A demon deer and a ghost cat. Sibling rivalry and sexual awakening. Self-image and self-confidence. The chance for an offworlder to breathe free at last on a new planet. Those are just some of the diverse themes of these remarkable stories. Some endings are happy, some are sad, and some are intriguingly open-ended. But once you step inside the author’s world, you cannot emerge unmoved.
Advocacy update: I am consulting with an attorney who specializes in testing accommodation denials. I have to compile all the documentation, including all correspondence to anyone about the subject, current eye report, and history of past testing accommodations, if any, and a reason as to why my needs have changed so dramatically since graduating from college.
I’ve told these people at the testing center that my needs have changed because I’m going blind, I use a guide dog, and I can’t see printed material anymore. I have to constantly be reminded of my disability in order to push for the testing accommodations. I am already drained emotionally and if I survive this, get my license, it will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life thus far. I have to somehow convey to others how impossible this will be, how absolutely excruciating any progress in this fight to just be given equal access to a test my whole career depends upon will extract from me It makes me angry, frustrated, and the feelings are so powerful I often give in to crying just to let it go, if only for the moment.
. I hope I don’t become a husk, a burnt-out, angry and bitter blinkie who got shafted by the “system”.
I want to rise above it, stay strong, but, half the time I’m at a loss as to how to keep it going. I really think I have to start seeing a therapist again, just to stay grounded.
Anyway, just want to share some of what I’m dealing with, for those of you who read this blog, thanks for listening.
Here’s the letter to the people who have made my life hell so far:
AAMFT National Headquarters
Dr. Linda S. Metcalf, President
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
112 South Alfred Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-3061
Professional Examination Service/Prometrics
475 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10115
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)
Regulatory Board, New York State
New York State Board for Mental Health Practitioners
NYS Education Department Office of the Professions
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234-1000
January 20, 2012
Dear Dr. Metcalf:
My name is Ann Chiappetta. I am a permitted licensing candidate practicing as a family therapist for the Department of Veterans Affairs in New York State who happens to be blind and uses a guide dog. I am currently experiencing barriers regarding equal access to the National MFT membership application and exam process.
The first barrier is the lack of accessibility for individuals with print disabilities who use screen reading software and wish to access electronic information from the AAMFT website, www.aamft.org, the regulatory Board’s site, http://www.amftrb.org/, or the testing site for N.Y. State, Prometrics: http://www.prometric.com/SA/default1.htm.
I cannot independently obtain essential information related to my profession as a practicing marriage and family therapist from any of the websites; it is, therefore, a form of discrimination based on my disability and a violation under the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
I have spent countless hours trying to independently apply for AAMFT membership and register for my exam and have been unable to do so due to a number of barriers, all of which could be easily resolved with updates to the websites reflecting wc3 web accessibility standards and adherence to Federal 508 compliance. If the websites were updated to reflect these regulations, I would not be writing this letter and be well on my way to paying for a membership and taking my exam.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. I am writing to inform you, that as the National association responsible for creating, and overseeing the compliance of the websites and the administering of the National exam, that my rights to equal access are being violated. I am not being afforded equal and reasonable accommodations by either the AAMFT or the testing facility, which puts me at a serious disadvantage over my peers. I have been trying to secure a reasonable testing accommodation for the N.Y. State licensing examination for Marriage and Family Therapists, to wit, to take the licensing exam using JAWS, an assistive screen-reader program that happens to be the one I use routinely in my work and daily life. While various testing accommodations may exist, a best practice standard is to offer the accommodation that would best ensure an accurate depiction of my knowledge and demonstrate my true abilities, and I believe I am being denied this level of accommodation.
As for the barrier encountered with the examination process, my disability does not allow me to read print. I rely on a text-to-speech screen reader called JAWS and I rely on this synthesized type of speech for everything from my smart phone to reading soup cans. I have trained my brain and hearing to this fast and clear reading aid, and I require it for taking the 200 question exam. I was denied the request by the New York State’s Division of Licensing Board and instead told that if I could not use screen magnification, a human reader would be provided. I do not now, nor have I ever, used a human person to read or record information for me. As I cannot read printed material, magnifying the text is not suitable. A human reader would put me at a significant disadvantage, downgrading my ability to perform optimally during the examination, like my sighted peers. It is a well known fact that a human person cannot read as fast or respond as quickly to directions like a computer generated speech synthesizer and keyboard commands.
