Category Archives: Entertainment

ADA 30th Anniversary Logo

Four Reasons I’m Thankful for the ADA

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

First Reason is Employment

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

Second Reason is Voting

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

Third Reason is Website Accessibility

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

Fourth Reason is Entertainment

Empish at Concession Stand Purchasing Popcorn

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

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

People Watching Movies at Home

Watching 2020 Oscar Winner Parasite with Subtitles in Audio Description

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.

Fireworks Display

Fireworks and Eye Safety During Covid-19

The Fourth of July is coming up this weekend. It is typically known as a time of fun, remembrance and celebration for many Americans. Friends and family gather together to enjoy early morning parades, backyard barbecues, and nighttime fireworks. But with the onset of Covid-19 what will this year’s July 4th observation really look like? I did a little  sleuthing around on the internet and got mix results. Some cities and states are going to proceed business as usual and have gatherings. Others are going to shut them down completely. But regardless of how you celebrate please stay safe and well. I am sharing what I will do this 4th and also some firework safety tips.

Audio Described Fireworks Presentation

Empish Holding Replica of the Capitol and Surrounding Buildings

as for me I have decided for the first time to participate in a virtual audio described fireworks event. The American Council of the Blind is hosting their annual convention via Zoom Videoconferencing this weekend. Part of this event will be an audio description of the 2019 firework display at the Capitol. When I was sighted, I would attend fireworks for the holidays but after losing my sight it was very difficult and I really didn’t see the point. No pun intended! But now that audio description is available, I am going to give it a try and I am pretty excited. Oh, and for those that are saying, “what is audio description?” Audio description is a feature available to us blind folks that uses words to describe what is being seen. It is usually used for TV, movies and live theatre to describe scenes between the dialogue. For example, facial expressions, body language, costumes, movement in a scene and also sub-titles. It enhances the entire experience for those of us who are blind and helps us have an inclusive time with our sighted peers.

Staying Safe from Firework Injuries

If you decide to celebrate the 4th with fireworks at home because of Covid-19 there are ways to stay safe. Fireworks are exciting, fun and spectacular, but don’t let an accident spoil your celebration. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 180 people end up in the emergency room everyday due to injuries from fireworks during the  months of June and July. Lots of those are children, especially teenagers. The typical victim is an unsupervised teen, at home, with a group of friends. They are playing with fireworks and chances are one of them will end up in the emergency room. Some of those injuries are eye-related. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says that fireworks can cause devastating and life-changing injuries that range from skin burns and thermal burns of the eye to bleeding in the eye, retinal detachment, and even a ruptured globe and blindness. In order to stay safe, the CPSC has provided some tips to avoid injury:

1.  Never allow young children to play with, or ignite, fireworks, including sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit—hot enough to melt some metals.

2.  Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy, in case of fire or other mishap.

3.  Light fireworks one at a time, then move away quickly.

4.  Never try to relight or handle malfunctioning fireworks. Soak them with water and throw them away.

5.  Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Move to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.

6.  Never point or throw fireworks (including sparklers) at anyone.

7.  After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding the device to prevent a trash fire.

8.  Make sure fireworks are legal in your area, and only purchase fireworks that are labeled for consumer (not professional) use.

Fireworks and Eye Safety Tips

Prevent Blindness  provides useful info on eye safety and fireworks if you opt to use your own:

  1. If you suffer an injury due to fireworks, especially to your eyes, seek help immediately.
  2.  Do not rub or rinse the eyes. 
  3.  Do not apply pressure.
  4. Do not put on ointments or take any blood thinning pain medications like aspirin or ibuprofen.

I hope this post was helpful as you and your family prepare to enjoy the 4th of July. If you do decide to celebrate at home keep these things in mind about fireworks and eye safety.

Watching Movies at Home During Covid-19

People Watching Movies at Home

People Watching Movies at Home

This weekend I would normally be out of the house watching a movie at my local movie theater. I would have already checked the listing of new releases earlier in the week and started making plans. I would have gone online reading the reviews and ratings on the films I wanted to see. But because of the Covid-19 pandemic I am at home.    The theaters are closed until further notice and I am watching more movies at home than ever before.

Prior to Covid-19 I would watch movies occasionally through streaming and mostly on DVD. My primary place to do this is Netflix. I have been a subscriber for many years and used it as a backup to going to the actual movie theater. If I missed a movie or wanted to watch it again, I would rent the DVD and catch it at home. In the last year or so I upgraded my subscription and added streaming.  On my iPhone I can watch all kinds of movies from miniseries, classics, blockbusters and Netflix’s own original content. the thing I love the most is that a lot of Netflix content is accessible to the blind and a large amount of their movies are available in audio description.

