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Eyes Wide Shut

Posted May 01 2010 5:03am
I went to an all-girl, Catholic high school with only 44 students in my graduating class. Among other essential courses in science, math and english, every student had to take a typing class as part of the required curriculum. This, at the time, created quite a stir among some of us independent, strong-minded young women. I mean, really. Typing? Did they think we were all destined to become secretaries?

But, of course, our protests fell on deaf ears. The powers-that-be continued to insist that we all sit in front of our (now extinct) little typewriters, dutifully typing "asdf jkl; " over and over again as we (or at least, I) rolled our eyes to the ceiling at the utter silliness of it all.

It's a funny thing, though, because that typing class turned out to be much more useful to me in my life than the more impressive courses like chemistry or physics. In fact, it may have been the single most useful class I ever took.

Here's why: something I have yet to mention on my blog is that I type with my eyes closed. Without looking at the screen (since my eyes are shut and all), I type out everything I want to say, then open my eyes to go back and look for typos. Fortunately, the plethora of said typos are usually highlighted in red, so I can spot them with greater ease. I fix a few, then rest, then go back to fix a few more, then rest, and so on.


Once the typo's are fixed and there are no more bright red lines to mock my typing skills, I am then able to listen to what I wrote and make corrections as necessary.

I listen to what I wrote because I can't read what I wrote. Due to neurological problems that effect both my vision and cognition, I have been unable to read more than a few sentences per day for many years. Doing so causes a setback (or crash) that can take weeks, or even months or years to dig out of.

Fortunately, as this issue got to be a bigger and bigger problem for me, threatening my ability to even send or read email, my fiance began to search for free text-to-speech programs online. We found one that worked for me, and I have been using it for many years now. The speaker program not only reads back my own writings, but it also reads all of my emails, forum messages, comments, blogs, Facebook postings, and websites I visit. Essentially, I use the program to read everything.

I don't mention this to people often, as they tend to find it odd for some reason. I think some are taken aback that something with such a silly name as chronic fatigue syndrome could cause severe neurological problems and actually rob you of such everyday things as the ability to read or watch t.v. I also think others are weirded out by the computerized voice itself because it sounds so.. well, computerized. "Can you even understand what it's saying?" someone once asked me when they overheard my computer chattering away at me. I admit it takes some getting used to, but I've learned to adjust. In fact, I now welcome the voice, as to me it has become the sound of a familiar friend of sorts, one without whom I'd be lost.

I wanted to share this aspect of my disability because I know I am not the only one who faces this challenge. My fiance actually uses the program as well because he has the same kind of struggle. Many people with ME/CFS tend to find it more and more difficult to read, either due to the vision problems that often accompany this illness, the cognitive disturbances, the incapacitating fatigue or all of the above. And while for some this may be a mere, mild frustration (depending on severity), for others, it can mean a complete disconnect with the outside world. Compound this further with the difficulty of speech and interaction that some (like myself) also experience with this illness, and all means of communication are threatened to be lost.

So, in the event this program may be useful to some of you or someone you know, I thought I'd share it with everyone today. There are many different programs available; some free, and some at cost. The one I use is called Deskbot, and can be found at www.deskbot.com . It's not the most advanced out there, but it has worked well for me. Please make sure you are visiting the company's direct website, however, as some downloads for this program come from questionable sites and may contain viruses. Always make sure your anti-virus software is up to date before beginning any download.

Another program is called The Natural Reader and can be found at: http://www.naturalreaders.com/

This reader is actually a bit more sophisticated than my own, and when I'm up to giving it a try, I may make the switch.

Anyway, there have been a lot of other things I've also been hoping to write about these last many weeks... from XMRV news to the upcoming CFSAC meeting, to an update on my own health. Regretfully, I have simply been too ill. I've recently suffered yet another significant crash, along with the myriad of tremendous frustrations and disappointments that always accompany a setback. So, for now, I'm continuing to hold out hope, attempting to rest as much as possible, and am taking things moment by moment.

At this particular moment, I'm off to open my eyes and typo check. Wish me luck. :)
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