Category Archives: Advocacy

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

Empish Using Audio Described Headset

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.

Warning! A Job Recruiter Tried to Scam Me on LinkedIn

Inside a sign with a white background and red border are The words "SCAM ALERT" in bold red letters.
SCAM ALERT red Rubber Stamp over a white background.

Received Unsolicited Email From Recruiter

Yes, you read it correct. I almost got scammed on LinkedIn by a job recruiter.  In January I got an unsolicited email from a recruiter stating she had viewed my profile and I was a “great fit for an amazing opportunity.” She went on to say that they were looking for a person to fill a remote, work from home position as an administrative assistant.  If I was interested all I had to do is reply and send my resume. After reading this initial email nothing stood out to me that was off. But before replying I did go on LinkedIn and look at her profile and from what I could gather it looked legit. So, I did reply and send my resume.

She responded back with more details about the position, including the start date, that it was part-time and a detailed list of work duties. She also indicated no interview was required and gave the weekly salary amount. Since this was a remote virtual assistant position, she talked about the software program I would use and that training would be provided. She told me that if I was still interested to please send an acceptance letter.

Expressed Concerns About Accessibility

I replied with interest but with a concern. I disclosed my disability and said I needed to talk with the technology department to be sure that the virtual software I would be using would be accessible with my screen reader. In her reply she didn’t address this but just restated I would get training. That is when my eyebrow began to raise. I have been blind for about 20 years using adaptive technology the entire time. Meaning, if a computer software program doesn’t work with my screen reader then I can’t use that software. It is not something to take lightly or dismiss. Those of us in the blind community deal with this all the time. We come across inaccessible websites, apps and computer programs. There are work arounds but we have to talk about it and figure things out. Yet I didn’t pick that up from the recruiter. I got the impression she just wanted to move forward.

She sent me an email giving more details about testing and equipment for the job. This is when the red flag was raised and I knew clearly this was a scam. In the message she asked me for my mailing address so a nearly $3,000 check could be sent to me. This check was to cover the purchase of my equipment and first week’s pay. I had heard about scams like this from listening to the Clark Howard Show, a local consumer advocate.  I politely responded telling her I would have to decline the offer because I couldn’t get a clear answer on the accessibility of the software. I also went back to LinkedIn and her profile was mysteriously gone.

Reporting the Job Scam

Next, I went to LinkedIn to find a way to report the scam and had a hard time finding the info. Under the Help section, I came across this great article written by Biron Clark on how to spot and avoid job scams. After reading it I was looking for some kind of “report a scam” type button. I was disappointed that LinkedIn didn’t have it right there with the article. After discussing this issue with a friend, she helped me find the form to report the scam but it was in a location I wouldn’t have ever thought to look.  It was in the “safety center.” I filled out the form and a representative contacted me rather quickly asking for more details, which I supplied. But once I asked for the findings and resolution, I was told that due to privacy I wouldn’t be allowed to know. This of course was disappointing but there was not much I could do about it. I left feeling a little taken advantage of and deflated. So, I decided to write this post and share with you as a warning and to help me reclaim some of my power.

As I started researching to write this post, I came across lots of articles on line about this topic. There were even ones specifically about job scams on LinkedIn. Apparently, this is a hot button issue especially with the coronavirus causing people to look for jobs and work remotely.  Since I was already working from home beforehand, I was not paying close attention to all that was happening.  But now I am! There is all kinds of tips and tricks on how to avoid job scams. So, I encourage you to read up on this so you can be safe. When I think of a scam it is usually financial, some kind of email or someone trying to hack into my computer. Or some phone scam like the IRS or Social Security calling. I had not considered job scams like a recruiter reaching out to me about a job that didn’t exist and for that matter neither did they.

Let’s discuss job scams. Have you ever delt with a job scam? If so, how did you handle it? Waht advice would you give to others to avoid  scams like these?

The Differences Between Living with Low Vision and Total Blindness

Black and White Photo of Amy Bovaird

Editor’s Note: Guest blogger, Amy Bovaird is a good friend and fellow peer advisor at VisionAware. We have been online friends for many years and lovers of the written word. Here is her story about living with low vision.

Everyday Misconceptions of Low Vision

Several years ago, my boyfriend’s housemate told him, “Amy can’t be blind, she makes eye contact with me.” In another situation, I was reading an excerpt from one of my books to members of a Rotary Club. Afterward one of the group members raised his hand and said, “You’re not really blind. How could you read that book?” Sometimes children come up to me and ask about why I use a white cane. When I explain, they often say, “But you don’t look blind!” One summer a Lions Club group sought out help to serve their famous BBQ at their fairground stand. I volunteered. Being a lion from another club, the leader took me on, albeit reluctantly. She put me at the end of an assembly line adding bread and butter to the plate.

