All posts by Empish

About Empish

Freelance Journalist, Blogger and Consultant

First Paralyzed Athlete Competes in Archery at the Olympics

woman sitting on a chair helping her young son shoot a bow and arrow

Even though archery is one of the oldest sports in existence, it is still practiced  and played today. In recent years it has increased in popularity  and  is observed on May 14, the second Saturday in May-National Archery Day . In honor, I’m sharing about a woman who was disabled and very talented in archery. Her name was Neroli Fairhall and she was the first paraplegic athlete to compete in the Olympics. I initially heard about her listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Womannica. I was so intrigued I’m retelling her story. Hopefully  after reading this post, you will feel the same. So, let’s get started.

Riding Horses and Accident

Neroli was born in 1944 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Since childhood, she was very physically active   and rode horses Even competing in local horse-riding events. But that all changed in 1969 when she was in a motorcycle accident. As a result, she  was paralyzed from the waist down. She was 25 years old and it seemed her life and career was over. I could definitely relate to this experience because I lost my vision at 25 as well. When you go through a traumatic experience  it can definitely appear that  things are over for you. That all you knew and understood  comes to a crashing halt. But this is not the end of the story.

Archery Becomes New Sport

Neroli reinvented  herself and tried a new form of athletics. She got with Eve Rimmer, who was at the time New Zealand’s most famous disabled athlete. Eve was paraplegic too and encouraged her to try shot put. Neroli realized she could still participate in sports. She discovered she had the aptitude and personality for archery. In order to participate one must be focused and calm under pressure, have a good eye, And  a competitive spirit. She had all the above.

First National Championship

In 1976, Neroli competed in her first national archery championship and placed third. Three years later,  she was on the New Zealand national team. Just one year after that, she was at the Olympics, winning her first national title.

Although a historic accomplishment Neroli never made it to the archery range. No one from her team did. Led by the United States, 66 countries, plus New Zealand, boycotted the Moscow-hosted Olympics in protest of the Soviet-Afghan War. Neroli was heartbroken. But she quickly regrouped  and  went to the 1980 Paralympics in Holland. She won a gold medal and set a world record in the double FITA rounds, an intensive form of target shooting.

Competing at Brisbane

In 1981, Neroli won her second national title, and was named to the New Zealand team for the Brisbane Commonwealth Games. It was the first and only time that archery was included in these Games. And Neroli was the first disabled athlete to have ever competed in any event. She competed in the double FITA. The four-day event begins with each archer shooting 144 arrows. This means 36 each at four different distances. The top 24 competitors then enter a grand round. Nine arrows, at each distance. Winner takes all.

Older man in wheelchair practicing archery
Older paraplegic man in wheelchair aiming with bow and arrow on archery training

On Neroli’s first day at Brisbane, she fought with the wind, finishing twelfth. But she persisted, and the next day, pulled herself up to fourth. The third day, she was third. The final day there was a standoff between Neroli and Janet Yates, a teenager from Northern Ireland and the favorite.

Janet Yates led. most of the day but  began to crack under pressure during her final 3 shots. Neroli stayed calm. After much deliberation  and a recount, It was determined by officials Neroli won the gold medal.

Made the Olympic Team with Challenges

In 1984, Neroli’s Olympic dreams finally came true. She made the archery team. But being the Games’ first paraplegic athlete proved hugely difficult. First, her steel wheelchair set off multiple alarms at airports and competition venues. Resulting in an inspection of every part of her chair even the air-filled cushion she sat on. Second, reporters circled her , each trying to get the scoop on her historic appearance. Finally, her execution was lacking. Neroli finished 35th in a field of 47. Perhaps  this less than stellar performance  was partly due to the little support for disabled athletes  competing internationally.

More Olympic Competitions and Final Years

Still, Neroli would go on to compete in four Paralympics, five world championships, and win a total of five national titles. A shoulder injury halted her final Olympic attempt in 1996. During the final years of her career, Neroli coached elite New Zealand archers, and served as an administrator for disabled sports. Neroli died in 2006, at the age of 61.

Growing  a Writing Green Thumb:  6 Ways Spring Can Nurture Your Craft

Colorful spring flowers in a field with the sky in the background

Writing About Spring

I’ve  never been great at growing vegetation. Plants and flowers  don’t seem to flourish around me. The idea of getting outside in the heat. Dealing with bugs of all kinds. Tilling soil  and getting dirty. None of these are my thoughts of a fun  and enjoyable activity. Then add my visual disability to the mix  and my interest quickly wilts like leaves on an unwatered plant. Although there are blind gardeners they must have a passion I don’t possess. But what I have found fruitful is writing about the topic. Now, that is something I can do.

I have been reading a lot about spring and it has inspired me to write about the season as it relates to the writing craft. I can’t grow an actual green thumb but I can do it with words. Here  is how I do it.

1. Start New Writing Habit

Spring is the time to rejuvenate. The time for rebirth. The time to try something new. With that in mind, start a new writing habit or ritual. I tried something new  with writing this blog post. Before writing anything down or doing any research I wrote a list of keywords that  communicated spring and growth. Words such as: nature, nurture, flourish, blooming, blossoming, petals, plants, leaves, stems, root, ground, dirt, soil and germinate. This writing exercise helped to get the creative juices flowing. It boosted my excitement about writing this piece. I felt energized  . Also, it helped eliminate using the same standard, old words and phrases  multiple times.

