Can You be Safe Without Sight? Yes, and Here’s How I Protect Myself

Empish demonstrating a self defense pose with her hands near her sholders

Do you know One of the most  common misperceptions about blind people? It is we are more vulnerable  to attack than sighted people. This is a dangerous myth. First it implies we are an easy target. Second, it creates a false notion that if we were attacked we couldn’t  protect ourselves

Class and Audiobook on Self Defense for the blind

Sept. 26 is National Situational Awareness Day. This holiday made me reflect  on the time when I took  the Safe without Sight self defense course at  the Center for the Visually Impaired. I   remember feeling some stress because of the idea of being attacked. Who wants to think about that? However, I realized the value  because I needed to learn ways to protect myself now that I was blind.

I learned so much about  self defense  . Since that was some years ago, I refreshed my knowledge and recently read the audiobook from Bookshare, “Safe Without Sight: Crime Prevention And Self-Defense Strategies For People Who Are Blind” by Wendy David. The book was written  back in the 90’s but still packed with  excellent tips that I want to share. Hopefully after reading this post, you will be even more determined to protect yourself too.

Listen to Your Intuition

Intuition, common sense, gut reaction, funny feeling, small voice or even the Holy Spirit. We might all have different ways to describe that sensation  you get when something is a bit off. All I can say is trust it whatever you call it because  it will save your life.

Once I was in a support group  and when I sat next to  another member I quickly got a bad feeling. I was struggling to trust  my gut reaction. I didn’t know the man and felt I was being judgmental. His actions toward me didn’t display  anything harmful. So, instead of getting up like my intuition told me to do I stayed and sat next to him during the meeting.

A few weeks later  all of us in the support group were told he was not returning. Apparently he had been touching women in appropriately and there had been several complaints. I was in shock and this news sobered  me. I knew from now on to trust my gut  and do what it said no matter the circumstances or how uncomfortable  I became.

Why Don’t We Listen?

The million dollar question is why we don’t listen. We are trained to be nice to people. To not make waves or hurt people’s feelings. It is a standard Rule to disregard our own feelings over others. Also, we tell ourselves to be reasonable. We discount our own emotions even when things are glaringly obvious.

Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

Pay attention to your surroundings. In our highly distracted world,  we are looking down at our phones while walking or driving. I remember when I was a young girl, my mother  was teaching me how to ride public transportation. We were at the bus stop and this car kept circling by. She pointed this out to me and I hadn’t notice. She said always pay attention to what is going on around you.

I have never forgotten that lesson because now that I am blind it is even more relative. Today, as part of my awareness strategy, When traveling I ask questions. For example, what other businesses are in the area, what does the front of the building look like, are their stairs  or is there a flat surface. Or when sitting in a room, I sit close to the door and know exactly where it is located. I do this in case of an emergency  for a quick retreat.

Pay Attention to Body Language  and Facial Features

I also Pay attention to my body language and facial features. I walk and move with purpose and assurance. I keep my head tilted upward and straight ahead. I will look confident even when   I’m not. When interacting with people I speak clearly  ,No mumbling  or whispering.

Use Other Senses to Pay Attention

Empish Holding White Cane at Street Intersection

I use my other senses to pay attention and navigate the world. Sound, smell and touch all tell me what is happening. Someone’s tone of voice or the traffic flow at a crosswalk are pieces of valuable information. Interesting smells can tell you things about a person like their cologne, if they smoke cigarettes, or have bad body odor. Touching objects like walls, doors or furniture  communicate  location.

Spatial Awareness

Boundary setting is critical for good self defense. You must be clear, both verbally and physically, with your personal space. For us, blind folks, good spatial awareness  is key. It  means understanding  where you are physically  as it relates to other  things such as people and objects. I use this skill daily to find  furniture and turning  hallway corners. Mastering this skill has kept me free from harm and danger.

Spatial awareness Also includes my feelings. The ability to feel if you are close to something or not. It is a little hard to explain  but I can get a sensation  when I am moving toward or away from something without actually seeing it. This skill is handy when people get too physically close to me.

Setting Verbal Boundaries

Setting verbal boundaries  come up when people ask me personal questions. Two that raised a red flag are do you live alone, and how much vision do you have. This is a tricky thing to figure out sometimes. People  are naturally curious and ask questions  about my vision loss. This doesn’t mean  they will harm me. Admittedly, I get tired of this  but I try to be kind and gentle. I don’t always know the person’s intention when asking so I will proceed with caution. Sometimes I don’t answer at all.

Who is asking the question, what is my situation I am in? What is happening around me? Do I feel safe having this dialogue? Do I feel comfortable? I have learned it is okay to lie. This is  my personal safety  we are talking about and I don’t have to be honest. Or I will give a general answer especially in public settings. I realize other people are listening too causing me to be mindful of the conversation.

I practice this all the time at the doctor’s office. When I have to fill out medical documents I will request to do that in a private waiting room. Sometimes when I am asked to give my address I will hand the person at the counter my state ID instead of verbally  giving it out.

