Here’s Who Loses Out if Medicaid Funding is Cut

I am so pleased to have Keith Hammond back as a guest blogger today. Keith is a manager at the adult day services program at Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati and the father of two children. Here he is with a story about his daughter, Hillary.

by Keith Hammond

Keith (left) and his daughter, Hillary (middle)

The young women in my daughter Hillary’s senior chorus concert last month performed a spirited rendition of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen.” This lead to a fun discussion with my daughter where I informed her that I was familiar with this song and described the quartet that originally sang it. Of course, ABBA had the original song back in the late 70’s, and Hillary had not been Bjorn yet (forgive me, I don’t get to do ABBA puns very often).

This high school performance was different for Hillary, though. She is diagnosed with autism. As a child, when her peers began speaking, she did not. It took her years longer to say her first word, which, sadly was not a word that any parent would want to be their child’s first. Note to parents: Nonverbal children do hear you.

What came naturally to her peers, Hillary had to work harder to achieve. It took years of speech therapy, years where every weekend, evening, and holiday was filled with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) activities designed to encourage sounds, speech, and rehearsing what to say in situations. Hillary has spent every year in school in a social skills group designed to help her and kids like her learn how to interact and speak with others — all things that come naturally to most children. All things most parents take for granted.

Those therapies and interactions are expensive. The average family with a child with autism can expect to spend $60,000 more per year on average for treatment than parents with typically developing children. That’s their own money, not insurance, not Medicaid, nothing else. Every bit of assistance is crucial for children with autism, particularly since they see the vast majority of their progress during their pre-school and school age years.

I’ll give you an example.

When Hillary was about six or seven, her cousin Emily began attending a preschool at a local church. Hillary had language at this point, but it was often distorted and didn’t sound much like the original word. Thus, when we spoke about Emily going to the “Lutheran School,” Hillary pronounced it as the “Loser School.”

“Loser School” did not sit very well with Cousin Emily.

Hillary was going to a private speech therapist for extra therapy at the time, so I explained the situation to the therapist and asked if she could help Hillary pronounce “Lutheran” properly and mollify her cousin. Her response? “Loser School…That’s pretty funny!”

My response? “I’m not paying $80 an hour to hear how funny that is.” Yes, you read that right. Speech therapy was $80 an hour back in 2005. I’ll bet it’s closer to $100 an hour now, likely more. We were very fortunate. Not everyone can afford that.

And that is why the intervention services provided at American schools as part of a free and appropriate education are so essential and so crucial. It may be all some children can get, it may be all some families can afford.

In the House of Representatives in Washington, there have been recent proposals to sharply and drastically reduce Medicaid dollars. With those reductions, they are proposing that schools no longer be considered Medicaid-approved providers, meaning that schools would no longer be reimbursed for the costs required to provide a free and appropriate public education to all children. These are funds that support the speech therapists, the occupational therapists, the physical therapists, and the intervention specialists that assist children with autism and other disabilities to learn to speak, to interact with others, to do jobs in our community, and ultimately to become fully participating members of our society. Without those Medicaid funds, these professionals and services can’t be funded in many schools. What will happen to the many children who so desperately need them?

Hearing my daughter singing with the other young ladies her age at the chorus performance last month got me thinking. Without Medicaid funding, the school staff who helped her, and the services she received in school, I’m not sure she would have been there with her peers singing “Dancing Queen.” Her voice would be absent and silent.

Multiply that by the many others just like her who need those services, staff, and Medicaid funds in order to be included with their peers — They could all be absent from the stage. We can’t let that happen in a civilized country. We need to let our politicians know how much cutting this crucial Medicaid funding could devastate children and families for years to come.

“Loser School?” No, Loser Society. We all lose when these voices are gone.

Read more stories from Keith Hammond about being a dad to two kids with autism:

Breaking Out of the Toilet Talk Trap

What a Broken iPad Taught One Dad About Parenting


A Theater Workshop That Puts Disability Center Stage

On stage

Beth and her Seeing Eye dog Whitney on stage last year.

A post I wrote about an accessible play writing class I took last summer that was geared to people with disabilities caught a blog readers eye. Or, I should say, his ears! Blog reader Bill Green has been legally blind since birth, and he was so intrigued by the idea that he signed up for the Spring 2017 course. Here he is with a guest blog about his experience in theater.

by Bill Green

The workshop I took with The Neo-Futurists this spring consisted entirely of disabled students. Everyone’s physical bodies and its limitations shape everyday experiences and interactions. No one is more acutely aware of these limitations and their influences as a disabled individual. This awareness became the core of many plays written by my fellow students and myself.