2. Writing in a Different Genre

Empish holds the anthology titled “Strengths, Courage and Inspiration During the coronavirus.”

Another new habit worth trying is writing in a different genre. If you are a nonfiction writer try fiction. If you are an author enter a writing contest or pen an article for a newspaper or magazine. Just like growing the same crop every time the soil  will lose nourishment, your writing can go stale. Your creativity can suffer. I have tried a new writing assignment. A  submission  I wrote was recently published in my local library’s anthology. it has motivated me to continue in this direction and I am working on another anthology submission for Black female writers.

3. Interact in Person

Spring is also the time to come out of the winter cave. During those cold months we stay at home and hibernate. Plus, the pandemic  has made many of us hesitant to physically interact with each other. But this is the prime time to get out of the house. Slow down those numerous Zoom calls. Renew old friendships and meet new people. Whether it is a writing group, book club meeting, or just hanging out, these interactions  boost positive energy  perfect for growing creativity.

I am an introvert but love interaction. This spring  I started attending live theatre again. I went to my first production  last month and it was a wonderful experience. I will share more in a future post. Later this month, I will be meeting with my dinner book club in person for the first time since the pandemic started.

4. Write Down Ideas and Thoughts

Now, for the real dirty work. You must plant seeds in order for your writing green thumb to grow. Just like in a real garden, seeds must be sown in order for flowers, fruits or veggies  to materialize. Something I do regularly is write down blogging ideas whether they turn into a published piece or not. This  boosts my creativity  and gets those little writing shoots growing. When you write a list of ideas you  can refer back  and it keeps your creative brain fertilize. You are giving your thoughts and ideas a safe place to grow and germinate.

The seeding stage is the most important of phases of a plant’s growth  and can’t be rushed. In other words, you can’t speed up creativity. it has to sprout over time, and with water, sunlight and nurturing creative ideas will soon emerge through the soil.

5. Remember the Writing Process

Seeds are resilient to weather changes, fighting their way through the ground. You will see little spurts of green sprouts inching their way up. As a writer it is easy to focus on the victories and successes of our craft. The published article, blog or even book, without properly acknowledging  the hard work it took to get there. There is real time and struggle in accomplishing any objective  or success story. Remember the experience and don’t forget the writing process as you work toward your goals. Enjoy the journey  not just the fruits of your labor.

6. Stop Writing If Burned Out

Are your writing seedlings not growing? Don’t see any shoots sprouting up? Experiencing creative burnout? Yes, I can relate. If you are Stuck on the next section of a story, unclear on a headline,  struggling with a character. Then stop. Do something totally different than writing. Do something you enjoy but doesn’t require a lot of mental gymnastics. This gives your brain a break allowing creative ideas to blossom. For me exercise is my thing. Turning up the music loud and walking on my treadmill not only is good exercise  but I can relax and enjoy the moment. usually by the time I am done I can get back to writing. Other times, I will sit on the piece and sleep on it. Then come back the next day and continue to write.

Empish on Treadmill

Spring is here and full of writing possibilities. Use my ideas to inspire and refresh   your work. I am sure that one, two  or maybe even all of them will help you grow that writing green thumb.

Can You Hear Me Now? Why I Like Landlines and Smartphones

Empish using iPhone

Telephone Memories

Today, Apr. 25,  is National Telephone Day and I am feeling somewhat nostalgic. I am reflecting on my usage of this important communication device  invented by Alexander Graham Bell. I remember my first telephone. It was a white Princess model purchased from Bellsouth. It sat on my nightstand next to my bed. I remember my parents  and I going to our  local shopping center where there was a Bellsouth store. In the store were a variety of makes and models of phones much like  the cell phone stores of today.

In my hone, there was one in my parents’ bedroom  and one more in the kitchen. The kitchen phone was a wall mounted version with a rotary dial. For those too young to  remember  or those who have forgotten a rotary dial was a type of phone where you had to place your finger in an open metal circle and turn to the corresponding number you wanted. You had to do this one digit at a time and it was a slow process but that is how we dial numbers back then. Also, there  wasn’t a need for area codes unless you were calling long distance.

Now getting back  to my Princess model. I can’t remember if it was a rotary dial or push button because it was so long ago. All I remember is that as a teenager I had my own phone and that is what counted.

But having my own phone quickly ended when I started college and lived in the dorms. It was the phone in the hall mounted on the wall  . Someone would yell loudly, “Empish, you got a phone call!” Then later it was housemates in an apartment. Depending on the situation maybe I had a phone in my room or not.

Blindness and Using a Landline

When I went blind the importance of the telephone  and my ability to use it really  became critical. I  didn’t realize  how vital vision was until I couldn’t dial a number on my landline phone. Back then cell phones were not really happening quite yet. This was back in the mid-90s. People were still using landlines. But my vision loss kept me from seeing the small numbers on the keypad. Initially I got a large print phone with high contrast. The numbers were big and pronounced. The colors were black on white for better visibility. But as I lost more vision  those features were not as helpful anymore. I began to totally rely on the small, raised dot on the number 5, slowly navigating around the keypad. I started memorizing the sequence  and order of the numbers  to know which one to press. I also began to be more  particular about my phone purchases. Touching carefully  the display models in the store before walking out with one. I duplicated this same method when cell phones became popular. Carefully touching the display models to be sure I could  access the buttons.

