Monday, October 15, 2007

Getting the message across when you're in a jam

My printer/copier/etc. machine broke last week. I was thrilled to find that not only had the price of printers come way down (I don't need a laser printer), but I could find a much smaller one which was space saving.

So the printer arrives and Meredith comes over to set it up for me. When you're a quadriplegic and a box arrives, there it sits until someone takes it out and sets it up. Sort of teaches you delayed gratification. On the other hand, some would say it's nice not to have to do it yourself.

Meredith announces that she's set up so many printers that she doesn't need the written instructions. I know this is true because I've watched her set up various things before without ever consulting the instructions. This has included items like desks that came with instructions in languages that neither of us knew. In these cases she hands the instructions to me.

"Tell me what to do next," she says, grinning.

Okay so I was a comparative lit major for a few years and have a smattering of a number of languages. So I make things up. Put that screw there, that thing-a-ma-gig there. And it usually works.

This time the instructions were in English but we didn't bother. I watched as she took the tape off, plugged the printer in, put paper in the tray and then she said "Oh. Paper jam it says." Printers today have these screens that tell you what's wrong. It's almost as if you're just meeting a person and they give you feedback. "No, thank you, I don't like my coffee that way". Instead it's "Don't put the paper in that way".

And I'm sitting there thinking that the printer is text messaging us.

"Want me to check the instructions?" I asked.

"I can do it without instructions," she said, moving the paper around. The printer replied "Paper jam! Paper jam!"

Meanwhile I'm reading the instructions that say if you push the paper in too far, it will say paper jam. So I tell her this and she adjusts the paper and continues setting up the printer. I thank her and she says "Well I'm disappointed I needed the instructions."

Well in a way we didn't. The printer told us what was wrong, just not how to fix it.

For some reason it reminded me of our health care system. We all know it's broken, particularly those of us in the disability community. Over the weekend I spoke with three different people, all of whom have had claims denied through insurance for durable medical equipment. These are claims that used to be allowed a short time ago. All of these people have equipment that has "aged out" and is no longer able to be repaired. They all tell me they're trying to find other ways to replace these items - most have family members who can help. Some don't.

I can't help but feel that we're not getting the message out there loudly enough - that those of us with disabilities, in most cases, can't afford to buy these high priced items.

It feels as we're text messaging one way, however. We're sending out signals - and no one is responding. Perhaps it's because in our system no one wants to admit we need to go back to the instructions to get more information to fix what's wrong. Maybe it's from a lack of effort to address things that concern the disability community. Or maybe no one is bothering to listen to our message.

But we're definitely in a jam here.

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