Episode 009: Living with Disability as a Programmer with Travis B. Hartwell

Panelists:

Coraline Ada Ehmke | Astrid Countee | Mandy Moore

Guest Starring: Travis B. Hartwell
Blog
Basho Technologies

Show Notes:

00:16 – Welcome to “Software Eats Human…” …we mean, “Greater Than Code!”

01:25 – Travis’ Superhero Origin Story

Retinitis Pigmentosa
Achondroplasia

09:00 – Explaining a Disability and Limitations to Others

The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino

14:25 – Supporting Someone with a Disability

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Thank you, Francisco José, for your support!

19:56 – “Are you noticing your disabilities misrepresenting you in some ways?” – James Edward Gray II / Accessibility

30:29 – “I have a Buddhist friend with Marfan syndrome who has told me that the knowledge he could die at any time has been tremendously beneficial to his practice, and I sometimes wonder if I wouldn’t be a shallow asshole if I didn’t have my own stuff I’m dealing with. On that note, I’d be curious if you have any thoughts on how your disability and health challenges have positively impacted your life?” – Ryder Timberlake

32:10 – Coping Mechanisms and Defining Yourself By Your Work (Question from Craig Buchek)

34:20 – “What’s a non-programming hobby you’re into?” – Ben Hamill

36:10 – “What’s one thing you wish unknown strangers you encounter in public knew about you?” – James Edward Gray II

Stella Young: I’m not your inspiration, thank you very much

Takeaways:

Astrid: Being cognizant if there’s a way to make your own code and applications more accessible to others.

Coraline: Thinking about The Spoon Theory and how it’s been appropriated by the activist community.

Mandy: Have empathy for both yourself and others, find your community, and disability is different for everyone.

Travis: Gaining empathy for other people to help other people gain empathy for other people.

Please leave us an iTunes Review!

Transcript:

CORALINE:  Hello and welcome to Episode 9 of Software Eats Human. I’m joined today by Mandy Moore.

MANDY:  Coraline, how many times do I need to tell you that our podcast is called Greater Than Code?

CORALINE:  It’s hard to remember.

MANDY:  I know. I know. It’s okay. I’ll give you a pass. Hello from rainy and foggy Pennsylvania. Astrid, how are you doing today?

ASTRID:  I’m doing great, Mandy. And today, we have a guest with us named Travis B Hartwell, who’s a self-styled software toolsmith. Currently a contractor for Basho Technologies in the professional services team. He’s been a jack of all trades in areas as diverse as game development, defense contracting, and Linux distribution development. He’s an avid Emacs and NixOS user and reluctantly calls Python his home. Though, he wishes to spend more time with Rust and Haskell.

He’s disabled and chronically ill and has been on dialysis since 2013 and is losing his vision to retinitis pigmentosa. Outside of tech, he always seems to be caught up in the latest TV show or movie and an avid Whovian and Star Wars fan. Hi, Travis. Welcome to the podcast.

TRAVIS:  Thank you, Astrid. It’s nice to be here.

CORALINE:  Travis, we’d like to start every episode by getting to know our guest a little bit better before we really dive into the details of the conversation that we want to have. What is your superhero origin story?

TRAVIS:  That’s a good place to start but unfortunately, it’s nothing exciting like I was bit by a spider or anything but —

CORALINE:  Never? Seriously?

TRAVIS:  Well, maybe but that is not what started it all. But what did start, I guess, different from some of the others episodes where I’m not focusing so much on my tech story but my personal story. I was born six weeks early and it was discovered when I was six weeks old that I had a blocking to my bladder and it ended up having a catheter put in at that time. Because of that, I ended up having some damage to my bladder and also to my kidneys. But that one was discovered until I was almost 30 — the kidney damage. I was diagnosed with kidney disease, which from that followed a transplant in 2009.

Then unfortunately in 2013, I had to go back on dialysis which I’ve been on dialysis since and I do five nights a week from home. Additionally, I also have an achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. That kind of formed my life. I grew up in rural Idaho and I think if I hadn’t had that, I would have kind of followed in the footsteps of my father, like my elder brother did and been like a truck driver or something.

