Category Archives: Daily Living

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.

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

My Treadmill is Used for Walking Not a Clothes Hanger

Empish on Treadmill

National Walking Day

One day I was having my treadmill serviced and the maintenance guy told me, “I can tell you actually use this treadmill. It is not a clothes hanger like my other customers.” I had to chuckle when he said that because he was right. Although that compliment was said some years ago, it still holds true. I walk on my treadmill as a form of staying healthy and exercise. Even more so with COVID as it helps with my mental well-being as I continue to shelter in place. I walk a couple of times a week and plan on walking today to honor National Walking Day, started by the American Heart Association as a way to encourage and educate people on the health benefits of walking.

I started walking as a form of exercise in college. Many sunny days in Florida I would lase up my tennis shoes, pop in a cassette tape into my Walkman, and start walking through my neighborhood. Other times I would walk to campus, work, visit friends or to run errands. Ah, those were the days. Walking in the warm weather with the wind blowing softly in my face, and bobbing my head to the latest hit song. When I graduated and moved to Georgia, my walking outdoors abruptly stopped because there was little to no sidewalks and even less respect to pedestrians. I remember when I first arrived reading an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about the number of pedestrian fatalities. Yes, that is correct. People dyeing while walking around Atlanta. Well, that wasn’t going to be me. So, I had to figure out other ways to workout. It was a struggle because shortly after I moved, I began to go blind and the traditional methods of exercise were lost to me. Yet, at the end of the day walking was still a possibility. I just had to move it indoors onto a treadmill. So, that is what I did. I purchased my first treadmill in 2003. You won’t believe it but old faithful is still going strong after all these years! I walk for about 30 minutes a couple of times a week. I have long since let go of the cassette tapes and Walkman and now listen to music on my stereo with handheld remote control. Or sometimes I will watch TV, listen to an audiobook or podcast. Here are ten benefits of why I use my treadmill for walking not a clothes hanger.

Benefits of Walking on a Treadmill

1.  Treadmills are designed to be easier on your joints, which is great for me and the arthritis in my knee.

2.  The weather doesn’t stop me from walking.

3.  I can walk anytime of the day or night.

4.  As I said before I have watched TV, listened to an audiobook, music or podcast while walking on a treadmill.

5.  Treadmills have cup holders for your water bottles, smartphone, and other items so you don’t have to carry them.

6.  Treadmills allow you to walk at a constant speed and rhythm, which can be helpful if you tend to walk too fast or have problems pacing yourself.

7.  You can hold on to the handrails for stability if you have balance problems.

8.  If you have allergies, outdoor pollution or poor walking conditions in your community walking on a treadmill is a better option than walking outside.

9.  Treadmills can keep track of heart rate, speed, time and calories burned.

10.  You can program the treadmill to set the speed, incline, and difficulty of your walk and change this whenever you want.

I have been able to take advantage of just about all of these benefits of walking on a treadmill. Additionally, my blindness doesn’t impede me from its usage, with some simple braille labeling my treadmill is fairly accessible.  As a result, my mental and physical health has improved. The ability to have a stable and consistent form of exercise at my fingertips is critically important to me. That is why my clothes stay in my closet and not hanging on my treadmill. I encourage you to make a commitment to yourself, if you haven’t already, to get some form of physical activity going. Use this day of observance as your jumping off point and get out there and walk.

Maintaining Happiness During a Pandemic

Empish sitting on mat in a yoga prayer pose

Today people are celebrating the International Day of Happiness. Is it possible to be happy or to maintain happiness during a pandemic? Yes, I think so. First let’s look at the definition. According to Merriam-Webster the word happiness means “a state of wellbeing and contentment.” Now, I take this to mean that it is a mindset or a decision you make. I can determine to be happy or not even in the middle of a crazy situation. In thinking about the decision to be happy, this year’s theme is “Keep Calm, Stay Wise and Be Kind.” I reflect on how relevant this theme is to the coronavirus and its one-year anniversary also this month.