Setting Physical Boundaries

A side veiw of Empish demonstrating a self defense stanze with her feet apart and hands up near her shoulders

I am particular about people in my personal space, especially if  I don’t know you well. I have taken the initiative to shake hands instead of hugging. This lets the person know my boundaries. I will be verbal and extend my hand toward them. I communicate to not grab my arm. I have been  forceful  when necessary. Women are socialized to be quiet  and not assertive. But this is my personal space  and I have to speak up.

I know we can implement  these self defense techniques regardless of vision. Still, they are chiefly important for  people with vision loss  and even other types of disabilities. Listening to your intuition, being aware of your surroundings and setting boundaries are the keys to good self defense. Are there other self defense strategies we can do? What tips do you have about protecting yourself?

Dressing in the Dark? Here’s My 5 Tips to Organize Fashion Accessories for the Blind

Empish selecting clothes in closet

Reading a recent article  about New York Fashion Week in the Daily Beast, got me thinking. The article  noted the increase in disabled models and designers. It stressed the importance of diversity and accessibility. How representation  matters in the fashion industry. Although, the event just ended on Sept. 14, it  reminded me of my early years of vision loss. I knew how  vital it was to look my best and be stylish. I wanted to represent my community in the best possible way.

Reorganizing After Vision Loss

This meant reorganizing  my accessories and wardrobe. Nothing was really accessible for me. I couldn’t just go in my closet and grab  an outfit without sighted help. I had to figure out a way.

Why is this important to me? I have always been an accessory conscious woman, matching shoes with handbag, lipstick with nail polish and necklace with earrings. I was trained by very fashion-savvy parents  and female relatives. They were always impeccably dressed in colorful-coordinated attire.

As a young adult, I perused fashion magazines constantly. I even pursued a fashion design and merchandising degree but lost too much vision to finish. Understanding that first impressions are critical, I accessorized my clothing purposefully.

When I went totally blind dressing and accessorizing became very challenging. At first I pondered how to keep up with new trends, fabric selections and eye-catching colors. Determined to not allow my blindness to be an excuse to be a fashion misfit, I learned valuable techniques on how to organize my accessories to complete any outfit in my closet. I don’t profess to be a traffic stopping fashion diva. Yet, I find that paying close attention to my accessories and wardrobe goes a long way in erasing stereotypes and commanding respect.

1. Organizing Scarfs

I began by organizing my scarves. Before my vision loss I had scarves all over the bedroom hung on outfits, stuffed in dresser drawers and tied to doorknobs. Scarves are a great accessory and can add flavor to an outfit. They make a simple, drab outfit look colorful and stylish.

With the help of a vision rehabilitation teacher, I found a hanging bag with multiple pouches perfect for storing scarves. I put one scarf in each pouch. On the front is a Braille label description for the color and design . To conserve space, I use abbreviations like “bk for black, “rd” for red or “pk” for pink. For scarves that matched specific outfits, I tied the scarf around the outfit’s hanger so it is ready to go.

2. Organizing Shoes

Empish selecting shoes in shoe boxes

In the past, I was a fancy foot wearing female. Shoes were such a vital part of my outfits. I had shoes in multiple colors for dress and casual wear. Pumps, sandals, stacked heels and mules – I had them all. I kept shoes in rows on the closet floor in no particular arrangement. Now because of my disability and working from home I have scaled back to a couple of pairs. Yes, I know I am not the typical female  but less is better. I keep track  with little worry about disorganization. I tell the difference by touch, feeling for shape, texture  and style.

3. Organize Jewelry in Small Boxes

It has been said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. For me it is diamonds, pearls, gold, silver, and all kinds of costume jewelry. I love jewelry and always had it setting out on my dresser. Pearl necklaces, gold bracelets, lapel pins and colorful earrings were arranged randomly. I discovered a brilliant way to recycle mini jewelry boxes. I store earrings, necklaces and bracelets in sets. If this wasn’t feasible, I organized according to similar color and design. For example, all red earrings were placed in one box and all pearl jewelry in another. I use touch to distinguish between smooth round earrings and fabric-covered lapel pins. I store the boxes in a large plastic container, so all  my jewelry is in one place.

4. Organize Lipsticks with Braille Labeling

Five tubes of lipsticks standing up in a line with one tube laying down in front.

Once I had my accessories organized, my next challenge was establishing a similar system for lipsticks. I love lipsticks and don’t wear any other fascial cosmetic . Before learning Braille, I determined lipstick by touch. Manufacturers use different tube designs. Some  tubes are round with ridges while others are square and smooth. Today, since I know Braille, I placed a label on each tube. This helps me to know the differences in color.

A black and white braille label gun with turn dial displaying both braille and print letters and numbers.

5. Organizing Clothes in Closet

Accessories add flair  to an outfit completing  the  ensemble. But I needed to focus on my clothing too. In my closet I have my clothes organized in sections. Short sleeve tops, then long sleeve. Next is skirts and pants. Finally, is two-piece outfits  . They all have Braille color labels. This system makes it easy to find  what I want to wear.