Empish Using a Landline Phone

Today I am a master at my landline phone. Yes, I still use one . It has a large size keypad. A dot on the number 5. I can quickly dial numbers without even thinking much about it. I also have several cordless phones throughout my hone. All with  distinctive keypads for easy dialing. I have these phones in case of an emergency because you never know when you need to quickly grab  your phone. If you have a cell phone it could be anywhere in the house while you are someplace else.

Also Using a Smartphone

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my smartphone too. Unlike older cell phone models my iPhone is totally accessible with voiceover command. I just don’t make calls much on it. The shape and design is  not made for holding up to my ear. Yes, I know I can get earbuds  but for some reason I have been slow to get on that train. So, I use my smartphone  for other things like reading my audiobooks, listening to podcasts and watching movies. I do some text messaging  and store my contacts  as a digital address book. I also find it helpful as a quick and handy dictionary and spellchecker.

The evolution of the telephone has come a long way. Who would have known that our phones would  become minicomputers in our pockets or purses? The advancement of technology  and what we can do with it is amazing. I wonder what Alexander Graham Bell would  say if he could see how far his invention has come. I know he would say more to Mr. Watson than, “can you hear me now?”

Fun Telephone Facts

Looking for some fun facts  about the telephone? Read these provided by National Days Today:

  • Alexander Graham Bell and his helper, Thomas Watson, made the first phone call.
  • The first phone book only had 20 pages.
  • Mark Twain was the first person to own a phone.
  • In the United States, telephones expanded rapidly, from one phone in 1876 to 11 million phones countrywide by 1915.
  • By 1910, New York Telephone had 6,000 female telephone operators.
  • When Bell handed Watson the phone and said, “here, hold this,” the phrase “to put someone on hold” was named after them.
  • When Alexander Graham Bell died in 1922, all telephones were silenced for one minute with respect to the inventor.
  • In 1956, the first transatlantic telephone cable was laid. A telephone cable was laid across the ocean floor, reaching depths of 12,000 feet. The cable connects Canada and Scotland across the Atlantic Ocean.
  • There are around 150 million telephone lines in the world, with the number growing by thousands every day.

Suggestions for Celebrating National Telephone Day

Whether you still use a landline phone or only use a smartphone, or like me use both, celebrate National Telephone Day  with these suggestions:

1.  Call someone today you either rarely speak to or normally communicate with via text.

2.  Who is your favorite person to talk on the phone with? Give them a call today and check-in to see how they are doing.

3.  Feeling nostalgic? Inquire with your grandparents about the amount of energy required to “dial” a phone — and why they disliked numbers with a lot of zeroes.

4.  And if you are really feeling musically inspired  and bold call a friend or loved one and sing Stevie Wonder’s  iconic song, “I Just Called To Say I Love You.”

We’re with U Concert Helps Blind Ukrainians

People performing and playing music. There are people playing rock, dandcing and rapping.

As I’ve been watching the news on the war in Ukraine I have wondered  what is happening to the people with disabilities there. Are they successfully escaping with their families? Or are they safely staying behind? I know war harms the lives, health and safety of all people involved. but the circumstances are far worse for the millions of people with disabilities and their families living in Ukraine. Getting reliable information in an accessible format  must be challenging. Spotty transportation options  and/or places to shelter safely  are probably  also difficult too. I know just thinking about the basic things of life like food, clothing and shelter, then add a disability  to that equation has got to be incredibly tough.

Benefit Concert for Blind Ukrainians

As a disabled person living miles away from this devastation I  was at a loss  with what to do. Then a few weeks ago it was announced, on one of my favorite podcasts, Mosen at Large, a benefit concert  would be held to help the blind people in Ukraine. This virtual concert would be  an opportunity for the international blind community to contribute  in two ways. First, of course, to give a monetary donation regardless of the amount. Second, to contribute our musical talents and skills to a very worthy cause. I thought this was a wonderful idea and blocked off the date and time on my calendar.

Well, the We’re With U concert was held Saturday, Apr. 16. It ran for about 11 hours or so, reminding me of the days of Live Aid, a benefit  concert  to help the famine in Ethiopia. It was fantastic! I was so proud of the incredible  talent in the community . For hours I listen to singers and musicians. There was a classical guitarist,  trombonist and  poet. All varieties of music were performed  from rock, gospel, classical, operatic, country, reggae and jazz. There were even some performances from the theatric productions of Fiddler on the Roof, Hamilton and the Phantom of the Opera. There literally was something for everyone. The performers came from all parts of the globe-the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Spain, Romania, Ireland, India, Singapore, Germany, the Caribbean and more. It truly was an international  united front to help Ukraine.

Stories About Blind Ukrainians

Not only did I hear wonderful musical selections but stories  from  Ukrainians  themselves. I got  to learn a little  bit about what  people with disabilities are really dealing with, driving home the pressing need more. Stories were told about blind children trying to shelter in place. A story of a  blind person with cerebral palsy  escaping. Another about  accessing braille books in  Ukrainian’s native language.

Multiple Ways to Donate

Empish Writing a Check

During the entire concert opportunities to donate were provided. In the US, people  contacted the National Federation of  the Blind who partnered with the World Blind Union. On their website there  was a dedicated page about the concert and a form  for your donation. The form was accessible and easy to complete. Once done I got an email confirmation of my donation.

For people outside the US, a donation form from the World Blind Union was available. According to their website, The WBU is  the principal organization that represents and speaks on behalf of blind and partially sighted persons at the international level. The WBU derives its strength from its members in approximately 190 countries worldwide. The WBU reflects the aspirations of blind persons for equality and full participation.

