All posts by Empish

About Empish

Freelance Journalist, Blogger and Consultant

Giving Thanks During a Pandemic

a Thanksgiving horn of plenty with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables

This year’s Thanksgiving Day will be one for the history books. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade will be virtual. We are encouraged by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to have small gatherings, remotely  or none  at all. Black Friday store sales will be more online to avoid large crowds. And even the iconic holiday classic Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving special didn’t air on regular  TV but on PBS and Apple +. Additionally, these last few months have been hard, stressful and even depressing for a lot of people. Many of us have been isolated at home, dealing with economic ups and downs, work challenges, political and racial unrest. It has been an incredible year and that’s putting it mildly! We still got a whole month left to go before 2020 is over. Yet in the midst of all of this having an attitude of gratitude is so important to maintain hope and resilience. Thanksgiving Day is today and there are so many things to be grateful for during this pandemic.

To start off. The fact that I can write this blog post about being thankful in the first place! I can start right here because a year ago this blog didn’t even exist. I was working my way toward it and prior to it was just an idea that I had in my head. But here I am a year later; producing something that I am very thankful and proud to possess. This blog and website have stretched me. It has been challenging and wonderful all at the same time.

Another thing I think about is my basic necessities. I remember when this pandemic started and everyone was panic shopping toilet tissue. You remember that don’t you? Well, it seems that has slowed down a bit, or at least where I live. Online grocery shopping is still touch and go but when I go in person, I do get the items I need and I am so grateful for that. I do remember when the shelves were bare to empty and that has improved. I go into the grocery store more grateful now, especially when I see an item that was out of stock for a long time.

I am grateful for my telemedical appointments with doctors. During this pandemic I have been able to continue my medical care and have Zoom calls with my doctors. Additionally, In the last few months I have been meeting with a physical therapist to help with my right knee pain. As a result of those visits the pain is virtually gone and I have learned how to strengthen my body, improve my posture and balancing. I feel so much better not just physically but mentally too. I realized that I don’t have to live in pain. For a long time, I would just push through and now I know that is unnecessary and unwise.

During this pandemic many people have struggled with finding things to do to occupy their time. Well, for me it has been the opposite. I am so grateful for a full, rich and rewarding life. I have plenty of things to do. A variety of things that I can focus on each day-from my writing work, to reading interesting books, listening to a wide variety of podcasts, watching audio described movies and keeping up with friends and family. I got a lot on my plate. I have actually had to work on scaling back and learning ways to remove things and not allow stuff to stress me out if I don’t get to it.

So, today I encourage you to pause and think about what you are grateful for. It is easy to focus on all the things that are going wrong and are not happening. But take this time to concentrate on the goodness in the world. The things that bring you joy and pleasure. The people that you love and cherish. Even during a pandemic there are plenty of things to be thankful for in life.

Audio Description Podcast on Current Events and News Gives Me Visual Perspective

Empish Using an iPhone

I am sitting on my sofa watching the 6 p.m. evening news. The reporter stops the broadcast for a news break about a bombing, police shooting, natural disaster or terroristic attack. The reporter gives all the relative information, i.e. the when, what and why. But the scene is all visual and I can only speculate what is actually happening. Since I have some visual memory and imagination I can kind of piece things together but as the years go by and I spend more time on the blind side of things my memories are fading. Certain things I don’t remember anymore and are getting hard to recall. Sometimes when I ask friends and family, they are hesitant to describe the imagery because it is disturbing and painful to watch so I don’t ask often. Other times I refer to newspapers and magazine articles for assistance because this print medium must “show not tell” in its description.

Well, I don’t have to totally rely on any of those things anymore. I can listen on my iPhone to a weekly podcast called Talk Description to Me. The two hosts J.J. Hunt and Christine Malec discuss recent events and topical issues to explore the content of important images, and help place healthy descriptions in their cultural context. Their dialogue is lively, witty, colorful and enjoyable. J.J. is a sighted man and a professional audio describer while Christine is female, blind and curious about all-thins visual.

