Category Archives: Entertainment

Ever Lee Hairston Shares er Ambitious Life Journey of Blindness

Wall of Book Shelves

Reading with My Ears Book Review

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

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

Ambitious about Education

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

Ambitious About Career

Display of NLS Player Cartridges and Earbuds

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

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

Ambitious about Marriage and Family

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

Ambitious About National Federation of the Blind

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

Films About the Disabled Receive 2021 Oscar Nominations

Container of Movie Popcorn in a Colorful Cardboard Box

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

Feeling Through

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

I saw this film on YouTube and had

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

Crip Camp

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

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

The Sound of Metal

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

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

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

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

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

Empish wearing audio description headset at movie theater

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

The Shark Tank

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

Watching The Shark Tank on ABC

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

Audio Description of The Shark Tank

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

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

The Audio Description Challenge

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

Year 2020 is a Wrap!

Fireworks Display

Well, y’all the year 2020 is a wrap! And boy what a year it has been for all of us. Who what have known all the things that happened this year? Wild fires, hurricanes and floods, police brutality, racial tension, distressing elections and of course the big kahuna COVID-19.  I struggle sometimes just to remember what happened last week with so much going on! I am not going to sit here and write one of those top-10-year-in-review type blog posts because you can easily go online and read that already. But what I am going to do is make a meager effort to do a mini recap of some of the things I blogged about here on Triple E.

I started this blog in January of this year and I was able to successfully write a blog post on a regular basis. My goal was to write a post weekly. I didn’t quite make it but I came very close with 50 published posts and with 52 weeks in a year that is not bad! Actually, that is a major accomplishment with all the craziness going on, managing this blog on my own and having a visual disability. So, I am going to pat myself on the back for this one! Woohoo!

Empish and the Author, Noel Holston at Library Book Signing

One of my first post focused on reading and books. I attended a book signing at the library about a man who experience deafness. I was so taken by his story I not only went to the signing, chatted and took a photo with him afterward, but wrote a book review called Life After Deaf. This one post led me to write many more during the year on this topic of books and the devices I use to enjoy them.  I even connected Black History Month with a book I read on Haban Girma who was the first deafblind black woman to graduate From Harvard. One cool thing about blogging is that you can revise, revamp and reprint old post from the past. I did that a couple of times but noted it specifically when I reposted a review on the March Trilogy by Congressman John Lewis to honor him when he died this year.

Empish at concession purchasing popcorn and other snacks.

Besides my love for books and reading, watching movies runs a close second. Before the coronavirus caused the theaters to shut down, I would go to the movies a couple of times a week. But all of that changed in mid-March and I settled for watching movies at home only. Even when my AMC theater reopened, I decided to not go back and I shared why in a post.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

I have been able to watch movies at home thanks to accessible technology. I wrote several posts this year on how important  this is from being my own tech support to the anniversaries of the ADA and GAAD.

 

The biggest technology change for me this year has been using Zoom videoconferencing. Prior to the coronavirus I used Zoom for one of my monthly book clubs but my usage increased tremendously. This year I started using Zoom for telemedical appointments, exercise classes, socializing and volunteering. I have been Zooming all over the place this year! Unfortunately, all my technology experiences were not positive and I hit some major road blocks. I struggled with depositing paper checks with my bank’s mobile app and my advocacy efforts didn’t provide any relief. I aired out my frustrations here on Triple E. Although I didn’t get a satisfactory resolution from the bank, I was able to from the issuer of the checks.

I felt okay about that and I realized during this COVID-19 crisis that my mental and physical health were more important than ever before.  I wrote about managing my anxiety,  exercising and strengthening my body at home, maintaining good eyecare, wrestling with my lack of sleep, and grieving during a pandemic. Due to all that was happening I made more efforts to keep a positive attitude and pursue happiness in the small things.

Empish Working in Home Office

Now it is time to say goodbye to year 2020. To let go of all that transpired this year and look ahead to the new year. I am excited about the possibilities of what this next year will bring. I have set more goals for Triple E. Writing more interesting stories about blindness and visual impairment. More reviews on books that I have read.  More of my views on current topics, technology and much, much more. So, stay tuned! I look forward to the journey and you coming with me. Let us all have a Happy New Year!

My Traditional Nontraditional Christmas

A Christmas wreath with a red and green plaid bow, red berries, pine cones and three different kinds of greenery.