I kind of formed my love of tech when I was in fourth grade. My uncle gave me this book about programming in BASIC and that just caught my attention like, “Oh, this is how you make the games that I play on the computer in my classroom.” And I found a home and I’ve been in tech ever since and been the one that everybody’s gone to for help. In college, I was introduced to open source and been involved with open source work. Since then, I worked at the Canonical for a while.

CORALINE:  You talked about being inspired or being interested in learning BASIC because that was how the games that you played were made. Did you start out making games?

TRAVIS:  Just simple things. You know, like a way to impress my friends in class like, “Hey, look. I made this game.” It will ask for your name and you can play a guessing game and whatever and that sort of thing. But a lot of it was, “Let’s just see how the set up is,” or, “How these menu things worked,” or, “How to disassemble this,” and things like that. That was back on an Apple II.

When I got into junior high, I got to use PC’s so I got to learn about DOS and then using Debug.com to change the command com and things like that. I really got to understand how things work. You know, it’s funny, I never really did a lot of game development and that’s just kind of what caught my interest like, “Oh, this is how this works.” Then, I ended up my first job out of college is game development so this kind of happened.

ASTRID:  Travis, you said that you grew up in rural Idaho, right?

TRAVIS:  Yes.

ASTRID:  Did you ever have any other people around you who were also doing tech like you were?

TRAVIS:  No, not really. By the time I was in high school, I was the one in my community who knew the most about computer, even more than my teachers. You know, at that age, I didn’t have the access to the internet until I was a junior in high school and I was like the first one in my community to do so, so I learned everything from books, magazines, and things like that. I did not have any mentors or anything around me to help me with that. I just happened to, like I said, ever since I got that book from my uncle that he found and just teach myself.

CORALINE:  Are you completely self-taught or did you go to college for computer science?

TRAVIS:  I went to Utah State University and studied computer science. Then I graduated with that degree and it took me a little while. But it was interesting and I am self-taught and it was just such a divergence going into that from the community and the family I grew up in. I guess my purpose for being here too is my disability has what formed that because I didn’t have the same options necessarily that others did.

My grandparents were farmers and ranchers. My brother spent a lot of time out with my grandparents and my dad out on the farm and I couldn’t. So I found something else to spend my time with.

CORALINE:  It’s really great that you found an outlet for your creativity and your intellectual curiosity.

TRAVIS:  Yeah and I’m glad I did. Though I admit, I’m jealous of those who grew up now who have the internet and so forth, to see the world more than I did when I was a young teenager because it was limited. I always go to town or to the nearest city with an hour away, to go to the bookstore to buy something or buy the next latest computer magazine or something so I can learn more and it was limited. I was really hungry at that time I think to learn something and to be beyond the limitations that I felt.

ASTRID:  Does this mean that you didn’t really have a community until you went to college?

TRAVIS:  Yeah, I think that is a pretty fair statement.

ASTRID:  Then you said you were introduced to open source so how did that change how you thought about what you are doing because it sounds like you’re kind of creating in a vacuum because it was a really other people you could share it with, and then you go to school and then you mentioned being introduced to open source technology. How that change until you saw software development?

TRAVIS:  I think it truly did formed who I was because as I learn more about computers, I got fascinated with the C language and UNIX. It was a course that I learned like, “Oh, wait. There is this Linux thing that you can stall in computers.” Then, in my sophomore year college is when I learned more about it.

There was a group formed at my university and I knew a Linux and Free Software Club being formed and I got involved and end up being one of the founding members, with friends and classmates. It’s not just because it’s just school tech. There’s a reason behind it and I came to understand the ideals of free software and understood how it connected me also with other people. Because of that, I’ve been on IRC every day since ’98 because that was where my community was and finally I had people to talk to that understood the things that I understood and like the things I liked. It kind of open up the world for me.

MANDY:  That is really great. That’s like where I am at right now because I’ve been in a place in my whole life where I’ve been really into the technology field and I’ve had nobody to talk with about it. Now, it’s just so great when you have all the Slack channels, IRC channels, Twitter, and all that that I’m finally finding my people. I just know how special and how awesome that really, really is.

TRAVIS:  Yeah, even in a lot of ways, it’s a lifesaver because I live back in Idaho now, luckily not in the more rural area that I grew up in. I’m in the city, in Idaho Falls but I’m still not really connected to any sort of tech community here or any community outside like my neighborhood and church and family. I live for the Slack channel I’m in or IRC or Twitter, just like you said, Mandy and it’s amazing.