The concert started at 2 p.m. with an amount of around $30,000. By the time I started yawning and nodding off at 1 a.m. the total was around $80,000. And this is not the grand total by any means. For people who  didn’t have internet access a phone number was available  to receive a call back. Also, there is probably opportunities to still give  as the weeks progress. Again, I was immensely proud of all that we  were doing to help blind and visually impaired Ukrainians.

Concert was an Opportunity to Give

I have no idea when this war will end but I do take some comfort in knowing that I helped  in some small way. The We’re With U concert gave me the chance to give   not only to those who are currently disabled but  those who will become  so because of this war. As we all know war injuries can result in PSD, amputations, deafness and blindness. I  also  am giving back by writing this post. Hopefully, you will read it. Share  with friends and family. And most importantly, donate  to the people of Ukraine.

Managing Creative Burnout and Slowly Getting My Writing Mojo Back

Empish sitting on mat in a yoga prayer pose

Writing is a Joy

Writing has been such an intricate part of my life it is hard for me to remember  the days when I was not a writer. With that being said writing is something I love to do not just a task to make money. The creative process is a joy. Coming up with  topics to write. Stringing interesting words and phrases to make sentences worthy of reading is exciting. Researching fascinating topics for a blog or an article  thrill me. But I noticed a shift recently. It was  not glaring directly in my face like a deer in headlights. Rather it was more subtle  and quiet.

It  all started around the Christmas holidays. My mother came to visit me and boy what a treat. For her  short visit I set up a firestick so we could lounge on the sofa and watch TV and movies. This is what we typically do when I am home. We did that and had a wonderful time. But after she left I kept lolling on that sofa. It was hard to get up and get going. I would tell myself, one more movie and then I will get to writing only to look up and the whole day was gone. This strange and weird pattern  stretched over several days and then weeks. I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. This behavior  was not my style.

Showing Signs of Creative Burnout

I did a self-check in and noticed my love for writing  was not gone. I was just not in the mood. I was just not motivated.

After reading all the new year articles about setting goals and intentions I stumbled across some talking about creative burnout. As I continued to read and research I discovered this was me. Like being diagnosed with a disease, I was displaying  the signs and symptoms. I became my own doctor and started to work on a cure. Or at least a way to reduce  the symptoms  so I could get back on track. As of this writing I am in a better place but don’t feel completely recovered. I don’t feel that I have fully gotten my writing mojo back. Rather I am managing my creative burnout  and here’s how.

Need to Chill Out

AS they say in the Alcoholic Anonymous meetings you have to admit there is a problem. You can’t be in denial and expect to get better. As I said earlier, I knew something was wrong. Or at least something was off. But I had to go a little deeper. I looked at my personality. I am one of those Type A people most people love to hate. I am on time every time. I am meticulous about keeping things organized. I keep a running list of things to do and  don’t handle it well  when I can’t scratch  items off my list daily. So, you get the idea of the kind of person I am. In a lot of places my type works very well yet in other places people  want me to chill. I have worked on relaxing  and cooling out over the years. Which leads to my creative burnout.

Since I know who and what I am, it began to dawn on me  this period in my life  was probably a needed respite. Instead of getting stressed out, worrying  or even ramping up my work, I needed to stop and listen. To take a chill pill as they use to say. To slow down  and be quiet.

I Am Not Alone

The next thing I realized is that I was not alone. While sitting on my sofa  mindlessly watching movies  I felt a little isolated. Like I was the only one or one in a few dealing with this issue. But that is not true. People who are creatives  can experience burnout. That is people who are writers, artists, social media  experts,  musicians, influencers, podcasters, etc. People who have to crank out content constantly  for the man. You know who I’m talking about. It is a continuous  grind to come up with creative ideas to write about, to blog about and on and on. After a while you get tired because  you are not a machine but a human being.

As  creatives, yes, we take breaks. Yes, we do all the selfcare stuff. But we can still get burned out. Because we are on someone’s schedule  and the work has got to be excellent. The heat and pressure is on.

Switch Writing Gears

So, what to do? I have switched gears up a bit. I have worked on writing projects  that don’t demand  all of that from me. Projects where I can use  the other side of my brain. This way I can give myself some needed rest while still doing what I love.

Not Demanding Perfection

I am also not demanding perfection from myself as much. I realized the huge amount of stress I was placing on myself. Not that I  won’t produce excellent work. Or be open to correction  and criticism to improve. That is not what I am talking about. I am referring to the fact that I am not perfect. That I tend to be nitpicky when it comes to my work. I know as long  as I do my very best that is good enough. I just have to keep telling myself that until it sticks like old chewing gum on the bottom of my shoe.

Making Peace and Not Afraid

I have also made peace with this place in my life. I am not fighting where I am. Everything has a purpose. This transition or phase or whatever you want to call it is happening right  now  for a reason. I am learning how to lean into  the moment and experience the ride. I don’t have to be in control of everything  all the time. And actually,  it feels pretty good  to pump the breaks.

Lastly, with this new resolve I am not afraid of totally losing my mojo. AS a matter of fact, it is slowly coming back. Not in a big title wave like I had originally expected  but more  like drips from a  leaky faucet. I can live with this fact because writing is my joy.

Talk to me. Are you a creative? Have you experience burnout? If so, what things did you do to manage it? How did you get your mojo back?

