Going Meatless with Tofu Taco Night

Empish at gas stove

I love tacos! Chicken tacos. Shrimp tacos. Ground turkey tacos. Fish tacos. Hard shell tacos. Soft shell tacos. Even tacos with just rice, beans and cheese. Or better yet a taco salad. Now, you get the point on how much I love tacos. I decided recently to start adding more plant-based foods in my life and that includes tofu. So, could I make tofu tacos?

Tofu Comes in Crumbles

Well, I was up for the adventure and decided that I could do it. I called upon my vegetarian friends, did some online research, went grocery shopping and got to cooking. I discovered that tofu comes in various options and I am still learning the myriad ways I can purchase it. But for my tacos the best was in crumbles. I found them in the frozen health food section at the grocery store. To my confusion but delight I found a variety of tofu crumbles already seasoned. Since I was not initially aware they came this way, I wasn’t prepared and didn’t understand my options but the store clerk told me   that one package had a picture of, you guessed it, A taco! Bingo, sold! That is the one I wanted.

Cooking Tofu

Next, I called up my vegetarian friend to figure out how to cook my new treasure. She said cook it just like you would ground beef, chicken or turkey. Well, that was easy breezy! I knew how to do that. I also asked about adding taco seasoning. I usually grab a packet of seasoning found next to the shells in the store adding it to my meat. She said to taste first and see how you like it. If you add the taco seasoning maybe just half the packet. Well, I kind of followed her advice but kind of didn’t. I got a little too happy and ended up using the whole seasoning packet. This made my crumbles too salty. But once I added my toppings of lettuce, salsa, tomatoes, shredded cheese and pickled jalapeño peppers I could barely taste the salt. I mostly used hard shells for my tofu tacos, warming them up in the oven on my specialized taco rack, but I tried one or two soft shells too. I served them up with a side of Mexican-flavored rice and black beans.

Perfecting Tacos and Trying Other Dishes

Ah, yes! As I sat eating my delicious meal, I was feeling pretty proud of myself for taking on this new challenge. I realized it was easier than I imagined and I was emboldened to take it higher the next time. I also realize that part of my no salt spice collection was one that would be perfect for tacos. It’s called Mexican Aromatics and instead of using taco seasoning I am going to use that instead. I think once I perfect this tofu dish, I am going to expand my palate and try tofu in other ways. I am excited about the possibilities.

Three Inventions for the Blind that Changed My Life

National Inventors Month

Empish Writing a Check

After I went blind some 20 years ago, I needed tools to adjust to my new life. I knew that as a blind person I wasn’t going to be very successful without some kind of accommodation or modification to the way I was living and moving in the world. May is National Inventors Month and I am very appreciative of the things that were created to not only help me regain independence but have a fuller and richer life. For example, I love my white cane for traveling. My metal guides for signing documents and writing checks. My talking and braille watches and clocks for time management. However, the three inventions that changed my life the most are talking books, screen readers and braille. I use these tools daily and wouldn’t know how to function without them.

Invention of the Talking Book

Thomas Edison originally wanted his Phonograph to be a talking book device for the blind. So, in 1877, he applied for a patent. One of the ten potential uses he listed was “phonograph books, which will speak to blind people without effort on their part.” Interestingly, this item was second in his list of ten; “reproduction of music” was fourth. It would take over 50 years before the Phonograph could be used for   talking books. This was due to technology and economic challenges. In 1931, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and Library of Congress Books for the Adult Blind Project established the “Talking Books Program” (Books for the Blind), which was intended to provide reading material for veterans injured during World War I and other visually impaired adults. Later, Learning Ally and the American Printing House for the Blind also produced talking books. The first test recordings, in 1932 included a chapter from Helen Keller’s Midstream and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”. The organization received congressional approval for exemption from copyright and free postal distribution of talking books.

Display of NLS Player Cartridges and Earbuds

Since those early days of vinyl records, talking books have evolved. First with cassette tapes in the 1960s and 1970s. Then compact disks in the 1980s and 1990s. Today it is digital downloads from a computer. The options of reading materials have also expanded with a wide range of fiction, non-fiction, magazines, foreign languages and other selections to choose from. Additionally, the NLS National Library for the Blind and Print Disabled has become the dominant source for free reading materials. Today, audio books have gathered universal mass appeal with both sighted and blind people enjoying them. This is so true because I participate in two book discussion groups with sighted peers. Some of them enjoy reading books in audio verses print. I remember when I first joined the talking book library it kept my love of reading going. The ability to access books in audio format has kept the world accessible to me. I have been able to learn, grow and be entertained because I can read books in this format.

Invention of the Screen reader

In 1986 Jim Thatcher, IBM Researcher and Accessibility Pioneer, created the first screen reader at IBM. It was called the IBM Screen Reader for DOS. At first it wasn’t trademarked because it was primarily for low vision staff members. Since it was created for DOS, which is a text-based Desktop Operating System he later created a Screen Reader 2. This one would be used for graphical interface PCs such as Windows 95 and IBM OS/2.