MANDY:  Yeah, I’m the same. I live in rural Pennsylvania so I’m in the same boat here. I’m a train ride away from Philly but as a single mom, it’s kind of difficult to hit up those tech hubs without babysitters so it’s really awesome to have that kind of community.

TRAVIS:  Uhm-mm.

CORALINE:  So Travis, many of us do not work with disabled people or chronically ill people in our day jobs. Do you find that you’re sort of the best example of what it’s like to be a person with those sorts of problems and you find yourself having to kind of explain yourself over and over again?

TRAVIS:  Yeah, I think I definitely do get about it. Like I’ve mentioned, I’ve been on dialysis since 2013 and there is actually a period of about four years where I didn’t work because of my kidney disease and how it affected me. I just have been back to work for the past year and most of my interactions with colleagues started out honestly explain, “This is where I am because I am at work part time at the moment,” and having to explain why my hours are limited or why I’m not always available.

Sometimes, it’s easier to explain things like using analogies and stuff because I do explain, like you said, to explain over and over. One thing that I’ve liked online and I think a lot of chronically ill people like myself use is there’s a thing called the Spoon Theory. It’s from a website called ButYouDontLookSick. I’m not sure how to pronounce her last name. She’s Christine Miserandino, I think that’s how you pronounce her name.

The author is a woman who has lupus — another illness that really affects people — she’s trying to explain to her friend how it affects her life and how to eat so I think that’s why she used spoon. She grabbed a bunch of spoons and said, “Imagine this is like your capacity or your energy for the day. Given what you have to do in a day, each thing takes a spoon. Maybe for those of you who play role-playing games or something like that, like your energy count.

Depending on how you’re feeling, some things may take additional spoon. Most people who aren’t ill, it’s pretty easy for them to go for a normal nine-to-five schedule. Like I mentioned, I do dialysis and I do it at nine, cut it before I go to bed and unhook in the morning when I wake up. Sometimes, my dialysis session [inaudible] very good and it wakes me up in the middle of night so my day starts with me being exhausted because of that.

Using the Spoon Theory, I have less spoons to work from. But also because of the dialysis, I’ll have more things that I have to do. I always try to explain to people like, on your average day, you do things like you bathe, you do your grooming, you eat, you exercise — all these things that a normal person does to take care of himself. Well, in this and all that, I have my medication. I have to set up and take down my dialysis machine and clean up that and I have to take care of my dialysis catheter. I have to do all of these things in addition to what ‘healthy people’ or ‘normal people’ and it kind of limit the amount of energy I have. Then if I had a bad night, by the time I get into work and work for an hour, I’m exhausted. So I have to explain to my coworkers that, “I just don’t have the energy to do this specific thing at this time,” and luckily, I’m in a company at the moment which is very understanding and I can explain it. I thought I had to explain it to pretty much to every coworker like, “I don’t have the energy because of this or whatever.”

MANDY:  Yes, so it’s typical for you to wake up every day and start off with less spoons than a typical healthy person would have.

TRAVIS:  Yeah, exactly. You know, if you wake up late, you could probably afford to skip taking a shower or do whatever you have to rush to do to get to work. I can’t skip taking care of my dialysis stuff because it’s what’s keeping me alive. So I already have things that my energy has to be devoted to in order to stay alive. I just don’t [inaudible] how the energy to do certain things or people with different illnesses have different things like the author of this post that I referenced.

She has lupus so she’s talking about days where her hands are in a lot of pain so it’s hard for her, even like to button her shirt or something like that. That affects even how she gets dressed. I think if you haven’t have troubled doing that, how can you maybe type, to do your work. So it has to be able to be aware of the limitations of other people sometimes have in this.

CORALINE:  So is it kind of a day by day thing where some days, you’re going to have more energy than others? How understanding are your coworkers about that sort of thing?

TRAVIS:  Yeah, it is definitely a day by day thing and I’ve been extremely lucky. I actually work with one of my old college classmates and I went into this current job being completely open from the start like, “Here’s my situation. I’m on dialysis because I got this.” Some days are not very good and some days I just have to get up and say, “I’m not doing so great. I need to lay back down. I will check in at this.”

