Category Archives: Entertainment

Audio Description Helps Me Keep a Thanksgiving Day Tradition

An orange background with the words “Happy Thanksgiving Day” in block script

This time of year we celebrate the holidays and  its traditions. Thanksgiving brings on lots of food, family and fun. One major Thanksgiving  tradition is watching the Macy’s Day parade.

A Thanksgiving Day Tradition From Childhood

Since I was a small child,  this TV event was a regular part of my Thanksgiving Day  celebration. .  I would get up early in the morning still in my pjs, grab a bowl of cereal  and park myself right in front of the TV. For the next few hours my eyes were glued to the screen  watching the huge helium balloons, colorful and beautiful floats  and listening to the many marching bands.

Each year  something new and exciting happened with the parade . It could be new helium balloon cartoon characters and a list of popular musicians  and entertainers. The marching bands held a special place for me. My mother was in a collegiate marching band and later I attended Florida A&M University, famous for the infamous Marching 100.

A marching band performing with conductor in a parade. The ban is wearing red with white stripes on their pants and caps playing instruments

While I was captivated by all the sights and sounds of the parade my parents were busy in the kitchen preparing our Thanksgiving meal. My dad would do the major cooking of smoked turkey, ham with pineapples, collard greens, mac and cheese and sweet potato pie. While my mother  cooked and prepared the cornbread dressing  with giblet gravy. Sometimes they would call me in to do a taste test  otherwise I was barred from the kitchen until they were done. Of course, I had no problem with that command because the Macy’s Day Parade was on and I didn’t want to miss a minute.

View of the inside of a basket filled with root vegetables like squash, pumpkin, potatoes, carrots and onions

Tried to Continue After Blindness

Years later, as an adult I still continued this Thanksgiving day tradition. Dawning my pjs  and holding my cereal bowl I sat on my sofa and watched the proceedings again. It was just like old times. After vision loss I made attempts to watch it but after a couple of tries I knew it was not going to work.

The Macy’s Day Parade was too visual. Too many things to figure out.  Too many things I couldn’t enjoy anymore. So, for years I let this tradition go and just kept my memories.

What is Audio Description

But about 3 years ago I noticed audio description  became available for this parade. An audio described TV show or movie is when images, scenes, actions and descriptions of the actor’s appearance are described during natural pauses in the production. It allows the blind or visually impaired viewer to know what is happening and enjoy the film along with their sighted peers.

Audio description is available in a variety of mediums such as analog TV, streaming services, DVDs, cable, satellite and movie theaters. Additionally, you can find audio description available at live theatrical performances and museums. The Macy’s Day Parade was audio described live by Descriptive Video Works, Where I sit as an advisory  committee member.

Audio Description Brought Tradition Back

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

I was so excited to reintroduce this Thanksgiving Day tradition  into my life again. Even during the pandemic, The parade aired. Although condensed with a shorter route  and no live audience on the street, it was still great. I got to hear one of my favorite entertainers, Patti LaBelle, sing. Woohoo! This year  was the 96th anniversary. There was  a performance from the Lion King, more balloons, floats and several marching bands. Then a finale of Santa Claus and Mariah Carey singing her famous song, “All I Want for Christmas is You.”

Like the Thanksgiving meal, it just wouldn’t be the same without  watching this parade. I am just so glad and grateful audio description  lets me keep this Thanksgiving tradition. And hopefully for many more years to come.

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

Empish wearing audio description headset at movie theater

National Cinema Day

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

Haven’t Return to Movie Theater

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

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

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

Attending Live Theatre

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

Decision Not Forever

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

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

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

Performances and the Pandemic: How I Attended Live Theatre Safely

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

Enjoy Live Theatre

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

Won’t Watch Theatre on Videoconferencing

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

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

Clear COVID Instructions

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

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

Easy Transportation Arrangements

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

Seating Spread Out

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

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

Are You Attending Live Theatre?

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

Deaf Culture Facts I Learned from Reading True Biz

Two people having a sign language conversation over the computer. One person is at a table and the other is on the computer.