IBM wasn’t the only company developing screen readers. Freedom scientific produced JAWS, currently the world’s most popular screen reader. It was developed first for DOS and then Windows. I have been using JAWS since 1998 or so and it has revolutionized my life. First, it has allowed me to keep working. Second, it has allowed me to access personal information to maintain my quality of life. I can handle my finances, do internet searches, send emails, and even write this blog post.

Empish Using an iPhone

in 2009, Apple announced a new feature called VoiceOver making their products more accessible to people with visual impairments using the touch interface of the iPhone beginning with the iPhone 3GS. VoiceOver is the screen reader built into Apple operating systems including macOS, iOS/iPadOS, and WatchOS. Initially I was not on board with the iPhone. It took some time because of its flat surface yet eventually I bit the apple. Now I use my iPhone daily and listen to the AppleVIS podcast to keep up with the latest trends.

Invention of Braille

Empish Reading Braille

Braille is a code created for reading and writing. This code is a series of raised dots on paper. The braille code is made up of letters, numbers and symbols. It is not another language. The alphabet is based on a cell that is composed of 6 or 8 dots, arranged in two columns of 3 or 4 dots each. Each braille letter of the alphabet or other symbol, such as a comma, is formed by using one or more of the dots that are contained in the cell. Braille is usually found in a large book format on doubled sided paper to maximize space and can be read for math, science and music.

Born in 1809, Louis Braille was a Frenchman who lost his vision from an accident as a small child. When it was apparent that he could not be educated by just listening, his family enrolled him in the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris. While there, as a teenager Braille began the process to create a reading and writing system by touch. He continued to perfect the system and as an adult became an instructor at the Institution.  Unfortunately, Braille’s method was not accepted by the sighted instructors and he died in 1852 never seeing his creation used by the blind. Eventually, the code was accepted and today this system is used all over the world.

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

I use braille mostly to read labels created with my braille Dymo label machine. These labels are great for all kinds of things like my spices, file folders in my home office, music CDs, and even lipstick tubes. I also read braille on calendars, greeting cards and bathroom signs. Got to know which door is the lady’s room, you know!

Empish Reading Braill Bathroom Sign

Without these inventions I am not sure what my life would be or look like. I actually shutter at the thought. I am grateful for the people who designed and created these devices to help me have a better life as a blind person.

I’m Fully Vaccinated but Will Still Wear a Mask

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

Today marks two weeks after my second vaccine shot. This Means I am fully vaccinated and according to the recent announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) I can stop wearing my mask under certain conditions. The guidelines say, “If you are fully vaccinated, you can resume activities that you did before the pandemic without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations. That includes local business and workplace guidance. You will still be required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.”

I should be elated by this news, right? Yet, I am not. Don’t get me wrong I am happy because part of this means that as a country, we are moving in a positive direction with this virus but I still feel some trepidation. The reason being is that I am vaccinated but what about others around me? It’s not like I can tell in some kind of way who is vaccinated and who is not. So, because of that I am still going to wear my mask in public places like grocery shopping or getting my hair done.

Three Reasons for the CDC Decision

I was listening this morning to the Pod Save America podcast and they interviewed Dr. Fauci. He said the CDC decision came about because of three things:

1.  The vaccine is better than was shown in clinical trials.

2.  The vaccine works well against variants.

3.  Studies are showing high levels of protection, meaning that you are less likely to get infected and to pass on to others.

Guidelines Not a Mandate

The news to stop wearing a mask is not a mandate but just guidelines. The CDC wants to help assure vaccinated people they are safe. I can appreciate that information and will proceed with caution. I trust science but don’t trust people in the same way. I realize after the announcement was made that we will be on an honor system. Even if you show your paper vaccine card that might not be enough proof because there are already forged versions floating around. Additionally, the vaccine card information is only recorded in your state; there is no federal database.

The other concern I have about this is the announcement was made so quick. Businesses and government officials were caught off Gard and were surprise. This doesn’t give much time for people to get their act together and figure things out. If you are a business owner, how do you handle this news? It doesn’t seem to be any recommendations or advice for you. It is like every man for himself to figure it out. This is a problem and will leave people all over the place doing all kinds of things. Good, bad and otherwise. I was thinking that maybe rolling this guideline out over time in stages, giving people time to adjust would have been a better approach.

Empish grocery shopping wearing a facemask

Another concern I have is that we have not reached heard immunity. Lots of people are not vaccinated or have just gotten the one of two required shots. Some people don’t want to get vaccinated and some people can’t for various reasons. So those folks still need to wear a mask. But will they? This is another reason why I still will wear mine.

