Archives: November 2014

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

When the app I built, Menu and Hours, was released a couple years back it only got one piece of criticism that really surprised me: it wasn’t friendly to visually impaired users and it really should have been. The app made it dead simple to access the location, hours and menu information of local restaurants. The app was a direct response to restaurant websites that were image heavy or built in flash or only had PDF menus. As a non-visually impaired person those things were very frustrating to me, particularly on mobile devices. But imagine how frustrating it must be for those who rely on voiceover technology, at least partially, for mobile experiences. I didn’t imagine it. It wasn’t something I thought about at all. That was a tremendous failure on my part.

I was very lucky that a kind person affiliated with the American Printing House for the Blind pointed out how valuable the app could be to visually impaired users and how easy it was to update the app to make it friendly to those users. So I updated the app and it was a moment of such joy. It truly felt like “I make silly things on the internet but this is something good, this can help people.”

Menu and Hours died over a year ago (tldr: spent all the money I’d earned with the iOS version building an Android version that didn’t come close to recouping expenses) so thinking about it is bittersweet for me. But I’ve been reading a lot about diversity (or the lack of) in the tech industry lately and this incident keeps coming to mind. I think diversity for diversity’s sake is a good thing. I think it’s generally a better, more fulfilling experience to engage with people who are not exactly like you in terms of race, religion, geography, political opinions, sexuality, sports team affiliations, etc. I also think it’s just the right thing to do to acknowledge and respect these differences. But as far as diversity in tech goes I just keeping thinking about Menu and Hours. Specifically I keep thinking: I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

I didn’t know that the accessibility standards we used building Menu and Hours weren’t perfect. I didn’t know how a visually impaired person would actually use Menu and Hours in the real world. I didn’t know why the way we had done a couple things were problematic. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

When I finally did know, I made Menu and Hours a better product. I’m proud of that. I think about how many other apps could potentially be made made better if the teams building them were pulling knowledge from a wider pool of backgrounds and experiences. I’m ready for tech at large to be more inclusive and welcoming but really I’m ready for the awesome stuff that will come out of it.

On Marriage

“When the courts do not let the people resolve new social issues like this one, they perpetuate the idea that the heroes in these change events are judges and lawyers.”
6th Circuit April DeBoer, et al v. Richard Snyder, et al Opinion

I’ve been monogamously pair bonded with Belinda since I was 19 years old. I’m 38 now. This is not a new “social issue.” This is my life. For over half of that life I have loved, made a home with, cared for, been cared for, shared finances and real estate with another person. But according to the vast majority of voters in Kentucky that relationship doesn’t mean anything. And according to the 6th Circuit majority opinion, issued today, those voters should keep on getting to decide that my relationship is less than.

Better in this instance, we think, to allow change through the customary political processes, in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue in a fair-minded way.
6th Circuit April DeBoer, et al v. Richard Snyder, et al Opinion

Better for who? Certainly not better for gay couples. While we are waiting for the majority of voting straight people to decide that their relationships aren’t superior to our relationships I wonder how many spouses will be separated during medical emergencies because they live in a state that doesn’t recognize their marriage? How many will not automatically inherit property when their spouse dies? How many will face significant financial burdens because they are excluded from the tax and insurance benefits of marriage?

I wish you could understand what this feels like. Actually I don’t. I don’t wish this feeling on anyone.

Our Jewish wedding contract

Our Jewish wedding contract

I don’t wish for you to know that your love, commitment and the very core of your being (make no doubt, loving Belinda is the very core of who I am) is deemed less than other people’s love and commitment. Not because it is actually less in any way but because of some people’s interpretations of translations of the bible. Yes, I said interpretations of translations of the bible. This is where I laugh bitterly and point out that I was married by a rabbi who knows the bible in Aramaic. And that I was married in a synagogue surrounded by a whole lot of Jews (and some Christians) who absolutely support my right to be married.

I don’t wish for you to know what it feels like to have judges say that it would be completely ok for voters to again and again and again determine that you are less worthy of respect than straight people. Part of respecting people is respecting the spouse they spend their life with.

I don’t wish for you to know how it feels to be financially punished for loving someone. I had to pay for power of attorney and health care surrogacy documents to make sure I can be with and care for my wife when she has surgery. That’s a dollar and cents financial burden slapped on me for loving and caring for another human being.

I don’t wish for you to know what it feels like to have judges say that if, someday, straight voters decide that I’m not less worthy of respect and love, then I’m supposed to consider those straight people “heroes” in “our stories.”

I don’t wish for you to know how it feels to be betrayed by your home. I was born in Kentucky, have lived the vast majority of my life in Kentucky and have moved back here after every job or education situation made me leave the state. If our governor hadn’t fought against marriage equality my marriage would have been recognized in Kentucky earlier this year. When no less than the governor sues to keep your marriage from being recognized it’s awfully damn hard to feel anything but betrayed.

I don’t wish for you to know how any of this feels. I wish I didn’t know how any of this feels.

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don’t belong here
I don’t belong there
I’ve even stopped believing in prayer

Don’t tell me
I tell you
Me and my people just about due
I’ve been there so I know
They keep on saying “Go slow!”
– Nina Simone “Mississippi Goddamn”

“Mississippi Goddamn” was written about racial prejudice and the discrimination and violence that stem from it. My inclusion of the quote here is not meant in anyway to minimize that struggle that is still being waged nor to appropriate its language and culture. But Nina Simone’s words and voice speak to me and speak for me like no other. I cried the day she died because her voice being gone from the world left me with a deep aching sadness. And at this moment, those words from “Mississippi Goddamn” are the truest words I know.