Reading with My Ears Book Review

I recently joined Book Nation for another virtual discussion about the book  True Biz by Sara Novic. The conversation with the author, who is deaf, was noteworthy because she shared about her life and the writing process for the book. But reading The audiobook was such an educational and intriguing read. First, she recorded the sound of ASL dialogue to differentiate from spoken dialogue. Before  this I had never read an audiobook  about deafness where I could hear the  sound of sign language. It made the experience more realistic.

Second, I learned so much about deaf culture  and the deaf community I didn’t know . Although, I am blind, I don’t take for granted I know everything about other types of disabilities. I took this reading as an opportunity to be entertained and learn.

Book Summary

True Biz focuses on three main characters. Charlie, a rebellious transfer student who wears cochlear implants and has never met another deaf person before. As a result, she struggles with communication with the limited sign language she knows. Next is Austin, the school’s most popular kid because of his family lineage  of deafness, but his world is rocked when his baby sister is born hearing. Last is February, the hearing headmistress, a child of deaf  adults (CODA) who is struggling to keep her school open and her marriage intact, yet unsuccessful at both.

The students at the River Valley School for the Deaf are typical kids. They just want to hang out, pass their finals, and have adults stop telling them what to do with their bodies. True Biz is a  story about sign language and lip-reading, disability and civil rights, isolation and injustice, first love and loss. This is an unforgettable journey into the Deaf community and a universal celebration of human connection.

Chapters were separated by the voices of the three main characters with sections on deafness inserted. These sections I found the most interesting as they educated me on deaf culture. Novic was initially resistant to adding these sections to a novel but later reasoned that the hearing community  would  likely have no working knowledge of deaf culture and without  information would lack understanding and empathy. She was right. Here are some of the facts I learned from reading this book:

Finger Spelling Doesn’t Count

1. Use finger spelling only for proper nouns and names. You should look at the shape of the word not the individual letters. This technique is very similar to learning braille. Although my braille skills are limited when I was learning it I was encouraged to not touch letter by letter but get the feel of  the whole word. This would increase my speed and reading comprehension.

Two women have a sign language conversation at a table.

Here’s a fascinating bonus fact I learned about myself. I was a sight speller before I went blind. If the word looked correct then it was correct. Over the years my visual memory  has decreased impacting my spelling. As I was reading this book, I struggled a bit with Charlie. Since she was a finger speller  and her sign language  skills were not sharp. She spelled out everything and I would sometimes get lost in what she was trying to communicate. I would have to rewind  portions to hear exactly what she said.

Meaning of True Biz

2. True Biz is an idiom in ASL. Meaning, in context it is something different than the denotation of the constructed signs and hand shapes. It means true business, seriously, literally, no kidding and real talk.

Deaf Cures

3. The variety of cures for deafness were just as broad  and creative as those I have heard for blindness. One was to insert olive oil, red led, bat wings  ant eggs and goat urine into the ear. Then you have faith healings like the time Jesus healed a deaf man in the Bible. Harsh chemicals like mercury were used. One particular healing technique was to fly the deaf person upside down to correct pressure on the ears. Lastly, we have hearing aids, cochlear implants and stem cells. Early models of cochlear implants actually destroyed residual hearing, and  success could vary  widely. When it comes to stem cells the questions of ethics   and consent arise. Who gets to decide if stem cells should be used or  not for deaf children?

ASL Influenced by France

4. The usage  of what would be later called American Sign Language  (ASL)  was greatly influenced by a sign language teacher named Laurent Clerc  from France. Deaf Schools there were using sign language and when Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, who later founded America’s first school for the deaf, came to learn and observe  he brought  those techniques back to the United States. I thought this fact was interesting because braille came from France too.

Manual Verses Oral Communication

5. Late 19th Century manual language verses oral communication for deaf children was a hot button topic. The thought was if a deaf person could learn how to speak they could better assimilate into  the dominant hearing society. Also, there were strong beliefs around eugenics, championed by Alexander Graham Bell, who had a deaf wife and mother. It was used to forcefully sterilize disabled people. Bell was not a proponent of sterilization. Instead, he believed if deaf people talked  rather than sign they would be more likely to not marry each other and produce more deaf children.