Let me explain what I mean by that. When it comes to the DVD’s I can go to the Netflix website and check for audio description. Movies are usually labeled under the details section with the verbiage “video description English” or descriptive audio” or some similar terminology. Not all movies on Netflix are available in audio description. If it is something I still want to see I will do some research beforehand so when I do watch it, I understand what is happening.  Now, the tricky part of watching a movie on DVD in audio description is that I have to get sighted help.  The audio description track is inside of the menu options and is displayed on the TV monitor which of course I can’t see. To remedy this, I use an app called Be my Eyes that uses sighted volunteers via my iPhone’s camera. The volunteer will see my TV monitor and direct me through the menus to turn on the audio description for the movie. So, what I do is hold my phone in one hand with the camera facing the TV while in the other hand I hold my DVD remote to press the buttons for the menu options. You might be saying, “That seems like a lot of work just to watch a movie!” And I would say, “You are right!” But I love movies and so I do the work. I am also sharing this with you so that you understand what the blind community has to deal with just to do things that sighted people take for granted every day.

Now, streaming is a bit easier to manage. Through my iPhone I have audio speech settings turned on and when I launch the Netflix app audio description will automatically play if that is available for that particular movie. Again, Netflix will indicate on their website if the movie is available in audio description. Additionally, I can get a listing of  audio described titles from the Audio Description Project. each week the site provides an updated list of titles along with a listing in alphebetical order of movies available. I place those movies on my play list and watch when I get ready.

because of these two options I have the ease of curling up on my sofa, laying in my bed or relaxing in my recliner to watch a movie at home whenever I want. But today it seems that having Netflix is not just a luxury but a necessity to keep me entertained since I can’t go out.

How I Manage Anxiety Around the Coronavirus Virus

Picture of a Microscope
Picture of a Microscope

Each day more and more info comes out about the coronavirus/COVID-19 virus. I am sure you have heard and read the reports so I won’t go over it here on my blog. As a result, I could allow this constant bombardment of news and information to sweep me away causing me severe stress and anxiety. But I decided to empower myself, to not panic and maintain as much control of my life as possible. I want to share with you some things that I have done and will continue to do as we work through this global crisis.

1.  The very first thing I have done is pray. I am a spiritual person and believe in the power of prayer. I have found that this time of supplication helps to calm me and still my mind and soothe my soul. I can relieve my worries and fears and leave them with God.

2.  Reading news from reputable sources has helped me to stay calm. I look at websites like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization. Since I live in the Atlanta-Metro area I also go to Emory Healthcare.  These sites have been great resources to gather accurate information on the Coronavirus/COVID-19  Virus.  I also read the news instead of watching it on TV. Broadcast programs can tend to dramatize and sensationalize information that traditional print media doesn’t. I read newspapers like the New York Times  and The Week. reading also gives you a fuller, deeper story than just a sound bite.

3.  I have been talking to friends and family for emotional support. I think it is a good idea to share fears, worries and concerns with people in your circle, and who you love. They can help you feel better and offer comfort and encouragement.

4.  This is an excellent time to focus on the things that I can control. I have no way to control the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Virus but their are things that I can. By focusing on those things, I have been able to keep myself calm and at peace. Some of the things that are in my control are recommendations by the CDC such as washing hands often, exercising regularly and eating healthy foods. All these things I can do. I have also made more efforts to get rest and sleep by going to bed a little earlier and/or sleeping in a little later. My work-from-home schedule allows me the flexibility to do this.

5.  Focusing on doing fun things helps me relieve stress and anxiety. If you have been reading my blog you know that I love reading and watching audio described movies. So, I am continuing to enjoy those things during this time. I am a believer in enjoying life and living to the full.

6.  I decided that I might not travel to visit family. I have a couple of trips coming up in the next month or two but I am not sure if I should travel or not so I had a talk with my mother about it. We talked it over and decided depending on how things go with the Coronavirus Virus that it would be okay not to come to the next family gatherings. My grandmother will be celebrating her 95th birthday and my nephew will be graduating from high school. Both events are very important to me but it might not be wise to go. I have made peace with the decision and will make alternative plans such as sending my grandmother a big bouquet of flowers and goodies instead. I have already started planning so that when the time comes around, I will be okay emotionally with whatever decision I need to make.