I’m accountable for all my work and I can tell them that I can do it. But also, I’m in a position where it’s not like that I’m managing something that has to be done and make sure the website doesn’t go down or something like that. I’m in a position that when it gets done, it gets done. They’re really understanding.

ASTRID:  It sounds like what you’re describing doesn’t just affect people who might have something what you have to do with dialysis but it could be anybody who has a chronic condition. It sounds like there’s just not enough knowledge that this type of climate condition can where so much and people so what do you think that people should know or other work colleagues that might have this going on because you may not know that they may not be as open as you were and tell all of their colleagues that they have something going on. What do you think could be a way that people could be a little more empathetic, to some other colleague that might be going through something like this?

TRAVIS:  I think there is a thing that I’ve heard come up in other episodes as well of the podcast is empathy towards others is very important. It’s not just physical illness that I want to bring up to. I also have my own challenges with mental illness that I deal with and I know that other people deal with all sorts of things too.

I think we have a tendency, as a culture that if someone doesn’t get something done or doesn’t show up, and you’re kind of think they’re ‘lazy’ or whatever. I think we need to step back and maybe not jump to such judging conclusions about people and just let them know, “If there’s something going on, I want to be supportive and understanding,” because I’m completely open about, at least, my physical challenges. It’s a little harder to be open about my mental health issues sometimes.

I know there are people that aren’t as open and maybe deal with stigma and shame. I think as colleagues, especially those who are in a position of management and that’s where I’ve been lucky, especially in my current job with my manager, they understand. Actually, a few months ago, I had my manager reach out to me like, “Hey, I’m realizing you’ve had some struggles with how you’ve been feeling. Do you need some time off?” Basically, he asked me to take some time off so I think being able to be perceptive — he didn’t know exactly what was going on with me — but he’s like, “Hey, do you need this?”

CORALINE:  Travis, I first learned about Spoon Theory in Tech Activist community. It’s something that’s talked about quite a bit in terms of having the energy to deal with people who are questioning your work or question your motives or just the work of trying to make things better for people. It’s often talked about in terms of burnout in activist’s communities.

But is this an appropriation of a metaphor for people who are chronically ill to have opinions about how appropriate it is that that has been applied to this different set of circumstances?

TRAVIS:  You know, that’s a good question because, yeah, it definitely did arise out of those who are dealing with physical illness and they are legitimate. Especially, as someone who experiences both the mental illnesses. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety versus the physical. Actually, the struggle that I have is sometimes can’t tell with what I’m experiencing right away. I don’t have the cognition to say, “Is this because of my kidney disease or is this because I’m depressed?” So I’ll I understand that but yeah, I do sometimes see people in the community because I try to be in the activist community as well, as you mentioned Coraline.

I do see people use the word and maybe it’s just me trying to do the empathy like we just talked about, like I don’t know what they’re dealing with but it does feel like, “Do you really experience the same things that I do because there’s really a hard limit of ‘I can’t do this.'” It’s not just, “I’m just really annoyed at such and such and I can’t deal with that right now.” You know, it’s a different feeling to me, if that make sense. I think sometimes, we need to be very careful that we don’t put ourselves in similar to as I understand that I have received some discrimination in my life, in some way.

Like I said, I have dwarfism. I’m only 4’6″ and I think that’s 1.3-ish meters. Immediately, when people see me, they know my differences — the least, some of them. But I don’t claim to experience the same thing, say, someone who is black. I try to be careful not to appropriate the same struggles that they have and sometimes, it does feel the same way. You know what I mean?

CORALINE:  Definitely. I’m really glad that you shared that because I have myself talked about not having spoons to deal with the situation X and the last thing I’d want to do is a metaphor that’s more appropriately used in a different community.

MANDY:  Before we get to our next segment, we’re going to take some time to thank another one of our $10-level Patreons, Francisco José from Barcelona. Francisco is a programmer and an amateur ukelelist. You can find him @nflamel on Twitter. Thank you, Francisco and thank you to all of our awesome contributors. If you’d like to support us, please do so at Patreon.com/GreaterThanCode and that link will be in the show notes.

CORALINE:  Awesome.