I know many people are having a hard time this year because they won’t be able to have that

traditional Christmas with their families. The coronavirus has turned our world upside down and many of us are still practicing social distancing, sheltering in place and wearing a facemask. That also means no traveling home for Christmas to see our love ones or having to celebrate with a very small gathering. Well, for me Christmas has not been one of those traditional type holidays. I don’t typically decorate with a tree, lights and all the fixings. I don’t send out Christmas cards anymore. I don’t do Christmas shopping for presents. Now don’t get me wrong I am not a Grinch. I do love and enjoy the holiday season. I am just not beholden to it. For me it has become a traditional non-traditional holiday. Depending on the year and the mood I am in, I will attend a Christmas theatre production, watch an audio described Christmas movie or play Christmas music. I also might even cook a small holiday dinner if I am so inclined. So, with coronavirus shutting us down for the holidays, I don’t have the same emotions around it that some might.

I think my lax attitude about Christmas might have come from my childhood. As a family we had traditions but they never seem deal breakers if we didn’t do them. I remember when I was small every year, we put up this all-white artificial Christmas tree with bright, red shiny bulbs. Then we moved on up like the Jefferson’s and got real pine Christmas trees. My dad insisted on it and I never saw an artificial tree again until I was grown. We did the traditional holiday dinner   but dad did the bulk of the cooking. He would smoke some kind of meet like chicken, turkey or a ham while making mac and cheese, collard greens, sweet potato pies. Mom would chip in baking a cake with pecans on the top. The kitchen would be buzzing Christmas Eve as we listened to R&B Christmas songs on the radio and nibbled on Hickory Farms smoke sausages and cheese logs.

Sometimes we   would travel to Alabama to visit my grandparents but mostly we stayed at home. As I got older and moved away, I was the one doing the traveling back to Texas and it would depend on Christmas or Thanksgiving. I couldn’t do both holidays since they were too close together with the expense and taking time off from work. Some years I did neither. Additionally, I had to incorporate my disability and the complexities that came with it. So those years, I established some of my own traditions like mailing out festive Christmas cards, playing holiday music and preparing a dinner.

A dining table set with 5 place settings, crystal, and candles
A Christmas table setting

After dad died in 1996, mom got artificial trees again but the dinner menu stayed pretty much the same although cooked by others. By that time, we were not particular as we were just glad to be together as a family and the food was secondary.  We would watch TV laughing and talking while snacking on the three-flavor holiday popcorn tin. Or responding to the ringing phone as relatives from Alabama called to chat, gossip and give Christmas greetings.

This year with the coronavirus I am not traveling and that is not so unusual. But I am doing some nontraditional things all the same. To brighten the holiday up for me I decided to mix things up a bit and do some new things. In the past I was such a Scrooge when it came to Christmas movies. I thought they were so cheesy, unrealistic and sappy that I would barely watch them. Well, I have changed my tune and thanks to Netflix and audio description I have been watching quite a few. They actually have been very enjoyable and have kept my mental state balanced and positive right now. I also decided to cook some nontraditional foods this year. No turkey, ham, collard greens, etc. At first, I was going to do Mexican but changed my mine. I decided to do some chicken in the air frier with cabbage. Then make some homemade mac and cheese and vanilla pudding. I have been looking at recipes online and excited about trying new things and expanding myself. I even purchase a set of no-salt seasonings with some new ones I am curious about trying. This pandemic has pushed me to stretch myself and step out and not do the same old same old. Traditions are good but trying new things are even better.

So, what traditions are you keeping for the holidays?  Has this pandemic caused you to make some changes in your celebration? Or are you like me and will have a traditional non-traditional Christmas?

Container of Movie Popcorn in a Colorful Cardboard Box

Enjoyed Three Evenings of Diverse Shorts at the Virtual Superfest Disability Film Festival

The true story of a bi-polar American white woman who joins the circus in Vietnam. A young woman who has Cerebral Palsy and a sexworker share an unusual story of love which challenges social norms. An unemployed disabled actress takes a job advising a film star on how to be disabled for his latest role. An eager to please doll in a wheelchair is placed in the perfect world of the self-absorbed, and must find a way to fit in or be thrown away. A Black woman who uses a wheelchair and wants to be an actress learns that accessibility isn’t just about physical space. These are summaries of some of the short films I saw during the Superfest Disability Film Festival a couple of weeks ago. The 15 pictures featured were written, produced and/or directed by people with disabilities and included actors with disabilities as well.

I watched 1 feature and 14 short films in audio description virtually from the comfort of my home on my computer. In the past the festival was held in the San Francisco Bay area but because of the pandemic they opted to show everything via Zoom. So being the movie lover that I am I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by and especially over a weekend.