One of the fundamental tenets of The Neo-Futurist aesthetic is honesty. On stage, all performers are themselves, not characters. They portray moments, with all the humor and sorrow, from their experiences.

The workshop taught the two-minute play, a specialty of The Neo-Futurists. On the first day, we went around the room introducing ourselves. All of the other students had backgrounds in performance, were in shows, and had been paid for their performing. When it came time to introduce myself, I decided to leave out my only acting credit: Al Bo the cowboy in seventh grade.

The Neo-Futurist ensemble members who taught the class, Trevor and Jeewon, did an amazing job fostering a welcoming and comfortable environment. By the second week, we were already performing monologues that blended current events, personal experience, and a routine task. I delivered a piece about vision loss, the space program, and climate change all while dribbling a basketball. Others performed with great energy and emotion. I admired how we all stayed true to honest performance.

People shared vulnerable and daring moments from their own lives. Over the following weeks, we created more two-minute plays and participated in exercises to generate ideas. We created more monologues and ensemble pieces. Even when pieces fell short of our own goals, the class stayed constructive and positive. No idea, as long as it was honest, was too ridiculous or invalid.

The process of creating two-minute plays started with an assignment, writing at home over the next week, and then performing and workshopping our plays with the class. All that work lead to a May 1, 2017 performance on stage at Chicago’s Victory Garden Theater.

I had three of my own plays to perform. The first was the monologue using the basketball that ended with me shooting the ball into a trashcan. I also did a deconstruction of George Orwell’s 1984 using a volunteer from the audience to play a rigged game of Three Card Monte. Finally, I told the story of how I met my wife in the form of a children’s story time.

These plays gave me the chance to show and share in a concrete way what it’s like to interact with a world that is only partly seen. Only two of my plays used my visual impairment as a focus, but other students’ plays explored dealing with hearing loss, strangers’ reactions to leg braces and dealing with the stares and comments you get when living with Albinism. We found ways to create empathy with the audience.

In the end, besides the joy of working with such talented men and women, the reward of the workshop was the ability to be honest.

More posts about disability and theater:

Taking the stage — stories about life with disability

People with Disabilities Take the Stage Tomorrow at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater


Authors Can Make Book Events Accessible By Doing This

A laptop with a notebook and cell phone on the left, and a cup of coffee on the other.I am in the midst of planning book readings to promote my new book Writing Out Loud, so the timing of a new post on Brevity’s Nonfiction blog with a step-by-step guide to staging accessible online book events couldn’t be better.

Here I am, a blind author who moderates a blog for a non-profit organization for people with disabilities, and it wasn’t until I read that post that it dawned on me how non-accessible literary readings can be.

“The typical literary reading presents an obstacle course for many people with disabilities and chronic illnesses,” guest blogger Sonya Huber points out in her post. “From finding transportation and parking to staying up late to navigating stairs and chairs, every decision involves stress and difficulty.”

Huber’s new essay collection Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays From a Nervous System deals with the twists and turns of living with chronic pain.

“I knew that I needed to find ways to connect with people with chronic pain,” she says. “I was surprised to find that an online reading was easy and fun, and I believe this is something other authors can easily do to extend their own audiences and make literary readings more accessible.”

The guest post gives step-by-step instructions for putting an accessible Facebook Live event together. Huber says she chose Facebook because she has more contact with friends and followers there, but in the end she uploaded the MP4 file to YouTube, too, where she had better luck with captioning.

“I was actually surprised at how easy this was,” Huber writes, adding that doing a book event this way “can be considered literary citizenship work aimed at broadening and diversifying our audiences.”

So who knows? Maybe I’ll try staging one of these accessible Online Readings myself. If I do, you know you can count on me to write a post here telling you all about it. Stay tuned!


What it Was Like to Graduate Before the Americans with Disabilities Act

A crowd of graduatesIt’s that time of year — friends and family are gathering to celebrate the new graduates in their lives. Some of the Millennials who are graduating — and all graduates from Generation Z — have no concept of life before curb cuts on sidewalks and Braille on elevator buttons. Accessible design is so common now that even older generations hardly remember public buildings that didn’t have wheelchair ramps.

That’s why I was so pleased to read an op-ed piece in the Chicago Tribune this week by author Steve Fiffer. Fiffer has written more than a dozen nonfiction books, including the memoir Three Quarters, Two Dimes, and a Nickel: A Memoir of Becoming Whole.