Feeling Anxious About Tax Filing? Stay Calm with My  Stress-Free Organizing Tips

Woman holding up two tax forms in front of her face

Although this year’s tax filing deadline is right around the corner on April 18, I traditionally file my taxes in February or March. I figure the sooner the better and to just get the whole maddening business out of the way quickly. But more importantly I file early  because things get pretty busy and hectic. This way I avoid the stress and anxiety as much as possible.

Before losing my vision I prepared my taxes myself. It was fairly simple  and straightforward. But afterward, I lacked the confidence to do it on my own and some tax preparation  products and tools were not very accessible or complicated. Even though tax filing has become more accessible over the years I  still prefer to have a professional handle the paperwork. So, when I was recently in my tax guy’s office he was telling me once again how organized my paperwork  was and how easy it was to file for me. He tells me this year after  year,  marveling at how I do this with vision loss. I just smile and say, “Thank you for the compliment.” But it got me thinking  and led me to share some of my tax filing tips. The things that keep me stress-free  and organized each tax year. Hopefully, you will feel the same after reading.

Make Excel Your Friend

The biggest tool I use to stay calm  during tax filing is Excel. This software program  is my friend. I use it daily for all kinds of things. To track my grocery spending. To track my Uber/Lyft  ride amounts. To track my credit card payments. To track my out-of-pocket medical  cost. Do you get my drift? Excel is a great way to track numbers for nearly anything you want. So, each year I track my freelance income and expenses. For example, on my freelance expense spreadsheet I create  rows and columns for the date, company, expense description and amount. On a spreadsheet everything is laid out and easy to read. You can also sort and reorganize the columns and rows to crunch the numbers in different ways which my accountant loves.

Each year I create new spreadsheets with the year in the title so I know the difference. I usually  will do a save as in Excel and just update  the new one. I find this easier  because the formula I use to calculate my totals  stays the same each time. Then when I meet with my accountant I just hand him the thumb drive  and he can clearly read and review the spreadsheets  he needs for tax filing.

Create Email Receipt Folders

Now, how to deal with all those paper receipts. And no, I am not talking about stuffing them in a folder or shoebox. I have noticed nowadays   most receipts are provided electronically. I can even get my grocery receipts  sent via email. Now what I do is create folders in my email provider for receipts. I label the folder in accordance with what is in the folder. I use Outlook for this process. I have a folder for all my Amazon orders. Another one for house-related  things. Another for medical. I refer back to these receipts  for taxes when I need to. I can simply punch all the info into  my spreadsheets  and/or print out the receipt for verification if needed.

For receipts that are not electronic I store in a paper file folder for tax filing only. I have a dedicated folder strictly for this purpose. Throughout the year, as I get receipts, donation  letters, home ownership tax statements and other documents, I place in this folder. Although the amount is minimal this step keeps me from getting stressed out later because everything is in one place  and ready to go during tax time.

Empish using water and fireproof safe

These paper receipts I store with a copy of my tax return and place in my water and fireproof safe. There I keep copies of previous tax returns  for the future just in case the IRS comes calling.

There you go. My two biggest organizing tips for  stress free  tax filing. Some might be looking for a long laundry list of tips and tricks but for me it is really this simple. I have been doing this for years and it actually works. Hopefully, if tax season is stressing you out, my tips helped you feel better. With some organization and preparation this year’s filing could be your calmest ever.

Max Cleland Has the Heart of a Patriot While Surviving His War Wounds

A man sitting in a wheelchair with one missing arm and missing legs. He is being fitted with a prosthetic arm by a medical technician.

Day Remembering Vietnam War Veterans

When I think of veterans November  comes immediately to mind because of Veteran’s Day. Or Memorial Day coming up soon in May. But I was surprised to see a national observation for veterans on my calendar. March 29 was National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

After I saw this commemoration pop up, it immediately made me think of two things. First was my father who  was a Vietnam War veteran. He was not a fan of this war and rarely spoke  about it. He passed away some years ago  and I wonder  his thoughts on such an observation. Second Max Cleland, a disabled Vietnam War veteran and Georgia politician. He died in Nov. 2021. His book, “Heart of a Patriot: How I Found the Courage to Survive Vietnam, Walter Reed and Karl Rove,” has been on my list to read. I thought there is no time like the present. This national day of observance  was the push I needed to read and review  his book.

Reading with My Ears Book Review

In the forward Cleland speaks directly to brothers and sisters of war. Those who are trapped in the memories. To those overwhelmed, coping on their own and struggling with what we have done and what has happened to us. To those left hopeless  and confused about our lives. He says, “It does not make us victims, it makes us veterans.”

Cleland was born and raised in Georgia. He lived  in the same town I reside in today. There is even a street named after him in the downtown district of the city. His father was in the navy during WW2 and he had other family members who served in the military. He was a  captain during the war. He   signed up for more time in the war because he felt he had to do his part.

War Injury and Rehabilitation

The day he was wounded by a grenade explosion was April 8, 1968. Eight days after President Johnson called for an end to the war. He came back from Vietnam missing three limbs (right arm and both legs)  and was treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Doctors were not optimistic  about his future, but through the bonds he formed with other wounded soldiers, and through his own self-determination, he learned how to be mobile and overcome his despair.

As I read about his rehabilitation journey, I learned some new things about amputation such as the importance of knees. When he first tried to get artificial legs  there was resistance because he had no knees  and you need them to bend   for walking and climbing stairs. They are the key to balance  and mobility. During that time, they were made of wood and very heavy.