Keep Calm. One of the biggest things that has exposed my resilience and maintained my happiness has been my ability to keep calm. It is not to say that there have not been days during this past year that I didn’t feel anxious, worried or stressed out. I remember last year dealing with my inaccessible mobile banking app and struggling with online grocery shopping. Both situations had me pulling my hair out and gritting my teeth! I ended up having to step back, regroup and figure out another solution. My mental health was not worth it in the end. I was determined to focus on the things I could control. To breathe. To remember the things to be thankful for in my life. I also stayed away from things that would cause me extra stress like watching too much news, scrolling social media and talking to people with negative energy.

Empish Holding Shopping Cart

Stay Wise. You don’t have to be old as dirt to be wise. I have learned over the years   to seek wisdom in multiple ways. Asking for help from God, people and even a frog. I also like to watch and pay attention to people around me. You can learn a lot from other people’s life experiences and mistakes. Things you can do or avoid. Lastly, seeking information from reputable sources. This I did especially when the virus struck. Checking out multiple sources of information and doing some research has helped me maintain my happiness during this pandemic. It has relieved my stress and worry. Helping me to stay focus and centered.

Be Kind. I have always been told it doesn’t take much to be kind to someone. It can be in your speech or in your actions. During this past year and even now, the coronavirus has got people on edge. Folks got a short fuse and it don’t take much these days to set someone off. Even this cancel culture where the slightest thing said or done goes viral and a person can get shutdown.  I have to remind myself that people got a lot going on. To not make the wrong assumptions and to give the benefit of the doubt. To slow down and to be kind.

Kindness can come out in being considerate and showing compassion. Many people are grieving. Whether it has been the loss of a love one or friend to COVID-19. The loss of employment or a business. The loss of experiences like proms, parties, graduations, and special celebrations. The loss of meeting with others on a regular basis. People are grieving so being kind can go a long way in showing that you care.

Empish on Recumbent Bike

I have also been able to maintain my happiness during this pandemic by indulging in things I love like reading books and watching movies. I have kept a daily work schedule and exercise routine. Having some kind of normalcy has made me happy and given me a feeling of control over my life. Realizing this too shall pass has helped me too. Of course, I have no idea how long we will continue to be in this shut down but I know it will not be forever. I know that perseverance is in order. Staying focus on the end goal of keeping safe. Practicing the 3 W’s: Wash your hands, wear a mask and watch your distance.  Lastly, knowing that the vaccine is here and we are turning a corner has given me some peace and joy.

Organizing Your Home Office in Four Manageable Steps

One thing that people who know me say all the time is, “Empish, you are so organized!” Some say it with awe. Others with annoyance, envy or pure astonishment. But regardless of the reaction I know the statement holds true. See, I was raised by parents that believed everything had a place and that when you finished using something you put it back were you found it. They also believed in cleaning up after yourself because there were no maids in the house. So, along with them instilling those principles and my Type A personality you can better understand why I am the organized person I am today. This is why I feel pretty confident telling you in this blog post how to be organized too. I also thought it was perfect timing to bring up the topic because today is Organize Your Home Office Day.

More and more people are working from home especially since COVID-19 struck. Therefore having a clean and clutter-free work space or office is critical to your productivity. If you got papers, trash, empty food containers and stuff all over the place it will make it hard for you to get any meaningful work accomplish. If your files are disorganized you will waste precious time hunting for important documents when it is time to look causing stress and frustration. Now who wants any of that? So, let me help you out a little bit. I got four manageable steps to whip your home office into tip top shape. By the time you are done applying these steps your office space will be nice and clean. You will be happier and who knows, you might even want to get some more work done.