Fiffer graduated from law school in 1976, 14 years before the American’s with Disabilities Act was passed. Paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a wrestling injury during his senior year in high school, Fiffer was told he would never walk again but ended up moving from wheelchair to crutches. By the day he was set to graduate from University of Chicago Law School in 1976 he could maneuver with just a cane. “There was just one problem,” he writes in the op-ed. “On this sunny June day 14 years before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, no one — myself included — had considered whether the graduation venue would be accessible to an American with a disability.”

Fiffer and his classmates were instructed to meet 30 minutes before the ceremony in the basement of what he describes as “one of the campus’ most iconic and least accessible edifices — stately, Gothic, elevator-free, lift-free, ramp-free Rockefeller Chapel”. He describes arriving in plenty of time to navigate the twelve stairs to the basement: “Left foot down. Cane down. Right foot down. Cane down. Rest. Repeat.” From the article:

“At the appointed time, we lined up in alphabetical order, Mr. Adams to Ms. Zelinsky. On cue, Mr. Adams and the others snaked to the stairway I’d just come down. On cue again, Mr. Adams moved with deliberate haste up the stairs. Ms. Agnew followed his precedent, then Mr. Allen and Mr. Atherton.

I quickly realized there was no way I would be able to keep up with the 20 or so classmates ahead of me as they climbed the stairs and continued on the outside route.”

Spoiler alert: Steve Fiffer did indeed receive his law degree that day, but if you want to know how he managed it, you’re going to have to link to the Chicago Tribune article to find out.


Disability and Attitude: How Both Affect One Man’s Worldview

I am pleased to have social worker and writer Jeff Flodin back as a guest blogger today. Jeff was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa at age 35 and is currently working on a short story collection about vision loss.

by Jeff Flodin

Jeff Flodin with his Seeing Eye dog.

Jeff Flodin with his Seeing Eye dog.

Over the years, I’ve walked almost 2,000 miles to and from work. Most trips are serene, a few stressful. My first step on every walk is to pause and take stock. I check the weather and traffic. I test that Randy’s harness is snug but not too tight. I pat my pockets for keys, iPhone, billfold and dog bags. Then I measure the most important factor I bring to my journey: My attitude.

My attitude determines whether I view the world as full of compassionate helpers or inconsiderate creeps. The constant in this equation is who’s out there; the variable is how I view them. On days I feel at ease with myself, I embrace the stranger. I walk with grace, like I just got out of church. But on days I’m immersed in self-pity, I assume all motives are sadistic. I take every real or imagined slight personally. I look for a fight and, by God, I find one. Attitude, action and reaction — the choice is mine whether I wear my blindness like a loose garment or a straightjacket.

On days I am at ease, I possess the humility to be right-sized in this world. I am a part of, rather than apart from, my fellows. On days of conflict, I carry the delusion of self-importance. I’m sure the driver who crowded me in the crosswalk waited all day and traveled a long way just to stick it to me. I’m certain the kid left his bicycle on the sidewalk so he could watch the blind man trip and fall. I just know the city worker dug up the sidewalk to confuse my guide dog. Oh, I get payback being the victim. Me, me, me becomes even more compelling when the me is wronged.

The riddle goes, “What have you got when you sober up a horse thief?” and the answer is, “A sober horse thief.” Self-pity, anger and grandiosity make me the horse thief, not blindness. For sure, blindness doesn’t help — it exacerbates the flaws I bring into play. I can’t change the blindness but I’m working on changing the flaws. My goal is progress, not perfection. So, I keep walking, keep practicing patience, tolerance and self-restraint. Today, I can greet my wife with, “I had a pretty good walk home from work today, Honey. I only yelled at one driver.” And that’s what I call progress!

A version of this post originally appeared on Jalapeños in the Oatmeal, Jeff Flodin’s blog about digesting vision loss.

Read more posts by Jeff:

How Can We Respect People with Disabilities? Start by Listening.

The fact of the matter is, “I am blind, and blindness takes extra”


How Has Being a Blind Mom Changed Over the Years?

Beth and her son, Gus, when he was a baby

Beth and her son, Gus, when he was a baby.

I subscribe to a podcast by The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) called Ouch. It features BBC journalists with disabilities who bring their personal experiences to the table, and it can be downright charming to hear them talk about disability in their lovely British and Irish accents. It’s intriguing, too, to hear how British and Irish laws regarding disability sometimes differ from ours here in the United States.