Don’t Know What the Future Holds

Lastly, COVID-19 is new. Going through a pandemic is not something we are experts at doing. Information about this virus changes constantly and who knows what we will be told next week, next month or even next year. Yeah, I am fully vaccinated but how long will that last? Six months? A year? Will I have to get a booster shot? What about getting the virus even though you are vaccinated like the members of the New York Yankees? These questions have not clearly been answered and so again, this is also why I will continue to wear a mask. We just don’t know what the future holds. I have been doing the 3 W’s: wash my hands, wear a mask and watch my distance for the past year. I don’t want all of this work and effort to go down the drain so until I get more clear and solid info, I will continue to wear my mask even though I am fully vaccinated.

Now, what about you? Now that the CDC says you can stop wearing a mask if fully vaccinated will you do so? Why or why not? Share your thoughts with me.

Got Zoom Fatigue? Go Audio Like Me.

Zoom Logo

A few weeks ago, I was reading an interesting newspaper article about people struggling with Zoom calls. In the article it referred to a Stanford University research study that revealed what people like me, who work from home, already know-Zoom fatigue is real. Sitting at a desk for long periods of time while staring at a computer screen and trying to keep your mind from wandering off can be exhausting. Yes, I know because you are preaching to the choir and I am not even on Zoom calls every day! In the study they highlighted 4 factors causing the problem:

1. A need for constant eye-to-eye contact.

2.  Seeing your face on screen while talking.

3.  Having to sit still for long periods of time.

4.  Challenge of communicating via body language.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Now, the suggested solutions offered I found quite intriguing because as a blind person I do them already for my calls. I began to think perhaps this is why my fatigue is not so bad? Perhaps being blind has some benefit when it comes to Zoom-type videoconferencing? There were three main remedies to help with exhaustion:

1.  Turn off the video camera and do audio calls only.

2.  disable the selfie window.

3.  Reduce the size of the call window.

Yep, its confirmed. I do these suggestions already. The majority of the time I do audio Zoom calls. I only turn on video when it is mandatory like a job interview. Or when the person has to see me like a telemedical appointment. Otherwise, the video is off. For example, my book club meeting on Bookshare is done via Zoom and the administrator turns the video off making the entire meeting audio only.

I also pick using the phone option when available. If I get a Zoom invite with a phone number included, I will sometimes call on my landline instead. This helps me to stay alert and engaged. I can get up from in front of my computer and move around, stretch my legs or go into another room. A change of scenery can help boost energy and maintain participation.

Empish Using a Landline Phone

The bottom line when it comes to Zoom fatigue is that as a blind person, I don’t have the vision to be as tired like sighted folks. I can’t physically stare at a screen or try and interpret body language. I am not trying to see my selfie in a little box so I don’t have that kind of stress. I also don’t have to be concerned with keeping constant eye contact because I can’t do it anyway. So, a lot of this stuff goes out the window for me. Two real challenges I have is the long amounts of time sitting in a chair and keeping my mind focused on the topic.

But asides from those two things, who knew being blind would have this kind of advantage? Those Stanford University researchers should have come and talked to blind folks like me. I would have gotten them hipped to the situation and knocked off some time and energy on that research. Minus my consulting fee. HaHa! Perhaps using my tips or the ones at Stanford will help you too with Zoom fatigue.

Ever Lee Hairston Shares er Ambitious Life Journey of Blindness

Wall of Book Shelves

Reading with My Ears Book Review

The first time I heard about Ever Lee Hairston was several years ago when I read the book The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White by Henry Wiencek. In this depiction of two large families; the author wrote about an incident at a family reunion. Ever Lee called out the white Hairstons for how they mistreated her family who were sharecroppers on the land for many years. I remember thinking how bold this blind Black woman was to do this in this large crowded room full of people. However, she was spot on to say something because the white side of the family had profited for so long while her family lived in poverty. Second time her name popped up was while listening to a favorite podcast, called The Nod. She was being interviewed about her live. Then the third time was another podcast by Freedom Scientific sharing her life once again but this time including her published book. After running into this lady three times, I told myself this was no coincidence and that I needed to read her book to get the skinny on her life.

I found it in audio at the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled and finished it last week. The book is titled Blind Ambition: One Woman’s Journey to Greatness Despite Her Blindness. I was interested in her life story because I don’t come across many blind Black women   who have documented their life. The only other time was when I read about Haban Girma. As I read her story, I pulled out four core areas Ever lee was ambitious about: her education, career, marriage/family and the National Federation of the Blind.

Ambitious about Education

Ever Lee grew up in the segregated south on the Coolemee plantation in Mocksville, North Carolina. She is the third of seven children. Her days were filled with school and picking cotton. She realized from an early age that sharecropping was not the life she wanted to live. It was hard physical work. She was fearful of snakes and her family had little income. She had a desire to become a nurse because one of her sisters was constantly ill. She knew her parents had no money for college so being the ambitious person she was, Ever Lee came up with a plan. She heard about work opportunities up north and during the summer she worked as a live-in maid to save money for school. During this entire time Ever Lee struggled with her vision. She knew something was wrong but was not sure exactly what as she didn’t go to an eye doctor and never told anyone because she was ashamed. All through college, living with her aunt and uncle, and working as a live-in maid Ever Lee kept her vision problem a secret. This caused her to struggle through school because she couldn’t always see the chalkboard, her printed books or exams. When it was time to take the nursing exam, she failed the eye test portion. She was deeply disappointed but pressed on and got her teaching degree instead.

