Day 5: Marcus

Marcus, son of a drug addict, has been blind since birth. He was born three months premature, was on a respirator for six weeks, and was given a 10% chance of survival. He is 31 years old.

Marcus works at an AT+T Relay Center, where he relays calls between deaf and hearing people. Here's how it works:

  1. A deaf or hearing impaired person, call her Melissa, calls into the center using her TDD or computer.
  2. Melissa types in the name and number of the person she wants to call, call him Todd.
  3. Marcus calls Todd and announces that Todd has a call from Melissa via the Relay Center.
  4. Whatever Melissa types, Marcus reads on his ALVA refreshable Braille display, which takes Melissa's words and converts them into Braille in real time.
  5. Whatever Todd says, Marcus types back to Melissa at an astonishing 110 words per minute.

Neither Melissa nor Todd knows or cares that Marcus is blind. The only indication is the muffled noise of the ALVA's pins popping up and down, like the clackety-clack of a manual typewriter in the distance.

There is no link whatsoever between Marcus's eyes and his brain. Despite this, he still complains of headaches whenever the sun streams in through the window near his cubicle, and he closes the blinds every afternoon.

Marcus also uses an ALVA at home, where he runs the text-only browser Lynx in a full-screen DOS window. He reads the web at home in much the same way that he reads his calls at work: in Braille, one line at a time. He hates screen reader software, and he wouldn't hear it even if he had it, since he always has talk radio on at top volume from the minute he gets home until the minute he goes to sleep.

He also talks on the phone while he listens to the radio and surfs the web. He talks to 100 people a week. He has no idea that this is unusual. If you played the "six degrees of separation" game, finding links between you and anyone else in the world, Marcus would be one of your six degrees. He is one of those people that generates buzz, that marketers think they can tap into but never can. He is the reason your phone company no longer offers unlimited local calling plans. He loves telling his friends about cool sites that he's seen. He intentionally uses the word "seen" because he knows it makes them feel uncomfortable.