Each of these situations perpetuate an inaccuracy or mistaken belief about blindness. I am legally blind but not completely blind. I am one of many who still has some useable vision, albeit not always stable or reliable. In fact, 15% of the people in the city where I live, Erie, Pennsylvania, struggles with some degree of sight loss. That is about 200,000 people. Many individuals never pick up a white cane. They simply manage the best they can, often keeping their loss to themselves. The amount of sight loss varies from person to person. It’s not liked a light switch, with one setting—on or off. Blind or sighted. There is a large continuum in between. That’s where meeting those with low vision often becomes cloudy. I want to clear up some of the confusion with you today.

February is Low Vision Awareness Month

February is both Low Vision Awareness Month and Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) Awareness Month, making it the perfect time for me to share my story. I have Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare, hereditary eye condition characterized by progressive sight loss. One in 4,000 people live with it. I first started to notice it in my late teens. My visual field narrowed and I had trouble in low light (at night or in darker environments). This progressed to tunnel vision, restricting vision more and more. It took me more than a decade before being diagnosed with RP. I was told I would “go blind.”  In 1988, even specialists did not distinguish between low and / or no vision. Some of the challenges are similar and some are quite different. Both are manageable with the right mindset.

Addressing Misconceptions of Low Vision

Let’s revisit those situations I started off with in this blog post. I could still make eye contact with my boyfriend’s housemate because I still had my central vision, which was quite strong at that time. I had lost—or was in the process of losing—my peripheral or side vision. Others with low vision may also be able to appear as if they can make eye contact, even if they have lost some of their central vision, the reason being—our brain can “remember” and connect with people to make it look like one is making eye contact even if he or she cannot actually see the person’s eyes. So yes, legally blind people can make eye contact.

Now, sometimes when I tell the story of the gentleman from the rotary club who believed I was not really blind because I could still read print, I smile. The belief about blindness, or any ingrained stereotype, pervades. Earlier in my talk that day, I had explained to the group about how those with low vision had different degrees of sight loss, which met the “legally blind” criteria. After his comment, I showed him the Large Print book I read from. It was a size 18 font and said any smaller print would be indistinguishable. Sometimes it requires patience and reminders to others. People don’t see their perceptions as limiting or that they need to reframe them.

Since even children believe those who are blind look a certain way, this shows how deep the stereotype exists in our culture. The truth is there is no specific way a blind person “looks.” To teach this aspect to school children, I created a video called “The White Cane Song,” a collaborative effort by Melissa and Larry Beahm, a professional duo of singers, and me. It educates about the use of a white cane and also about the spectrum of sight. One of the lyrics reads “I have some degree of blindness. But I use my cane to help me through.” The video shows two young girls and me walking down the sidewalk with our white canes. Some friendly townspeople let us pass. The song has a catchy tune and demonstrates how children with sight loss can pursue hobbies. The children learn yoga in the video. It’s important to educate children to create an environment of empathy and inclusiveness in the school place.

The final example is harder to combat. It’s sometimes difficult to change the low expectation society places on those with low vision. I could easily manage the task given to me at the barbecue yet the leader came to me frequently to ask if I needed help. My role was to give them assistance. I learned from that experience to clearly communicate my abilities. This misunderstanding took place with a member of an organization tasked with “Being a beacon of light for the blind” by Helen Keller. It becomes imperative to share our truths, especially in an organization who provides support to the blind. We need to bridge understanding and build teams of outreach to teach others who know even less about sight loss. Like every other person, those with sight loss have skills, talents and natural abilities. We are more than able to contribute to society. I call myself “The low vision motivator with high expectations.” We have much to contribute to society and need to overcome that limitation in all social circles.

Living with Low Vision

So, what does life with low vision look like for me? I lead an active life. I am a teacher by trade, and a storyteller by nature. So, when my sight loss made managing a classroom too problematic, I decided to turn my hobby into a second career. It combines writing, educating and telling stories within two arenas – faith and sight loss. When I finally got past some of the fears being blind threw at me, I started writing about my slice-of-life situations. And I always found important life lessons. So, I share these in my memoirs and at my speaking engagements.

I now have come to terms with my five degrees of limited sight. With RP, this will decrease as my condition continues to deteriorate. However, I am optimistic about the quality of my life and I want to pass on that optimism with others.