Ambitious About Career

Display of NLS Player Cartridges and Earbuds

Ever Lee was ambitious about her ability to be employed. She shared an incident where she applied for a position and got the interview. She dressed professionally, showed up on time with resume in hand but when she arrived it went downhill. The employer told her they had never hired a blind person before and she left disappointed. I also had a similar experience which happened shortly after I lost my vision. I went in for an interview and the first thing said to me was, “Oh, I didn’t know a blind person would apply for this job.” When that was said I knew, Like Ever Lee, I wasn’t going to get the job. That one statement spoke volumes about what that employer thought about the blind even though I was qualified for the job.

But like me Ever Lee pressed on and found a more opened-minded employer who not only gave her a job but helped her advance her career. She worked several years as a teacher and then later as a counselor at the Department of Health and Human Services. I worked for DHHS too when I was in high school and my first year of college. I was not blind at the time but I did have a blind co-worker, another one with cerebral palsy and a supervisor who used a wheelchair. Like Ever Lee this experience was rewarding, self-affirming and built my self-confidence. It also helped me when I went blind because I was able to pull from the experience to help me make it through.

Ambitious about Marriage and Family

Initially Ever Lee was hesitant about pursuing dating and romantic relationships because she was fearful her blindness would be exposed. She didn’t date in high school or college. She had been keeping it a secret the majority of her life.  But she did ultimately let go and fall in love with a guy and marry him. The relationship didn’t last because he was gaslighting and cheating on her. She realized this and took her son and left. She figured out what to do, got her career together, purchased a home and eventually met another man she married. When that marriage ended from abandonment, she still kept going. I have to appreciate Ever Lee sharing these intimate details of her life. failed relationships are hard to deal with and being public about it takes courage. Also, I admire the fact she shows them as just relationships where blindness is not the center. Many times, I have had to address the question/concern about my disability in a relationship as if it is the most important thing when so many other factors make up a successful match.

Ambitious About National Federation of the Blind

After years of struggle and disappointment, Ever Lee finally got a proper diagnosis. She was told by an eye specialist that she had a genetic eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa (RP). She was also told that it would probably get worse over time. Ever Lee’s vision did get worse and for a long time she relied on others to help. Or she “faked it to you make it.” While Ever Lee worked at DHHS she learned about more services for the blind. She got a call from the National Federation of the Blind inviting her to attend   their convention. Her aha moment came when she was offered an agenda in braille/large print. By this time, she could no longer read print and she didn’t know braille. This is when Ever Lee knew she needed more blind skills. So, she took 6 months off from work for vision rehabilitation training. She had already been using a white cane but needed more education on how to live an independent life as a blind person. I could relate too. I also took off from work for about a year to go through a similar program for the same exact reasons. Attending the convention and emersion in her training was the beginning of Ever Lee’s full involvement in NFB. After that she became an active member, advocate, mentor   and later joined the national board of directors. After losing my vision I also got deeply involved in the disability community. First, I became an advocate, then later public educator. Today, I am a writer and blogger on the topic of blindness.

Films About the Disabled Receive 2021 Oscar Nominations

Container of Movie Popcorn in a Colorful Cardboard Box

WooHoo! Three films featuring people with disabilities got the Oscar nod this year. I was so excited because representation matters. I was able to view two of the three films enjoying them both. The Oscars have been criticized in the pass for its lack of diversity and inclusion but this year I saw progress. The three films are:  Feeling Through, Crip Camp and the Sound of Metal.

Feeling Through

Feeling Through was nominated for Best Live Action Short Film. This 90-minute film is about a homeless teen who meets a deafblind man and how that encounter changes his life. Tereek (Francisco Burgos) is a young man trying hard to keep his homelessness a secret and is desperately looking for a place for the night. While texting friends, hoping he can crash with them, he ends up helping Artie (Robert Tarango), a deafblind man waiting for a bus. Their interaction is complicated. They have differences in abilities, temperaments and ages. However, as Tereek helps Artie navigate a ride home, he learns to see the world through another perspective beyond his own  and broadening his horizons in the process.

I saw this film on YouTube and had

some mix feelings about it. although I enjoyed it because it was available in audio description, featured people of color in a lead role and people with disabilities I struggled a bit with the storyline. Perhaps it was my own uncomfortableness with the vulnerability of Artie being deafblind and depending on others. As a blind person I found it a little unsettling to have to hold up a sign asking for help like that. I began to wonder did this man need some training for the deafblind? How does that work? Those kinds of questions swirled around my head. Depending on the kindness of strangers can be a little unnerving when you have a disability. But in this film, you see it play out and Artie is helped but also taken advantage of which bothered me. Yet, at the end of the day the film shows the challenges of both characters; one obvious and one not so much, which makes me think this is what the film was all about.