Empish Sitting in Front of Laptop Wearing Headset with Microphone

According to their website, Superfest Disability Film Festival is the longest running disability film festival in the world. Since it first debuted in a small Los Angeles showcase in 1970 it has become an eagerly anticipated international event—hosted by San Francisco’s Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University. For more than 30 years, Superfest has celebrated cutting-edge cinema that portrays disability through a diverse, complex, unabashed and engaging lens. Superfest is one of the few festivals worldwide that is accessible to disabled filmgoers of all kinds.

I enjoyed the variety of films because of its diversity not just in subject matter but because they were produced overseas. I have long been interested in foreign films but because of subtitles can’t always view and enjoy them. Yet this time I was able too; seeing films from Japan, France, Italy, Finland and England. I appreciated universal story lines, complex characters and dealing with relatable issues which shows that people with disabilities are exactly that-people. The films didn’t shy away from real topics such as race, relationships, sex, employment, connection and community, rejection, isolation, illness, joy and happiness. These are all things that people can identify with every day.

The other part of the festival was the round table discussion. During the 3-day event there was a panel of people discussing the films, the production and writing process. I also enjoyed this part of the festival because it gave me insight into the world of film making. I learned a little about what happens behind the scenes, what took place to bring these films to the festival and even more so during a pandemic.

As in any large event it takes a lot of work to put all the pieces in place. There were a few hiccups and glitches along the way but I was impressed with how the organizers got things quickly back in place and moving again. As they say in the bus, “The show must go on!” And it did. I will definitely attend this festival again if hosted virtually. It was an enjoyable experience.

AMC Movie Theaters Reopened During Pandemic but I’m Staying Home

Empish at concession purchasing popcorn and other snacks.

On August 20th AMC Theaters finally reopened for movie goers. I got an email update about it explaining the process and how excited they were to offer both new releases and old classics to their customers. They also went into great detail to clarify their Clorox cleaning process, various concession changes,  facemask requirements and how they would operate at 40% seating capacity  or less for social distancing.  Additionally, When I swiped across my phone app, I noticed that they were offering me my belated birthday popcorn, soda and a $10 bonus gift card. I am a major movie lover and an AMC Stubs A-List member meaning that I get to watch 3 movies a week for a set monthly fee. While they were closed, my membership was placed on hold. Although all of these procedures and perks sounded great, wonderful and even somewhat enticing; I have decided for the time to not venture back inside of a movie theater.

The major reason is I just don’t feel that it is safe yet with the coronavirus still on the rampage especially with high numbers in Georgia. Our numbers of cases are not showing a major decrease yet and that deeply concerns me when going outside and socializing. Right now I have just been going out for those basic necessities of life like groceries, medical  and hair appointments. I have not been meeting with friends, dining out at restaurants or traveling to visit family.

Even though AMC is requiring a facemask, except when not eating, I wonder how they will enforce that. I have been to places like the grocery store and even on the bus were a facemask is required but people still don’t wear one. That too concerns me. I am thinking once people get into the actual theater room, the lights go down and the movie starts those facemasks are going to come off. I seriously doubt that the theater will have staff to patrol rooms looking for people who are not wearing a mask or even enforcing it.

The other piece of the facemask dilemma is wearing it for long periods of time. There are no AMC theaters close to my home on public transportation that I can easily get to; so, I have to travel a long distance. That means riding the bus for at least 90 minutes with a facemask. Then when I get to the theater watching a movie that typically is 2 hours long wearing a facemask. Then getting back on the bus to repeat the process. That is a lot of hours with something on my face just to watch a movie! It would be something different if I was going to work but this is entertainment and not essential.

So, I will just be patient. I will wait until the numbers go down. I will wait until there is solid medical treatment like a vaccine available. In the meantime, I will read my movie blogs, newsletters and emails to stay current. I will continue to watch films on Netflix, PBS Video, iTunes; and recently added to my list Disney+. Until things get better my well-vented, air conditioned home and comfy sofa will continue to be my movie theater. What’s your game plan? Now that the theaters are back open do you plan to visit or, like me, stay home?

Every Day is Book Lover’s Day for Me

Display of NLS Player Cartridges and Earbuds

Today is National Book Lover’s Day but every day is book lover’s day in my world. If you have been reading my blog or know me personally you know full well how much I enjoy reading and I couldn’t let this day pass without saying something, right? Of course not. And it being the weekend makes it even sweeter because I can truly relax and get into a good book or two. Honestly, I usually am reading at least one or two at the same time. One on my NLS talking book player and the other on my iPhone.