The sighted test takers are offered a computer-generated exam. Test takers with low vision can be accommodated with screen magnification for the exam, so why can’t I also be granted the assistive technology I require to take the exam on a computer, too? This is the question that no one wants to answer and all I’ve gotten is silence and excuses. I related all of this to Ms. Naccarato but she declined to help me. I wish to emphasize that I already have the equipment needed on a preloaded disk, thus the program I use routinely would simply need to be down-loaded onto the testing computer. The Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped is also willing to purchase this program for the testers, Prometrics and the AAMFT. As the technology is available, and would be at no cost to the tester, why can’t the computer I get assigned to me for the test get outfitted for my specific use? I could even bring my own laptop if they preferred. There is a cost to hiring readers, which for an 8-hour exam would require multiple readers, each of who are supposed to be trained and familiar with the testing materials and able to explain the graphics they might see.
I have been told that using my adaptive equipment might place me at an advantage over my sighted peers, but it seems to me that being blind and taking an 8-hour test is a sufficient challenge in and of itself. The program does not give me any answers, but merely lets me process the questions and potential graphics in a way familiar to me.
It may be of interest to you that case law in other states have supported this standard on several occasions, most notably in the case of Enyart v. National Bar Examiners where the Court examined the ADA’s specific provision that covers professional exams (42 USC-12189). The Court noted in this case that a standard of “reasonableness” in an accommodation was fine for employment, but that professional exams were another matter entirely.
According to Carol Allman, PhD, in a position paper on accommodations for testing students with visual impairments, (www.aph.org/tests/accomodations) she notes in bold print that any accommodations provided for students during the testing window should be ones typically used by that student…and not new or unfamiliar ones.
I am asking for your support regarding this issue; not supporting my request would mean not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and would serve to perpetuate the barriers mentioned above making it impossible for me to take the exam to the best of my ability. My professional future is at stake and I am requesting immediate intervention. If we cannot resolve these barriers I will have no choice but to seek out legal counsel to compel action.
Ann Chiappetta, M.S.
cc: E. Bridges/ACB; B. Daniels, Director, CBVH; S. Nacarato, Div. Lic. NYS
I’m waiting for the water to boil for the macaroni so I thought I’d jot down a few things for the New Year. First, I hope I can keep up with the legal matters regarding my State exam. It’s taking a toll on me already but the thought of dropping it pisses me off so much that I have to see it through. Not just for me, but also for the other qualified, talented folks who got themselves through a master’s program with a print disability. It’s not just about me anymore. It’s about ethical, fair, treatment, hard to find in this day and age of Obama.
I’m not kicking our Prez, just wondering when (like all our other presidents since the creation of the ADA) he’s going to stand behind his proclomation for making the ADA laws actually help us.
Okay, onto the next part: taking the last plunge into blindness. Yes, it’s been happening for months now, the fog is rolling in, obscuring light and outlines, and it’s downright scary. I’m so glad I have Verona, good cane skills, and resolve, the latter most times. Sometimes, though, I just want to hide and stay in my safety zone and not have to struggle so much.
Next, I’m really doing well at work and I finally feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I finally “fit in”; most of my life I never really did fit in anywhere socially or professionally so it feels so good to be respected, accepted, valued and paid well for it. The last part, of course, is the license but the VA is trying to do right by me and other blind folks and my office mates are wonderful, caring people.
I’m lucky and count my blessings each and every day.
Jerry is doing well at work, the kids are mostly fine, nothing earth-shattering. April has friends now, most whom I like, lol. Ant is slowly spreading his wings, and, is a very good writer. I’m so proud, it will come in handy for sure. Not everyone can write and do it well and on the fly.
Going to see mom in March, she’s going to be 80 next year.
Still volunteering for GDUI and Guiding Eyes, which is not at all like work, I enjoy it. Still writing for the Ziegler online e-zine and wish I could do fmore feature articles for more of them.
Dogs and critters are good and I look forward to moving along with happiness, health and success in the coming year.
BLESSED ARE THEY that refrain from shouting when they speak to me.
BLESSED ARE THEY that talk directly to me and not to some one
BLESSED ARE THEY that say who they are when entering a room and
say hello to me.
BLESSED ARE THEY that say goodbye to me when they leave so I am
not left speaking to the air.
BLESSED ARE THEY that do not hesitate to say “SEE” when talking
BLESSED ARE THEY who tap my shoulder gently when they approach
from behind or from the side when speaking to me.
BLESSED ARE THEY who wait for me to extend my hand before shaking
BLESSED ARE THEY who place my hand on an object such as the back
of a chair when telling me where it is, so I can seat myself.
BLESSED ARE THEY who do not leave me in a strange environment
without orienting me to it.
BLESSED ARE THEY who offer me their arm so they can serve as my
guide, instead of grabbing, pulling or shoving me.
BLESSED ARE THEY who come up to me in a large crowd and offer to
help me when I appear disoriented.
BLESSED ARE THEY who do not embarrass me in a group of people by
openly referring to my blindness in word or action.
BLESSED ARE THEY who laugh with me when I tell a joke related to
BLESSED ARE THEY who read me the menu and its prices and allow me
to order my own meal.