This podcast launched in July with an intense and sobering description of the killing of George Floyd. Prior to this listening I had not had anyone describe his death for obvious reasons. It was a hard one to hear but I wanted to get a full understanding of exactly what happened to him and the huge national and international reaction. It all began to make even more sense to me after listening to this episode. I went on to learn about the uniform of a current police officer. I realized how much things have changed since I went blind. That officers no longer look like they did when I was a child nor when I could see. Their uniforms have a more militarize look to them. This also helped me put the pieces together with the reactions and protesting that has been going on. Things became clearer and made more sense. I also realize that being blind has kept me somewhat ignorant too my surroundings even though I am not living in a cave with no WIFI. I watch the news, read the paper, books and magazines. The world is incredibly visual and images are so powerful.

Next were the vivid descriptions of the recent explosion in Beirut and the past attacks on September 11th. I remember my roommate at the time trying to describe to me the airplanes flying into those buildings. No matter how she tried I still couldn’t get a clear visual of what that totally looked like. I really struggled with it. But this podcast helped immensely not just with the actual attack but the aftermath and memorial.

Now, I know this podcast sounds like doom and gloom. You might think, “Why in the world would I want to listen to this sad and traumatic stuff?”  Well hold on. Not all descriptions on the podcast are disturbing or triggering. Other episodes focused on social media like Facebook and TikTok; or sport teams and consumer products like McDonalds and Uncle Ben’s rice. A recent episode was on Halloween which described the creative costumes like a Zoom call screen and the coronavirus. I thought how incredibly innovative people are in the midst of a pandemic. We are all trying to keep some level of normalcy in our lives.

Empish Holding Replica of the Capitol and Surrounding Buildings

Even though J.J. and Christine are based in Canada they have objective conversations on American issues and topics. They did a couple of episodes on our presidential election. One described this non-scalable fence around the White House. I knew about some kind of fence but I was taken aback when I heard about this one. Apparently new physical barriers were put up around election day. I remember when I took a vacation trip to DC and visited portions of the Mall. So much has changed since then. They also described one fence that was coated in protest signs. They. discussed current jerrymandering maps. Images of long lines to vote with social distancing. J.J. described photo essays of poll workers and voters. They read the headlines of national and international front pages with their images.

This podcast is so full of information yet richly entertaining. Presented in a respectful and unbiassed way. each time I listen I walk away learning something new. It brings a fresh perspective to current news trends and keeps me abreast. I look forward to each new episode where the “visuals of current events and the world around us get hashed out in description-rich conversations.”

I Voted Early in Person for the 2020 Presidential Election

Empish Wearing Facemask and Gloves Standing Outside Voter Precinct After Voting in 2020 Presidential Election

Today is the day that many people across the country are casting their ballot for our president and other government officials. In the past, I would have been doing the same thing at my local precinct.   But not this year! It is way, way too much going on and if you have been watching even a little bit of the news you know exactly what I am talking about. All kinds of problems real or imagined with our postal service. Extremely long lines and wait times to vote. All kinds of misinformation shared online and social media and the list goes on and on. So, this year I decided to bypass some of the stress and craziness and vote early in person. I am so glad I did because my experience was good. There were some problems with the audio quality of the machines which I will share in a moment but overall, I had a fairly pleasant time.

initially I was not sure which approach I was going to take; whether to vote absentee or vote in person. So, I requested my absentee ballot way in advance and had it weeks early; like back in the first of October. I wasn’t concerned about mailing it back because I knew that I would either carry it to a local drop box in my neighborhood or to my local precinct. But then I began to reflect on the lack of accessibility of the whole process to vote absentee. I would have to get a sighted person to fill out my ballot for me which also mint lack of privacy. I also thought about my signature matching with the one on my state ID. Well, I can’t see that and trying to write my signature exactly the same after 20 years of blindness is a bit much! I just didn’t want to run the risk of my ballot being considered spoiled and thrown out on a technicality.  Also, it was that issue during the primary when I voted absentee of the missing internal envelope. An explanation  was given by the DeKalb County Voter Registration Office but I know how important it is to follow instructions exactly as written or your ballot could be thrown out. So, to alleviate my stress and worry I just voted early and in person.

Empish at Paper Voting Machine Demo

Early voting in my area started on October 12th and lasted until the 30th. The first

few days, yes, the lines were long but I expected that. So, I waited about a week and went the following Monday on the 19th. I also wanted to do some more research on the candidates and amendments. Next, I made my transportation arrangements. I prepared for long lines by packing a snack and bottled water, brought my own folding chair and wore comfortable clothing and my Dr. Scholl’s tennis shoes.  And, yes, let’s not forget my facemask and gloves! I had even read up on the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations for voting. I also brought my absentee ballot to return so they could know that I was not trying to vote twice.