I have loved reading books since I was a child. My enjoyment began with my parents reading to me bedtime stories from the Golden Book series, which were short stories printed in a hard-bound book with gold trim on the binding. During my middle school years, it was Classics by Charles Dickens and contemporary fiction by Judy Blume. Once in high school and college I was introduced to African-American novels by Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Richard Wright. Even after losing my vision I didn’t quit reading. I did try reading braille for a while but found the process stressful and laborious. So, I stopped with just the rudimentary skills learning my numbers and letters. Today I dig into a good read in audio format.

The ability to escape to another place or time, learn something new or improve my life comes from reading books. Another benefit is the soothing effect and stress relief I gain from reading. Life can get busy and there is lots to do and many things to distract but sitting still and reading a good book slows me down, gives me some peace and helps me to be calm. I encourage you reading this blog to take time today and every day to read a book.

ADA 30th Anniversary Logo

Four Reasons I’m Thankful for the ADA

ADA 30th Anniversary Logo

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

Empish at Paper Voting Machine Demo

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 wearing audio description headset at movie theater

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.

Watching 2020 Oscar Winner Parasite with Subtitles in Audio Description

Empish wearing audio description headset at movie theater

Last week I finally got to see the 2020 Oscar winner Parasite. The Audio Description Project streamed a copy of it during the American Council of the Blind’s annual convention. This film is about the wealthy Park family as their lives are slowly infiltrated by the poor Kim family. They deceive their gullible counterparts into giving them jobs in their home but it has disastrous results for both families. I was very excited about it because when the movie came out last year it caused quite a stir. I had tried to see it then but couldn’t because I don’t understand the Korean language. The movie was available with English sub titles but I couldn’t see them at the bottom of the screen so that didn’t work either. When I went to the theater and couldn’t watch it, I was pretty bummed out. Then when it won an Oscar in multiple categories my feelings were mixed; and I shared about it in a previous post.

Challenges Watching Parasite in Audio Description

So, now here we are and I have seen the film and understand all the hype and buzz. It was an excellent movie and I enjoyed it.  But I did have some challenges when it came to the audio description I want to talk about.   This is not the first movie I have watched where sub titles and audio description come together and I will share more about that in a minute. But I think what was hard for me in this particular movie were a couple of things:

1.  audio description is used to give info between the dialogue of a movie. It is used to share visual elements but when you are using audio description to read the sub titles some of that is lost. So, there were times in this movie where I got lost trying to figure out the scene and what was happening because the describer was speaking the dialogue of the characters the majority of the time.

2. This type of audio description caused me to also get the characters a little confused. I noticed that especially with the male characters. there were a couple of scenes where I couldn’t figure out who was who. There was not enough distinction in their voices for me to know the differences.

3.  Since the audio description was talking on top of the dialogue instead of between the dialogue, I had to work harder to not get distracted and to focus and pay closer attention. Again, audio description is when information is spoken between the dialogue but since this was a foreign film with sub titles the audio description was speaking that too.

Other Movies with Sub Titles in Audio Description

Now with that last point being said this is not the first film I have seen this way. I have actually seen about 4 films with audio described sub titles. Two were at the movie theater and two were at home. I liked all of them. But I think the differences were that there were sprinklings of English and more spacing out between dialogue so making more room to describe scenes and other things. Here are those movies with a brief summary from Netflix.

1.  The Farewell– After learning that her family’s beloved matriarch, Nai Nai, has been given mere weeks to live, Chinese-born, U.S.-raised Billi returns to Changchun to find that her family has decided to keep the news from Nai Nai. While the family gathers under the joyful guise of an expedited wedding, Billi rediscovers the country she left as a child, and is forever changed by her grandmother’s wondrous spirit.

2.  The Warrior: Queen of Jhansi– Lakshmibai, the legendary Queen of Jhansi, gets her due in this moving docudrama. Leading her people into battle against the British East India Company — and by extension, colonial rule — in 1857, she becomes known as the Joan of Arc of the East.

3.  Never Look Away– In this absorbing drama based loosely on the life of visual artist Gerhard Richter, an art student trying to get past the trauma of growing up in Nazi Germany falls for a fellow student. But her father — an ex-Nazi — is bent on keeping them apart.

4.  Everybody Knows– Laura and her children travel from Buenos Aires to the small Spanish village where she was born to attend her sister’s wedding. Unexpected events soon lead to a crisis that exposes the family’s hidden past. Suspicions mount, loved ones begin to turn on one another, and dark secrets long hidden threaten to come to light, revealing shocking truths.

One major thing I have had to do to enhance my enjoyment of these films is do my homework. completing some simple research online beforehand and especially afterward has helped me to enjoy and understand these films. My hope is that as time goes on more and more foreign films will offer sub titles with audio description in English. That the description that is provided will progress so that all of us can have a pleasurable movie experience.