These techniques have been very successful, resulting in numerous awe-inspiring compliments from friends, co-workers and even strangers. People always ask me how I do it, and it gives me the opportunity to share my creative fashion organizing tips. It has also been a big boost to my self confidence as a blind woman.

How Online Learning is Advancing My Career

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Use Online Learning to Help Career

I am naturally curious. I enjoy learning about all kinds of things. But mostly  skills to advance my career and writing. Online courses  have been my ticket to exploration and career advancement. I take these courses easily from my home. They are convenient and sometimes free of charge. They are fairly accessible with my screen reader.

I remember the first  freelance writing online course I took. It was several years ago. A small group of us wanted to learn better ways to write query letters. Our desire was to pitch  story ideas to printed publications (online pubs were not the norm back then) that would get the assignment. We had a weekly lesson  and later posted our homework for group critique. It was a great experience  and I learned a lot.

Online Learning Day

Although this was a long time ago, I have never stop being an online learner. Today, Sept. 15, is National Online Learning Day. This holiday focuses mostly on educational courses and classes for children and young adults but  the holiday can also apply to people like me. Those who are much older  and have an interest in learning  skills to help their careers.

Besides  just wanting to learn something new, why do I take courses online? Well, for a couple of reasons. Online courses enhance my job searching. They sharpen my skills in writing and blogging.

Enhance My Job Searching

Recently, I lost my latest freelance job and I have been more assertive about looking for work. It has been a long time since I actively searched for employment. I wasn’t current on the latest job hunting trends and techniques. LinkedIn has been a great resource for this exploration. I have learned about writing better cover letters, what hiring managers want, and the importance of digital networking.

LinkedIn sends me alerts  with  topics of interest  around  job seeking. I scroll through the list and take the ones I need the most. These courses are quick little videos  but are jammed pack with valuable and useful information. What I learn from these courses I can apply immediately to my job search.

Extensive  Online Learning

For a deeper dive, I have ventured into extensive  online learning. The latest example was on Google Analytics. I took the course directly from the Google Academy. Each lesson  was on some aspect of analyzing data  for your website. It was a self-pace  course and fairly accessible. You could opt for the video or read the transcript. I chose the transcript option so I could stop and easily take notes . There was a quiz after each lesson where I had to score 80% or better to get my certificate. After completion Google  sent me a certificate and provided ways to share my success on social media.

The only drawback was  the application examples. There were opportunities to directly apply what you were learning. I struggled in  finishing those sections  because they were inaccessible and hard to navigate. Besides this issue, I enjoyed the course, learned a lot and got my certificate.

I had a similar experience taking courses with Salesforce. In the spring of this year, I applied  to get training  with a technology organization. Once completed students would be connected to job opportunities. I had to complete  several sales badges  as  part of the application process. This experience took me through several learning modules and tracks  where I had to read the course materials and take a quiz afterward. Although, I wasn’t accepted into   the training program, I learned a lot about Salesforce and how it is trending right now.

Sharpen My Writing and Blogging Skills

I have also increased my knowledge of writing and blogging through courses with WordPress and my online writer’s group, The Freelance Writers Den. Both  offer  instruction in blogging, journalism, SEO and marketing.

The latest course I took was on a LinkedIn marketing bootcamp. The course  provided a weekly lesson  from constructing your profile, to increasing connections  to applying for jobs.  These were paid courses and well worth the cost. I have already noticed  and increase in my productivity  and online visibility because of the skills learned.

Online learning has been an excellent resource for me. I can learn what I want when I want. I would dare to say as technology advances and nontraditional ways of learning become more accepted, we will all see an increase  in the availability of online education and courses.

The Benefits of a Library Card: It’s Not Just for Checking Out Books

A gradient purple to yellow background, in yellow text is "September is Library Card Sign-up Month." In purple writing is "Let your imagination sing at the library." There is a photo in bottom right corner of Cara Mentzel and Idina Menzel with an animated mouse on left side holding a library card.

When I was a little kid my dad took me to the library. It was part of our Saturday routine. We would pile in the car and drive to the local branch  in our community. On the way he would share  his childhood story about his inability to enter  the main public library  in his hometown due to segregation. He wanted me to understand  the importance of accessing  the library.  And the key to that access was having a library card.

a gradient purple to yellow background. An animated mouse in a white shirt and pink skirt holding a library card. On left side in yellow text is "September is Library Card Sign-up Month."

As I got older and moved from home, every city I lived in I  had a library card . Even after I went blind I still kept a library card and frequently utilized my local branch. September is National Library Card Sign Up Month. Do you have a library card? Do you  know the benefits of one? It’s not just for checking out books. The library has many other services and resources and here are the benefits.

1. Learn new job and computer skills.

Do you need help looking for a job? OR what about learning a new computer skill? Libraries offer broad electronic resources for students, small business owners, job seekers, hobbyists, and lifelong learners. Whether you’re looking for free software to pick up a new language, resume tutorials, or patent records for a new invention, the library has free access to awesome online databases and classes.