The Six Factors of APPLY-G

6 factors have helped me maintain a positive outlook despite my unstable and unreliable vision. I call it hide-and-seek vision because it seems to be playing this game with me. Daily I remind myself to Apply-G because these factors are really ingredients in my personal sunscreen. They are:  Attitude, Power, Patience, Laughter, Say Yes to Change, and Gratitude. When I add this sunscreen to my life, it prevents me from getting burned!  

1.  Attitude is an area of constant rephrasing for me. Being viewed as “accident-prone” because I couldn’t see something hurts my psyche. I once dropped a stack of text books on the floor thinking it was the edge of my teaching table. Live that one down!  But I have learned to show kindness and empathy to myself and look at my situation in a more positive frame of mind—whether that means downplaying it, joking, explaining or establishing a life lesson.

2.  Power comes with choice. Since I can’t control what my eyes show me, or what I can or can’t see in a given moment, I have to choose how to respond. Making that decision reminds me, ultimately, I am still in control. That feels good!

3.  Patience has taught me to s-l-o-w down. Typically, I move fast. But since I can’t see well, it’s an accident waiting to happen. I am getting better at slowing my pace down.  Also, patience teaches me I can still pursue my passions. For example, I am discovering I can do many of the same things I used to do, such as running and teaching if I am patient enough to adapt my style. Recently, Zoom has given me new opportunities to teach English. I have trouble moving around safely in a physical classroom—which was my style—but online, I can keep my active personality and still teach my students the tenets of English. It’s not quite the same, but I am back “in the driver’s seat!”

4.  Laughter is healing, so I write and speak about mishaps. It helps me to enjoy my life, and makes me more approachable to others.

5.  Say Yes to Change enables me to get out of the doldrums. I give myself permission to stop what I’m doing and choose another activity. I take a nap, call a friend, go for a run or write in my journal and I begin to feel better.

6.   Gratitude is the secret substance to giving me my outlook.I keep a journal where I thank God for what he has done, or will do in my life, if I don’t see it happening now.  I find gratitude reminds me to live in hope and joy. Gratitude is The. Key. Ingredient. It makes all the other elements flow smoothly. I love the picture this paints in my mind.  I have only to recall the worst sunburn of my life when I sunbathed on a cloudy morning on the equator without any sunscreen. I didn’t think I needed it with the clouds covering the sun. The painful red as a lobster memory along with the visual to APPLY-G reminds me of the importance to Add sunscreen liberally. 

Chat with and Learn More About Amy

It’s been wonderful to share my thoughts with you today. I would love to hear your comments and any questions you might have about Low Vision Awareness Month or my eye condition, Retinitis Pigmentosa.

Amy Bovaird is a freelance writer,  ghostwriter, the author of the Mobility Series and the Finding Joy After … Series. She is the recipient of the “Distinguished Merit of Literature” by Ohio Valley University for her first memoir, Mobility Matters. A former ESL instructor, world traveler and inspirational speaker. She peppers her talks with faith, humor and culture. Amy is legally blind and losing her hearing. But she advocates living your best life, one rich in gratitude. Amy now lives in northwest Pennsylvania in the same house where she grew up. She strives for the upper hand with her three lively cats, and on most days, fails miserably. Learn more about Amy at her website.

Black Female Research Scientist and Inventor Advocates for Better Eyecare and Treatment of Blindness

A black and white photo of a young Patricia E. Bath

Patricia E. Bath

This month is Black History Month and I am so excited to share about this phenomenal woman I learned about from the podcast called Encyclopedia Womannica. I have been a listener and subscriber for a long time now, at least 2 years, and every day I learn about some incredible woman and what she has done in the world. Well, this time the woman was Patricia E. Bath. Much like our US Vice President, Kamala Harris, Bath, was the first in many categories. Let me list them for you:

1.  The first African-American to complete a residency in ophthalmology

2.  the first Black woman to receive a medical patent 

3.  The first American woman to be named a chair of ophthalmology.

Bath’s Early Years

Obviously, being the first to open the door is no joke and I can imagine that it took a lot of courage, strength and tenacity to get there. But Bath also got her grit from her parents as well. She was born in Harlem in 1942. Her father was the first Black motorman for the New York City subway system; and her mother was a domestic worker.  Both of her parents supported her curiosity about the world and interest in science. Her dad was a world traveler during his days as a merchant marine, which gave him colorful stories to share with his family. Bath was particularly intrigued with the story of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a medical missionary, who dedicated his life to treating leprosy in the Congo.  Her mother’s contribution was using the earnings from her job to purchase Bath’s first chemistry set.