Crip Camp

The next film is Crip Camp and it was nominated for Best Documentary Feature. Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution follows the birth of the disability rights movement. The film starts in 1971 at Camp Jened, a camp for teens with disabilities and focuses on how those campers become activists in their fight for accessibility legislation.

I saw this film on Netflix and also in audio description. Absolutely loved it! It reminded me of my years working as an advocate at disABILITY LINK, an independent living center. I appreciated the real rawness of the film. They just showed you what it was like to be disabled and how much fun they had at camp. I like the fact the camp gave them the freedom to just be themselves without restrictions. Too many times others who are not disabled want to dictate our movements which can be quite suffocating. Viewing the film, the campers looked like they were having so much fun as any person attending camp should regardless of ability.

The Sound of Metal

The Sound of Metal is the third film and got the most nominations. It was nominated for six Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Riz Ahmed); Best Supporting Actor (Paul Raci); Writing (Original Screenplay); Film Editing; and Best Sound.  Out of all those nominations It won an Oscar for Best Sound.

The film is about   punk-metal drummer, Ruben’s (Riz Ahmed) journey of losing his hearing. After several one-night gigs, he begins to experience intermittent hearing loss. When a specialist tells him, his condition will rapidly worsen, he thinks his music career and life are over. His bandmate and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) check the recovering heroin addict into a secluded sober house for the deaf in hopes it will prevent a relapse and help him learn to adjust. But after being welcomed into a community that is very accepting, Ruben has to choose between his equilibrium and the drive to reclaim the life he once knew.

I have not seen this movie yet because it was released on Amazon Prime but after reading the reviews and summary’s I might have to get a subscription. I can understand why this film got so much Oscar attention. The film sounds like a good one because of the realistic portrayal of a man losing his hearing which directly impacts his career and things he loves. How do you play music without hearing it? I can understand his dilemma. I went through something similar when I went blind and was trying to figure out how to be a journalist. This profession is writing and I can’t see. How does that work? I appreciate the storyline because people need to see how a disability can come into your life at any time. As a matter of fact, most people are not born disabled. So, seeing the journey on the big screen is commendable.

I applaud the Oscars for nominating these films and look forward to more hitting the big screen in the future. It is important that our stories get told, acknowledged and rewarded just like others.

How I Volunteer Virtually Regardless of a Pandemic

black and white line drawing of two feather pens in an inkwell

National Volunteer Week

When most people think of volunteering in the community it is something that you physically do such as feeding the homeless, building a house, tutoring/reading to children, registering people to vote, or running errands for seniors. All of those tasks are great volunteer opportunities and are well needed in the community but there are things that I have done as a volunteer sitting right at home.  I have been volunteering all my life in a variety of projects. Even after I went blind, I still kept volunteering. I just had to shift the way I did it. I figured out a way to use my journalism skills to help my community and even during a pandemic. This week is National Volunteer Week; April 18-24.   The Points of Light established it as an opportunity to recognize the impact of volunteer service and the power of volunteers to tackle society’s greatest challenges, to build stronger communities and be a force that transforms the world.

Started Virtual Volunteering

My first step into virtual volunteering was right after I went blind and lost my corporate job to downsizing, I was rethinking my career path and decided to volunteer at a non-profit. Since I was now a part of the disability community, I wanted to learn more and give back. I worked on a newsletter for a disability non-profit agency called disABILITY LINK. I collected articles and other content for the newsletter via email and phone. Wrote and edited the pieces, then submitted to my supervisor for publishing.

This was a good opportunity for me because it allowed me to give back, use my journalism skills in a professional way and learn about the disability community. It was a win-win all the way around. I began to realize that I could use my writing in a more meaningful way than just as a career.

Volunteering as a Radio Producer  

Empish with Guest Roderick Parker at GaRRS Studio

The next opportunity came in 2006 where a friend recommended me for the position. I was asked to help produce the Eye on Blindness Show by the Georgia Radio Reading Service. Prior to this time, my experience had been in writing only. So, this stretched my journalism skills and I was up for the challenge. Each month I was directed to find guests for the 30-minute show, do research, and write up show notes and promotion materials. All I did from home using my landline phone and computer. I also collaborated with the show’s host on topic ideas and future guests. I volunteered for about 3 years on the show. Later I was asked to come back and not only produce but host as well; which I gladly did for another 3 years.

Empish Using a Landline Phone

Volunteering as a Blogger

One day I got an email request for bloggers/peer advisors for a website called VisionAware. The website was a resource for people new to vision loss and they were looking for people to talk about their lives and give advice and information. Well, that was right up my alley. So, I filled out the application form and signed on. That was back in 2012 and I am still volunteering with VisionAware to this day.  We meet once a month via Zoom conference call to discuss topic ideas and themes for the site. We work to give true and honest information with a real-life experience. I write blog posts from home and submit via email. Volunteering at VisionAWare is rewarding because I can help others like myself and I get to work with a great group of people.