2. Help your kids do better in school

As I shared, my dad took me to the library on a regular basis. As a kid I had my own personal library card with my name on it. I was not only able to checkout books for pleasure but also for school. When I had to do research or term papers the library was the first place I went. Libraries expose children to reading at a very early age. Many libraries have children Storytime  and other  fun and age-appropriate activities.

3. Explore your family tree

Empish with her family on vacation

I remember  a few years back I was on a mission to learn more about my family. I had  sent off for my DNA info through Ancestry.com and worked on building my online family tree account. As I did  this exploration, I discovered that my local library had genealogy resources.  I was able to take a family tree class for African Americans  and access library digital databases. But none of that would have happened without my library card.

4. Check out passes for free admission to State Parks, museums  and the zoo

These passes are typically first come first serve. Just ask the librarian at the circulation desk for more details.

5. Access books, eBooks, movies and music

Yes, of course, we all know in order to checkout a book you gotta have a library card. But did you know you can also checkout other  materials like movies and music? I used to physically checkout music all the time. Now since I discovered the Hoopla app  I do it from the comfort of my home. On this app  you sign up with your library card and  it gives you instant access to eBooks, films, audiobooks and music. Another library app is Overdrive/Libby but some materials, depending on demand, are not instant download.

More Persuasive arguments

If these 5 benefits didn’t move you to get a library card maybe this compelling point will stir you to action. According to the American Library Association, libraries are among our country’s most democratic institutions, promoting free and open access to information for everyone. Registering for a library card is one of the easiest ways to support this mission, since libraries use their sign-up stats to prove their value to local policymakers and advocate for much-needed funding. When you sign up for a library card, you’re helping demonstrate that today’s libraries are more important than ever.

Empish Writing a Check

And one of my most persuasive arguments  is you are paying for it. So, why not fully access your library?  Many community libraries  are able to function and provide their services and resources because  we are taxpayers.

If you don’t have a library card, hopefully my post has gently pushed you to do it. Reading and books  are my jam. Can’t you tell?  If you have a card already,  share with me  your benefits? Are they different than the ones I shared?

Blindness and My Hair: Why I use a Professional Stylist  to Help Me Look Fabulous

Empish with Fresh Hair Style at Salon

After I lost my vision I knew I had to seek a professional stylist. It had nothing to do with my self-esteem  or confidence. Rather  it was about being practical. No more were the days of coloring my own hair or using at  home hair relaxing kits. I didn’t have enough vision to do the job properly. And with working in professional  environments,  I had to be especially sure my appearance  was spot on.

Many wrongly assume people with vision loss lack interest in their appearance.  They think it is because of the vision impairment. They think because we can’t see ourselves  we don’t care as much. But I am here to tell you this is a bold face lie! We spend time and attention to our appearance  because we care about ourselves  and know we will be judged more harshly  in certain circumstances.

So, I went off seeking a professional stylist. I was fortunate and lucked out with a great person. She has been my hair stylist for 20+ years. That’s a long time and here’s why I am still a loyal customer.

Adjusted Hair Regiment Because of Medication

In the first few years of my blindness, I was taking several medications that cause hair damage. The texture of my hair changed and it was falling out. My stylist immediately recognized  this and shifted my hair regiment accordingly. She put me on a treatment plan  that would help my hair while  not causing more damage.

Once things had settled down and I was totally off meds she went back to my  routine hair treatment. That was several years ago. Today I am undergoing  more changes. Mostly from getting older. I have more dryness, grey and thinning on the top. So, we have shifted again to adjust to these changes. She  moved to another haircare product line  and suggested  the same for  at home. If I were doing my own hair, I seriously doubt I would have known what to do or had the same results.

Sensitive to My  Disability

My stylist has always been sensitive to my disability. First, she has created styles  that I can manage independently. She will describe what she is doing and give me instructions  for home maintenance. This could be how to style and apply haircare products, to using curling irons and hair dryers.

Second, she is aware I use Paratransit, a specialized transportation system for the disabled, making sure we start and end on time. She is always done by the time they arrive  to pick me up. Even the other stylists in the salon will help look out for my transportation. They will Walk me to and from the bus when it arrives.

Clear on Salon COVID Protocols

When the pandemic struck  barber and beauty salons  shut down quickly. Do you remember that? Nobody was going to get their  hair  styled, shampooed or cut anywhere. I was hearing about people on YouTube  trying the DIY  thing. There were all kinds of videos on coloring, styling and cutting your hair. I stayed away from all of that because we talked over the phone  about steps to take. She gave me directions  on what to do to maintain  my hair at home. I was really grateful  to have a professional stylist during this time  because again I  don’t think I would have known what to do.

Empish wearing orange top with her college alumni, Florida A&M University, facemask

Once businesses  reopened, she gave clarity on the salon’s COVID procedures. She emailed  what would be happening and how I needed to handle myself. We all wore facemasks  and the stylist spread out in the building.

National Beauty and Barber Week

This week, Sept 11-17, is National Beauty and Barber Week. I wanted to acknowledge  the people in this profession. They work hard to help people look fabulous. Do you have a professional hair stylist? If so, how  is your experience? Or do you  manage your hair on your own?