ASTRID:  So Travis, are you noticing that your disabilities are misrepresenting you in some ways? This was a question asked by one of our previous guest, James Gray, and he mentioned for example, that it gets harder and harder for him to tweet, as typing gets harder and that sometimes things like voice recognition software doesn’t actually work as well as it should so how do you noticed anything like that for yourself?

TRAVIS:  I kind of have a couple of answers to that. First of all, like we talked about before, I think sometimes, I have this worry that as I may have to take time off because of my lack of spoons, to use the metaphor, do I appear less confident? Do I appear less capable because I’m not getting things done as quickly? Yeah, I do worry about that.

James brings up a great point about for those of us that have to use various specific technologies, as you’ve mentioned, a voice recognition because he has trouble typing. I’m lucky at the moment I don’t have to use as I mentioned in my bio, I’m losing my vision. I just lost a lot of my peripheral vision but not enough that it’s affecting my computer use. Other than that, I have to have maybe just a little bit larger font so my day to day work isn’t affected.

But I do recognized that there will be a point where it will be hard for me to interact with certain things if it becomes harder to see, or at least hard to interact in the way that I have so I will be slower about doing some things. I’m sure some people will interpret it differently. I do worry how people will perceive it but I also see, for example, I remember I was using a particular blogging service or something that I used. This is like five, six plus years ago. It’s just the way they designed their web page that if I increased the fonts a little bit so I could see it. The page was unusable just in the web design so I had a hard time using their service.

This is me just using the web normally. This is not using like a screen reader or anything like that and I’m like, how much as we as developers think about these sorts of things when we’re designing like how accessible they are if you increase the font size or use a screen reader and how that limits otherwise, capable people of interacting with the world.

ASTRID:  Do you find that that happens often that you’ll be trying to use a product or service and it’s just outside of a certain bounds. It’s just not useful for you, even though you’re not doing that much to change it?

TRAVIS:  Definitely. Like I mentioned, that blogging service and another great one is there’s a lot of virtual reality stuff going on right now. Google released their Daydream View. I think it’s an $80 headset that goes with their Pixel phone. I got one free because I pre-ordered a Pixel phone so I was excited to try it out. But I can’t really use it.

I use glasses but it’s not correct. It’s a 20/20 because I have cataracts as well. I could not just see well enough for it to be a pleasant experience at all, when I can tell is otherwise, a great tech. I can’t use it so I’m like completely left out from this experience. Even I think higher dollar of VR will not be any better for me. It’s like here’s this entire realm of tech that I’m left out of.

CORALINE:  And there’s really no excuse for companies, the size of Google to not consider people who are outside of the parameters of the average healthy person or the average white person for that matter. There were some issues around their recognition — their image processing software — as it pertained to people of color. If these big companies can’t even get it right, what chance do smaller companies who don’t have the kind of budget of a Google or Microsoft? What chance do they have to ensure that things are accessible and usable?

TRAVIS:  You know, that’s completely true because I looked and I’m like, “Is there any settings that I can change to change like the average viewer distance to make it a little bit more accessible to me.” You bring a great example of the image recognition. We are allowing ourselves to be informed by others around, I think this brings up why we need to have people from diverse backgrounds working for us in our communities, in our circles so we can bring up, “Hey, this thing is an issue.”

There are some things that if I did not have friends that were completely blind that really rely upon screen readers, I wouldn’t be aware of some of these issues. It’s gotten to a point that I remember for example, people do want Twitter a lot where they want to post something longer or share something from an article, though a screenshot of it, which is great. But for those who are blind and rely on screen readers, that’s leaving this content out. Luckily, Twitter has added and you can add photo descriptions.

When I want to do something like that, what when I want to share something that won’t fit on 140 characters, I’ll screenshot but then I’ll copy and paste that text into the forward description because it actually doesn’t have a character limit, or at least not 140 characters. So those of screen readers of my friends can actually still partake in my content and see that what I was wanting to share with. I think if you don’t think about those things, you’ll be easy to leave that feature out or make it hard to find or whatever.

ASTRID:  So if you are building some sort of software or some products, what is a good way to get started thinking about how different types of people are going to interface with your work?

TRAVIS:  First of all, I think you need to have a question of just look at who you have on your team or who you’re developing it. Do they all look like me? Do they all think like me? If they do, you’re probably not getting the perspective that you need. Then I know there are resources out there, obviously, you may not have a person who needs every kind of assistive technology or whatever on your team. But there’s resources out there to help you do that.