The doctors told him he would need crutches to use the wooden legs. But with one arm that would be nearly impossible. Yet, Cleland was determined to walk again and did everything required to do so. He did walk with those wooden legs until he was upgraded to plastic ones with knee support. Later on, the stress and exhaustion, especially  during the beginning of his political career,   caused him to go back to using a wheelchair.

He shares openly and honestly about his rehabilitation. For example, trying to get dressed using only one arm. He struggled with buttons on his shirt  and putting on pants. It made me think about a recent episode of The Shark Tank where a contestant pitched her business of accessible clothing for  people with disabilities, specifically amputees.

Disabled Black Man in Wheelchair Boarding Bus
Disabled African American Man In Wheelchair Boarding Bus

He shared about the differences in treatment between Walter Reed and the Veterans Hospital. He was released from Walter Reed and had to  continue at the VA Hospital. At that time, they were not prepared to deal with Vietnam veterans  as most patients were  from the Korean War or WW2. Additionally,  he says that 80% of patients were there for health problems unrelated to war  . As a result,  he felt lonely  because he couldn’t connect to the other men  as many of them were veterans from a different generation and also heavily medicated.

Reading his story, I could relate to the feeling of loss. Cleland talked about how  his feelings of safety, security  and sense of self were gone in a heartbeat. Although I didn’t become disabled because of war it did happen pretty quickly  and traumatically. My life was turned upside down.

Leads VA and PSD Revealed

Cleland  takes his artificial legs  and goes home to become the first Vietnam veteran to serve in the Georgia state senate. Next, President Jimmy Carter appoints him head of the Veterans Administration. He believed his mission was “to care for those who have born the battle.”

He recognized the lack of funding for veterans  yet always plenty for war. Nine million served in Vietnam,  from Aug. 4, 1964, to May 1975, with millions of them wounded and injured. There was a push to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PSD) not just physical injuries. Living on hyper alert takes a toll, seeing death firsthand takes a toll, and killing takes a toll. In 1978VA psychiatrists finally admitted that PSD existed. and became an official psychiatric diagnosis. Meaning that veterans could get treatment and financial benefits. Years later he would benefit from this decision as he too delt with PSD.

At 40, he became Georgia’s youngest secretary of state. During his time in office, he appointed the first Black assistant secretary of state. He opened the process and registered 1 million voters. He was secretary of state for 12 years  but was not fulfilled politically.

It wasn’t until he became U.S. Senator. that he accomplished his dream. Battling a smear tactic  causing him to lose his seat and 9/11 by the invasion of Iraq, Cleland was pushed to the edge. Depression and PSD surfaced during this time. He was dealing with deep depression  and seeking  therapy and better medications. He went back to Walter Reed  for help.

Seeks Therapist and Help for Depression

At Walter Reed he was thrown back into Vietnam as he saw wounded veterans  coming back from the battlefield. He was deeply distressed and moved by what he was seeing  as the signs were so similar to what he had also experienced many years before.

A woman in a wheelchair along side another woman working with her on a computer

Despite all of that, he was able to get help for his depression and PSD. He found a great therapist  and medication that actually worked effectively. He learned how to reconcile  his past with his present. To remember who and what he was before he went to Vietnam and became disabled. Reclaiming that part of himself was a big part of his healing. He learned to find a new sense of himself at last.

I got quite emotional as I read Cleland’s memoir. I thought about all he went through. All  Vietnam veterans went through and probably still do. All my dad went through. Even in some ways how much things haven’t change since then. But also, how much  it has changed. I realize the goal is to keep going. To not forget the past but to look forward to the future.

Representation Matters: Excellent Audio Description of The Harder They Fall

Empish watching TV. She is sitting on sofa pointing remote control at TV.

Grew Up Watching Westerns

While growing up in Texas watching westerns were a big part of my childhood, especially on Saturdays. There was Big Valley, Bonanza and The Lone Ranger. In the evenings, my favorite western was  Gunsmoke, starring James Arness as Matt Dillon. I even enjoyed Little House on the Prairie and later as an adult, watching Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.

But rarely have I ever seen a western with Black folks. Maybe a token  character or two. But definitely not a full cast. So, it was to my delight to view the movie The Harder They Fall  with audio description. Although, the movie premiered on Netflix  some months ago, I am just getting around to watching it. But better late than never, right? And boy was it well worth it. The film  has a cast of characters loosely based on real cowboys, lawmen and outlaws of the 19th century American West. It is about revenge, love and redemption. The film stars Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, and Deon Cole.

Popcorn in a red bowl and a mug of a warm beverage on the table with a fireplace in the background.

Representation Really Does Matter

Now when it comes to representation it really does matter. What I am talking about goes beyond race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. It is providing equal access  to information in a film, movie or TV show for those with vision loss. It is the way information is described  and given to me as I engage with the film. Since I am blind watching films with excellent audio description is important to me. I watch  a lot of audio described movies  and I have to tell you  this one was done exceptionally well. Let me tell you why.

Race and Skin Tone Described

From the very beginning of the movie race is communicated. In the opening scene  we view a Black family sitting down to dinner. They are dressed in clothing of the time period. One of the men is described having  dark Black skin with a salt and pepper beard. Too many times I have watched films with people of color in them never knowing that fact. There are times I don’t discover it until the character  self-identifies  by saying in one of their lines they are Black, Asian, Latino, etc. Then I have to  reprocess the scene because  if race is not communicated the thought process is to assume the dominate race which is white.

