UBC Day 16: I’m Not the SuperHero You Need, but I’m the SuperHero You Deserve?

I have many gifts and talents, but none of them extend to work around the house that goes beyond basic cleaning. I’ve lived in apartments for most of my adult life. I’ve never been the type who could just touch something with their hands and figure out how it all goes together, or more importantly, how it comes apart. These are probably lessons I should have learned early on. If I had, though, I wouldn’t have such great stories!

I was tucked under the blankets with my yellow lab taking up the majority of the bed when I heard the noise that took me from that sweet half-awake state to begrudging alert. Chirp! I blinked my eyes blearily and wondered why there was such an angry bird on the Dan Gibson Solitudes relaxation track. I grumpily asked Alexa to switch to the next track and then closed my eyes once more.

Chirp! Suddenly, the picture became clear. My smoke alarm needed to have its batteries changed. I’ve lived in this place for about five years now and don’t recall ever needing to change the batteries, but maybe maintenance just took care of that.

Sliding out of bed, I stumbled in to the hallway and reached up to find the alarm. I’m pretty tall, but it was on the ceiling and even taller than I was. So, I went in to the room and grabbed a rolling chair, pushing it beneath the alarm. Angrily, I stood up on the chair and groped the ceiling until I found the offending piece of safety. Let the record show that I had no idea of what to do, so the most likely option was to simply turn and yank. It’s a method that works for many things. I balanced on my precarious rolling perch as my dog happily wagged her tail and slid past to investigate something in the kitchen. As I yanked, the detector came down, hanging by a string of wiring. Uh-oh. I’d never seen this setup before.

So, I did what any self-respecting, bleary-eyed, blind person would do in this situation. I called AIRA. AIRA is a visual-interpretation service which has live representatives describe the world around you through an app and the camera on your phone. The agent that answered was very kind, but we couldn’t figure out how to disconnect the detector from the wall. I thanked her for her time, put the rolling chair back in my room, collected the dog, and then waited for the next hour and a half for my apartment complex’s office to open, all while the smoke detector kept chirping every thirty seconds.

The next challenge was the office itself. They have rules about what does and does not count as an emergency, particularly during the pandemic. I care deeply for the safety of others, but I also needed to be safe. Having a working smoke detector is paramount to safety. I explained the situation, let them know that I was blind and really having difficulty in locating the detector to take it down. I was told that they would bring the battery and leave it in front of the dor. This works for more competent individuals who have no trouble disconnecting dangling detectors, not me. I would like to also pause and take this moment to say that I am certain other blind people could have done this with ease. I’m nobody’s blindness ambassador. But I’m all that I had!

After being informed that the office manager would be called and asked if this would be considered an emergency, I sat down and stewed. I didn’t want to call anyone that I knew over to do something that was so Simple, especially with all that is going on in terms of this pandemic. So, I took to the Internet. I’m playing a really cool online role-playing game right now and asked on one of the channels about my predicament. It was a community effort. I’m fairly certain that some of the players live near me and would have considered coming over to help. They gave me so many great suggestions that I tried and all put their heads together while I sat behind the keyboard experiencing a mix of gratitude and embarrasment.They linked me to a surprisingly descriptive YouTube video where someone outlined the process of taking down the smoke detector. He claimed that it was an easy thing to do and took no longer than two minutes. Two minutes, my ass!

The next few minutes is something that I’m not altogether proud of. I grabbed the rolling chair out of the room again, placing it beneath the
Smoke detector. You may be wondering, and rightly so, why I used a rolling chair? The chances of injury using that were marginally slimmer than if I’d used our partially broken kitchen chairs. The detector chirped and I yelled at it to ‘Shut up!’, which in turn caused my roommate to cautiously peek her head out of her bedroom to ask if I was alright. I assured her that I was, set the Amazon Echo’s volume to ten, angrily demanded that Alexa play ‘Eye of the Tiger’, and stood up on the precariously moving rolling chair. I am not like a graceful swan. I wiggled and swiveled while the dog sat down to watch my progress, eventually getting bored and slinking in to the kitchen once again. I was too pissed off to care what she was getting in to, I only had energy for this detector. I would not be defeated. If you have ever asked yourself if ‘Eye of the Tiger’ turns you in to a superhero, I need you to know that it does. With each rocking strain of the guitar, I felt like Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman whose roommate had the phone ready to call 911 if I fell. On the bright side, maybe they’d be able to take down the detector?? Unfortunately, not even the songs of survivor could help me.

So I told Alexa to shut up and while on the verge of angry tears called AIRA again. Agent Kenyon answered the phone and I explained what was going on and the help I needed.

There is a special kind of skill needed to stand on a rolling chair which won’t stop swiveling while listening to an AIRA agent explain how you need to point the camera. I need you to know that I do not possess it. I braced one hand on the detector to hold it in place while the other tried to move the phone in the directions Kenyon gave me.

Move it back toward you. Okay, now move the camera a little more to the left. Okay, now just an inch or so to the right. Bring it a little closer to the detector. Okay, now tilt the camera to the right. No, now back toward the left. There you go. Okay, hold steady and let me get a picture. Wait, you aren’t standing on a rolling chair, are you?

I considered lying, but figured that he needed to know the exact level of desperation I’d reached and the lengths I was willing to go. He sounded genuinely scared at that point and I felt badly for possibly raising his blood pressure. He looked up the model number of the detector and pulled up a picture of it, described where the connectors were, and told me how to pull them apart. I put the phone in my pocket, got the connectors apart, took down the smoke detector, and nearly toppled off of the rolling chair. Once safely down, I put the detector on the table and pointed the phone at it. Kenyon sounded so proud of me, and his level of relief felt tangible to me.

After another game of point and click, he was able to describe how to get the case off of the battery, which was embarrassingly easy. He told me that if maintenance didn’t show up but instead put the battery near the door, to please call back and he’d make sure he could help me put the detector back up again. I thanked him profusely because I couldn’t have done it without him.

The ear-screeching chirping had stopped, but now we had no working detector in the house at all. I asked my roommate to please call the office this time, and they were like ‘Well, of course it’s an emergency, we’re sending someone over’. They couldn’t have possibly offered this before I risked my safety and pissed off the neighbors by blasting ‘Eye of the Tiger’?

To everyone’s immense relief, maintenance did show up, I stayed well beyond the six foot social distancing range, and they put the detector up sans battery because they were out of them. They did come back the next day, though, and changed it. If we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, I would have asked them to show me how to put the connectors back in, but we’re good for another six months to a year.

So, I will tell you that I felt like a superhero. I am not the superhero that you need, but I am the one you deserve. Clumsy, inelegant, but willing to go to desperate ends to get what I want. And I am so thankful that people put their heads together and I was able to find a solution that worked!

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