Once I arrived, I got set up and a poll worker walked me over to the accessible voting machine. I began to vote and that is where the problems started. The audio quality was awful again. I have talked about this here on the blog. I have shared this problem with friends and family. When I participated in a research consulting project with Georgia Tech on accessible voting machines, I stressed this point. I have filed complaints with the Georgia Secretary of State Office on this. In other words, I am a broken record and will continue to be until this issue is resolved. I just don’t understand with our advanced technology in speech output that when I go to vote, which is one of the most important things I can do in life, the machine sounds like your grandaddy’s old transistor radio from back in the day. Not only was the audio quality bad but it kept fading in and out. The poll worker came over several times to adjust the cord. He was talking to me like a Metro PC commercial, “Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?” I even thought that if I placed the keypad on the desk and didn’t move it that would help but when I got to the portion to review my ballot the whole thing went out again. The poll worker came back and got it talking. I was able to finish and print out my ballot. I just can’t believe that the state of Georgia spent thousands of dollars on these brand-new machines and they don’t work any better than the old ones the blind community complained about in the past. I did file yet another complaint with the Secretary of State Office for what it’s worth.

Close Up of Accessible Voting Keypad

Next the poll worker escorted me to the other machine to cast my ballot. There I placed the print out on the machine and waited to hear it click. Afterward I went outside to take my photo that I had voted and waited on my transportation. As I sat and waited, I observed people coming in and out but no long lines. The poll worker told me that the precinct had about 30 machines and things were flowing fairly smoothly. He said there were long lines at the beginning and early in the morning but that was decreasing. It was even nice to see a couple of new voters because announcements were made and everyone clapped and cheered when they cast their ballot. As I listened, I reflected on the first time I voted for the President many years ago. I was a college student   and it was a good feeling for me too.

People Watching Movies at Home

Enjoyed Three Evenings of Diverse Shorts at the Virtual Superfest Disability Film Festival

The true story of a bi-polar American white woman who joins the circus in Vietnam. A young woman who has Cerebral Palsy and a sexworker share an unusual story of love which challenges social norms. An unemployed disabled actress takes a job advising a film star on how to be disabled for his latest role. An eager to please doll in a wheelchair is placed in the perfect world of the self-absorbed, and must find a way to fit in or be thrown away. A Black woman who uses a wheelchair and wants to be an actress learns that accessibility isn’t just about physical space. These are summaries of some of the short films I saw during the Superfest Disability Film Festival a couple of weeks ago. The 15 pictures featured were written, produced and/or directed by people with disabilities and included actors with disabilities as well.

I watched 1 feature and 14 short films in audio description virtually from the comfort of my home on my computer. In the past the festival was held in the San Francisco Bay area but because of the pandemic they opted to show everything via Zoom. So being the movie lover that I am I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by and especially over a weekend.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

According to their website, Superfest Disability Film Festival is the longest running disability film festival in the world. Since it first debuted in a small Los Angeles showcase in 1970 it has become an eagerly anticipated international event—hosted by San Francisco’s Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University. For more than 30 years, Superfest has celebrated cutting-edge cinema that portrays disability through a diverse, complex, unabashed and engaging lens. Superfest is one of the few festivals worldwide that is accessible to disabled filmgoers of all kinds.

I enjoyed the variety of films because of its diversity not just in subject matter but because they were produced overseas. I have long been interested in foreign films but because of subtitles can’t always view and enjoy them. Yet this time I was able too; seeing films from Japan, France, Italy, Finland and England. I appreciated universal story lines, complex characters and dealing with relatable issues which shows that people with disabilities are exactly that-people. The films didn’t shy away from real topics such as race, relationships, sex, employment, connection and community, rejection, isolation, illness, joy and happiness. These are all things that people can identify with every day.

The other part of the festival was the round table discussion. During the 3-day event there was a panel of people discussing the films, the production and writing process. I also enjoyed this part of the festival because it gave me insight into the world of film making. I learned a little about what happens behind the scenes, what took place to bring these films to the festival and even more so during a pandemic.

As in any large event it takes a lot of work to put all the pieces in place. There were a few hiccups and glitches along the way but I was impressed with how the organizers got things quickly back in place and moving again. As they say in the bus, “The show must go on!” And it did. I will definitely attend this festival again if hosted virtually. It was an enjoyable experience.