In high school she was one of a few students selected to attend a cancer research workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The head of the workshop was so impressed, he included her findings in a paper he presented at a conference. Bath completed high school in two years, and went straight to Hunter College where she graduated in 1964. Next, she attended Howard Medical School in Washington, D.C.

Bath Notices Differences in Care Between Blacks and Whites

Finished with her degrees, Bath accepted an internship back home, at Harlem Hospital. The succeeding year, she also began pursuing a fellowship in ophthalmology at Columbia University. While traveling between the hospital and the university, Bath noticed a stark difference in the number of blind or visually impaired patients at Harlem’s eye clinic compared to Columbia’s despite how close the two facilities were located to each other. The one notable difference was that Harlem’s patients were largely Black while Columbia’s were mainly white.

Man Getting an Eye Exam

Drawing from her childhood curiosity, Bath led a retrospective epidemiological study. She found that blindness among the Black community was double that of whites. She concluded that high rates of blindness among African-Americans was largely due to the lack of access to care. She convinced physicians to offer surgeries at the Harlem clinic. And she proposed a new discipline called community ophthalmology. This new discipline combines elements of public health, community medicine and clinical ophthalmology to support underserved communities. Screenings were done for eye threatening conditions like glaucoma and cataracts. Volunteers were sent to senior centers and daycare facilities in the community. Children in need of glasses were identified early, giving them a better chance at school success. This discipline is still practiced worldwide today.

Bath Breaks Race and Gender Barriers

Bath began the final stage of her training at New York University In 1970. She broke a racial barrier by becoming the first African-American ophthalmology resident in American history. Shortly afterward she married a fellow physician and they had a daughter. A couple of years later Bath and her family relocated out west to California where she broke another barrier by becoming the first woman faculty member in UCLA’s Ophthalmology department. When she was hired, she was offered an office in the basement next to the lab animals. Instead of accusing her employer of discrimination Bath worked on getting more appropriate office space. By 1983, Bath was the chair of the department, and breaking yet another barrier by becoming the first woman in the US to hold that position.

Bath Invents Device to Remove cataracts

Bath believed that eyesight was a human right so in 1977, she and several colleagues created the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness. They traveled around the world training volunteers, teaching, speaking and experiencing different cultures. During her travels, the most common cause of blindness she saw was cataracts. So, she decided to do something about it and in 1981 she invented a new device and method for treatment called the  laserphaco probe. The probe is a fiber optic laser surrounded by irrigation and suction tubes. It lets surgeons to remove cataracts in a matter of minutes. Not only was the process quickly sped up, but it minimized the patient’s pain.

A color photo of an older Patricia E. Bath

During this time, Bath’s concept outpaced current technology. She spent almost five years conducting research, trials and development work. In 1988, Bath broke another barrier becoming the first Black woman doctor to receive a patent. Today, the probe is frequently used around the world, and revolutionized the way cataracts are treated. Bath used her device personally restoring vision to several people who’d been blind for over 30 years. But in 1993, she retired from her position at UCLA to focus on telemedicine. She held positions in telemedicine at her alma mater, Howard University, and at St. George’s University in Grenada. In 2001, she was appointed to the International Women in Medicine Hall of Fame. Bath died on May 30, 2019, from complications with cancer. She was 76 years old.

I Voted Early in Person for the 2020 Presidential Election

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

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

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

Empish at Paper Voting Machine Demo

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

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

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

Close Up of Accessible Voting Keypad

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

Blindness and Disability are Popular Themes for October

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

Man Getting an Eye Exam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Its a White Cane Not a Stick

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

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

Little Black Girl Wearing Braids and Walking with White Cane

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

The White Cane Becomes White

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

A Tool for Mobility

Empish Holding White Cane at Street Intersection

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

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

White Cane Safety Day Passes

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

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

What the Law States

Here is a summary of the law:

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

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

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

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

Census 2020

Thirty Days to Census 2020 Deadline

If you haven’t heard the news by now, the US Census Bureau is ending all counting efforts for the 2020 census on September  30, a month earlier than previously announced. So that means if you haven’t filled out your form time is ticking and the opportunity to be counted is quickly closing. I completed my census back in March and found the experience fairly easy, stress-free and very accessible so much so I am sharing my experience with you. If you have not filled out your census form, I encourage you to do so in the next 30 days.