As you might imagine, I was all ears when reporter Emma Tracey checked in from maternity leave by phone to talk to Ouch about what it’s been like to be a blind mum. I am blind, too, but it’s been so long since our son Gus was an infant that I was curious to hear about any new techniques for 21st century parents taking care of infants they can’t see.

When Gus was little I took care of other infants during the day to make some pocket money on the side. Because infants don’t move much, they are easy to keep track of. When it came time to pick them up, I’d place my hands palms down on their mattress and feel around until I found a little body. I’d feel up and down to determine whether I had arms or legs, then lift the baby to my shoulder, one hand always under the head for support.

I walked backwards with babies to get us from room to room. That way if we bumped into door frames or walls, it’d be my well-padded bottom that took the impact rather than the baby’s head.

When giving a baby a bath, I always had soap and shampoo and towels within arm’s reach so I could keep one hand on the baby while searching with the other. When babies wanted to stretch out, I’d put them on a blanket on the floor and make a rule for myself to never ever step on that blanket whether a baby is on it or not. That way I could keep toys out all the time and not worry about tripping over them — or stepping on the baby!

Most parents supplied pre-made bottles that I simply put in the microwave when the baby got hungry. And yes, I always shook the bottle afterward and checked to make sure the formula wasn’t too hot. This is one aspect of baby care where BBC’s Emma Tracey had a different approach than mine: she is breastfeeding.

“The most challenging thing about feeding for me is based on my own hang-ups, and it’s feeding in public and doing it so that I don’t flash…” she said on the podcast, explaining she always brings a little cover along to use. “I think if I were sighted I’d be a lot more brazen about it.”

She said people look at her enough anyway, “so people look at me as a person with my dog, feeling around a table at a café for my tea or whatever I happen to be doin’, so actually, in fairness, breastfeeding shouldn’t bother me, but I think I am a little bit concerned about flashing!” Emma said she doesn’t let that concern stop her from breastfeeding in public, though. “I still do it and it’s fine, it’s absolutely fine.”

Other than that, Emma Tracey uses pretty much the same tricks I used back in the late 1980s when caring for Gus and other infants. We didn’t have smart phones back then, though, so one thing new is… texting.

Emma’s baby’s name is Tadhg, which is an Irish name that sounds like the first syllable in the word Tiger. “And the interesting thing about that is, I dictate all my messages and correspondence with Siri on my iPhone, and it is the least easy name to dictate in the world!” She says every time she gets to Tadhg’s name when she’s sending a text she has to stop what she’s saying, type t-a-d-h-g on to her smartphone, and then go back to dictating. “So he gets called ‘the baby’ a lot.”

And so, there you go. A different look, ahem, at mothering from a couple of blind mums. Happy Mother’s Day!


A Tribute to a Seeing Eye Dog

Last week was an emotional one for me. My new book Writing Out Loud was released on Tuesday, and my loveable retired Seeing Eye dog Hanni died the next day.

Beth Finke and Seeing Eye dog Hanni

Photo of Hanni and me from back cover of Writing Out Loud. Photo courtesy Kaitlin McCall

Hanni lived an amazing 17 years, guiding me and keeping me safe until she was ten, then bringing joy to our friends Steven and Nancy (they adopted her after she retired from guide work) for seven more years after that. Hanni played a major role in my life, and she plays a major role in my new book, too. It’s been a while since I wrote and revised some of the stories I’d written about her for Writing Out Loud, and rereading them this past week has helped me think about her and smile.

So how about we honor the memory of my brave, funny, smart, cute, fluffy, heroic, tail-wagging Seeing Eye dog by publishing chapter 24 from my new book here? That chapter is called Easterseals and the episode it describes dates back to 2005, when I was an intern here:

“Hello, Beth Finke?”

It’s a woman named Shirley. She works for a national non-profit called Easterseals that helps people with disabilities. “I heard one of your essays on the radio,” she says. “Would you be interested in an internship?”

I thought internships were for college kids. I am in my 40s. I don’t tell Shirley that, though. I just let her go on.

Easterseals is headquartered in Chicago, and they’ve just received a Technology Opportunities Project grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce. “We’re working with a software developer to find out if blind people can create and manage web content,” she says.

I have no idea what web content management is. I don’t tell her that either. I tell her I’ll come in for an interview.

No one at the interview seems surprised or bothered by my age and inexperience. Or if they are, they don’t mention it. We like each other and I accept their offer. The paid part-time internship will end by the time Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound is in bookstores, leaving me time to promote the new book.