Banning Sign Language

6. In 1880 educators gathered  in Italy to determine deaf education. It was decided to ban sign language worldwide. This ban would be in place for the next 80 years. Some schools like Gallaudet, pushed back and resisted but many others stop the usage of sign language. The history of braille has some striking similarities. Initially blind children  learned how to read by touching raised embossed letters. This process was painstakingly slow. When Louis Braille invented his code it was initially rejected partly because sighted people  couldn’t read and understand  the formation of the raised dots on the paper.

Interesting, how abled body people assume they know best when it comes to people with disabilities. This of course is ableism and can cause great harm.

Punishment for Deaf Children

7. Deaf children were forbidden to sign. If they did, there was severe punishment. Hands were tide, tapped with rulers  or slammed in desk drawers. This decision resulted in fewer deaf teachers, role models or professionals for deaf children to emulate. Further stigmatizing deafness in society.

Black Deaf People Communicated Better

8. I knew that Black deaf people had their own version  of sign language, called BASL. But  one fact I didn’t know  was during the oralist period  they were better communicators. White deaf people were forbidden to use sign language and to speak only. So, sign language teachers  went to segregated Black deaf schools and taught them sign. This resulted in them learning how to communicate better.

These are just a few of the facts I learned from reading True Biz. Learning something while being entertained   was enjoyable. If you are curious about deaf culture  and love a good story, I highly recommend  this read.

We’re with U Concert Helps Blind Ukrainians

People performing and playing music. There are people playing rock, dandcing and rapping.

As I’ve been watching the news on the war in Ukraine I have wondered  what is happening to the people with disabilities there. Are they successfully escaping with their families? Or are they safely staying behind? I know war harms the lives, health and safety of all people involved. but the circumstances are far worse for the millions of people with disabilities and their families living in Ukraine. Getting reliable information in an accessible format  must be challenging. Spotty transportation options  and/or places to shelter safely  are probably  also difficult too. I know just thinking about the basic things of life like food, clothing and shelter, then add a disability  to that equation has got to be incredibly tough.

Benefit Concert for Blind Ukrainians

As a disabled person living miles away from this devastation I  was at a loss  with what to do. Then a few weeks ago it was announced, on one of my favorite podcasts, Mosen at Large, a benefit concert  would be held to help the blind people in Ukraine. This virtual concert would be  an opportunity for the international blind community to contribute  in two ways. First, of course, to give a monetary donation regardless of the amount. Second, to contribute our musical talents and skills to a very worthy cause. I thought this was a wonderful idea and blocked off the date and time on my calendar.

Well, the We’re With U concert was held Saturday, Apr. 16. It ran for about 11 hours or so, reminding me of the days of Live Aid, a benefit  concert  to help the famine in Ethiopia. It was fantastic! I was so proud of the incredible  talent in the community . For hours I listen to singers and musicians. There was a classical guitarist,  trombonist and  poet. All varieties of music were performed  from rock, gospel, classical, operatic, country, reggae and jazz. There were even some performances from the theatric productions of Fiddler on the Roof, Hamilton and the Phantom of the Opera. There literally was something for everyone. The performers came from all parts of the globe-the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Spain, Romania, Ireland, India, Singapore, Germany, the Caribbean and more. It truly was an international  united front to help Ukraine.

Stories About Blind Ukrainians

Not only did I hear wonderful musical selections but stories  from  Ukrainians  themselves. I got  to learn a little  bit about what  people with disabilities are really dealing with, driving home the pressing need more. Stories were told about blind children trying to shelter in place. A story of a  blind person with cerebral palsy  escaping. Another about  accessing braille books in  Ukrainian’s native language.

Multiple Ways to Donate

Empish Writing a Check

During the entire concert opportunities to donate were provided. In the US, people  contacted the National Federation of  the Blind who partnered with the World Blind Union. On their website there  was a dedicated page about the concert and a form  for your donation. The form was accessible and easy to complete. Once done I got an email confirmation of my donation.