Virtual volunteering has been a wonderful experience for me. The things I have learned. The people I have met. The lives that have changed. This is all for the good and all from the comfort of my home. There are creative ways to volunteer. We are still in this pandemic and traditional methods may not be possible but you can still serve your community virtually. Check out the Points of Light database for virtual volunteer suggestions.

What Does a Shark, ABC and Audio Description Have in Common?

Empish wearing audio description headset at movie theater

Did my title grab your attention? I sure hope so. Well, now that you are here reading my blog post let me explain what a shark, ABC and audio description have in common.

The Shark Tank

I am a huge, huge. Let me say it one more time. Huge fan of The Shark Tank. This one-hour show allows Entrepreneurs to pitch their small businesses to investors called sharks. The reason I am such a fan is I love the creativity and originality that is displayed on the show. There are such cool consumer products and all types of businesses. The ingenuity showcased is amazing! I also love the negotiating strategy used with the investors. They discuss why their business is worth what it is while the investors explain why they will give the money or not. Sometimes they haggle back and forth even getting a little heated but that is all a part of the show.

Watching The Shark Tank on ABC

I tune in every Friday night at 8pm Eastern Standard Time. On what station? You guessed it. On ABC. Do not call me. Do not text me. Do not ring my doorbell. Do not email me. You will be ignored. Because I am glued to the TV watching my Shark Tank. ABC has been running The Shark Tank for about 11 seasons and I have been watching it faithfully for several years now.

Audio Description of The Shark Tank

Now you understand my love of Shar Tank and watching it on ABC. Now let me explain the audio description part and how that connects. Audio description provides extra verbal narration     of visual elements happening in a TV program or film. It could be hand gestures, facial expressions, physical movements or a description of clothing and action. It describes things that a person with vision loss might not notice or realize. As of July 1, 2018, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, Discovery, HGTV, History, TBS, and USA are each required to provide 87.5 hours of audio-described prime time or children’s programming per calendar quarter. As part of those hours, ABC selected The Shar Tank as one of their shows to provide audio description. WhooHoo! So, when I first heard about this a couple of years ago, I was very excited and it just enhanced my viewing pleasure. Now, I am really, really ignoring you on Friday night! When the show first comes on a voice is describing the shark swimming. I would get descriptions of the people coming in to the tank like what they look like, their dress, hair and eye color. Facial expressions would also be described and there is a lot of that going on in the tank as the entrepreneurs react to the investors. Eyes rolling, eyebrows furring, mouth dropping, grim looks or smiling faces. Sometimes if they are doing a demonstration as part of their pitch that would be described as well. Then the money and negotiation amounts would also be described.

Well, several months ago my description fell off, got disconnected or something. Not sure what happen but because I am a huge Shark Tank fan I still kept watching. I knew in the back of my mind I needed to get the description fix. I reached out to my local ABC affiliate, WSB-Atlanta, via email. I got a reply that my concern was being sent over to one of the engineers to investigate. I had to reach out to the close captioning contact for the deaf because there is no direct contact for the blind. This is an issue we talk about in the blind community all the time.  But typically, the close captioning departments are familiar enough and can assist. In my case, I didn’t hear back. So, I tried again. Still no response. I called and left a message with no reply. So, a friend suggested to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and that did the job.  I got a call from the chief engineer and we began to work on the problem.  Over several phone and email conversations it was determined that the audio description signal was not reaching my TV for ABC. I was getting it for all my other stations like NBC, CBS and FOX meaning that it is working properly on my end. I got a sighted friend to come over twice to work with the engineer via phone. But as of this writing we have not found a solution yet. It seems that my TV has a setting separately for each station. Although we set it up for audio description it is still not working.  The engineer and I are persevering and are hopeful that we will come to a resolution soon. But in the meantime, what am I going to do on Friday nights? You guessed it. Keep watching my Shark Tank!

The Audio Description Challenge

Here’s another challenge with audio description but this one is a cool and fun one I think you will enjoy. One of my fellow visually impaired blogging friends, Steph McCoy, loves audio description too. So much so, she helped launch Audio Description Awareness Day last year. She is promoting a challenge at her blog,  Bold Blind Beauty. Here are the details:  On April 16 2021 Bold Blind Beauty presents the Second Annual Audio Description Awareness Day and with it, kicks off the Audio Description Awareness Challenge, hashtag TADAChallenge. Here’s how it goes: Step one, find a friend to watch a TV episode or movie of your choice with audio description. Step two. At the end of the month, post your experience on social media and use the hashtag TADAChallenge which stands for The Audio Description Awareness Challenge.