2020 Census is Totally Accessible

I found the 2020 Census totally accessible. In the past I would have to get a sighted person to read the questions and fill out the forms for me; but this time around I was able to handle the whole process independently. Historically people with disabilities have been under represented and so this year strong efforts are being made to make the census inclusive and accessible to everyone. A downloadable and printable Census Bureau fact sheet on accessibility is available to learn more about these efforts.

Once I got my census documents in the mail, I went on line to the census website. I use a screen reader called JAWS which stands for Job Access with Speech. This screen reader allows me to access the Windows operating system such as Word, Excel and Outlook. I can also access things like PDF files and get online with Google. I am even able to write this blog and manage this website in WordPress! It has allowed me to work, live and play as a blind person.

But back to the census. So, I went to the site and logged in with my census ID number. There was a series of questions I had to answer and it took me about 15-20 minutes or so. At the end they had the option to review your answers before submission. Strangely, for some reason that screen didn’t pop up and I could only press the submission button. Next, I got a confirmation screen with a confirmation number and the option to save and print; which I did. I called the census toll free number to alert them to the small hiccup I had with the verification screen and was told that others had had the same problem. They apologized and said they were working on that issue. Aside from that small glitch I found completing the 2020 census to be totally accessible. Additionally, I could have opted to call verses doing the census online. Now, that I am done I want to encourage you to do the same. If you haven’t already here are some reasons why.

Census results help determine how billions of dollars in federal funding flow into states and communities annually. That’s billions with a B! The results also determine how many seats in Congress each state receives. Community leaders and elected officials rely on accurate census data to make funding decisions about education, senior citizen and veteran supports, along with other community allocations. Therefore, it is important to have accurate numbers. Everyone must be counted including people with disabilities! The Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention (CDC) says nearly 1 in 4    people in the United States has a disability with nearly 5% having a visual impairment. This means that having some kind of a disability impacts all of us.

Census data plays a vital role in people’s everyday life Even though the census comes around once a decade. Specifically, census data determines allocations for real-life necessities like health care, public transportation, special education grants, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other benefits. In addition, the census helps advocates, community leaders and politicians address inequalities in housing, health care, employment and education.

Valid census data also helps ensure fair voting representation and enforcement of voting rights laws. Federal tax dollars cannot be distributed fairly and effectively without an accurate accounting of the population.

Lastly, when completing your census form you can feel confident that your information will be private. Your answers are kept anonymous. They are used only to produce statistics. The U.S. Census Bureau is bound by law to protect your answers and keep them strictly confidential. The law ensures that your private information is never published and that your answers cannot be used against you by any government agency or court. Additionally, no identifiable information about you, your home or business, even to law enforcement agencies can be released.

So, when you get your census form complete it. Go online, call the toll-free number (1-844-330-2020) or get a sighted person to assist you. This year the 2020 census is accessible so there is no excuse to not do your part and be counted.

Empish Working in Home Office

Working and Writing in the Disability Non-Profit World

If someone told me in college while pursuing a journalism degree that 6 months after graduation, I would be visually impaired and later have a career in the disability non-profit world I would have said they were crazy. But that is exactly what happened! During that time, I was laser focused and incredibly ambitious; obtaining a public relations internship each semester. I was determined to work in Corporate America, make lots of money, own a home and a fancy car. However only one of those things happened! I got the home but the rest went out the window. Obviously, God had other plans for my life. I ended up working and writing in the disability non-profit world as a direct result of my disability.  It has been about 20 years and I have no regrets. So, why am I sharing all of this? Well, today is National Nonprofit Day.  This day recognizes the goals and positive impacts nonprofits have on communities and the world. Through nonprofits, awareness, research, and aid reach the people who need it most.

Working at Disabled Non-Profits

This above statement holds true because after losing my vision I needed to understand how to advocate for myself as a disabled person. My career plans for Corporate America didn’t pan out. Plus, I wanted to find a way to use the well-earned journalism degree I had just recently obtained. So, for 7 years I worked at disABILITY LINK, an independent living center that focused on advocacy, peer support and self-determination for people with disabilities. There I learned about ways to speak for myself, advocate for others and the self-confidence to start writing.  My next job was at the vision rehab center that provided the training I needed to be more independent as a blind person. At the Center for the Visually Impaired I worked as their public education and outreach person. I gave speeches, conducted tours, managed volunteer speakers, wrote for the community bulletin and started their blog, SightSeeing. Also, I was side hustling working for two other nonprofits. At Disability Resource Group I was contracted to do public education and community outreach on their breast cancer project. I reached out to disabled women encouraging them to get annual mammograms and supporting them in self-advocacy.