Review of For the Benefit of Those Who See

For the Benefit of Those Who See Book Cover

In a few days the month of October will end and so will Blind Awareness Month. I read this book where the author deals with her fears and curiosities about the blind and embarks on her own journey of blind awareness. The book is titled For the Benefit of Those Who See: Dispatches From the World of the Blind by Rosemary Mahoney. According to Barnes & Noble  here is a quick overview of the book:  In the tradition of Oliver Sacks’s The Island of the Colorblind, Rosemary Mahoney tells the story of Braille Without Borders, the first school for the blind in Tibet, and of Sabriye Tenberken, the remarkable blind woman who founded the school. Fascinated and impressed by what she learned from the blind children of Tibet; Mahoney was moved to investigate further the cultural history of blindness. As part of her research, she spent three months teaching at Tenberken’s international training center for blind adults in Kerala, India, an experience that reveals both the shocking oppression endured by the world’s blind, as well as their great resilience, integrity, ingenuity, and strength.

I appreciated her boldness and honesty when talking about a topic that people can be uncomfortable discussing. People really do fear the blind which has been on-going for a long time. Initially she was afraid and unsure about teaching at the school. This was partly due to her own fears about blindness in her own life. She indicates that she was already not a well-adjusted sighted person and was born inpatient and annoyed. But over time she adjusts and learns a lot from the blind students she teaches.

While teaching in the program, she talks about the isolation, fear, ignorance and hostility toward her students. She gives vivid details about how the surrounding community reacts to the school as well as the stories the students share about their experiences back home. But what is interesting is that these same things happen right here in the United States today. The United States has some of the lowest rates of visual impairment in the world, yet bblindness is still among the most feared physical disabilities.

I enjoyed reading some of the historical misconceptions about the blind she researched for the book. The blind has been thought of as idiots incapable of learning, as artful masters of deception or as mystics with supernatural powers. One of the most persistent misconceptions about the blind is that it is a curse from God for transgressions making them not just dangerous but evil. I could totally relate because I have experienced all of this and much more. There have been times when my intelligence was challenged or where I was perceived as either being very close to God having more spirituality or totally removed from God and cursed.

As humans we fear what we don’t understand or cannot relate to. Blindness can be something that is unconceivable and hard to imagine. Out of our five senses, vision is premium providing endless amounts of information. Facial expressions, body language, and other visual cues are a huge part of how we interact with each other. So, if a person is blind how do you interact? How do you have a conversation? How do you share common experiences? How do you connect?

Because we depend so heavily on our vision, we can’t even phantom how to live without it. People sometimes overload me with questions about my life as a blind person. How do you get dress? How do you put on your makeup? How do you cook? Do you work anywhere? If so, what kind of work do you do? How do you travel? Do you live alone? Do you have children? And the list goes on and on. People are naturally curious and fascinated at how we live our lives. They just can’t imagine that we are able to function and live a happy, normal and prosperous life. 

With that being said the perception of the blind can be that we are amazing, inspirational and super heroes. This is a form of ablism. I am just a regular everyday person like most people. I get stressed out at times. I laugh at a funny joke. I worry about the environment. I cry watching a sad movie. I have good and bad hair days. I live my life much like everyone else. We have to be careful that in our desire to esteem the blind we don’t go overboard that it becomes insulting. She says, “I do not intend to suggest there is something wonderful about blindness. There is only something wonderful about human resilience, adaptability and daring.” I personally appreciate this comment and think it can apply to all people; sighted or blind.

This was an interesting read. What are your thoughts on this topic?Why do you think people fear the blind? Can anything be done about it? If so, what? Let’s discuss and help change the negative thoughts and attitudes about blindness. Share your ideas in the comment section below.

Blindness and Disability are Popular Themes for October

The fall is my favorite season and time of the year. The weather is cooler. The autumn colors of brown, orange, golden yellow, dark red and green are on display. October is the month when all of this jumps off. But one other thing I recently noticed is the number of blind and disabled observations happening at this time too. Not sure why this is the case but I couldn’t let another day go by without pointing them out. Or at least the ones I know about.