Four Manageable Steps to Organize Your Home Office

Okay, so here is step #1. Clean off your work desk. Organize your work station. That means any papers, files, books, mail, etc. on your desk and put them in their proper place. Get a desk caddy for your pens, tape, stapler, and other office supplies if you don’t already have one. Wipe and dust off your desk and computer monitor. Also, clean your keyboard and/or mouse because they can hold germs. I have found it is good to do that from time to time because our fingers touch so many things during the day.

A standard home office file cabinet with two drawers. The top drawer is partially open to show files inside.

Next, move to your file cabinet. I have gotten in the habit of purging my paper files about once a year. I try and do it around the beginning of the year or tax time. I take out dated documents and papers I don’t need anymore. I also check my print and braille labels to see if they need a refresh because they become worn over time.

Something that I have been slowly doing over the years is migrating my paper to electronic. For example, bank and credit card statements, medical records, home repair invoices, I do electronically now to reduce my paper footprint. I also have found it a better approach since I am blind, I can access those documents with my screen reader verses trying to get a sighted person to read pieces of paper for me. 

A paper shredder and a clear bin with paper being shredded.

Once I gather all the old paper documents the third thing, I do is take them to my shredder. I invested in a little shredder to protect my identity when it comes to documents that have sensitive info like my birthday, SSA number or account numbers. I also shred any medical documents. Keep in mind, if you work from home like I do a shredder could be a tax write off. Just saying Because tax season is here.

The last thing to get organize is go through your electronic files and press that delete button. That could be Word documents, PDF files, old emails, Excel spreadsheets, etc. If you are not using these files anymore. Or like me can’t remember why you have it in the first place, then it is time to let it go. electronic clutter can be just as burdensome as physical. Mark my words. I have spent time deleting old computer files and felt so much better afterward. It was freeing in a way that I didn’t even realize until I actually did it.

Share Your  Home Office Organizing Tips

So, there you have it. My four manageable ways to get your home office organized. Yes, I told you I would help you out.  Even this blog post is clear, concise and clutter free in the approach. But I am always learning and open to suggestions. Are there other steps you know to get your office cleaned up and organized? Share them with me in the comments section.

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.

I’m Networking From Home During COVID-19

Empish Working in Home Office

This is International Networking Week

After working many years in the disability non-profit sector, I have learned a lot of professional skills that have elevated my career. I am sure you have heard of a couple of them like:  Don’t send an email out when you are feeling stressed, angry or frustrated because the outcome could be damaging. Or arrive at work and meetings 15 minutes early so that you are ready to go on time. Or keep clear of office gossip and politics. Yet one of the biggest tools in my career toolbox is networking. In today’s workforce, who you know is just as important as what you know. I feel that for people like me who are visually impaired, it is even more essential to network and build strong working relationships that can help lead to career success. As a result, I have been able to maintain my employment over the years primarily through my connections.

this week is International Networking Week and the perfect opportunity to reach out to current contacts and make new ones. You might be wondering how a person with vision loss networks and meets people? The answer is something I had to figure out through a lot of trial and error. Typical networking advice does not always work for those of us who cannot see so I had to add my own little twist to the experience. Now back in the days of BC (Before COVID) When I attended new events, I would contact the coordinator in advance and let them know I had a disability. This gave them a heads up and allowed time to explain I might need some extra help like a sighted guide as an escort to meet people. Other times I would just come to the function, sit down and converse with people who are sitting nearby. I have learned to not be stressed, put a smile on my face and allow the conversation and interaction to flow naturally. I know that some people might feel uncomfortable with interacting with a blind person so I don’t let that ruffle my feathers and I just take things as they come.

Current Methods to Network From Home

Now with the coronavirus still in high numbers, I am continuing to practice social distancing and work from home.  Gone are the days, at least temporarily, when the typical in-person networking included:  small talk, giving elevator pitches, and exchanging numerous business cards. Usually, networking involved attending large events where shaking hands and meeting face-to-face meant you could form a meaningful connection with another person. I have learned this can be accomplished through networking from home and fits perfectly with the fact I am an introvert . The possibilities of learning about a job opening, getting career advice, finding a mentor, meeting a future co-worker or colleague can all be done from the comfort of my house with my internet connection, computer, landline phone  and  adaptive technology . This is all a part of the new normal; yet the key to successful networking is to get to know people, have genuine conversations and add value.