These six things are a part of my personal game plan to deal with the COVID-19 Virus.  I have no idea what the future holds but I will prepare and plan without panicking to the best of my ability. I will rely on facts not fear. I will look at evidence not depend on my emotions. This is all a day-by-day process. I believe with these strategies and my faith in God I will be able to successfully manage anxiety around the COVID-19 Virus.

The Voice Dream Reader Makes Reading Bookshare Books a Dream

February is National Library Lovers Month where the focus is on reading and the institutions that provide books. It is a time to honor and recognize the important role that libraries play in the community. Although I grew up reading and patronizing the library since losing my vision traditional, brick and mortar libraries don’t completely work for me anymore. I am able to access various programs and join in on my monthly book club but the books on the shelf are not accessible. So I use two other libraries called Bookshare and   the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, also known as NLS. These two popular libraries provide a huge volume of books in audio, braille and large print. 

Now What better way to celebrate libraries, books and the love of reading than to share about my favorite reading app and place to get audio books. First let me tell you about Bookshare. I have been reding and enjoying books provided by Bookshare for several years now and have found their service a great alternative to the NLS Library. Bookshare is an eBook library with nearly 800,000 titles and is the most extensive collection of accessible eBooks in the world. Sometimes I am looking for that obscure or off-the-beaten-path book and they will have it. I also have found that Bookshare has a large volume of African-American titles that I absolutely love. They tend to have that book that is hot off the presses; that everyone is chatting about and I am anxious to read. There are reading materials for educational pursuits, professional development and lifelong reading.

Now with that being said in order to enjoy these thousands of books a good book player is essential. Over the years I have listened to Bookshare books on a variety of players such as the Victor Reader Stream, NLS Talking Book Player and iPhone apps like Read 2 Go. But the best by far is the Voice Dream Reader.

The Voice Dream Reader is an app you download on your smartphone. It is not a free app; cost ranging between $10-$15 depending on if you are using an iPhone or android. Once downloaded you can immediately connect it to your Bookshare account and start downloading books and storing them in your library. The coolest feature I found is the variety of voices available. Since Bookshare is text to speech reading a book can sometimes sound mechanical depending on the player you are using. Voice Dream offers one premium voice, 61 free voices in iOS; and over 100 premium voices for purchase. I have found the voices excellent and sounding close to human quality. Voice Dream also provides their voices in 30 languages.

Empish using iPhone
Empish using iPhone

Another great feature of Voice Dream is that the app has collaborated with Apple. Some of your typical iPhone commands work with the app. For example, to stop the reader from playing a book you do a two-finger double tap. You can also customize Siri to open the Voice Dream Reader to the current book you are reading by setting up that option in the settings menu. The voice Dream Reader can sync with iCloud so that any Bookshare books or other data saved there can be backed up in the cloud. Once you have downloaded your Bookshare book you can adjust audio and visual settings. You can flick and swipe to fast forward or rewind in the book you are currently reading. There is also an instructional manual directly on the app. But if you are like me and want to read the manual from another device while you practice on your smartphone, you can read it on the Voice Dream website via your PC or tablet.

Besides Bookshare books the Voice Dream Reader can be used to access files from places such as Dropbox, Google Drive and Ever Notes.   In addition, Voice Dream has apps for a scanner, mail and writer which you can learn more about on their website.

 The Voice Dream Reader has become a dream to use for my Bookshare books. It is quick and easy to use. Everything is right there on my phone and with a couple of flicks, swipes and taps I am on my way to reading some of the latest and most enjoyable books.

Audio Described Movies and the Oscars

Empish at Concession Stand
Empish at Concession Stand

Besides diving into a great book another of my favorite pastimes is watching an audio described movie. If you are not familiar an audio describe movie provides extra verbal narration     of visual elements happening in the film. It could be hand gestures, facial expressions, physical movements or a description of clothing and action happening in the movie. It describes things that a person with vision loss might not notice or realize. 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. Many years ago, I rented a couple through the GLASS Atlanta Library; but regrettably I found the selection very limited and quickly lost interest. Today that has changed because audio described movies have increased in availability with the law and demand.

I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I have curled up on the sofa, got under my fluffy cat blanket, grabbed my microwaved popcorn and watched a Netflix movie with audio description. It has been too many times to count. Audio description is not only available from Netflix, there is Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Disney +, iTunes and more.   In addition, local TV stations like ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX provide some audio described content. The cable and satellite companies have it too; but I cut the cord a while back so can’t comment too much on that.