Man Getting an Eye Exam

1.  World Sight Day is held on the second Thursday of October every year and aims to focus global attention on vision impairment and blindness. There is a different theme every year, with many of those who mark the Day taking the opportunity to both celebrate achievements to date and advocate for increasing attention towards eye care.  According to the World Health Organization 1 billion people around the world have a preventable vision impairment or one that has yet to be addressed.  Reduced or absent eyesight can have major and long-lasting effects on all aspects of life, including daily personal activities, interacting with the community, school and work opportunities and the ability to access public services.

2.  White Cane Safety Day is observed nationally on October 15th. It was a law passed to protect white cane pedestrians by giving them the right of way and recognizing that the white cane was a symbol of blindness. President Lyndon Johnson signed it into law in 1964.

3.  Blind Americans Equality Day. In 2011, White Cane Safety Day was also named Blind Americans Equality Day by President Barack Obama. The mission is to celebrate the continuing achievements of blind and visually impaired Americans and reaffirm the commitment to advancing their complete social and economic integration.

4.  Meet the Blind Month is hosted by the National Federation of the Blind every October. Throughout the month, members conduct a variety of outreach activities in their local communities. Many of these activities focus on White Cane Awareness Day, lived experiences with problem solving, self-confidence and intersectionality.

5.  National Disability Employment Awareness Month acknowledges the ingenuity people with disabilities bring to America’s workplaces. Each October NDEAM celebrates America’s workers with disabilities and reminds employers of the importance of inclusive hiring practices. In 1945, Congress declared the first week of October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was dropped to include individuals with all types of disabilities. Congress expanded the week to a month in 1988, and changed the commemoration to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

6.  Blind Awareness Month  was created by The Little Rock Foundation in Voorhees, New Jersey to promote improving blind and visually impaired children’s lives. The goal is to educate the public about good eye health, and treatment of eye disorders.  Inspire people with stories of the blind and their accomplishments. Advocate for research, resources and laws that benefit the blind community.

After doing my research I would dare to say that October is the month of the blind. I would encourage you to take some time and learn more, volunteer or donate to an organization serving the blind community.

Its a White Cane Not a Stick

The white cane has enabled me to travel safely and confidently by detecting stairs, sidewalk curbs, doorways and obstacles. It gives me the added security and protection I need so that I don’t stumble, fall or run into things. It identifies me as a person with a vision impairment. When people see my cane, they have a better understanding of my situation and can respond accordingly.  Or at least I think they should. I have found that people want to refer to my cane as a stick. I get responses like, “Where is your stick, Empish?”, “My relative who is blind uses one of those sticks too.”  Or my favorite is, “Where can I get one of those sticks?” My emotions range from frustration, annoyance to amusement.

So, why is my mobility aid a cane and not a stick? Have you ever wondered why the white cane is white and not some other color?  Who made the decision for the color white in the first place?  When did the blind start using white canes anyway? Well, since today is National White Cane Safety Day I thought it would be fitting to do a little digging into the history and the safety law around traveling with it.

Little Black Girl Wearing Braids and Walking with White Cane

Prior to the use of the official white cane people who were blind and/or visually impaired used staffs, sticks and canes as instruments in their modes of travel.  These tools were use more to alert the blind person to obstacles in their path rather than for noting their blindness.  It was not until the 20th century that the “cane” was used for identification purposes.  During the times of the two World Wars canes began to be used by people with vision loss; first starting in Europe and then branching out into the United States. According to the American Council for the Blind, James Biggs of Bristol claimed to have invented the white cane in 1921. After an accident claimed his sight, the artist had to readjust to his environment.  Worried by the increased motor vehicle traffic around his home, Biggs decided to paint his walking stick white to make himself more visible to motorists

The White Cane Becomes White

It was not until ten years later the white cane established its presence in society. A national white stick movement for people in France was launched. The campaign was duplicated in England and was sponsored by Rotary clubs throughout the United Kingdom. Yet, in the United States it was the Lion’s Clubs International that helped introduced the white cane to the blind community. In 1930, a Lion’s Club member watched as a blind man attempted to cross a busy street using a black cane. Realizing that the black cane was barely visible to motorists, the Lion’s Club decided to paint the cane white to increase its visibility. In 1931, the Lion’s Club International began a national program promoting the use of white canes for persons who were blind.H-

A Tool for Mobility

Black Man Wearing Shades and Walking with White Cane

Up to this time, blind people were using their white canes primarily as symbols of blindness not as a mobility aid. But when the blind veterans of World War II returned, the form and the use of the white cane changed. This was an attempt to get veterans active and involved in society again. Doctor Richard Hoover developed the “long cane” or “Hoover” method of cane travel. These white canes were designed to be used as mobility aids and returned the cane to its original role as a tool for mobility, while maintaining   the symbolism of blindness. This also ushered in the concept of orientation and mobility training; where a person with vision loss learned about their surroundings and how to travel safely and confidently.