Painting Glass and Ceramic Pottery in the Dark

Empish and instructor smiling and proudly displaying finished painted wine glass

Today is World Art Day

Before losing my sight, I was on the path of a new career in the fashion industry. Yes, I know you are probably in shock because all I have ever talked about is my writing and non-profit work. But yes, I had other career ambitions. Back in the late 1990s I was taking night classes in fashion design and merchandising at a local art college after work. As part of the course curriculum, I had to take art classes that included painting and drawing. I was working with watercolor and acrylic paints and drawing with charcoal and pencils. But as my vision decreased and it became harder and harder to see my canvas, colors and still models; I withdrew from school. I gave away all my art supplies to an artsy friend and moved on from that career path.

Fast-forward to 2014 I decided to try a little art again, partly to challenge myself, boost my self-esteem and explore my creativity.  These are some of the reasons that the International Association of Art (IAA/AIAP) created World Art Day. They chose April 15th because it coincided with Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. Known as one of the most famous artists in history, Leonardo da Vinci has become a symbol of peace, freedom of expression and tolerance and brotherhood. World Art Day, established in 2012, celebrates the fine arts and promotes awareness of creativity worldwide. Although I took these two art classes some years ago, I learned art produces a love for learning and creativity. It also strengthens my focus and problem-solving skills.

Painting Wine Glass

The glass painting class provided one-on-one instruction, all painting materials and a wine glass. Since I hadn’t done anything artistic in so long, I wanted more hand-holding and accommodation than others. I shared with my instructor that I was blind and that I needed more verbal engagement than her sighted students. I was pleasantly surprised and excited to discover she had worked with a visually impaired student before and felt very comfortable working with me. The mission was to paint a wine glass and decorate it with a variety of stencils of your choosing.

Empish leaning over and focused on painting wine glass

After donning my painting apron, I washed the wine glass with rubbing alcohol and a cloth to remove all dirt and grime. Next, I made my paint color selections and learned which bowls held which colors. I also touched and felt my brushes for the variations in the bristles. I chose my self-adhesive stencils.  There were several pages to choose from and the instructor described each one. Some were phrases and words; others were flowers and butterflies. Some were small and others were big. I carefully handled the stencils because they were paper thin and had adhesive on the back. I chose a large butterfly for the top and flowers for the base of the wine glass.

Once I got my materials organized, the next step was to paint the whole base of the wine glass with a water brush. This was challenging because it was hard determining how much paint was on the tip of the brush and when more paint needed reapplying. My instructor assisted me with this part. After the base paint dried, I placed the small stencils on top for the flowers, which were in a different color. I used a sponge type brush using the corner of the brush and gently dabbed the paint on the stencil. Once the paint dried, I repeated the same steps with the large butterfly on the upper round part of the wine glass. Since this stencil was a lot larger than the ones, I used on the base it was a little tricky. The stencil was fragile so I was very careful in placing it down on the glass so it wouldn’t easily rip. I cautiously placed it down by sections going from one part to the other and laid down the edges last.

During the whole painting process I used my visual memories and my fingers on my left hand as a guide to determine where to place the paint. I also used my fingers on my left hand and place them around the boarder of the stencil. This helped me to determine the perimeter and how far to move around on the stencil. Once everything dried, I admired my work before my instructor placed it in a decorative gift bag.

Painting Ceramic Pottery

My other class was painting ceramic pottery. This project was a little easier since I had already handled ceramics before. But instead of working with an instructor I brought a sighted friend to assist. We went to a ceramic pottery store in the mall where you select unfinished pieces for decoration. Again, I picked out my colors and the paint brushes. I chose bright bold colors and a round jewelry box for my pottery piece. This time instead of using self-adhesive stencils I used a rubber stamp. I chose letters, flowers and butterflies. Yes, I love flowers and butterflies! I first painted the entire jewelry box; both inside and out. Then my sighted friend assisted with drying by using a hair dryer to speed up the process. Next, she assisted with applying the paint on the rubber stamp. We worked together to determine the distance between letters and the other objects. Once completed, we left the jewelry box on the table to dry.  Later the instructor would glaze and fire. About a week later I was called to come by and pick up my finished piece.

Lessons Learned and Resources

Both of these painting projects were a lot of fun for me. But more importantly they showed me that I could do it. It did require some mental concentration and sighted help but I was glad that I stretched myself and exercised my creative muscle. I know that we are still living under COVID   and social distancing so taking an in-person art class may not be feasible. Still, you can explore art virtually. The IAA/AIAP has suggestions on their website or take a Zoom online class. For my blind and visually impaired readers, check out this encouraging podcast about a blind painter ; and the American Printing House for the Blind provides accessible art supplies  and a Building Your Fine Arts Toolkit Blog. You might not be Leonardo da Vinci but all these resources can support that creative inner artist in you!

Being a Vegan is not Just for White Folks Only

The Invisible Vegan: A Movement Toward a New Consciousness poster with a green background and a black stylized fist grasping an orange carrot. In the lower left corner are the list of the featured performers'.