BLESSED ARE THEY who take me to the cashier so I may pay for my
BLESSED ARE THEY who do not distract my guide dog from being my
BLESSED ARE THEY who treat me like a human being, for like it or
not I AM a human being.
By Ann Chiappetta
Once, not long ago
the details of life consumed me
Images of wild flowers, riotous colors in a
blanket of green
were picked, not left untouched.
Dependence on Televised greek tragedies
Indelible Portraits, live feeds and last breaths
Now a sound or smell overrides the lost optical cues
Memories ribbon the air with Familiar scents
Warm, pungent earth after it rains
Reminders of ripening tomatoes
The brace and sting of crisp winter wind
Recollections of hikes in the snow tipped pines
The soft, clear tinkle of ice on a windowpane
And My husband’s breathing deep in the night
Comforts the troubles
Lulls me back to sleep
The last Degree
By Ann Chiappetta
When I had 20 degrees I could see
Colors and contrast, walk
Relaxed and not rely on a cane for mobility.
Then it became 10 degrees
Gone was the confidence of more periphery
The macular cloud rolled in, obscuring everything
Colors eroded into shades of grey
I relied on a dog because I needed more
Than a cane could give me.
Then one day I began bumping into walls
Misplacing items in front of me
I said goodbye to magnification and high contrast
The accuracy of degrees left me
Once again I was forced
To cope with a lost legacy, a memory
Of what I had only months before.
So here I am, floundering, fearful
The final five degrees
The countdown begins
I don’t know what to expect
The Numbers represent a plunge
Into something familiar
Something that leeches courage and resolve
Something I am not prepared to face
Something I live with every day
And something I know nothing about.
Well. I am being proactive and called Disability Rights Advocates to inquire as to if they will take on my case with being denied reasonable accommodations with the NY State Family therapy lisencing exam. I’ll know sometime next week if they will take on my case.
The V.A. has made great strides in accommodating me with the primary database I need to record and view my case notes. I’m able to do at least 50% of my job with the changes but it’s still a work in progress.
The exam process, however, has morphed into an ugly snake with a wicked bite. Not only has the State of NY denied me, the cop out is “we just don’t know when the changes will take place,”. Wow, since I found out the testing contractor, PES has made it an option for test takers to use screen magnification, why can’t they also offer screen reading software? I never got a straight answer and I don’t plan to let them slide on this. I’ll post as soon as I know if DRA will take me on.
I just recently surpassed my first year anniversary being employed full time for the Office of Veterans Affairs. The year went by quickly but was also difficult for me due to being blind. Some of it was on my end and some of it was on the V.A. end and most of it was all due to the fact that the V.A. technology was far from being current. I’m glad to say, though, that we’ve gotten over the first hump. This is a wonderful surprise because Central Office actually listned to my requests even if it took a whole year and a formal complaint to get there.
Another surprise was the knowledge that I am purportedly the only blind counselor among thousands who had the gumption to complian while also being employed as a counselor. So, folks, this means I’m an enigma, and exception. A front runner for the blind and visually impaired counselors employed by the VA Vet Centers Nationwide.
I find this hard to believe, but so far no one else has identified themselves since I came on board.
Sure, there have been, and still are, blind psychologists and rehab counselors. But I’m the first family therapist.
It’s really quite weird and I don’t want the label. I just want to do my job and at the end of the day, take pride in knowing I did good.
Okay, so it’s going on a month that I’m working for the VA. It’s been great so far and I know that I’ll be able to finally get my lisence and move forward with my plans for the future. I need to say, however, that my heart is also in a good place, as I feel that I can provide, in a small way, the compassion and understanding Vets deserve for protecting our freedom.
Let me go even further and state that underneath I’m a fervent patriot and over the years since 9/11I’ve felt pulled apart by the current deployments in which our Nation has become involved; this galvanizes my effort to support the men and women coming back . I can’t make the government change anything firsthand but I can do my part for our society individually by doing what I can and that’s why I love what I do. So, for me its all about serving and purpose and helping others.
Okay, off the soap box.
Now, on to Verona: she has become an unofficial therapy dog when not in harness. She understands when it’s time to work for me and when it’s time to give to others. It’s an amazing thing. Just the other day a Vet was hanging out by my door and I could tell she wanted to ask me something, as she was hesitating. So i asked if she wanted to come in and say hi to Verona and she came straight in and Ro went over and put her head in the woman’s lap. It was just ten minutes but I could tell that when she got up to leave, the Vet was less stressed out and for that I am glad Ro could help.
So, I know we’re in the right place. It’s like coming home.
By Ann Chiappetta
I soothe by
traveling to the past
Littered with obsidian precipices
caring for her
like a cyclonic eye
determined to maim the heart.
The hammer blows striking
Shard by shard
Her prison begins to break away
As I fall apart.