Empish Using a Landline Phone

The bulk of my home networking has been on LinkedIn. Since COVID I have ramped up my interaction a bit more. I have been trying to have more meaningful conversations and not just reply with the standard auto fill responses. I have also been making more comments on the pages of other fellow bloggers that are disabled or who write. Engaging with others that do the same kind of work I do helps build a connection. Lastly, I started attending my college alumni chapter virtual meeting each month. I have only been to a meeting or two but I am hopeful that being consistent will be fruitful and I will meet people there too.

New Methods to Network From Home

Also, I have been putting my network chops to the test in a new way. I signed up for two online courses related to my work. One is a blogging course and the other is for freelance writers. Both of the courses have forums which are new platforms for me and have challenge me in the way I engage with people. I decided to do it because I wanted to meet new people in my field and build relationships. I am optimistic that out of these courses I will meet some folks I can forge a long-lasting connection beyond the lessons so we can get together and talk shop about the writing life. additionally, because of COVID many writer conferences are going virtual this year which is a perfect opportunity for networking. I have never really attended a writer’s conference because of distance and cost yet this year I might do it.

A Network Challenge for You

My challenge to you is this. What one or two things can you do to move your networking forward this week? How will you engage more with your current connections? How will you make new ones in this time of COVID?

Adding Some Spice to My Life with a Little Braille

A white plastic two-level spice rack with a variety of spices and containers.

January is Braille Literacy Month

I would be remiss to let this month go by and not talk about braille. Although I use it sparingly it is a part of my everyday life and this month is Braille Literacy Month. This is also the birthday month of its inventor, Louis Braille. In my very first post on Triple E I shared about Braille, how he created the code and how I use it daily. I won’t rehash it here but feel free to click on the link and read it.

Back in December or maybe November I ordered a set of no-salt spices from Amazon. I was getting bored with the three options I was cooking with:  black pepper, kosher salt and paprika. Sometimes I would include other seasonings but I needed to spice up my life a bit. So, I ordered this set of 24 spices and got excited about the possibilities. I know, 24 seems like a lot to get started but I can be ambitious and adventurous when I want. Once they came in the mail I had to sit and figure out how in the world I was going to keep track of all of them. I had a lot of spices to choose from and I didn’t want to make mistakes and pick up the wrong one to season my food.  I mean, adding extra black pepper is one thing, but adding extra ground cinnamon or cumin is totally another. Sometimes I would use my sense of smell to determine the differences like sniffing garlic or chili powder. But that is not always reliable especially if I am working with spices I am not accustom to using on a regular basis. This led me to an idea! I decided to use my little braille skills to solve the identification problem.

Creating Braille Labels and Spice List

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

First, I pulled out my brand-new handy dandy braille label gun. I bought that too in December and boy did I need a new one! The old one had problems releasing the Dymo tape, the printed alphabetic numbers and letters were rubbed off and the thing was just old as dirt. Second, I got a sighted friend to come over and help me out. The one cool thing about using a braille label gun is that a blind or sighted person can use it. It has braille and printed numbers and letters on the dial. We tagged teamed the project. We created the spice list in alphabetical order to make things easy. She created labels of 1-24 and I typed up a printed list on my laptop computer. She would tell me the name of each spice and I would type it on the list. Then I would give her the assigned number and she would create the braille label.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

Need Additional Info on Unfamiliar Spices

photo of a variety of spices displayed in tubs on a shelf in a shop

Now my spices are ready to go. Each one has a braille number that corresponds to my electronic printed list that I have stored on Dropbox. Yet I still gotta little more work to do. As I mentioned I bought these spices to attempt something new and there are definitely some I haven’t tried or even heard of. “Anyone know how to cook with ground turmeric?”  “Has anyone heard of Provencal aromatics or seafood aromatics?” If you are scratching your head or furrowing your eyebrow, join the club because I am right there with you. This means back to my computer to do some research. Next, I will be going online and searching around the internet for info on the ones that are unfamiliar and learning how to cook with them. Watch me learn and get ready to burn in the kitchen! Intimidation is not in my vocabulary and I am up for the challenge. I am excited about this new phase; and how using a little braille has added some spice to my life.