Today, the white cane is a visible identifier that the person has some form of visual impairment.  Much like the wheelchair symbolizes a mobility impairment. People with vision loss travel with their white canes directly in front of their body so that others can see it clearly. This is especially critical when approaching a street intersection. To a motorist driving down the street or hovering at a street light; the white cane stands out because of its color and the red strips help deflect a vehicle’s headlights.

White Cane Safety Day Passes

Two White Blind Teens Holding canes and Sign Saying Celebrate White Cane Safety Day

The white cane began to move into the political scene and state legislation began to pass. The first two states to past safety ordnances were Illinois and Michigan. The ordnances protected white cane pedestrians by giving them the right of way and recognizing that the white cane was a symbol of blindness. In the early 1960’s, several state organizations and rehabilitation agencies serving the blind and visually impaired encouraged Congress to proclaim October 15th of each year to be White Cane Safety Day in all fifty states. This event marked an exciting moment in the long campaign to gain state and national recognition for the white cane. National White Cane Day was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Its designated October 15th as National White Cane Safety Day. Georgia went a step further and created a state law and protection for those pedestrians that use a white cane.

What the Law States

Here is a summary of the law:

1. Only people who are blind or visually impaired should travel with a white cane.

2. When a motorist comes in contact with a person traveling with a white cane at an intersection that driver should come to an immediate stop to avoid injury or harm to the white cane traveler.

3. Any person who is in violation of the above will be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Now you have learned some history on the white cane. Why it is no longer called a stick. You now know why the white cane is white, do you think that motorists stop for it? Do you think that people see the white cane as a mobility aid and symbol of visual impairment?  For those using a white cane, do you have to explain its usage a lot or barely at all? What things do you think can be done to make people more aware? Share your comments.

I’ve Become My Own Tech Support When Working From Home

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Although I got a degree in journalism sometimes, I wish I had also gotten one in computer and informational science because I have had to become my own tech support over the years. This is partly due to my disability and using a screen reader on my computer. I have had to learn not only how it works but how it relates to the software and hardware that I use it on. I have had to learn how important it is to keep everything current and updated because that affects how smoothly things work. I have also had to learn how to troubleshoot because technology is not perfect and things happen. Initially there were few people I could reach out to for assistance. When I would call tech support and say I was blind and used a screen reader, I would get this sense of their eyes glazing over and there would be silence on the phone or sometimes it would go dead. People just didn’t know how to assist a blind person with computer problems. But today things have changed and I have a lot more tools available for me.

Staying Current with My Technology

The first thing I have learned about being my own tech support is keeping my hardware and software current and up-to-date. This can be challenging because of the cost. Yet I try and work into my budget and write it off my taxes as a work expense. When working from home it is essential for me to keep my computer, printer, smartphone and other devices running  flawlessly. When they are not it impacts my earning potential. Recently I had to purchase anew headset and computer monitor with a webcam for Zoom videoconferencing. I am doing a lot more meetings, webinars and conferences this way and needed to upgrade my equipment. Also, I purchased a mechanical keyboard with spring-type keys. This particular keyboard is a better fit for writers and heavy keyboard users.

I am not a tech geek but I do try and keep up with industry news by accessing Technology blogs, newsletters and podcasts.  This information is from a consumer angle and helps me learn about market and industry trends and available software training. For example, I have an iPhone and iOS 14 launched recently so I am downloading that and learning about all the new features through the AppleVIS podcast.

Empish using iPhone

Before Calling Tech Support

Before calling tech support I do some troubleshooting. I check that all wires, cords and plugs are securely in place. If it is software, I will check for the latest update. Sometimes doing a quick update to the latest version can solve a glitch. Other things I do are to reboot my computer and/or shutdown the running program. If it is my smartphone, I have occasionally turned it off to refresh it.

Using an app called Be My Eyes is a key strategy when being my own tech support. Through this app I can call up a sighted volunteer for free who accesses my camera and mike. I have them look at my computer monitor when my screen reader is not speaking and I need to figure out what is happening on the screen. Or when I am working on a quirky website that might not be accessible. They have really come in handy when replacing ink and paper in my printer. My printer has several color cartridges and they have helped me to decipher the colors and place them in the proper location.