For people outside the US, a donation form from the World Blind Union was available. According to their website, The WBU is  the principal organization that represents and speaks on behalf of blind and partially sighted persons at the international level. The WBU derives its strength from its members in approximately 190 countries worldwide. The WBU reflects the aspirations of blind persons for equality and full participation.

The concert started at 2 p.m. with an amount of around $30,000. By the time I started yawning and nodding off at 1 a.m. the total was around $80,000. And this is not the grand total by any means. For people who  didn’t have internet access a phone number was available  to receive a call back. Also, there is probably opportunities to still give  as the weeks progress. Again, I was immensely proud of all that we  were doing to help blind and visually impaired Ukrainians.

Concert was an Opportunity to Give

I have no idea when this war will end but I do take some comfort in knowing that I helped  in some small way. The We’re With U concert gave me the chance to give   not only to those who are currently disabled but  those who will become  so because of this war. As we all know war injuries can result in PSD, amputations, deafness and blindness. I  also  am giving back by writing this post. Hopefully, you will read it. Share  with friends and family. And most importantly, donate  to the people of Ukraine.

Representation Matters: Excellent Audio Description of The Harder They Fall

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

Grew Up Watching Westerns

While growing up in Texas watching westerns were a big part of my childhood, especially on Saturdays. There was Big Valley, Bonanza and The Lone Ranger. In the evenings, my favorite western was  Gunsmoke, starring James Arness as Matt Dillon. I even enjoyed Little House on the Prairie and later as an adult, watching Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.

But rarely have I ever seen a western with Black folks. Maybe a token  character or two. But definitely not a full cast. So, it was to my delight to view the movie The Harder They Fall  with audio description. Although, the movie premiered on Netflix  some months ago, I am just getting around to watching it. But better late than never, right? And boy was it well worth it. The film  has a cast of characters loosely based on real cowboys, lawmen and outlaws of the 19th century American West. It is about revenge, love and redemption. The film stars Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, and Deon Cole.

Popcorn in a red bowl and a mug of a warm beverage on the table with a fireplace in the background.

Representation Really Does Matter

Now when it comes to representation it really does matter. What I am talking about goes beyond race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. It is providing equal access  to information in a film, movie or TV show for those with vision loss. It is the way information is described  and given to me as I engage with the film. Since I am blind watching films with excellent audio description is important to me. I watch  a lot of audio described movies  and I have to tell you  this one was done exceptionally well. Let me tell you why.

Race and Skin Tone Described

From the very beginning of the movie race is communicated. In the opening scene  we view a Black family sitting down to dinner. They are dressed in clothing of the time period. One of the men is described having  dark Black skin with a salt and pepper beard. Too many times I have watched films with people of color in them never knowing that fact. There are times I don’t discover it until the character  self-identifies  by saying in one of their lines they are Black, Asian, Latino, etc. Then I have to  reprocess the scene because  if race is not communicated the thought process is to assume the dominate race which is white.

The audio description didn’t shy away from identifying variations of skin tone. In the Black community we are a rainbow of skin tones-from light skin to medium to dark-and variations in between. Throughout the whole movie skin tone variations were given which I greatly appreciated. For example, a character  was described as a copper skinned man. It gave me context and understanding as to what the person really looked like especially since I had eyesight before. Other movies I have watch stop short and just describe hair and eye color. Some have stepped a little closer and have mentioned  terms like olive  skin tone or just use the generic word brown.

Clothing and Movie Title Described

Detail description of clothing. I was very impressed  because too many times in the movies I watch there is little to no description of what people are wearing. In one scene  a male character was wearing a poncho and black pants. While a female character wore a felt bowler hat. Yet, another male character wore  a Crimson velvet coat. This information is specific and helpful to understanding the time period of the movie  and also giving more equal access to what my sighted peers are getting too.

