by Peggy Shoel

(Reprinted with permission from the Washington Council of the Blind "Newsline," December 2004.)

When I was a kindergartner, if someone spoke the word "mouse" I thought "Mickey." Say the word "mouse" to a kindergartner now, and the child will think "computer." I remember a political statement made many moons ago a chicken in every pot, a car in every garage. Do we now add to that a computer in every home? Not necessarily. There are a number of reasons why an individual may not have a computer. It can simply be the desire not to have one, or the feeling of being overwhelmed by the necessary training, or the existence of one or more medical conditions that make operating a keyboard not an option.

I retired six years ago from a job where I earned my bread and butter productively and competitively operating a computer. I fully intended, upon retirement, to dip my feet into the pool of non-work-related computership. When I discovered that medical problems affecting my fingers would not permit this, I determined that I would not be left behind. If a computer is not a part of your life, either temporarily or permanently, you can access information, enjoy interaction, and maintain communication through systems using your telephone keypad. Here are just some of the many opportunities that are out there.

AOL by Phone 1-800-466-5463. Several years ago, America Online established this service as an accommodation to its regular customers who wanted to access e-mail when they were not near a computer, but were near a phone. This is a receive-only system, with a 60-second audio response feature. I use mine to receive personal e-mails, to receive confirmation and shipping information for mail orders and with a one-time-only assist from a computer user, and with the permission of list owners, I am subscribed to several group distribution lists, including WCB and BlindCook. AOL has been providing a 30-day free trial period for this phone service. By the way, a feature offered to subscribers is a wake-up call. I know this is not unique, but it does come in handy, and it is nice to answer your ringing phone and hear your own voice telling you, "Get up!" FYI my AOL e-mail address is [email protected].

Philmore Productions Voice Mailbox 1-877-638-2974. Based in Chicago, Ill., this is a voice mail system that provides subscribers a mailbox where messages up to 20 minutes can be left and received and to participate in group distribution boxes with other subscribers who share your areas of interest such as cooking, books, radios of yesteryear, sports, technology, the arts, guide dog users, blindness issues, and much more. A directory of groups is provided. Caveat you can subscribe via the above toll-free number; however, the system access line is not free. Therefore, this is a good opportunity for individuals who have flat-rate long distance. I use Qwest, which offers unlimited toll and long-distance calling for $20 a month.

Net By Phone 1-877-638-2974. This is an Internet access program offered by Philmore Productions, which allows subscribers to be Internet users. It is my understanding that at this time, all five Washington state area codes have a local access number.

NetEcho/Internet Speech 1-877-312-4638. Based in San Jose, Calif., this is another system offering Internet access.

Laser Voice Mail (206) 376-5000. Based in Seattle, this is a free service that gives subscribers a box number where a 90-minute message can be left and then accessed by others. It can be useful to individuals who live in or have free access to the 206 area code. It is used by groups to post and update relevant information regarding events and activities, and can be a good tool for chapters and committees to disseminate information.

American Council of the Blind, 1-800-424-8666. ACB holds monthly free access open participation topical discussions. It is an opportunity to hear and be heard. For more information, call the above toll-free number weekdays from 2 to 5 p.m. Eastern, or call (202) 467-5081.

Tell Me 1-800-555-8355. This is a free information access source that provides callers with updates about weather, sports, entertainment, stock quotes and travel. It also has a feature called driving directions; the caller speaks a departure and a destination address in or out of the same city or state, and is given precise driving directions and mileage distances for each segment. Since it took me from my front door in Seattle to my old home in Los Angeles, Calif. correctly, I can vouch for its accuracy.

These are just a few of the doors which open to communication, information and interaction that are available to those of us who want to remain in the loop using our telephone keypad. I offer a caution when inquiring into these services, please be sure you ask all possible questions, and be certain that the service, usage, limitations and costs are completely clear to you before you decide to subscribe.

We are at the beginning of a new year, and we belong to an organization that is growing in energy, enthusiasm and participation. I would like to end with the following comment I recently heard. If nothing in your life lights your fire ... then your wood must be wet. Happy new year, everybody!

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