Writing at Disabled Non-Profits

The other nonprofit was Blind Skills, Inc who published Dialogue Magazine. For 17 years I wrote a career column where I interviewed blind and visually impaired people about the types of jobs and careers they pursued. Over the years I met chefs, small business owners, travel agents, property owners, musicians, artists, app developers, school teachers and more. Using my blogging experience and interest in web coding landed me a contract position with VisionAware where I coded and edited blog posts from our visually impaired peer group. Today, I  work from home  as a freelance writer. I have a contract assignment with Outlook Business Solutions, another agency that focuses on helping those with vision loss. There I write and edit blog posts and have written stories for their annual report.

Volunteering at Disabled Non-Profits

Empish with Guest Roderick Parker at GaRRS Studio

While working and writing at nonprofits I developed a sincere passion for the nonprofit world and the mission they have to help those in need. I used my journalism skills in a new meaningful way through a volunteer opportunity at the Georgia Radio Reading Service. Instead of writing I was on the radio in the broadcast world. I hosted and produced a show called Eye on Blindness for about 3 years. I interviewed guest in the blind community on a variety of topics. I no longer volunteer at the radio station but write Occasional blog post for VisionAware and recently wrote a post for one of my favorite libraries and another non-profit, Bookshare about the ADA.

Who would have ever known this would be the direction my life and career would take me? But I have embraced it and am grateful for this wonderful journey; that is still not over. I encourage you to learn about non-profits, support them either as a volunteer or by monetary donation. We need them in our community, society and the world.

ADA 30th Anniversary Logo

Four Reasons I’m Thankful for the ADA

July 26th will mark the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It was in 1990 when I was a freshman in college that Former President George H. W. Bush signed this powerful piece of civil rights legislation into law. On that day, with  disability advocates and policy makers present, the door was  opened wider to more opportunities and access. People with disabilities have struggled with full inclusion into mainstream society for many years and the ADA was passed to help remedy this problem. The ADA has four principals: equality of opportunity, full participation in society, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities. Additionally, there are five titles:  employment, transportation, state and local government, public accommodations and telecommunications. I lost my vision many years after the ADA was passed so didn’t know much about this law or feel its full impact. It wasn’t until the late-90s when I was dealing with employment and transportation that I began to completely understand its authority and be grateful for its existence.

First Reason is Employment

When I went blind, I was young and entering the workforce. My employer was familiar with the ADA and provided work accommodations. I was given magnification devices, low vision aids and later when my vision worsen screen reading software for my computer. Since that time at every job I have received the necessary work accommodations. using these tools have not only helped me to work, but continue working, boost my self-esteem and enhance my quality of life.

Second Reason is Voting

I have been voting since I was eligible, but when I went blind the process changed. Thanks to the ADA I can now vote with accommodations. State and local governments must provide assistance to a blind person whether it is to offer an absentee ballot, read voting information and/or have an accessible voting machine. I have shared about my recent challenges voting in Georgia’s primary elections but it is because of the ADA that I can speak up and advocate for myself.

Third Reason is Website Accessibility

Since I work from home and use the internet constantly, I interact with inaccessible websites daily. Graphics with no alt text, edit boxes that don’t work, check boxes that don’t check and on and on. I also struggle with inaccessible mobile apps on my iPhone. But the ADA says that websites must be made accessible to people with visual impairments. Some folks say that the ADA does not specifically address the internet and was written prior its creation but the world wide web is considered a public accommodation and is covered by this law. A recent lawsuit against Domino’s Pizza demonstrates this point.

Fourth Reason is Entertainment

Empish at Concession Stand Purchasing Popcorn

One of my favorite forms of entertainment is watching a movie. A fast-pace action, suspense thriller, a funny comedy, a classic animation, a gory horror or a sappy romcom—I love them all! But the funny thing is that I didn’t really get into movies until I went blind and couldn’t see the screen! Go figure?! Then I really, really didn’t get into movies until audio description became readily available. The ADA requires that movie theaters provide audio description to blind and visually impaired people so now I can watch the latest blockbuster.

If you are a person with a disability or know someone who is what ways are you thankful for the ADA? There are a lot of things we still have to work on when it comes to equal access and full inclusion. As I shared before, I still struggle daily with website accessibility and mobile apps. I also have challenges with attitudinal barriers because of the intersectionality of my disability, race and gender that I contend with often. However I celebrate the numerous achievements we have made in these past 30 years and look forward to more success.