I’m Still Not Back in the Movie Theater and Here’s Why

Empish wearing audio description headset at movie theater

National Cinema Day

Two years ago, I wrote a post about my reluctance  to watch movies at my local movie theater, AMC. Although, they had put COVID protocols  in place I was still not comfortable. The pandemic  was still raging and our numbers here in Georgia were still high. Well, that was some time ago  and since today, Sept 3, is National cinema Day it is appropriate to give an update.

Haven’t Return to Movie Theater

I have to be honest with you and say I have still not entered a movie theater. Things with the pandemic are slowing down. People are getting back out and about. Things are  getting back to some kind of normalcy  we experienced before. So, if this is the case, what gives? What’s my issue? Movie theaters are doing all kinds of promotions to get people back in. While researching this post I saw  online  $3  movie tickets  for today. What a steal! But that is still not enough to coax me out of the house. Even the  bankrupted company, Movie Pass, for which I was a loyal member, is back  and up and running.

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

My initial  reasons were the pandemic but two years later I am in a different place in my life. Trudging all the way to the movie theater  on public transportation is not in the cards for me anymore. Now, it is about time management. Do I have the availability  to travel and watch a movie? The answer is no, not anymore. Especially when I can  just easily  turn on my firestick  or smartphone  and watch a film in my home. Also, as an introvert I don’t feel the need to be around people to enjoy my entertainment. Here’s one last reason. I am job hunting  and spend my days  looking for new freelance jobs and/or polishing my  work skills.

Attending Live Theatre

Now,  you might say, “Empish, you just shared about attending live theatre, so what’s the problem?” Good question. It is true, I have recently  gone back to see live performances  but that is a different animal. A live production  is not like watching an actor on  a movie screen. The excitement and thrill of being  up close and personal  is a feeling that doesn’t compare to the cinema. Besides, I go see a live production about  once a month or so. Something like that. It is not very often, whereas  new films come out every weekend or so.

Decision Not Forever

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

So, even though this is the day to nationally celebrate the movie theater, I’m still staying home. I don’t think this decision is forever. No, not at all, because I got to see the sequel of Black Panther. Just like the first one, this is a movie  you gotta see in the theater with a large soda and bucket of buttery popcorn.

Have you been back in the theater since the pandemic? If so, what has been your experience? Or are you like me and staying put at home?

Performances and the Pandemic: How I Attended Live Theatre Safely

A theater mask split down the middle with one side smiling and one side frowning.

Enjoy Live Theatre

I have attended live theatre performances for many years. It is exciting and thrilling to see  people on stage right in front of me. The acting, singing and dancing  are a true joy  to observe. I especially enjoy live community theatre. The close and intimate space  provides an amazing chance to engage more  than performances at larger venues.

Won’t Watch Theatre on Videoconferencing

Yet, when the pandemic  struck in 2020 theatres shut down  and like most people I stop going. Many theatres  slowly started offering an alternative to watch performances  via videoconference. I made a meager attempt to attend  but felt disconnected  from what was actually happening on the  stage. Watching from a computer monitor was just not the same. Plus, I missed the interaction I had with other theatre goers. Sitting amongst the crowd provided  ample opportunities  to converse, laugh  and connect as a group. So, I begged off and decided to pass.

I had just signed up for season tickets right before the pandemic  and was disappointed  that I couldn’t go. My local theatre  suggested  instead of a refund to wait.  I did and now the theatre is back open and I have attended about 3 plays this year. The First one was the day before  World Theatre Day on March 27. The production was about  love and relationships. The ups and downs  of a couple  dealing with life and raising a child. Pretty typical stuff, right? Yeah it was, but the ability to be in person was just awesome and here’s why.

Clear COVID Instructions

Empish wearing orange top with her college alumni, Florida A&M University, facemask

1. The theatre gave clear instructions on COVID restrictions. When the decision  came to reopen, the theatre communicated  with patrons  the expectations. I knew  well in advance to wear a facemask. I had to have a negative COVID test or a vaccine card. I also had to provide photo ID. These  protocols helped me feel more comfortable  about returning. I knew there would be safety measures in place.

Easy Transportation Arrangements

2. After selecting my ticket, the theatre not only sent me a confirmation  but additional info. In my email I was given  background on the performance  along with the estimated run time.  In the past I would have to call to find out when the performance was ending. Since I use  paratransit, a specialized public transportation service, I have to tell my ride when to  come and return. This saved me a phone call and I could schedule my transportation  easier.

Seating Spread Out

3. Once I arrived and checked in, the usher told me about  where to wait until the doors opened. We had the option to sit inside  or outside  on benches under a  canopy-style tent. When it was time, the usher guided me to my seat. We were spread out a bit and everyone seemed comfortable with the arrangement.

This whole experience  really helped me to feel better about being out and in crowds again. Prior I was feeling cagey about  returning to my old routine. I realize the pandemic is not totally over but we still have to continue with life. How and what that looks like  is the thing we are learning daily.