Calling Tech Support

Now, when I call tech support, I know the type of operating system, version of software and assistive technology I am using. These three pieces of info are critical when trying to troubleshoot a problem. I usually lead the conversation this way and then move into my problem or question. I let tech support know what troubleshooting techniques I have already tried and if they worked or not. I call tech support on my landline phone and put them on speaker. This way I am hands free and they can listen to my screen reader keeping both hands on the keyboard. Depending on the situation, I will give tech support remote access to my computer. We can work on the problem together and they can see more clearly the issue and solve it quickly. The companies I call have disability customer service departments or have become more familiar with interacting with disabled customers. So, when I call with challenges, I have a much better response in getting the help I want. No more eyes glazed over or dial tones!

If worse comes to worse and all my methods don’t cure my computer blues, I do have a professional tech support person available. I learned years ago to build relationships with people who work in the industry. So, I have a tech guy that makes home visits and will come and work on major issues. He has helped me install a whole new computer system, set up my printer and assisted when my computer crashed.

Combining all of these things have helped me to be successful at being my own tech support. As a person who works from home problem solving and troubleshooting are skills sets, I have had to acquire to move my career  and life forward. So, if you are working from home how do you do tech support? What ways do you troubleshoot computer issues when they come up?

Why I Don’t Have a Guide Dog

Empish Holding White Cane at Street Intersection

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As a blind person people ask me this question often, “Empish, why don’t you have a guide dog?” Followed up by more inquiries of, “wouldn’t a guide dog be better to use than a white cane?” and “Wouldn’t a guide dog provide companionship and protection?” These are fair and valid questions. I answer them by explaining that when considering a guide dog, a blind person needs to really think it through and be sure it is the very best option. There is time, energy and training to contemplate. Plus, one must look at their home and work environment to be sure that a guide dog would fit in that space. Another thing to consider is one’s overall physical and mental health. This is by no means a negative post on guide dog use but an honest and thoughtful approach to my reasons why; and in recognition of National Guide Dog Awareness Month.

The main reason I don’t have a guide dog is very basic-I don’t care for animals that much. Although I grew up with a dog as a pet when I was a child, having a guide dog is a totally different situation. I realized that after losing my vision I was no longer interested in animals. See, my hands are my eyes. Constantly touching something furry and living in addition to other surfaces was too much. Being mindful of my hands and keeping them clean was a lot to think about.

Additionally, I learned that a guide dog is a “working animal” and not a pet. Since that is the case, I knew that my lifestyle didn’t fit. Most of the day I am sitting in front of a computer working and not out and about. When I do get out, I am in a car or taking public transportation. So, this leaves little opportunity for a dog to get needed exercise and physical activity. This is important so that the dog’s weight is regulated. 

In order to get a guide dog, there are weeks of training involved. Following a special diet, feeding schedule and daily grooming that must be done. And of course, that all-time favorite activity-picking up the poop! 

Although guide dogs are covered under the ADA people that use them still struggle with their acceptance. I have had friends share about challenges entering buildings, restaurants, hotels, and Uber/Lyft cars. Listening to their stories I quickly understood that I would have to be a fierce advocate for using a guide dog too. since I am already advocating for so many other things, I just couldn’t see adding another thing to the list. The thought of it was overwhelming to me.

So, after doing my research on guide dogs, I decided this was not a feasible option for me. I knew the work involved and I was just not interested and didn’t want to do it. Still people around me would encourage me to reconsider. But it is about knowing who you are as a person and knowing what you can take on in your life. It is about not allowing yourself to be pressured into a decision that you don’t feel comfortable with even though society, friends or family says it is a good thing for you. At the end of the day you will be the one solely responsible. You really have to take all these factors into play and be sure it is really what you want and desire.

Now don’t get me wrong, a guide dog can be an excellent mobility aid.  My friends that have a dog share about the benefits of increase socialization, companionship, mobility and well-being. But using one is a personal decision not a requirement for blindness. I hope that my transparency has help you to understand more about why I don’t have a guide dog.