Being an Introvert Helps Me Survive COVID-19

Wall of Book Shelves

Reading with My Ears Book Review

Although a vaccine for COVID-19 is on the way this pandemic is not over by a long shot. There are still a lot of unanswered questions that we have to deal with. As for me I am trying to learn as much as I can about the vaccine. I am still wearing my facemask. I am still practicing social distancing and sheltering in place. This all leads me to something very interesting I have learned about myself over the past year. This new but old discovery is that I am an introvert. I sort of kind of knew this about myself for awhile yet when this pandemic struck and we had to shut down I found myself really being okay with it. Don’t get me wrong, I do have my days when I get a little squirrely but for the most part, I am fine with being quarantined at home.

I spoke to a fellow blogger, Steph McCoy over at Bold, Blind Beauty, about it. As I shared my thoughts and feelings, she commiserated with me and recommended a book for me to read that would help me figure some things out. Of course, I am a book lover and at home, so I got time to read, right? This was right up my alley.  So, I downloaded the audio version of The Introvert Advantage: Making the Most of Your Inner Strengths by Marti Olsen Laney and got to learning more about myself.

Summary and Goals of the Book

Before I share with you some of the key points, I gathered from the book, let me give you a quick summary from Bookshare. “At least one out of four people prefers to avoid the limelight, tends to listen more than they speak, feels alone in large groups, and requires lots of private time to restore their energy. They’re introverts, and here is the book to help them boost their confidence while learning strategies for successfully living in an extrovert world. After dispelling common myths about introverts-they’re not necessarily shy, aloof, or antisocial–The Introvert Advantage explains the real issues. Introverts are hardwired from birth to focus inward, so outside stimulation-chitchat, phone calls, parties, office meetings-can easily become too much. The Introvert Advantage dispels introverts’ belief that something is wrong with them and instead helps them recognize their inner strengths-their analytical skills, ability to think outside the box, and strong powers of concentration. It helps readers understand introversion and shows them how to determine where they fall on the introvert/extrovert continuum. It provides tools to improve relationships with partners, kids, colleagues, and friends, offering dozens of tips. Finally, it shows how to not just survive, but thrive-how to take advantage of the introvert’s special qualities to create a life that’s just right for the introvert temperament, to discover new ways to expand their energy reserves, and even how, when necessary, to confidently become a temporary extrovert.” After reading that detailed summary, I knew this book was for me and was a great suggestion from my friend. Now that I have finished the book, I am ready to share the little gems I learned with you about being an introvert and how it is helping me survive COVID-19.

As I was reading there were three goals the author wanted to achieve:

1. Determine if you are an introvert or not

2. How to understand if you are

3. How to nurture your valuable introversion

I Am an Introvert

After reading through the first couple of chapters I realized pretty quickly that I am an introvert. Some of the characteristics are that we have ongoing dialogue with ourselves; and we think too much. Introverts walk around with lots of thoughts and feelings in their head. Yep, that me, especially at 3 a.m. in the morning. That is when I get my best writing and blogging ideas. Who knew?

"Quiet Tea Time" by Kirinohana is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

I also realized that it probably started from my childhood. Funny how so many things in life come from when you are a kid. As I thought back to those days I remember before my siblings came along, I spent a lot of time alone and by myself. Playing solitary games and reading books. Two memories stand out specifically. The first memory was selecting toys from the Sears Christmas Wish Book that I could play mostly by myself. Some kind of way I already knew as an only child that I needed to do that. Second memory is winning the summer reading contest in the 6th or 7th grade and feeling bittersweet about it. I was glad that I won but sad that I had time to read all those books. I realized   that I needed to spruce up my life with some other activities besides reading.