I do remember reading an article recently of a young woman who did an internship at Apple. I think she’s working on CS degree or something and she’s blind and she got to go work on assistive technologies, I think in iOS actually. Now she is working for Apple full time, if I remember right. I am glad that a company like Apple reached out to her and included her. I think we can do that too.

There are plenty of groups out there that I think are more than willing to service resources for you to especially hire even if not full time. Because I think it’s like Coraline was talking about, it’s not just like the accessibility. It is, “Are we sensitive to the needs that everybody has?” like your example of people of color. Are we including them?

I think the example of when Apple released their health kit stuff for iOS, it didn’t include features that have for women to track the menstruation, which seems to be a huge to leave out. It’s like, did you just not talk to women? Do you not have women on your team doing this?

ASTRID:  I remember that being the big criticism because it’s like you ignored half the population when it comes to a health statistic.

TRAVIS:  Right, and then, [inaudible] like initially with the Apple Watch also that with people of color that it wasn’t able to detect things because of the darker skin. That’s another thing. There are back to accessibility itself. I know there are services and this is something I haven’t yet experience myself but I know there are services out there where you can run tests on how does it look at different screen sizes and font size. Are you trying those things?

Even to the effect of not just people with disability but people on slow Internet connections or smaller devices because we know the people that not all aren’t on the fanciest, top of a line MacBook, with gigabit Ethernet. They can’t access things just the same. Do we think about those sorts of issues?

ASTRID:  I’m really interested in how some people can start changing how they make things because I feel like everybody has this same problem. They’re always saying, it’s not made really for me.

TRAVIS:  Yeah. I admit I wish I knew better on that. Ironically, part of the reason why I don’t know more about it is really this problem of the spoons that we talk about. I’m just staying alive and it’s like outside of what I’ve got to do with my day job and staying alive, I don’t have much energy for much else.

ASTRID:  It’s just interesting to me how many people can feel left out of the product and the product just still seen as successful, I guess because it’s making a certain amount of income that they expect. But it seems from the business perspective of wanting to make as much money as possible, the more inclusive you are, the more likely you’ll do that and that doesn’t seem to be the goal.

TRAVIS:  It’s not just like disability, it’s everything.

ASTRID:  It’s everything.

TRAVIS:  You know, it’s Twitter or not, really taken serious harassment. Those sorts of issues, it’s like, “Are we making things a safe and welcoming place?” Not only that, it’s like, “Is it even useable?” Like it’s inaccessible to people whose condition is slightly worse than mine. I can see myself within four, five years not being able to use some of these services.

ASTRID:  You know, there’s a lot of talk about this and not only in terms of somebody who has a particular disability but also just in expanding the internet to different parts of the world where people haven’t had fast internet service and then how are they going to use the services that exist. There’s just seems to be no thought put in place of how does somebody use Twitter who’s not in a western country? How are they going to use it that’s different? They don’t seem to be researching that or thinking about that or trying to understand the implications of that.

TRAVIS:  Uhm-mm.

CORALINE:  So Travis, we have some great questions from the Patreons who are in Slack and I should mention that if you want to get in on the Slack community that you can donate as little or as much as you want to in our Patreon. We have a question from Ryder Timberlake, who said he has a Buddhist friend with Marfan syndrome who’s told him that the knowledge that he could die any time has been tremendously beneficial to his practice. Ryder is wondering if you have any thoughts on how your disability and health challenges have positively impacted your life.

TRAVIS:  You know, if it weren’t for my disability, I honestly believe I would not have the career I have today because I probably would have just followed in the same vein of everyone in my family and community, then I’m a farmer or truck driver or whatever. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’ve seen my brother and dad get joy out of their careers but I would not have seen the world in the same way.

Realizing my own situation has helped me gain empathy with others, I think because I realize not everyone understands me so I went, “Well, what don’t I understand about others?” You know, because other than my disability, I’m a white, straight standard man from America — about as privileged as it can get.

But I think my disability has helped me to realized that there are people with differences so I’ve been able to open up and learn from and become great friends with people who are completely different from me, whether they be a different race or from somewhere else or transgender or whatever it may be. I think that’s the big thing has given me. It’s just a perspective of openness to the world because of I’ve always felt different so I felt open to those with differences and different to me as well.

