Michael: Another change I've noticed in the last ten years is your greater awareness, and even activism, around social issues that affect the blind. How did that come about?

Joel: I expanded my awareness of blindness issues on the Net, including the 1991 Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). There are several national organizations advocating for the blind, and offering services and training. They differ radically in philosophy and character. One of them, you could take to the opera to banter charmingly with wealthy patrons. Another is more a grass roots pit bull of a group, given to charisma-driven internal cultishness, pious rehabilitative rigidities and robust but inconsistent political and legal activism. And I began encountering obstacles, misunderstanding, and mistreatment. Such as that

Joel on the politics of adaptive technologies

many bus drivers in L.A. won't announce stops along their routes, even if you ask nicely. So I call, I e-mail, I cc my city councilman and district supervisor. And I get in drivers' faces, as diplomatically as they deserve, or not. I think it was Martin Buber who said, If I am not for myself, who will be?

Michael: When you started running into people's insensitivities (and worse), did you immediately see it in a larger social context, as I assume the national organizations you mention do? Or did it feel more isolated and personal, and therefore (I would think) overwhelming and lonely?

Joel: Maybe I'm just an incurable narcissist, but every slight or rebuff feels personal at first, until I am able to generalize it. Then I realize that society is not intending me cruelty, but is collectively narcissistic itself. "Blind," so to speak. I am aware of the national organizations with their support and advocacy agenda; their efforts and official positions have deepened my understanding of these issues of access and respect. But I feel that advocacy, whether at a personal or institutional level, has first to attempt to educate and raise empathy and consciousness, and only then, if resistance is met, move to the adversarial legal and legislative arenas in which those organizations excel. So far, I've been holding my own, doing my own teaching and advocacy as I go, situation by situation. Much as I appreciate knowing the national groups are out there, I hesitate to join one.