I recently made some changes to my meal plan and have moved more into a plant-based diet. This change surprisingly has not been too hard because fruits and vegetables are my jam. Even before I started working from home, I would take a salad to work just about every day for lunch. It would be filled with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli and even green bell peppers and onions with a sprinkling of chopped nuts. My co-workers would be eyeballing my lunch as I quickly moved out of the break room and back to my office to eat my crunchy rainbow feast. So, when I heard about The Invisible Vegan documentary by Jasmine Leyva I just had to watch it. Now, before I give my two cents let me give you the summary.

Summary of Invisible Vegan Documentary

The documentary begins with the personal story of Jasmine Leyva, a 30-year-old black actress and filmmaker currently based in Los Angeles. Over the past seven years, Jasmine has committed herself to veganism, both in lifestyle and research. Taking Leyva’s unhealthy childhood growing up in Washington, DC as a point of departure, the film interweaves her narrative with the professional and personal experiences of a prominent group of vegan activists. The film integrates interviews with popular culture luminaries including Cedric the Entertainer (actor and comedian), John Salley (former NBA player and wellness advocate), and Clayton Gavin (aka Stic of the hip-hop duo Dead Prez).

The Invisible Vegan also explains how plant-based eating is directly linked to African roots and how African-American eating habits have been debased by a chain of oppression.

Africa, Slavery and Soul Food

AS I sat and watched the 90-minute film, I was nodding my head and saying, “Yes, that’s right, that’s right!” Sounding like people in the amen corner at church. She was speaking truth to power and I was not too surprised by nothing coming out of this young lady’s mouth. She started out explaining how a plant-based diet came from Africa and how it is not just for white folks. She ticked off the names of Civil rights activists who are vegetarians like the late Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, and Dick Gregory. She mentioned Angela Davis too. This was enlightening because I only knew about Dick Gregory as I had read about his diet plan before. He was a firm believer in better health just as much as in civil rights.

She talked about how our enslaved ancestors were forced to eat the scraps on the plantation. How they made meals out of the leftovers. Yes, this is so true. I remember reading the book Roots and many other slave narratives where scenes played out just like this.  Because of this situation Black people passed down this type of eating from generation to generation. It is embedded in our family and culture.  

So, when she started talking about losing the “Black card” I knew exactly what she was talking about. I am nodding my head again. The type of food our ancestors ate on the plantation evolved into what we call today as soul food.  This includes favorites like fried chicken, collard or mustard greens, okra, cornbread, sweet potatoes or yams and blackeyed peas. It also includes some kind of pork product like ham, pig’s feet, hog head cheese and the all-time favorite for many Black folks – chitlins! So, if you are a Black person and don’t eat soul food then you can lose your Black card and be called out. That is not a good situation. Believe me I have been there myself. Not for being a vegan, like Jasmine, but for my efforts in trying to lose weight. Many of these items are not healthy and/or not cooked in a healthy way. So, believe me, I get it. She also talked about how eating soul food is not just the food itself but about a sense of being and belonging. These foods are comforting and connect us to our family, history and legacy in this country. If you don’t think so, go back and watch the classic 1997 movie Soul Food.

Challenges of EatingHealthy

A head shot of Jasmine Leyva with long dark hair, smiling and leaning on one arm in a casual pose. She is wearing a brown and white sleeveless top and a long silver chain around her neck.

With this being said, it is hard for people to change and move to a healthy diet or even become a vegan for that matter. She shared about her journey to become a vegan and the ups and downs of that experience. When it comes to diet and nutrition our doctors are not well equipped to help because they get little education on it when they are in medical school. They are sometimes more apt to write out prescriptions or recommend surgery. I experienced this myself when talking to my PCP and was fortunately referred to a nutritionist.  There I learned about food groups and how food impacts the body. She also talked about food deserts and lack of access to healthy foods. As they say, “No Whole Foods in the hood!”  I could also relate to that too. I have had to get on the bus and travel miles away to find healthier options. And don’t forget about the cost of healthy food! OMG! Why does organic cost twice as much? Crazy! It takes a lot of work and energy to do all of this which I find very stressful at times.  No wonder it is so easy to grab a hamburger at McDonalds. One thing I found interesting and a bit surprising was how meat processing plants are located near minority communities. I didn’t realize that. I mean I knew about how they treat animals, the hormones and the runoff; but not the location.

No Judgement to Become a Vegan

The last thing about the documentary is that it was not judgmental. Jasmine shared her life journey, laid out the facts, and had other people share their experiences. It was not this hard-line approach. She encouraged you to start where you are. I am not ready to go totally vegan but I thought I could do something like meatless Mondays, tofu Tuesdays or salad Saturdays. You know, ease my way into a plant-based lifestyle.

Although this film is not audio described for people like me with vision loss, I still got so much out of it. I encourage you to check it out especially if you are trying to change your eating habits and curious about a vegan lifestyle. The Invisible Vegan is available to watch now on TubiTV and stream on Amazon Prime