In addition to watching audio described movies at home, I watch them at my local movie theater. The two major movie chains in my city, Regal Cinema and AMC Theatres, both offer most blockbusters and current films in audio description. When I go to the theatre, I request the device for the blind. It will be a headset attached to a small box with a little lever on the side for volume. There are also close captioning devices for the deaf and the hard of hearing. A couple of times I was given the device for the hard of hearing, which looks similar but is not attached to the small box for the volume control. Depending on the theatre you go to, you might have to do a little education with the theater staff and take time to explain exactly what you need.

Empish Using Audio Described Headset
Empish Using Audio Described Headset

The description makes a huge difference if I can enjoy the movie or not.  I have been faithfully watching audio described movies since 2014 and know that without it I will miss critical and key information. This impacts my ability to get the fullness of the film. There have been times when I have fudged my way through a movie only to talk to a sighted person later and find out I was dead wrong about a particular scene. And just forget about foreign films with English subtitles scrolling at the bottom. Sorry I can’t see enough to read them and I just understand English! LOL! No way to work my way through those movies.

Now we have come to the Oscars. I was sitting on my sofa, with my fluffy cat blanket but no popcorn this time. I was glued to the screen listening to those all too familiar words, “…and the winner is…” The majority of the Oscar winners in various categories had audio description; which is fabulous!

But the winner for best picture, parasite, was not an audio described movie. I had tried to see the film at my local theater only to notice that my device was not working. I later discovered that the distributor didn’t provide audio description. Unfortunately, this is what happens to some of the great films I would like to see. Not all movies are available to the blind community yet. I have mixed feelings about this Oscar winner and I struggled to even talk about it here on my blog because this movie made history. Parasite, a Korean-language film, won for best film, best director, best international film and best original screenplay. This is an amazing accomplishment and a positive step toward diversity and inclusion. Although It is not the Academy’s fault the movie was not accessible; people like me were left out. If you had a visual impairment you could not enjoy this film like everyone else.

But on a more positive note, since the Oscars came earlier than usual this year, several of these films, and as of this writing, are still in theaters and not on DVD or streaming yet. This means you can still catch them at the movie theater. So, grab some popcorn and get ready to enjoy a great audio describe movie!

Blind Tom a Georgia Slave Never Emancipated

Empish holding book on Blind Tom
Empish holding book on Blind Tom

This month is Black History Month.  To start things off I am posting a story that I previously published at the Center for the Visually Impaired and VisionAware. Later in the month I will share about another interesting blind African American. So stay tuned!

Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriett Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X,  and Fredrick Douglas – these are names of famous African-Americans that are well known and observed during this month. But this year I wanted to bring to your attention a famous blind man whose story is not typically in the history books or spoken about in daily conversation. Thomas Wiggins who was born a slave in Columbus Georgia in 1849 was an incredible musical performer and entertainer. From a very small age he traveled all over the US and Europe playing classical music and performing on stage to massive audiences. He was also known for having what we know today as autism and was a musical savant.

What makes his story so incredibly compelling and sad is that he was never fully emancipated. After the Civil War was over his parents signed an agreement with General James Neil Bethune, a lawyer and newspaper editor, to a five year contract of indentured servitude. During this time in history African-Americans who were newly freed and uneducated were not able to exercise their full rights, especially a former slave that was disabled. His parents felt that it would be better for him to be under the care and protection of someone they knew than to run the risk of him being abused or even stolen by strangers. This unfortunately began his life of permanent servitude; never being completely free until his death in 1908.

From the time he could walk, Tom developed a deep fascination with nature and sound. Once his master purchased a piano it was virtually impossible to keep Tom from being close to it and wanting to play.  His desire was so great that he became quite emotional and would literally throw temper tantrums if his wishes were not met. His master soon discovered that Tom had an incredible talent for music and could play very difficult pieces with little to no practice time. His master started to place Tom in minstrel and side shows around the country. He was known for being an obsessive and demanding child with a healthy appetite that continued into his adult life.

Tom was known for playing the piano for hours on end.  He would play Beethoven, Mozart, and other classical musicians. He even composed several pieces of his own. During his lifetime he was one of the most well-known pianists and made thousands of dollars for his owners which in today’s terms would be millions.

One of the most important things that contributed to Tom’s slavery and permanent servitude was the transfer of ownership. When he was a young musician and traveling across the United States he was owned by General Bethune. Then later ownership was transferred to his son, John Bethune. After John died in a train accident, he went back to General Bethune; but lost in a court battle to John’s wife, Eliza, who became Tom’s last and final owner. These transfers of ownership were all attempts to keep Tom and the money he made with little regard to his family. Tom’s mother made legal attempts in vain to free Tom but his owners were always able to elude the legal system. In 1904, Eliza, after 40 years of performing, took Tom off the road when he had a stroke and had difficulty playing the piano. Four years later Tom had another stroke that ended his life. Tom was buried in New York but the citizens of Columbus, Georgia raised a headstone in his honor in 1976. 