Easterseals supplies me with a talking computer and gives me classes to learn how to use assistive technology with online calendars and office software. There’s a permanent spot for Hanni’s bowl under the sink in the women’s bathroom. I have my own cubicle and learn the joys of conference calls and business meetings.

On Friday afternoons Shirley and I meet for a “weekly download” to go over my progress.

One Friday, we find out the office will close early, so we decide to do something special. We’ll have our meeting at Jake’s Pub, Shirley’s favorite bar in Chicago.

Before I leave the office, I search for Hanni’s bowl. It’s gone. Cleaning staff take it by mistake? Oh, well. Its 3 o’clock, and Hanni has to eat. So I spill her Ziploc bag of dog food right onto the floor in the bathroom stall. “C’mon, Hanni! C’mon, hurry up!” I want her to finish before someone comes in and catches her licking the bathroom floor. “Hurry up, Hanni!”

After finally, finally finishing her food, Hanni leads me downstairs where we pile into a cab with Shirley and head to Jake’s. What a thoroughly modern working woman I am, joining my boss for cocktails at happy hour!

One drink leads to another. I start getting hungry. Jake’s doesn’t sell food – not even beer nuts. But I’m prepared. I reach down into my bag, feel for my pouch of almonds, set them on the bar and start to munch.

Ugh! Yuck! I fumble frantically on the bar for a napkin and spit. Dog food! No wonder it had taken Hanni so long to eat her dinner in the bathroom stall – I’d given her my almonds!

I should be horrified, but I have to laugh. My boss laughs, too. She’s seen a lot at Jake’s, she says, but until now she’s never seen anyone belly up to the bar for dog food.


4 Questions a Dad of a Child with Autism Asks Daycare Centers

I am pleased to introduce Alex Robbins as a guest blogger today. As part of the Safety Today team, Mr. Robbins promotes home and community safety through his writing.

by Alex Robbins

A box of crayonsChoosing a daycare poses challenges for families on many levels. As the parent of a child on the autism spectrum, I had to use a bit of a different approach in seeking the best option for our family. It was not an easy process.

With any family there can be a guilt factor of leaving your child with strangers. You want to feel comfortable and at ease leaving your child at all. And it’s equally important that your child is comfortable and at ease, in addition to having the proper care and safety. This process becomes even more difficult when your child has special needs. If I had known then what I know now, it would have made a huge difference.

When touring a potential daycare center for your child, it’s best to think of yourself as a detective — one who needs to ask all the right questions to get a full understanding of the situation. In order to figure out if your child is going to be safe and successful, you need to do a little digging. Here are four essential questions you must ask any place you’re considering sending your child:

  1. What are your accreditation? All daycare centers must display the proper certifications — state licensing, first aid, CPR, etc. Accreditation is not a mandatory thing in most states, but you may want to make sure that the daycare center has been checked out and inspected by a reputable organization.
  2. How do you select your staff? It’s important that you know exactly how the staff is selected — how much experience is required to work there, if certain licenses are mandatory, etc. You should ask about criminal background checks as well. Not only that, but you should ask about the business’ staffing history. Is there a high turnover rate? That is, do people that work there stay there for very long? Inquire about the staff to child ratio. If there are only a couple staff members tasked with handling dozens of kids, it should throw up a huge red flag.
  3. Can I meet your staff? Don’t be afraid to ask to meet any and all staff that may come into contact with your child. If the daycare center is wary of arranging such meetings, be wary of their practices.
  4. Do you have an open-door policy? This one is pretty simple. Does the daycare center allow unannounced visits by parents, or do they make you call ahead to come in? If a daycare center doesn’t want you to drop by without warning, they might have something to hide. You should look for a center that has an open door policy.
  5. Can I see the daily curriculum? Presumably, you want your child to do more than eat snacks and nap while at daycare. You want your child to be mentally and physically engaged. This is why you must ask to see the center’s daily curriculum. You want to know how the daycare center is structuring your child’s day, from what activities are planned to how much time is devoted to learning vs. play. You may also want to ask to see past schedules, to make sure that the daycare center is active enough to change their schedule as the years pass. You don’t want to send your child to a stagnant program that hasn’t updated its curriculum in a decade.

Asking a lot of questions of a daycare staff is not rude or imposing — on the contrary, it’s necessary for any caring parent. If the center you’re touring has a problem answering your questions — by either being unwilling or unable — you might want to look elsewhere.

