn’t know or who don’t really slow down to listen to her.
So first she came in very quietly barely said anything and booked lots of time with talking typing teacher. When she finished with that she started to learn to use the Internet. She got a computer from Computers for the Blind, the refurbished computers out of Texas, and slowly she started to talk to us more because she had more specific questions about how to do different things on the internet and her personality started to emerge.

one of the first things that she wanted to do online was go on You Tube and look for makeup tutorials and we did.

Then she got an I Phone And with that I Phone we recommended that she get a Bluetooth keyboard. Fortunately she was able to afford to do that.

I’ll always remember the first big milestone with her. She. Typed out to me in one day hey could I take this keyboard in and type out what I want my doctor to know before I meet with my doctor? And I just like wanted
to do a fist bump like yes that’s exactly what this technology is for. She figured out for herself how it was going to help her. How it was going to empower her.

## That young lady not only continued learning Braille, but she began providing support for others new to technology and is now continuing her education in preparation for entering the workforce.

Looking back on Chancey’s career path a few notable milestones stand out.
There’s the technology experience and that early opportunity to travel and meet a wide array of people with vision loss that seemed to prepare her for her later work. Including serving as one of the first Holman Prize judges.

Chancey says her involvement with the National Federation of the Blind was also instrumental.

I first joined the National Federation of the Blind in two thousand and one and I came in the way that a lot of people do which is that they got me with
a scholarship.

So I came to a convention for a scholarship and I stayed for the philosophy.

it was Carla McCuillan that gave the first banquet speech. She is a pretty distinguished educator – I think she runs a
Montessori school. I remember the energy and I remember her addressing
the low expectations that the public often has for us and you know immediately I connected with that message that that that’s not a normal thing that we can do better for ourselves.

I think the National Federation of the blind is. Pretty unique in the amount of investment and trust that it puts in its ordinary members who become volunteers.

It is one of the greatest ways that I have
found to get work experience while I was waiting for actual work to come along beginning when I was in college.

TR:
It was an earlier volunteer experience working the phones at a women’s crisis shelter that helped Chancey realize a career in Psychology wasn’t for her.

That discovery Chancey says was just another benefit of volunteering.

CF:
It’s a way to develop skills and self-confidence meet people in the community give back but it’s also frankly
sometimes a way to find a job.

TR:

Like I said, lessons in Chancey’s experience once again go beyond disability

If you live in New York City or find yourself visiting head on down to the library and check out all they have to offer.

For more information on services and upcoming workshops visit Talking Books.NYPL.ORG

To reach out to Chancey directly you can find her at @ChanceyFleet on Twitter.

Remember to subscribe to the podcast; Apple Podcast, Google Play Stitcher, Tune In Radio and Sound Cloud.
Tell a friend!

CF:
… and quietly , slowly it started to take off.

[RMMRadio Theme Outro]

TR:
Peace!

Hide the transcript

Comments are closed.