I Loved the description of the title of the movie, as one of the main male characters shot another character, the words  to the title appeared on the screen one bullet shot at a time. That was clever and creative.

Black Hair Described

Unique description of Black hair. Very rarely do I watch a movie where Black hair is audio described. Every so often I will hear a word like dreadlocks or afro letting me know the character is probably  Black. But in the Harder They Fall I was so pleased by the description of hair. For example, Stagecoach Mary had fluffy shoulder length natural hair and Treacherous Trudy Smith had micro braids.

Final Thoughts

My last observation of the audio description in this movie was how it  was timed well with the music. This is a tricky thing to accomplish because it depends on the type of music  and the scene in the film. Sometimes the audio description can be distracting  or hard to follow because the music overpowers  the scene. But in this movie I found both worked very well together.

The audio description was provided by International digital center  with writer, Liz Gutman, and voicer, Bill Larson. I have noticed their name numerous times in the credits of movies  I have seen. I am very appreciative of their work  and hope to see more of this kind of audio description in the future not only from them but other companies that audio describe as well.

You Butter Believe It, I’m Celebrating National Popcorn Day

Container of Movie Popcorn in a Colorful Cardboard Box

My Childhood Popcorn Memories

Popcorn has been one of my most favorite snacks since I was a little kid. I remember growing up and my mom popping kernels of it over the stove. She would dawn oven mittens and shake the covered pot from left to right. I could hear the kernels rattling in the bottom of the pot. I could smell the aroma of the corn popping. Ah, yes, the sweet anticipation! She had a serous knack or maybe a maternal instinct of knowing just when to remove the popcorn from the stove so that it didn’t burn. She knew exactly how much oil, salt and popcorn kernels to place in the pot. Most times it came out perfect. It was our Saturday afternoon treat along with watermelon slices. We would munch on popcorn watching episodes of Soul Train trying to figure out the scramble board and the latest dance moves.

Microwave Popcorn

Empish getting ready to use microwave

Then the 80s came and microwaves were all the rage. We slowly migrated to microwave popcorn instead of stovetop. This was a new invention and not bad tasting. Sometimes the challenge was getting the timing exact and it was different for different brands of popcorn. The worse thing in the world was the smell of burnt microwave popcorn wafting out of the kitchen. But the cool thing was there was little clean up. Microwave popcorn was self-contained so once the bag was empty just throw in the trash. There was no pots or bowls to wash afterward. And, of course, this new popcorn innovation didn’t stop us from our Saturday afternoon ritual of watching Soul Train. That continued on business as usual.

These days I don’t watch Soul Train anymore but still eat popcorn. Sometimes with my mom. Sometimes with friends. Sometimes by myself. I usually have a bag full at my local movie theater. But since COVID I have stayed home and had my popcorn while watching an audio describe movie.

Other Popcorn Options

I have had popcorn during the holidays. You know those Christmas canisters with the three sections. One for butter, one for cheddar, and one for Carmel. During my Christmas visits home, my family would enjoy one of those canisters while watching TV and sharing family stories and gossip. When my mom and I weren’t eating regular popcorn we enjoyed Cracker Jacks and Fiddle Faddle. I remember Cracker Jacks would come in these little boxes. Along with the caramel coated popcorn were peanuts and a little surprise inside. Not sure if Cracker Jacks is still around anymore. I am sure someone reading this post will let me know. As I got older I moved away from Cracker Jacks and ate Fiddle Faddle which is similar but no surprise inside. Then some years ago a friend introduce me to Poppycock. This one is the best as it is a gourmet caramel glazed popcorn with a variety of nuts like almonds, cashews, walnuts and peanuts. OMG, it is to die for!

Celebrate National Popcorn Day

All of these memories and thoughts of popcorn were prompted by the fact that today, Jan. 19, is National Popcorn Day. There is a National Popcorn Board. Yeah, who knew a board like this existed? Well, they decided to create this delicious day of celebration and I’m all in. I will be popping my bag of homestyle flavored popcorn. But what about you? Do you enjoy popcorn? If so, how will you celebrate this popular snack?

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.