MANDY:  We have another question from Craig Buchek. He said, it’s hard to imagine how he’d cope with all of that, that being having a disability such as your own. He wants to know about the coping mechanisms that you use just to deal with it all. Is there anything specific that you do on a day to day basis or even every now and then to just make life easier on yourself?

TRAVIS:  That’s a very good question. Actually, in Slack, he also mentioned like he defined himself by his work and that was a huge issue for me too because also right around the time that I stopped working because of my kidney disease, I also got divorced.

You know, if I was to describe myself at that time, it would be like I’m married, I have a puppy, I am a computer programmer. I always define myself by all these things then all of a sudden, the process of about a year, I lost all of those things. I’m not going to lie, it was hard and it’s still hard because I saw myself. I’m like, “What is my identity anymore because I didn’t work for large amount of time.”

Really, my coping mechanism… What can I say? I have taken up meditation and that’s something I do which is kind of actually related to my answer to the last question. The hugest thing that help me is by learning about other people. Twitter has been a lifeline to me these last few years and I have learned about people so different from my experiences. I’ve seen the world in different way of getting empathy for greater thing. I’ve become part of communities that have been — some of my closest friends are so by being able to reach out and have a part of those communities that may not maybe understand exactly what I’m going through but have compassion which has helped me, I think is the biggest thing. Then just having hobbies of the hit shows that I watch and the things that I read. If I don’t handle those things, it’s very easy to get lost in the, “Oh, wow, I don’t have energy. I’m this or that or whatever.”

CORALINE:  Travis you’ve talked a lot about your work and how you got started and some of the challenges you faced with technology Ben Hamill asked, “What’s a non-programming hobby that you’re in to?”

TRAVIS:  Actually, my illness kind of brought non-programming to the forefront because when I was so sick that I couldn’t work, I also didn’t have the headspace to even program for fun or do any of that stuff so that kind of fell the wayside. Like I mentioned, I’m really into watching things like Dr Who and Star Wars. I like reading, learning languages, and religion. I do write a little bit, none as much as I should. If you look at my blog, it’s been well over a year since I written anything.

CORALINE:  You talked about in your intro wanting to learn more different languages. Do you think you have time to pursue those sorts of things from the side?

TRAVIS:  Unfortunately, no and I kind of find myself getting frustrated and I wish to deal with better because, to use the metaphor we’ve talked about, once I dealt with all the things I have to do just to keep alive and healthy, and then my day job, I’m pretty much out of spoons. I’ve been meaning to, for the last couple of years, to learn the Rust programming language and I haven’t had the spoons to have a project to do so.

I learned Erlang a little bit in the last year but that’s only because I had a work project. If it’s not in work, I don’t do it which is really sad because I see all these things that really grab my attention and challenge and interest me intellectually. But I don’t have the energy to do anything about it, which is frustrating.

ASTRID:  We have a question from JEG II who asks, “What’s one thing you wish unknown strangers you encountered in public knew about you?

TRAVIS:  Even though, I have all these other things that define my life, I’m just a regular person too that I want to be in a relationship. I want a family. I have the things I love and things that frustrating me. Sometimes, when people meet me, they see just how tall I am or they learn about my kidney disease so they think only about my dialysis.

I’m remembering a TED Talk, and on camera, the name of the woman who gave it but I’ll find it so we can put in the show notes, of a disabled woman. I think she was from Australia actually, about she doesn’t want to be ‘inspiration porn’ where people are like just so inspired by her because of how she dealt with her disability. Sometimes it feels like that’s all people [inaudible] as someone who deals with my disability when, of course, that’s the topic of our conversation today. But I’m more than just that.

You know, in high school actually in my English literature class. We studied the story, I think it’s The Red Badge of Courage. I think it was a story set in the civil war time and kid went off, he was supposed to go off to war but he got scared and ran away from it. He ended up — I don’t remember the details but he ended up giving up himself an injury or pretended to be hurt so people would think he had courage and we were talking about how we interpret those things.