The audio description didn’t shy away from identifying variations of skin tone. In the Black community we are a rainbow of skin tones-from light skin to medium to dark-and variations in between. Throughout the whole movie skin tone variations were given which I greatly appreciated. For example, a character  was described as a copper skinned man. It gave me context and understanding as to what the person really looked like especially since I had eyesight before. Other movies I have watch stop short and just describe hair and eye color. Some have stepped a little closer and have mentioned  terms like olive  skin tone or just use the generic word brown.

Clothing and Movie Title Described

Detail description of clothing. I was very impressed  because too many times in the movies I watch there is little to no description of what people are wearing. In one scene  a male character was wearing a poncho and black pants. While a female character wore a felt bowler hat. Yet, another male character wore  a Crimson velvet coat. This information is specific and helpful to understanding the time period of the movie  and also giving more equal access to what my sighted peers are getting too.

I Loved the description of the title of the movie, as one of the main male characters shot another character, the words  to the title appeared on the screen one bullet shot at a time. That was clever and creative.

Black Hair Described

Unique description of Black hair. Very rarely do I watch a movie where Black hair is audio described. Every so often I will hear a word like dreadlocks or afro letting me know the character is probably  Black. But in the Harder They Fall I was so pleased by the description of hair. For example, Stagecoach Mary had fluffy shoulder length natural hair and Treacherous Trudy Smith had micro braids.

Final Thoughts

My last observation of the audio description in this movie was how it  was timed well with the music. This is a tricky thing to accomplish because it depends on the type of music  and the scene in the film. Sometimes the audio description can be distracting  or hard to follow because the music overpowers  the scene. But in this movie I found both worked very well together.

The audio description was provided by International digital center  with writer, Liz Gutman, and voicer, Bill Larson. I have noticed their name numerous times in the credits of movies  I have seen. I am very appreciative of their work  and hope to see more of this kind of audio description in the future not only from them but other companies that audio describe as well.

Blind History Lady  Shares How a Black Blind Teacher  Educated Her Own

Headshot of Peggy Chong

Editor’s Note:

In honor of Women’s History Month, I contacted the Blind History lady, Peggy Chong, to share the story of Emily Raspberry, a Black  blind woman who became a teacher  for the blind and visually impaired. This blog post is a reprint from the February 2022 issue of the Blind History lady monthly email. It has been edited for clarity and length.

Vision Loss and Early Schooling

Emily Raspberry was born December 12, 1915, in Alabama. Emily came down with the flu at age four. When Emily recovered, she was totally blind.

Her mother sent her to public school with her older brother. However, no accommodations for a blind and Black child were possible. So, Emily listened and participated in class orally, not learning to read or write. Finally, Emily was sent to and enrolled at the Alabama School for the Negro Deaf and Blind in the fall of 1926. Although Emily was homesick, there was so much to learn. In only two weeks she mastered the braille code and read all 130 books the school owned. A new world opened to Emily. She had a glimpse of the sighted world and she wanted to be a part of it. Emily’s teachers were impressed with her quick accomplishment of the braille code and placed her in the upper class. She studied hard to cram in several years of learning into her first year.

Death and Separation From Family

Red and white roses on a casket in the back of a white hearse on a bright sunny day

Emily returned home on May 22, 1927, finding her mother gravely ill. She was home only a few hours before her mother died. A funeral was planned in days. After the funeral, Emily was told she would live with her half-sister, in West Virginia. During this time, Emily experienced a range of emotions. She felt the joy of returning home to show how well she could learn and be successful as a blind child. To the shock of  her mother’s death. To the heart-wrenching separation from her family.

Education and Decision to Teach the Blind

Emily was enrolled in the West Virginia School for The Colored Blind almost immediately. She found they had twice the braille books in their library and magazines in braille. Emily threw herself into her studies. She found her classes were harder than in Alabama. Unlike other schools, West Virginia held unsegregated classes including both for the deaf and the blind students. The boys had one dorm and the girls the other. There were no separate dorms for the blind and deaf students. Rooms were crowded, sometimes three or four boys shared a room that would have been considered small for two.

There is no record of when Emily graduated, but it is believed to be either 1932 or 1933. She went to college afterward and enrolled at the West Virginia State College for Negro’s in Dunbar. At the end of her first year of college in 1935, she knew she wanted to be a teacher in a school for the blind. Her hope was to share her love of reading and literature to open the world for other blind and colored students to the possibilities of the outside world. She graduated in 1938 and continued classes through the West Virginia State College, enabling her to become a certified teacher of the blind. She received her master’s degree from Hampton University.

Little Black Girl Wearing Braids and Walking with White Cane

Emily started as an academic teacher in the primary grades at the West Virginia School for the Colored Blind in 1940 in Institute (Clarksburg), West Virginia. She taught reading and writing for the blind kids and deaf children in her classes. When the school for the white, in Romney, and the school for the colored combined in 1955, she was one of only three teachers from the colored school that made the transfer. Not all the colored students from Clarksville transitioned to Romney. The staff at Romney were friendly but Emily did not mix socially. For at least the first year, Emily took a room in the student dorms as did the other single teachers. As a single woman, and the only Black faculty in the blind department, she may have felt out of place.