Socializing as an Introvert

I have even seen it in my friendships and romantic relationships. I enjoy hanging out with friends but only for a while then my energy starts to go down. Before the pandemic if I was at a get together, I would set a time for about an hour or two because that was about my limit. Not that I didn’t like the people I was with I would just get tired and want to go home. Now with the men in my life, I tend to date guys who are very outgoing and charismatic. I figure it’s that old saying that opposites attract. But sometimes it would get stressful and complicated because the guy I was dating was ready to roll but I was winding down. I would want a quiet night at home but he would want to hit the town.

I also noticed it with crowds especially after I went blind. I don’t care for large crowds anymore because of the sensory overload and sometimes I feel a little bit anxious. No large auditoriums. No mega stadiums. No large crowded and busy malls. Small groups work best for me. This has come in very handy during the pandemic because there is less chance of spreading the virus if I stay in a little group.

Even better if I stay home and that is what I have done the bulk of the time.

Working as an Introvert

A couple of years ago I made a career change and started working from home. I am a freelance writer and blogger–a quiet and isolating type of work life. I am self-motivated, set my own schedule and don’t need supervision. Unbeknownst to me this job shift complemented my introversion.  Then the pandemic came and we all had to stay home. So, I am reading online about people having to work remotely while I was already doing that. It was a lot of change for people and I felt empathy but I personally was not struggling with it. I began to question why and now I know why. Being an introvert has not only helped me with my overall career but also my blogging during this pandemic. I have written multiple blog posts about how people can successfully work from home. Many of those posts were ideas that came from my personal experience along with research and keeping up with trends.

Final Take Aways and Last Thoughts

The final take-aways are pacing myself and taking on extrovert skills. The last couple of chapters of the book were encouraging and reaffirming as they delt with self-esteem and self-confidence. It is okay to be an introvert. That there is nothing wrong with me and the way I move in the world. I really felt good about that because I have felt that my behavior was not always supported. The author took time to explain pacing and energy levels, how they work and how to restore them. I use to think that taking long naps and cuddling up in my bed to read all the time was a bad thing. But after reading this book I see that it is a part of being an introvert. That it is a part of restoring my energy levels and especially since I have a sleeping disorder. This is called nurture your nature.

But there are times when you will have to take on the skills of an extrovert. I have done that many times in my life. I have friends that would even argue me down with the writing of this post to say that I am not an introvert because I am so friendly, talkative and outgoing. Yes, those things are true but I do them because the situation warrants it. If I am at a gathering or event, I will get out of myself and engage with people there. I will not be a wall flower. I will put my best foot forward, smile and be a Chatty Pattie. I now realize that takes a lot of energy and that is why I stay for a short time and leave. When I get home, I go straight to the bed or sofa to rest. 

This book has been a confirmation for me. I can identify who and what I am. I am able to take better care of myself. As they say knowing is half the battle. Now that I know that I am an introvert I can use this to help me survive COVID-19.

How I Created a Vision Board without Vision

Empish Holding her Vision Board she Created to Get Out of Credit Card Debt in 2012

At the beginning of the year many people focus on their vision, dreams, goals and resolutions. In the past I have made New Year’s resolutions only for them to last a few months afterward.  Or I set goals that I quickly forgot about. Or I didn’t set any at all. But in 2012 I stepped out and did something totally different. For the first time I created a vision board even though I am blind. Today is National Vision Board Day and I am going back in time to share my story. I hope that it will help motivate and inspire you to create your own vision board. I want to encourage you to set goals and intentions for this year and to look beyond barriers or stumbling blocks to bigger and greater things in your life.