My teacher talked about me, about how frankly like, I think as she put it how inspiring I was because of the things that I deal with being a disabled person because of what people see visually with me. I remember just being quite frustrated because it’s like I don’t think I’m doing anything remarkable. I’m just living my life. I don’t think I was quite aware of how different I was at the time or how different I had the things that I had to do to cope with my differences. It just was the way things were.

Even though, I have all these other things that I want people to be aware of that I deal with, underneath, I’m just the same with every one of you. I want love, I want fun, I want fulfillment, I have fears, I have joy.

CORALINE:  Travis, thank you for sharing so much about your experiences, your challenges, and your aspirations. At the end of every show, we’d like to reflect on what we’ve talked about and sort of highlight if there’s anything in particular that really stood out to us who are close to action for ourselves or for other people so I like to move into the reflections now. Astrid, do you have any reflections on today’s conversations?

ASTRID:  Yes. The biggest thing that I got out of this was that it’s important that when I’m working on something or building something, even if it’s just a landing page that I should be looking at people who are not only just different from me but might be differently-abled than I am to see if there’s any other way I can make it more useful.

CORALINE:  I feel the same way and I want to take that as a personal challenge and everyone really should be doing this. If you’re building applications or websites or what have you, think about people outside of the narrow parameters that you’re assuming to be the default parameters. Look outside this parameters and understand or think about how different people are going to use what you’re producing, whether it’s someone with disabilities or people of color or someone with smaller, older device or limited bandwidth.

I think that’s something we, as professionals, should be thinking about all the time. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen very often. [Inaudible] they think about a little bit more what we talked about with Spoon Theory and how that’s been appropriated by the activist community. That’s something that, as I said, I myself, have done and I feel kind of differently about it now so I really appreciate the perspective, Travis that you provided on that.

I think we think a lot about cultural appropriation but we don’t think about appropriation of useful tools and techniques from other communities like the chronically ill or mentally ill populations and how that convenience of using those metaphors might actually be harmful or discouraging or offensive to other people. So really, thank you for that insight.

MANDY:  I’ve just been thinking more about empathy in general and I’ve been struggling a lot personally with a very bad bout of depression and anxiety. It’s just so important to just be kind to yourself and have empathy for yourself as well as everybody around you. To be in communities, where people understand you and can talk to you, I found comfort in some of the Slack communities that I’m a part of right now, that are just aimed towards mental health and well-being. We can just say what is on our mind and we’re not being judged for it and everybody’s like, “You got this,” Or, “What can I do?” Or hugs, if you want them, things like that. It really does make a difference.

TRAVIS:  I think a lot of what all of you have said, especially what Mandy have said, about empathy is kind of where I’m at too is I think with my own limited experience and ability to do things, I want to be able to gain empathy more and more with other people so that I can help other people have empathy as well. So that’s why I’m doing things like being a guest on this podcast.

I’m trying to be more open myself about the struggles I have and listening more to other people who are open about their own struggles. However, they may be different than me so that through that understanding and empathy, I can help them in the way I develop software or whatever it may be. Hopefully, by me being more open, it can help others listen to other people than me that need help as well.

MANDY:  That brings up the point that disability is different for everyone. It’s not all visual. Sometimes, you can look at a person and tell. Sometimes, you can’t. You don’t know the struggle that other people are having so it’s just so important to just be kind and be nice to everyone.

TRAVIS:  Exactly. For example, in my case, what you see when you see me physically is my size and that’s actually my disability that affects me the least day to day. Yeah, it’s not visible what actually affects me.

CORALINE:  Travis, it has been really wonderful talking to you today and I really appreciate you taking the time to share your experiences and insights with us. Thank you very much, Travis. Thank you also, Astrid and Mandy for being on the show today.

I would like to say one more time. Our preference as a podcast is to be listener supported. We hope you appreciate the effort that we put into each show and the guests that we have on our shows. We’re thankful to every listener pledges their support. We’re currently at $825 of $950 goal that we have for funding the shows so we’re only $125 off. If you enjoy the content that we are producing, please go to Patreon.com/GreaterThanCode and show your support for us. Thank you everyone and we’ll talk to you again next week.

This episode was brought to you by the panelists and Patrons of >Code. To pledge your support and to join our awesome Slack community, visit patreon.com/greaterthancode. Managed and produced by @therubyrep of DevReps, LLC.

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