Are you looking for a daycare center for your child? Contact your local Easterseals to find out more!


A New Cookbook for People with Dysphagia Features Favorite Recipes

I am pleased to introduce Colleen O’Day as a guest blogger today. Colleen is a Senior Outreach Coordinator at 2U and works with schools to create resources that support K-12 students.

by Colleen O’Day

A recipe for rosemary mashed potatoes from the cookbook

A recipe for rosemary mashed potatoes from the cookbook. Click for a larger version.

NYU Steinhardt is changing the conversation on what eating can look (and taste) like for patients with dysphagia. According to The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 25% of adults in the United States are impacted by dysphagia.

Food is something everyone should be able to enjoy. Knowing this, Speech@NYU, New York University’s schools online master’s in speech-language pathology created Dining with Dysphagia: A Cookbook. The cookbook is a collection of recipes that are both easy to follow and easy to swallow.

Based on the NYU Steinhardt’s annual Dysphagia Iron Chef Competition, the goal of these recipes is to make eating an enjoyable experience for individuals with all levels of dysphagia. The annual competition is the capstone project of the intersession class between NYU graduate students from the nutrition program and the communicative sciences and disorders program to learn how to manage the needs of clients with different stages of dysphagia. The students create recipes as part of case studies for real patients.

One example from the 2017 competition was a young boy with autism who would only eat white, soft foods. The NYU students had to create a visually appealing, appetizing and nutritious meal that was completely white but also easy to swallow. Other cases from the competition included clients who had more medically-focused diagnoses.

“Food is nurturing, and too often it’s assumed that when someone is sick, we should just give them calories and nutrients. That’s not what food is, and we wanted to emphasize in this intersession class that regardless of a medical condition, we should always think about the importance of food – especially when someone’s sick,” says Lisa Sasson, clinical associate professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at NYU Steinhardt.

You can see (and taste!) for yourself by reading and trying out recipes from the cookbook here, and if you’re interested in learning more, check out NYU’s online masters in speech pathology program.


A Blind Woman’s Rant About Smartphone Use

Two hands holding an iPhone at a table.Smart phones, yes. Smart people, not always.

I heart technology. My talking computer has been a godsend since the first, crude sounding voice synthesizer was plugged into my IBM PC back in 1987. When the Internet was commercialized and we all started using email I could use it, too. Accessible technology allows me to surf the Web and all that. It’s been my unsighted window on the big world out there, and it’s enabled me to moderate this blog without being able to see.

My iPhone comes with an app called VoiceOver. I use it to text friends, book taxis, and sometimes, get this: I even make phone calls and talk to people with it. But when I sit down with you at dinner, or if I sit next to you at a bar, I don’t have my phone out.

And often, you do. And I think we’re having a conversation based on the fact that we started one, but it abruptly stops. And then I have to guess. In the past, it might be someone looking up at one of the TVs that have become ubiquitous in restaurants and bars: A big play in a game, some sort of cute Animal Planet show, a freakish accident in some other part of the world. I knew the televisions were there, so I came to expect that when someone ooed or cringed or laughed in a way that was inappropriate to what we’d been talking about, they probably had noticed something on the television screen.

I got good at figuring that all out, but I never liked conceding that whatever was on television was more important than the conversation we’d been having. And then the smartphone thing happened. So now, you can be anywhere talking with me, on a walk somewhere, driving in a car, sitting next to me at a ballgame, eating Thanksgiving dinner, at a concert, standing in line at the grocery store, eating a fancy dinner at an expensive restaurant, and I respond to what you are saying to me, and then you disappear. Are you okay? You still there?

Of course you are. You just got a text from someone more important than me. Or someone just posted a funny video on Facebook. Or rather than help me think through who it was who played the lead in “Heaven Can Wait” you took out your phone to look it up.

Okay, I’m second fiddle. I can deal with that. What makes me sad, though, is that without being able to see, I’m lost. You disappear, I can’t know what you’re doing, and I can’t know why. I don’t blame the technology. I just have a problem with that little bit of human behavior.

My husband Mike was slow to adopt a smart phone and swore he’d never get hooked, but I’ve caught him doing exactly the thing I just described, and it resulted in some minor skirmishes. Some major ones, too. These days, when Mike interrupts what we’re doing to look at his phone, he tells me before he takes it out of his pocket, and then he explains. If this happens at a time I don’t feel the situation warrants a Google search on the smartphone, I’ll ask him to put it away. Sometimes, he does. Progress!