Are You Attending Live Theatre?

Have you gotten out again since the pandemic? Why or why not. If you have  what things did you do to feel better about the experience?

Improving Telemedicine for People with Disabilities

two women on a video conference. The view is over one woman's shoulder and you can see the other woman on the computer screen. The woman on the computer screen is a doctor wearing a surgical mask and doctor's white coat.

Editor’s Note: This is a post by Gracie Stephens a freelance writer and editor. She enjoys writing a variety of topics but is particularly keen on education and medical news. When she is not writing her next piece, she spends her time reading and spending time with her three children and husband.

Telemedicine Increasing Among the Disabled

In the wake of recent events, telemedicine has become vital for many basic clinical services. A Forbes’ report on telehealth outlines a survey from Applause, noting that nearly half of the 5,000 consumers they surveyed have used telehealth at least once, and 63% plan to keep using telehealth in the future.

With the rising interest in telehealth, healthcare providers have been expanding their usage to not only give information on health and services, but also arrange consistent telemedicine channels to treat patients. Over time, more areas and people have been serviced, including people with disabilities.

In fact, telemedicine has become almost necessary for people with disabilities to access healthcare. As mentioned in our post on “Can You Hear Me Now?”, landline phones and iPhones play an important part in keeping us in contact with the outside world. Nowadays, we can even set up doctor appointments and check-ups purely via phone calls. There are also other digital options like video conferencing and live chats, which allow professionals to provide diagnosis and treatment options — without us even stepping foot in their clinics.

How is telemedicine helping the disabled population?

Telemedicine has existed for a while now, but it was not long ago that greater innovation was pushed for in the field. This has resulted in greater outputs, with Ancor Foundation reporting that remote tech services can expand healthcare reach. In fact, 86% of providers believe that greater applications of technology can help address the current professional workforce crisis. Telemedicine allows providers to cater to traditionally disconnected populations, like the elderly and disabled, and administer specialized healthcare needed to treat routine medical needs. These also grant opportunities to avoid challenges of in-person care: arranging caregiver assistance, coordinating transportation, and even waiting at crowded clinics or hospitals. With the rise in tech, this virtual support has made it safer and more convenient for vulnerable populations.

How can telemedicine be improved?

When it comes to modern healthcare through telemedicine, there are still challenges in accessibility. Some people might not be digitally literate, so they may struggle with navigating certain websites and applications. There are also people with intellectual or developmental disabilities who can have a hard time describing their medical issues over the phone or through video calls. These struggles may lower the quality of healthcare that they receive. On the other hand, the convenience of being able to consult in a comfortable environment (such as their homes) may also be advantageous for this disabled population.

Although telemedicine still has its limitations, it’s undeniable that telehealth has become an essential, alternative avenue in easing the current burden of healthcare systems. Dr. Forrest, a physician serving on telehealth platform Wheel, expects telemedicine to become a standard component of health service. He predicts that all of the health data collected by the Internet of Things and smart peripherals will soon be utilized to improve healthcare and telemedicine. These computer systems will let doctors track, summarize, and share information with one another, which can be helpful for patients. Professionals can also easily look into medical treatments that have worked on previous disabled patients, and gain insights for their own patients.

What additional ways can telemedicine be improved?

Aside from driving advanced tech, there are other ways in how healthcare delivery through online platforms can be bridged for people with disabilities. As noted in a study by doctors and medical assistants in Texas, user interface issues should be addressed: text on a website or app should be readable by screen readers, captions present on videos, adjustable color and contrast, to name a few. In addition, customized visual interfaces should be made for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities to help with their communication. Having diverse service options is the best way to aid disabled people in accessing healthcare.

With more adjustments to telemedicine systems, the disabled can eventually maximize the benefits of online consultations. Although in-person interactions still remain important for a proper, full diagnosis of serious conditions, telemedicine can provide an opportunity for easier evaluation and improvement of patient care.

Do you use telemedicine?

If you are a person with a disability have you taken advantage of telemedicine? What was your experience? Would you recommend this option to others with disabilities? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Exhausted with Inaccessible Job Searching? Use AIRA  for a Rejuvenating Experience

The AIRA Logo. A turquoise circle with the white letter “a” in lower case

Problems Applying for Jobs Online Still Exist

About a year ago I talked about my challenges applying for jobs online. In a post  for  Inclusively I  gave details on the struggles with inaccessible websites  and online job portals.  Unfortunately, a year later the problems still exist.

As a freelance writer and blogger, I am regularly on the hunt for  new contract assignments and searching online is a primary part of that exploration. When I come across complex combo boxes  and inaccessible edit fields   my perseverance  wanes. My enthusiasm about landing that next writing gig quickly  diminishes.