Innovative Teaching Style

Emily was innovative in her teaching style. When she recognized a spark, she assigned a poetry lesson for spelling class to bring out the creativity of the students. The children were encouraged to write a poem including all of the spelling words for the week. In her braille classes, she taught the students to work with a slate and stylus, while other teachers used the Perkins Braille Writer. She incorporated listening to the radio into her classes to ensure student’s interest. Lessons were assigned to write about what they heard on the radio. The eighth-grade class in 1956, wrote a quiz show based on the show, “The Big Surprise.”

Emily supervised school trips to watch plays or listen to concerts. For years, Emily had season tickets to the Cumberland Classical Musical Series. Each year, she paid season passes for four students who had an interest in music. She took the students to the concerts by bus or driver. When an interesting movie, mostly historical films such as “Man of All Seasons,” was premiering she would ask students to accompany her. She paid for their tickets and treated the kids to their own box of popcorn.

popcorn in a movie theater style square package with movie tickets in the background

A memorable year was 1967 when she was chosen to supervise a student teacher. Emily was honored and proud as the student teacher was a former blind student. In 1969, Emily taught health. Most likely not her favorite subject, but she entered the class with the same enthusiasm as her English classes, even though textbooks were more than twenty years old. One assignment was to make up word puzzles relating to their health lessons. When the project was over, the best questions were put into an article for the school newspaper, “The Tablet,” to show how much her students learned that semester.

Travels and Experiences on Vacation

Emily frequently took the Greyhound bus to Washington, DC for vacation. When a student of hers also rode the bus, she would talk to them about their schoolwork or family. In class, Emily mentioned her travels to DC commenting on the friendliness of the hotel staff and sadness that the maids were paid so little. Other summer vacations were never wasted. She took classes at Harvard. In 1961 she worked as a proofreader for Perkins Braille Press. Vacations meant visiting exhibits at the planetarium, museums, or attending concerts usually in Boston. At one concert, she spoke briefly to Senator Edward Kennedy, who was also attending. Their meeting was exciting for Emily, and she shared the news with her students about her encounter with a man who would make history. There were also trips to attend conventions of the AAWB of which she was a member.

Retirement and Death

She retired at the end of the 1977 school term and moved to Boston. Emily kept in touch with some of the Romney residents. They wrote to her in print, and she answered them in print. She died September 12, 1988, in Vermont.

About the History lady

Peggy Chong is the author of more than a dozen books about “Blind Ancestors” who have made a difference. Her monthly email list to her followers highlights another “Blind Ancestor.”  She wrote the history column for Dialogue Magazine, “The Way We Were”.

In 2016, Peggy launched “The Blind History Lady” project. This project has to date published thirteen books, detailing the lives of what she calls her “blind ancestors” who quietly made a difference in the lives of the blind men and women of today. Each book highlights their struggles and triumphs as blind people and highlights the normality of their lives and how each person was an integral part of his/her community as a normal citizen.

Peggy’s goal is to have the history of the average blind and disabled person taught—not just to the blind and disabled themselves, but to those entering into professional fields where their jobs will impact people with disabilities. Blind people historically held regular jobs and pursued professions that are the same as professions occupied by people without disabilities. These blind individuals performed exceptionally well, setting examples for others. By understanding what the blind and disabled have achieved in the past and knowing the history of the contributions made by people with disabilities to our country, our society will be much more willing and accepting of the disabled.

For more information and to subscribe to her monthly email list contact the Blind History Lady at theblindhistorylady@gmail.com.

Do Words Matter? Here’s 15 Quotes on the Power of Words

Poster of night sky with Northern lights. The top says Words Matter Week 2022. Bottom has quote from Emily Dickinson

The Power of Words

Yes, words Matter. They are what we use to communicate. Whether it is verbally or in written form words are the tools for language. From the time a small child learns to talk, the significance of words becomes clear. With that being said words have power. They can inspire, motivate or encourage ,. Yet, words can also cause harm. They can tear down, harass and destroy. This is why it is so important to be wise and thoughtful in the words we speak to each other and also to ourselves.

Words Matter Week

This is Words Matter Week, March 6-12. Sponsored by the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors. They know the importance of words and have been celebrating it for 14 years. In the past people have honored Words Matter Week by writing in their journals, taking a writing class/course, or writing stories and poetry. But I decided to do something a little different. I did a simple Google search and found 15 quotes on the power of words. These quotes are insightful and thought-provoking. I hope they will resonate with you and remind you of how much words matter not just this week but every week.

15 Quotes on Words

Books on desk with cup of tea

1.  “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” Maya Angelou

2.  “Raise your word, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” Rumi

3.  “Words: So innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

4.  “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it until it begins to shine.” Emily Dickinson

5.  “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” George Orwell

6.  “Language creates reality. Words have power. Speak always to create joy.” Deepak Chopra

7.  “It’s no use of talking unless people understand what you say.” Zora Neale Hurston

8.  “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” John Keating

9.  “Better than a thousand hollow words is one word that brings peace.” Buddha

10.  “Words have power, words are power, words could be your power also.” Mohammed Qahtani

11.  “A broken bone can heal, but the wound a word opens can fester forever.” Jessamyn West

12.  “There is power in words. What you say is what you get.” Zig Ziglar

13.  “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” Mother Teresa

14.  “Speak to yourself like someone you love. Encourage yourself, motivate yourself, and uplift yourself with your words.” ATGW

15.  “Words have magical power. They can either bring the greatest happiness or the deepest despair.” Sigmund Freud