Strengthening My Body to Help Prevent Falls

Every since I lost my vision, I have become aware of my body and how it functions. When I went through my vision rehabilitation training program, I learned how to use my other senses to function and move in the world. As I have gotten older, I also recognized that the body breaks down and that I have to do more to stay healthy and strong. Adding to that a disability makes things even more interesting. So, with that in mind I work on myself all the time to improve and do better. Recently when I notice the arthritis in my right knee flaring up, I made an appointment with an orthopedic doctor. We had a telemedical appointment and discussed my daily activities, exercise regimen and scheduled an x-ray on that knee. A few weeks later we met again via another telemedical appointment and went over my x-rays. Yes, old Arthur was busy on my knee and causing all kind of trouble! That was nothing really new to me. But what my doctor suggested was-physical therapy.  I was pleasantly surprise at the thought and gladly accepted. We schedule for a therapist to come to my home twice a week to work specifically on strengthening my legs and reducing my arthritic pain. So, why am I sharing this? Why would you care about my knee hurting and what I am doing about it?  Well, September 21-25 is National Falls Prevention Awareness Week. I want to bring this to your attention for a couple of reasons using my life as an example.

First Reason is Fall Prevention is Not Just for Old People

 Whenever I am looking at articles, seminars, webinars or conferences on fall prevention they seem to always be geared toward seniors. They focus on those in the age group of 50 and up. But falls can happen to anyone at any age.  I know this to be true because I have had a couple of falls in the last few years and I am not a senior citizen. As a result, this has caused me to pay a little more attention to the way I live my life so that I can prevent more falls in my future. For example, I don’t talk on my cell phone while walking with my white cane. Talking on the phone while trying to navigate and use proper mobility can cause major distractions and possibly a nasty fall.

Second Reason Strength Training is Not Aerobic Exercise

When I started meeting with the physical therapists, she demonstrated several leg exercises she wanted me to perform. We worked on various leg lifts, hamstring curls, squats, and heel raises. Initially I was over confident because I do these all the time as part of my aerobic workout  for health and fall prevention. But she quickly informed me of the differences between  the two. Your focus is on strengthening   not sweating, fast movements or increasing your heart rate. You want slow and control movements. You want time for execution and recovery of the muscle group. It reminded me of when I took yoga classes. We would get into these poses and hold for a minute or two monitoring our breathing. When I worked on my leg lifts, I had to hold each leg for a count, alternating and only holding on to a surface with one hand. The point was to strengthen both legs and work on balancing. The ultimate goal is to stand and not hold onto anything while preforming these exercises or at least hold with two fingers.

I soon realized how weak my legs were and how much work I needed to do. But I was not discouraged; only determined because I wanted to get rid of my knee pain. I was amazed that in a short amount of time I began to feel results and that motivated me to keep going. So did my physical therapist. She started adding2 pound leg weights and having me ride my recumbent bike. I had been walking and doing floor exercises mostly; and had neglected my bike. Now I have started to ride it again adding resistance levels to making biking harder.

Empish on Recumbent Bike

In just a month’s time I have noticed a drastic improvement and virtually no knee pain. Sitting, standing, squatting, bending, and going up and down my stairs have all become easier to perform. I am so grateful and excited and my therapy is not even done yet! WooHoo! But I want to circle back to fall prevention. This is the thing. At some point in time we will probably all experience a fall or two. Let’s just be real about it. The question is how do you prepare and how do you recover? In the preparation you do the best you can by taking care of your body.  Exercise that includes strengthening and balancing. For the recovery, you educate yourself and learn the proper things to do. Here’s how to get up from a fall:

Third Reason is Learning How to Recover From a Fall

Empish Crawling to Chair

Note: don’t get up if you are in severe pain or unsure you can get up by yourself

1. Roll onto your side. Bend the leg on top and lift yourself onto your elbows or hands. Then on hands and knees crawl to a steady chair or table. If this is hard to do roll or crawl.

2. Hold onto the chair or table and move yourself onto both knees.

3.  Keep weaker knee or leg on the floor. Lift the foot of the stronger leg and put flat on the floor under you.

4.  Hold to the chair and lift your body up from the floor.

5.  Using your arms for support slowly turn your body moving your buttocks onto the chair.

6.  Once on the chair move back securely onto the seat. Sit there for a few minutes to assess whether you can get up.

There is a lot more info on fall prevention. Way too much for me to write and blog about here in this post because I will be here all day!  I encourage you to use this week to learn as much about it as you can. The more you know the better prepared you will be and the better your recovery will be if you fall.