Help is on the Way

Yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel. I  started using a virtual paid personal  assistant called AIRA. When I initially heard  about AIRA some years ago, the focus was on getting visual assistance  to navigate the physical world around you.  The professional human assistant would use  the camera on your smartphone  or smart glasses  to give you  visual information live and in real time. It was a tool for travelers. Since I was  not in need of that kind of help I put AIRA on the back burner.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

They have expanded those services  and provide remote  assistance via your computer. This was great news for me as I continued to struggle with inaccessible websites. So, I downloaded the app, created my account and selected the paid membership level. I am able to call AIRA any day, anytime to get assistance  . AIRA has a  special feature called “Job Seekers.” This  free service is specifically for filling out job applications and updating cover letters and resumes.

AIRA and CAPTCHA screens

I have used AIRA to help with  frustrating  and inaccessible CAPTCHA screens. You know the ones that ask you are you a human being? Usually, I would check the box  and type  into the edit box what I hear. Unfortunately, many job sites don’t offer that option. Only type in what you see with several pictures popping up on the screen to identify. Of course, I can’t do that and  as a result can’t submit my job application. What I find so perplexing is the employer gives all this info about being an equal opportunity employer and understands diversity and inclusion. They say they will not discriminate  based on age, gender, race or disability  and feel free to disclose. Yet, they have this inaccessible screen  prohibiting me from applying. This experience questions how  much of an equal opportunity employer they really are. Or perhaps, they are just unaware of the importance of accessibility for all applicants.

When  I come across this situation, I no longer throw up my hands in annoyance. I no longer moan and groan. I  no longer walk away in pure exhaustion and don’t apply for the job. I  call up AIRA  and use remote access  with a human assistant. I explain the problem  and they  check off the appropriate boxes. I have even asked them to do a quick review of my application  before submission. It is always good to have a second  pair of eyes look things over  before pressing the submit button.

AIRA and Job Assessments

Another task AIRA has  helped me with is job assessments. Some applications require the completion of an assessment  along with submission. These assessments  rate me on my writing and editing abilities. Some will score me on my knowledge of particular skill sets like SEO and WordPress  . When I start the assessment the timer interferes with my screen reader. So, while trying hard to concentrate  the timer is verbally ticking off each minute I have remaining. This is incredibly distracting and stressful. So, instead of dealing with all of that headache, I call AIRA  and the assistant can read the questions to me while I give my responses. We can review the assessment  and then submit.

Use AIRA After Hiring

After landing a job, the assistance from AIRA doesn’t stop. Many of my friends  who are employed use AIRA to help with various work assignments. Some employers  are receptive to blind employees  using AIRA  on the job as a work accommodation and will pay  for the monthly subscription. AIRA is sensitive  to the employability of blind people  and supportive of removing barriers.

AIRA Provides Me relief

Job hunting has its own list of hang ups, adding inaccessibility  just increases irritation  and disappointment. I want my job exploration to be as stress free and pleasant as possible. AIRA  gives me relief. They rejuvenate my desire to keep searching. If you are visually impaired and a job seeker, like me, investigate  AIRA as a handy tool in your career toolbox.

Confused About Disability? Read This Demystifying Guide  and Become a True Ally

Books on desk with cup of tea

Reading with My Ears Book Review

I have read a lot of books about disability. Some were fiction while others  nonfiction. Some  were biographical, technical, historical  or medical in their approach. Others more laid back and conversational in tone. But the book, “Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally” by Emily Ladau was one of the more real, true to life  and informative books I have read on disability so far.

In the audiobook read by Emily herself, she  provides an approachable guide to being a thoughtful, informed ally to disabled people. She gives real actionable steps for what to say, what to do and what not to do. Through her kind but candid tone, Emily shares how you can help make the world a more inclusive place. .

I was excited to read this book. Partly  because of my previous  interaction with the blog Rooted in Rights, where Emily formerly was an editor. But more importantly  because I am disabled  and wanted to hear her  strategies on how  people like me can learn and find the language to interact with people who are not disabled.

Definition of Disability

In the first chapter Emily gives her definition of disability along with other advocates  and the ADA’s official language. While reading, it dawned on me that I don’t have my own version of a disability definition. I have just gone with  the status quo and/or the legal definition. Yet, one size fits all doesn’t work in the disability community. We are as diverse and different as any other community. For so long society has used a broad paint stroke  however in reality that doesn’t work. It depends on the individual.

Two women have a sign language conversation at a table.

Additionally, there is no single way to talk or think about disability. Emily said the way we talk shapes how we think; and the way we think shapes how we talk. For example, some people don’t want to use the word disability because it has a negative connotation. We are socialized to think that way.

Terms and Labels

But it is unavoidable because we  are still disabled in the end. There are nondisabled people making up terms for our community. Terms like differently abled or  handy capable. Rather just ask for what the person wants to be called.

Little Black Girl Wearing Braids and Walking with White Cane

In my world,  phrases like legally blind, low vision, sight loss, visually impaired, blind, and vision loss are the terms most often used. I prefer the word blind because it is clear, simple and to the point.

She cautions readers the usage of labels. A very popular label is high functioning verses low functioning. This kind of label pits one disability group against another. For the sake of this review, I am considered high functioning because I can read, write, manage my daily activities, work, etc. I need very little assistance from others to maintain my life. But viewing me this way can be harmful because it looks down on others who can’t do the same. At the end of the day,  we all have some kind of limitation.