I first learned about Tom several years ago attending a performance of his life at a local community theater and I was captivated then and still am to this day. As a blind African-American woman, a descendant of slaves, and live in the South his story speaks to me in a very powerful way. Plays, films and books have all been written and performed to capture Tom’s incredible life story. There is also a websitedevoted to him and YouTube videos where you can hear his music. I found and read Two books from the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled in digital format. They are listed below:.

1.  The Ballad of Blind Tom by Deirdr O’Connell

2.  Blind Tom, the black pianist-composer: continually enslaved  by Geneva Southall

My Reflections on Life After Deaf

Life After Deaf Book Cover
Life After Deaf Book Cover

I was intrigued when I read the announcement at the DeKalb County Library for the reading and discussion on the book Life After Deaf: My Misadventures in Hearing Loss and Recovery by Noel Holston. I am not deaf but do have a sensory disability and because of people’s lack of understanding sometimes get lumped into the deaf community. I won’t get into all of that right now but will save for another time. In the announcement Holston wrote a memoir about losing his hearing, at age 62. He describes that it was virtually overnight, how he battled with his medical insurance provider, how it impacted his marriage and how he ultimately regained his hearing with a cocular implant. I was quite fascinated and decided to not only attend but read the book.

I downloaded the book from Bookshare, a great resource for books for people with print impairments. As I read, I quickly began to see similarities in his story and mine.  Even though Holston is older than me, deaf, married and a man, we had a lot in common. I found myself nodding my head and saying “Hmm, Hmm, that’s right!” like someone in the amen corner at church. 

The way he lost his hearing was overnight. he thought it was a sinus cold but later realized it was his hearing. I too started losing my vision rather quickly. My eyes began to tear up all of a sudden and became very sensitive to light. Like Dracula I would shrink away in pain when coming in contact with any form of light. By the time I got to the right doctor for a proper diagnosis I had some permanent eye damage that was not reversable.

We also were prescribed the same exact medications for our condition. I was diagnosed with bilateral uveitis, an auto immune disease that causes inflammation and retinal detachment. At the beginning I had a lot of inflammation and was on prednisone. What was supposed to be about 6 months ended up being 3 years on this drug. and what a rollercoaster ride that was! My doctor also prescribed methotrexate as well which Holston took too. Neither medication worked as a long-term solution for my visual impairment.

Another similarity I could relate to was dealing with isolation. Even though he was married and had friends and family Holston had difficulties with connecting. He shared openly and honestly the challenges of communicating as a deaf person. He talked about the myriad ways of trying to understand what people were saying, carrying around a note pad and pen, and dealing with services that didn’t offer email or text message options. Blindness can also be isolating too. When I lost my vision, I also lost the ability to pick up facial expressions. No more getting those small nuances such as raised eyebrows, grins, smirks, or rolling eyes. I was not able to see body language either. No more seeing hands waving, fingers pointing or shoulders hunching. The only thing I could go by is inflections in a person’s voice and my intuition. Also, since I move my head toward sounds, have an expressive face and have natural-looking eyes people think I can see better than I can and so assumptions are made and things get miscommunicated a lot. Sometimes assumptions are made about the abilities of the blind. That we don’t have a life, work, have fun, date, go out, etc. So, then we don’t get invites to events or are included; which leads to isolation.

Holston approached his journey into deafness with a wry sense of humor titling his chapters with puns and sharing mishaps along the way. One example is how he locked his keys inside his car with the engine still running. No spoiler alert here! You will have to read the book to find out how he got out of that situation because I am not going to tell!

He shared how much he liked Marvel Comics’ Daredevil; a blind lawyer who turns into a super hero fighting crime at night. He copes by focusing on his other senses through sight, smell and touch. He uses them to go walking, exploring nature, going to museums and reading books. The goal is to concentrate on what you have, take pleasure in that and not on what you don’t.

Empish and Author Noel Holston
Empish and Author Noel Holston

At the end of the library’s reading event, I spoke to Holston to share my appreciation for him writing Life After Deaf and how much his words, life and experiences resonated with my own journey of vision loss. We both realized that even though our disabilities are different learning how to cope and making peace with our situations is where we all can find common ground. He told me it was his hope the book would provide that opportunity for everyone.