The first time I heard of the idea of a vision board was after reading the book The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. I knew people wrote their goals and dreams for their life in a private journal but actually displaying that on a board that you look at daily was a different concept. At first, I just thought that was a very cool idea and dismissed it because I am blind. I thought how would a “vision board” help me with pursuing my goals and dreams? “After all I can’t see the board,” my mind told me. But the vision board concept came up again when I was invited to a women’s community meeting. When I read the invite, I was thinking again this is not for me. I am blind and can’t create a vision board. But since this was the second time it came up, I decided to   investigate the idea. I talked to a blind friend who really challenged me to go to the meeting and create a vision board too. She explained that I should not allow my disability to keep me from fully participating. I thought, “How will I do this?” Then the idea came to me. It was like   that little light bulb over the cartoon character’s head in a comic strip.

My Vision Board Idea

I would create a vision board but it would be a tactual one. Instead of drawings, pictures or written words I would use raised objects I could touch and feel. Before I got started creating my tactual vision board, I had to sit down and think about what my vision would be.  Lose weight? Make Lots of money? Get married? Travel the world? Advance my career? All of those were great ideas but not exactly what I had in mind. Then it came to me – get out of credit card debt.  I had one credit card that I needed to pay off and like a lot of people I was paying the bare minimum, which of course, will take forever! Next, I called an artistic friend and shared my idea. I told her I wanted to create a vision board that would show in one column my debt and in the next column would be a rain cloud with rain falling demonstrating a “rainy day” fund. I wanted to have arrows pointing from the debt column to the rainy-day column to show that I would be moving my money from one place to the other. One thing I have learned about money is that if you don’t assign it to a specific area such as things like vacation, retirement, home repairs or savings you will waste it. So, I wanted to get out of debt and then use that money to create an emergency fund for things that might come up unexpectedly.Board

Empish Writing a Check

Getting Help to Assemble Board

She agreed to help and we headed to Target to pick up supplies. She was great with helping select tactual items from the scrapbook aisle   in the store. I got raised self-adhesive letters and numbers to use for the words and dollar amounts. I got self-adhesive squares to use as credit cards. “Who knew that scrapbook supplies could be also used to create and design my tactual vision board?” Lastly, she helped me select a colorful posterboard to display everything on. As we chose items, I got really excited and realized that I could do this! Woohoo! I was envisioning myself actually creating a vision board. What a concept for a person who is totally blind!

When I got home with all my supplies, I responded to the meeting invite and contacted the coordinators. I wanted them to know that I would need some help assembling my board. They were more than happy to assist and were excited that I was coming. On the meeting day, they warmly greeted me when I arrived and had a table set up for me to use. I explained my vision for my board and we began to assemble the pieces on the board. Before permanently pasting and gluing the pieces down I told them I wanted to touch and feel everything to be sure the board was correct. Once I did, we worked together removing the self-adhesive strips and I pointed to the places on the board where I wanted them to be placed. While they put the pieces down, I got cotton balls and pulled them apart to resemble clouds. Next, we glued them on the board above the tactual raised raindrops to resemble rain coming down. For the square pieces that looked like credit cards we placed raised letters that spelled out the words American Express, Master Card and VISA on top of the squares. We then placed raised arrows between the two columns to show money moving from one side of the board to another. After everything on my vision board was in place, I touched again and felt around to be sure it was exactly what I had envisioned in my mind and a picture was taken of my completed vision board. After that I went to the front of the room and shared, with the 20 plus women assembled, my journey with creating this board. I told them how at the beginning I was not confident about creating a vision board since I had no physical vision. I told them how I decided to stretch myself and venture into doing something I had never done before. I explained the process of how I created my board and encouraged the women to come and check it out for themselves. The women were all impressed, praised me for being creative and finding a way to do this.

What visions or dreams do you have for yourself this year? Have you ever created a vision board? If so, what was the experience like? What about creating a tactual vision board? If not, has this post inspired you to do so? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.