Also, services have been denied me because I am too independent or high functioning leaving me to fend for myself. We have to take into consideration  over time this situation can change. As I get older I might need more assistance because of aging with a disability.

Remove Negative Words

Emily encourages us to  Work on removing negative words from our language. Harmful words like stupid, idiot , lame, crazy, midget, albino, insane, retarded,  crippled and dumb. A recent example  of this is when the music artist, Lizzo changed her song, “Grrrls” to remove the damaging word “spaz.”

She explains disability is not an insult. Phrases like quit being so OCD, what’s the problem are you blind, and falling on Deaf ears can enter our psyche without us realizing it but in the end  can be toxic. Now this can be confusing because some disabled people reclaim  these words, terms and phrases. So, it is best to use  safe words  and ask the disabled person what they want to use.

Disability Identity

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

Now with that being said, let’s look at disability identity. Emily describes disability identity as a pizza. The crust is  the foundation; it is who you are. The specific toppings  of meat and veggies make each pizza unique. No two slices are exactly a like, cut a pizza and one  slice might have more pepperoni   or olives on it than another.

Some people choose to identify  and make it known they are disabled. They might even fully immerse themselves in the disability community. Others might identify  only when it is necessary. Still others might not identify at all. Then we go even deeper and address intersectionality  where you have a disability  along with something else. I am blind, female and Black. That makes me a member of three different marginalized communities.

Disability History

Her chapter on disability history touched on the story of Judy Heumann, which I talked about in a previous post. She also highlighted the Ugly Laws, advancements in educating  disabled children  and of course the ADA. She noted several laws  before the ADA  which  amazingly  I was already familiar. As a high school senior, I worked  part-time for the Department of Health and Human Services/office for Civil rights. There I learned about  the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 504. I typed up lawsuits  based on discrimination  and assembled paperwork for voluntary compliance. Who knew in 10 years I would be recalling this work experience as I navigated my own disability.

an outline of a shield with the American flag in the center and the wheelchair icon on top of the flag. The letters ADA are to the right side and the words Americans with Disability Act underneath.

She presented a timeline featuring the closure of shelter workshops and the launch of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. The Communication and Video Act opened up audio description  and more accessibility to the internet  and phone apps. She remarked on the Able Act  and how it  provides more financial control allowing disabled people to save money without penalty.

Avoid Ableism

She devoted a whole chapter to ableism. I liked the fact she owned up to her own missteps. As people with disabilities, we can be insensitive  to other disabled people too. Ableism can exclude us from larger  discussions of injustice. Since many of us carry multiple identities we must be included in other social justice movements too.

The Curb Cut Affect

When we think of the disabled the immediate thought is ramps and elevators. But accessibility is having full use and experience of the product or service. Accommodations are provided and come in many forms. Accessibility is not about special treatment but providing equality  so that all people  can  take full advantage. Everyone can play a role in making the world more accessible  and everyone can benefit.

Think about the curb cut affect. Initially  curb cuts were for people in wheelchairs only but today  all kinds of people use them. Parents with baby strollers, People rolling backpacks  or luggage on wheels. Another example is audio description. This  technology was  designed for people with vision loss to enjoy and understand  movies and TV but sighted people also use it  when multi-tasking and not actually watching the screen. To make the world more accessible and inclusive we need more figurative curb cuts.

Disability Etiquette 

What do I do when I meet a disabled person? This is the million dollar question. There are guidelines to disability etiquette  however don’t over think it. Ask questions  and be open to learning  and receiving instruction. Don’t make assumptions about what people can and can’t do. People that insist on helping cand cause more problems in the end.

Empish Holding White Cane at Street Intersection

Emily  warns abled body people to not assume we are faking our disability. I have come across this one  a lot. People assume I can see more than I can  or I’m not blind at all. I get the response, “Well, you don’t act like a blind person.” My reply is, “how does a blind person suppose to act like?” People are looking for  the stereotypical image  of what they have seen in the media  . But blindness doesn’t work that way.

Disability in the Media

Which leads me to disability in the media. We don’t have nearly enough true to life images  but plenty of media tropes. Such as inspiration porn which objectifies people with disabilities to help people feel good about themselves. It is those stories of people who overcome their disabilities  against all odds. We buy into inspirational porn because we have been told disability is a bad thing and living with a disability is exceptional. I have even fallen prey to it myself by being inspired by other disabled people , it is everywhere

Final Thoughts on Becoming an Ally

A woman in a wheelchair wearing a red sweater and black framed glasses. She is along side another woman working with her on a computer

Reading this book is just  one important step and not the conclusion to becoming an ally. None of us are experts on disability. Being an ally is a show don’t tell approach. But ask yourself why first. What is your motivation? Are you feeling guilty, pity or  wanting to be helpful? These reasons can be self serving. Help is a stereotype about the disabled community. We are not always helpless or in need of saving.

Being an ally is a commitment to change. It is a journey not a destination. Keep in mind to advocate with us  not for us. And as you do, read books, watch documentaries and listen to podcasts.